Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back to School: Homemade Lunchables

It is that time again!  SCHOOL TIME!!! I am one of those weirdos who loved school so much as a kid, that I get giddy for my daughter to experience the same...

But my daughter and I are very different.  I LOVED cafeteria food - still do!  I loved the rectangle pizza, the thick mac and cheese, the salad bar, mashed potatoes, bread rolls, weird meat with gravy on top that they called salisbury steak, meatloaf, and whatever other possibly frozen, processed, food served in mass thing those awesome cafeteria ladies slopped onto my tray.

But with my daughter, it is easier to name the things she will eat than the numerous things she won't.  She won't any vegetable AT ALL!  And no matter how I have tried to hide them in things she will eat, it is like she can sniff them out!  She won't even eat potatoes unless they are French fries or tater tots!  Who doesn't like mashed potatoes or friend potatoes or cheese potatoes?!

Anyhoo, so last year I started sending her packed lunches to school at Pre-K.  On occasion when they were having something I knew she would eat at least 2 things on her tray, then I would let her eat cafeteria food - and the food program that year was FREE for ALL students!

This year, I am still going to mostly send her packed lunches, but not so much for the pickiness factor.  This year it costs money, and really not that much at all for eating a meal "out"!  But I knew that I could pack lunches cheaper and be sure that everything I pack is something my daughter will eat.

But again, the list of things she'll eat are limited, and there is the added difficulty that packed lunches to school cannot be something that needs to be heated up.  So what to do?

I got this idea one evening when I was grocery shopping with my kids in-tow.  Usually I buy my kids each a Lunchable to eat on while I shop.  It is pretty cheap, quiet, not too messy, and keeps them occupied so I can get the shopping done!  I decided NOT to throw away the empty Lunchable plastic trays after I had scanned and paid for them like I usually did.  Instead, I took them home, washed them with soap and hot water, and let them air dry.

And the next time I took my kids to the pool or splash pad or zoo, instead of buying a Lunchable at the store, I filled those previous trays with lunch goodies from home!  My kids LOVE it!  They love how different they can be and that I occasionally fill one of the compartments with Sour Patch Kids!

So when Emersyn went back to school, I decided to price-check a typical homemade lunchable to see if it was cost-effective for me to NOT buy her cafeteria lunches AND NOT buy her actual Lunchables from the store.  I was surprised at how cheap I can pack her a lunch she loves, and her lunchable, once it is unwrapped, looks just like the student's next to her after they peel back their Lunchable seal.


I pull the cardboard off the bottom of each store-bought Lunchable I occasionally buy (which is the brown you see at the bottom of some compartments where it was glued to the plastic) and write " Do NOT throw away" in the center so the container comes back home at the end of the school day.
So here's what I do:
I choose different kinds of cheese.  Just slice each piece into 9 little squares! 
This amount costs me about 14 cents!

My son LOVES these crackers!  He won't touch the real Lunchable ones! 
This amount of crackers costs me about 15 cents!
I also buy different types of lunch meat.  This was all I had on-hand for this pic,
but I have also packed fully-cooked frozen chicken nuggets
 and by the time she has lunch they have thawed in her lunch bag!
 The pepperoni and Canadian bacon pieces come in circles, just like the meat in real Lunchables.
 For deli meats, I slice into small squares the same way I do the cheese.




One version of a typical "Lunchable"




"But how do you keep everything from falling out of the compartments?"
I'm glad you asked!  I wrap them in sandwich sized baggies that have a fold top.
 They fit pretty good on this 3-compartment sized lunchable tray, but stretch just perfectly over the 4-compartment trays better!




Put the tray into the baggy, push the long flap over the side and on top of the tray,
 and then stretch the folded flap over and down the sides and corners of the tray.
Basic option completed and ready to go into the lunchbox!
Another variation in a 4-compartment tray:  I put many different things in these things!  Today, I put a boiled egg, chicken nuggets, ranch dressing, and blueberries in one of these trays.  But for this demonstration, I stuck to basics of what almost every kid will eat - Goldfish, apple sauce, sliced string cheese, and Canadian bacon!  Yum!  I admit I have packed this for myself on occasion when picnicking in the park!  This cost me 33 cents for the applesauce, 25 cents for the Goldfish, 25 cents for the string cheese, and 66 cents for the Canadian bacon.


I try to always pack this and put it in the refrigerator at night for the next day.  It takes me maybe 3 minutes!

In the morning, I quickly just tuck in an ice pack of some sort in to the lunch box so it will stay cool until lunchtime!
This entire lunch for my 5-year-old daughter for her school lunch, costs me about $1.61!!!  A store-bought Lunchable will cost at least $1.25, but I also have flavored milk and a GoGurt packed in here!  And this is healthier than the Oreos that were in one of these compartments originally!

It costs us 30 cents for my daughter to buy a carton of milk at school, so what I do instead is keep these character bottles that originally come with apple juice in them at Walmart.  I usually buy my kids one of these while grocery shopping too.  When I get home, I wash them in soap and hot water, cut the label off, and store them to reuse them as "sippy" cups.  The type of tip on Rapunzel's head is spill-proof, which is great if my daughter's lunchbox gets dropped or flipped around inside her backpack.  I buy a gallon of milk, put in a little strawberry syrup (sometimes), shake it, and pack it in with the "lunchable".  The milk costs me about 14 cents!

Anyhoo, this is maybe the silliest blog post I have ever written, but I have had several people tell me that this is a helpful idea to save money and time.  So I thought I'd share it just in case anyone else wants to try it out.

Again, the possibilities are endless!  Here is a list of various items I have packed into these compartments (sometimes even just cutting or slicing things up in a few seconds in order for it to fit):
cheese
lunch meat
string cheese, shredded cheese, cheese slice
blueberries
pickle
candy
unsweetened apple sauce
pretzel sticks
Goldfish/Whales
Crackers
strawberry slices
carrots (for my son, my daughter would cry)
fully-cooked, frozen chicken nuggets
boiled egg (surprisingly, my daughter loves these... like, what???!!!)
apple slices
peanut butter
ranch dressing (I tuck folded saran wrap over it and then still wrap it in the sandwich baggy)
banana slices
tangerine slices
trail mix
Captain Crunch cereal
Peanut butter and jelly roll-ups (pb&j spread on a tortilla and rolled up, sliced into inch-wide pieces)

So there you have it - one more random contribution to the internet of a mom saying "this is how I pack lunches" and probably everyone else is rolling their eyes and thinking 'No one cares!'

But I am excited this is so easy, cheap, and my daughter loves lunch at school!!!'

What else would fit into these compartments?  I'd loved to read your ideas in the comments!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Having My "Rainbow Baby": My Love/Hate Relationship With The Phrase

I didn't used to hate the phrase.  In fact, before I ever had a miscarriage myself, I remember seeing others post pictures of their "Rainbow Baby", and I thought 'Isn't that sweet?'  And I'm sure I even got teary-eyed thinking about what a gift a new baby is after losing one.

But then I had a pregnancy end.  Randomly.  For no reason.  Without cause.  Just ended.  And sometimes being Pro-Life, an abortion abolitionist, and a Believer in God, the Creator and Giver of Life, really sucks because I know that the phrase "pregnancy loss" is a cowardly way of avoiding saying exactly what is happening.  Since life begins at conception, then any "loss" after that is a death.  And death brings mourning.  So I mourned.  Some days I mourned a lot.  Others hardly at all.

And then I found out I was pregnant.  Which I wasn't trying to become again.  In fact, I was afraid to ever try again.  I was afraid that every pregnancy would end in death.  I was afraid to get excited.  I was afraid to get attached to an idea, to a person, again.  But I was excited!  And again, I knew someone was living inside of me... it is so hard to not feel joy!  So I wrote about it.  And even though talking about it in person was much more difficult, writing about it first eased me into talking about it.  And celebrating too!



And then people began to say THAT phrase.  They typed it on my Facebook posts, blog posts, wrote it in cards, and spoke it out loud in congratulatory conversation.  And I hated it.  I didn't correct anyone, and I didn't rant about it.  I knew they had good intentions. And I wrestled through the "why does this repulse me so?!"  And I waited months before I told my husband that every time I heard or read someone call my baby my "Rainbow Baby" that I wanted to scowl at them and lay out all the reasons why that label is ridiculous!

I mean, "Rainbow Baby"... seriously?  Who thought of that?!  There are several reasons why the phrase just makes my skin crawl or makes me want to roll my eyes.  First of all, it sounds SO cheesy!  I tend to gag at the thought of trying to make everything butterflies and... well, rainbows.  And I guess that phrase makes me feel like the person using it is trying to tell me that everything is alright now.  Everything is better.  Everything is just peachy.  And while life is pretty great and is a wonderful gift, "peachy" isn't how I would describe my feelings on all my emotions have gone through in the past year.

Let me tell you, every once in a while I still weep.  It comes from nowhere, gets me from my blind spot, and I feel it all over again.  The month of June was the worst... my due date for the baby that I lost.  Even though I can feel this new baby moving and kicking while I would cry about the baby I never felt move and never will.

It never fails that every time a certain song comes on the radio, I cry.  And I cry because I am still sad about the baby I lost.  For a long time, I didn't know why the writer wrote the song, but once I looked it up and was shocked that the song was written after the songwriter had miscarried.  The song is "Thy Will Be Done" by Hillary Scott.  I'm sure other people hear that song and think of their own sad story.  Some people might even hate the song, because they don't like what the song says about God and how He works.  But I believe it is Biblical truth, and all my hope depends upon the God of the Bible.  So I cry.  Every.  Time.  Every moment I hear the intro, I tell myself that perhaps this time I will be strong enough to sing along (because I am also a big believer in singing in the car) and not cry.  But I have yet to make it through without tears.  And in that moment, it doesn't matter that a new baby is here, healthy, and growing.  I mean, it matters, but my new happiness doesn't mean my old sadness disappears.

Which brings me to another reason I have not been appreciative of this phrase.  "Rainbow Baby" doesn't seem to only imply "sunshine and rainbows"... it also seems to say "replacement baby".  And it makes me think of one of my favorite books I read as a teenager called "Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones" about a young mother whose son dies shortly after birth.  In the book she talks about how when she finds out her baby has died, she wants to go home and begin a new baby... and perhaps this is how some people react to losing a baby or child... but now that I have had a loss of my own, it seems that would be the last reaction someone would have in the situation.  I could be wrong.  But I bet in most cases, a mother knows that babies aren't items to be replaced when lost and would feel guilt about wanting to replace them.  Each child is unique and uniquely loved... and uniquely missed once he or she is gone.  I wasn't just afraid of getting pregnant and becoming hopeful again after losing that pregnancy, I knew that 10 more babies would never make me forget how excited I was that one time and how devastated I was when that excitement ended "too soon".

Except I know that with my loving, all-knowing, and compassionate God there is no such thing as "too soon".  That is actually the reason why that same song that makes me mourn, also gives me such comfort.  Not all the tears I cry when I hear this song are sad tears.  They are healing tears.  They are thankful tears.

I know all of that sounds crazy and doesn't seem to make sense when put together.  But I know from experience that all of that can be swirling inside your head and heart, and they don't contradict one another.  My sadness and my joy and His comfort all swirl together and collide, kind of like in a storm.  And it rains.  Sometimes it is a light drizzle.  Sometimes a flood.  Sometimes it washes up junk into spaces that I thought were cleared out.  Sometimes it washes all the junk away.

The final reason I hated this phrase "Rainbow Baby" was because it labeled this new child, not based on his or her own personality or merit, but by a previous sibling's death... something this new child had nothing to do with - no cause or control over.  This new baby should NOT be loved more or less based upon someone else's story.  And I don't ever want this new child to feel like I only love him or her because they distracted me from sadness or "filled the hole in my heart" kind of garbage.  I want to make it very clear that "holes in your heart" from losing one do not get filled by gaining another person in your heart.  Our capacity to love is quite unlimited in this sense... perhaps this is another way we are made in God's image (although a very flawed and fallen version).  You don't run out of room in your heart when you have another child; our hearts exponentially expand.  And let me tell you this too, our hearts don't shrink in size to accommodate loss of loved ones either.  I want this new baby to know that they have their own special place in my heart that isn't based on or compared to any other love I have for others.

But let me tell you why I no longer despise, hate, gag, etc. when I hear this phrase.  One day I was just randomly looking up the definition of this term, because I was so annoyed.  But then I stopped in my tracks.  It still may not be my favorite, but my heart softened and smiled when I read this:

Urban Dictionary defines a "rainbow baby" as a baby that is born following a miscarriage or still birth.  In the real world, a beautiful and bright rainbow follows a storm and gives hope of things getting better. The rainbow is more appreciated having just experienced the storm in comparison.  The storm (pregnancy loss) has already happened and nothing can change that experience. Storm-clouds might still be overhead as the family continues to cope with the loss, but something colorful and bright has emerged from the darkness and misery.


And  I am thankful that perhaps that is what all these people using this term have been trying to express to me.  And what I am now trying to express to all of you is just this:  Rainbow Babies don't erase sadness from previously lost babies.  There is no such thing as a replacement to a lost loved one.  And no person should be loved, worshipped, hated, judged, or reacted to based on the fact that their presence brought joy after someone else's loss brought sadness... or perhaps even without meaning to, brought up old and sad feelings that were long forgotten.  But they should only be loved and reacted to based on their own worth.

But I am also saying that there are still storm clouds.  And it still rains some days.  But I do not want or need to be pitied, because I have much to be thankful for, much I have learned, and am thankful that I have my Rainbow.  We get to see our Rainbow's "beautiful and bright" face in 13 weeks!

Thy Will

Hillary Scott, The Scott Family

I’m so confused
I know I heard You loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here
I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of Your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words:

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

I know You’re good
But this don’t feel good, right now
And I know You think
Of things I could never think about
It’s hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all Your promises
Sometimes I gotta stop,
Remember that You’re God
And I am not
So, Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

I know You see me
I know You hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness You have in store
I know You hear me
I know You see me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Good news You have in store

So, Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
I know You see me
I know You hear me, Lord

 
To view the video and read a little background go to : 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Baby I Was Too Afraid To Ask For

I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOU DIDN'T WANT TO BE PREGNANT AGAIN?

People kept asking us if and when we would have more children.  We had said for so long that we were going to probably have 4; my husband hoping for an accidental 5th child to teach me a lesson!  But we only have 2, and the younger one was turning two - the age Emersyn was when we had Keegan, so it was natural that the question would come up.  And we hadn't changed our minds on having more, we just couldn't agree on if we wanted to have any more biologically or begin the adoption process that we had always planned on going through.  We both still want to adopt.  We still want more kids.  But we each had a different idea of how to go about it.  So we kept telling people, "We'll just have 2 until we agree on how the next ones are coming to us."

After 6 months of saying that, and seeing how much my husband really didn't think we were done having children biologically.  At some point, I realized that I just trust him, and I decided that sometimes giving the other person what they want also gives you what you want.  I want my husband to be happy.  I know he is wise.  And I want more kids.  "So, let's have a baby!", I said...

So we got pregnant for the 3rd time.  Easily.  Just like the first two times.  I have been blessed to not have to go through the struggle of infertility.  All 3 times I wanted to get pregnant, I got pregnant the first month we tried!

But, as many of you know, I didn't stay pregnant very long.  I miscarried around 6 weeks in mid-October, and that was a struggle all of its own, for sure.  I have written about that, and I found it helpful to write through the sadness and disappointment.  I will say that it was much easier writing about it than talking about it in person.  The first several times I spoke of it out loud, my voice would waver and I would get teary-eyed.  I have learned that talking about it out loud is much more brave than writing about it on a screen, even knowing that over 1,500 people read what I wrote.
http://livingonvicariousgrace.blogspot.com/2016/10/learning-to-love-and-live-through-loss.html

But I couldn't help but go into "fix it/figure it out" mode... Was it because I was older?  Was I too old?  I haven't been watching my weight or health, did that cause it?  Did I drink too much caffeine?  Would this happen again if we tried again?  Or was this just a one-time thing that God had us walk through?

TRYING TO TELL GOD'S STORY ON MY OWN


See, I did what many people do, and it is wrong.  I tried to figure out why, instead of really going through the struggle of it and really learning more about God and myself.  I would have moments where I cried, prayed, etc... but I mainly just tried to figure out "why did this happen?"  Were we not supposed to have another baby biologically?  Maybe this happened because we are supposed to only adopt from now on.  Maybe this, maybe that... like this was a sign that we had taken a wrong turn somewhere and needed to get back on the "right track".

Then one night I thought I finally knew the real reason why we had lost our baby... perhaps it was to open our minds and hearts to new possibilities we had not considered before.  See, before Kyle always thought of adoption for us as adoption of a newborn only as an alternative to abortion for someone else, and we both loved the idea of open adoption.  We had been reading up on it, and we had decided which agency we liked best.  But we had recently learned that the agency wasn't accepting any adoptive parents at this time, due to their waiting list being full... and then out of no where while on a date, Kyle said that he had really been thinking about adoption through foster care.  I was surprised, and I thought "perhaps this is what it was all for - so that we would open ourselves up to this new avenue of possibility!"  So being the planner I am, I immediately starting reading all over the place about the process.

So at our prayer group's next meeting in January, I was sharing all of this.  In my head, I had been thinking of this whole story like a puzzle that finally had its last missing piece, and now everything was going to be okay.  I like change.  I like newness.  And sometimes it is easier to get excited about something new rather than to truly heal through something else.  But as I shared, I got emotional, and how I had rehearsed my story in my head is not how it came out.  As I spoke, I opened up about how I was really afraid to get pregnant again, because I was afraid to miscarry again.  To break my husband's heart again.  To open myself again and get attached to another person I could lose - and there was nothing I could change about it.  I have no control over it.  And then I started to explain that perhaps my fear and our loss had led us to this mutual awakening to what else could be...  and they heard the truth I had shared.  One of them blessed me with a gentle correction about how we should not make decisions based on fear, and that we should trust God, truly trust Him and wait on Him to guide us.

I was operating completely out of my own fears, strength, and wisdom.  The truth is, only God knows why I miscarried.  Just because everything happens to serve a greater purpose, doesn't mean that each of us get an explanation and a pretty wrapped-in-a-bow ending to our stories.  The truth is I may never know why God had me walk through that heartache.  That doesn't mean He is any less good or not in control.  It means I am learning just how deep my self-sufficiency runs, and that it is interfering with my intimacy with the Lord... how can I be close to Him when I won't trust Him?!

So here we were at a crossroads of decision-making - I really didn't want to stay home full-time if there wasn't a new baby.  But should I go back to work full-time?  Do we start preparing for a home visit to start the adoption through foster care process?  But all of that could take forever, or it might take no time at all... what to do?  Do we not do anything and just wait for God to clear the pain and confusion?

And I started freaking out when February came, because if I was going back to work full-time, I needed to start networking... decisions, decisions...

WAIT A MINUTE!


I was stressed, I wasn't feeling well.  I wasn't resting.  And one day it dawned on me... 'I don't know when my last cycle was'... so I bought a cheapo pregnancy test at the Dollar Store that evening while I was picking up a few other things.

Now, how this all happened really cracks me up, but maybe only because I was there.  Perhaps anyone who has a few kids and has been with your spouse enough years, you will enjoy the real-life scenario too.  I mean, a life-changing event , was happening, but it was also just another day to get the kids to school on time...

So that next morning, was Wednesday - the busiest day of the week.  I decided to go ahead and cram our already-busy morning with the 3 more minutes it takes to pee on the test and set a timer.  While the timer was going, I was fixing my daughter's hair for school.  The timer dinged, I walked over to the windowsill, saw the positive result, and walked back over to my daughter to finish her hair.  I didn't say anything.  I don't think my face even changed.  So Kyle almost fell over when he walked into the bathroom and saw the test in the window while I carried on as if nothing had happened...

"Is this what I think it is?" he asked me while holding the test.

"Yes." I don't think I even looked up.

"Is this from this morning?!"

"Yes."

So with a surprised smile and then a nod, he said, "Well, okay! You alright?"

"I don't know.  I am not even sure how accurate these cheap brands are.  I'll get the right kind later tonight."

Which was silly; we both knew that it doesn't matter if you spend $1 or $10, a positive is a positive is a positive.

And we kissed.  And we congratulated each other.  And then we didn't tell a soul for weeks.  We didn't really talk much about it, except doctor's appointments and "ya feeling okay this morning?" kinds of things.

We were scared to be excited.  Or at least I was.  I think he was just being careful with my feelings and just reacting to my behavior.

When we went to the ultrasound, which seemed like a year later, I wanted to take our daughter with us.  Kyle didn't feel great about the idea in case we got bad news, but he said she could go when I explained that I really wanted her to.  So I just told Emersyn, "We are going to the hospital to see if there is a baby in Mama's tummy."  That way if something bad happened, she wouldn't have her hopes up, and I would have a motivation to keep my emotions in-check.

But there it was - the flutter.  And I surprised myself with how much I cried.  I didn't realize I had been holding my metaphorical breath for about 3 weeks.  When the tech told me I could empty my bladder, I went into the bathroom and sobbed.  I was carrying a baby!  A living baby!  I knew it all along, but I wouldn't allow myself to enjoy it, to really consider it.





So right then we gave ourselves permission to celebrate, no matter how long the celebration lasts.  I realized that I had developed this really twisted way of thinking out of self-preservation.  I had to remind myself out loud that day "When you are pregnant, it means you are going to have a baby; it doesn't mean you might have a baby.  Whether the baby lives a few weeks in utero or until the age of 93... Being pregnant means you have a baby, not that you might if everything goes well have a baby."  It was almost like I had adopted this "I'll believe it when I hold it" mentality.
Big Sister has been taking votes on if the baby is a boy or a girl... but basically you have to vote for your own gender... our friend Shawna voted for a boy, but Emersyn said, "Um, I'm writing you down for Girl!"  Ha!👍👎

So when we got home, Kyle told some close friends and family.  Then he posted a cute picture of our daughter holding the ultrasound photos.  We had found out we were pregnant the first time with her on March 14th, and here 5 years later we had pictures of this fourth baby taken on March 14th!

I am still getting used to the idea.  I still thank God each time I go to use the restroom and I don't have bleeding.  I still smile weakly every time I throw up, because that means someone is still with me right there in the bathroom, growing, completely unaware that his or her mom still worries they won't be here tomorrow.  But I also have incredible hope.  And my hope is growing too.  And I will preach to myself every day to keep putting my hope in the only One worthy.  I know that He is the author of life, the giver and taker... that we are all made in His image.  And that He cares for us all, always.

And I am allowing myself to make plans.  I know I am only 8 1/2 weeks.  Perhaps we should have waited to tell this time.  But we felt that was just perpetuating the fear I had been living in for months.  We have names picked out.  We are planning to build bunk beds this summer for the older kids to share a room.  When Kyle cleaned out the garage last week, he went ahead and got the baby bathtub and Bumbo out.
Big Brother insists on "sleeping" in the baby bathtub and tell us all that he also has a baby in his tummy... it is a boy that he wants to name Connor 😄😄😄

Why not?!  I am carrying a baby.  And whether I hold this baby in my arms, or someday hold another in my arms that someone else gives life to... or if I eventually get to do both... I know it is okay to get excited about people, no matter how little they are or how long they are with us.  As a friend just sent me in a text, "Congratulations on the promise of new life"... and the way she phrased it is what I am clinging to... I am thankful and hopeful for this promise of new life; the life I was too afraid to ask for... and the good God who has blessed us with life anyway.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Past I Drive By Every Day

I pick up my daughter from school every weekday afternoon, and I usually take the same route.  And as I was driving to her school yesterday, it dawned on me that I drive by my past every single day!  That may not make any sense, but let me explain.  What I actually drive by is this cute little white house with shutters every morning and every afternoon.  It is a simple, rectangular house with a red front door that is only about 800 sq. feet.  But when I am not in my dazed auto-drive mentality (or trying to reach the toy my 2-year-old has dropped and is sobbing about) and I really look and think about it, a ton of my best moments happened in that little white house.

Sometimes I get teary-eyed when I think about all the wonderful and horrible things that occurred while I lived in that cute little box with shutters!  It was my first major purchase (besides a college education, I guess).  I had just graduated from college, and I was ready to start adulting (although I officially hate that word - adult is a noun, not a verb).  My best friend, Jessica, was my roomie, and I was loving my first teaching job (well, the second year I started loving it - the first year, I was stressed).  We had a blast in that house - just two single gals living it up!  We had so much fun hosting international college students for dinner and holidays, having camp outs in the front yard with our friends, and lots of chic flick nights where we would invite all our other single gal friends, watch movies, and talk about our hopes and dreams until stupid o'clock in the morning.  I'm sure I said really sappy things about the man I would marry and the kids we would have... and that Gibson guitar I was going to buy, even though I had no idea how to play it (still don't).

This is my sophisticated map that I drew for clarification... or at least just for my own nerdiness.  It probably isn't very accurate!  But I know some people are visual, so here is my faulty attempt to include those people.

What is hilarious about that is that I had no idea my dream guy was living it up in his bachelor pad with his 3 roommates just two blocks away!  I drive by this house every afternoon too.  It just happens to be down the street from my daughter's school, and going that way makes a loop back to our current house.  It has been updated since he lived there, thankfully: it was pretty bad as most bachelor pads go!  Now as I drive by, I wonder if anyone has finally replaced that awful green carpet that had a huge hole in the middle, or replaced all the mismatched couches.  It is funny that I didn't even meet him until at least 6 months or more after I moved in just 2 blocks away, and we didn't even meet near our houses!  I started attending a new church after that next New Year, and there he was... although, at the time he was just another friend in our 20-somethings group.  We were all just a bunch of single folks spending our evenings playing music, experimenting with how to cook real food, and having a few laughs.  We often would host these evenings at my house.

And while that sounds so fun (maybe, I guess it could sound pretty lame to a lot of you), I also have at least 2 full journals from this time period in my life where I went through major depression.  I completely understand when I read about Millennials who have all this free-time to pursue anything they want, and yet they struggle with depression more than any previous generation.  There is this weird sense of purposelessness sometimes in your early 20s, when you are kind of floating and aren't sure where you want to land.  Back then I was working so hard all the time, and I had recently broken up with a boyfriend who had been a dear friend beforehand... and even though the rest of life was going well, I was disappointed and aimless.  My bitterness with God grew and grew, to the point where I would get angry with any godly encouragement.  It got so bad that I even moved all my roommate's stuff out of the house one day while she was at work (she is a very sweet, encouraging woman of God)... of course, I had it all moved back in by the time time she got home from work.  I was lonely, even though I had a ton of loving family and friends.  I was questioning God, even though I was learning so much of His truth at this new church.  And I felt like a failure, even though I was a homeowner and an educator at the age of 22... but I kept all my depression in that little cute house every time I went out.  I hid it all within those walls and those journal pages, and my roommate was gracious enough to not call me out on it when I was faking my way through social event after social event.

I lived in that house for 4 years before Kyle and I started dating, and I had only really started liking him 6 months before that.  I mean, he was just down the street and around the corner for 3 1/2 years that I was moping around about being single and miserable.  And then all of a sudden, he was mine, and he only lived down the street and around the corner!!!  We would go on walks, he would walk me home.  We had our first Christmas as a couple in that living room.  He stayed with me while I waited on the police the night that house was robbed.  And several months later we spent our wedding night in that house.  I became a wife in that house, cooking and cleaning.  He became the husband I always hoped for in that house - you know, mowing, taking the trash out, and trapping and killing a few mice (my hero, for sure)!  We had our first fight about arranging furniture in that house.  We did our first bathroom remodel there.  And he held me while I sobbed the night my grandpa died in that bedroom.

It is a really long story, but we moved back into that same little white house when our daughter was almost 2 years old.  And then we made even more animated memories - Emersyn potty-training, dressing up as Dory for Halloween, and "helping" me bake cookies.  Our son was conceived in that house, and all my afternoon "morning" sickness took place in that bathroom.  Many days of that pregnancy, I was so thankful our house was very small, because I could sleep and ignore our 2-year-old daughter while she was practically always within arm's reach if she got into something she shouldn't.  I remember giving her horsey rides on my back while having my 8-month-in-utero son on my front.  We had lots of tea parties, and when it snowed, we brought a tub full of snow into that living room for Emersyn to play with.

We brought our son home from the hospital to that house, and he slept in the living room since I didn't want him waking his older sister up in the middle of the night... although when you live in 800 sq. feet, everyone is going to wake up anyway.  His bassinet, swing, and diapers were all kept in the living room - along with his Boppy pillow and my recliner that I nursed him in...

I guess you get it by now... I have a lot of great memories in these houses that I drive by every day.  But my point isn't so much that as it is that God had a plan for my life all along, and I had absolutely no idea ahead of time what it was going to be.  I bought that house because it was cheaper to buy than rent.  It was more of a financial decision than one that would change my life, grow me in ways I didn't think possible.

But God knew.

And even more amazing is that as we lived in this tiny house with two kids, with all our stuff busting at the seams... God knew that a house with the perfect layout for our life was only 5 blocks away.  I wonder if I ever drove by it and didn't even give it a glance?  If I looked at it, I know I didn't give it a second thought... and yet, here I am living in that house that I never could have afforded if it hadn't been in foreclosure.  A house that is big enough to host college students and play dates, but small enough to keep it somewhat clean.  A house where my son learned to crawl, walk, and love "Masha and the Bear".  This house where my daughter has had several birthday parties and learned how to count to 10.  This house where women have studied scripture together, and college students have discussed how the Gospel changes our worldview.  This home where I have often lost at Settlers of Catan, or cleaned house while blaring Audrey Assad worship music, and miscarried my 3rd baby.  And here is where my husband and I have measured our marriage in various awesome TV series(es?)... ("This Is Us" is our current jam)...

And when I sat down with this amazing thought and drew it all out on a little map (that is probably not to-scale... I'm not a cartographer)... I had to laugh at the irony and be in awe of God's planning.  So much of my life that I longed for beforehand, or even shook my fist at God in bitterness at His withholding it all from me, ended up unfolding before my eyes within a few blocks' radius!  And I had absolutely no clue at how great it would be when He finally gave it to me!

Only God can do that.  And I am thankful that none of my other stupid ideas on how to get my dreams to come about came to fruition... because it happened when and WHERE He wanted it to... and I now see how beautifully planned out it all was... and still is.

And now I get to be gently reminded of this marvel every day - such a profound realization as I go about a simple errand... driving by my past, in my present, looking forward to whatever the future God holds for me.