Monday, October 28, 2013

God's Perfect Timing

As I have written about before, I had a miscarriage in January of 2012, an event that affected me so deeply and so fully that it changed who I am.  Since then, as friends have loved me, listened to me, shared their stories with me, and prayed with me, I know I have healed.  But miscarriage is one of those events that I am not sure someone can ever completely heal from.  For months following the loss of our baby, I was on a mission to become pregnant again.  It consumed my brain and I couldn't make it stop.  I studied ovulation charts, read books, stalked pregnancy web sites, consulted with friends and family members, spent a ridiculous amount of money on ovulation prediction kits, and pretty much drove my husband crazy with incessant planning. My husband was a good sport about my, "we have 12 hours to get pregnant" announcements month after month, only making sarcastic comments roughly half of the time. Seriously, this man should get an award for his love and patience, especially since during part of this baby craze, he had a drainage tube in his side for some kidney stone issues he was having and he still didn't tell me to give it a rest.  He was mostly patient and understanding and I am continually thankful that God chose this man to be my husband.

During all of this planning and research, I started to become convicted about the whole thing.  As I prayed, I was continually met with God asking me, "Do you want this baby more than you want Me?" and "Don't you trust Me?".  At first, I pushed those questions away because surely I loved the Lord above all and trusted Him fully, I didn't even need to think about it.  But then, I started examining how I spent my time. Did I really think about this non-existent baby more than I thought about the real and living God?  Was I spending more time perusing natural fertility web sites than I was studying the Word of God?  It terrified me to come face to face with this truth.  God is definitely first in my life, but the fact that this concern was even in my mind gave me a new outlook on having another baby.

Finally, I had had enough.  I could no longer calculate the best day to get pregnant.  I couldn't handle the pitying look the cashier at the Dollar Tree gave me as I purchased yet five more ovulation kits.  That two week wait to find out if I was pregnant was just too dreadful for me to endure. I certainly couldn't tolerate the possibility of this baby becoming an idol.  As much as I wanted another baby, I prayed for God to change my heart if this wasn't His will for my life.  I also prayed that He would give me a desire for Him that was greater than anything else in my life.

A dear friend gave my family the opportunity to have an affordable beach vacation, which happened to be the week that our baby would have turned a year old.  I was relieved for the distraction from our every day life and glad to be able to get away with my other three little blessings from Jesus to have a fun week.  But as the anniversary of my would-have-been due date came, I found myself feeling a bit sad.  It seemed the beach was filled with one-year-old babies and pregnant women!  I couldn't help but think about how much fun it would be to have a sunblock and sand covered toddler with us, chasing seagulls, spilling juice boxes, finding lady bugs and eating dirt.  I again longed for that baby I didn't get to meet.  I also thought it was strange that I was so grieved by this day that I began to physically feel pregnancy symptoms.  Unwilling to let my emotions and now physical ailments ruin our fun, I ignored all of this and continued on with our vacation.
Watching the waves on Lake Michigan.

We got home and unpacked in the evening on August 29th, a year after the day our baby would have been due and I still felt not-quite-right.  I still had a pregnancy test in the bathroom and decided to take it just in case this nausea wasn't all in my head.  It was positive.  I was in shock.  I wanted to be excited.  I wanted to love this baby and think about who he or she would be.  In reality though, this was not at all how I imagined I  would feel when I finally did become pregnant.  I wanted reassurance that this baby would be healthy and a guarantee that I would be holding this little baby in the spring.

Doug and I decided to wait to tell our kids until after we heard the baby's heartbeat.  When I miscarried, there was never a heartbeat, so this seemed like a good milestone.  At nine weeks, I had an appointment with a nurse and I lost it.  I told her about my miscarriage and how unenthusiastic I was about being pregnant.  She had experienced a miscarriage as well and understood, so she squeezed me in for an ultrasound.  I got to see little hands and a little heartbeat, so I did feel much better knowing there was a live baby in there!  We told our other kids later that evening and they were excited about having a new baby.  My daughter had just turned four and is obsessed with babies, so this news was the best ever for her.  She even asked me if this baby can be her own child when it grows up.  I am not sure what that means exactly, but I know this little baby is loved already!  She tells everyone from the nurse who gave her a flu shot to the cashier at the grocery store that there is a baby in her Momma's tummy.
Ellery making footprints in the sand with her baby doll, Logan.

I am excited to meet the baby God has made for our family.  This baby is the one He chose for us, not the one I planned and orchestrated.  Isaiah 55:8 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD."  It can be so hard to "give up" sometimes when I want something so much that I felt like I need to help God in order to make it happen.  That wisdom He gave me when I was faced with those hard questions wasn't easy to accept. But thankfully, God has made a way for me to have another baby, but in the way that He planned from the start.

"My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken."  Psalm 62:1-2

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Knowing You, Jesus

I have a homeschooling schedule that I try to follow each day as I teach my three blessings.  By "schedule," I mean that there are subjects and lessons that I aim to complete with my kids each day any time during our waking hours.  We do a good job of completing assignments for the most part and I have learned not to get frazzled if things don't go as planned.  Sometimes my kids learn far more during the orderless days than they do when I meticulously plan.  This week, my sweet daughter called me into the living room, declaring it was time to worship the Lord.  I am pretty sure this girl will be a worship leader or pastor some day, as she is always setting up church and forcing us to sit and listen to her preach and pray and sing.  On this particular day, she had the radio on and was twirling around, eyes closed, arms in the air, singing, "Knowing You, Jesus."  How could I not join in this time of praise and worship?  She is an enormous interruption much of the day, but times like these I am glad she interrupted. Who needs to know how to convert decimals to fractions anyway? ;)

I am fortunate to have a few moments alone with God throughout every day.  This time might not be at the beginning of the day or when I would have planned it, but somehow I always find myself with chunks of time when things are going smoothly enough for me to sit alone with the Lord.  You might think that a homeschooling mother must be so busy that it's unimaginable, but I have found that this is far from the truth.  Sure, I could place unrealistic demands on myself and my children and fill our time so full of curriculum that none of us could breathe, but why?  There are times when my daughter is occupied with her doll house people and my older kids are completing their hour of independent reading or when Max and Ruby are entertaining my daughter while my sons finish their math assignments, when I find myself able to read my Bible or pray for longer than thirty seconds.  I haven't always made this time for prayer and studying the Word part of my life.  In my twenties, I strove to be the perfect wife, the ideal mother, the invaluable neighbor, the productive employee, the supportive friend.  All of that striving didn't produce perfection and instead left me feeling empty, discontented and exhausted. I was still lacking something, but it wasn't clear to me what that something was.

I know much of this need for perfection came from being the wife of a man who was lost in an addiction to prescription drugs, whose continual health issues left him in a constant cycle of abusing drugs to cope with the chaos inside his heart.  My twenty-something self needed to feel like everything was okay, that I was in control of something, though my life was out of control, unpredictable and unhappy.  I had to prove to my children that we were going to have a happy family and a happy childhood, regardless of our circumstances.  I had to prove to myself that I would not give up on my marriage, just because it was hard, just because I was miserable.  During that time, though, I didn't make room for Jesus.  I believed that Jesus died for my sins, I believed that I was going to Heaven, but I didn't cling to Jesus with all of my heart.  I had no idea what I was missing and how different my life could be, if only I would surrender completely.

Sometime in my mid-twenties, I finally found what it was I had been searching for to fill this emptiness in my heart: Jesus.  Jesus, for real. To know about Jesus and to know Jesus personally are two entirely different things.  Up until this point, I was unaware there was a difference.  I thought that as long as I had "heard the good news," I would avoid going to hell.  What I hadn't realized was that I couldn't just hear this news and push it to the back of my mind, continuing to harbor bitterness toward my husband and his addiction and continuing to live my life independently, apart from the will of God.  This knowledge of an all-powerful, loving, merciful God hadn't consumed me and given me the hunger for more.  I had felt the same way about this information that I did knowing my address or knowing that my kids preferred their PB&J cut into triangles instead of squares.  I knew the information, but it didn't change me.  I thought that I could know God was God, but that I could live for creating a perfect life instead of living for Him.

A decade after I first heard about Jesus, I understood what it meant to follow Him, to live for Him and to be loved by Him.  I was no longer enslaved by my feelings of inadequacy and the constant struggle to make life better, more rewarding, and happier somehow.  I no longer felt that it was necessary to pick up the pieces after my husband had produced yet another path of destruction for himself.  I could finally see that his addiction was his problem and his responsibility.  I was free from that massive burden of making perfection my true god.

Now, almost two decades after I first heard about Jesus, I am in awe of just how incredible our God truly is.  I still want to be a good neighbor, a supportive friend, a God-honoring wife and mother, but that want isn't what I live for and it is something that I know isn't possible on my own.  I try to do everything God sets before me with the desire to honor Him.  As I think about how different the circumstances in my life are compared to what they were even ten years ago, I cannot help but praise the Lord for what he's done.

John 14:6 says, "Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Baby Hats Galore!

Since opening my Etsy shop, I have made all kinds of different things to sell: sweaters, slippers, blankets, wash cloths, toys, and bibs.  The item I sell the most of, however, is baby hats.  I have added all kinds of baby hats to my shop over the past few months and they've been selling like crazy!  I have more ideas in my head, but less time available than I need to complete them.  For now, I'll just stick to making LOTS of the hats I have already designed. :)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Parenting From Proverbs

Most years, our neighbors pick a Saturday and have a neighborhood-wide garage sale.  This year, however, just a few of us had the time and stuff to have a sale, so we met at my house and had one, big sale.  My children wanted to have a lemonade/baked goods stand at the end of the driveway during our sale to earn money for an upcoming vacation.  I am a bit grossed out by children pouring beverages (I have observed too many hands digging in the dirt and fingers in noses), so I agreed to bake some cookies, Rice Krispies treats and mini loaves of bread for my kids to sell, along with some bottled water. 

My middle son and I tend to disagree on most things.  I have prayed about this, yet nothing changes.  I try diligently not to argue with this twelve-year-old blessing from Jesus and have accepted that he and I have different perspectives.  My prayer now is for his future wife, my future daughter-in-law.  I pray that she is living a life that is preparing her for his strong personality.  Anyway, he was not happy that there would be no lemonade at this lemonade stand.  I had to pick up a few things at Meijer and he asked to ride along.  I was suspicious, as he is not fond of shopping.  When we arrived, he asked if he could use his own money to buy Country Time Lemonade and cups to sell lemonade the following day.  I was at the point of my day where I didn't really care whose boogers ended up in whose cup of lemonade, so I agreed.

The lemonade mix was on sale for $2 and the cups were $1.46.  He waited in the checkout lane behind me and when I was finished with my purchase, the cashier rang up his two items.  I was standing nearby, but close enough to hear her tell Brodie his total was $1.55.  He handed her the money and met me where I was standing.  I looked at him and asked him how his transaction went.  He said that the things he bought must have been on sale because it didn't cost as much as he thought it would. 

I was tired and cranky after my day of getting merchandise in order for a yard sale, taking care of three kids and our house, and baking and baking and baking.  I just wanted to go home, make dinner, bathe my daughter, get our bedtime business finished and go to sleep!  As exhausted as I was, I couldn't ignore this teaching moment that the Lord had placed in front of me.  I could think of a hundred places in Scripture that told me I had to teach my son something despite my mentally and emotionally drained state.

I told Brodie that something seemed wrong and we needed to look at his receipt to be sure that the cashier charged him for both of the items he bought.  Sure enough, only the cups were listed on his receipt.  I asked him what we should do about it and he shrugged his shoulders, as a twelve-year-old would.  I gave him some words to use to explain to the Customer Service cashier what had happened and stood back while he remedied this situation.  She was shocked that he was so honest, collected his money for the lemonade, and gave him a store coupon for $2 off of his next purchase.  We didn't know he would get that coupon, intending for him to pay for the lemonade without the expectation of a reward and I really wanted him to know that even if it costs us, we still do what is right.  But I guess it was a good reinforcement to show him that it pays to be honest.

There are many books written on the topic of parenting and while many of these books can be useful, I am ever-thankful that the best parenting instruction comes directly from the Lord.  Proverbs 12:22 says: "The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful."  How amazing and wonderful that a twelve-year-old boy can bring DELIGHT to the Almighty God!  As a mother, my greatest prayer for my children is that they will desire God and choose Him above all.  I want to raise children who will be godly men and women, who will be living testimonies of the power of our risen King.  How fortunate I was that day in Meijer for that unexpected moment that will shape my son's heart in preparation for the man he will become.

In the end, Meijer still lost $2 in the form of a coupon, only it was lost in a way that honored God, delighted Him even.  It would have been easy to avoid all of the hassle involved in paying for the lemonade.  It would also have taught my son that it is okay to profit from the mistake of another person and that it pays to be dishonest.  Instead, ten minutes of my already long day, taught him that it is important to be honest, truthful, and a good witness for Christ at all times, not just when we "feel like it." 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Recipe for the Easiest, Yummiest Pasta Salad Ever

Summer just wouldn't be summer without this pasta salad!  My husband and kids (and nieces and nephews!) love this pasta salad.  I've been making it for as long as I can remember, probably because it is super-easy to make and when I first got married the most I could cook was cinnamon toast. :) 

Plus, I despise mayonnaise.  Finding summer side dishes without mayonnaise was a challenge a decade ago, before the days of Pinterest, so I was beyond excited to find this recipe at the time.  I still make it at least a couple of times each month and my kids have yet to grow sick of it. 

In the summertime, this pasta salad accompanies grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, chicken kabobs, or even PB&J sandwiches.  There is really no "wrong" way to make it, but my kids' favorite combination is: pasta, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and Meijer brand Reduced-Fat Italian salad dressing. If you have a garden and you plan

Easiest, Yummiest Pasta Salad Ever

16 ounce box of pasta (our favorite is Rotini)

1 16 ounce bottle of Italian salad dressing

Chopped vegetables of your choice:  cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, green onions, olives

Directions:  Cook and drain pasta according to package directions.  Place in a large bowl and cool. Add the entire bottle of salad dressing and mix well.  Add vegetables.  Chill completely before serving. Enjoy!

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Date With My Husband at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission

My husband and I aren't a "date night" kind of couple.  Occasionally we get crazy and go to Meijer for groceries after dinner, leaving all three children home to entertain themselves.  Most of our dates include standing in our kitchen at 9pm, eating store-brand Triscuits and coming up with solutions to each others' life problems.  It works for us.  Plus, I like to wear pajamas and be in bed by 10pm. 

Kalamazoo Gospel MissionOne of my husband's burdens is that he feels called to serve people in our community who are broken, homeless, addicted, and in need of a Savior.  Sometimes he hesitates and needs a push to get started on things.  I'm a little bit bossy an encouraging wife and if he shares something like this with me, I will find a way to help him.  He had mentioned helping out at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission and through Facebook, I heard about a Lunch and Learn meeting that they hold once a month or so.  We missed the first one I knew about because Doug was in the hospital with a tube through his back into his kidney.  This month, however, there are no tubes attached to anyone, so I signed us up.  Lunch without children = a date at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission.

The day arrived and it was a warm yet rainy walk from our car to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission.  We passed several women who were ignoring their fussing children, while avoiding eye contact as we walked by.  It was obvious to me that these kids were entirely exhausted and bored.  I have seen this same behavior in my own children, the difference being that I am able to tuck my babies into their own bed or hand them a jar of Play-Doh or even start a Dora the Explorer DVD.  These mothers, being homeless, didn't have those options.  And so they stood, waiting for the hour to arrive when they could enter the Gospel Mission for lunch and a moment out of the rain.  We later learned that the residents of the Gospel Mission get to eat first, followed by the general public, including these emotionless mothers of distraught children.

As we entered the building, we were greeted by a kind, approachable woman named Tammy, who led us into the Lunch and Learn meeting.  She reminded me instantly of a dear friend of mine from church.  I often wonder if God makes certain people familiar so that we are drawn to them and comfortable engaging with them.  In the meeting were pastors from local churches and another representative of the Gospel Mission named Nancy.  It was a smaller group than I expected and we quickly realized that it is typically pastors and community leaders who attend these meetings rather than individuals.  We were just two people there because of Jesus.  I'm sure we weren't the first couple without ties to an organization to attend, but it was clear that it was rare.  Thankfully, we felt comfortable in this setting and everyone there was warm and welcoming.  Plus, we are very much used to standing out from the rest of the world.  Being a family who doesn't do things the way most families do we just have that something that attracts attention and questions.  Rarely do we "fit in", yet we've learned to be comfortable with that.

As the meeting continued, we were presented with lots and lots of information about the services provided by the Gospel Mission.  The love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit were evident throughout this presentation.  Nancy and Tammy spoke about the people who come to the Gospel Mission and how these people walk in alone, but are able to walk out with a relationship with God.  We were given a tour of the building and met people who were once residents in the shelter, who were now employees whose lives have been transformed and redeemed by Jesus.  There were men eating lunch, wearing backpacks with all of their possessions inside.  There were mothers holding tiny babies and others helping older kids with their homework.  There was evidence of an enormous problem in this community, but also of the hope that can be found in Christ alone.

As we left, we passed more people smoking cigarettes, combing unwashed hair and organizing their small piles of belongings. They were depressed, displaced and wandering, not knowing where to go or what to do with this day.  Their lack of motivation and ambition is exhausting to me. They are not necessarily bad people, as our community is so quick to label them.  Some of them seem oblivious to the fact that there is more to life than drifting up and down sidewalks, carrying plastic grocery bags of stuff they've accumulated.  Others appeared vulnerable and miserable, knowing that there is a different way to spend their time, but lacking the knowledge and ability to change.  My prayer is that these people will utilize the services provided by the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, that their brokenness will lead them to this place where they can learn about Christ.  They are literally footsteps away from the entrance to this building, but their hearts are miles away.

Doug and I didn't see the latest movie release or enjoy dinner at a fancy restaurant, yet our Lunch and Learn date was time well-spent together.  We even had grown-up conversation in the car without children asking questions, telling stories and sharing their opinions, which is rare.  It was time that strengthened our relationships with Christ and with each other.  A successful date, to say the least. 

There is currently a campaign to raise money to build a new facility, as the current Gospel Mission is crumbling in some areas.  There are also opportunities to serve as a volunteer at the Gospel Mission or to donate just about anything you can think of and things you wouldn't think of!  Visit their web site to find out more:  And the next Lunch and Learn is in early May, if you're looking for a memorable "date afternoon." 

A Wonderful Web Site: www.TakeThemAMeal.Com

 Take Them A Meal

A few years ago, when Doug had surgery, a dear friend from church offered to arrange to have dinners delivered to our house for a week or so after he came home.  I was six months pregnant with my daughter at the time.  My boys were still attending a public elementary school.  Life was busy and taking care of a recuperating husband just added to that mile-long list of things I had to accomplish every day.  Having dinner delivered in the evenings made my day a little bit easier.

Months later, this same dear friend was stepping out of her role as the Meal Coordinator for our church.  She told me that she'd been praying about who to ask and she wanted to know if I would like to lead this ministry.  Knowing what a blessing it had been for my family months earlier, I was delighted to be able to do this for other families in our church.

I was given a list of names and phone numbers of people, mostly women, in our church who had agreed to prepare meals for families in our congregation who were hospitalized, had just given birth, had just lost a loved one, or who were going through a difficult time in their lives. Now, I am not a phone person whatsoever.  I only talk on the phone when it is absolutely necessary.  I prefer email or face-to-face conversations.  My husband and I don't even have cell phones. (We do have TracFones to communicate with our children when they are home alone and we're at the hospital or out and about.)  I wanted to lead this ministry and I knew that God would be honored by it, but I didn't enjoy calling people to ask them to make and deliver a meal to someone.  It just seemed very time-consuming to call person after person until I could reach someone who was available to take on this task.  I tried to come up with a more efficient way to fulfill this role as Meals Ministry Coordinator, but was unsuccessful and continued to use telephone calls to complete this task.

When a friend shared Take Them A Meal with me, I was thrilled! This web site enabled me to create a meal schedule for a family, including which days meals are needed.  I simply enter the details and send a single email that is received by all of the Meals Ministry volunteers.  This allows the volunteers to sign up and share what they are bringing so that the family receiving meals doesn't wind up with 12 pans of Lasagna.  I am able to provide details about what the family does and doesn't like to eat, any food allergies, what time they eat dinner, and how many people are in the family.  These details are helpful for the volunteers and keeps everything organized. 

The web site also sends out an automatic email to each volunteer the day before their meal is needed, reminding them that they have signed up and also what it is they signed up to bring.  Since it stores the email addresses of everyone I've sent emails to in the past, it takes just a few minutes for me to create a meal schedule for someone.