Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Angel Babies

Once again, I wonder: what did Baby Jesus look like? Perhaps something like my Jude or Jack?

My love has been multiplied...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shoebox? Shoe-in for Change!

When I was a kid, I remember helping my Grandma Betty pack dozens of giftwrapped shoeboxes into her trunk around Thanksgiving. I vaguely knew they were to help kids somewhere on the other side of the world at Christmastime. I most definitely knew that Grandma would give me candy afterwards for helping, which was far more important to me at the time!

But I did eventually grow up. And as soon as Nick and I got married, we started packing a shoebox every November for Operation Christmas Child, an outreach of an organization we support called Samaritan's Purse. It's run by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son.

The idea is simple: you take a normal-sized shoebox, fill it up with goodies for a boy or girl in 3 different age categories from ages 2-14 that you choose, and finally drop it off at a local pickup station (usually a church, business or school). Samaritan's Purse then delivers it to your boy or girl in any number of countries, often delivered by such diverse methods as camel or donkey.

In addition to getting the Christmas gift of a lifetime, each boy or girl gets an invitation to a local church and a Bible tract explaining the salvation message.

And now they let you track the status of your package! Last year, our box went to Peru.

I must say, Operation Christmas Child is grand fun! I'm supremely proud of the amount of stuff I manage to pack into my shoebox every year. Not to mention, it is an awesomely-easy way to teach Jack about missions. This year, he was super-excited to buy stuff for "kids who dote hab enny." :-)

Check out the list of 27 items I crammed into my box this year, chosen for a boy ages 2-4 in honor of Jack:

denim shorts, 6 pairs of socks, pens, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, playdough, a ziploc bag of hard butterscotch candy, 8 packs of gum, bar of soap, comb, toothpaste, toothbrush, 4 squishy sports balls, basketball hoop with inflatable ball, writing tablet, washcloth, baby powder, calculator, cup, fork/spoon, dinner plate, coloring book, Hot Wheels car, pencil sharpener, Kleenex and 2 race cars!

Go ahead and pack a box for yourself -- collection week is this week, November 15-22! Check out the link: www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.

Happy shoeboxing!

Friday, November 5, 2010

"So" my Perfume

When I was around 13 or so, I had a small obsession with my Aunt Penny. First of all, I looked more like her than my mom. Aunt Penny looked killer in red (as did I, according to my color wheel), wore lipstick, drove a stick shift, could tease her bangs in true 90s fashion, and had larger....um....had certain assets that my awkward pre-teen self truly desired. She was the coolest.

At our almost-weekly lunches at Los Cabos, she would laugh hysterically at everything I said. I never figured out why, but I didn't care. I was just so enamored that a grown woman besides my mom would find me fun to hang out with.

Aunt Penny wore So de la Renta perfume. To me, it was the icing on the cake. That perfume was so grownup! So womanly! So expensive-smelling! I had to have it.

So imagine my joy when, at my 13th birthday party, Aunt Penny bestowed upon me a magic bottle of the golden, treasured So (pictured above). I vowed to wear it and a bra at the exact same time, therefore proving my womanliness.

Yet I wanted to treasure every last drop. So I made a compromise with myself: I would only wear it to special occasions, like church and all those homeschool functions I attended. (I'm really upping my coolness quotient with you, aren't I?).

So I wore my So to my middle school graduation, first homecoming, as a bridesmaid in Shane & Jill's wedding, for good luck during my driver's test (I passed the first time, thank you very much!) and first cheerleading event and SATs, to my Hult Center concert, high school graduation, first day of college...

And even my own wedding and honeymoon. On the day I gave birth to Jack. So and I have been through a lot together.

A few years ago, Oscar de la Renta stopped manufacturing So. I was terrified. Would I be a real woman anymore without my signature scent?

My awesome mother-in-law stepped in, buying me a few more bottles online before they went. I was saved!

I still wear So. Yet lately, as the gold level in my bottle drops lower and lower, I've been thinking. About getting a new perfume. Gasp!

Yet I think it's time. I've been wearing the same perfume for a dozen years, and I love it (thankfully, so does Nick). But it's time to move on. To what scent, I don't know. But I feel older now, ready for a change of scentery. (Any suggestions?).

I think I'll still keep the last bottle, though. Maybe I'll smell it every once in a while, and remember what it was like to feel the longing for adulhood again....to live in that strange, in-between land between girlhood and womanhood. For me, So encompasses both sides of the fence, so it's doubly special. They say scent is the strongest emotional trigger, and I think it's true.

So long, So. You've served me well. And thanks, Aunt Penny, for setting an awkward wannabe on the path to all things woman. :-)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What it Means to be Held

Children are a blessing from the Lord. This I have been told my whole life, and I believe it. Yet what if that blessing comes with pain beyond measure? Is it still a blessing I would want?

Let me explain. This is my beautiful friend, Debra. Isn't she a Scottish stunner?

Debra and I haven't actually met -- in person, that is. She is an advocate with Compassion UK, while I am an advocate with Compassion USA. We met each other on Compassion's social networking site for their volunteers around a year ago and quickly became friends.

Debra is incredibly passionate about the work that Compassion does, especially for children from Ghana. She is kind, gentle and from what I can tell, always puts others first. She uses phrases that my British relatives do, which always makes me smile, and has a penchant for "hill-walking." I'm pretty sure that means hiking.

Debra shared with me a while back her and her husband Matt's desire to have a 3rd child. They already have 16-year-old Shannah and 4-year-old Jude. Thanks to some medical issues, Debra had been struggling with conceiving #3. That's why I was off-the-charts excited for her when she shared the happy news with me: another one was on the way, just a month ahead of my own.

We quickly began sharing plans for our babies, including what strollers ("prams") to buy, the perplexing question of why the UK doesn't have garage sales like the US so Debra could buy inexpensive baby clothes, and where and in what our babies would sleep. It was quite fun hearing from another pregnant mother on the other side of the pond.

During some tests, it was determined that Debra's baby would most likely have spina bifida and some other medical problems. Despite the odds, Debra and Matt felt confident that Jesus would take care of their son, as they now knew he was, and that they would continue with the pregnancy with a positive, thankful attitude.

Debra often shared updates with me, and perhaps because I am pregnant with my 2nd boy, too, I began praying fervently for Baby Samuel. Every time I did (often out on my runs in the morning), I felt God's presence and voice saying that it would be okay, that God already knew the outcome and that Samuel was loved. I marked Debra's scheduled induction date on my day planner and prayed even more as the day approached.

Samuel was born -- beautiful and precious. Yet he was not physically perfect. I don't know every detail, but I do know just days after he was born, Debra and Matt buried their beloved baby boy. Debra, with her ever-giving spirit, took the time just the day after Samuel's funeral to write me and tell the news.

I can't lie -- I cried. I grieved. I wondered and prayed and pondered for a solid 24 hours, thinking of nothing else.

I never knew this baby and I don't "know" his mother. Yet he touched my life, and I think he taught me something.

I think Natalie Grant can say it better:

Two months is too little/They let him go
They had no sudden healing
To think that providence/Would take a child from his mother/While she prays, is appalling
Who told us we'd be rescued/What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
We're asking why this happens to us/Who have died to live, it's unfair

This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life/And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know/That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held

This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and/Let the hatred numb our sorrows
The wise hand opens slowly/To lilies of the valley and tomorrow

If hope if born of suffering/If this is only the beginning
Can we not wait, for one hour
Watching for our savior

This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life/And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held

You are loved, little Samuel, and safe in God's arms. We, meanwhile, are held, too.

I interviewed a world-champion cowboy last week, and while he was in no way talking about babies entering heaven before we planned, I think a quote of his applies:

"Life isn't going to be easy. Rain falls on us all. It's how we handle it, knowing we're not by ourselves."

No, we are not alone. And now their is another little "wee one," as Debra says, watching us while holding the hand of Jesus.

Which, no matter how grievous or heart-breaking, is the best place to be.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quote for a Wednesday

"If Sir Isaac Newton had been a member of [a nudist colony], he wouldn't have needed a falling apple to help him arrive at the theory of gravity." -- Emily Yoffe, Slate

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Perfect Stage

See that very unhappy baby above, all writhing 8 pounds, 4 ounces of him? That's the first photo taken of my little Jack. I have a confession to make: I was not in love with the idea of his existence, even on the day he was born.

There's many reasons why, which I have written about in some articles, but the long and short of it was I didn't feel ready to be a mother. I'd imagined motherhood to be one way, and though the work/grossness/pain part met my expectations, the halo-surrounding-my-child's-head-from-birth part never materialized at the newborn stage.
Nor did any great maternal feelings crop up here, at the smiling, cooing, love-my-tummy-time stage.
Or even here, the I'm-trying-so-hard-to-walk-and-get-into-things phase.

See, I thought he was the cutest baby alive for sure. I proudly showed him off, dressed with him care, smiled at his antics, sang to him with big dreams in my heart, prayed over and LOVED him. He was my son, and I was (am!) proud of Jack.

Yet something was missing.

And over this last year, as he has turned two years old of all times, I have quietly, mysteriously discovered a different kind of love.

THIS sort of love. The love where you cry at the drop of a hat when your heart feels it will burst if it holds anything more inside. Where you cry at news broadcasts of wounded Iraqi children, because their mothers' pain is YOUR pain. Where you gaze at your son's sleeping form and wonder how you ever lived without him.

At the onset of the terrible two's, I wondered what Jack would be like. At 18 months, he had started to get really fun: talking up a storm, climbing over everything (okay, that part started at around 10 months!), developing a sense of humor, and displaying a zest for life I may have forgotten in my old age. But you know the popular idea: 2-year-olds are crazy-terrible.

How wrong, wrong, wrong!

Here is what I have been treated to over the past year of Jack's life:

(You don't know sexiness until you have seen your husband love your son)

I can honestly say this has been THE most fun stage of Jack's life, a million times better than I ever could have imagined.

He wakes up every morning, runs into our room and showers Nick and me with kisses. He speaks in full sentences, points out little wonders I would have missed, sets his own place at the table, helps me with cooking and cleaning, is potty-trained, makes friends on his own in the park and church nursery and randomly tells me he loves me throughout the day.

He's developed his own relationship with Nick, creating a new space inside my soul to love both my boys in a way I didn't know possible.

He asks me questions about God and Jesus, reproductive organs, bugs and birds and how tractors run that make me think.

He changes me, bit by bit, every day, always for the better.

At night, I kneel by his bed and pray over his life with a fervency I didn't know possible. I trace every part of his beautiful face with my eyes and fingers, memorizing every little detail. Something wiggles in my brain...where have I have done this before? Where have I tried to commit every last molecule of someone's face to memory?

It clicks....and my soul grows even more.

When I was 17 and crazy-in-love with Nick, he would hold me in his arms as we said our long goodbyes every night. I would stare at Nick's green eyes, giggle inwardly at his Normal Rockwell-freckles, and in general thank God I was in this magical bubble with the most amazing boy on earth.

When Nick left for boot camp, I didn't want to forget anything about him -- the taste of his kiss, the way his lips pouted every so slightly when he didn't get his way, how his whole face lit up when I walked through the door. And I spent serious amounts of time studying his face, willing myself to not forget a single thing. I knew even better times were coming (if such a thing was possible, and it was!), but I wanted to savor what I had, right then and there.

I was soooo in love with Nick. Now I find myself still there, but fully in love with another little man...with another one on the way. Another new one to love is coming soon, and I'm thrilled...all because of Nick and Jack.

Yet something inside me wants so desperately to savor these last few months, to know exactly how Jack was, to remember us as a family of three, to fully pay attention to just Jack and no one else, to never forget the perfection that is my son at this exact stage in our lives.

The perfect stage.

Yet just as life kept getting better with Nick, I know it will too with Jack and my newest love. It will be different...it will be tough....maybe it will take time for me to fall in love with baby #2 like it did with #1.

Yet it will happen. And my heart will stretch and grow again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

(Low or High, Take Your Pick) Class is Now in Session

Last Saturday was our 6th wedding anniversary, and accordingly, we decided to celebrate in 6th-anniversary style. So to the big city of Portland we went. The Benson Hotel awaited!

We drove straight from the coast, so we were sandy, sundrenched and not exactly at our cleanest to begin with. Nick and I made that even worse by going to Dairy Queen first. Why can't I keep Georgia Mud Fudge in my mouth and not on my shirt?!?!

The hotel lobby was amazingly beautiful. There was valet parking (neither Nick nor I were exactly sure how to use this rich-person staple -- take that, all you high schoolers who mocked me for being something I never was!). As we checked in, the concierge said, "Enjoy your honeymoon package!" Oh right....I forgot we booked that INSTEAD of the anniversary package, because it was a little cheaper....I looked down at my stained maternity top....

We came straight from the nearest trailer park, sir.

Low-class though we may be, we still walked into THIS....

And this...

All that romance I suppose, is how I got here....

But at any rate, as long as I'm with Nickolas, I'm like this....

That evening, we went to a concert just outside of Portland where I am positive that I was the only woman wearing a bra. Or who possibly owned a razor.
At a late dinner afterward, the waitress asked us if we wanted one check or two.

Will we ever look old enough for people to think we're actually married and not dating? Maybe at our 20th???

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Joys of Summer

Here is a short list of Jack's little life this summer. If he were to tell you the joys of his summer, he might list....

Riding a carousel with my best friend

Learning valuable lessons at the water park

Watching my first fireworks show

Hearing the crack of the bat against the thump of the ball on a homegrown ball field

Goofing around with my daddy

Being mesmerized by a campfire

Growing my own tomatoes

Discovering all the cool things God made

Watching the people I love best spread their wings

But really, who can lie? This summer has been all about love, happiness.....and water!

So what's on your list of summer joys?

Monday, July 5, 2010

26th 4th

Whenever I'm asked the question, "What is your favorite holiday?", I always say it's a tie between Christmas and Independence Day. But whenever each respective holiday rolls around, I'm determined that that one is my favorite. Hence, I am now rolling in the post-4th glow of fireworks, full children, decades-old decorations and a renewed appreciation for all things American.

I've been to 10 countries now on 4 continents, and I have to say I haven't found a better place to live than right where I was raised. Creswell is getting far too big for its britches in my opionion, but man, does this small town know how to throw a party!

Though I would dig watching the parade no matter what, I've decided you develop a new love for its simplistic entries when watching the kids stare in wonder at the hokey floats going by:

This is the first time in several years Nick's been around for the 4th of July (he's usually TDY or deployed), so he savored every moment. Can you tell?

What is it about this holiday that makes you draw your little ones closer to you? Could it be their matching outfits, dirty faces, happy smiles from ingesting far too much sugar....or maybe a deep sense of "Thank you Lord that my children know freedom"?

4th of July is the essence of everything that's right in America!

As I held Jack in my arms for his first fireworks show, I thought about the world. I thought about how scared I can get in these current times, with terrorists and politicians lurking in every corner. I wondered what the world would look like for Jack when he starts questioning everything Nick and I are raising him to believe.

I thought about all the mothers out there wondering about their own sons and daughters on foreign shores, hearing the same sounds I was....with a life-and-death difference. I marveled that anyone would be willing to die for my freedom, the staggering amounts of humanity that have paid the ultimate sacrifice so I could sit on a blanket with the ones I love most and be bedazzled by some loud noises and lights.

I fell in love with my country all over again and prayed fervently for its future. I ran a race in the morning with thousands of others, watched a parade with thousands of others, barbecued and ate and watched our yearly softball game knowing that millions of others were doing the same thing as me at the same time.

The 4th never gets old, and neither do the freedoms and values it embodies.