Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jack, 5 & 100

Dear Jack,
Thirteen days ago, you turned five. I've been thinking of how far you and I have both come in that half decade. And though my words won't do it justice, I will try, in my 100th blog post, to tell you what's seeping out of my heart as I watch you grow.

When I took this picture of you above -- just two days old and getting ready to leave that awful hospital -- I wasn't happy. (Frankly, neither were you. If you weren't nursing, you weren't happy.). I didn't want to be a mom, and definitely not then, when I was only 22 and thought I knew everything.

I had my reasons for shrinking away from motherhood. And thanks to the therapy of years, a fabulous doula and a patient God, I can understand them now. Instead of feeling guilty over what was, I can rejoice over what is.

Because this is what is:

You. Hysterical, handsome, wonderful, generous, loving, mischievous you.

With your Uncle Jonny's cleft in your chin, your daddy's cowlick(s) and your Grandpa Dale's everything else, your physical beauty often leaves me speechless. I know every mother most likely feels that way, but still...who wouldn't fall for your chocolate brown eyes, loooong eyelashes (thank you, Nick) and Norman Rockwell freckles?

So sure, you're cute (or handsome, as you would correct me, because only baby girls and kittens/puppies are cute). But the essence of you goes far beyond that.

Your social butterfly tendencies mean that every kid who knows you likes you, including frilly girls who abhor Legos and mud. You can strike up a conversation with anyone, from our elderly neighbors (whom he spends time with nearly every day, by the way) to the baby in a cart at the grocery store.

You're smart, blowing my mind with your ability to dissect any object within seconds, firing a litany of questions all the while. You read, add and subtract. And while your brain tends to vanish while you're on a bike, I know it's just a different kind of education for you. Because you love to learn, plain and simple. (And thank God for first aid kits).

If Gary Chapman knew you, he would point out the obvious: your love language is words of affirmation. That is how you receive love, and that is how you give it. So yes, son, I think your tower is fantastic, and I love spending time with you. And thank you for telling me 50 times a day that I'm the best, prettiest, sweetest mommy. Please don't stop. Ever.

You're chivalrous, complimenting my outfits and holding doors for women, and you've already figured out girls love to get gifts. So when you raided my present stash last month and gave a nail polish kit to your friend Emma -- even wrapping it, for goodness' sake -- who was I to tell you no?

You're surprising. Who would have ever guessed that the little boy who loved to jump his bike, get dirty, wrestle and catch worms also loved to bake cookies, decorate and help me choose my jewelry and accessories every day?

Though you're only five, you've given me plenty of hints as to what I can expect in the future. And I like what I see.

When you tattle on your brother, you tell me that justice is important to you and always will be. (But really, give tattling a break. It's kind of getting old).

When you climb things you shouldn't, you let me know that fear will not ever stop you from trying, failing, trying again and then succeeding.

When you pray every night for our Compassion children, naming all five on two continents, you're showing me that "least of these" matter to you. When you fervently ask God to find a home for Colt, complete with a mommy, daddy and lots of toys, I know that the proverbial little guy has a firm hold in your heart, and that your faith is strong.

When you dash around the house, karate-chopping invisible bad guys, I see in you the heart of a warrior. Like all boys and men, God has gifted you with the desire to rescue.

It doesn't matter who needs help, you are ready and willing to give it within seconds. I am your princess, and you are my knight in plastic, made-in-China armor.

Jack, mission accomplished. You have rescued me just by being you, from my self-built prison of arrogance, fear and selfishness. You've shown me that being a mom truly is the best path in life for me, and I couldn't be happier.

When I tucked you in the other night, you held my face in your hands and stroked my cheek. "I love you so much, Mom," you whispered. "Thank you, son," I answered. "Have I told you that there's nothing sweeter in the world than being your mommy?"

He rolled over and smiled groggily, pointing to the ceiling. "No, Mom, there is something sweeter," he said. "God."

So I guess I have two rescuers to thank.

*Thanks so much to all my new readers for entering the Dorcas Smucker book giveaway. Rhoda from Corona, New York was the winner and should be enjoying her prize right now! Thanks to all for entering, and stick around Crystal's Cliffnotes for more giveaways in the future.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Smucker Satisfaction -- and a Giveaway!

I was never a normal child. To any of you who have known me for more than a few minutes, this fact will not come as a big shocker.

As in, my parents would take away my Reader's Digest as punishment instead of sending me to my the age of six. Yes, I was that nerdy.

But Reader's Digest wasn't the only written literature I loved. From first grade on, I fell in love with the Register-Guard, Eugene's daily newspaper. Except for the business section, I read it cover to cover every morning.

(And yes, I somehow managed to find an incredibly attractive husband. Real men dig smart girls!)

One of the treasures I soon discovered was a column called, "Letters from Harrisburg." Written by a Mennonite minister's wife, it told the adventures of raising six children in an old farmhouse in Harrisburg. Even in elementary school, I remember being shocked that the RG would publish someone who wasn't a hippie or a PETA member. It gave me hope.

So I started studying Dorcas Smucker's secrets of a good essay. And over the years, I've had plenty of chances, because she's flat-out brilliant.

That's why I was so excited to review her fourth book, Tea & Trouble Brewing. As in, she has now personally e-mailed me and sent me free books. I love my job. 

Presented as a collection of essays, TATB can be read in any random order. But random isn't a word I would use to describe Dorcas Smucker. More like deliberate, hysterical, surprising and relatable.Why do I love Dorcas' writing? Simple.

1) She reminds me of my mother. And that's the biggest compliment I could give anyone. They both have six children, three boys and three girls, some biological and some adopted. They both live in the country and love it. They both are laugh-out-loud funny, most of the time on accident and without realizing it. They both dig Leslie Sansone's walk workouts. They both run the show quietly, mostly while serving and in the background. And as my mother says, "I could never be Amish, but I think I could be Mennonite." Ding ding! Dorcas has been both!
  Future best friends? I think so!

2) Dorcas' life is nothing like mine...and exactly alike. So she is fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch and wears a head covering. Suffice it to say her childhood was slightly different than mine. But really, after reading all four of her books, I'm still shocked at how similar we are. Her world -- the Willamette Valley, the joy of raising a bummer lamb, rambunctious boys lighting things on fire, the passion to serve God, family and community -- is my world. And I think, even if those things I just mentioned aren't part of your everyday life, that you will reach a similar conclusion.

3) She's subtly hilarious. I love ridiculous humor (hence my love for both "Father of the Bride" films and "Nacho Libre"), but I also thoroughly enjoy the kind that makes you smirk, then giggle, then finally crack up. Dorcas is the latter kind of author. While watching her son Ben give a speech, for example, she was immensely proud. A normal feeling for a mother. But then: "But I still clutched Paul's [her husband] hands like I was giving birth, and when Ben got a standing ovation, I went wilder than a Mennonite mom ought to go" (from "On Truly Winning," page 31). I may or may not have spit out my cereal in appreciation upon reading that gem.

4) Her writing is impeccably genius. This isn't some random blog with a few funny stories thrown together. These pages are chock-full of carefully-crafted beginnings, middles and endings. One specific reason I love Dorcas' writing? She ALWAYS connects her final paragraph to her first in a way that perfectly ties up the package. That takes serious talent and years of work.

So what does this matter to you? Glad you asked. Just for reading this blog, YOU can win a brand-new, autographed copy of Tea & Trouble Brewing!

Simply leave a comment on this blog (NOT Facebook!) with your name saying:

1) Why you would like to win
2) Your favorite kind of tea...or trouble.

I will randomly choose a winner on Sunday morning, contact you and mail you your hot-off-the-press copy! (Winner must live in the U.S.).

If you're not the lucky winner, never fear. You  can still order a copy for yourself. Or send a $15 check to Dorcas at 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.

Whether you're a winner or not, check out Dorcas' blog and her Facebook page. (Yes, Mennonites have Facebook pages). Happy tea-brewing!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

10 Years Ago Today, J'├ętais en France

10 year ago today, I was winging my way to France with my mom, sister-in-law Jill, Jill's mom Kathi and the rest of my International Trade and Tourism (ITT) class from CHS. Yes, our field trips were that cool.

I'm so lucky that my parents have long believed in the value of travel. My father bankrolled trips to both Europe and Africa for me in high school, which obviously isn't cheap. Yet so many life lessons and values came to me while I was hearing, seeing, tasting, touching and smelling new things on non-American soil.
I definitely learned a lot. Like French people don't believe in pickup trucks.,or even cars that can fit someone larger than a small child inside.

Funnily enough, back in 2002 I wrote in the photo album that this car was "Shelbea-sized." Times have changed. There is no way Shelbea could ever fit her long legs in this car now!
Highlights of the 10-day jaunt included:
  • Taking a night train to Nice (an excerpt from my journal: "I never want to hear the phrase "Nice is Nice" again. The French people think it's funny, but it's not.")
  • Visiting the famed Notre Dame Cathedral, with the requisite scaffolding on the side. I learned that only in movies does any building in Europe not have some form of scaffolding attached to it at all times.


  • Checking out Louis "The Sun God" XIV's digs at Versailles. Air Force One and the White House ain't got nothing on this place!

    Funny memories (oh, my poor mother). She took several years of French in school, can read it quite well and was so excited to practice in real life. So we all agreed to let her be our spokewoman in public. Our first night on the town, we headed to a non-touristy restaurant. The hostess asked, "How many?" in French, and we all looked at Mom expectantly. All she had to do was say "quatre" -- four.  
But she froze. She French froze. And then, with a white, terrified face, threw up her right hand, 4 fingers erect.  
We just about died laughing. And then laughed some more when on another night, we ordered a whole fish for each of us....and got it. Literally.

P.S. Mom, I like your hair here.
  • After 3 straight days of museum-ing (the Louvre is just not as cool as the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I don't care how uncultured that makes me sound), I was finished and needed a quiet space to sit down and think. I found one, next to a statue of a guy doing the exact same thing. How handy.

 Yep, traipsing around France and Monaco was pretty awesome. My whole life back then, when you think about it, was pretty awesome. But it was about to get a million times better.
In the middle of this trip -- of the fantastic new experiences and wonderful memories -- I felt something crazy. I missed someone, quite unexpectedly. So much so that I had to make an international call just to hear his voice.
You see, at this point, I still didn't know. I didn't realize how important this one boy would become to me someday. I didn't know we had a future together. Honestly, in early November 2002, I was just glad I had someone to pay for an occasional movie and ice cream on a Saturday night. I figured we'd date a few months and then move on.
Sometimes, it's fantastic when you're wrong.
So I called Nick in Creswell all the way from Paris. We spoke only a few minutes, and that was  that. But when I got home, I found this note in my locker (you know, back before boys and girls only communicated through the idiocy we call texting). Note the 2 o's in "soo." :-)

And that was the beginning. Reading those words in between econ with Morris and Choir with Buller, something clicked. My heart began to change. Within one month, I knew we were going to get married.
Today, life is certainly different than it was back then. I've been out of college for 6 years. I'm well on my way into an incredibly satisfying career (maybe not well-paying...but I take what I can get). I'm a military wife and mama to 3 children. And that boy who used to leave me sweet notes in my locker is now my grown-up husband of 8 years. And I'm still starry-eyed about him.

International travel can teach you so much about the world. It's exciting, fast-paced and a whirlwind.

Maybe my life isn't exactly that way today. And that's okay. Because sometimes, traveling can remind you that something (or someone) even better waits for you back home.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kwaheri, Henry

One of the best parts about being an advocate with Compassion International is that I get to write to kids without paying for them. In other words, all of the fun without any of the monetary sacrifice (although I assure you, financially sponsoring our 2 kids is about 99 parts joy and only 1 part sacrifice!).

How does this genius program work? Simple. Some corporations and wealthy donors annually give big bucks to Compassion, enabling thousands of kids across the globe to receive free medical care, quality nutrition, an education and a chance to know Christ. But this small group obviously cannot personally write to said hordes. So that's where people like me come in. We get "correspondence kids," who for simplicity sake think we are their actual sponsors.

Enter Henry Omulama (seriously, try saying his name without giggling just a little). Henry is 22 and from Kenya. He is about to graduate from welding school and is quite excited about his future -- thanks to Compassion, his BRIGHT future.

Here is his final graduation letter to us, written in his best English.

"Dear Nickolas & Crystal Kupper,

Receive much greetings from me hoping that you're all doing fine in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm well in the Lord together with my family; God has kept us safe and alive in his name. We are now approaching the harvesting season.

I have been attending the project program still continue learning and getting more knowledge in becoming a responsible Christian adult who demonstrates Christ like character. I have also committed to attending the church in knowing God better.

I am working hard in school to excel in my studies and technical course of metal work. I'm in my final year of study and confident that I will pass my final examination and embrace my practical skills for a living.

I want to take this chance and opportunity to thank you so much for your support in sponsoring me throughout my studies and family life; economically equiping me and investing much in me to make me a successful person in the society. My family is grateful too for everything you have done to them through me. They pray for you to prosper together with your family. I will never forget about you, I will always pray for your prosperity; that God will give you more life and good health; that you may do good to others as you have done to me. I'm proud of you and grateful to Compassion in general.

Yours faithfully,
Son and Friend,

His words have been rolling around my mind for days. Henry is proud of us? For what? I have done nothing. I've performed a task -- writing letters -- that, for me, is just about as easy as breathing. And yet he will never forget about us.

Words come easily to me, and thankfully, I often get paid for them. But it was some simple paragraphs in an African welder's foreign tongue that just enriched my heavenly bank account more so than any fat book contract ever could.

Want to be equally blessed by a child? Head over to and learn about sponsorship. Maybe someday you too will be saying "kwaheri" (goodbye) to a child who gave you more than they ever cost.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

From Carnage to Comical: How Aurora PD Laughed Again

In today's 24/7 news cycle, bad news shouldn't shock us. After all, that's usually all we see. And 8 days ago, that trend continued when a shoot-em-up, grisly murder scene leapt from the movie screen to reality. In the very place where people come to be entertained by imaginary violence, 12 people lost their very real, very precious lives.

Of course, we know all these facts by now. We know about Aurora, just like we know all about Columbine, Springfield, Fort Hood and so many others. And though we should be used to such tragedies, we never are...because as humans, we instictively know there is something better out there than this messed-up, sinful world.

My cousin Cody knows what evil looks like. He's the cop in the photo above. And he was working the graveyard shift on Friday morning, July 20 in Aurora, Colorado.

It had been a busy night. Cody was called out to bust up a domestic disturbance when he got word of a noise disturbance. Could he go check it out? Nope, he said, he was too busy.

They say God works in mysterious ways, and it's true. That fight saved Cody's life.

The shooter meticulously planned the massacre for months,  right down to attempting to kill as many cops as possible.The guy booby-trapped his apartment and set his music to blast suddenly at midnight. That first part of the plan worked; hence the call to police from his neighbors.

Protocol calls for police to go into any open door if necessary. The shooter knew that and left his door open, hoping all the police would rush to his apartment with the first blast, and therefore be spread thin when the theater 911 calls came in. But Cody was occupied elsewhere and so never went...thank God.

When he got word about the shooting, his squad car flew 110 mph through once-peaceful Aurora. Later, Cody's partner was assigned to stay with the bodies. The hours ticked by. The air began to change, while the cell phones, choked with worry from friends and family, rang incessantly -- the only sound coming from the dead. And there was nothing that the brave policeman could do about it.

Cody, along with the rest of the police department, was exhausted when dawn broke. Yet his very next shift, another big call came, this time for an apartment fire. It didn't look so good. Was this going to be another night of death and defeat?

Thankfully, no. Instead, it turned into a night of small triumph and a reminder that evil is only temporary.

And those lessons came from a squirrel.

As the fire climbed higher, cops and firefighters noticed a squirrel trapped by the flames. Of course, their priority was human life (and thankfully, everyone was saved that night), but they so badly wanted this little squirrel to live.

It paced back and forth on a ledge. The fire crept closer. Finally, his fur started to smoke, then singe. There was nowhere to go. Or was there?

The squirrel, now beginning to catch fully on fire, backed up. To the many cheers of the emergency responders below, he took a running start and leapt through a wall of flames Superman-style.

He fell several stories....straight into a swimming pool below. The cops grabbed a net, fished him out and laid him on the pavement.

The squirrel didn't move for several minutes. Then, after regaining some strength, he ran off, apparently unhurt. And the Aurora Police Department smiled and laughed and breathed a sigh of relief.

It might sound silly, or stupid even, to feel happy about saving an animal after such a human bloodbath. Yet it meant something to the men and women who deal with evil firsthand. "It was absolutely hilarious how that little squirrel did that," Cody told me, "and it was even better how a bunch of cops that had dealt with such a tragedy the night before were able to feel good about pulling a little squirrel out of a pool."

I know there have been many miracles surrounding the Aurora massacre (including a precious baby making it to his birthday), so maybe this one doesn't sound like much.  But I think God knew Aurora's firefighters, paramedics and cops like Cody needed it.

No, one saved squirrel doesn't bring back a dozen people. It doesn't lighten the anguish that so many families will forever carry, nor does it erase the memories that brave souls like Cody and his partner will replay in their brains for years.

God cares about people. He cares when we hurt, and his heart breaks when we cry. Yes, he knew that the terrible night  was going to happen, and yes, he could have stopped it. For some reason we may never know, he permitted it happen.

I don't have all the answers as to why. Evil reigns and bad things happen to good people.

Like that exhausted squirrel, the survivors and families may need to lay low for a while, even feel paralyzed by grief. But Aurora (not Batman!) will rise again and dash back into their "wild, precious lives" as poet Mary Oliver says. Eventually.

Just 2 days after the shooting, Cody, his pregnant wife Ashley and their daughter Mikayla stood in church and sang with the congregation.

Greater things have yet to come

And greater things are still to be done in this city
Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here.

In Columbine, Springfield and Fort Hood.

And in Aurora.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cheers to True Friendship

Nick has gotten me hooked on Cheers. Yes, that Cheers -- Ted Danson, shoulder pads and sailor dresses and Cliff Clavin's terrible Boston accent. I know I'm a few decades behind, but you can blame that on my upbringing. Popular TV shows just never were a priority in my house. In fact, I was so Cheers-deficient that when my pastor in Idaho preached a sermon called "The Church Where Everybody Knows Your Name" a couple years ago, accompanied by a live cover of the theme song, I had no idea how everyone else in the sanctuary already knew it.

So a few weeks ago, when I heard the now-familiar strains of "Making it in the world today takes everything you've got," it all sank in. Ah ha! (Yes, I was homeschooled. Next question?)

I am not a passive sitcom viewer. I have this habit of watching a show and mulling over its meaning for the next several hours or even days. This quirk of mine has led to some great discussions about marriage, parenting and life between Nick and me (Me: "I can't believe you agree with Tim again!" Nick: "So? You always take Jill's side!" Points to anyone who can identify the show).

And so it is with Cheers. This cast of hysterical characters gets its fuel from their friendships. Yet I think the writers have gotten it a little tweaked. True friendship comes not from quick-witted barbs (oh Carla), love-hate relationships (Diane & Sam) or even overlooking country bumpkin ignoramuses (my favorite characters, Woody and Coach).

Instead, I think true friendship looks like this:

Letting your high school best friend broadcast your deepest hurt to the world so more people can pray for you, even though it reminds you of the precious newborn daughter you lost days ago. Also giving said friend permission to call you at any time of day or night to check up on you, because it makes her feel like she's somehow helping.

True friendship means watching a very energetic toddler 3 days a week for several hours at a time for no pay. If not for Melody, I could not have taught 60 piano students in Idaho. I also would never have gotten a pedicure. And if you're wondering, yes, before she became a mom, Melody was a model.

True friendship means letting your best friend cry for 45 minutes straight into your ear over her heartbreak from the day before without reminding her whatsoever that you opened for STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN last night (a dream come true, and well-deserved). After Run for Compassion Salem, all I wanted to do was sob to Rochelle. I did, and she comforted me with Bible verses, prayers and words of truth and wisdom. Only after we hung up did I realize that not once had she mentioned her big night. She had solely concentrated on me and my needs.

True friendship looks like Artists' Point in Yellowstone: wild, inspiring, organic, sometimes dirty and real. Without Tessa, I would never have discovered a career that I crave and love. I also would not know that it was possible to be a liberal in Wyoming.  

True friendship means getting up early, making a cardboard sign and trekking up a mountainside to cheer your friend on in a marathon. And also gladly peeling off her sweaty, disgusting clothes at the finish line because she was too tired and sore to do it herself.

These are the women who teach me what real friendship looks like -- not some scripted, funny moment, but selfless sacrifice and commitment played out in real life. It's not always pretty. Sometimes those relationships involve a lot of sweat (literally -- just ask Mel). Sometimes they mean speaking the harsh truth in love (if you need help in this area, see Rochelle). And sometimes, they involve tears. Yet true friendship is always worth the investment.

What does true friendship look like in your life?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Didn't Want Her. Then I Didn't Want to Return Her.

I opened the dishwasher, saw the clean bowl (backwards, of course) and swallowed another lump in my throat, willing myself not to cry again. I had to empty the dishwasher and wasn't happy about it.

But not for the reason you might think. That backwards bowl had been placed there by Celia, the de facto Spanish Dishwasher Princess for the past year. And now, she was gone.

As I grabbed each cup and plate, my mind drifted back to last summer -- a beautiful August evening spent with friends "I'm afraid of her," I confessed to my friend Kori. "I didn't understand teenage girls when I was one!"

"Her" was a 15-year-old stranger from Madrid, Spain who was at that very moment flying to live with us for a year. And I was terrified.

Getting an exchange student had not been my idea. Like anything out of the ordinary in my life, it was all Nick from the beginning. "Pray about it, please?" he had asked when a friend tried to sell us on hosting. No way, I said. The wife gets all the work of an exchange student, and have you forgotten we have an infant? "Then we can say no," he assured me. "Just pray about it."

And so I agreed, convinced God would be on my fatigued side. For 2 weeks, I waited expectantly for a no...but never got one. "Okay, Lord," I huffed. "You're going to have to send us the perfect kid. And did you know my mom thinks this is a terrible idea and tried to talk me out of it?"

We looked at a few hundred applications, picked out a Slovakian girl who listed her top 3 hobbies as looking after small children, cleaning houses and baking cakes, and waited. No dice. Some other lucky housewife had snagged her over the weekend.

I took that as a sign -- SEE?! This is not meant to be! But then we looked again. And Celia Martinez Rivera, a young Spaniard with a genuine smile, caught our eye.

She had one older brother (quite cute, actually) only a few years younger than us. She was Catholic and got excellent grades. She loved tennis and was in love with Rapha Nadal. Her mother was an international flight attendant, her father a businessman. She wanted a family with little kids even though she knew nothing about them.Gulp.

We said yes to parenting a girl who was born when we were 11. We didn't know it at the time, but we also said yes to more joy than we could ever imagine.

She arrived in the middle of the night. In my bed already, I heard them walk in, heard Nick show her the room we had worked hard to convert from an office into a teenage girl's oasis (though no Justin Bieber posters; I just couldn't go there). And I felt irritated that she was already causing us to lose sleep, already inconveniencing us.

If I had only seen myself on July 1, 2012, once again with Celia at the airport, this time a mess not from the inconvenience, but the heartache.

It felt strange having this new person around, awkward even. Yet as time passed, she began to figure out where the extra toilet paper was, that Jude did not like being separated from his pacifier and that sweet spot on Klaus' leg where he prefers to be scratched.

Celia taught us things -- about Madrid, about Europe, about Catholicism and private all-girls' schools with uniforms and soccer-crazed fans filling up gigantic stadiums and the difference between Mexican Spanish and "real" Spanish.

And so we taught her as well -- where food comes from, how to make brownies from scratch, what a cow looks like (well, in her defense, that mix-up only occurred once), how to make jam, how to change a diaper, the rules to American football, the pure genius of West Side Story and Nacho Libre.

Along the way, Celia surprised us, enthusiastically singing (off-key, unfortunately) to the oldies station and quoting lines from American movies. And we in turn surprised her -- she had been told we were 30 and couldn't imagine having such young parents (at the airport, she caught a glimpse of Nick and thought it surely must have been her host brother). She also thought we would be fat, because Europeans assume all Americans are fat. (I was quite happy to shatter that stereotype).

We quickly learned the many facets of Celia's personality; she could be loud, then quiet; happy, then irritated; hard-working, then ready to sleep in. And she figured out we were the exact opposites...and then exactly the same, too.

We showed her the many joys of living in Oregon: the mighty Pacific hugging 101, the mountains, the snow, the quirky small towns and even quirkier cities (I'm looking at you, Eugene and Portland). And the rain. I don't think Celia will ever forget the rain.

And week by week, we started becoming a family. Jude's first word, thanks to Celia's prodding, was "gracias." I adjusted my meals to feed 3 adults, always making sure there were no raspberries (Celia is allergic). Nick honed his "scare away young men at all costs" techniques, practicing every chance he got...and he got plenty. I started looking forward to 3:45 p.m. every day, waiting for the moment when she would burst through the door.

When her grandma died, she instead burst into tears. I awkwardly rubbed her back, stroked her hair and prayed in English as she cried in Spanish. And for the hundredth time, I didn't know what to do with this woman-child whose parents were half a world away, trusting their baby to complete strangers.

I learned that day to get used to it.

We attended her basketball games and tennis matches, laughing at the awkward glances from strangers who assumed we were her biological parents. We took our family Christmas photo with her in it, feeling strangely like "The Blind Side: European Edition."

And unexpectedly, she became ours. Jack began introducing her as his big sister, thanking God for "Klaus and Butler, and Celia and Jude" in his nightly prayers (always in that order). She frequently called me and Nick mom and dad, mostly in public to freak people out. Without thinking, I started telling new friends I had 3 children.

This 3rd child brought unanticipated fun. Used to Thomas the Train and Mighty Machines, I gingerly stepped into this foreign world of homecoming dress shopping, makeup, nail polish and teenage texting acronyms. My usual routine of preschool now meshed with high school....and I loved it.

It wasn't perfect. She sometimes was late for curfew, snapped at Nick (though it was deserved most of the time!) and fought with Jack over pathetically small issues. She was, in short, one of us.

Over evenings of Say Yes to the Dress and Murder She Wrote, we talked -- about boys, God, family, school, sports and life. She asked questions, I tried to answer. It was weird. It was different. It was wonderful.

Evidence of her year here is everywhere -- in the flowers from her goodbye BBQ still going strong, in the flecks of her Del Sol nail polish still on my nails, in the way Jude peers into her room looking for her and Jack asking for her to come back and breaking my heart.

And despite fantasies of her parents not wanting her after a few weeks and returning her to us, I know that stage of our life is over. I wish it wasn't, of course, but I have to look at our time with her as a gift.

When Celia recites all 8 of her last names to new friends the world over, we hope she tacks on Kupper, too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fig is Hannah

I don't have any photos for this post; even words are hard to come by. What started off as a day to celebrate another year of learning and growing in my motherhood at MOPS morphed into a day of mourning the lost motherhood of another.

Remember Jessica? She was my best friend through most of middle and all of high school. I was her maid of honor, while she was mine. She's now an Army wife and 35 weeks pregnant -- I wrote about her and her preborn baby here.

I dreamed about baby Fig last week. She was a girl and in a beautiful red dress. Because of the lack of amniotic fluid, ultrasound techs never could tell what Fig was, even in Jessica's 3rd trimester. Yet when I woke up, I knew my dream was correct. I knew Fig was a girl.

And she was. Yesterday, May 14, Fig arrived 5 weeks early, heart beating and as beautiful as the Alaskan wilds outside her hospital door. She had a thick head of hair. Her ears and nose were a little smushed from her unique womb experience, but otherwise she was perfect.

Jessica and her husband Ryan named their firstborn Hannah Leigh. Her long legs stretched her out to 17 inches. Her body weighed only a little over 3 pounds.

Jessica's and Ryan's hearts feel much heavier than that right now. Because after half an hour, Hannah Leigh left her parents behind. She never cried.

I made up for that this morning.

The name Hannah means "grace and favor." It amazes me that this little girl has demonstrated exactly those qualities in such a short amount of time. Just like Samuel Collins and Josiah Beers -- 2 other beautifuls that touched the multitudes, including me --she has changed my life.

Because of Hannah's Multicystic Kidney Disorder, we knew she most likely was headed for an early meeting with Jesus. But I still prayed for her healing. I still hoped a miracle would happen.

And though it didn't happen the way I pictured it, a miracle still took place. In precious Hannah's entire life, she never once felt fear, hate, worry, doubt or sadness. She only knew love -- the soothing sounds of Jessica's voice and heartbeat, the warmth of her daddy's embrace, the purity of her parents ' bond pulsing through every fiber in her miniature body. Then, after a half-hour lovefest, she met the One who loves children more than His own life and immediately began enjoying her perfect eternity.

That certainly sounds like a miracle to me.

(Would you pray with me for Jessica and Ryan? Right now, tomorrow, next week and next month?)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Office

As a brand-new race director, I've been getting to pretend a lot lately. Normally, my weeks are full of things like grocery shopping, MOPS, laundry, article writing, personal chef-ing, bathroom cleaning, running with a gigantic double BOB stroller (affectionately named Billy) and keeping track of Billy's energetic occupants.

Now, my day planner includes all of those, plus some fun little additions:

  • Business meetings with potential race sponsors
  • Script-writing for some upcoming promo videos
  • Marketing campaign techniques
  • Updating the race website and Facebook page
  • Contacting local businesses to request donations as prizes
And so on and so forth. This week has been especially busy with race happenings. I had three straight days of business meeting with potential sponsors, which meant getting to shed my jeans for slacks and button-up shirts. And my makeup -- I actually got to do it.

At Wednesday's meeting, I had a director & CEO of a company along with a graphic designer throwing out ideas and brainstorming with me. It was fast-paced and exciting. And for one moment, sitting at a conference table with laptops, projectors and folders in everyone's laps, I felt like a professional. I felt my brain clicking right and left as I wore an outfit with not one fruit snack stuck to it. I felt respected by these powerful men in front of me, who were treating me as if I throw these giant fundraising events all the time and was completely capable.

I have to admit -- the feeling was intoxicating.

I walked into the house, still feeling high. Celia chucked Jude into my arms. "Your kid stinks," she announced. "You should change him." He looked at me and smiled, drool dripping out his cherubic mouth.

Moment over.

As I was scheduling one meeting, I asked a client where we should meet. "How about your office?" she suggested. The comment made me laugh inwardly. My office?

Oh my goodness, she thinks I have an actual job! With an actual office! She doesn't know I'm just a stay-at-home mom!

Because here's the truth. This is my office.

And honestly? I'm okay with it. No, it's not a high-rise. You can't find my nameplate anywhere, I don't have a secretary (heck, I AM the secretary!). But I have two little assistants.

It's here where I brainstorm, excitedly checking my e-mail for magazine acceptances, new race registrations and notes from my best friends and family.

It's here where I smile at photos of my beautiful nieces and nephews and giggle over their silly sayings and adventures.

It's here where I do mundane chores like pay bills and check the weather forecast.

It's here where I leave my very best friend Facebook notes during his workday, saying, "I miss you. You're a great husband and father."

It's here where I send letters to my beautiful, precious, loved Compassion children in four countries on two continents. It's here where I keep up with news on all the issues I hold dear: the value of life, social justice, women's rights, strong families and parents, working to stop trafficking, etc.

It's here where I homemade Zumba, using my butterball Jude as a 27-pound dumbbell. We dance like crazy for 40-50 minutes at a time, laughing, sweating and burning calories. Consequently, Jack has learned a few new dance moves AND how to spell (ask Jack to spell "bananas" sometime. But don't ask how he learned it!). Although I never want to hear the words, "Do that move where you jiggle, Mommy" ever again.

It's here where I dream, plan my articles, interview really cool athletes and write words that hopefully will change someone's world, or at least help them in some small way.

I've learned so much from this race already. Some days, I wake up and can't believe everything that's happened. And I think, "I'm a nobody. I'm just a stay-at-home mom. How has this all happened?"

I'll tell you how. GOD.

I said yes, and he's taken care of the rest. Of course, it's been a ton of hard work. By the time June 16 rolls around in 8 (8!) more weeks, I will have poured hundreds of hours of myself into this baby. And I've loved it. Because that's who this race is saving....babies.
She wants to be a homemaker
It's her dream to raise a family
And give her love to just one man
And I thank God it's me
I'll never underestimate her
'Cause she could take this world and turn it on
But she takes her love
And makes our house a home   

--- Paul Overstreet, "Homemaker" 

Will I return to the professional world someday when the boys are older? Maybe. This race has taught me that I can. I CAN be that woman in boots and slacks, toting my laptop around, making big decisions and earning a paycheck.

But for now, I am in love with my job. My life. My boys.

My office.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why Should the Baby Live?

Like all of us, my worldview was shaped by what I learned and saw in childhood. And what I saw was this:

Babies. Lots and lots of babies. Through my parents' circle of friends, church, foster kids, and the ever-expanding Riddles, I was around babies a lot. There are so many photographs of my youngest brother Dustin holding every little boy and girl within a 100-mile radius of Creswell that my mom still doesn't know who he's holding years later. "I should have labeled this," she says now, "but I just never realized how many babies Dustin held over the years!"

Honestly, I never realized my family was a little different until I was a teenager. Casual high school converstions taught me that not everyone had experienced a baby boy sleeping in their bedroom who woke up 6 times a night from the meth still frying his system, or had cried themselves to sleep for 2 weeks straight after that same little boy got adopted out. My friends' memories of the fair consisted of 4-H animals and carnival rides; mine included those, but also watching my mom work a booth to educate fairgoers about preborn babies. Instead of "Baby Think It Over," my oldest brother Shane got to inform a teacher exactly what having a newborn in the home was like -- he didn't need that beat-up bag of sugar left behind in his locker to teach him exactly what having a child entailed.

Then, when I was 9, some very good family friends welcomed a boy with Down Syndrome into the family. I began babysitting for them, quite a bit as I got older. I then volunteered with a special-needs playgroup in college, next working for 3 years as a special-needs teacher in Idaho.

All this to say that I get it. Babies are hard work, especially ones with special needs. The work isn't glamorous or Oprah-appropriate. It's work.

These researchers in Australia, however, think that work is unneccessary. They wrote an article in an ethics journal (how ironic) entitled, "After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?" Read it here:

Yep, that's right. Tired of that newborn baby wailing in your face? Kill him. Change your mind once you see in the delivery room that your daughter has a cleft palate? Murder her. After all, it's about OUR wants and OUR convenience. Why should we be made to suffer?

I could go on and on and ON about the slippery slope these guys are on (so what's next? Autism? ADD? Your mouthy teenager? WHY NOT?), but that's another post.

I recently was challenged by someone with the age-old theory that prolifers don't give a rip about babies once they are born or the mothers who birth them. While obviously this can sometimes be true (people make mistakes, no matter how well-intentioned), here's how I replied:

As someone with parents who have sacrificed an UNBELIEVABLE amount to take care of kids who aren't their own, I have spent my entire life watching the real pro-life message being lived right in front of my eyes. I'm not glorifying myself or any one person, but in my circle of friends are foster parents, CASA (court-appointed special advocates) volunteers & board members, adoptive parents, pregnancy center counselors, special-needs teachers & special-needs adoptive parents, social workers, food pantry workers, soup kitchen organizers, community garden volunteers, hospice volunteers, rape hotline workers....the list goes on and on and ON. I've heard this argument many times before, and honestly, it gets under my skin. So so so SO many pro-lifers are against capital punishment (including me, did you know that?), against war, against all those things listed. But so often pro-choice people lump us all into one camp. We're not all the same, you know. I pray daily that the horror of abortion would end, but guess what, I care about those women (and the fathers!) just as much as the babies, and I put my time, energy, money and talents where my mouth is. I sincerely try to LIVE that message with my actions, not just my words. I know you're intelligent, kind -- you don't beat people over your head with your beliefs, and I appreciate that -- but I feel like I gave up such a huge part of my childhood so my parents could live out their pro-life beliefs, and I can't NOT say something.

(Note: this exchange was with someone whom I love, admire and respect for their intelligence, and am in no way bashing them).

Over the past year, I've noticed that this has become the latest theme of my life stage. Through my volunteering with organizations like Compassion International and Reece's Rainbow, it's really been hammered home how important and worthwhile every child is. It's been a great reminder for me -- sometimes I subconsciously think I should have been allowed to plan my parent's life, for instance, and trust me, in my humanness, I would have done things differently -- that I am not the final arbiter of life.

I don't know it all. I can't look at a troubled teen and think, dude, that kid is never going to amount to anything. I don't know the future. I can't look at a pregnant teen and think, there's a wasted life. Because I DON'T KNOW. My own family consists of siblings that these researchers in Australia surely would have condemned to die.

Born in less-than-ideal circumstances, my sisters both got a raw start to life. They've been the cause of a lot of tears, stress and sweat. But guess what? 

THEY HAVE BEEN WORTH IT! And it is NOT my job to judge whether they, and the millions of others in similar situations, inconvenience me too much to live.

Here's really what this whole post boils down to: Life is not about our comfort. We are not here to consume, but to serve. Think some members of society are inconvenient? Get over it and get to work.

To that end, I'd like to introduce you to Colt.

Colt is 4 -- the same age as Jack -- and has Down Syndrome. He is living in a Russian baby house, but will soon be transferred to an adult mental institution, where he will spend the rest of his life with little to no stimulation and even less personal attention and affection...unless he gets adopted.

I am officially this beautiful boy's prayer warrior through Reece's Rainbow. I am committed to praying this little boy home to a forever family.

If those radical researchers had their way, Colt would be dead. What do you think?

I will spend my life living out the message that all human life is valuable -- special needs, born to single mothers, living in an orphanage, living with an incurable disease, possessing completely opposite opinions of me, even those who hurt me or cause me pain.

Those Australian researchers asked a question, and I'm here to answer. I'll tell you why those babies should live. Because babies (or the old, diseased, ill, infirmed, inconvenient, you name it) are no different than you and me. They have potential, just as I'm trusting those researchers still have (though it has yet to show itself), to grow and contribute to the human race. They shape us, teach us, hammer us into selfless creatures who figure out we're here to love, not judge...just by being themselves, by using those very imperfections the researchers claim deserve death!

Why should the baby live? You answered your own question, professors. Because they are.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For Fig

Dear Fig,

Since freshmen year of high school, your mother and I have been through a lot together. Like really bad bangs.

...and ugly knee socks (don't let this photo fool you -- I wasn't the only one!).

Your mother and I did everything together: volleyball, cheer, dance, lunch, lockers, slumber parties. We had entirely different backgrounds, dreams, fears and personalities. We fought sometimes. We would go a few days without speaking. Yet we fit. I'd vent, she'd listen. I'd play a new song on the piano, she'd praise. She'd cry about your grandparents' divorce, I'd rail against the world and swear to protect her.

Apparently no one could protect us from the horror that is "Cross-Dressing Day."

When Nick and I got engaged, I knew instantly that Jessica had to be my maid of honor.
Almost 5 years later, when Jessica married your daddy, I repaid the favor.
Fig, I talked about you in my toast at your mommy and daddy's wedding reception.

I talked about how much your mommy meant to me, about how happy I was when she asked Jesus into her life our freshman year of college. I spoke of how marriage is the greatest gift possible. I teased about you coming. I advised that as millitary wives (Ryan's in the Army), we especially have to cherish each other, because we never know what tomorrow holds. I said we have to tell each other exactly what's in our hearts.

 Just as I was thrilled with the news that your mommy began a relationship with Jesus, I was so excited when she told me about you. I promptly dubbed you Fig. I highly doubt Jessica approves of this name, but she's too nice to tell me to quit.

I've always known whichever little soul God picked to be Jessica's child would be lucky. But something has gone wrong, Fig. Just a few weeks ago, when your mommy and daddy went to find out whether you were a Figaro or Figette, they received life-changing news.

The doctors say you have Multicystic Kidney Disease (MCKD) and "aren't compatible with life." You've been given extrememly slim odds of being born alive, and even slimmer odds of making it to your 1st birthday.

I've been through this before, Fig, with my good friends Debra and Melody. Another best friend (Mel) lost her baby just a few hours after he was born. I've asked God why a million times. I've wondered why I can get pregnant so easily and have healthy children. I've pondered, prayed, fasted, worried and hoped over my friends' babies. I've cried after hearing about yet another miscarriage, an unexpected disease or syndrome, and sobbed after hearing that they went to be with Jesus.

I haven't gotten any better at this.

I still don't have the answers, Fig. I still don't even know whether you are a boy or a girl. Yet I know God works miracles in the face of the impossible. Melody, for instance, is still mothering a growing, thriving Leah, despite her also-growing heart tumor. Debra, just a little over a year after burying Samuel, gave birth to Noah, despite the doctors telling her another pregnancy wasn't likely. Mel delivered Gracie into this world almost a year to the day after saying goodbye to Josiah. You aren't replaceable, Fig. That's why we fight and pray so hard on your behalf.

I'm praying you beat the odds. I'm praying this is just the first chapter in an amazing, God-breathed life.

Because I can't save you. I would love to be your superhero, to plan a daring rescue, to zap those cysts off your precious kidneys and save the day. But I can't. Ironic, really, when I'm in the midst of organizing a 5k/10k race to save preborn babies' lives, just like you.

I can't save you. Neither can the fierce love of your parents. Yet we can pray, and please know I am. Every time I see this picture -- my favorite of your mommy and me.

I'm so proud of your mommy. Here's what she wrote to me:We trust in God and know that he has a purpose for this and have been praying for peace over the situation. At the same time we also know that as God's children we can sway his will through prayer. We can ask him what we want and to perform a miracle to glorify him and he can because of his love for us. It's been hard to put ourselves out there like that, to be that vulnerable. I would love nothing more than for this baby to be a miracle and to prove everyone wrong but at the same time I don't want to have false hope.

The doctors say you're not compatible with life. I say your life is already compatible with the love of your parents, and so many around you. Your life is already worth it, and already touching and changing people.

Rest, grow and live, sweet child. Whether it's in your mommy's arms or in heaven, I look forward to kissing your sweet cheeks someday. You are loved and perfect.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011 Book Review

Last year, I made a list of at least 10 books I wanted to read. My official goal was 20. The good news: I kept a diligent list by the telephone, and to my surprise, tallied up 27 new books read by the year's end.

27! That's more than 1 every 2 weeks. With my crazy life and schedule, that made me pretty happy.

The bad news: of the 15 I wanted to read, I only tackled 6. So maybe I got a little distracted. Or I'm a book-flavor-of-the-month sort of girl. (That sounds like a really gross ice cream, doesn't it?).

Anyways, here are the winners from 2011:

One of the funniest books I've read in a long time! Do you enjoy common sense delivered in a hysterical fashion? Parents, read this and join the movement!

Proof that humans ARE INDEED meant to run! A super-fascinating account of a little-known side of Mexico. Ever give up on running? Don't despair -- read this book!

Want to sound intelligent at your next party? This book has spurred so many conversations with a wide array of people and turned me into a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan.

And the top 2 winners in the "current events" category:

"Unplanned" by Abby Johnson totally rocked my world. I woke up wondering what was in the next chapter, and even after I finished the final page, I could think of little else for days. The prolife/prochoice debate affects us all -- please, check this book out from the library and prepare to rethink.

This would be a great read in honor of the 2-year Haiti earthquake anniversary. Astonishing story of survival and faith.

The gold and silver in the "Chick Lit" category goes to....

I dig cowboys (which is why I married Nick, she says dryly). I dig reheads. I dig the country, farm food & laughing. All reasons why you should read "From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels" by Ree Drummond, a true how-we-met story which will leave you in stitches and drooling.

Okay, I admit it -- if a book (or any item, really) has anything to do with Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennett or Fitzwilliam Darcy, I'm in. So I couldn't help but snatch this fluffy gem up while at the coast. It's sigh- and swoon-worthy.

These 2 books are very similiar, but I recommend reading both. I was privileged to interview Kevin Malarkey, the co-author of "The boy who came back from heaven." I can definitely say these are both normal families who went through something extraordinary. And inspiring!

While I filled my need for Precious Ramtoswe (I read 4 more in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" this year), I discovered another Alexander McCall Smith gem. I totally fell in love with Isabel Dalhousie, the main character of "The Sunday Philosophy Club," series. Scotland, someday I am coming for you!

The BEST books of the year, however, both changed my life. Months later, certain lines will pop into my head; certain stories will stop me in my tracks, certain chapters left me in tears. If you read any 2 books this year, PLEASE let them be the following.

I've long been a fan of Register Guard columnist Bob Welch, and this book proved me right. "American Nightingale" is about the first American nurse killed at Normandy and moved me so much that I wrote to one of the book's main characters, Sallylou Bonzer. She is 92 and living in Eugene. I was so happy when she wrote back. It's true; she is one of the Greatest Generation.

I am so excited for this movie to come out! I don't want to ruin the plot, but if you want to know exactly how much a human body and soul can take without losing it, read Unbroken! By far one of the best books I've read in my entire life. This TRUE book has it all: action, suspense, UNBELIEVABLE plot twists, romance, inspiration....Louie Zamperini is now my hero.

What's your favorite book you read last year?