Thursday, August 28, 2014

Firsts. Again.

The summer is drawing to a close, and I must say that we had a wonderful and action-packed summer.  It included several trips to the beach, visits with family and friends, amusement parks, aquariums, picnics, playgrounds, and a whole lot of fun.

While this resulted in many terrific memories made, it also made one tired mommy.  Phew.  I was pretty excited to see the "Back to School" roll outs taking place in the stores.

Our summer officially ended last week when school began.  My big girl, Eveley Joy, is in the second grade and enjoying school almost as much as her mother.  She insists that she would beat me in "Around the World" math games, but I highly doubt it.  She's definitely her mother's daughter.

But this is a brand new beginning for Mr. Caleb, affectionately referred to as Captain Awesome.  He began Kindergarten at the same school as Eveley.  It is a full day and begins and ends with the most awesome of events, according to Caleb -- riding the school bus.

Caleb is not very similar to me.  His amazing brain works very differently from mine, so I find myself studying him to figure out how best to communicate with and encourage him.  We weren't exactly sure how he would react to a new school.  Caleb had a terrific time last year in Transitional Kindergarten.  He is already reading and writing stories.  (Most of them are about megalodons, Mario, or the Ultrasaurus.)  We weren't too concerned about him academically but prayed he would enjoy this year just as much as last.

We all gathered at the bus stop to see them off.  As they drove away, I was praying that they would be surrounded by good friends, make good decisions, and be a light in the darkness.  And I was praying that Caleb would not try to get off the bus at the next stop.

It's going to be sweet having them at the same school, right?!

About fifteen minutes later, I received a text from my neighbor up the road.  She took this as she put her daughter on the bus.

Enough said.

Later that afternoon,  I waited at the bus stop for their return.  Caleb ran off the bus and down the hill yelling, "THAT WAS AWESOME!"

Sending our children off to school is teaching me a number of life lessons.  These children are not mine.  They are a gift from the Lord.  I am responsible to train and equip them to be their best selves in this world and to make a difference for God's glory.  At some point, they must make their own choices and decisions.  That is a hard one.  I trust my judgment better than theirs!  But walking with them through the process is teaching us all about grace, mercy, and unconditional love.

The twins are staying home with me.  But I cannot tell you the difference in our days.  I will be honest.  This week, having Caleb and Eveley at school from 7:00 until 2:40 has made me feel like this.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Get Your Fix.

As a mother of young children, there are many things that don't come easy.  Showering, for example.  Or shaving.  Grocery shopping is almost impossible.  Forget about keeping up with world issues or following current politics.

One of the most difficult tasks to get accomplished, I think, is updating my personal wardrobe.

When we toured our current home for the first time, almost 3 years ago, I started to cry when I saw the master closet.  It is huge.  (Actually, it served as Ryan's nursery for the first 2 years, but that is a different story...)  Anyway, our prior house had very little closet space, and I was very excited to finally get some space.

Space for what, though.  Well, my huge closet ended up being filled with stupid clothes that dated back to college.  Seriously.  Some even went back to high school.  It was bad.

By nature, I am a thrifty and minimalistic person.  But also, by nature, I enjoy looking put together and showing a bit of creative style.

But how was I ever going to remedy this situation?

Clothes don't grow on trees.  Boutiques don't have childcare (or big buggies).  And I can't whip up a new skirt in my spare time while the kids are picking the garden.

Then I heard about this genius business idea.  Genius.

Introducing:   Stitch Fix 

When I come home and see this little gem sitting on my front porch, I close my eyes and pretend I am living in sunny California with an active social calendar and a personal stylist. least it will be fun to have something new to wear to the playground.

Seriously, Stitch Fix is a lifesaver.  When you first go to the website, you answer a good amount of questions to narrow down your personal style and give the stylist an idea of your likes and dislikes.  Then...wait for it.... a stylist will select about 5 items (all in accordance with your style, size, and price selections) and ship it to your house.

It arrives in this cute little box.

Everything is packed very well and the exact procedure is plainly explained on the material.

Look through the selections.  They typically send a couple tops, bottoms, a dress and one accessory.  But all of this can be completely customized based on your needs.  You may only want tops or may request a good pair of jeans.

Inside the box is a nice note from your stylist explaining what they picked out for you, why they did so, and giving you some ideas on how to wear them.  You will also have a price sheet that details the cost of each item.

At home, you can go through the items.  Try them on.  See if you have the right shoes or accessory.  Check yourself out in the mirror.  Ask your hubby what he thinks of it.  Or not.

If you like it, then you can keep it.

If you do not like it, you have 3 days to put it right back into the envelope and send it back.  They do all of the work for you.  The envelope is completely addressed and stamped, and you can just put it into your mailbox for return.  Super simple.

If you choose to keep the entire box, you get a 25% discount.  If you look at the contents and think the stylist has lost her mind, you can send the entire box back.  You only pay a $20 styling fee but that fee will be credited towards any purchase you make.  So, at the most, it will cost you $20.

I have been receiving monthly shipments for the past 6 months and have had a blast trying on new colors and styles.

I hope you take a chance and try this out.  Or, if dragging whiny and complaining kids through a mall is your definition of fun, then, by all means, knock yourself out. 

**If you use the above stitch fix link, I get a referral credit for telling you about this awesome biz.  Just sayin.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reaching out to the Grieving

Over the past few months, I have been contacted by several people (more like 6 or 7) telling me of another tragic story of a family who suddenly had a child pass away.  My heart breaks every time.

They're always tragic.  Always senseless.  Always wrong.  Always sad.

I am thankful to be a point of contact for these types of losses.  Never would I have imagined that it would be so, but I am grateful of these folks' compassion for their friends and their desire to minister to them during this incredibly sad time.

You have heard me mention Nancy Guthrie before, I'm sure.  Bob and I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy and her husband at a Respite Retreat several years ago.  Her ministry to grieving parents dramatically impacted our journey and continues to inspire us to find proper perspective and seek God's purpose in the sadness.

She recently polled some of the retreat attendees as she was preparing this article, and it was just released.  I hope you find it helpful should you ever need to reach out to a grieving family.

Ministry to Grieving Parents

When we witness the anguish, the anger, the questions, the devastation that comes to families that experience the death of a child, we find ourselves desperate to figure out what we can do, what we can say, that will truly help. In the retreats my husband and I host for couples who have faced the death of a child, participants often talk about the ways people have “been there” for them in the midst of the worst pain they can imagine, as well as the ways people have added to their pain. If you could be a fly on the wall at one of our retreats, here is some of what you would hear them say about how best to minister to them.
Say something to us, even if it is “I don’t really know what to say.” We’re not looking for any great wisdom or insight. We just want to know that you care and are willing to come alongside us in our sorrow. In fact, to say, “I don’t know what to say” shows a lack of presumption that anything you could say would make this OK. A simple “I’m so sad with you” is enough. It is your saying nothing that really hurts.
Don’t be afraid to make us cry or to cry with us. We are desperate to know that our child is not forgotten, that we are not the only people who miss him or her. We long to hear the name of our child. But we know you are sometimes afraid to “bring it up,” afraid that you will make us sad. What you must know is that we are already sad, and when you speak to us about our child, you give us a chance to release some of that sadness, and we are assured that we’re not alone.
Don’t tell us to call you if we need anything. We can hardly think straight enough to know what we need. What we need is for people to figure out how they can help and just do it. Tell me that you’re coming over to do the laundry, pick up a grocery list, or mow the lawn—things we would never pick up the phone and ask you to do.
Don’t compare our pain to someone else’s or say anything that begins with the phrase, “Well, at least …” You see that we are miserable and want to help us to look at the bright side. But all of your efforts to do so simply serve to diminish our loss.
Don’t assume our sadness is a problem. We know our sadness makes things awkward. But doesn’t it make sense that we would be sad? It’s a reflection of our child’s worth. We have a lot of tears that need to come out, a lot of firsts to experience without our child that each bring a fresh wave of pain. Sometimes we feel like people want to fix us so we won’t be sad, or want us to “get back to normal” when we will never be the same. Instead of asking, “How are you?” giving us the impression that the desired response is that we are “good” or “better,” why not ask, “What is your grief like these days?” This shows us that you recognize it is normal and expected that we would be sad for a while.
Don’t tell us that we need to move on, but keep encouraging us to move forward. It is our grief that keeps us feeling close to our child who died, and we are so desperate for that. We need you to understand that leaving our grief behind feels like leaving our child behind. But we also need gentle encouragement to begin to invest ourselves in the living, to embrace the future, and to expect and welcome the healing work of the Holy Spirit in our emotions and relationships.
Understand and share our desire to see God use our loss for good, but help us to accept that we might never know exactly what that good is. Even though we don’t especially like to have Romans 8:28 quoted at us, our greatest comfort is found in its truth: that God can and will use the worst thing we can imagine—including our child’s death—to accomplish something good. But many of us assume it is up to us to discover what that “good thing” is. We have a hard time believing it is true until we find what that is. We’re looking for a purpose that is identifiable, justifiable, singular, and individualistic. Remind us that though we might never see in this lifetime how God is using our loss for good, we can be sure He is using it.
Finally, don’t expect that if you only knew the right thing to say or do, the right book or counselor to recommend, that everything would be OK. This kind of loss will hurt a while. Your persistent presence with us, refusing to give up on us, your choosing to be at ease with our sadness and struggle, finding no fixes and few answers, is a great gift to us.

View the article here


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vacation Bliss

We have returned from Heaven.  I mean vacation.  It was a wonderful trip that exceeded our expectations on so many levels.

This was our first time to Kiawah Island in South Carolina.  The beach was beautiful and the atmosphere was so very relaxing.

We arrived Saturday evening and, as we had promised, took the kids straight to the beach.  This little beauty was waiting for us.  It was a full double rainbow in all it's splendor.  And, if you've been following our story for a while, you know that double rainbows have a bit of significance for our family.

I almost decided against posting any pictures of our vacation because they truly do not do it justice.  It was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to but it's impossible to capture that on camera.  (at least it's impossible for me to capture it).  So I am interspersing some stock photos!

The beautiful Sanctuary resort.

Kiawah is a wonderful family-friendly location and is almost entirely accessible by bicycle.  We rented bikes for the week and, barring the high stress episodes with the stubborn 5-year-old, it was a super fun family activity.  We could load up and ride to the pool, beach, or playground.  Eveley and the twins would have ridden all day.  The five-year-old, however, had other ideas.

It was super action-packed week.

My sweet Ryan is a little bit of a girly girl. She does not like to be dirty or sandy.  So the beach wasn't really her deal.  But she was content to relax in the chair and, by the last day, had actually warmed up to the whole sand building thing.

One of the local sea creatures.

Bob and I were able to find a babysitter for one evening and headed to the Oceans Course for an evening out.  This, again, is an absolutely breathtaking spot.

Kiawah has a great nature center that features some of the local animals and lets the kids have a "hands on" learning experience.  This is definitely not my daughter but she loved the corn snake.

Mr. Caleb was one happy dude when he got to help hold the alligator.  We saw quite a few alligators around which made mama nervous and the kids excited.

Sweet Eveley is a competitive soul who loves to try anything.  She did an awesome job scaling this rock wall.

I'm not sure when I will be able to take a family photo where everyone participates.  But, for now, I will take what I can get.

This vacation, our first alone as a family, was a success.  We all enjoyed our stay and made many memories together.  The kids were very sad to leave but we vowed to return soon.

When I went to check on the kids before heading to bed, I found Mr. Jack who must have missed his sisters.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Vacation Trial Run

Completing a trial run is generally a great idea.  You are able to assess the situation honestly and determine any tweaks that may be (or must be) made in order to have a better or more successful experience.  That's the theory behind the whole Wedding Rehearsal concept, right?

This summer, we are taking a big step and embarking on our first family week-long vacation. Usually, we invite others to join us -- grandparents, my sisters, or friends -- and we pretend it's because we enjoy their company.  But, truthfully, it is because we were scared to death to take these 4 little monkeys anywhere by ourselves.

That is all changing this summer.  For the week of the 4th, we will be heading to an awesome oceanside location and taking a family-only vacation.

To prepare, we took the kids over to Virginia Beach last weekend for a few nights.  Bob had a legal conference there, and it seemed like the perfect chance to try out this vacation thing out.

We had a wonderful trip.  Seriously.  I was somewhat surprised.  Now, let's not get crazy.  It wasn't perfect.  The car ride was pretty close to tortuous, no one slept past 6 a.m., and Bob and I had the lovely experience of sleeping on a sofa bed.  But we genuinely had a wonderful time together.

More summer memories.  And I am truly looking forward to our upcoming vacation!