Friday, November 9, 2012

Baby Steps Lead to Big Steps...Noah Starts School 9-3-12

Baby Steps lead to Big Steps...Noah starts school tomorrow...

Oh man. I am sitting here on the eve of school starting. I steam cleaned every carpet in my house this past week. I also scrubbed the mold off of the ceiling in our bathroom, and vacuumed and steam cleaned the van. Every room is is polished and every dish clean. The school shoes are laid out next to their not so new but just perfect first day of school outfits. The lunch boxes are laid out, and bags packed. Why? Well, even though I know "control" is just an illusion, I feel completely out of control of nearly every part of my life. And when that happens....I clean. The straight vacuum lines and lemon fresh scent bring some measure of control into my life. Or so it feels. And I have never felt so dismantled. Its way beyond Noah going to school. Three months ago, that was one of my greatest concerns. I have since learned that much worse can happen. But back to Noah... I met with the principal, met with the teacher, met with the principal of a Christian school, talked to numerous parents, prayed my brains out. Our public schools switched to all day every day kindergarten. I know that most states have already gone that route, but I went through this with Landon and I KNOW that once they start that all day every day transition, the dynamic changes. I lose so much influence. The child changes and grows literally over night. Landon was almost 7 before he went all day every day. With this new change, and how Noah's birthday fell, he is 5 years and three months old. I feel that they are stealing my 5 year old from me. They assure me that they are not. In fact they had a million and one reasons that this is the best thing for kindergarteners now. I wasn't convinced. But something is keeping me from the 3 day Christian school option too. Something besides the steep price. So he is at public school, with his brother, and he is thrilled. He met his teacher and likes his classroom and is more excited than anything to eat out of his spiderman lunch box and NOT take a nap. For the beginning of the school year, I will be voluntarily pulling him out of school on Wednesdays. Its my compromise with the school system. And every minute of Wonderful Wednesday will be spent doing 5 year old things. Because next year (or later this year...if they make me) I will have to let him go and make this full transition.
I don't want a debate on public vs christian education or homeschooling. Nor am I saying that if you send your child to an all day every day program, you are doing something wrong. Most of you probably are sending them to just that. I realize I am the weird one here. Its not that I can't let him go. I just don't want to. These past 5 years went so quickly. And with the addition of Everett, I feel like life has gone on hyperdrive. The last 9 months of my life were especially insane, and looking back, I feel as if my very time was stolen from me. I want to invest my time in my children. In my family. In these little innocent people that we are sending out into the crazy wide world. So that they are ready. And so that they know, when that bell rings, or when that mistake is made, or when they need a way out, or a place to fall...we are here. They can come home. 
I remember when Noah learned to walk. He ran that same week. He runs everywhere, or jumps while karate chopping. He greets life with a wide open mouth grin and his arms are not out to protect him, but out to grasp whatever comes his way. I see him embracing this school experience in the same way. He is caught between being 5 and wanting to have Grandma Day and cooking with mama and craving the freedom and independence that he sees school as offering him. He is embracing both, fully. And that is how I know that this is right for us. Just us. Every child is different. This is right for my Noah. Something different may be in order for Everett. Three days was perfect for Landon.
So tomorrow starts a whole new chapter in the life of Noah, and really in our whole family. What happens with one, affects the whole. Its so true. Mama's with young ones...hold them tight but teach them to fly. Time goes so fast. It was just yesterday that Noah was born, right? Sometimes it feels endless, but looking back it goes so quickly. I know this. Landon has already gone before and taught me once. But I am learning anew.
I am so excited for our Joy Boy and all that he will encounter in this new season of life. When he learned to walk, he let go of my finger reluctantly. This is one more step in that journey of independence. A big one. He is taking a few more steps away from us and towards his own life. But we still have so much influence. So much opportunity. So much to teach and to love and to impart. I am so thankful for that. Thankful that at the end of the day, we are all of our beautiful boys.

Hurt People Hurt People 8-3-12

Hurt People, Hurt People

I think I have always cared too much. Too much about what people think. Too much about what they do...or don't do. Too much. But I have grown. I have come to embrace the fact the people are responsible for themselves and I am responsible for me. I cannot use others or what they do to defend my own feelings or actions. I have to own my own behaviors and feelings, not put them on others. But it is so difficult, and becoming more so as time goes on. A lot of people I have worked with, have laid out a past full of hurt, usually at the hands of others. That hurt often causes them to behave in a way they wish to change, or to build walls that end up isolating them rather than protecting them. It is clear to see how hurt people, hurt people. The difficult question is how to stop it. How to stop the cycle of hurt. I know how to tell people to stop the cycle, and I have stopped it previously in my own life a few times. But other times it feels like I get slammed again and again and again. It begins to feel that no one is who I once thought they were. And I can feel the old habits sneak in. The desire to isolate, both physically and emotionally. The cynicism. The hope that seems to be sweating out of me each night as I run, trying to exercise out what I feel inside. 
I took the summer off from as much as I possibly could. I wanted to focus on my family, and get my priorities straight. I wanted to focus on the things that needed tweaking in my own family, instead of outside of my family. But here we are in August already, with school looming in just a few weeks. While some areas of my life feel more calculated and purposeful and as they should be, my insides feel a mess. The questions are exponentially more, and quite frankly, the disappointment, greater. I have read, prayed, exercised, sought guidance, tried to release control, de-stressed, organized, simplified. You name it. I did everything I would have told a client to do. But sometimes you can do everything "right" and yet, you still have to hold. There are no guarantees in life. No simple formulas. You can't just take 5 steps and be assured that things will change. But we can choose to be obedient. What that looks like in different situations varies and sometimes its blurry. I honestly don't know what the right thing to do is. Do I keep quiet, do I speak up? Do I keep my feet firmly planted or take a leap? 
This past year has been a year of losses. Not losses in the form of physical death, but in the form of losses of who I thought people were, of relationships, of marriages, and of ideals. In many ways it seems that much of what I thought people were, isn't reality. People that I thought I knew so well. A past that is mine, but the foundational stones have been shaken. I could handle it the first and second time, but as these things keep hitting like waves, it feels as though I can't quite keep my head above water. I want to keep believing in people's ability to change for the positive, and in the image they portrayed to me, and I want to keep trusting and letting people in. But more than anything, all of this is showing me that I put entirely too much stock in others. To be let down this hard, this much, it proves to me that no one is exactly who I think they are. And neither am I. 
Are Christians hypocrites? Sure. We all one is completely true to what we want to be. We sin. A lot. Just like people who reject God or deny His existence. And sin hurts. Almost all of the most awful stuff I have heard this year has been dealt at the hands of Christians. Who am I to judge their heart? I have to stop asking the question of "how could they" and start asking "how will I not?" Because, again, I am not responsible for them, but I am responsible for my response. Because while it feels like everyone is taking the easy way out (its the American way...pop a pill, eat in front of the television, end relationships when they get too difficult), and seemingly doing just fine, I still have to be ok with my story at the end of the day. Do I want my story to read that I took the easy way. Held onto the anger, finagled my life to be as easy as possible? And that it all turned out ok? Or do I want to work hard, persevere, forgive, with no promise of ease? I dont want easy. I want real. I want different. I don't want short term ease for longterm complacency. And yet...I am tired. Of taking the road less travelled. Of being disappointed. By others and by my response to their behaviors. And I am realizing that my disappointment with others, is also a disappointment in myself. People tell me all of the time that I am too hard on myself. I can hear it right now. And to some degree, they are right. I am my own worst critic. But I want something different. I want to give something different than I see all around me. Something different than has been given to me. But right now I just feel tired, and licking my wounds feels like all I am capable of. But I know if I give in to the feelings, the hurt will take over. Which brings me back to the obedience issue. And grace. And realizing that at any moment, I can make decisions based upon hurt instead of redemption, that perpetuate the cycle. 
So what am I getting at? None of us are perfect. Stop looking for perfection. Stop looking to PEOPLE for validation and happiness and security. Because they will let you down every time. I will let you down. I am practically yelling at myself here. Because I keep looking for help me see that living as I feel called to live is not insane or ignorant. What is loving radically? What does that practically look like? Guess what! Its messy. It hurts. And it doesn't always turn out great. But we shouldn't be loving till it hurts for the outcome. We do it because we are obedient. Because we are modeling after the One we say is our Master. We don't love only when its easy. Or feels good. Or people pat us on the back. We love because He first loved. 
I can love. The part I struggle with is the forgiving. The vulnerability. The re-opening. Because we weren't just called to love radically, but to forgive radically. This one is so much more difficult for me. My defenses run so high. The deeper the hurt, the stronger the defense. But its wrong. This response deepens the hurt and perpetuates the cycle of hurting others out of my hurt. So often I have searched and begged for wisdom on how to forgive. And what it really looks like. And how to balance forgiveness (and love) with healthy boundaries. Because I don't want to be a doormat to be walked all over time and again. But I do want to be someone who loves freely and walks in the freedom that forgiveness offers. When I harbor anger or hurt (I often transform hurt into anger because somehow it doesn't feel so vulnerable), I can feel the cynicism start to creep in like water lapping at my feet. I have felt that for months. And with each let down, I feel the water rising. I know there is a battle going on. All of this doesn't happen at once for nothing. Its not coincidence. And its not all about me either. But what I am realizing in the dark of this night is that my battle now is just in being obedient in each choice in each day. I have fought the fight, but the battle is not mine. I am laying down my weapons. I am going to fight only to trust in the God who has already won. The books were good and the de-stressing healthy. But I am still battle weary, and quite frankly, wounded. So for now, I am handing it over. It wasn't my battle in the first place. I can't change anything, or anyone. I can't make the past more of what I wish it were or thought it was. I can't make people be who I want them to be or who I thought they were. And I can't be everything for everyone. God owns all of this, and even if He redeems none of it this side of Heaven, I hope He will use it. Because I am laying down, hands raised up. Giving it up. Not sure if that means He will ask me to walk deeper into it, or give me the assurance that I can walk away from it as it is, nothing more to do. But either way, it won't be me fighting the battle anymore. We weren't made to fight alone. To rely alone on self help, and psychological strategies. We were made to live this life in relationship and communion with the One who can comfort us in our need, give us wisdom in our wonderings, grant hope amidst despair. His yolk is easy and His burden light. There is a reason that one day is better in His courts than a thousand elsewhere. I am laying it down. Its not about me anyway. It never was. And I am sick of believing the lies that it was and the havoc those lies have wreaked on me and my life. Believing and living out that last statement will be so much more difficult than reading some books and trying to "fix" what was broken. But therein lies the peace I am searching for. Personal obedience in the face of other's hurtful disobedience. Grace allows us each to choose. So what will it be?

Protection and Healing 7-6-12

Protection and Healing

Its one of those gorgeous summer days. The boys and I had Monday Morning learning this morning and they did a fantastic job. They were excited about learning and getting their work done. Afterwards, they went outside and played in their blow up pool, complete with a big raft that we are borrowing from Aunt Amy. They continuously run, jump and make the raft flip over with them on it, so that they will go under because of it. They love it. I think they have been out there for almost two hours. At one point, Noah got hurt. As all of my kids do when they are in pain of any kind, they take off running to find me, all the while calling my name, "Mama!!" As soon as they find me, they tell me what happened, show it to me, and fully expect that I will have a way of healing whatever ails them. Sometimes its a kiss. Sometimes a bandaid, sometimes something more invasive, or even just a cuddle. But they always come lookign for me. Everytime. They expect that I will have the answer. That I will make them feel better, both physically and emotionally. And I don't let them down. As a mom, if my kids are hurt, I desperately want to make it all better.
Parenting, unlike anything else has made aspects of my relationship with the Lord, come alive. As Noah was running to me today, I was inside of the house and he was outside. I heard him calling and saw him running through the grass and towards the door. His response to pain, is to look for mom. I couldn't help but ask myself what my response to pain is. Do I immediately turn to my Father? Do I call on anyone? Do I rely on myself to get through it? And then I thought about my human capacity to question. When I am an enduring pain, I can be rather philosiphical about it. I can tell you my first inclination is not to immediately call upon the Lord. It usually happens eventually, but it is not a basic instinctual part of me like it is for my children to call me when they are hurt. And I often question. And then it hit me. When my kids get hurt, they dont blame me. They know I am in charge. That I desperately care for their well being and safety. But I give them opportunity. With freedom, comes risk. When my friend recently lost her thirteen year old son in Lake Michigan, part of me wanted to ban my children from ever swimming in the lake. But fear can go so far and bind us and overcome us if we are not careful. So this weekend, I let them go out. I was safe about it. I watched them closely. I instructed them on safety. But I let them be children. I let them make choices. I let them experience life. God gives us freedom. Freedom to choose. To experience life. And with that comes so much joy, but also a measure of sadness and pain and hurt and tragedy. But so often man blames God. Instead of running to Him, we shake our fists at Him. Instead of trusting Him as children trust adults, we question everything, like a teenager, as though we know best and God cant possibly understand our side of it. Instead of resting we, we strive.
I would protect my children from pain. No question to that. And yet, I let them experience and have some measure of freedom to make decisions. Sometimes those decisions result in pain. I don't wish that pain upon my children, but it is part of the process. Part of living. Part of learning to make good decisions. Part of the journey.
God CAN do anything, as opposed to me, as a parent. I get that. But I dont think that just because He can, it means that it is best that He does. I see a greater picture than my children do when I discipline them or when I teach them or even give them freedom. It brings me a measure of peace to know that God sees a bigger picture than I do. I understand a lot more with this whole parenting perspective. I understand that when we are hurt, we have to try again even with the risks. Get back on the bike. Get back in the ring. Fight for the marriage. Try again with that friendship. Offer forgiveness. Seek healing. And run with all of our might to the One who not only knows and plans our future, but loves us through it all.

What You Didn't Know

What you didn't know...

I remember being in the hospital after just having Everett. Our older boys were sick at home with the flu, so they had not yet met Everett. It was the middle of the night and it was just him and me. He had just nursed and he was staring into my eyes as though he were searching my soul with his perfect gaze. So I started to tell him about the life he didn't yet know about. 
I told him that he had two awesome older brothers who were going to give him built in playmates and endless hours of fun and adventure. I told him that we liked to go to the beach and eat ice cream. I told him that Landon would protect him forever, and that Noah would eventually become a great ally, after they get over the hump of middle child and baby rivalry. I told him that the boys would make him laugh, and that they would bring more excitement into his life than he could possibly imagine. And he hadn't even met them yet. I told him of the joy that would be in his journey.
Today as I was getting ready, I heard Everett laughing hysterically in the living room. I quietly peaked around the corner so that he wouldn't see me, so as not to risk interrupting whatever was going on out there. What I saw were my words from that night in the hospital being played out and lived right in front of me. Noah was playing hide and seek with Everett around the couch. He would run around and Everett would chase him and then Noah would jump out and make Everett laugh out loud. Everett's eyes would cautiously look for Noah where he knew he would find him and then he would open mouth laugh and light up when Noah jumped out at him. It was excitement. It was fun. It was adventure. It was life. It was everything I knew he had been blessed with but he was,as yet, unaware was coming. Now he was experiencing it for himself.
I so often fear the future. I fear what I do not know. I wonder what God would say to me if we had a moment like I had with Everett in the hospital. Perhaps he would say, "There is so much joy in the journey, Kristen. You dont know it yet. But trust me for it. Don't take your eyes off of mine. Trust me that just as you knew the blessing your son was given in having two older brothers, I know the blessing I have for you in whatever the future holds. You dont yet know, but I know. And that is enough. Trust me."

What we learned At Swim Lessons Today 4-14-12

What we Learned At Swim Lessons Today

The boys had swim lessons today. Noah loves swim lessons and took them last year too. Landon begged to get to do it this year, but he wanted to do it WITH his best friend. I informed him before I signed him up that his friend is a really good swimmer and may advance to a higher level class than Landon. But Landon was confident it would work out. Its hard in those situations to know what to say. Becuase you dont want to inhibit your kid's belief in their abilities but you also need them to know the reality of the situation. The balance is difficult to find. So fast forward to today. Noah happily goes off to his class and Landon gets called to level 3 of the older kids WITH two of his friends. The class starts and Landon is keeping up, doing all the exericises but coming in last but only slightly. And then it happens. I hear the head woman say that she is moving one kid down...and she calls Landon out of the pool and sends him down to the shallow (er) end to be with the level 2 class. As he walked he caught my eye and shrugged his shoulders but I could tell from his face and body language that he was mortified and trying to fight back tears of disappointment and inadequacy. Broke my heart.
He proceeded to take part in the level 2 class while his friends swam away in the deep end in the Level 3 class. In level 2, each kid swims the width of the pool one at a time (instead of all together), so he spent most of his time just treading water on the side of the pool, and I could see that all the while, he was treading water in his little heart and mind too.
When class ended, he came up to me to get a towel and I could see it all in his face: disappointment, inadquacy, insecurity, shame. He wanted a towel immediately so he could cover up his face (he is macho and doesnt like to show emotion to the world anymore). I did what any sane mom would do in that situation and took him to get a donut at the bakery after we left. I tried to tell him that there is a reason for everything. That maybe there is a kid in Level 2 that needs to know Jesus, or that needs a friend. But the Level 2 teacher yelled at Landon about something and it crushed his spirit (which was barely withstanding after being called out and demoted in front of his friends). Somewhere mid-lecture about there being a reason for everything I just stopped, because I realized that as much as we want there to be a reason for everything... sometimes...there isn't one. Or if there is, we never know it. We want to wrap everything up with a neat little bow and package it beautifully, but sometimes in doing that we miss what is really going on. Sometimes things just suck. Watching your 8 year old have his confidence completely crushed in front of his friends...sucked (my mom is going to kill me for saying that word so many times on my blog). I'm pretty sure he will remember today for the rest of his life, and not necessarily in a good way. He didn't really need me reminding him about the reason behind everything at that moment. He needed me to just join him. To understand him. To ACKNOWLEDGE his feelings, instead of deny them. So often I have denied them and tried to redefine them into what I think they should be. As Christians, especially, so often we run from what is really going on and try to deny it as though pretending it were different really makes it different. I am not advocating that we wallow. I am certainly not saying that we should focus on the negative and never look for the silver lining. I guess what I am saying is lets just be real. At some point, lets stop saying what everyone wants to hear and acknowledge what is really going on and how we really feel. Because that stuff is reality. And we can deal with reality. A lot better than we can fakeness. Honesty promotes intimacy. 
Landon's experience today sucked (sorry mom). I didnt use that word with him, but for once...I didn't redefine his feelings. I just sat with him in the reality of what he was feeling. So he wasn't alone. And then together, we will learn to grow from what happened today. Not because we know the reason that it had to happen this way, but becuase he could be honest about feeling insecure and inadequate and thoroughly embarrassed. Now that we acknowledged those real feelings, we can focus on the truth of who Landon is...who he was made to be. And the fact that what happened today doesn't have to define tomorrow.
I don't have answers anymore for all of the bad that happens to so many people I have come into contact with. I have searched for answers and longed for wisdom. But the truth is...I am not sure we will ever know this side of Heaven. So I am learning to just admit that "it is what it is" and sometimes that means that it sucks (sorry again, Mom). But you dont have to be alone in that feeling. In the grief or inadequacy or failure. Because the truth is that we all are human, so we all fail and have been failed. Yes everything that happens can be used for good. And yes God is in control. But lets stop denying that inspite of those truths...sometimes life HURTS. Lets stop denying that and start being honest...and instead of judging one another, loving one another. 

Hope 3-24-12


I had an awesome opportunity today to speak at the Growing in Grace Conference in Southwestern Michigan. I was among colleagues and friends and while I didn't know most of the 125ish people present there were a few people there that I had crossed paths with at various points in my life. After one of my break out sessions, a woman came up to me and told me that she remembered me when I was a young child and had attended that church. Another woman wanted my contact information in the event that I would be willing to share with her women's group. I ran into "C", and had wonderful, renewing conversations with old colleagues that still feel like home to me. The therapist's at Well of Grace and Southwestern Medical Clinic were the ones that taught me to fly. The ones who inspired me and believed in me and modeled for me how to properly integrate psychology and faith. It was with these people that I first started on this counseling journey. I fell in love with counseling under the leadership of these individuals. 
Today they afforded me an opportunity to stand and speak in two break out sessions. It was a neat day for me. I have loved public speaking since I gave my first student council speach in 10th grade. I have dreamed of writing a book some day, and speaking publically in some form. So today was pretty exciting to feel as though I got to take a step in that direction.
But the highlight of my day? The highlight came at the very beginning. I was in the lobby, greeting and directing people when one of my clients from during my internship (early 2009) walked into the room and caught sight of me. This woman is the one who inspired my post on April 24, 2009 when I first encountered the problem of pain. This client was a game changer for me, for many reasons. She forced me to ask questions and find real answers that up until that point, I had given ridiculously empty answers to. I have ached for this woman, and I remember feeling so very priveleged that she had allowed me to journey with her in her pain and through her story. Back in 2009, I gave her a flat stone with the word HOPE inscribed on it. I told her to carry it with her as a symbol. That she could borrow my hope until she found her own. On my last session with her, I told her that I would see her again one day, and to hang onto that rock until she found her own HOPE. When that happened, she could give me that rock back...and that she didn't need to worry about when or how we would see eachother again. God would work it out.
So back to today. I am in the lobby greeting people and getting ready to go downstairs for my session. When all of a sudden, I see her. And she is smiling (which was a BIG thing). And she is beautiful. She walks up to me and immediately gave me a hug. Before I could even inquire as to how she was, she said she had something for me and hurredly pulled something out of her pocket. It was a clear plastic envelope. Inside of the envelope was the HOPE rock, a small wooden cross, and a bullet. Those three items tell a story. No words were needed. She was giving me something that three years ago, she never thought she would have the strength to hand over or the courage to find or the faith to believe. 
I thought the highlight of my day would be getting the opportunity to fulfill an aspiration. But it was so much better than that. That envelope and its three contents, were by far the highlight of my day...indeed a highlight of my life. Today I spoke about redemption. About God's ability to take our failures and our pain and to redeem it. I spoke about the fact that so often we go through horrible things in this life that we do NOT get to choose. Things that have the potential to destroy us, and if Satan had His way, they would. But while we don't get to choose much of what happens to us...we DO get to choose what we do with it. We serve a God who is in the business of redemption. It is so easy to get burnt out. To feel like there is just so much pain and so little hope. But this woman I saw today...she was in that darkness. She had to borrow HOPE. And she is still a work in progress, like we all are, but you know what? When she handed me that envelope today she was saying, I believe, Kristen. I found a sliver of hope. I am choosing life. And she said it all with her beautiful smile and those three words were needed. The smile that for so long, was hidden. But God redeemed that too.
I have decided, many months ago, that it is time for me to take a break from counseling for awhile. I put my notice in at the counseling office in December and have slowly been phasing out my clients. I am finally down to just one and am about to close that one out to. I have struggled over this decision. Being a therapist has become part of my identity. It has been a privelege and joy. I have been absolutely humbled by those who have let me in and allowed me to walk with them in their journeys. They have taught me more in the past 4 years than I had learned in all my years previous. But it is time, for now. I can't balance it all. With the addition of Everett, I just can't seem to wear all of the many different hats and to wear them well. I will continue to teach for the time being, but at the end of the day, I don't want regrets when it comes to raising my children. I want to know that job had my all. So for now, this is a decision that had to be made. I cried when I told my boss and I will cry when I walk out of there for the last time.  But God has been showing me that there are opportunities everywhere. To show grace, to offer hope, to join people in their stories. It just looks a little different. And I am becoming ok with that. 
My "career" if that is what you want to call it, has never really been mine anyway. I knew God wanted me to get my masters. I did that in faith that He would provide opportunities, and every single step of the way, He has. Before I have even asked or looked for jobs or internships, He has brought opportuniteis my way. So I am not going to worry in light of this new leading. I am going to rest. I am going to trust. All of this (any talent I have, my education, my jobs, my very life!) has always been His anyway.
God brought that dear woman back across my path. She gave ME something today. And it was so much more than those three objects in that little envelope. It was HOPE. And a tangible reminder that we serve a God who is in the business of Redemption. And you don't need a job to be part of that. Just a willing heart. And tonight, my heart is very, very full.

Beautiful Anya 3-8-12

Beautiful Anya

Remember Anya? Many of you prayed for her at the end of January when she was born at 27 weeks. We never anticipated that God would call her home when He did, but two short days on this earth and she was swept away to the perfection that is Heaven. We know that she is whole and well there. That she is carried by the very hands of God and that she lacks NOTHING. But we have a void here. We miss her. Her mama, especially. We are struggling through the sadness and the questions and the emptiness and the longing and clinging to truth and hope. Anya's brave mama wrote these beautiful words last week and I wanted to share them. They encouraged my heart and I pray they will yours as well. Please keep praying for Anya's mama. Anya brought hope just as her name promised and we want to honor the grace and mercy that God extended through her very existence. 

The day you came was a marvelous Day
I didn't know you'd soon go away.
By myself, I picked out your name
I wanted one that wouldn't make you ashamed

Daddy was far far away, that wonderful day
And the doctors came to say we should pray,
For my precious little package of Joy

They said we wouldn't have you for long
Oh but that couldn't be true,
because you were like a new song
Of Joy and love and newness from above
We new we couldn't lose this child that we loved..
Doctor after doctor shook their head in dismay
But doctor, doctor we really have prayed
My little Anya, you grew tired and weary
Mommy's eyes grew so teary

Oh Lord you came to take this baby back to you
Was there anything, anything, that I could do?
But HE in HIS mercy and very great Grace
Lovingly Took you, back to Your original Place

We only had you for such a short while
But Little Anya, how you made MaMa smile
I will never forget, your big blue eyes,
thick black hair, and soft baby cries.

You were ever so brave for such a little girl
Mommy never even got to say good-bye
But one thing I know and truely believe
That you are sitting right by our Savior's knee

There is no doubt, and that is for sure
I will see you again, while this world we endure
Once again to be united way above
Wrapped in the Arms of our Savior's Love 
~HN (Anya's mama)

Why We Run 2-26-12

Why we Run

I love it when Everett runs. He isn't super stable on his feet yet, so when he grabs something naughty, gives me "the look" and takes off as fast as his unstable legs will carry him, it makes me laugh everytime. Or when I run the vacuum and I literally chase him from room to room. He used to be terrified. Now he just runs with a look of curious fear on his face. His big belly way out in front of his chubby legs. He runs when he is scared. Usually straight into my arms. The other day he dropped a bowl and broke it in the kitchen. I was all of the way in my bathroom getting ready for the day. I heard the bowl drop and break and heard his little feet pattering through the kitchen and his terrified cry. He ran as fast as he could into the the back of the house, where he knew I was. He was scared, and he knew I would keep him safe. 

We do the same thing. We run. From the things that scare us. From the things that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar. We run. Some of us run by being busy. Some of us run to things that make us feel better, but take us further from where we want to be. Some of us run to Jesus. Some of us run to people, or perfectionism, or anger. We run from that which we know God desires because we fear the unknown or the unfamiliar or the cost. So we hold tight to our store bought pearls, missing the beautiful freshwater pearl that God is waiting to give us if we will just hand over our plastic ones. But we run instead. Because we fear. Fear is so very binding. So isolating. So lonely. And so powerful. The anger or the unfaithfulness that destroys marriages..the drama that ends friendships...the arguments that split churches...the core of it all: FEAR. 

So it is no wonder that the night before I set out to do something new and unfamiliar, something good and right, something I feel that God has called me to, my scars were scratched open. Satan knows what fear will do. What it will destroy. But I am onto him. And the fact that he would go so far, orchestrate all of this so that the very night before this new journey begins, the truth comes out. The UT (ugly truth) that peels back those scabs that I thought had long since healed. The UT that leaves me facing all that I thought I had long ago left behind, healed from and worked through. This tells me that what God has called me to is big. That the potential is huge here for God's glory to be revealed and His grace to redeem that which is all but dead. I dont understand it.  But I am going to do my very best to fight the fear. I am not going to run. As the waves hit, I am going to do my best to stand. Besides, I know the Truth: Perfect Love drives out fear. And Perfect on my side. Now if I can just find the faith to rest in that Perfect Love instead of striving. If only I can learn to stretch out my hand and release my tight grip on my plastic pearls in the knowledge that God's gifts are so very much greater in every way. If I can fight the fear that Satan uses to pull me away from trust, then I will be free. Free to run in redemptive peace and the knowledge of grace. Free to run and free to release. Free.

The Story Does Not End Here 2-6-12

The Story Does Not End Here

Three years ago this past month, I met my first ever counseling client. I remember so well getting the client information sheet with just two sentences scribbled on it detailing the client's perceived problem. I can still remember what those sentences said. I remember standing on the interior of the waiting room door before opening it and greeting her. I was so nervous and so unsure. I couldn't believe that on this first day of my internship, I was going to be responsible for this woman on the other side of the door. I knew once I opened that door, I was opening the door to a whole new chapter of my life. I hesitated before opening it. In those moments, I contemplated how I had gotten to this point and if I was ready for the responsibility that lay ahead of me. The courage to open the door came when I realized that I was ready for this one client. I knew that God had given her to me, for such a time as this. Our paths were meant to cross. Not just so that I could "help" her, but because we would journey together and grow through the process. Some of you may remember her, for she became quite memorable. Or rather, God's work in her life became quite memorable. Many of you probably remember her, but for a refresher you can read her story here: . 
As I sit here and think about the faces and stories that I have come into contact with in the past three years, I am totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I have fought for, fought against, journeyed with, prayed over. People who have graciously allowed me into the scariest, darkest parts of their lives. Faces I won't ever forget, stories engraved on my heart. I would like to say that each of the individuals found what they were looking for through counseling. I dont know that is true, but I can say that I have been forever changed. I have been challenged and I have learned what feels like a lifetime of lessons. Experience has taught me more in the past three years than ten years of schooling. There have been highs, like what happened with "C", and there have been lows. There have been times where I fought valiantly for people who no longer believed in themselves, people who had given up on others or on faith or hope or love, and even for people who wanted to give up on life. And there have been times where I felt beat up. When I didn't have answers.
There are parts to everyone's story that we wish we could rewrite, or tear out of our books. But I have learned that God uses those parts of our lives the very most. Its the whole, "Turning weakness into strength" thing that He does so beautifully. God has used my own darkest memories and most difficult parts of my past to help me meet others in the dark place. The parts of my story that I wish I could rip out of my book. The parts that I didn't know how I would survive when I was going through them. These are the parts that now help me to understand the depth of human pain I witness in the four walls of an office when journeying with another.
"C" was my first ever client. Her story was beautiful and 100% God. He had a plan for her and her family (as He does for every individual). He chased her with persistence. Her story didn't end how many of us envisioned that it would. Humans always have free will and choice...for without that we could not love. Most dont even know where her story is at today. That is ok, it is her story to tell. But as I have met with her occasionally over the years, I have thought over and over and over the details of that entire scenario and even questioned God as to what it was all for. But when I met her a few weeks ago, her faith still so alive and vibrant, the change was still evident. The snapshot may not look like we had envisioned. But that doesn't mean that God is not present. That His grace is not evident. That His work is not done. She is beautiful. An inspiration to me, a beautiful, precious real life picture to me of how God pursues us, loves us, changes us, accepts us, blesses us, provides for us, and "makes all things new." Through trying to help "C" find what she needed and introducing her to the Jesus I knew, God met me in places of my heart I didn't even know existed. Talk about a counseling case to ride on for years to come...there is so much hope packed into that story. There wasn't always hope. There used to be much despair, shame, guilt, and destruction. But God is a God of Redemption. And He has reminded me of that over and over and over again with the stories and people that He allows me to journey with throughout life, not just in the counseling office, but at the college, in the grocery store, with my friends.
I am in the midst of a situation right now that feels eerily similiar. Something that feels so much larger than myself. God whispered a message to me many months ago when he asked me to be grace to someone who had never experienced it before. Over and over and over, He has chanted grace to me. I have watched a transformation begin to take place. But when the walls unexpectedly crashed down recently, it shook us all. I didn't see the story ending this way. I couldn't understand why when His message was grace, it appeared that in the greatest hour of need, that He would not be gracious. I cried out in anger and questioned it all. The situation kept going from bad to worse. I kept assuring her that she was at the bottom and that things could only get better. But it just kept getting worse, until the bottom fell out. There were a few hours that I thought all hope may be gone. But still, God whispered Grace to me, for her. 
I dont know how this story is going to end. Somedays I feel so overwhelmed by it all that I literally have to force one foot in front of the other. Its as though God is opening the vault on the very questions that I have tried to run from. Questions that in the past, have caused me trouble. But He has opened that vault back up. He isn't afraid of the questions because they are the very things that cause faith to go deeper, to become more woven into the fiber of our very lives. This story is nothing about me, but through it, God is breathing hope back into my soul. Which is ironic because at this very second, the situation appears utterly hopeless. I dont have the answers and I do not know what is going to happen. The only thing I know is what God is asking of me. That is clear as day to me. And what is that? To be grace, to the best of my human ability. To offer Hope, in the darkness. To pour myself out, even when nothing makes sense and it all feels entirely too overwhelming. I have no idea how this story will end or what the picture will look like in a year from now, or ten. All I know, right now, is that God is up to something that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him. God is weaving together an incredible story of redemption. Right now, we are in the pit, the hopeless ugly pit of despair. But the sunrise is coming. And even though it is dark right now, I see Hope rising. And even though a week ago I questioned, today I am choosing to praise the God who gives and takes away. The God of Redemption...the One who makes all things new. 
I am writing this in the pit of uncertainty. Which means that no matter what we feel, or how things appear, we are choosing to cling to Truth. We are searching and believing for the One who gave Grace and Mercy...and because of these, HOPE.

Happy First Birthday Everett 1-26-12

It just doesn's seem possible. Not at all. I remember a year ago so well...too though it were last week or last month...certainly not last year! On January 25, Jonathan's sister Amy and my sister Brenn came over and we all went to BW3's for dinner to celebrate the impending birth of the baby. When we got home, my mom was at my house because she was going to spend the night as Jon and I had to head to the hospital early the next morning. I stayed up entirely too late that night, like I always do the night before labor. Everything has to be done and in order. I was excited to be done feeling nauseous and to have food taste remotely appetizing again. After 39 weeks of feeling sick and thinking twice before eating anything, I was super excited for my first post-baby meal. And to meet my new son. I was so curious as to what he would look like. Which brother would he look more like? Would my heart double in size at the sight of him? All of my answers came the next morning.
As we were about to leave for the hospital on January 26, my mom knocked on my bedroom door to inform me that Landon was barfing. He has a strong I knew this was going to be a serious bug for him. I left for the hospital and throughout my labor, periodically checked in with my mom as to how he was doing. It was interesting that as I was laboring to bring another child into the world, my heart was also with my other little boy who was sick at home. By 11am the contractions were rolling in steadily. I wanted to do it naturally this time, or at least try. But by 11:20 I was begging for an epidural. I have a high pain tolerance but this just took me off guard. Labors vary with each child. Landons was about as bad as they come. Noahs was almost a breeze (and my epidural with him didnt kick in until after he was born), so I thought I could do this one on my own. But Everett's labor was more difficult than Noah's. So I begged. But just as they were about to give it to me (bc the nurse said I had 2-4 more hours to go), I had an odd sensation  and sure enough...there was no time for that epidural. The dr. literally pushed the anestesiologist out of the way and made her way to my bed. In what felt like weeks, I pushed and pushed. I knew the pain would go away if I could just get him out. AFter only ten minutes (but it felt like 10 hours) he was out. He was the most serene baby. So incredibly incredibly calm. Landon and Noah had cried a lot when they were born (especialy Noah), but Everett didn't really cry. He just looked at though he could see my soul. All of our videos...of him getting weighed and the cord cut, etc...never so much as a wimper. Its like he knew he was home. 
The days and weeks went by so fast. Life seemed to go into hyper speed. I tried so hard to soak in the moments and to be purposeful in cherishing the smiles and cuddles, but in reality I felt like I was being pulled in a million different directions and no one was getting enough of me. It was an adjustment for sure. It was working...but I was exhausted. Then April happened when Everett had his emergency surgery. That was a game changer for me. I know it wasn't my fault. But I can't help but wonder (still today) if I had noticed earlier, if the outcome would have been different. I know he will be fine and I am so thankful for that. But I dread the day we have to tell him and if you know me deeply, you know why issues like this are such a big deal. Anyway, I spent 5 days alone with Everett once we got out of the hospital. Partly because both boys had the stomach flu (again) and partly bc I just needed some time to focus on him. To heal. To process what had happened. To make sure he knew how important he was to his mama. And he did. There was a moment in those five days that I swear he looked at me just like he did in the hospital when he was born. And he smiled into my eyes and if he could have talked he would have said, "Its ok, Mom. I know how much you love me. I know how far you would go to protect me. And I am going to be just fine. God made me. God knows your past. He knows your fears. And this isn't to scare you more, but to make you trust Him more." And then God whispered, " Kristen, he is mine, not yours, he always has been mine...all of your children are mine." "I am trusting you to care for them, but ultimately you have to trust Me that I know this child I knit together for you and that I love him even more than you do." I learned in that moment that I can try and try and try to protect my children, but some things are outside of my control. And if I dont learn to trust, I will go crazy. But through this experience...a bond was formed with Everett that was distinct. I have a different relationship with each of my boys and Everett's started to really take shape in that 4th month.
He is my baby boy. He is a mama's boy. His whole little face just lights up like a light bulb the minute he sets eyes on me. Don't get me wrong, he dearly loves his daddy too. I think he is closer to Jon than either of the other boys were at this young of an age. And he thinks his brothers are the coolest things ever. When I lay Noah down for nap Everett will try continuously to get into his room bc he thinks it is cool to be sneaky with Noah. And Landon. Oh Landon...the bond he and Everett have is just remarkable. So often I find myself stopping what I am doing and just listening to them interact, or I hide behind the corner so they don't see me and just watch them. They are beautiful those two. But ultimately, Everett loves his mama. And he wants to be with me and he thinks I am funny and he wants me to hold him or dance with him or sing to him or hold his hand. I know it won't always be that way...I have watched as my older boys take those steps of independence necessary to become men. But for now, I just store it all up in my heart. Every time he lets me rock him. Every time he sings God is so Good or Great is Thy Faithfulness right along with me. Every time he laughs his characteristic laugh or gets excited about some new facet of the world. Every time he catches my eyes with those deep eyes of him and flashes that beautiful smile, my heart is so thankful. So very thankful for this boy that I never knew I needed. So thankful to God for sharing our precious Everett with us. Happy First Birthday to my beautiful boy who looks a lot like his daddy, which is probably why he so completely stole his mama's heart. We love you so!

Just Breathe 1-4-12

Just Breathe

Last evening Noah called me into his bedroom after I had already put him to bed. As I usually do, I let out a low groan as I had JUST sat down. I swear my kids have radar and as soon as my butt touches anything remotely soft, their sensors go off, and they call, "Moooommm!" Anyway, I  made my way back there, did my usual lecture on not calling me bc Landon was already asleep and then asked what he wanted. He said, "Mom, I wanted to know if you already put your cream on because I want to smell your face with the cream on." I told him that I had not gotten ready for bed yet, so no, I did not have the cream on. To which he responded by taking my face between his two little hands and putting his nose right up to my cheek and taking a deep whiff. "Nope, no cream yet." "Mom, will you come tuck me in again when you have your cream on because I want to smell you." "Sure, Noah, sure thing!"
I can still remember my mom's smell. I am weird about smells. My brother used to make fun of me because when I was little I used to smell everything (I shouldn't lie..I still smell everything!). One of my favorite scents was books. Did you know Berenstein Bear books have their own smell? So do Golden Books and Scholastic book fair books. Mmmm. Anyway...back to my mom. I loved her smell. So much so that when she was gone at night (which was often as she worked nights), I would sleep with her pillow until one day she got tired of reclaiming it when she got home and just let me have it. I still have it. My mom's smell made me feel safe and comfortable and welcome and accepted and loved. It was beautiful to me. So it is quite extraordinary to me that my children now smell me. For the most part, I think they feel the same thing as I did when I hugged my mom. They feel safe and loved. Or at least that is my prayer. The other morning Landon told me that in the mornings I smell, "Unnormal," but aside from that I think they feel comforted by my presence. It must have been a rough night 
The other night I was at the end of my rope. You know...when you feel like you have nothing more to give. No more energy. No more grace. No more patience. No more anything. But as parents, we don't get sick days or personal days. No matter what we feel, our children have needs. Meals still need to be given, messes cleaned up, questions answered, hugs given. There is no pause. Well, unless you hide in the closet and don't tell anyone where you are. I might have done that once...or twice. But generally speaking, no matter how weary we are, no matter how awful we feel physically or emotionally, we still have to give. Thats why we sometimes cry while driving down the road when a song comes on, or when an elderly woman says something nice (or not so nice) to us in a grocery store line, or when a friend calls out of the blue to say she has been thinking of us, or when a friend takes the time to remind us we are normal, or when our kids grab our faces, and drink in our scent as though it were perfume. But sometimes we can't cry. Maybe because for so long we have been running...from one thing to the next. Constantly. Then we just feel bone weary. Tired in our souls. 
I have been there a few times. And while I dont have all of the time in the world to work through things. To feel the emotions or to find all of the answers. I am finding that if I open my eyes and my ears and my heart, I can drink in the scent of my Heavenly Father. He is here. In the midst of the chaos and hurt and disillusionment that comes with living in this world. He is here. I am not alone. I would love a week long retreat to refresh my soul. But its just not possible for me right now. But what I do have are the daily ways that God sends His love and encouragement my way. Its like a life ring. I need only grab it. Or rather, He is Breath. I need only breathe. And I can do that.  

Brothers 12-14-11


I wish I had more time to blog. I have so many great memories from when Noah was a baby bc I blogged regularly and those memories now read almost like a book. So I wanted to steal some time today. Just a little, to get something down...
My boys love their baby brother. They are so very different with him, but each love him so intently. Landon takes extreme care for Everett. He almost alerts me with panic to any mishap that could possibly befall Everett. He gets him out of the crib every morning and loves to show him new things. He delights in the new things Everett does. It is extremely fitting that Everett's third word is Landon. When Landon gets home from school, Everett's face lights up. He crawls as fast as he can to his biggest brother as if to say, "What adventure are we going on this afternoon." They have the exact kind of relationship I foretold them having. Landon is Everett's hero. You can already see it.
Then there is Noah. While Landon is hyper vigilant of Everett, Noah is tying him up in the bedroom with an old string out of Jon's sweatshirt. He already gets upset when Everett destroys his lego tower or touches his beloved firetruck. He tells me continuously how much he wants a baby sister, but insists he wants her in addition to Everett, not instead of him. But if another baby is mean to Everett...Noah is there. Immediately. No questions asked...don't mess with my baby brother. Noah loves to teach Everett things...usually it is silly boy things like how to say "bunners" or how to burp louder. But Noah also delights in Everett's every new skill. I was with my friend today who happens to have one boy and one girl. A stranger walked by and commented on her perfect family...I think she said, "you cant get anymore perfect than boy and one girl!" This is an entirely different blog for another day, but I hear this kind of stuff all of the time. For my boy and one girl IS perfect. But for us, three boys is perfect. For my other friend, two boys and a girl and for another, three girls, and another...adopted children from Ethiopia. entirely different post for another day...but people, think before you speak. The woman was being nice, but those comments can sting to those of us who DON'T have the typical American family of 2 kids...1 a male and 1 a female.
Everett is so blessed. He doesnt know it yet, but he has such a gift in his brothers. They all do. They have such a gift in eachother. They are all so different, so unique, so precious. I love how Everett gets excited about things...he raises his eyebrows (which are pure white and basically dont even exist as evidenced by his Mr. Clean bald head) and breathes with his mouth open, super fast and flaps his little arms up and down as if to fly away. He has his own facial expressions that each mean something different. I know my children. I know what they feel just by looking at their faces. There is nothing they could do that would make me not care about them. 
I am walking with numerous people through some really rough experiences right now. For as much as I want my skin to be thick, for my boundaries to be firm, it all gets overwhelming. Not that their problems become mine, but that so many people seem to be calling for God to show up, for God to care, for Him to meet them there. For Him to save them from the calamity and dysfunction. And when He doesnt, we get angry. We question if He can and if we decide that if He has the power to intervene and chooses not to, than He just must not care. Tragedy tends to either draw us closer to God or pull us away. 
Parenting has been such a tangible illustration for me of God's relationship with me as His child. As parents...we never wish any hardship upon our children. We live every day to protect them from harm and pray constantly for their health and well being. The thing is that there are some things we could protect them from...but it wouldn't be in their best interest to do so. Like if we never let them have friends...they would never be betrayed or hurt, but they would never experience the intense blessings of friendship either. God is our Father. I think it is quite possible that He doesn't save us from some hardships bc to do so would take away the blessing. God is not a vending machine. Every choice and every action has consequences. I dont think it is that He can't save us, or that He doesn't much as that He does care intensely. And because of that...He rejoices with us in our joys and joins us in our sorrow. Maybe we should stop being angry and instead, just persevere. God cares. In one way or another, He will meet us there. I believe that with everything in me. Even in the times I doubt, and in the past couple years there have certainly been times, I can't get away from the Truth. And when I push it all away and just stop and listen...He meets me. Maybe not with an earthquake or a booming voice, but in a very gentle way He just whispers..."I am Here. You are loved." Truth really does set us free. 

Something Light 11-7-11

Something Light

It seems that light and fluffy fairs much better, so I think I will stick with that for awhile . Today Landon had the day off from school. I secretly LOVE my Mondays bc it is just me and Everett and Noah and we don't go anywhere and I get a lot done and I pour alone time into Noah...and it is always refreshing. So I was unsure how this was going to go. I love it when Landon has a day off, but my boys are in this awful stage where they like to argue EVERY.SINGLE.SECOND. But when I woke up, they were playing legos together in their room. And by mid morning they had covered the living room floor in white towels and couch cushions and were dancing and sledding in a winter wonderland. They were both full of that Christmas could just tell. They even bribed me to let them listen to Christmas music for an hour or so. Even Everett got into the fun...he loved the snow world. Then they cleaned up nicely and finished the morning playing the wii together. Tonight we are going to have dinner. I am going grocery shopping, and then I am declaring family game night. Landon has tomorrow off of school too so we don't have to do the usual crazy, hurried routine of weeknights. Aww...I love breaks.

What else? Hmmm. My baby is nine months old. NINE! How did that even happen? He is creeping on furniture, eating almost everything (and anything), and waves hi and bye. He loves life, loves his brothers, lights up for his dad, and fairly beams when he catches sight of his mama. Not that I am bragging. Life is busy with three. But it has become our new normal and we are adjusting. Teaching is going phenomenally well. I am learning to say no to somethings. And last week I made a big step in admitting that I can't do everything. And we are getting there. Little by little. Together.

Where Am I 10-14-11

Where am I?

There is a lot of "difficult" right now. It seems to be all around me, and before me. It swirls in and through my days, my relationships, and my interactions. But life is so busy right now, I barely have a moment to even begin to truly allow myself to feel. I dont think I am necessarily running from the feelings, as much as I am just trying to survive the rat race right now. Going from one thing to the next, trying to savor the moments, and drink in the memories and the remaining warmth of autumn. I realized something last weekend when we thought we may be facing another crisis situation with one of the kids. Emergencies demand that you stop. And while we all dread the very thought of that, it is the stopping that allows us to feel. When Everett had his surgery last year, I holed up afterwards. I didnt even want to go home bc I knew when I walked out of the hospital that life would be overwhelming again. But in the moments that we were in the hospital, we were focused...on one thing. I long for that focus, sans the emergency.
I remember when I was nieve. When I thought having a baby was all about dressing her up and showing her off. When I had aspirations of starting a pregnany center for teen moms. When I didn't know the red tape involved in doing something like that, or the people that would threaten to make it ineffective. I remember when the world seemed to fit neatly into my belief system. When there was a lot of black and white, and little grey. When things made sense and people stayed true and faithful. 
What am I getting at? I want to hibernate. I want to take my family and go start a little village up in the mountains. Sounds creepy, huh? I long for the quiteness that once was. I remember when Grandpa died, for a few days, the world stopped. Everything slowed down. All of this stuff wasn't important any more and we could just focus on eachother and the issue at hand. Why does it take a tragedy or a near tragedy to evoke this quiet? We live in a fast paced society. Its not just that I work. Its that Landon is in karate. And has 30 minutes of homework every night and Jon just finished an insane month. Its that everyone wants your time and your commitment and your service. I think I am burnt out. If only for a little while. I am hanging out my sign, "Gone fishing." Or "Gone Crazy" or "Hibernating for the Winter." I think I need a retreat or something 

10 Years Later 9-11-11

Ten Years Later

Its the big day. Lots of documentaries on television and remembrance programs. The President even read Scripture this morning...without anything added, just God's Word. Most people on facebook are posting where they were this day ten years ago. I was in the middle of nowhere with the Resident Assistants from Cedarville University. We were in nature for the entire day in an effort to bond and promote unity. It was a gorgeous September day. We didn't hear about the events that were unfolding until right before the towers fell. I remember we all wanted to leave and go back to the college to watch the news, but they wouldn't let us. So, at lunch we huddled in a van listening to the news station. I remember trying to take part in the team building experiences and feeling like this was just wrong. No one wanted to participate bc no one wanted to laugh and have a good time. At that moment, it felt wrong to laugh and play around. On the way home, we found a diner and ate dinner there. We (all 50ish of us) sat on the floor huddled around a tiny television set. I remember when the President spoke that night, we were calmed by his words.
But mostly I remember the uneasiness that threatened to overcome me. I now know that it was anxiety. It was the beginning of my realization that I cannot control everything. I felt relatively safe until 9/11. That day, and ever since, there has been a different feeling in the air. I know that God is in control. I know that He has a sovereign purpose. But I suppose that this event began my realization that in God's soverignty, people die. That duty and sacifice are real, and that faces are not nameless. That the people that died that day were real: moms, dads, husbands, wives, best friends, siblings. I am not ever going to forget. Because this day not only changed our country forever, but it changed me forever.

Summer Memories 8-31-11

Summer Memories

The cicadas are sounding their normal end of summer serenade...and the crickets are chirping away day and night. Summer sounds tired, and I can feel fall in the cool morning air and in the earthy scent of a new day. We had a wonderful summer. I suppose it could go down in the record books as one of the best. We didn't intentionally pack it as full as it became. Our summers always seem to overflow, but this one was full of togetherness and memories and things we all wanted to do, not much that we HAD to do. We camped up north with our friends near Michigan Adventure (and went into the park once). The next week we went with my parents and camped at Cedar Point for 5 days. That trip was so great that just remembering it makes me feel all nostalgic and I almost ache to go back. We had such a great time with my parents and it was like revisiting my childhood, only with my own children. Two weeks later we camped up in Northern Michigan and crossed the bridge into the Upper Peninsula. The kids swam in the lake for hours and we visited with Jon's sisters (and families) and parents for the entire weekend. Earlier in the summer we went on the Saugatuck dune rides and I can still remember the kids squeals of delight. We had strawberry shortcake and blueberry pie and peach cobbler. We visited our favorite ice cream spots more times than I can count. We swam at Gigi's (great grandma's) pool so many times that Landon became an official swimmer this summer and Noah isn't far behind. We played in the fountains and visited the outdoor carousel in St. Joe. We had bonfires and smores and had firework nights at least three times. We watched sunsets and jumped in huge waves. We played in the sprinkler and kiddie pool and stomped in puddles when it rained. We had family over and visited family in other parts of the state. We visited great grandparents and fished in their pond. We threw wedding showers and attended Brenn and Adam's wedding. We had a weekend to ourselves while the kids played with Grandma and Papa. And in between all of that, we did life. I feel a major sense of accomplishment in having done it all, and at the same time, I feel humbled that we were able. We were healthy and had freedom and mobility...and Everett is such an amazing baby, he just added to each experience.
Tonight I took the boys to each of their school open houses. Landon met his 2nd grade teacher and discovered that he has a real desk this year (the kind that open!). I have to say that it was very surreal for me to actually accept that he is a 2nd grader. I remember so well being in 2nd grade. It just doesn't seem possible. Then we took Noah to meet his preschool teacher. She is the same one Landon had, and the room is exactly the same too. It feels like yesterday that I was dropping Landon off there. Now it is Noah's turn. Time flies. It just goes so fast. I was reminded of that anew today as both of my boys took a few more steps towards independence. Just to make sure I was getting the point, Everett has also decided to join in the freedom fly. He is days away from crawling (getting up on all 4s, scooting across the room). As I am learning to give my older boys more independence and freedom, I am also feeling the loosening of Everett's hand on mine. It happens so quickly. They come into this world completely dependent on us, and in 6 short months, they can hold their own bottle and move in a direction that they want to go. Baby steps...but its all a process of letting go. And not just physically. Parenting an elementary student has taught me that it is time to let him fly. I am here to help guide him, but I have to let him figure things out. I have spent the past 8 years pouring everything into this child. I have wept and prayed and taught and encouraged and built up and instructed and disciplined and loved. And I will keep right on going with all of that. I still remember on Landon's first day of 3 school when he was playing on the playground and the teacher blew her whistle. I was hiding so that Landon couldnt see me and I was just praying he would line up as he was supposed to. And he did. He got right down from the slide and into the line. I remember my eyes filling up with tears bc I didn't TELL him to make that decision. He made it on his own because he wanted to be obedient. And because of that, it meant so much more. I can't protect him from everything. He has felt the sting of disappointment and rejection. Seen cruelty and heard words I wish his innocent ears hadn't been touched with. I have witnessed him make good decisions...and bad ones. And I have had to instruct him on how to own those bad decisions. Its all a process, just like everything else. And now I am sending Noah out too. Just to preschool, the big transition comes next year, but I recognize this for what it is. Its another finger letting go of mine. My mom and I were talking this summer about how Landon's hand is so big now that it doesn't fit the same in our hands in the rare occasion we can get him to hold a hand. But Noah's still does. It fits perfectly. I told a client of mine today that there are still good men in this world. That I am married to one and am raising three more. She seemed taken aback by that statement. But I have to believe and hope and pray that is exactly what we are doing, by God's grace.
At the end of Brennigan's wedding, when she and my dad were doing the daddy daughter dance, I put my arm around my mama and told her that I am so proud of them. They did an amazing job with the five of us. Yes we were a blended family, but through it all and under it all and over it all and foundationally and in it all...we knew we were loved. Period. And Brenn was their last daughter to marry off. What an amazing feeling it must be to have successfully sent us all off. I am not saying none of us made mistakes or that we lack some sort of dysfunction. But what I am saying that is there is love.
We are a long way off from sending our children off, but we continue to make steps in that direction. And because of that, I am so thankful that we just spent an entire summer making fantastic memories. And when my kids look back on this summer, I hope they remember the details and the things we did, but mostly, I hope they remember the togetherness. The laughter. And the love. I know I will...

Nine Years 8-9-11

Nine Years

Nine is a random number...but I like it because it is almost 10. And 10 feels like a good, even number...a big number when measured in years. Anyway...nine years ago we walked down the aisle. Feels like yesterday...and yet it feels like a lifetime ago. Jonathan and I had the privelege of spending the weekend together without our three lively, wonderful children (thank you Grandma and Grandpa!). At one point we were hysterically laughing together about the risks we took to move here from Detriot...and how desperate we were to make it work. We even entertained the idea of buying a rental property that had three "apartments" in the same house, and living in one of them. I remember when we went to look at the property...there was an old drunk guy on the "porch" (which was a few planks of wood sinking into the ground) and a woman still sitting in her bed (we had to walk through their "apartments" to get a feel for the place), that looked as though she hadn't showered in a week. The "apartment" we were going to live in was upstairs and it didn't have a bathtub, just a nasty, nasty standup shower unit. Jon assured me that he could put a tub in so I could bath Landon (who was a little under a year at this point). If you could have only seen this place. It was a great idea in theory, but this was NOT the place to have our kid (s) living. We went on to recount other hilarious the repossessed house we looked at that the realtor said was "shocking" (in a bad way), and it was. Not only that, but I think someone was murdered on that street. But it was all we could afford at the time. We took one step into that house and I literally flew back out. That place should have been demolished. Maybe it was.
Anyway...we were laughing over these hilarious memories. Our early years were a little rough, but looking back, they were so much more adventurous and exciting. Maybe bc of the uncertainty surrounding it all. I wouldn't want to go back...but I do love to recall the memories. I still love how determined Jonathan was to get us out of Detroit. There have only been two things I have really, truly wanted in our marriage and that was one of them. And he risked everything to make it happen. We also reminisced about teh day we decided together that we were indeed leaving Detroit. We had gone to see the Notebook and we were sitting outside on a beautiful summer evening after the movie when we mutually agreed...that was it. We were doing this.
Some decisions define life. That was one of them. And I am so thankful to live where we live. It has affected almost every aspect of our family life: my ability to go to grad school, our kids relationships, school choices, church choices, Jonathan's job, it moved us closer to family and many friends ended up migrating to Western Michigan too. We eventually bought our house (and no shady people hang out on or porch and I am happy to announce that we DO have a tub), and life has been set in motion. And time keeps trucking on...and with each passing year, I remember fondly the things that have happened previously. And I like remembering. Even the tough things. The difficult memories. Because, through everything...the good, the bad, the uncertain, the painful, the frustrating, the joy....we did it together. And the joy is in the journey...right. Marriage is ALL about the journey.
And I am so glad to be on this journey with Jonathan.

When I was a Child...6-24-11

When I was a Child...

...I thought like a child and I dreamed like a child. I had an imagination that could rival most screenwriters. I can still remember the day that "pretending" became difficult. It is as though I knew that from that day forward my life would change. I tried to push through the difficulty of pretending and still "play," but it was over. The magic had passed. And I knew it. 
Perhaps that is why I so enjoy watching my children pretend. I often sneak into the hallway where they can't see me and listen to Noah as he flies his plane or fights monsters, or as Landon sets up yet another battle scene and ninja fights his way to victory. Once in a great while, when I play with them I can almost re-enter that land of make believe. Almost. But reality is always there to crowd it out.
For as much I wanted to grow up when I was a child, I now sometimes wish I could go back. Isn't it always that way? We rush through every stage of life, wishing for the next, only to long for the past once we get there. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to cherish each day. I see how fast this stage of life is going. I snap so many pictures and take videos around every corner, but I can't make time stop anymore than I can go back to believing I am Laura Ingalls in my log cabin in the Big Woods. 
These three boys I have been given...they are so precious. Every night when I kiss Noah goodnight, and smooth his wild red hair, I take in his cherub like face and I try to memorize every detail. And every day, all day, I am constantly smelling Everett's peach fuzzy head and trying with everything in me (its not difficult) to win yet another of his open mouth big beautiful smiles. And I am continuously amazed by he is changing and growing into a little man. I can see remnants of my baby Landon, but the boy is quickly becoming a young man, and a great one at that.
Life is busy, and stressful, and sometimes difficult. I fight constantly to make daily choices that keep my priorities where they should be...where I want them to be. In so doing, I am finding less and less time for some things (like blogging and social networking). I miss blogging. I miss the interaction and the outlet that blogging once was. But for right now, its been set on the back burner, in the hopes that I have more time to play Legos with my kids, go to the beach on sunny summery days, and dance wildly around the living room while jamming to Kidz Praise, to keep my house in order and my emotions in check, to be what my clients deserve and my students expect and my family needs. And to work on my own heart. Remember that journey I mentioned I was on last fall? I'm still on it. I don't have answers and I don't want cliches and catchy Christian phrases. I want PRACTICAL truth. I want to understand. I want the faith to accept that which I don't understand. When someone sits across the table from me and shares the most horrific story I have ever heard, and crosses their arms over their chest and looks me square in the eye and says, "Where was God in THAT, Kristen?" I want to meet them there with the practical and tangible Love. 
There aren't ten easy steps to anything. I wish there were. Ten steps to happiness, five steps to a great relationship, twenty steps to perfect parenthood, three steps to dealing with mental illness, nine steps to healthy self esteem. Good grief. If only it were that easy. Eight steps to dealing with tragedy and loss. Don't you wish it were that easy? The truth is, every one of our journey's are different. Every relationship varies. There are constant extraneous variables and wild cards. And ultimately, we don't hold the control. So we just do the best we can. We take responsibility for that which we have control over, do the best we can with what we have been given, and walk carefully across the ever blurred line between faith and knowing. But the details in between all of that can burn us out....spin our heads...make us throw our hands in the air...or fall on our face. All of which, in the world's eyes isnt necessarily a good thing...but I believe it is in this place that we can become more empathetic, more grace-filled, more loving and kind...more reliant on the One who is beyond our understanding. I believe in the questioning, we come to know Him more. So I don't fear the process...I just don't like it. I am not comfortable here. And so I keep reminding myself that I am assured that "In my weakness, I shall be made strong." 
Growing up, my brother had this adorable poster framed on his wall. On the poster was a little boy looking a bit defeated, with the words "God's Not Finished With me Yet" written next to him. That is true for each of us, as long as we still have breath. 
So I can't pretend it all away as I did when I was a child. But I can sort through it. I can learn to accept and change and grow and learn. I can say, that one day, there is going to be a story to tell. Not a story that brings glory to myself but one that Honors the Author of life. And if I never get to see the conclusion of the story, I pray that at the very least, those that know me best will say that I walked humbly, loved earnestly, chose obedience over desire, and ultimately did that which comes so very contrary to human nature..which is to put myself aside.

Everett's Ordeal 4-24-11

Everett's Ordeal

IMG_0708I was such a neurotic parent when we were first time parents. There, I said it. SO neurotic. I was afraid of germs and dirt and cleaned my house top to bottom multiple times a week. When we had visitors over, I bleached the toys. I took Landon to the doctor for almost anything and everything. Granted, I was very young and very inexperienced but I feel that my nervousness and neuroticism stole some of my joy. So when Noah came, I was determined to change my ways. I wanted to let some of the perfectionism and worry go, so that I could enjoy my baby more. The busyness of two certainly aided me in my quest, and somewhere between here and there I was mostly able to let go of the overly clean everything. I didn't make Noah wash his hands 4000 times a day and I learned that most sicknesses don't require a doctor visit. Once, Noah even chewed on the honeycomb bottom of Jon's shoes. And the kid has an immune system 1000 times stronger and better than Landon's. So that was the approach we took with Everett. This was our third time around, so we figured we knew most of what we needed to know. We were pretty chill...and we were learning to somehow get it all done. I am lucky to clean my house once a week, er once a month, at the current speed of life. I feel that we had mostly settled into a pattern with the three children. But I have felt a bit guilty here and there that Everett wasn't getting enough of my attention. The two older boys seem to be at a very needy stage...constant discipline and teaching. Or so it seems. But I have found that being chill isn't always a great way to go...this parenting business is no joke! Most of they time, fussy babies are just that...fussy. But occasionally it is something more. And occasionally finally hit us.
IMG_0719Last Friday evening when we went to put Everett to bed, he was uncharacteristically fussy. He kept crying out as though in pain and he couldn't get into a deep sleep. I knew something wasn't quite right but I figured he had a tummy ache or an ear infection. Saturday he remained VERY fussy...uncharacteristically so. Landon had a fever earlier that week so I thought maybe Everett had gotten the sickness and just didn't feel well or that he was achy. Sunday was the same story. Except that most of the day Sunday he had a 100.1 temperature. I noticed that his little man parts were a bit swollen, but that happens to all of my boys when they get a fever...their man parts spread out to get away from the heat of the body. At 4pm Sunday evening my mom changed Everett's diaper. She noticed he was quite swollen and just as she came to tell me that, Noah threw up on her, literally. He threw up everything he had eaten that day. Needless to say, my mom was distracted and forgot to tell me about Everett. We were at my mom's house an hour away, so we quickly packed up everything and loaded the van. Landon was also sick to his stomach, but not throwing up yet. I drove the hour home and Jonathan sat in the back of the van between the two boys with a puke bowl in his hands. As soon as we got home, I quickly unpacked and decided to give Everett a quick bath. I never bathe him at 6pm, but I knew I would be busy with the sick boys the rest of the evening, so I quickly undressed the baby and put him in his tub. I was multitasking and going about business quickly, so I didn't even glance down at his boy parts until I was washing them. So in actuality, my hand touched him before my eyes saw what it looked like. His boy parts were as hard as a hard, in fact, that I gasped and immediately pulled my hands up out of the water. Then I looked at him. His scrotum was a good 2 to 3 times larger than it should be and the left side was very hard. I knew immediately that this was going to be bad. I knew, intuitively that this was going to require surgery..I just knew. I called Jon in a panic and he took one look and said to get him out of the water and to take him to the doctor. It was a Sunday night. I will spare you the details but I went to two urgent cares and finally ended up at the local community hospital. They were phenomenal and fast. I was alone though and they had trouble getting an IV in Everett's arm. I had to help hold him down and it was absolutely agonizing. Tears were just flowing out of my eyes as I held him down and tried to talk to him and console him. Before I knew it, they had us on an ambulance and headed towards Helen Devos Children's Hospital. The doctor at the community hospital alerted me that I should try to get someone to come be with me at the children's hospital. He didn't know at that point what Everett had, exactly, but he knew it would require surgery and he knew that at least one of Everett's testicles was in danger. There was very limited time to save it.
IMG_0721My sister in law met me at Helen Devos while Jonathan waited for my mom to come sit with the very sick boys. Thankfully, my amazing friend and neighbor, Kaleen, came over before my mom got here (my mom lives a good hour away) and sat with Noah. She even had to catch his puke! Meanwhile, we sat and sat and sat at the hospital. We were transferred by ambulance for a time sensitive surgery, and then sat around for hours. Everett had an IV in his arm, hooked up to nothing. He had not eaten in 6 hours. They said they were giving him pain meds for the ultrasound and never did. And that said ultrasound was awful. The woman's computer froze and after 20 minutes of her standing around while our son screamed as his testicle was dying, Jonathan finally stood up and told the woman he was going to fix her darn computer...and he did. However, she did an awful job on the scan itself so they had to call a radiologist down from the other end of the hospital to do the ultrasound over again. When it was all over, Everett's diaper was goopy, so I asked for a new one. They had a preemie size and a size 6. He is a size 1-2. I opted for the 6 since his scrotum was so swollen. Ten minutes later, he pooped from all of the stress. It went everywhere...the diaper was so huge it held nothing in. Down my pants, my shirt, the floor, the chair, the bed. No one helped us clean it up.We scavenged around the room to find towels to wipe up a bit with. FINALLY they told us he needed surgery (really?!). This was after we had been told it was hydrocele, a hernia and an infection. None of that was true. The surgeon came to meet us, and finally we found out what was really going on. Everett's testicle had twisted and blood supply had been cut off. There is usually a 6 hour window to save the testicle. We had been sitting in the emergency room, at this point, for 6 hours.
A few moments later they FINALLY hooked my baby boy up to some fluids and then we were told to follow a woman up to the surgical floor. She told me to lead and she would follow with the IV. I looked at her sort of odd and said, "Umm...I don't know where I am going." So she walked next to me. She walked us straight into the middle of no where. We ended up in a ghost town part of the hospital...not a soul in sight. She didn't even know where we were. Finally she asked someone who barely spoke english where the PACU was and they directed us. Then we had to decide on the type of anesthesia and they allowed us a quick kiss to our son and took him off. And then we waited. For over an hour. I had a much needed pumping session and paced and kept staring at the computerized schedule that said Everett's patient number and "In surgery." I got all excited inside when it finally switched to "In recovery". The surgeon came to speak to us (he was PHENOMENAL!) and said that the left testicle was dead but he left it in. He tacked the other one down with a few stitches to prevent it from also twisting at some point.
IMG_0739Eventually we were able to see Everett and he looked so tiny and swollen in that big bed. They wheeled us up to a room and I was able to hold him. By this time it was nearly 4 in the morning. He was all hooked up to all kinds of monitors, which beeped incessantly bc everytime I moved him, something got knocked loose. But I never let go of him. I held him for the remaining hours of the night. And as I sat there and rocked him and thought about how unexpected the entire night and episode had been...and how scary and uncertain it was at times, my mind drifted to the kids just a few doors down from Everett's room. Those doors were decorated. Those kids had been here a long time. And I started to cry. Not tears of sadness, but of gratitude. Gratitude that while the ordeal was scary and wasn't life threatening. And that I got to take my baby home. Tears for those kids. Tears for those parents. Because something like this that hits straight out of the blue, reminded me in a REAL way that there is nothing separating them from me. That there are no promises of a life lived without tragedy or sickness...that even the next breath is in the hands of God. So I sat there and rocked my little Everett and wept.
Everett came off the pain meds fairly well the next morning. He certainly had a few episodes of intense pain where he would scream out, but it could have been so much worse. His vitals all stayed just right. He did get a fever but that was expected. They wanted us out pretty quickly, so by 4pm that day we were discharged...fever and all. My sister in law, Amy, picked us up and Everett and I went to her house for a bit. I had to figure out where to go and what to do. Noah was still puking here at home, so we couldn't bring Everett here. I called and canceled my classes for Tuesday and decided to ask my neighbor/almost-like-family friend, Kaleen, if Everett and I could stay with them until Noah was better. They let us stay with them when Everett was a newborn too and Landon was puking (notice a trend here?). In some ways, being there alone with Everett was a gift. I was able to give him 100% of my attention. I didn't have to care for anyone else. He needed that, and so did I. My mother in law came to help with the older boys and Jon took a few days and worked from home. Noah took forever to get well, so Everett and I weren't able to come home until Friday evening of that week. But again, those days I was able to spend with Everett were so precious to me.
I'm not gonna lie. I went through the whole, "I should have known" thing. I mean who looks at their baby's boy parts and feels them when their kid is fussy? I one. But still...I felt some guilt. I just felt spread so thin. The older boys had been especially needy lately, and I felt in some way responsible for what happened to Everett. The doctor assured me that this just happens and there is no way I could have prevented it or known it was occurring. I am working through it all, but I am finding myself a bit more anxious. I certainly have not reverted back to first time parent mode, but as my sister put it, "my safety net was pulled out." So the next time Everett was inexplicably fussy, I was anxious inside. So anxious that I was about to take him to the ER, and then he pooped and was fine. And then I remembered that most of the time, that is all it is...normal baby stuff. 
Ultimately, I was reminded yet again that try as I might to protect my kids, Father God holds them in His hands, just as He does me. I learned that the best thing I can do is to let go of my control, and to pray. Humanly speaking, I want to reign in my control even more. But God is in hot pursuit of me right now. I can't go into detail, but there is clearly something He is trying to teach me. And I want to learn it. 
I take Everett for his post-op visit on Thursday. We will know then how he is doing, but I think he is doing well. He is back to his normal, happy self and from the tiny bit of poking I have ventured to do "down there," I think his remaining boy part is normal size which is a good indicator. He will probably be so mad at me some day for talking so much to the public about his man parts, but I found that you cant say that your infant is going in for emergency surgery and not say what it is on. I tried to be vague at first, but then realized I just had to put it out there bc I think it sounded worse than it was. The reason I said anything on facebook at all was to ask for prayer. And I have to say that I was BLOWN away by the immediate support and encouragement and prayer that flooded in. You were all SUCH an incredible blessing. Thank you feels so trite in light of what you did for my heart. But it is all I have to offer...THANK YOU for surrounding us with love and support, and for praying us through that crazy experience!