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Friday, October 17, 2014

Then and Now

I FINALLY downloaded some photos off my phone and iPad that have been out there for over a year and was a little surprised to see how much things have changed in that short period of time!

I thought it would be a little bit fun to share a few "then and nows" from the last year or so.

 
 
In her lifejacket on the boat at the lakehouse...
 


Exactly one year apart, at Beaver Valley Camp for the annual get-together (steak fry or pig roast)...



First day of Pre-k and first day of Kindergarten, one year apart...
 


Almost the same little smirk, a year apart...



Me and the kids at Hoffman Park...


 
The most recent picture I have (below) doesn't have Cliff in it, because he was busy farming, but it's a good one of the kids and shows just how much Addison has grown. She suddenly has tons of hair! Gavin does too - he really needs a haircut! :) One of these days we'll get a family picture with all four of us! The last time we took one was in May and that was a quick-before-the-sun-goes-down everybody sit and smile kind of thing! For now though, I do love this one below. Wish I could photoshop Cliff into it!
 
These guys are so much fun (MOST of the time) and I love to see them grow and change and learn.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

God and Me


I'm just going to write for a minute about God and me.


I look at this sunset over our farm and I see God. I listen to my kids belly laughs and I hear God. I feel the warm sunlight on my skin on a crisp fall day and I feel God. I feel the sting of tears starting to flow and my throat tightening as I try to sing Hymns telling of Jesus's birth in church on Christmas Eve and I know God. I know God. I know God is here with me every day, watching over me, guiding me, protecting me, and yet, I question everything about God.

I question how God can "allow" his children to be abused and starving and alone and hurting. I question how God can take a three-year old boy from his family who loves him more than anything, who wanted only him and did everything for him in love and who are now hurting so much because they are missing their little boy, who went up to Heaven. I just don't understand it. I know we are to trust God, but can I just say, that is SO hard! It is easy to trust God when you live happily in your fancy brick house on your 1-acre lot in suburban USA and you and your spouse each have an operational vehicle and your kids are safetly dropped off at school each day and you have a steady income, and you shop at Target and your sun rises and sets each day the same as it did the day before and the same as it will the day after. That's easy.  But... How do you tell a momma who is holding her child's lifeless body to trust God? How do you tell a parent who is grieving the most devastating loss of their child to trust God? How do you tell a Dad who just lost his job, is about to lose his house, and doesn't know how he will feed his children tomorrow, to trust God? How do you tell a couple who have grieved the losses of 6 unborn babies to trust God?  Really. I am asking this because I don't know the answer.

Every night as I tuck my kids in to their warm beds at night, with full tummies, in our safe house, overflowing with love, and surrounded by our fertile farm soil, I pray to God to keep them safe and warm and as raw as this sounds, I pray that they wake up in the morning. Yes, I pray to God every night, that my children wake up each morning. I do. I have this fear that my kids won't get to grow up. Some people tell me it's an irrational fear and others tell me that all parents have this fear. I think it's somewhere in between. I don't necessarily believe that it is irrational, and yet I don't think it is the same as the sense of caution that most parents have. I'm not one of those parents that follows their kids around the playground holding their hands or the parent that is constantly saying "be careful, watch out, you'll fall". Kids do fall, they do play hard, and they do get hurt and I'm no stranger to that. I really do give my kids the freedom to play and learn and explore. But I worry. I worry about a driver who might not be paying attention while my kid is riding his bike up the road, I worry about a dangerous fall from playground equipment that is just a little too high, I worry about a terminal illness coming out of nowhere in a child who has always been healthy. These are the times when people say "you just need to trust God" and I do pray that God keeps my kids safe, but here's the thing? The people I know who have lost their little kids? They are God-loving, good people who trusted that God would take care of them. I have a hard time with that. I really do. I know I would have a very hard time trusting and worshipping God after what some people I know have been through. God didn't say "I will make life easy for you" or "I will not let you be hurt".  God said to trust him.

I believe in God, I know God, I try so hard to trust God, but I really struggle with it. I do.

So...  I'm working on some things. I'm trying to listen to God more carefully, to be more open to Him, and to surround myself with Him.

I don't make it to Church every Sunday. I don't read the Bible, although I did try to read it cover to cover once! I don't have a favorite scripture verse and I can't even name all the books. For that matter, I don't even think I could name all twelve disciples. Eep. I know. My Momma will wonder when she reads this what good that Catholic education did for me!   :)  

But I do know God. I try to lead my Children toward God by my example. I try to show them how to be good people, to act with love and kindness, and to accept all people, ALL people. This is slightly different than what I was tought in the Catholic church growing up. I was not taught to accept all people, even if those words were said, they were not lived by all of the people of our church. I hope that through my example, I do teach my kids to accept people. I struggle with it still.

I said I am working on some things. I'm leery to declare what exactly I'm working on, because you won't be able to see my success from the outside. I guess that's what makes it all the more incredible and important. It's just something internal, something immeasurable.

I'm re-reading a book I really enjoyed, Rick Warren's A Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? I didn't read that book the way it was intended back when I did read it, but I got out of it what I needed at the time. One thing from the book that really stuck with me wasn't actually written by the author Rick Warren at all, but is a poem by Russell Kelfer that Rick Warren included in the book. Two things in this poem really stood out to me as I doubted myself and my confidence and who I was really supposed to be at the time. "You're part of an intricate plan." That struck me. I am part of God's intricate plan. I don't understand his plan and I don't need to. I just need to understand and believe that I am part of his plan and I am the way he meant me to be. I'm not failing and I'm not missing something I'm supposed to be doing. "You're just what he wanted to make." I'm just the way he wanted me to be. I am part of his plan.

 
For some reason, the idea that I am exactly what God intended has always been hard for me to grasp. I've always thought that I should be smarter, funnier, more outgoing, more athletic, and most importantly, more spiritual. I always felt like everyone else had a better understanding of God and a better relationship with God than I did. I always believed that I was missing something. I believed that when my friends at summer camp would pray to God, that they heard his voice respond to them just like I can hear your voice. I thought there must be something wrong with me that I never could hear God's voice. I'm not all there yet, I'm thinking and praying and learning and working through this relationship with God, but I AM thinking and praying and learning and working through it and that's something.
 
Like a much-needed rain in the dessert, a book club / Bible study has landed in my lap recently. I talked with a couple of friends in the last two years about getting a group of my peers together to talk about how God's teachings apply to our lives today, in today's world. I wasn't necessarily interested in studying the Bible, but moreso in talking about how we as women, as mothers, daughters, wives, living in this decade, can apply God's word and Jesus's teachings to our own lives, in this modern day world, which is such a different place than the worlds that existed when the different parts of Bible were recorded. Then shortly after I picked up that book again,  A Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?  I got an email from a friend inviting me to join a Bible Study, that turned out to be more of a Christian book club, focusing on just one book,  The Search for Significance: Getting a Glimpse of Your True Worth Through God's Eyes. Honestly? I believe God knew just what I needed and when I needed it and brought it right to me!
 
 
The group meets once per month and we study a couple of chapters at a time, so rather than a traditional book club that might meet once or twice on one book and then move onto another, the focus of this group is solely on this book and our relationship with ourselves and seeing our true worth through God's eyes. It's popular, let me tell you. I think there are close to 30 people, which to be honest with you, is a little much for me. I prefer a group of 6-8 and although my tendency is to say this is too many people and I have a lot going on and I don't know if it's the right group for me, I definitely felt God in that room and heard him speaking through some of the other people there and know that it IS in fact the place for me. I belong there. So I will be participating and I am reading and I am learning and growing with God already.
 
So... no, I'm not the leader of the Sunday school program and I can't recite a favorite Bible verse and I don't go to Church every Sunday, but I do hear God and I see God and I feel God when I see the sunset over our farm, when I watch my kids sleeping peacefully, when I feel the warm rain pouring down on me, when I try to sing Amazing Grace and can't because of the lump in my throat, and I continue to seek God. I always thought that I was already supposed to know God and the more I seek God the more I believe that what God really wants is not for us to KNOW him, but to WANT to know him, to seek him. I don't know if I'm right, but I am who God made me to be, and that's pretty awesome.
 
 
Source: unknown
  
     

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Firsts

I'm an introvert, through and through. Most people assume I'm an extrovert, because I do like to have people around - I actually love a houseful of friends or family. I have a hard time staying home alone, and when Cliff is away for a day or a weekend, I NEED to invite someone over, just to keep me company and help me to entertain my kids! It may sound strange to many (I know some people LOVE being alone), but it just feels like I can't find my purpose when I'm alone.
 
The one descriptor of an introvert that describes me to a T is the thought that introverts process thoughts and feelings internally, rather than sharing them with everyone and gathering input. In a large group of people, I'm more of the listener at the table, than the talker. I'm the one with my ear bouncing from conversation to conversation, but barely opening my mouth. I prefer small gatherings over large groups and I prefer a corner booth at a quiet, intimate restaurant over a loud and crowded sports bar any day. 
 
From my experience, introverts don't make very good bloggers and here's why...
 
 I LOVE reading blog posts in which the blogger is trying to work through something and is looking for advice or suggestions, sharing trials and tribulations, etc. - literally bringing you right into their challenge / problem / concern and asking for your help   ...or not. Maybe they're not asking for suggestions or advice or help, but just openly sharing with you what they're going through. It really makes me feel connected, to learn that they have similar challenges, that they have weaknesses too. All too often in the world of blogs and pinterest and perfectly printed photo Christmas cards and custom printed birthday invitations and parties that look like they were fully sponsored by a design company, we (I) feel inadequate. When Gavin attends a friend's birthday party and we receive in the mail the very next day a professionally printed thank you card complete with a photo of him with the birthday boy, I feel as though that is the standard and I need to do the same. What we tend to see these days (and what we tend to share with others) is the airbrushed version of real life. The edited clips. However, what makes a relationship stronger, what makes people really connect on an intimate level, is exposing our struggles and our trials and supporting eachother through them.  The blogs I really love to read are those that are open and raw and real. Sure, I love to look at beautiful photographs and get ideas on organizing and time-management from those who seems to "have it all together", but what I value most is a blog that is in-the-moment. Another way to look at it is to think about how you feel when you walk into a friend's house and dinner is cooking and maybe that friend is helping the kids with their homework while chopping vegetables or setting the table. You can just step right in and help set the table, or plop down and pour yourself a glass of wine. It's very comfortable - much moreso than walking in with dinner perfectly set on the table, no kids or homework in sight, and nowhere to sit that you aren't afraid of messing up the cushions or pillows.
 
So, it seems I have a double standard...  because although I'm a sharer, I tend to not share issues and worries until I've already worked through them internally. That's not to say I don't lean on my close friends and family when I need some advice or an ear to listen - I certainly do that! I just kind of wait to blog about it or talk about it with a big group until I've kinda figured it out or am through the worst of it. So, where does this all bring us?  
 

Yep, School started. Duh. I am sure you know that school has started  - a whopping three weeks ago! What you probably don’t realize is that it has turned our household upside down, or at least it has turned me upside down. Which...  explains why I am JUST now writing about it. 
You see, my little baby boy gets on a school bus every morning and heads off to school and I don’t see or hear a peep from him all day long until he gets back off that bus nine long hours later. The crazy thing about it?... Other than being a bit more tired and wanting a little more downtime at home, this huge transition really didn’t even faze him. ( I tried to spell that “phase” and it autocorrected me! Oops!)
He was ready. He is five - almost six - and is back at the same wonderful small school that he went to for Pre-K (4K) last year. Last year he attended the half-time Pre-K program, which was all day, three days per week. This year, he is in full-time Kindergarten, so all day, all five days a week. I admit I was a little nervous for him (or maybe more for me?). I wasn’t so much worried about how things would go once he made it to school, but this year he is taking the school bus to and from school and I definitely had some concerns about that. Yes, I was the parent who called the bus garage no fewer than three times before the start of the school year, just to make sure everything was in order. My little guy has to transfer buses at our town’s biggest public elementary school both in the morning and in the afternoon. To top it off, he doesn’t just need to remember two bus numbers - he has to remember three, because the transfer bus in the morning is not the same as the transfer bus in the afternoon. My goodness, that’s a lot for a little guy who has never ridden the school bus before, who can’t yet read, and who is still learning his double-digit numbers. He has told me a few times that he has gotten on the wrong bus during the transfer, although he is quite a story-teller so I am not entirely sure how much truth there is in these stories. I can attest, however, that the bus DID forget to turn down our road to drop him off after school a couple of times, but quickly turned around and had him home within 5 or 10 minutes. I would have thought that was a tall tale too if I hadn't seen the bus go right by with my own eyes!




 
So... like I said, school is actually going really well... I think! Gosh, now I'm second-guessing! I haven't heard more than a peep from his teacher or the school and I'm taking that as a good sign. That too, though, is hard to accept. I guess I'm just used to being more involved in his day. Over the summer when we had a babysitter, I would get texts telling me what they were up to and photos of the kids having fun and getting into mischief and at the end of the day I got the whole rundown of the day with all of it's ups and downs and curvy turns. Sure, I can get Gavin to share little snippets with me if I ask in just the right way, but most of the time, I am clueless. Honestly? What got me through those first few days of school bus worry? Our bus driver. Yep, our school bus drivers do a dry run of their routes the week before school starts and they offer a little extra "run-through" for preschoolers, kindergarteners, or kids that are new to taking the bus. So, a few days before the first day of school, our bus driver called and left a message saying he'd be doing his dry-run the next day and asked us to call him back and let him know if we wanted to take 20 minutes to meet him and go through a few things. Seriously? Best investment of 20 minutes ever. He prepped me on the phone to have my camera ready and pretend like it is the first day of school, since on the actual first day of school, there wouldn't be time for staging photos, etc. I took an early lunch break and work so I could run home to be there for the dry run. The bus pulled up and Gavin was waiting at the end of our driveway in his school uniform with his backpack, thanks to our babysitter who got him all ready! I pulled up just as the bus did, and we all did introductions. We got on the bus and the driver told us a little about himself, how long he'd been driving bus, what some of his interests are, etc. He talked to Gavin about school bus safety and rules in a very child-friendly way and made Gavin feel really comfortable.
 
Our dog Drake was very interested in what was going on inside the bus too and even made his way up the steps. We all had to laugh when Drake walked down the aisle all the way to the back of the bus and then couldn't figure out how to get turned around and had to hobble backwards back up the aisle!  
 
 
 
After going over the school bus safety rules and teaching Gavin a few little rhymes to remember some of the rules, he took us for a short ride through the country. We probably only traveled about 5 miles but it gave Gavin a chance to see what familiar places and things look like from inside the bus and he also had a chance to practice some of the safety rules like "bottom to bottom and back to back", the way the driver reminds the kids to sit in their seats with their bottom on the bottom of the seat and their back to the back of the seat.  
 
 
Here is the view of "The Farm" through the center window and the view of our house through the window on the right.  They're about 2/3 mile apart, but it doesn't look so far in this photo!
 
 
This little rascal even had the opportunity to sit in the driver's seat and "steer" while I took pictures. I'm telling you, this bus driver has done this a time or two before! (He knew I was going to be a crazy camera-carrying mom!)
 
 
 
 
That awesome experience had Gavin so prepared for the real first bus ride on his first day of school! In the last three weeks, we have battled some over-tiredness, some difficulty getting up and out the door in the mornings, and a tiny bit of crankiness stemming from the anxiety of something new and different, but overall, we are having a really great school year so far!
 
 
 
 
On the first day of school, Addison got to wait for the school bus with Gavin before heading off to daycare. Isn't this the sweetest thing ever? He was telling her "Someday you'll get to ride on the school bus too, Addison!" My heart melted right then and there!  
 
 
 
and this picture was taken just before my mama-tears began to flow! I wasn't sad really. I was nervous for him. I was nervous that my little guy was going to navigate all of this new stuff on his own - that I wasn't going to be there to show him which bus to get on, or to remind him to grab his backpack on his way off the bus, or to tell him I love him one more time before he walked into school! The moment the school bus door closed behind him I felt the tears coming. I turned and looked at Cliff and lost it. One good, strong, loving hug from Cliff though and I was all better. I'm happy to say everyone is doing great! Now that we've all worked through it and I know everything is fine, I can blog about it.  :)  Thanks for sticking with me when it's quiet out here. Just know I'm probably working through something and will be back online when I've got it figured out!