Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Snips & Snails & Puppy Dog Tails

We found out what we're having, despite many people who I am sure were well-intentioned telling us not to. I wanted to know. There was part of me that needed to know. And I think Curtis is the same way. We want to be able to prepare for our child. I realize that practically speaking you can prepare without knowing--a crib is a crib, a changing table is a changing table, diapers are diapers. But we want to do more than that.

So yesterday at my 20 week ultrasound we found out that we're having a boy. A son. I've written before about the song 'All of Me' by Matt Hammitt. The ultrasound technician always plays K-LOVE, which I find comforting. There were many times during the infertility when I'd be so nervous to look at the screen and see only tiny eggs, ones that would never release, and the comforting words of God would be surrounding me in music. Yesterday when I laid back on the table and she started the ultrasound 'All of Me' came on. It was playing as she told us we are right--we were in fact having a boy. And the profundity of the moment was so over-whelming. A boy, this long hoped for child is a son to carry on my husband's name and his legacy. And it was the perfect song to be playing as the soundtrack for this moment. This child does have all of me, I promised him that months ago. I promised him that I wouldn't hold back my heart, even in moments of fear when I am tempted to. And this little boy, still growing and getting strong, already has me in his grips. His daddy, too. He's such a miracle.

Our doctor's office has the 4D technology which gave us a real life view of what he's up to in there. With the new imagery we could see our son not only in flat black & white but in 3D moving around and waving his arms. He already has his father's nose and as he stubbornly refused to turn his head for a profile shot we know he has the Berry stubborness (his father's words, not mine, I promise you...although Halseys have been known to be stubborn, too.).  He has sturdy limbs and big feet, again like his daddy. His heartbeats perfectly. It's too early to tell if he will have HCM like his dad, but right now his heart is brand new and perfect. And if it turns out he does have HCM, I think that stubborness will become tenacity to deal with it like his dad. I don't know yet what he has from me...maybe my eyes. Curtis wants our children to have green eyes like me and not brown like him. I hope that he will love music and books like me.

But more than anything, I want him to be himself. I know we'll be able to pick out the bits and pieces from each of us. But a child isn't just a composite of his parents. A child is his own being, created by God to be his own self. I pray I give him the space to find out who that is, even with all the dreams I have for him already forming in my heart. I hope that we teach him to be kind, honorable, and generous. I hope that we teach him to be ambitious and competitive, but in healthy measures. A boy will be a boy, and I hope I'm prepared to deal with that. I know what to do with sugar and spice and everything nice but snips and snails and puppy dog tails are a mystery to me. I want to help instruct my little boy in becoming a man of God--a man the way God designed him to be, not a man the way the world wants him to be.

But for now he's still growing inside of me, getting bigger and stronger and ready for life outside. I think he's amazing. He takes my breath away before he's had his first breath. How can people see such miracles and not believe in a divine creator? I don't understand. All I can see when I look at my son, when I feel my belly expanding to give him room to grow, is God's fingerprints all over us. All over me, all over Curtis, and all over this son we share. He's a miracle and I love him so much already.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Because Of The Baby

I haven't written in ages. Sometimes I lose my voice and it doesn't always mean that I can't talk. Sometimes I just can't write. I have nothing to say, or what I do have to say comes out all garbled. I promised myself I wouldn't clutter up this blog with meaningless chatter (do you really care what I had for breakfast this morning? Wildberry poptarts, if you do...and they're making me nauseous).

That being said, something profound should follow...right? Well, I got nothin'. But I have that urge in my heart to write again. To express, to communicate, to emote, to be heard, or at least put something out there in the world. Silence is golden sometimes, this is a hard lesson for a chatterbox like me. But there are times for sharing, too. Even if I'm not sure yet what it is I'll share.

Christmas is fast approaching. There's far too much on my to-do list. I don't see how it will possibly all get done. But it will. Presents will be wrapped, the tree will be decorated, I might even manage to make a few sweet treats. This is one of the miracles of Christmas--it somehow comes together with too little time. At least this year I'm determined to stay joyful. Mostly I meltdown around the holidays. But the baby has me focused this year on what matters. The baby has helped a lot in this area.

Truth be told, a lot of people in my life are angry about other people and other things that they can't control. I listen, I sympathize, sometimes I agree, sometimes I try to gently suggest something else. I used to get all whipped up into a frenzy, sometimes I still do, but I realized last week: I don't have the extra energy to spend on anger. It's a natural emotion, a reaction, and at times I find it downright biblical. But I can't stay in anger, it takes up far more energy than I have to spare. This is a huge lesson to learn for a girl who has wrestled with anger issues and bitterness. Frankly, it takes a lot less energy to just cry it out and move on...and even less energy to let it go. But it is draining to dwell in anger. The baby has brought this lesson to the forefront. I think I learned it a long time ago, but being pregnant has taught me to spend my energy wisely. This is how I realized that spending it on anger is a bad investment.

The same is true for worry. Yes, I get nervous every time I go to the doctor and they listen for that heartbeat. And when I sneeze and my entire abdomen seizes with violent pain, I get a little nervous. But I don't have the extra energy to spin my wheels in worry. This was a monumental lesson for a compulsive worrier. The baby has taught me so much and hasn't even take his or her first breath.

No wonder they say parenthood changes everything...

The real reason I started writing today is because my heart is feeling a little more heavy and a little less merry. My grandparents' health is failing, first one, then the other, then the other one again. It's hard on them, it's hard on we who love them. And sometimes I catch myself just whispering over and over again, hold on until Spring.

I never thought that they would live long enough to see me get married, let alone have a child. Especially when we discovered our infertility issues. As the baby seemed farther and farther away, it seemed more and more certain that I'd never even have one photo, one memory, of my beloved grandparents with my much longed-for child. But I worship the God of Impossibilities, and He made a miracle inside me. I have to trust His timing and His goodness. But it just seems like this winter is going to be so hard on these dear souls...Winter is always hard for old folks.

This is where all those lessons I've been learning, or realizing, because of the baby help me. I can't be angry with the diagnoses or changes. It won't change anything. I can't spin my wheels in worry. It won't help anything. There's nothing I can say now that I haven't said in the last five years (woulda, coulda, shoulda, what ifs and maybes). All I can do is trust in God, love them as hard as I can, and take care of this little budding life inside me.

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby. Not just any baby, but a real miracle baby. The miracle baby that trumps all other miracle babies. God wrapped in flesh, God among us, God born in a barn (what were you born in a barn? well, it was good enough for our Lord and Savior). Christmas is a time of great celebration and joy because Christmas was Heaven reaching out to us. Four-hundred years of silence shattered with two babies--a prophet to prepare the way and the Messiah who would save us all. This is not a time for anger, for worry, or for senseless chatter. This is a time for gratitude and celebration. Exuberance.

This is the time to consider what a baby has taught us. Not just me and my baby. But the Baby. The Baby who would grow into the man who would change the world with His words and return us to God with His sacrifice. So many lessons can be taken from the manger, if we're only quiet and listen.

Humility. Gentleness. Simplicity.

And the angel said unto them, 
"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Luke 2:10-14 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It Feels Like Christmas

A part of childhood we'll always remember
It is the summer of the soul in December
Yes, when you do your best for love it feels like Christmas

I realize Halloween is still 5 days away and that means Thanksgiving is a month away which means Christmas is two months away. That being said, I'm already in the Christmas spirit. It might've started when I first spied the Christmas fabric on display at Jo-Ann's. Or when I dragged Katie with me to buy some of said Christmas fabric at Jo-Ann's. This was in late August or early September. I can't remember exactly. I've been just itching for Christmas this year.

Which is unusual for me but not new. I used to love Christmas. I suppose all children do, despite the depressing existence of young boy Scrooge. What kid doesn't get ants in their pants for Santa Claus and presents and looking at Christmas lights? The coming of Christmas also meant the coming of my birthday. Born just two weeks before Christmas I would get birthday cake with a side of Christmas cookies. My mom was great at making birthdays special. She made Ace of Cakes style cakes before anyone had ever heard of Duff and his Baltimore bakery. We'd have a gaggle of little girls over for games and gifts and cake and cookies. And my excitement would only grow as Christmas drew ever nearer.

I remember decorating the Christmas tree and listening to Manheim Steamroller. One of our traditions was opening a new ornament the night we decorated the tree. Sometimes Mom hand-made our ornaments, other times they were store bought. She kept lists for both Adam and I so we'd know in the future who gave us particular ornaments and how old we were. It's those very same ornaments that hang on my Christmas tree now.

While we were away at school our house would change into a winter wonderland. A collection of Santa music boxes in display in the barristers, a Christmas village would appear complete with puffy angel hair snow, we'd each get our own little tree to decorate. Our collection of Christmas books would appear. My parents bought me a new The Night Before Christmas every year for my birthday; the one holiday birthday gift I'd tolerate. I now have those Santa music boxes and I pair them with my Night Before Christmas books. Memories re-gifted, in a way.

Some years I would get to arrange the nativity set. I couldn't understand why the donkey or sheep couldn't lay in the hay...in the loft. When the other, more sensible, people in my family tried to explain that a donkey or a sheep could not climb a ladder, I told them I didn't care. And the donkey, or the sheep, stayed in the loft, defying all reason.

There was magic in our holidays. Our basement functioned as a family room where we'd watch movies and play with toys. Every year, as a family, we'd watch White Christmas and when we'd come back upstairs to get ready for bed...it'd be snowing. My family, cute as we were, would sing together at Christmas eve services. The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy, Have a Super-Duper Christmas, and my favorite Do You Hear What I Hear? My mom was the night wind, I was the little lamb, my brother was the shepherd boy, and my dad, of course, was the mighty king. We were adorable.

We were always in the Christmas pageants. I was an angel one year, my brother was a prophet (Isaiah, I think). Church was a big part of our holidays. Services at our own church, at our grandparents' church, my great-uncle was a minister so some years we'd go to his church, too. There was always talk of Jesus and the manger, of Mary and Joseph, of shepherds and wise men. Jesus was never lost in the tinsel and twinkle lights. Somehow He was infused into everything. The music, the traditions, the memories.

We'd have our own little family Christmas--Dad, Mom, Adam, and me--and then a day or so before Christmas we'd pile in our mini-van and go over the river and threw the woods, and we'd be comin' round the mountain, to grandmother's house. Adam and I were the only grandchildren, and let's face it, Christmas is much more fun with little ones, so we were a teensy bit...indulged...at the holidays. Grammy, PapPap, my aunt and uncles filled the living room with gifts. Literally. Every year the tide of gifts would get nearer and nearer to the dining room, encroaching on all the furniture, threatening to overtake the Christmas tree.

Of course, all of this changed rather drastically as my growing up crashed with my parents' divorce. I remember feeling as if the spell had been broken, no matter how hard we tried to paste it all back together. Some years were good, others were not. I wouldn't say I lost my excitement entirely...I just had a feeling of loss lingering in the background. I think this was inevitable and I think we all had a similar feeling.

Eventually Christmas became about keeping the peace and pleasing other people. The magic was lost and Jesus was somehow missing from the equation. I couldn't seem to find Him in the gifts or the tree or the cookies. But I eventually started my own traditions. There are certain books I try to read every year, The Birth by Gene Edwards for one. I like to read the Christmas scriptures, especially on Christmas eve as midnight approaches. Charlie Brown Christmas has become a family favorite--I'm Sally and Adam is Charlie, we call each other every year when it's on--and when Linus recites Luke 2, I find Him. He's there. He always was. He was in the magic, and He was there when the magic was broken.

He's there this year when the magic is stirring again.

Our first year of marriage felt a bit like this year. Curtis and I decided early on to do Christmas just us. I baked so many kinds of cookies and was excited to do the shopping. I decorated my own house for the very first time. We fought about the Christmas tree (the first one we bought fell over but magically none of my precious ornaments broke). I made a huge Christmas feast. It was everything a first Christmas should be.

Then the next couple years we rushed here and there to try to squeeze it all in and work around other people's plans. The magic left again like pulling Santa's beard off.

I'm not sure when, from where, or why the Christmas magic comes. I think it's about the spirit of a person, their attitude. When all I could think about is what used to be or what couldn't be anymore...there's no chance for magic to stir. When Christmas became about agendas and rushing and people-pleasing, there's no chance for the magic to stir. When Christmas becomes about getting what you want and holding your ground, there's no chance for the magic to stir.

But when Christmas is about joy, regardless of where you are or if the Christmas tree falls over, there's a chance. When Christmas is about celebration, simplicity, and relationships, there's a chance. When Christmas is really about Jesus, when He's not stuffed into a stocking buried beneath the presents and the angel hair snow, there's a chance.

I have no issues with mixing the secular with the religious at Christmas. What's wrong with sprinkling some reindeer feed on your yard after reading the Christmas story? What's wrong with writing letters to Santa, after thanking God for all that He's given us? What's wrong with believing in Father Christmas, as long as we truly believe, save our souls believe, in Jesus Christ? I think there's supposed to be whimsy, fantasy, and the whisper of magic on every winter wind. It's only when tradition overtakes meaning, when cash registers drown out the angel chorus, when hurrying rushes the Christmas story into a one-hour Christmas eve service, that the magic of the season is really lost. It's only when we lose Jesus that we really lose Christmas.

It's in the singing of a street corner choir
It's going home and getting warm by the fire
It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Those Two Little Pink Lines

September 2nd...it was a Friday morning...I was just about a week overdue, if you know what I mean. And I'd thought about taking one of those dastardly pregnancy tests but frankly I'd seen too many negative results to really stomach another one. I had considered asking God for a sign, like a dream, but then I decided that every time in my life I'd tried to rely on signs that it never worked. I'm far too good at tricking signs into appearing where God never intended them to be.

But I had a dream. It was exactly what I'd almost asked for. God has a sense of humor.

So a couple days later I decided to just take the stupid test and get all the disappointment over with for the month. The sooner I had an answer the sooner I could move on. I dipped the stick and set the timer for 3 minutes and walked away. When I came back, holding my breath...I couldn't believe my eyes. Two lines.

So I asked Curtis, who was busy making me breakfast, how many lines he thought their were. He told me two, and we just looked at each other stunned.

Now...don't get me wrong...I was excited. I was thankful, I was praising God in my heart somewhere. But mostly I suddenly and thoroughly felt gripped with fear. I don't think I've ever experienced fear quite like that before in my life. As we told our closest friends and family members and they all celebrated, I felt a little numb. Grateful but numb.

This lasted several days until I finally gave way to my emotions. In the shower (I seem to do a lot of emoting in the shower, actually) I broke down and I sobbed. It's been years since I cried like that. And I told God, don't get me wrong, I'm amazed at what you've done here, and I so want to glorify you but there's this huge BUT in my way. BUT what if you take the baby back? BUT what if something happens? BUT what if this breaks my heart and I'm worse off than before?

I've had two fears all my life. 1) That I wouldn't be able to have children and 2) That even if I could get pregnant that I wouldn't be able to stay pregnant. There's plenty of familial evidence to support both fears; these are not ungrounded. Clearly fear number one was well-founded, but once that was shoved out of the way it was time for fear number two to take over.

God heard the cries of my heart and instead of taking them as a sign of disbelief in His power, He took them as an opportunity to love on me so much and restore my trust in His goodness. I can only imagine the tenderness in His eyes as He looked on His daughter so afraid and uncertain. God is so good.

The following Sunday was September 11th which proved to be highly emotional for a lot of people. There was a big altar call and I felt the tug to come forward. I knew what it was that I had to lay there on the altar of the Lord.  I knelt at our altar, face to face with the Almighty, and I knew that the only way to conquer the fear of losing my baby was to give my baby to God willingly. So I did. I figuratively but very truly placed this little life that I've wanted for so long on the altar, much like Abraham putting his beloved son Isaac on the altar all those thousands of years ago. I told God, and meant it, that no matter what He chose to do with that little life that I would praise Him anyway. That I would still insist in His goodness, even in my pain. I didn't promise that I wouldn't be angry or devastated, but that I would still see His goodness and mercy.

We came home from church, planning on a lazy afternoon with the dogs before youth group started. But we found Shiloh, sick, actually dying we would later find out. As Shiloh's situation went from bad to worse to hopeless in just a few short hours I remember thinking, crying out, that I'd just given God my baby, why was He taking my dog, my best friend, my ruff? I don't know. Maybe Shiloh was that sacrificial lamb that God provided Abraham with so he wouldn't have to give up Isaac. Maybe I had to give up something. Or maybe it was just Shiloh's time to leave us. I'll never know for sure.

A few days later I was driving from my office where I work in the morning to the library to grab a few books before heading out to the school where I work in the afternoon. I'd wanted to hear Gungor's song 'Beautiful Things' ever since I saw those two pink lines (more on that in this post ). But I hadn't. Until that day. And as I drove to the library the song came on KLOVE and I praised God, both in song and for the song. But God never does a little when He could do a lot. I came out of the library, started driving toward the school and Matt Hammit's new song 'All of Me' came on the radio.

He's the lead singer of Sanctus Real and we'd seen them in concert about a month before. Matt performed this song that he'd written about his baby boy Bowen who was born with only half a heart. The song is about the moment when Matt realized that giving his baby only half his heart, half his love, in an attempt to save himself from loss and pain wouldn't help anything. The only choice was to recklessly love him, no matter the ultimate pain or cost.

So here I am, driving down the road with tears just streaming down my cheeks. Confronted face to face with myself in music. Which is truly more important--guarding myself from potential pain or falling completely in love with this little miracle? Which would God have me do? One meant living in that horrible grip of fear, going back and forth from the altar, giving up my baby and then snatching 'him' back. The other meant living in a joyful celebration, not ignorant of the danger, but not crippled by its threat. That song has become my anthem, my chorus, my motto. I want to embrace every moment of this journey because I can't have it back or do it over. And if it all comes crashing down on me...God is still good. He will still give me air to breathe and command my lungs to suck it in, even if that's all I can do.

It's been about a month now since all this has taken place. We've had our first appointment and ultrasound. We got to see 'his' little hands and feet, complete with ten toes! We think we're having a boy, that's the general consensus among family and friends, too. There's just something about those pictures that says 'boy'. But we'll be thrilled and overjoyed no matter what. We are already thrilled. The morning sickness (which is really all-day sickness...what a ridiculous misnomer) and fatigue have been a struggle. I'm already in maternity pants...I don't quite have a belly but I'm getting bigger all the time. But I refuse to complain about weight gain or outgrowing my clothes. Or any of it really. I've wanted this for far too long to spend nine months whining about how awful it is. I can't do much for my baby yet, take vitamins, rest and eat, but I can endure the symptoms with a joyful heart..perhaps a merry heart...and in that way already love, nurture, and cherish my little one.

God is good. He is the God of impossibilities. He takes what cannot be done and makes it do-able. He took my broken body and barren womb and filled it with life. He took my fearful, fretful heart and filled it with love and joy. Only God can do these things.

If you haven't heard 'All of Me' I've provided a music video here on this post. It is such a beautiful song for any parent. I'm learning more every day how being a parent will change everything...require me to love far more than I ever have and give more than I ever knew I could. And its worth it all. Just like the song so beautifully says.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Relatable, Simple, True

I began writing the Shiloh stories last night. One reason I've never accomplished this project in the past is that I never knew where to start. I saw the project as a series of completely separate stories all about the same dog. It occurred to me yesterday to simply begin at the beginning and let the stories tell themselves.

This reminds me of the advice Gilbert gives Anne to write what she knows--the people and places of Avonlea. I was given similar advice by two different mentors in my life; one my next door neighbor when I was a child and just discovered the writing bug; the other my high school English teacher when I came back to visit from college. Both times I was struggling to write something important or exciting. They both suggested that I write what I know, even if its simple. Adventure stories can be great, but there's something so relatable about everyday stories.

I have a magnet we bought at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT which reads: "My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water." The most timeless stories are actually based on simple themes, things we all relate to. Even Shakespeare with all his monologues and eloquence was writing about the central themes of life--love, loss, the dynamics of family relationships. Twain, Dickens, Alcott were very clearly writing about ordinary life, be it industrialized England, the racially charged South, or war torn America. Jane Austen's books are about ordinary people doing ordinary things, mostly falling in love. But these books continue to sell wildly and are taught in every high school and college across the country. They're not adventure stories, not even Huckleberry Finn when you get down to it. They're stories about people doing things and experiecning things we all relate to.

The same is true for movies, if you really think about it. Without question The Fast and the Furious or The Italian Job were successful at the box office and continue to be fan favorites. But the root of the stories is not really about racing or theft. The stories are about relationships. And there's definitely a reason why a movie about a mischieveous dog named Marley brought all sorts of people to the theater. Grown men that don't cry at funerals left the theater teary-eyed. Because the story was so gosh darn relatable.

I think that's the key to writing. I have to say that I've experienced that phenomenon even here on this simple little blog. The posts viewed the most often, most likely read by the most people? My Shiloh post has taken the number one slot this week, bumping my oringial post on my infertility journey to number two. On the right hand side the most popular posts are listed, you can see for yourself what people are drawn to. Not my thoughts on life, God, spirituality, and definitely not my recipes! The posts in which I get real and honest, share my heart and a little bit of my soul. People appreciate that, I think. Something real in this synthetic, digital world.

As I write about Shiloh I want to keep this in mind. He was a simple little guy, didn't need too much to be happy. There's no need for me to try to make his stories something elaborate and meaningful. I think if I just write about Shiloh, the meaning will come through. Lewis wrote with this same thought process. He explained once that he never set out to teach Christian lessons in his books, he just wrote the stories. His Christian value system was so strong inside of him that it simply flowed out onto the page and into the stories he wrote. That may be what makes The Chronicles of Narnia so wonderful. They're distinctively not preachy, but the reader walks away feeling as if they've encountered Christ all the same.

I don't expect my Shiloh stories to carry that kind of weight or be that successful. But its my intention to keep them that honest and simple. If I write from my heart, the stories will tell themselves. No doubt to be worth reading there needs to be some style and crafting involved, but the stories themselves should remain relatable, simple, true. Just like him, my furry little friend.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Million Little Stories

I feel over-whelmed by the number of people that read my post about Shiloh. Or at least how many times it was looked at, I have no way of knowing how many individual people it is. I guess the premise presented in 'Marley & Me' is true--there's just something about animals that brings out the best in us and that brings us together. Although...I can guarantee you, I won't be watching 'Marley & Me' for a long time...or 'Where the Red Fern Grows'....or 'Homeward Bound'....or anything with a dog in it.

Some of you may know that I've been toying with the idea of writing a children's series of books about Shiloh for a few years now. I had to create a picture book for a class I took in college, and the obvious choice for me was to make Shiloh the main character. It was a big hit--100% for a grade and enthusiasm from the class. I've come up with a few ideas and fiddled around with plots, but I could never get anything the way I wanted it. And I never did find an illustrator...I can't draw worth beans.

The original idea was to have Shiloh and Piper be main characters, as they were in the original story. But Piper died from lymphoma this spring, and now Shiloh is gone due to cancer (we think of the spleen...stupid spleen). For those of you that don't know, Piper is my brother's beagle. Adam and Melanie adopted Piper just a few months after we adopted Shiloh, she was about 4 months younger than him. For a short while Adam lived with Curtis so we had two dogs and two guys smushed in a tiny apartment in Bowling Green. But Shiloh and Piper loved playing together. Their first Christmas was a hilarity. We were all at my mom's house and watched them run back and forth across the house over and over and over again. They were running so hard on their little puppy legs that they actually shifted the rug my mom's dining room table was on. They were so small then that they both fit into a little green doggy bed.

Anyway...I digress...the original story was illustrated with photos cut out and glued onto fabric or paper backgrounds. Like I said, I can't draw worth beans...so I used felt and fabric scraps to make the backgrounds, and cut out pictures of Piper and Shiloh to go into the scenes. The children in the story were pictures of my brother and I when we were little. I always liked the idea of having their world be animated but the dogs be photos. Now...even with probably close to 1,000 pictures of Shiloh...I know I'd never have enough shots to tell the stories.

But for some reason I really want to get back to writing the Shiloh stories. I think I want to pay tribute to him somehow. There's a million little stories to tell...like the Christmas one above, or how he always tried to jump out of the bathtub, or how when he was a puppy he wiggled up to sit behind my head, perched on my shoulders. I always wanted to write a story about his accident and his bad leg, and how although it slowed him down he wasn't really all that different from other dogs. He did so many funny little things that I think I want to capture more permanently than in my memory which will eventually go fuzzy.

I don't know that anyone would ever publish it but even if its just for me and my family, its enough to remember him. I look at the little grave we made for him and I think to myself, its just not enough. I realize it makes no difference to him, it never would have, he was a dog that never thought much of books. But he gave me so much in his short life. I didn't know that he was sick, dying really, so I didn't get to spoil him in his last few weeks. I regret that so much, even though I know there's no way I could've known. The symptoms didn't present until it was way past too late. But I can do this now. I can do this for him, for me, for Curtis. I can remember and I can write.

I'm going to try to not be overly depressing and dwell on him in the next few days and weeks. But it's hard. I didn't sleep well last night. I think night two and day two are proving harder than the first. It's sinking in and Bode's starting to figure things out. If by nothing else than watching me cry all the time, bless his furry heart. I started crying this morning when I didn't have to put food in two bowls and Bode came up to me. His ears were down which is normal for a dog that is worried/scared, but then he popped them straight up and looked right in my eyes like he was ready to listen. So I do what we all do with dogs and poured my heart out to him, and what did he do? He put his paw on my leg and leaned up to lick my face. Just what Shiloh used to do. And Bode has never acted this way before. He never reacted to my being upset until now. I guess Shiloh had time to teach Bode a thing or two about taking care of his people before he had to leave us.

Okay,  not being very successful at not being depressing...sorry about that. I'll have more to write as I process through things. I've learned a lot about God through this, in a way. I'm not quite ready to share that story but I will soon. I'm still working it all out with Him and there's more to it than Shiloh.

Anyway...for each of you that read my post about Shiloh and have reached out to comfort me from across the web...thank you. I've treasured each word and felt it as a warm hug. I know some of you aren't even dog lovers but you know how much I adored him, so thank you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When we adopted Shiloh we were very young and hadn't been dating long. He became the glue for our lives. I used to say that we were like macaroni & cheese...I was the macaroni, Curtis was the cheese, and Shiloh was the milk...the thing that made it all work and come together. Shiloh hated fighting and loud voices, so he stopped several arguments by hiding behind the couch. Whatever we were upset about wasn't worth upsetting the dog. He made us laugh all the time, and not a day went by that we didn't get a smile because of him.

Everywhere we took Shiloh people told us he looked like Lassie, and then asked about his leg. The kids at my program fell in love with him through the stories I told. One year for Halloween I dressed up as Shiloh, which the kids absolutely loved. Shiloh seemed to think it was a little strange.

I know that he had a good life, but his life was hard in its own way. We spoiled him rotten, he probably had over a hundred toys. Shiloh got lots of treats, and was allowed on all the furniture (he even had his own chair or two...or three), and we both encouraged him to get on the bed with us in the morning. But his leg made life hard, and his food allergies exacerbated the pain. He had a sensitive stomach so we cleaned up a lot of messed and he felt lousy often. But he was loved.

Everyone that met Shiloh loved him. Little kids, old people, he was just gentle and loving. He loved to play, even with his bad leg. There was nothing he loved more than chasing his basketball around the yard or following Curtis on the lawnmower, barking at it at full volume. Unless it was riding in cars.

He did perk up on the car ride today to the vet. He tried to look out windows and climb up front like his normal self. I wish now that I had taken him on a lot more car rides and given him a lot more treats, and spent more time scratching his belly. But the fact is, we loved him to bits and pieces, and he knew it. What else could we have done? Nothing.

We acted as soon as we knew he was sick. It was just too late, and there's nothing more we could've done or should've done. There will always be a void in my heart, a little furry spot just for him. It won't be the same not hearing his skipping step across our floor to great me, or to get his stinky breath kisses in the morning. I'll miss his ruffing at everything that drove by our house.

I know that some people think its silly or even sacrilegious to say that dogs go to heaven, but I think they do. God made Shiloh. God saved his leg. God took him home today. I don't know why we didn't have more time with him, why we didn't know about the cancer sooner and could've done something, but we didn't. But he's in heaven now, on four good legs, chasing Piper around and around.

I learned a lot from that furry little guy. About myself, about life, about caring for another creature. I am a better person for having raised Shiloh. He taught me about forgiveness and adventure and enjoying the small things. He could take a boring car ride into town and make it into a major event. I don't know how many times I would feel alone and unworthy of God' love when Shiloh would come in and lay his head on my lap, or nudge my hand. He had an uncanny way of knowing when I needed a good cry and some thick fur.

Dogs do this to us. They come scampering into our lives and steal our hearts. They look at us with those loving, loyal brown eyes and sucker us in. But dogs can't live forever, not even the ones that survive getting hit by cars. In this fallen world of broken hearts we lose everything we love eventually. It's a depressing fact but one that turns us to eternity. The only thing that never fades and never changes. In his own furry way, Shiloh pointed me to God's goodness, mercy, and love over and over. Maybe some people think I'm crazy, but I believe God isn't limited and doesn't think using a dog to communicate His meanings to us is beneath Him.

Shiloh Aslan Berry was a good boy who loved riding in cars, taking naps on Sunday afternoons, drinking cereal milk, and barking at the lawn mower. His favorite toys were stuffed animals, most notably a teddy bear named Opus he'd had since the day we brought him home. Shiloh was known to sit at the table like a person from time to time, and saw no reason why he shouldn't drink from a glass or eat from a plate. His favorite milkshake flavor was strawberry and frosty paws flavor was peanut butter. There was only one other dog he really liked playing with, and a few others he tolerated. Shiloh thought he was the boss and that the world started with his birth and would end with his death. I'll miss him forever but I believe someday, when I get to go home, he'll be there waiting for me. Wait for me, Ruff.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ruffy Stockings

So this is the year of crafts for Christmas, I am determined. So whilst sitting on my rear and watching tv I decided to get started! I wanted to make stockings for Shiloh and Bode this year but I wasn't sure what pattern to use. My mom has a really cute scottie dog pattern she uses for dog stockings, I found a cute one that's shaped like a dog's leg and has a paw print on the bottom, or I was thinking of using a traditional stocking shape with paw print fabric.

Then, I had an amazing idea! At work I'm constantly doodling Shiloh and Bode faces for the kids. They love those guys. I thought to myself, why couldn't I make stockings shaped like their heads?? And when I didn't have a comeback for myself, I figured I would try it to see what happened. I have to say, they turned out super cute and it was so mind-numbingly easy I couldn't believe it.

First, I sketched the shape of their heads. Then I pinned it to a piece of felt--brown for Shiloh, dark gray for Bode--and cut around the pattern. Next, I had cut out a stripe for Shiloh--crooked just like his in real life. And I made a white patch by Bode's mouth which I added gray buttons to for his spots. I cut out 1 red tongue and 2 pink triangles for each dog. I found brownish black buttons for their noses, and big googly eyes. Using tacky glue I attached all the pieces.

As the faces I dried I set to work on the back. I cut the head pattern out on white felt and red snowflake fabric. I glued the felt piece and the snowflake piece together. I used the white felt to give the stocking some more strength.

I pinned the face to the back, trimmed off any uneven spots, and used white floss to blanket stitch the face to the back. When that was finished I used some velvet red ric-rac to make the hanger. I glued it to the back at the tips of the ears and used 2 white buttons to cover the raw edge.

All in all, I think the project took a little over 2 hours. Pretty easy and super cute! Compare to the pictures on the sidebar to see how much the stockings look like them! It was hard to get Bode's spotty white patch around his mouth just right but its pretty close. I'm so excited for Christmas to come and fill them with bones!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Changing of Seasons

I've never been an Autumn enthusiast. It may go back to this one time when I jumped in a pile of leaves and landed in a pile of dog poop. Totally traumatizing. But this year I've been downright anxious to be able to flip the calendar to September, thereby making summer officially over. I even changed my blog background early to ring in Autumn's approach. (Don't you just love the owl? I'm really digging this owl trend for Fall this year)

We've got a surprise pumpkin patch growing around our flagpole so I'm looking forward to carving pumpkins this year and roasting the seeds. I want to make some Thanksgiving decorations for the house. I'm so excited for apple cider and doughnuts. We have a bonfire planned for the youth group.

And I have to confess, I'm already preparing for Christmas. I know, I'm as bad as Wal-mart trotting out the Christmas things with the back-to-school supplies. But this year I am bound and determined to make some gifts. Last year I was full of plans and good intentions but very little materialized. By starting in September I should be able to get a few things completed at least. At the top of the list are stockings for Curtis, me, Shiloh, and Bode. I think Bode will enjoy Christmas and I want to have a special New Year's Celebration since we adopted him last New Year's. Last night I pulled out all of my Christmas fabric and anything else red or green. I envisioned turning it into all sorts of things--wreaths, stockings, yo-yos, garland, ornaments. I can't wait to get started. I'm sure I will share some of my crafting adventures on here!

I think this summer was hard for me. In fact, I know it was. Stress crept in from all sides and I'm very ready to put summer 2011 in the books. I love the changing of the seasons. Each new season with its change of shoes and coats invites a change of mind and perspective. As the temperatures cool and the scenery changes I'm invited to change, too. I don't have a favorite season, I love the beginning of them all and I find that I am always ready to see them end.

Perhaps this is true about the seasons of life, as well. It's exciting to begin a new stage of life, but the readiness to move on seems to come just as the change is necessary. I feel like I'm just here on the edge of a life change, fidgeting and jumping so ready for the next season of my life. But I can't rush that anymore than I can rush the coming of Fall or Winter. Each must come in its time.

But in the meanwhile I can celebrate the changing of leaves from green to reds and oranges. I can relish the dropping temperatures and strain my eyes for the glimpse of that first precious snowflake. I can drink up all the sounds, smells, and flavors of Autumn and the promises of Winter. And eventually my season will change, and oh, how thrilling it will be.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Before & Afters

I've been on a home decorating/crafting binge for about the last week. So I decided to put together a post of some before & after pictures. When possible I'm including 'before before' pictures--what the house looked like when we bought it! I hope you enjoy and maybe you'll get an idea or two for your own home!

What the living room looked like the day we moved in. Blah.

After we painted but all our old furniture still.

The living room now! I'm  moving the poster (subway map
of NYC w/pictures on our honeymoon) that was here to
a blank wall and adding another poster made of tickets/momentos
of shows we've seen, places we've been etc.
The dining room on the day we moved in. Ugh!
You have to look closely but you can see where we took out
the sliding glass doors and put in 2 windows.
We tried to match the ugly woodwork but it looked stupid....
...so I repainted it! It now matches the bottom color of the
walls. We added in a corner/pellet burner and I just
hung those shelves. I'm going to put my wedding flowers
in the apothecary jars on the shelves.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Diving Into Fearlessness

Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypengyophobia.
Charlie Brown: I don't think that's quite it.
Lucy Van Pelt: How about cats? If you're afraid of cats, you have ailurophasia.
Charlie Brown: Well, sort of, but I'm not sure.
Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacaphobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephyrobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?
Charlie Brown: What's pantophobia?
Lucy Van Pelt: The fear of everything.
Charlie Brown: THAT'S IT!

It's interesting to me how fears become phobias and then they become debilitating. I'm not one of those Howard Hughes reclusive types completely crippled by fears but I find that my phobias get in the way. Or at least provide a handy excuse for trying new things and getting out of my comfort zone.

I have a pretty strong fear of heights but it materializes in strange ways. Put me on the observation deck at the Empire State Building or Sears Tower, and I'm completely fine. I enjoy it, even. Put me on the top row of bleachers at a football game or basketball game and I'm a basket case. I somehow developed this pathological fear of tripping on the bleachers (because I'm clumsy) and somehow falling through the gap to my death, or at least paralyization. (Side note: Is paraylization a word??) Roller coasters are evil--I get all pale, clammy, and shaky when I ride even the smallest ones. And diving boards just seem completely insane. I think this is because the Natatorium had a high dive and it seemed sooooo high when I was a kid. In fact, while most kids loved the Nat I eventually started not liking it so much. I got too over-whelmed by all the kids and noise and not being able to keep up.

Maybe that's the root of it all. Not being quite adequate, not being as brave, as fearless, as capable. I'm a klutz so falling down bleachers is a complete possibility, and as a child that would be scary. I wasn't (and still am not) a very strong swimmer, I can swim but I'm not very good at it, so diving boards would be very scary, the water is so deep. Roller coasters look scary, and people are always screaming, and what if my seat belt came off?

What ifs and perceived (or even real) inadequacies. The perfect equation for fears to become phobias and then debilitating. I have fears of conflict, fears of success, fears of failure, fears of imperfection, fears of being noticed, and fears of being unimportant. I think if we all admit it, we're all a little prone to fear. Sometimes fear is healthy, it keeps us safe. It is good to fear the hungry, angry bear we meet in the woods. It is bad to fear standing up for yourself, or taking a chance, or trying something new.

Lately I've been feeling trapped. Trapped by my circumstances and trapped by the fear of changing them. Better the devil you do know than the one you don't. And I just keep thinking about these words the Apostle John wrote, the Apostle of Love: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18) Or the way The Message puts it: There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

There is no fear in love, love banishes fear. Time for another Biblical theorem: If God is Love, and there is no fear in Love, and if God/Love is for us, nothing can stand against us. Thus, there is nothing to fear. 

Because all of the things I listed, and anything you can think of, any of your personal phobias, are meaningless in the face of Love. The greatest thing to fear is Judgment Day and eternal separation from God/Love. That fear has already been banished. Jesus paid the price, He stands in my place, even when I still have fear and still do wrong. His Love has eliminated the power and reality of that fear. So what else is worth fearing?

Today I faced one of my fears. A little diddly one but still a fear. We take my students swimming every Friday in the summer time. I normally avoid getting in the pool, unless it's about a hundred degrees. Today the water was cold from the rain last night and I was trying my darnedest to not get in. My students were splashing me (ah-hem, irritating me) and then another supervisor (and friend) decided to join them by doing an enormous cannonball right in front of me. I was drenched. And shivering. So the only logical thing to do was to get in the stupid pool. Then I started thinking...this is the last swim day, and that diving board doesn't look so high, and the kids would be so excited. And no joke, I thought back to this episode of The Biggest Loser when all the contestants had to jump off the highest building in Australia. And I envied their chance to face their fears. Well, here I had one. A little fear but something that had kept me from trying  it all my life. So I got in line with three of my students and they gave me pep talks the whole way. One said he'd jump in the shallower part at the same time I jumped off the board. So with all their little faces cheering me on, I held my breath and took the plunge. It was cold and deep, and I'm sure I didn't have good form swimming back to the rope, but it felt good to do it. They were so proud of me and while it seems silly, and maybe even is, I was proud of myself.

Sometimes we have to start small. Throw off the little things holding us back before we can take on the big ones. Thankfully, graciously the greatest one has been conquered. Eternity is now on our side, for those who Believe. So, with that in mind, what shall I fear? Nothing.

I'm divin' in, I'm goin' deep
In over my head I wanna be
Caught in the rush, lost in the flow
In over my head I want to go
The river's deep, the river's wide
The river's water is alive
So sink or swim, I'm divin' in
("Dive" by Steven Curtis Chapman)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lucy & Ethel Make Peach Jelly

Last summer Curtis and I were thrilled to discover the many types of fruit growing on our property. Mulberry tree, cherry trees, grape vine, raspberry bushes, and a peach tree. The day we discovered that the mulberry tree is in fact a mulberry tree I exclaimed, "what is this? The Garden of Eden?"

I am loathe to admit it but so much of the fruit went to waste last year. My mom helped me with some of the cherries, and I tried to freeze some of the mulberries, but the peaches were a complete waste. I resolved this spring that the peaches would not go to waste. And it is more than safe to say that I have kept that resolution

A couple Saturdays ago my best friend Katie helped me make some delicious peach jelly. We took the bucket full of peaches that I had gathered and cut them into quarters, leaving the skins and pits in tact. After adding water we boiled them on the stove until juice began to form and the fruit got, for lack of a better word, mushy. I then strained the fruit to get  beautiful coral juice. The next day we took the peach juice and turned it into jelly. I used this recipe taken from cooks.com
To make juice, cook peelings, seeds and peaches in water. Strain to make 3 1/2 cups peach juice. Pour into a large saucepan and add 1 box Sure-Jel. Bring to a hard boil and pour in 4 1/2 cups sugar. Boil about 2 minutes or until 2 drops slide together to make a big drop. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Frankly I have no idea what the "2 drops slide together to make a big drop" part means but we used our best judgment and it set up just fine. Even if it did boil over all over my glass top stove...and when I turned on the vent fan to clear the smoke cookbooks started falling on our heads. No one said we had to  be graceful and Martha Stewart about it, its much more fun to be Lucy and Ethel. We ended up with 4 medium sized jars and 3 small jars (no idea how much any of the jars actually holds).

This week I took all that yummy 'mushy' fruit and turned it into peach butter. The recipe I used can be found in its entirety (step by step directions) here, but I'll boil it down for you. Did you like that, boil it down? I'm hilarious.

The recipe calls for 6 quarts of peaches. I didn't measure, I figure when it's not baking, it's not an exact science. My medium sized crockpot was full and that looked like the picture, so close enough. I used a little less than two tablespoons of cinnamon (my recommendation would be to use less than that, it seemed a little heavy on the cinnamon when I tasted it), a teaspoon of allspice (the recipe calls for half teaspoon but I love allspice and always use a little bit more no matter what I'm making). The recipe also calls for cloves but I didn't have any so I used a little bit of nutmeg instead. A little nutmeg goes along way so if you use that, start small, you can always add more.

I left it my crockpot over night, about 10 or 11 hours and it reduced but not enough. If you're able to stay at home, just turn up the heat or leave it in for several more hours. If you have to go to work, like me, then throw it in the fridge until you get back and can speed up the process. I used my mixer to blend it and soften up some of the larger pieces of fruit and peels that were resisting becoming butter. Then I put it in my large soup pot, put my splatter guard on the top to let steam escape and turned the heat on medium. Once it started bubbling I turned it back to the lowest setting. It only took about 30-45 minutes to finish reducing. I let it cool for about 35 minutes before putting it in freezer safe containers. (I really detest using jars, freezing is so much simpler). I let it cool on the counter for a couple more hours then had Curtis help me carry it out to the freezer in the garage. I ended up with 4 pint containers, and 4 smaller containers (not sure how big).

I still have about six or seven cups of juice left so I intend to get some sugar-free pectin to make some jelly for my diabetic grandmother (uses splenda instead of sugar), and another batch of regular. I had hoped to make some peach honey but it looks a little advanced for me. Something about sugar and juice in equal parts and some other stuff that looked like math. I need to keep it simple and build into the word problems in the kitchen.

At any rate, peaches are pretty cheap now in the grocery store. Meijer had them for $.69/lb the other day, and you may still be able to get some at an orchard depending where you live. I hope I inspired you to try preserving some delicious fruit this year! Pickyourown.com is a wonderful site with directions for preserving just about anything in a million different ways. You'd be amazed what you can do with a pile of fruit and determination. Believe me, if I can do it...anybody can. Even Lucy and Ethel.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Secret Message Decoded

Whatever you're doing inside of me,
 it feels like chaos but somehow there's peace.
You're up to something bigger than me,
Larger than life, something heavenly. (Chorus)

This is a Sanctus Real song, and for me, its the one that really put them on the map in my life. At the time I first heard this song things were going well, but I made a mental note of it. I knew it would be one of those songs I would cling to in the middle of the night someday. And it has been. It's the anthem of reassurance. Pain is a necessary part of life, especially life as a Christian. Pain can signify when somethings not right, and it can allow growth. Nobody likes it, but there can be a peace that passes understanding when we understand that whatever 'it' is, it's bigger than us.

Whatever you're doing inside of me,
it feels like chaos but I believe,
You're up to something bigger than me,
Larger than life, something heavenly (Chorus 2)

They played this song at the inaugural concert at the Stroh Center at BGSU. I've heard it dozens of times, even recently, but I found a new message tucked inside of it, like a secret note just for me. In the same way that 'Beautiful Things' by the band Gungor symbolizes more to me than being remade--its about making new life, making beautiful things out of dust, out of us. Tonight the words 'inside of me' grabbed my attention and gripped my heart. Perhaps it's my training as an English major that makes me find meaning where there isn't intentionally one, but I couldn't help but feel that I was supposed to pick up on that tonight. The song is supposed to be about emotional turmoil during difficult times and I get that, big time. But for me the meaning is more literal. I have no idea what God is doing inside of me in terms of allowing me to become a mother. And it feels like chaos sometimes. All the tests and data collecting and stress and baby drama definitely can create internal emotional chaos. And sometimes it feels like physical chaos when my body reacts to the medications. But when I remember that God does have a plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11) and that plan is bigger than only me there is a peace that can override the chaos. I believe that God has a plan and all of this is intentional and purposeful, and I believe that with all my heart.

Whatever you're doing inside of me,
it feels like chaos but now I can see,
This is something bigger than me,
Larger than life, something heavenly (Chorus 3)

I consider this last variation of the chorus to be a promise. I've been able to get to the top of a mountain after trudging through a valley and see how the struggle was part of a larger plan. And those past experiences reassure me that nothing is without purpose, and someday I will see. Even if that day comes on the other side of Eternity, someday I will see how this struggle and journey has been bigger than me. And at any rate, what God is doing inside of me is larger than life. It's about so much more than creating life. It's strengthening me, drawing me to Him, requiring me to share my heart, and expanding my faith. That is most certainly something heavenly.

But I'm still a dreamer, a believerOh, I've lost my faith in so many things, but I still believe in You
'Cause You can make anything new
 This is the chorus to a different Sanctus Real song but it seems like the best way to end this post. Sometimes I do lose my faith in the process. I stop believing that all this struggling and hoping and praying and dreaming will work. But even when I've lost faith in everything, even myself, I still have my faith in God. And God is still faithful to me. He can make anything new, even a body that doesn't work properly. My favorite word in the entire English language is 'believe'. That word is in every room of our house, one way or another. I'm not always good at showing my belief, but I believe deeply and I dream even deeper. And it's okay for me to dream and believe even while facing difficult realities, because God is a redeemer. No matter what I may lose or never gain, I have Him. What else is there really?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Frame of Mind/State of Heart

I lost my voice when I was in college, about my junior year. It was related to my sinuses and it didn't clear up for a long time, six or eight weeks. I could talk just fine but I couldn't sing. It hurt to hold out a note, or my voice would crack and pop and go out like static on the radio. I would get so frustrated week after week when I couldn't worship in church with everyone else. I wanted to be able to sing out and praise God. I wanted people to hear me praise Him. Eventually I realized I could praise and worship silently, that worship isn't really about singing or music. Worship is a frame of mind, a state of heart.

I'll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself isn't what you have required. You search much deeper within, through the way things appear, you're looking into my heart. I'm coming back to the heart of worship, and it's all about you, it's all about you, Jesus. I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it when it's all about you, it's all about you, Jesus.

For about two years Curtis and I went to a tiny church outside of Bowling Green. Every Sunday about 15 to 30 people would gather for worship. For Easter we put together a tiny choir and we practiced our hearts out. None of us are American Idol material, no one would ever sign us to go on tour, but we gave it our all. When Easter morning came and we sang I knew we were praising God. I don't think I'd ever felt that way singing before. It felt as if Jesus Himself had come in to sit down and listen to us. I'd felt the Spirit move in other situations, but this was different. This was pure worship. We had the frame of mind, and we were in the right state of heart.

Come, now is the time to worship. Come, now is the time to give your heart. Come, just as you are to worship. Come, just as you are before the Lord. Come. One day every tongue will confess you are God, one day every knee will bow. Still the greater treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now.

From time to time I sing solos at church, or as they're called specials. Sometimes I listen to 50 songs before I settle on one that is just right. I don't pay attention to things that most music people do. I don't notice what key something is in or how modern the song is. I listen to the words, and more than anything, I listen for the Spirit. Not always, but sometimes I get this feeling, a little nudge, an internal ah-ha! and I know that I've found the right song. I sang a special the week after that aforementioned Easter service. It took me ages to choose the right song and when all was said and done I had no idea why I picked it other than I knew I was supposed to. I didn't know what was about to happen but God did. The song was Jesus Will Sill Be There by Point of Grace. That week in two totally isolated events a marriage went on the rocks and a precious soul took his life. That song came at the just the right time as a message from God that He is in there in the midst of all the pain and questions. The following Easter I sang Sandi Patty's Was It a Morning Like This? and one sweet sister cried the whole way through it; it was her favorite Easter song and blessed her so much to hear it. My songs are not about how talented I am (because I'm not) or how great the songs are (because sometimes their outdated). My songs are about worshipping God in the right frame of mind and state of heart, and letting Him do what He will with my offering.

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you are God. You're altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me. I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross, I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.

I've been singing since I was very small, three or four years old when my family did specials together at Christmas time. I had voice lessons through middle school and high school and I was in the show choir, musicals, and community theatre. I've used my voice for many different purposes, but I have a deeply rooted belief that God gave me this voice for His use. God has given it to me, and He can take it away. I think He was disciplining me when I lost my voice in college. It was a reminder that worship is about more that music, and that my music is about more than me. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing as a member of the worship band, playing my keyboard badly and having never heard about a third of the songs we do. But I know what my role is. I'm not the keyboard player or a backup singer. I'm there to be conduit for His spirit and His power. And somehow when I'm in the right frame of mind and state of heart, my fingers hit the right notes, when I can't even look at the music because my eyes are closed in worship for Him. God gave me my voice, He gave me a willingness to serve, and I've got to use both for His glory. That's what worship is really about.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Only Legacy Worth Leaving

The first time I heard this song I was twenty years old, sorting out the facts of my life, and trying to figure out how to really walk with God, rather than just believe in Him. It was one song on a compilation album I bought at a used CD place in town. That cd set became the soundtrack for my early twenties along with a couple of others. But this song found a special place in my heart, it resonated with me. It will be one I will carry with me for the rest of my life not only because it inspires me but because it reminds me of people I love. Or better yet, people that have loved me.
I want to leave a legacy. How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to you enough to make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering.
Child of mercy and grace who blessed your name unapologetically.
 I want to leave a legacy.

My grandparents will leave a legacy when their time on this old Earth is over. They have chosen to live for Christ so much so that they have come to embody and symbolize love itself. If God is love, and we are being made into Christ everyday through the power of the Spirit, then we are becoming love. I believe this to be true not because its a pretty idea but because I see two old souls becoming more and more like love everyday.

I've been irregularly blessed. I not only have my grandparents legacy to look to and draw from, but the legacies of others just like them. Today we laid to rest our dear friend and neighbor, Lester Pierce, a man who in just two short years became a source of inspiration and wisdom for Curtis and I. At the funeral I listened to person after person stand up and tell about the impact he had on their lives and I realized that somewhere I'd heard this before. And I realized it was everything I've said about my grandparents. And as I looked around the church I saw others that have lived in and will leave a similar legacy. These are the folks you don't necessarily notice as they teach Sunday school, organize funeral dinners, work with the youth, clean the church, drive the bus, plan activities for VBS, or get down on their knees everyday to do their best work in prayer. These people blend into the background sometimes with humility, meekness, and love being their defining characteristics. My grandmother gets down right flustered when people make a fuss over her contributions. She, like Lester, didn't do the work for the recognition--they did the work for the Lord. They did it out of love, first for Christ then for others because He loves them.

I've come to the conclusion that the best legacy that can be left is one of love. True love. Not The Princess Bride or The Notebook kind of true love.  We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.--1 John 3:16 This is true love. Love that sacrifices sleep, me-time, and self to serve the Lord, to help one another, to lend a hand, to say a prayer. When we give up our lives to help and serve with love in our hearts that is true love. And that is something sorely needed in the world today.

One by one these saints travel to heaven and we who have been so blessed to know them are left with their legacy in our care. I want to do right by them, and what I've learned is that the only way to do that is to do right by God. By keeping my eyes on the Cross and my feeted pointed toward Calvary and my heart broken for Him, I may just be counted among those who loved truly.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Start From Scratch

I apologize that July's posts have been few and far between. On the other hand, I am not sorry for not writing out of obligation. The only way I know how to write is from my heart and sometimes that means I need to be quiet for a time. This month has been quiet in that sense, but incredibly busy in all other aspects. Another reason for my scattered posts.

To be quite honest I'm not sure what I'm going to write about today. Thoughts are tumbling around in my head like clothes in a dryer. I think that rather than try to come up with some deep, profound meaning out of my scatter-brained thoughts it may be better to stick to something more simple.

My sister-in-law and friend, Megan, has a lovely blog in which she shares not only personal stories and insights, but recipes, decorating tips, and gardening pointers. I've only ever shared one recipe on this blog and while I've discussed my propensity for clutter, I've not ever shared how one fixes it. These are not my strengths. But today I'm going to share a couple recipes that I'll be preparing this week.

Sticky Buns (Grammy's Recipe)
  • 2 loaves frozen bread dough
  • 2 packages of non-instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk
Place frozen bread dough in a lightly greased cake pan, cover with plastic wrap (lightly greased) and let rise until doubled in size. Take one loaf and tear into pieces, places pieces in the bottom of a 10x13 cake pan. The bottom should be mostly covered but the pieces shouldn't be touching. Prepare sauce and pour over the bread pieces. Take remaining loaf, tear into pieces and place in all open spaces in the cake pan. Cover again and let rise until reaches the top of the cake pan. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes.

It is important to let it rise both times or it comes out thick and flat, instead of fluffy and light. I made this on Saturday and the grease from the pan and saran wrap got into the dough and stopped it from rising the second time. Its about an inch and half think, instead of being about three inches high. I feel sad because this was the one thing that turned out every time I made it, and I was intending to take it next door to our neighbors.

Peanut Butter Pie (Uncle Gary's Recipe)
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (creamy)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 c. confectioner's sugar
  • 12 ounces whipped cream/cool whip (more is okay)
Mix ingredients together until smooth and light. Put into a graham cracker crust (or a oreo cookie crust) and let chill in the refrigerator. Best served with a drizzling of chocolate syrup or a little whipped cream on top.

Easy as pie. Seriously, the only pie I can make. The first time I made it I was living in the dorms and had no mixer. I'm pretty sure I used a large table spoon and fork to mix it, and set it on the window sill to chill. Its easy, simple, and incredibly good...if you like peanut butter.

Fantasy Fudge (Great-Aunt Ruth's Recipe)
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. margarine
  • 2/3 c. evaporated milk
  • 1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 7oz jar marshmallow cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c. chopped nuts (optional)
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter (optional)
Melt margarine in LARGE microwave mixing bowl. Stir in sugar. Stir in evaporated milk. Microwave 3 minutes and stir; 2 minutes and stir; 3 minutes and stir; 2.5 minutes and stir. Exactly! Remove and add chocolate chips, marshmallow cream, vanilla, and stir. Add nuts and peanut butter, if wanted. Pour in a greased 13x9 pan or 8x8 pan. Cut while warm. Do not chill to cool.

Okay, I only attempted this once and it didn't set up right but it still tasted amazing. We ended up using it more as a chocolate fudge spread than eating it in pieces. Either way the recipe is delicious.

One thing you'll notice is that all three recipes come from someone in my family. I've shared before that I come from a long line of domestic goddesses, or as I call them: true women. Clearly the domestic gift goes beyond just women as my uncle is a talented host, cook, and baker. I wish more of their talent was passed on with the recipes but I suppose I'll just have to start from scratch and work my way into the fold. (Pun very much intended).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Barren to Beautiful

He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of the dust.
He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of us.

Out of the dust wildflowers can thrive. Out of the dust gems can be found. Out of the dust we were created. God isn't limited by His materials. What we see as something to sweep away can actually hold the potential for life in the masterful hands of the Creator.

All this earth...
Could a garden come up
from this ground
at all?

Earth needs to be fertile to sustain life. A womb must be fertile, too. Without fertility the farmer's fields remain only dust. Without fertility a woman's womb remains only dust. But diligent care and planning by the farmer and the woman can help foster fertility. But I believe that all this is done in good faith, inviting the Creator to extend His healing touch to bring what was dead to life. 

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

Every now and then I hear this song on the radio while I'm driving. And as I said yesterday there is life coming up out of the ground everywhere I look. The fields are now a patchwork quilt of greens and yellows, stitched together by ditches now colorful with wildflowers. What was once useless swamp land is now verdant farm land. The hard work across the generations, expertise of seasoned farmers, and the blessings of a gracious God have worked together to bring bounty to this corner of the world. And I have a dream that one day life will grow inside of me. The hard work of taking tests and tracking data, the expertise of seasoned doctors, and truly the blessings of a gracious God will someday bring life to my little corner of the world.

You make beautiful things
(You make me new)
You make beautiful things out of the dust
(You are making me new, making me new)
You make beautiful things
(You make me new)
You make beautiful things out of us
(You are making me new, making me new)
Every year this land is made new. Fresh seeds planted, fresh crops grow, fresh harvests are gathered. The seasons change, allowing the land to rest and nutrients to replenish. I am being made new all the time. Each day is an opportunity to be made new, be made better, be made more fertile. Not only for bringing forth new life, but fertile in my heart. This journey of infertility has ended up being about far more than bearing a child. This has exposed areas of infertility in my heart and my mind and my soul. Where doubt, fear, and bitterness reside there it is barren. Where my heart is hardened and my mind is made up there it is barren. Grace, joy, love, peace cannot grow in those areas, no more than life can grow in a barren womb.

He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of the dust.
He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of us.
~~ Beautiful Things, Gungor

No matter what happens I know God is making beautiful things out of the dust in my life. It is the deepest prayer of my heart that I will someday be able to hold something in my arms, something beautiful made out of us. Regardless if the day ever comes when I get to bring forth life the truth remains that God makes beautiful things out of the dust, and God is making beautiful things out of us.

If you've never heard this song you can listen to it here. It is well worth five minutes of your time to let the truth of this song wash over you and make you new. Praying for blessings and bumper crops in your life.
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