Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The Cheeks at 10 Weeks

(Can't tell who's who? Here's a hint!)

Your cheeks are beautiful...
~ Song of Songs 1:10a

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Card 2011

(Click image to enlarge)

Dear friends and family,

It is hard to believe that another year has gone by already. As most of you know, we spent half of this year trying to sell our house and move to Arizona, but God had other plans for us. Don and Manda spent a long weekend there in July, checking out the incredibly cheap houses and loving the dry, sunny Phoenix weather. We had several showings of our house here, but in the current market, we were unable to sell for more than we owe. Then, two months after taking our house off the market, Don got an unexpected job interview at a local company. Several weeks later, the job was his. We do still hope to move to a newer home with more than one bathroom, but for now at least, it looks like we will be staying in New England.

While Don certainly had many benefits while working from home (including being a one-car family and working in his jammies), we are excited about his potential for professional growth as he moves into software development at the new company. And while it will be an adjustment to say goodbye to Daddy in the mornings after having him around all the time, it also means the children don't have to whisper and tiptoe whenever Daddy is on the phone. In addition, Don has recently started working part time at yet another local gym. His love for gymnastics keeps bringing him back to the sport, and we are hoping to sign the children up for gymnastics classes soon, too.

Besides the excitement of house shopping and a family vacation to Disney World and Clearwater Beach, FL in April, we also found out that we were expecting a new baby this year! On October 10, we welcomed sweet Abigail Joy to our family. She was born by repeat Cesarean section weighing 5 pounds and 9 ounces. Her siblings adore their baby sister and ask for a turn holding her throughout the day. At two months old now, she is smiling and cooing more, and her skinny newborn body is filling out with delightful baby plumpness. She is a great nurser and, for a newborn, a good sleeper. We are so thankful to have another beautiful, healthy baby!

Lydia is now two and a half years old. She wants to do whatever her brothers are doing, whether it's playing outside or doing schoolwork at the kitchen table. She often asks Mumma, "What can I do to help you?" and when she sees you for the first time, she'll tell you, "I have a sister Abby!" She is quite possessive of her "Baby Abby" and nearly smothers little Abigail with kisses, hugs, and (sometimes very loud) songs.

Hayden is five years old and has already finished first grade! When we started first grade homeschool in January with Donny, we decided to include Hayden as well, and he has kept up amazingly well given his young age. He has beautiful handwriting and often surprises us with his understanding of math concepts. He loves anything that Daddy does: guns, weapons, working out, video games, etc. He is often quiet in new situations, but if you give him a few minutes, he'll be happy to flex his muscles for you!

Donny just turned seven and continues to be our talkative, imaginative scientist. He is interested in everything science-related (animals, outer space, rocks) but also loves geography, history, and crafts. Because of his ongoing love of building Lego creations, we have been participating in a Junior Lego League this fall, where he works with a team of other young boys to solve a challenge using Lego pieces. After spending the summer being terrified of bugs, he has overcome his aversion to the outdoors and now loves playing outside in our yard. In their spare time, the boys have both enjoyed playing Angry Birds (a video game they play on Don's phone) and mastering the card game Uno.

Don has taken up bowhunting this fall, but so far, all the deer seem to be in people's backyards instead of the woods. Manda got a bow and arrows of her own (pink, of course) since she wasn't able to practice shooting her (also pink) handgun, due to being pregnant for ¾ of the year. We continue to host a College and Career Bible study for young adults, and Don has also been teaching the teen Sunday School class at church. Manda still loves being a full-time mom, homeschooling the boys, and spending these precious days with her little girls. We are both thankful for the ways God has been at work in our lives this year, and look forward to seeing what He has in store for us next!

We pray that you, too, will see the Lord's hand at work as we celebrate the Savior's birth this Christmas season. May He bless your family with a Merry Christmas and a joyful New Year!


Don, Manda, Donny, Hayden, Lydia, and Abby ~ 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And Most of All, For Him

Despite the festive lights glowing around our living room, today was a rather ugly day. The toddler was whiny and drippy-nosed, the baby fussed and hardly napped, the boys bickered, the mom got frustrated, and everyone cried. Screams of anger and pain punctuated the day when one boy hit his brother with a stick, and then when said boy received retribution from a ricocheting rock launched by said brother. We read devotionals, discussed verses, and added an ornament to our Jesse tree as we remembered the faith of Abraham, but my feeble attempts to bring focus seemed in vain. Even with Bible open on our laps, the children were kicking, sitting on each other, pulling my hair, and daydreaming.

As I wearily tucked them into bed, I was tempted toward discouragement, but remembered: this is a mission field. And walking into a room of rowdy, disobedient children to give the gospel - with gentleness and love - was my mission. It is easy, sometimes, to speak God's truth, but so much harder to demonstrate. This morning, we read, Let us love not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18). And then we all failed, at nearly every opportunity, to show love to each other. Hearts were hard and tears were many. If nothing else, ugly days reveal my shortcomings to remind me how much I need a Savior, and that nothing matters more in parenting than showing my little ones the Savior's love.

We have been busy lately, as most families are this time of year: celebrating the boys' birthdays, enjoying Thanksgiving feasts with aunts and uncles, baking gingerbread men with Grandma, and decorating for Christmas. In the coming weeks, our schedule will continue to be full of fun and festive activities as we skip through the merry month of December. Yet in the midst of tracing paper hand turkeys and leftover pumpkin pie, the Lord impressed this on my heart:

I am sinful. My husband and children are too. Not just in some vague, "I'm a sinner" way, but in dark, ugly specifics that we seldom admit and may not even realize. Pride, selfishness, the lust of the eyes and of the flesh - they lie dormant in our hearts, periodically manifesting in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Yet God, knowing every wicked thought of our wayward hearts, still sent His Son to die for us. I am so blessed with my family, my home, the opportunity to teach my children, the abundance of food and clothing and other material comforts - but this all pales in comparison to God's grace in forgiving my sin. Of all I have to be thankful for, nothing can compare to the love God poured out on me by sending Jesus.

Dear friends, if you have never heard this truth, or if you have heard it a thousand times, but the good news is drowned out by cheering football fans and red-nosed reindeer tunes, let me tell you this:

Christmas is for all of us, because we all need a Savior. Without Him, we are trapped in the wretched darkness of our own sin. It is only through His light that we can truly live. His blessings are abundant, and there are so many gifts for which to thank Him each day, but in the end, earthly treasures rust, and the world's festive pleasures pass away. Jesus himself is all that really matters, and our only hope for salvation.

For those who know Him, let the holidays remind us to share the light of the One who saved us. We can twinkle with joy through ugly days and dark hours like tiny bulbs on the strand that lights up the tree, emanating light to friends, to strangers, and to the little ones who dance around us in the living room. And as we delight in every meal and gift and yuletide merriment, let us give thanks, most of all, for the One called Jesus, who saves us from our sins.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Little Thankful Thursday

It's November, the time of year when even the secular world pauses to count their blessings and pin "I'm thankful for" feathers on a paper turkey. I have heard many wonderful ideas of ways to share our thankfulness, from a Thanksgiving Tree to dropping slips of paper in a box (to be read aloud at Thanksgiving dinner) to posting one thankful item per day on Facebook. In my college years, my sisters and I created a thankful poster each November, and all of the family members jotted down blessings - from salvation to sugar cookies - to add to the poster. Then when Donny and Hayden were in kindergarten, which finished last November, they created a page for their Blessings Books every Thursday. They would draw a picture of something they were thankful for, I would help them spell the word, and the sheet of paper was tucked inside a sheet protector in a 3-ring binder.

While the boys were hard at work on these precious keepsakes, I would pick up my own notebook and jot a few bullet notes of things I was thankful for that week. Sadly, since we finished kindergarten, both the children and I have often neglected to thank God for both the small and large gifts we receive each day. But tonight, in a rare moment of quiet, I picked up my long-forgotten notebook and quickly filled a page with a few of the ways God has blessed me recently. Here is my list. When you finish reading, grab a piece of paper or open a new text document and start your own!

Tonight I am thankful for...
  • a warm, cozy home
  • chicken soup on a rainy day
  • sweet sleepy newborn noises
  • being blessed with Abigail Joy on 10/10
  • an easier C-section recovery than last time
  • surviving the first trip to the grocery store with all four children
  • the lady in line behind me saying, "Can I just tell you, you are the most calm mother! And your children are so well-behaved!"
  • a small opportunity to witness when the cashier agreed with her and asked, "What do you do different?"
  • knowing that anything good in me or our family is only by His grace
  • the fun anticipation surrounding birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
  • having the resources to bless children around the world by participating in Operation Christmas Child
  • my husband's new job that will allow him to grow professionally and (hopefully) ease his stress
  • God's continual financial provision as our family grows
  • a few moments of quiet while everyone else sleeps to sense the Lord's presence and bask in His love
  • knowing that I serve a very big God!

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. – Colossians 2:6-7

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wacky Weather

Living in the northeast, we certainly see a variety of weather. The saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes," is only a slight exaggeration. Traditionally, winter is cold and snowy, spring is warmer and rainy, summer is hot and sunny, and fall is crisp and cool. Around here, however, exceptions to this rule abound, and often the weather changes so drastically from one day to the next that one never really knows how to dress without first stepping outside. I remember how it rained almost every day of the June when Lydia was born - not exactly your typical hot and sunny summer weather. Snow usually starts in December, but there was a winter when it didn't snow until mid- January, and then a couple years ago, we had some unusual snow flurries in October. But as far as I can remember, this month wins the prize for strangest and most extreme weather conditions.

It started the weekend before Abby was born. I was preparing for my upcoming C-section when my mom called and asked me to pack the kids' bathing suits. Since she lives on a lake, this would be a normal request in summer, but it was already too chilly for swimming on Labor Day. Yet that Sunday, after a hot Saturday, the temperature reached a near-record 85 degrees. The thermometer stayed in 80's on Abigail's birthday, but by the time we returned home later that week, things had cooled off - and it was raining. Usually October is my favorite month for weather in New England: blue skies, crisp cool air, sunshine, and beautiful colored leaves. This year, Indian summer turned to spring as we had two weeks of clouds, wind, and rain. Instead of crunchy leaves to step on, the ground has been soggy. I'm not sure where my favorite season went, but we seem to have skipped it altogether, because this weekend, it was winter.

On Thursday night, just as we were putting the boys and Lydia to bed, I looked out the window and exclaimed, "Is that snow?!" Sure enough, huge chunky flakes of white were falling from the October sky. We called the children to peer out into the dark at the first snowfall of the season, and it was piling up quickly - in fact, Don stepped outside and easily scooped up enough to make a few snowballs and hurl them at the giggling children behind the glass slider door. By morning, it had started to melt, but the sight left behind was certainly strange: snow on the ground with green leaves on the trees.

As if that wasn't strange enough, Saturday's forecast called for 6 to 10 inches of snow. Don didn't believe it (and truly, the meteorologists are seldom correct in our experience), but as soon as we arrived at our friends' house (an hour away) for a birthday party, the flakes started to fall. By the time we left late that evening, there were at least six inches accumulated on their porch. Others had called to warn us that there was almost no visibility on the highway. The roads were barely plowed. The brakes in our van need to be replaced. And Abby was crying. The adventure had begun.

Thankfully, my husband is a great driver, even in the worst of conditions. We knew that there would be many cars off the road - there always are during the first snowstorm, for some reason - but we were chugging along safely with my confident chauffeur at the wheel. Abby fell asleep in a few minutes, and not long after, the older children did too. The sky was bright with snowclouds, yet it was strangely dark. Stores, gas stations, and even hotels sat in eerie darkness while snow piled up around them. They had no power - which meant neither did the street lights. Or the traffic lights. We cruised through several blackened lights and hoped we wouldn't miss the sign for the highway, since many of the roadsigns were covered with snowdrifts. Eventually we were on the highway, following in the tire tracks while the lines were buried.

An hour long car ride in good weather becomes quite a bit longer in snow, and just a bit too long for a newborn's patience. As we slowly neared our exit, passing a pile-up of cars in the breakdown lane surrounded by blue flashing lights, Abby woke up crying. Talking, singing, and letting her suck my finger had no effect, and her cries eventually escalated into full-fledged screams of distress, which certainly weren't helping my skilled driver pay attention to the road. Since we live in the day and age of seatbelt laws, I won't go into details of how it was accomplished, but eventually Abby was comforted, and we all arrived home safely to our very dark and quiet house. Our power was out, too.

We lit candles and tucked the children in with extra blankets. I am very thankful to have town water, because we at least had running water while we lacked heat and electricity. Abby wouldn't fall asleep, so I sat in the office and rocked her, looking out the snow covered trees. The next morning, the house was a frosty 56 degrees and the yard was littered with fallen branches.
I realized why the trees had looked so strange the night before: normally, snow falls on bare branches. Never before have I seen trees covered in green leaves and snow at the same time! And the weight of snow-covered leaves had caused massive damage throughout the region, taking down power lines and obstructing roads. We were very fortunate to have our power back by lunch time on Sunday. While many even in our town waited another 24 hours or more for electricity, we were without it for just long enough to truly appreciate the luxuries of electric heat, hot showers, and warm drinks.

All bundled up

Sweet Abigail is just three weeks old and blissfully unaware of what happens outside her window, but if she could remember it, she would have quite a story to tell her grandchildren. In less than a month, she has lived through all four seasons of weather (except, perhaps, the one we're supposed to be experiencing) and survived a potentially dangerous trip through an unusual snowstorm. For those of us old enough to understand, this October's wacky weather has been a chance to remember the One who reigns over the skies and the seasons. Tonight I am thanking the Lord for His protection, His providence, and His power to control the forces of nature - in any way He chooses!

See, the Lord, the LORD Almighty,
will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
the tall ones will be brought low.

Isaiah 10:33

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Sleep Smiles

When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

Proverbs 3:24

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blog Bash 2011

Tonight I am joining in The Ultimate Blog Bash 2011 hosted by Women Living Well Ministries, so if you are visiting for the first time, welcome! And to my regular reader(s), please bear with me as I introduce myself, my family, and my reason for blogging.

My name is Manda, or at least that's what I prefer to be called, though relatives and doctors continue to put a capital A at the beginning. I have been married to my dear Donald (generally referred to as Don, though I actually never, ever call him that) for seven and a half years, and we are looking forward to celebrating our second anniversary in February. (Yes, you read that correctly. Did you figure out when we got married?) He and I are opposites in many ways, which has made our relationship challenging at times, but I am ever thankful that the God of grace has helped us stay together through our mutual faith in Him. I am blessed to have a partner in life who loves the Lord and desires to lead our family in His ways. I am always learning from my husband, too, since he is an expert on computers, gymnastics, guns, hunting, fitness, politics, a myriad of science topics, and, games. It is his visionary and adventurous personality that leads us to dream up what I used to refer to as "our latest life plan of the week." We are always considering moving or changing careers, and of course we keep things interesting by adding new members to the family every few years.

My handsome husband and me

All of our children have been given to us in God's perfect timing, and by allowing Him to plan and space them, He has so far blessed with a pretty perfect blend. Donny (technically Donald the Third) will be 7 in December, Hayden will be 5 in November, Lydia turned 2 in June, and Abigail Joy was just born this month. I am privileged to homeschool our boys, and since I have been teaching them together, both of them are just about to finish the My Father's World First Grade curriculum. Lydia doesn't realize that she is only two; she wants to do whatever her brothers are doing, whether it's writing with a pencil or reading a book. Now that she is a big sister, she showers "Baby Abby" with hugs, kisses, and general lovey smothering. Little Abigail is a typical newborn, existing to nurse, sleep, cry, and melt our hearts with her tiny sweetness. I am so thankful to be a mother. God's Word says that children are blessings, and though they may be loud and messy and annoying at (most) times, I know it is a great honor and a wonderful responsibility to train these little ones up to know and love the Lord!

Our four gifts from God

Being a wife, mother, and homemaker is my dream job, but it is also full of challenges that would be overwhelming were it not for the grace of God. He is my strength, my hope, and the reason that my routine domestic life has any value in eternity. When I started blogging back in 2008, I was inspired by one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 40:11:

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

I love this picture as the Lord as my Shepherd, tenderly caring for me, and gently leading me as I strive to raise my little lambs for Him. We are so blessed to be carried close to the heart of a loving Father! With this in mind, I strive to keep my blog centered on Christ and the inspiration of His Word. You will find lots of tidbits about our family's experiences and my personal struggles, but woven throughout, I pray you will see a testimony of what God is doing in my life, to mold me into the person He created me to be, as I daily walk through the fields of life with my Shepherd.

Thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to leave me a comment and say hello!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An Honest Look at the Postpartum Period

Postpartum: of or noting the period of time following childbirth. It is a time of change and adjustment, a time of ups and downs, a time of all things new, yet full of predictable sameness. It can be ugly, and it can be beautiful and special and wonderful at the same time.

It is a difficult time to get dressed. Nothing fits quite right: maternity clothes hang limp, while regular clothes are too tight, and the little bulge that was cute to show off at four months pregnant is not so cute when it's no longer a baby. Thanks to nursing, shirts are too tight and too short, and nursing pads become a required part of getting dressed if one wants to avoid embarrassing leaks. At times my body feels like a leaky, dripping mess all over. Other times, I find a cute nursing tank top or an early pregnancy shirt that actually fits, and I feel comfortable for a little while.

Without the structured demands of homeschooling and regular chores and outings, the days at home are long. Accomplishments for the day are generally limited to showering, making the bed, and feeding everyone something with a shred of nutrition every few hours. (Who says leftover mashed potatoes and peanut butter spoons aren't a meal?) Left to their own devices, the older children are - at best - zoned out in front of PBS, and at worst, dumping out every puzzle piece and train track while they rearrange the living room and argue over who had it and who did it. The baby routine consists of constant nursing, burping, changing, and consoling between unpredictable naps. When the older ones are finally tucked in bed, baby time continues, with moments of sweet snuggles intermixed with wide-awake 4am cries and occasionally pacing a cold tile floor while the rest of house sleeps. Sleep is often broken, and filled with vivid and bizarre dreams. Yet some precious afternoons include naps with newborn and perhaps toddler cuddled close beside.

Emotions are messy. Delight over the gift of a new life mixes with fatigue and frustration. I get choked up reading The Giving Tree to my children. I fall in love with my baby's coos and contented sighs. I take my husband's off-hand comments personally, but treasure our (often-interrupted) times of closeness. Some moments seem insurmountably painful, while in others, I realize that I am abundantly blessed

The camera is always close at hand for capturing the sweet sibling moments and first hints of smiles. After all, with the exception of her three older siblings, this is surely the cutest baby in the universe, and these early days must be documented before they quickly fade away. And quickly they do. I may wish the days away to speed the recovery of my body, but I am in no hurry to give up the sweetness of a warm, sleepy newborn snuggled up on my chest. All too soon, I will be looking back at her baby pictures and vaguely remembering when she was so tiny and new.

And during this time of contradictions, I realize more than ever how much I don't have it all together: as a mother, a wife, a teacher, a housekeeper. How I desperately need God's grace in my life. How without his Spirit working in me, I am an emotional basket case subject to the whims of hormone surges and sugar cravings. How without a daily dose of His Word and continual turning to Him in prayer, it is easy to be overwhelmed or just plain caught in the day-to-day routine without producing any spiritual fruit. Yet God is so gracious, to give me strength for each day when I remember to turn to Him and ask for it. In the midst of changing schedules and new additions, I must call on Him and seek His face. And whether rocking or reading or resting, I must choose to speak words of praise. He is with me through every trial and joy of motherhood, and when I choose to praise Him instead of dwelling on my troubles, the trials of this world seem to pass as quickly as these fleeting postpartum days.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

Psalm 145:17-21

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Father's Joy: Not a VBAC Story

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
John 16:21

(Disclaimer: This is a birth story. Some details may not be appropriate for men, children, or the squeamish. :)

On the afternoon of Sunday the 9th, my husband and I dropped the children off at my parents' house and drove to the hospital for my pre-op appointment. I was having some contractions, enough to make me somewhat uncomfortable and even require the occasional deep breath, but then again, I had been having sporadic contractions for a few weeks. As expected, the pre-op included signing paperwork, having blood drawn, and going over every detail of the morning's scheduled surgery with the nurse. When our questions had been answered, Don and I went to dinner at our favorite steakhouse to enjoy one more date before baby came (and so that I wouldn't have any dishes to wash). We came home to a strangely quiet house. I folded the last scraps of laundry, emptied the trash, and double-checked our bags to ensure that everything was packed. We were as ready as we could possibly be to bring home a new baby.

Before heading to bed, I quickly looked up some information on "irritable uterus." Apparently, the term refers to frequent, irregular contractions toward the end of pregnancy that - unlike true labor - do not cause the cervix to dilate. With the frequent tightness and contracting I had recently experienced, I suspected that my uterus was, in fact, irritable. Don and I stayed up too late talking, and when he went to sleep around midnight, I found myself lying wide awake. I finally got to sleep after an hour or so, only to wake up sometime after 3am with continuing contractions. These were strong enough that I couldn't sleep through them, and found myself wanting to change positions instead of lying still. After several had come and gone, I started glancing at the clock at the start of each one. They were four minutes apart. For anyone else, that would signal time to head to the hospital, but I knew my body. Since we had to be there at 6am anyway, I figured that I probably could just wait. So for two hours, I quietly drifted through steady contractions every four minutes. Finally, it was 5am and time to get up.

"So, if we get there and I'm at, like, 2 centimeters, we'll go ahead with the C-section as planned," I proposed to Don, "but if I'm in active labor, maybe we can wait a few hours and see if she comes out?" "We'll see," he replied, as we drove through the silent darkness. It was too early for anyone else, or even the sun, to be up, and since I had hardly slept, it felt like it was still night. We arrived at the hospital a little before our 6:00 appointment, and I mentioned that I was having a lot of contractions. The first nurse I saw, ironically, was a friend of a friend whom I had gotten to know at our mutual friend's party several months ago. She seemed excited that I might be in active labor and asked if I wanted to be checked. Since we know each other, she called in another nurse to check me. I wasn't dilated. "I can barely get a fingertip in there," the second nurse said. Yes, several hours of painful contractions every four minutes had done absolutely nothing to push this baby out.

As frustrating as this news could have been, it actually brought me a lot of peace. I couldn't help but laugh at God's timing, to send me this mock labor just hours before my scheduled surgery. If the contractions had started just a few days earlier, I'm sure I would have been back and forth to the doctor's office several times waiting for my cervix to dilate, all while having painful contractions, and it probably would have ended much like Lydia's birth - with a baby that wouldn't come out. Instead, the Lord gave me just enough contractions to feel like I was doing something good for Abby's health. (Statistically, C-section babies who experience labor before birth have fewer breathing problems than those that are taken straight from the womb without experiencing labor contractions.) And He gave me peace in knowing that a natural, uncomplicated delivery was not His plan for this baby - beyond a doubt, submitting to my husband in scheduling the C-section had been the right thing to do. In fact, we had even picked the right day, because with the intensity of my contractions, I would have been heading to the hospital on the 10th either way! I knew that God would work everything out in His perfect timing, but He arranged the details even more perfectly than I could have imagined, so that I was fully, completely ready to have the C-section at 7:30am that morning.

Like when Lydia was born, inserting the IV was a failure due to my wiggly arm veins. When my nurse friend missed (and felt terrible about it), another nurse came in to start my IV and get me completely prepped for surgery. My contractions slowed down significantly as Don and I waited in our hospital room for the process to begin. After meeting with the doctor and anesthesiologist, it was finally time to walk down the hall to the OR. Don wasn't allowed to come in yet, so I had to sit on the edge of the table and lean against a nursing student for what seemed like a very long time as I waited for the spinal needle to be inserted. As soon as the discomfort was over, I felt somewhat sick and lightheaded. They laid me on the operating table as my lower half slowly fell asleep. I realized one advantage to an emergency Cesarean: everything happens so quickly, there is no time to realize how unpleasant it is. Lying sprawled out, drugged, and unable to move as doctors prepped every last detail seemed to last for ages this time. Finally, my sweet husband was allowed to come stand by my head and comfort me. I was concerned that I didn't feel numb yet; it was more like my legs were asleep. In fact, during the procedure, I was sure that someone or something was repeatedly poking me in the same spot. When Don looked, however, I was apparently cut wide open and nothing was touching the area where I was feeling pressure. It was strange and unpleasant, but apparently the discomfort was all in my head!

The details are fuzzy, but at some point during the procedure, I really didn't feel well. According to the anesthesiologist, my heart rate fell to something like 50 beats per minute and he had to give me medicine to get my heart rate up. Later, I felt tugging and knew this meant baby was coming out! "Guess what was around her neck two times?" Don asked. Like her brothers and sister before her, this baby had likewise strangled herself in the umbilical cord. Thankfully, in a C-section, a cord around the neck is not the problem in can often be during a vaginal delivery. (Both of my boys were fine within a few minutes of birth, but it certainly scared their Daddy to see them come out blue.) And soon after the tugging sensation, there was some very pronounced crying: our baby girl was born!

Of course, the nurses immediately took her to the side of the room to clean her up, examine, and weigh her. They were blocking my view, so Don took a picture and brought it back to show me. "Does she look like an Abigail?" he asked, knowing the name I was leaning towards. I said I needed to see her, not just a picture. Finally, after another long wait, they brought the naked baby over to me and placed her right on my chest. After having two babies whisked away after their vaginal births, I have longingly wished that I could hold my newborn against my chest immediately after birth, instead of seeing them for the first time swaddled in hospital blankets. This time, despite the wait, my first contact with my baby was a precious skin-to-skin bonding opportunity. She was so tiny: 5 pounds, 9 ounces, wonderfully perfect, and definitely an Abigail. When I noticed her tiny mouth rooting around on my chest, I asked for some help (not being able to move much, as I was still being sewn up) and allowed her to nurse. Right on the operating table, my little Abigail was nursing, and I was as happy as someone undergoing surgery could possibly be.

To complete my operation, the doctor stitched me back together on the inside, and then used superglue to seal my incision. I had no idea that superglue was a medical product, but supposedly it will heal with a clean scar, and no stitches to remove. The doctor had also cut around and removed my old scar, so this way I will only have one scar line from the two surgeries. Don and I asked him whether my uterus looked thin; after all, that was the reason an elective Cesarean had been recommended to me by the last doctor. No, he said, it didn't look unusually thin. The next day, in fact, he said he didn't see any reason it shouldn't hold up for another pregnancy, and that labor would even be possibility if I wanted to try it. Praise God for His healing hand on my womb!

The rest of the day was spent resting, recovering, and introducing Abby to her grandparents and siblings. Even after feeling returned to my legs, I couldn't get up because the medication from the spinal left me lightheaded and queasy. Still, I was able to snuggle with Abby and nurse her almost continually - for the first 24 hours, she was either sleeping or sucking. My sister-in-law noted that Don looked better than he ever had after the birth of one of our children. Certainly, this had been the easiest and least traumatic for him. Everything had gone smoothly, and sweet little Abigail was perfectly safe and healthy.

The name Abigail means "father's joy," so it fit her perfectly. Abigail Joy, our double joy, had brought joy to her earthly father with her smooth and predictable birth. And I trust that her Heavenly Father, who knew every heart conflict that led up to the day of her birth, was filled with joy as well. I will always be a supporter of the amazing miracle of natural labor and birth, and I would encourage other C-section moms to consider trying a VBAC with their doctor and husband's approval. But for Abigail and me, the scheduled C-section turned out to be the best plan. I am feeling better emotionally than I ever have in the postpartum weeks, and my physical discomfort is much than I experienced with my first C-section. Truly the Lord has been faithful to answer our prayer that this sweet baby, this gift from His own hand, would be received into the world with an abundance of joy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Perfect 10

The Lord has blessed us with another beautiful baby girll! Abigail Joy arrived by C-section this morning, 10/10/11. She weighs 5 pounds, 9 ounces and is 19 inches long. I am nauseous and sleepy, but otherwise doing well. Abby is healthy and nursing eagerly. I will share her birth story and more pictures when I am feeling up to it. For now, thank you for your prayers, and for rejoicing with us over this precious gift from the Lord!

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the LORD called me;
from my birth he has made mention of my name.

Isaiah 49:1

Saturday, October 8, 2011

39 Week Anticipation

It's hard to believe that just two days from now, Lord willing, I will be holding my newborn baby in my arms.

The pregnancy went by quickly, in some ways, yet in other ways it seems like I have been pregnant forever, and it's almost strange that soon I won't be. Soon the awkward baby bump will be exchanged for a recovering body and a precious little distraction to nurture. My hideous veins will shrink back to something resembling a normal lower half of a body, while a new scar forms at the site of the doctor's careful incision. Eventually I won't feel so short of breath when I walk up stairs (assuming I get back into a workout routine!) or lightheaded when I delay breakfast for more than half an hour after rising. The delightful kicks, stretches, and hiccups of a growing fetus will be exchanged for the intimacy of nursing and night wakings. Overall, I love being pregnant in many ways, but I am happy to exchange it for a new addition to our family!

This pregnancy has been fairly uneventful, yet slightly different from others. I have had occasional insomnia; if I wake up in the middle of the night, it takes an hour to fall back asleep. I often feel that God is keeping me away during these times to pray, and I try to take advantage of that precious time with Him. I have not gained much weight - only about 18 pounds. With my first pregnancy, I gained almost 30 pounds, and my little Donny turned out to be only 5 pounds, 5 ounces! It will be interesting to find out how big (or small) this baby is. Certainly she seems to be a calcium-craver, because I have been consuming chocolate milk, yogurt (which I formerly hated), and milk-based smoothies on a daily basis. Earlier in the pregnancy, I suspected that she would be shy and mellow, because ultrasounds showed baby holding an arm over her face, and it seemed that she didn't move much in the second trimester. See the little arm covering the face on this 12 week ultrasound photo?

Now that I have been watching my belly twitch and contort for a few months, however, I have no doubt that this little one will be as active as her sister and brothers. I have had Braxton-Hicks contractions for a few minutes each day since 27 weeks, but the past few weeks have brought frequent, more uncomfortable contractions, especially in the evenings, that imitate early labor and then disappear. With my history of long labors, I don't expect to have to rush off to the hospital at any moment, but the contractions do serve as a reminder that baby is coming soon!

And on that end, I am finally feeling prepared. In the past few weeks, I have checked a satisfying number of items off of my nesting to-do list. Baby clothes, blankets, and diapers are freshly washed and put away. Cupboards and drawers are organized. Shopping, baking, and miscellaneous appointments are done. Babysitters and birth plans are in place. The Pack 'N Play and new Moses basket are waiting for a sweet little bundle of dreams to be nestled in them. If only for a day or two, the house is clean, ready for our family to return home.

The "big kids" are ready too. Their fall clothes are unpacked, new shoes purchased, summer things are washed and put away. Lydia sleeps in the boys' room now (for part of the night, at least) on her own trundle mattress, while Hayden gets the full-size bottom bunk and Donny has his own special top-bunk space. The boys have been plugging away at their first grade work, so we will have only two weeks of curriculum to finish up after we settle in with baby. Lydia is excited to be a big sister, and eagerly tells how the baby will wear pink jammies, and "After the baby comes out of Mumma's belly, Daddy will help me pick up the baby and give her a big hug!" Even now, she gives my belly sweet hugs and kisses, and since one of her favorite lines is, "What can I do to help you?" I trust that she will be a great helper to me. The boys are looking forward to meeting their new sister, too. Donny even made a card to give to the new baby:

It is reassuring to know that even though I technically picked the date of my scheduled c-section, this baby, like any other, will be arriving in God's perfect time. He is the one who allowed the conception to occur in just the right time to bless us with the first October birthday in the family. Don just mentioned, as he decided to procrastinate on his Sunday School lesson, that perhaps the Rapture will happen tonight, and he won't even need a lesson. I replied that it is also possible, and slightly even more likely, that the baby will come tonight! Though we don't know the day or the hour when Jesus will return, it is the sweetest anticipation to know that He is coming again. And while we wait here on earth, there are blessings to look forward to, like the tiny miracle I am anticipating on Monday.

Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

Isaiah 26:8

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Living Sacrifices

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship.

Romans 12:1

I am 38 weeks pregnant today. With two weeks left until my due date, and a mere 12 days until my scheduled C-section, I have finally realized that baby is coming soon - perhaps any day now. This pregnancy has not exactly flown by, but for much of it, I was distracted by other things: showing the house, trying to move, homeschooling and training the three blessings I already have. Only now, in these final days, has my focus turned inward to the wiggling, hiccuping creature whom I am soon to meet face to face.

And because I was distracted, and didn't even know which state we would be living in, for a long time I put off any serious discussion of this baby's birth. After my long and unsuccessful labor with Lydia ended in a Cesarean section, the doctor recommended that any future babies be likewise delivered surgically. Reportedly, my uterus was "unusually thin," and therefore at a greater risk of rupture. Uterine rupture, while not quite the internal combustion that it sounds like, is a serious health threat to mother and baby, and can end in blood transfusions, hysterectomy or occasionally death. While the risks of rupture for VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean) are generally only around 1% or less, it is entirely possible that my personal risk may be much higher.

On the other hand, for most mothers who have had successful vaginal deliveries, VBAC is a good option. Recovering from natural childbirth is a much faster and less painful process than recovery from major abdominal surgery. And having numerous C-sections, for those of us who hope to be blessed with many children, carries risks of placenta previa and other problems caused by excessive scarring. So when I switched to a different obstetrical practice and said I would like a VBAC, all of the doctors and midwives I saw were very supportive. "You've done it before," one doctor said, "So why not?" They reviewed the risks of both options with me, as well as the precautions that would be taken with a VBAC (a doctor present in the hospital at all times, continuous fetal monitoring, etc.). Not once did they recommend elective surgery. And as someone who loves (in a strange way) the amazing sensations of natural childbirth, hated the painful recovery from a surgical birth, and hopes to bear many more children, I was prayerfully hoping to avoid another Cesarean.

The only problem? My loving husband, who watched me pass out after Hayden's birth and saw both of our boys born strangled in their umbilical cords, firmly believed that surgery is the safest option for me. After reviewing the paperwork and talking with one of my doctors about my history, his opinion was unyielding. My doctor reminded me that ultimately it is my body and my choice; I am the one who must give consent for elective surgery. While her advice seems logical, the Bible often contradicts our culture's idea of common sense, and this is no exception. Consider these words:

The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. - 1 Corinthians 7:4

In fact, my body does NOT just belong to me. It belongs to my husband, and to fight against his wishes for my body (as well as for our unborn child) is to fight against God's command for me to submit to my husband's authority (Ephesians 5:24). Even more importantly, my body belongs to the Lord. Despite my firm belief that birth is a natural and beautiful experience that many mothers have missed out on because of unnecessary medical interventions, I cannot claim that there is something holier about fighting for a vaginal birth over a surgical one. I may wonder why I, a willing laborer, am denied the opportunity to experience birth when so many other women want to avoid it, but then the Lord gently reminds me of my selfishness. How many women have suffered the pain of barrenness? Or of loss, to repeated miscarriages, a stillbirth, or the death of a child? How many suffer intense complications during pregnancy that steal their comfort and threaten their lives? In light of this, who am I - already a mother of three healthy babies - to complain if I don't get to choose the method my infant's delivery?

As I struggled with these thoughts, the Lord faithfully reminded me of Romans 12, one of my favorite passages of the Bible because its advice is so practical. "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices," Paul writes. Not, "Don't let anyone mess with your body." Not, "Protect your body and keep it healthy." But offer it as a sacrifice to the Lord, as an act of worship to Him. How beautiful! By choosing to submit to my husband, I can not only honor him, but also present a beautiful sacrifice to my Lord. The drugged aftermath of surgery, the weeks of abdominal discomfort, and the loss of any victorious birth I may or may not have experienced are tiny sacrifices to make. In God's mercy to me, He allowed His own son to suffer and die a humiliating death on a cross. When Jesus sacrificed everything for me, how selfish am I to resist any minuscule sacrifice of my own body for Him?

And so, I scheduled the C-section. Being a planner, there is a part of me that actually likes the stability of knowing the final possible date of baby's arrival. And being someone who loves interesting dates, I was very happy that the week of opportunity (it had to be scheduled sometime after 39 weeks) allowed me to choose 10/10 as this little one's birthday. Don and I agreed to schedule the surgery for the 10th, two days before my due date, but to allow a trial of labor if baby decides to come earlier and everything looks normal. And now we wait. I have had enough contractions in the past week to make me think that labor is imminent, but I also know that I am likely to meet this baby at a scheduled time and place. Either way, I know God is in control, and that my faith in His perfect timing will be tested in the next two weeks. Will I really trust Him to deliver this baby in His time, in His way? I pray that whenever and however this baby is born, that my actions will be holy and pleasing to God. May I bear children not for my own glory, but for His.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kittery Trading Post Septemberfest

Our family woke up early on Saturday morning to prepare for the long ride to one of our favorite stores, the Kittery Trading Post. This was our third year attending the weeklong Septemberfest sale and festival, but the first time we ever had a sunny day to fully enjoy all the festivities.

As soon as we walked in the door at 9am, we were greeted with raffle tickets and balloons for the children, which provided a welcome, if noisy, diversion while Daddy tried on hunting boots.

Besides shopping for camo hunting gear, we spent plenty of time checking out the weapons, from toy guns... compound bows, like the one Don bought to hunt with this year. I was specifically interested in looking at the pink bows (to match the pink and black .22 Sig Sauer Mosquito Don got me for Christmas, of course), and a helpful salesman showed me this option. I call this picture "Lydia with a pink bow" - not quite what you might expect!

While we were there, my generous husband did, in fact, buy me a pink bow and arrow set so that I can practice target shooting. Since I haven't been able to shoot my gun while pregnant, archery seems like a more mom-friendly sport to practice. After we made our large purchase, we headed outside to enjoy our picnic lunch and the free activities offered during Septemberfest. As it turned out, the kids' archery range was stocked with Genesis bows just like the one that I had just purchased, so we all go to try it out! Here's Hayden at his archery lesson:

We also practiced shooting a BB rifle, which the boys were great at! Hayden knocked down 5 targets with his 12 shots, while Donny got 9 out of 12. I was afraid to try at first, not wanting to find out that my preschooler is a better shot than I am, but 11 of my 12 attempts hit the targets, so I was happy.

The children also got to enjoy pony rides (though Lydia spent her first time on a horse clinging desperately to a stranger rather than the animal itself!), and Don and the boys tried out the rock climbing wall.

On his second attempt, Donny climbed all the way to the top! Considering how often he is afraid of...well, anything...Don and I were surprised that the height didn't scare him, and so proud that he ventured all the way up! Hayden made it as far as his four year-old arms and legs could reach, and I'm sure within a couple years he will be scaling the wall, too.

The other highlight of the outdoor activities was the Birds of Prey show, which we remembered seeing two years ago, when I posed with a bald eagle and bald Lydia:

The show was just as interesting two years later, with the same bald eagle showing off his injured wing. In the middle of the show, one of the falcons started squawking because a real wild bald eagle was soaring right over us!

After some more browsing in the camping, fishing, and bicycle sections, we concluded our trip with a promised stop at the fudge stand to buy a box of yummy dessert. Overall, we had a wonderful day and can't wait to go back again next year. Even Lydia spent the next 48 hours saying she wanted to "Go back to the big store on Sunday." It was such a blessing to enjoy beautiful weather, fun new toys, shared experiences, and some quality family time!

Elisha said, “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so.
2 Kings 13:15

Friday, September 2, 2011

Showered with Blessings

I will send down showers in season;
there will be showers of blessing.

~ Ezekiel 34:26b

I thought I was going to a ladies' dinner at my mom's house.  I was looking forward to the time of fellowship with Christian friends, despite having to leave the children at home with a reluctant husband.  I called on my way to let Mum know I was running about 15 minutes late. When I pulled in, there were a few more cars lining the road than I had anticipated - including one that bore a striking resemblance to my sister-in-law's minivan - but I didn't think much of it.  Then my mom met me in the driveway and told me, "There are a few extra people here....because it's a baby shower."

"For whom?" I asked.  (Okay, I said "who," but "whom" is correct.)

Had any thought run through my head before I spoke, I would have realized the obvious: it was for the pregnant lady who just arrived!  Yes, for my fourth baby, my dear mother planned and executed my first-ever surprise party and baby shower.  Since Donny was conceived so shortly after my wedding and we were blessed with ample hand-me-downs for him, I never had a baby shower.  When Hayden came along two years later, we had everything we needed for a baby boy.  Even when Lydia was born in 2009, generous friends and relatives provided all the girlie hand-me-downs and sweet new pink things we could imagine using.  It certainly wasn't a thought in my mind that anyone would plan a shower for me at this point in motherhood, but it was a wonderful surprise! (Oh, and my husband's reluctance to watch the children was all part of the cover-up!)

I was happy to see my good friend Audra there, who is due exactly one month before me.  This is the second time we've been pregnancy buddies - both times while expecting girls - so we of course had to get a baby bellies picture.

I savored a delicious catered dinner of lasagna followed by homemade apple pie (my favorite!) from another dear friend.  I also had the fun of opening precious little girlie outfits (including some with a matching dress for Lydia!), toys, gift cards, and even some books and movies for the older children to enjoy while I'm busy with the new baby.  We were even blessed with this adorable handmade quilt!

Thanks, Mum, for a special night, and for being a great mommy to your own two girls! I love you!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Exploring the Boston Museum of Science

For this week's Exploration (a.k.a. Science) Day, I planned an exciting field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. Armed with a map of the exhibits, reserved library pass, and a willing Grammy to navigate the crazy streets of Boston, we were ready to learn.

The adventure didn't start out so well. First, it took half an hour to install Lydia's car seat in my mom's new car. Once we were finally loaded up, we began the hour long ride to Boston. It wasn't until we were nearly all the way there that I realized I had forgotten to pick up the library pass! We had come too far to turn around now, but without the coupon pass, I knew admission would be outrageous. To add to the excitement, the museum parking garage was full, so my mom dropped the children and me off at the door while she followed directions to park two blocks away.

In the meantime, I asked the two employees at the Information Booth if there was any way they could call my library and get the pass information over the phone. The answer was no. I checked out regular admission prices, and sure enough, just for two adults and two children over 3, we were looking at spending $80 - not exactly the $20 I had planned to shell out with my library pass! I went to the ticket counter and asked my question of the agent there. She said it might be possible; I would have to go over to the Membership Desk. I pulled my three camo-clad children away from swinging on the bars and we hiked toward the membership desk. The woman working there again told me no, there was nothing they could do; they needed the physical coupon in order to give me the discounted price. I was unsure what to do when the man behind the counter spoke up. If my library would agree to mail them the pass, they could let me in. My cell phone was (of course) dying, but the man was kind enough to call the library himself, and thankfully some obliging librarian agreed to mail the pass to the museum. Thank you Lord! With a coupon in hand, we went back to the ticketing line (which was now quite long), quickly confirmed with my mom that yes, we could get in, so she could go ahead and park, and I purchased our $20 worth of general admission. We sat down to eat our packed lunch in the atrium, and by the time we were finished, Grammy met us there, and we were ready to finally explore the museum.

Knowing that the museum is huge, I had spent some time researching online and asking a friend's opinion about the best exhibits to see. I knew we would be steering clear of the Human Evolution and Human Body exhibits, and my boys already know - since we are firm believers in a young earth - to dismiss anything that claimed to be millions of years old. With so many exhibits to see, we also didn't find it necessary to add on the optional Omni Theater, Planetarium, or Butterfly Garden tickets. However, we did make sure to see one of the free Live Animal Shows. The children got to get close to a toad, uromastyx lizard, ball python, rats, and a pretty cute porcupine, and had the opportunity to ask the experts all their questions.

Watching the Live Animal Show

After that, we explored A Bird's World (with lots of pretend birds in glass cases) before checking out the fascinating Audiokinetic Sculpture and other neat displays. We just talked about water wheels last week!

Making scary faces at the petrified wood from Arizona:

We thought we would take a quick walk through Natural Mysteries, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, with all kinds of treasures tucked in drawers for the children to find. Hayden loved this computer game that identifies skulls. Here he is with the deer skull - we thought hunter Daddy would be proud!

Lydia and me (and baby belly!) with the big "stuffed animals." That was once a real tiger!

Moving on to the Dinosaurs, we got to stand next to the remains of a real triceratops!
Lydia and Hayden both enjoyed pressing buttons on the various computer games, while Donny was more interested in the actual information, such as how big dinosaurs were compared to humans.

After a quick walk past the train and boat models in Machines and Transportation, we grabbed a snack and moved on to the Discovery Center. Intended for children under age 8, this was like a miniature version of the big museum, reminiscent of our small local children's museum. All three children remained engrossed for a good hour in imaginative play, sorting rocks, assembling and identifying animal skeletons, and even playing dress-up with some animal costumes.

Here are Hayden and Lydia being geologists - Donny was too busy classifying rocks to pose for a picture!

Next, we went To The least in our imaginations. Here everyone is ready for takeoff in the spaceship!

It could have been a full trip without ever setting foot on the third floor, but we ventured up there to play around in Science in the Park, which probably would have been a lot more fun if it hadn't been jam-packed with older children. My little ones had more fun at the empty Investigate! exhibit next door, where they got to use paintbrushes to uncover hidden artifacts. Ironically, we just did a similar activity a few weeks ago when we pretended to be archeologists and dug up artifacts hidden by the lake at Grammy's. A few of the buried items there, however, were never found!

By the time we had checked out the bizarre paintings and optical illusions in Seeing is Deceiving, the announcement came that the museum would be closing in 15 minutes. I was amazed that we ended up spending about 6 hours in the museum, without anyone getting bored. While Donny demonstrated the most fascination with various subjects, Hayden and even Lydia remained engaged the whole time. As we walked the two blocks back to my mom's car, the boys recounted their favorite parts of the museum, while Lydia, after a long day of scientific discovery, fell asleep in Grammy's arms. Despite the rough start to the day, our field trip to the Museum of Science turned out to be a worthwhile adventure, as we discovered all kinds of fascinating things about the amazing world God made!

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:16-17

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Mission Field in My Yard

Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Psalm 34:11

"Come my children, listen to me." Yes, that is my earnest plea today, though it so often feels ignored. It has been that kind of day, not unbelievably painful, not unforgettably sweet, but the usual mix of strains and stresses and everyday routine.

School started late, and took extra long while Hayden whined and yawned instead of copying two sentences into his Bible notebook. Donny threw fits when I gave him yogurt instead of oatmeal for lunch, when I told him to go get in the van (there are BEES outside, you know!), and when we sat on the couch instead of his bed to read Bible. And dear Lydia has learned the fine art of screaming whenever someone else dares to stand on the kitchen stool. "Listen to me" seems a gross understatement of the lectures I want to hurl at these seemingly deaf ears.

After a long morning, though, we take a quick trip to the furniture store to check out potential bunk beds, and we stay a few minutes longer to enjoy the free candy and ice cream. When we get home, I insist (despite the protests of the two eldest) that God gave us a beautiful day, and WE ARE GOING TO PLAY OUTSIDE. Amazingly, within minutes they are busy with sticks and rocks and pretend adventures, and I have a few moments to observe, reflect, and (almost) relax.

I feel the breeze of a surprisingly pleasant afternoon and see my children, for a few moments at least, interacting without anyone screaming or whining or executing violence. I realize that somewhere between the sibling battles and the pencils thrown in anger and Braxton-Hicks contractions and Lydia's 4.5 baths (milk spills, yogurt lunch, and a couple potty accidents will do that)...yes, somewhere in there is something I don't want to miss.

The days are long, but yet so fleeting. Lydia is no longer a baby; she is sleeping in her brothers' room and asserting herself with an ever-expanding and impressive vocabulary. Donny lost his third tooth a few weeks ago - apparently Hayden threw laundry at his face, knocking out the tooth which was finally located at the bottom of the laundry basket. He has another loose one, but won't let anyone wiggle it. Hayden is not yet five years old, but is reading and doing math at a level that is advanced even for his six year old brother. Even this new baby, whose growth has been mostly ignored due to many distractions, is bulging out in a gently ungraceful reminder that soon there will be one more little person to love.

I am still outside, with one eye keeping watch on the children and the other skimming a magazine. As I flip through the latest issue of The Old Schoolhouse, my eyes fall on the word "missionary." I wonder, as Don and I have periodically discussed, if maybe we should be missionaries somewhere. I think of our collective love for children and orphans, and my particular heart for babies. If we could just get out of this house and go somewhere, I muse, maybe we could really, finally, do something for God.

The thoughts are fleeting as I quickly realize, I AM doing something for God. This is the mission field God gave me: not to start a Haitian orphanage or bring the Gospel to the streets of Calcutta, but to love the people in my own home. To bring the Gospel to them by reading the Word, explaining the Word, and living the Word. To be patient in correcting stubborn hearts, gentle in teaching the truth, sincere in making my life an example of Christ's love. To be joyful always, regardless of what discouragement Satan may throw my way. This is God's mission for me. Foreign countries, preaching in the streets, and even adoption may sound bigger and more glamorous than everyday motherhood, but the lost souls who need me the most are right here, digging dirt in my yard and spilling food at my table.

The evening is no more idyllic than the morning, as even such simple-sounding tasks as reading the Bible become mountains of challenge when three wiggly children are involved. Fatigue sets in, and my heart aches to see these little ones, who can recite Scripture so effortlessly and belt out songs of praise, demonstrate no love for others, no faithful obedience, no fruit in their small lives. Easily, these observations lead to discouragement. But instead of despairing, I must reach out my arms to the child who won't keep his hands out of my hair, explain the truth to him, discipline with patience, and reassure him of my love. It isn't glamorous; there are no sudden changes of heart to inspire me; no outward encouragement to reassure me that I am doing what is right. Yet I thank God that He has given me this knowledge: I am on a mission from Him. Winning souls to Christ is no easy task. Training warriors for His army requires diligence and longsuffering. I must not just preach, but practice, the proper fear of the Lord. I must love others the way He first loved me. And the place He has called me to do it is here, in my yard, at my table, on my couch, and as I fervently pray over three little beds each night.

To read more about motherhood as a mission field, I highly recommend this post from Desiring God. Be encouraged in your mission to teach your children the fear of the Lord!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Closed Door

“This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name:
‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’"

Jeremiah 33:2-3

The best thing about when God closes a door is knowing that He is the one who closed it.

Being all-powerful, He easily could have made our house sell for a $30,000 profit in March. Or April. Maybe a $15k profit in May. Maybe $5k in June. But despite the steady pace of showings, no offers came in. Not even little ones. We left the door open, waiting, wondering. Would we be able to get to Arizona before this baby arrived? Should we go ahead and move into a house we could easily afford out there, while still owning our home here, until some generous buyer came along to relieve us of the second mortgage? Or should we put an addition on our three bedroom ranch and turn it into a home we could be comfortable in, at least for a little while?

With a little research, I discovered that the cost to add a second story to our existing house would be about as much as a beautiful four bedroom, three bathroom home southeast of Phoenix. With signs pointing westward, Don and I flew out for a long weekend of viewing prospective homes and checking out the area. We loved it. The weather (yes, even temperatures over 100 degrees every day) is beautiful, thanks to ample sunshine and no humidity. We could picture our family living happily in these homes, especially if it meant doubling our square footage while cutting several hundred dollars out of our monthly mortgage payments. Every neighborhood was full of sidewalks, quiet roads, and playgrounds. With my clipboard and camera in hand, I jotted notes to help us compare the 20 or so homes we saw, until we narrowed it down to a list of favorites.

And we very nearly bought one. Some delays in getting a response from our loan officer gave Don time to voice his hesitation to take on a second mortgage. Meanwhile, our real estate agent back home reported that our open house had gone well, with several parties exhibiting interest. We returned to New England with anticipation of receiving an offer within a few days. Then, armed with the security of a purchase and sales agreement, we would pursue our favorite Arizona homes - if they didn't sell first.

After nearly a week of phone calls, emails, and frequently checking the computer to see what houses sold that day, the offer finally came - about $25k too low. It was so low, in fact, that in order to accept it, we would have had to bring a significant amount of money to closing, leaving us nothing for a new home. We scheduled an appraisal to prove to the buyer and her agent that our home was indeed worth what we were asking. After the appraisal, with the offer still on the table, we waited for the results through two more days of intense email checking. Finally, the answer came. I scrolled through 25 pages of comparisons, notes, and pictures in order to get to the bottom line. In today's plunging market, our house is apparently worth only what we owe on the mortgage - roughly 2/3 of its appraised value from 2006. And with such a low appraisal, no bank will finance a higher sales price on the house. In short, unless we want to pay to get out of it, there is no way to sell our house right now.

This news came on July 27. Ironically, we had said for months that if the house didn't sell by the end of July, we would take it off the market at least through Christmas. I didn't want to be moving across the country at 39 weeks pregnant, or trying to show the house while adjusting to life with a brand-new baby. And now, just in case we were tempted to change our plans, we have little choice but to do exactly what we had discussed. The house is off the market, and will stay there until prices rise (which isn't looking likely in the current economy) or we at least pay off enough principle to break even on the sale. We may look at Arizona again next spring, or next year, or maybe it will be years before the door opens for us to relocate. Only God knows.

Are we disappointed? Of course. Instead of more money, more space, and new adventures, we get the same old mortgage, the same old town we grew up in, and four children and two adults sharing two bedrooms (the third bedroom necessarily functions as Don's work-at-home office) and a single bathroom. Instead of over 300 days of sunshine, we get another long winter of ice and snow. Instead of settling into a new place, we have to figure out how to settle back in to the place we already were.

And yet, we can't be unhappy, because we know that this is God's will. For whatever reason, at this point in our lives, the Lord wants us to stay right here: in this house, in this town, in this state. Whether He has a specific ministry for us to fulfill here, or whether our family just needs a lesson in contentment, this is where God has placed us, and to fight it would only be to kick against the door that He lovingly closed.

Now that we know we will be here for a while, there are many things to figure out: which boxes to unpack, what clutter to allow, where everyone will sleep. After six months of clean counters, spacious shelves, and organized closets, I quite like the feel of living in a staged house. (And I wonder how many of those boxes in the attic I really need!) At the same time, as I mentioned in my last post, there is a strange sense of liberation in knowing that we can now display family photos or tack Bible verses to the wall. And there is a great relief in knowing that we will never have to spend an entire morning racing through the house to clean up for a showing.

So to summarize, it may not be the answer I was hoping for, but it is nevertheless an answer. We asked the Lord to open or close the door on moving this summer, and He was faithful. I cannot see what the future holds, but I trust that my God, who made the heavens and the earth, has great plans for this family. His vision is not bound by cramped bedrooms or even the depths of the Grand Canyon, and it is exciting to know that no matter where we live, God will, in His perfect timing, reveal the unsearchable things that I do not know.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Musings on Waiting (Or, "No, We Haven't Sold Our House Yet")

In a way, it's nothing new. We have done this waiting thing before. We waited to hear about a job in Texas, we waited for direction on when and where to purchase a home, we waited for three months to find out if the house we wanted would be ours or not. Wondering what city and state we will live in next month or next year is a familiar feeling. In fact, it's not even a new thing to have a baby on the way without knowing what home she will live in after birth, or what state she will be born in. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, ...there is nothing new under the sun.

The newness for us is that we have never sold a house before. This particular brand of waiting includes weekly showings, continual tidying, and occasional home improvements as we strive to make our little home appeal to potential buyers. We keep seeing prices fall while houses with twice the square footage of ours go on the market for less. The optimism we had in February has been replaced with a lack of confidence in the current housing market. Will our home sell next week, next month, next year, or not at all? Only God knows. And so we wonder, and we wait.

In so many ways, I feel ready to move. I am ready for new adventures, new (and bigger) spaces to organize, new places to explore, new projects to tackle. I am ready to part with the imperfections of our current home: the messy yard, laundry in the basement, windows that need replacing. Besides this, it would be a relief to be done trying to sell. I boxed up many of our extra things to make the house appear less cluttery for showings, but after almost four months, I'd like to get some of those things out again. Our homeschooling maps, memory verse, and chore chart could go back on the wall. I could find the books, puzzles, and CDs that we are finally starting to miss. We could stop being prepared to make it look like no one lives here, and start living in our home again.

We do plan to resume some semblance of normal, non-selling life before baby comes. But only the Lord knows whether we will be moving across the country, across town, or simply tucking baby into a corner of our current home at that time. While we wait, I am trying to appreciate the beauty of these moments, enjoying the tidbits of summer peace after a long winter and cold spring. Robins, chipmunks, and squirrels continually hop and scurry across our yard; recently we have even spotted mourning doves, grackels, and woodpeckers. My favorite wildflowers have blossomed in the backyard wilderness. (I have no idea what they are called. If you know, please tell me!)

With a few more cleanings and chemicals (and the Lord's blessing of some warm weather), we may even be able to swim in the pool soon. Maybe. Or maybe some wonderful person will be so kind as to fall in love with this house, in spite of its imperfections, and open the door for us to move out and move on. And even then, there will be waiting - on paperwork, closings, mortgages, and a new home.

And so we wait, and wonder, and pray for direction. (And I'll admit, I may have prayed once or twice that this is the last time I have to haul out the vacuum 20 minutes before a scheduled showing to ensure that the floors are spotless.) It is hard to wait on God's timing when there is nothing I can do to move things forward, yet I know, both from theory and much experience, that His timing truly is best. While I wait to see where the upcoming weeks and months lead, I can trust that His hand is in everything. My limited vision sees only right now - my current plans, dreams, and desires. I am so incredibly blessed to have a loving, all-knowing Father to guide my steps, even when the only place I'm stepping is past a For Sale sign through the same front door.

In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps.

Proverbs 16:9