Happenings Around Here

Burlap Flower Bouquet

I’m going to take a minute to update you all on a few happenings around here. The holidays got so busy, that I’ve barely had time to write about anything on a personal level.

I think this is pretty typical for me when I go on vacation, because I have to be extroverted longer than I’m used to. I love family and I love social interaction, but it definitely drains me. When I feel drained, I feel less inclined to write about things on my heart, you know?

Anyways, I definitely haven’t had to be social this week! Right after we all got back to TX, we all got some nasty cold bug that has kept us house bound for days. I’m pretty sure that both the boys caught some form of RSV, because their coughs have been wicked. I’ve been propping them up on pillows and using essential oils to keep them breathing (note: I no longer use Doterra’s “Breathe” on my kids…more on that later. But Frankincense works well, although it’s expensive).

I’ve had at least one of the kids lying next to me on blankets during the night so that I can help them round the clock. Naturally, this has resulted in little/no sleep for me. I caught a mild version of what they had, which means that I have all the head congestion without the nasty cough.

Besides being sick, we also accepted an offer on our house in CA on New Years Eve. I didn’t even mention that we were listing the house for sale again, but the long/short story is that over the past 6 months of renting it to a wonderful couple and their 2 children, we’ve had to spend over $8,000 in repairs. Stuff just kept coming up! We started to realize that our savings account was pretty tired of being a landlord, and after we had a heart to heart with our tenants, they told us they wanted to move on as well since he commutes quite a long ways for his job and would rather move further north to San Miguel.

So, given the fact that we were already going to be home in CA for the holidays, we listed the house just a few days before Christmas. And, whaddya know, despite the holidays we had a tons of showings and our first offer on December 27th! After 3 days of negotiations, they accepted our offer on New Years Eve.

But despite the good news, it’s still been a roller coaster of emotions. A few days ago, our buyer almost backed out because she had emotional panic (honestly, she hadn’t even done inspections yet!). After writing us an apology letter, she is back in the game, but we still have 5 days left on the contingency period and who knows what could happen.

And it’s not just the buyer’s fluctuations that have me a bit stressed about it all. There are a whole lot of emotions wrapped up in that little house for us. It’s our first home that we have ever bought, our Christmas Eve present in 2012. The house we bought primarily so that we could adopt our foster daughter, who is now no longer with us. The house that we continued to foster children in. The house with a huge deck that we had 3 birthday parties for our children on. A lot happened to us in the 1.5 years that we lived in that house, and it represents a lot. In some ways, letting go of the house is a bit of closure, and that saddens me some. But it’s also a new start and a HUGE financial turning point for our family, and I am very grateful.

Even if our house deal falls through this week, I have confidence that we will get another soon as showings have continued so that we can gather backup offers. We really need to sell it so that we can buy a new house in TX, as our rental situation has been stressful from the very beginning. We not only have needed tons of huge repairs here, but we also back up to a really high crime area. For example, while we were home for Christmas, I read on the crime reports that there was a shooting RIGHT BEHIND our alley, and then another midday drive-by shooting a street over! Yikes! Even as I write this, there is a low flying helicopter going around our neighborhood looking for someone. It’s time for us to get out of here, as much as I’ve loved decorating things.

Today (Monday) is my first day back teaching my online class, and in 1.5 weeks I start my FINAL semester of graduate school! I am taking a class on Spenserian poetry, and another on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Should be fun, but so busy, especially if we move!

Alright, that’s enough ranting for today…I think.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Dealing With Loss at Christmas

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When Jesse and I decided to start a family, I was terrified that I would one day mis-carry a baby. Although I knew that I would probably survive the trauma, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to walk down that awful road, face those fears and doubts, feel the gut wrenching pain. I’ve had more friends than I thought walk the very road that I feared, and it deeply sickens me to know that level of pain exists for a mother.

One of my dearest friends from childhood lost her baby 3 years ago on Christmas Eve. When I read her written testimony of this event, I just knew that I had to share her story, word for word. I know that there are many out there who have lost someone, and that the holidays can be brutal.

If your heart is hurting or grieving because you are dealing with loss at Christmas please take the time to read this and be encouraged.

 

 

“Not knowing what else to do, I sat down with my Bible and outlined my options for facing my most difficult-to-date Christmas: (1) ignore it, (2) fake it, or (3) rescue it.

Option number 1 was tempting, and I probably would have chosen it if I didn’t have a family depending on me for hope. Option 2 was also tempting—but impossible. I didn’t have the emotional energy for it. I wasn’t sure what option 3 would look like, but I wanted it. I wanted to find a way to make Christmas come alive in my broken heart and sad home. I felt desperate for Christmas to be rescued, and even though it seemed like a long shot, I decided to give it a try. I determined that instead of running from Christmas, I would instead invite Jesus into it. I would intentionally let his comfort come to my chaos by leaning into the swirling storm of sorrow and joy rather than away from it. And as I experienced his goodness in those tender days of Christmas, I realized I could have that goodness in all the days I would ever face as we traveled the road of suffering. In the end, the holidays of that first year post-diagnosis turned out to be some of our most beautiful.” – Bo Stern, When Merry Christmas Doesn’t Come Easy

*****

A few weeks ago, Kay Warren posted an article about how receiving a flurry of “perfect” and “happy” family Christmas cards was so hard because many of those people didn’t take time to acknowledge the pain she felt of losing her son to suicide last year. And many of the responses I saw on the internet had some sentiment of “Yeah! Don’t tell me about all that you’re happy about! Don’t you know I’m miserable over here?”

In some ways, I agree. The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn, to weep with those who weep, and to rejoice with those who rejoice. And Kay’s friends didn’t seem to be doing a good job in mourning the loss of her son with her.

But she wasn’t rejoicing with those who rejoiced, either.

Before you rail on me for my lack of compassion for those who are hurting at Christmas because they’ve lost a loved one who was near and dear to them, please hear me out.

I know what it is to suffer. I know what it is to despair. I know what it is to shake an angry fist at God and tell Him I am more than just a little bit p!$$ed at Him. Heck, I know what it’s like to flip Him the bird and tell Him how awful I think He is.

I know how hard it is to rejoice with those who rejoice when I am at the lowest of lows.

That might surprise you if you’ve always known me as the “good Christian kid” who minds her P’s and Q’s, obeys all the rules, gets the good grades in school and generally conforms to the expectations society has for being a “good person”.

But then you may not have heard all of my story.

Three years ago tomorrow – yes, on Christmas Eve – Peter and I lost our first baby.

We had a positive pregnancy test on the 17th, confirmed at the doctor’s office on the 18th, told both of our sets of parents in time for Peter’s birthday celebration on the 21st, and then wept bitterly as spotting on Christmas Eve afternoon turned to heavy bleeding with no hope of recovery.

It was awful. And gut-wrenching. And soul-crushing.

And I was lost.

In my defiance, Peter and I decided together that we wouldn’t let Satan win. We would NOT miss out on Christmas simply because tragedy had struck. We WOULD celebrate the birth of our Savior even as we were wounded to our core.

I have never felt so awful in my entire life.

My baby was literally flushed down a toilet as I bled. My husband was lame from an ankle surgery earlier that month, so I was doing all the driving. None of our closest friends who we would have felt comfortable telling were in town. There was absolutely nothing to cling to.

Except Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong – that Christmas was terrible. And I’m crying just thinking about how painful it was to sit through a church service where we celebrate the birth of a baby even as I knew I had just lost mine. A baby who was so loved and wanted and cherished – suddenly gone.

Peter and I both had a week off of work between Christmas and New Year’s, which was helpful. We spent a lot of time crying, zoning out in front of movies, ordering in pizza or Thai food (when we felt like eating, which wasn’t often), and reading through the book of Hebrews together. In Hebrews, we read that Jesus is our Great High Priest who has suffered as we have. He knows all of our temptations and our struggles and our worries and our hurts because He has been there. He knows all the pain and suffering caused by sin – both our own sin and others’ sin committed against us.

That’s the joy of a Savior who was fully man.

And He conquered that all with His death on the cross and His resurrection three days later.

That’s the power of a Savior who is also fully God.

And that is Good News.

As a longtime Christian, I knew that, at least in my head. That is to say, I knew the theological concept and could describe it with all kinds of cool, smart-sounding words and descriptions.

Jesus was about to make sure I knew how it played out in real life, too.

The next few months were not easy. Grief never is, especially for those of us who like to remain composed and in control. There were many days when I cried alone in the bathroom at work, or collapsed into tears at the end of the day, or despaired at the thought of ever having children.

A coworker of mine was pregnant, about 2 months further along than we should have been, and was constantly making comments about how she was eating because baby needed food right now, or how the Sharpie marker to address the envelope packet at work was making her nauseous even in the second trimester, or how she was excited for this or that about being a parent. I hadn’t told anyone at work about losing the baby because I couldn’t handle talking about it more often than I needed to, and I didn’t want “miscarriage” to be the first thing people thought about when they saw me. So this poor gal (who, I found out later, had previously lost several babies, too, some as late as 20 weeks along) had no idea how her totally normal, off-the-cuff, excited parent-to-be comments felt like knives in my wounded heart. One day, after more of her comments than usual, Peter and I talked on the phone while I walked to the bus stop. He was so gracious to remind me about how much Jesus loved me, how much Jesus loved our baby, how Jesus was walking with both of us through this awfulness.

The words that came out of the mouth of the “good Christian kid” shocked me.

“I don’t want Jesus. I want my baby back!”

Ladies and gentlemen, I never would have said that before, either out loud or in the depths of my heart. I never would have admitted that something aside from Jesus had taken priority over Him. That’s idolatry, and every Christian knows that’s just not okay.

But I couldn’t take the words back.

I had just verbally flipped off Jesus … and somehow, I got grace. It was the most honest I had ever been with Him, especially in the midst of so much pain and agony where I thought I knew so many of the “right answers” and didn’t want to admit that I doubted Jesus’ goodness and sovereignty. I was like the child who had something she loved taken away from her, then hits and screams and kicks at the very parent who is trying to wrap her in His arms and hold her as she sobs.

Jesus held me as I sobbed.

He still holds me as I sob.

And you know what? Christmas Eve is still hard. Even with an almost-2 year old running around and another baby in the womb constantly kicking me in the ribs, there is still a lingering sadness.

Not many people remember the date we lost the baby, or the date our baby was due.

But I do.

And Jesus does.

Jesus knows that I have sorrow. He knows that rejoicing in the midst of suffering is hard. Can we just be totally honest?  Rejoicing in the midst of suffering sucks. And I hate it.

But that’s what this world is all about.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is not seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” – Romans 8: 18 – 25

Rejoicing on Christmas, even in the midst of my suffering, tells the world that my hope is in a Savior who has defeated my sin, defeated Satan, defeated the awfulness that makes miscarriages and suicides and diseases and hurts and disappointments possible and prolific.

 

Christmas announces that a Savior is here to bring light where there is darkness, to bring peace where there is strife, to bring hope where there is despair, to bring joy where there seems to be only sorrow.

 

Someday His Kingdom shall be fully on earth as it is in heaven. And we shall partake in the celebration where every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord and He is Good. And there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, no more darkness.

 

For now, though, we mourn. But we do not mourn forever as those without hope.

We have Hope. His name is Jesus.

 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil …

 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” Isaiah 9:2-3, 6-7
Merry Christmas, friends. May you know Jesus and His peace, even in the midst of suffering that seems too much to bear.

Saint Nicholas Day

In the Orthodox church, kids not only get to celebrate Christmas, they also get Saint Nicholas Day. Every December 6th, Orthodox boys and girls around the world put out their shoes at night and awaken to find candies and little toys. The candies of choice are gold chocolate coins in remembrance of Saint Nicholas’ gift to the man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery since they had no dowry. For us, the dreaded “Santa Clause Issue” will be an easier one, since we can actually talk of the real man behind the myth and point to his generous acts of charity that are a part of our lives year round.

The boys were pretty geared up about it all. They set out their shoes the night before and sat down with Jesse to read a children’s book we have about Saint Nicholas.

children reading a Christmas book

Shoes on the window sill

The boys each got a small action figure and a bunch of gold chocolate coins that I got from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at the mall. You should’ve seen the way Gregory freaked out when he saw his shoes just outside the back window! He jumped into our bed Saturday morning begging for us to open the back door so he could get his “Ironman” 🙂

AJ and Gregory with toys

Excited Gregory and AJ with shoes and toys

A day later on Sunday, our church held a special Saint Nicholas Day event for all the kids in the parish. They dismissed all of the kids (around 70 of them!) right after communion and sat them all in chairs in the parish hall. One of our young adults dressed himself as St. Nicholas, while another lady (his fiancé’, actually!) “interviewed” him. The kids got to learn all about St. Nicholas’ life through the answers he gave. Then, there were crafts and snacks for the kids, and then they got to go up by age group and receive a stocking full of gifts and candy from Saint Nicholas. How fun and cute!

I definitely know that this will be one of the holidays I most look forward to from now on!

I Am Thankful

Thanksgiving 2014This past week, my entire family came to visit me. My brothers (both of whom serve in the military), my little sister, and my parents all came to Dallas for a whole week! We spent the time touring the city, visiting my favorite things downtown, riding the trains, walking around White Rock Lake, making a full Thanksgiving meal, ice skating, shopping, touring the Dallas Art Museum and eating fantastic food. It was a blast.

Janelle and Kelly in downtown Flower Headband: Handmade/ Sweater: Vintage/ Denim Skirt: American Eagle/ Boots: Target/ Tights: Fleece Lined

siblings ice skating

My siblings

Being with my family this Thanksgiving was more than I could ever ask or be thankful for. And yet, there are so many more things that I’ve been given.

1. Jesse’s new school: Not only does Jesse have a great job, making a better salary than either of us have ever had (which really isn’t saying much, har-har!), but he works for a great school. If I were to hand pick the perfect school for our boys to someday attend, his school would be in the top 2 or 3 that I’ve found in the entire country (I used to research cities…it’s a weird hobby). Not only do we believe in the school’s mission 100%, but our boys will be able to attend for a super-affordable fraction of their steep tuition. The school is just big enough to have a good football team and most sports you can think of, yet still keep a 10-15 kid per classroom ratio. They are also classical, which has always been at the top of my wish list for the boys!

2. Our group of friends: When we left Dallas the first time, 3.5 years ago, we knew that we were leaving a very special community of friends. Not a single one of them has moved– they just multiplied their offspring. 😉 When we get together, our kids have the best of times, and even though they break everything in sight, it’s wonderful to watch them beginning life long friendships, just as I did with the kids of my parents’  friends. Not only do we have all of our old friends, but quite a few have recently moved into the area and have joined our group. I feel that I could easily become just as close with many of these newer friends as I am with the older! I am so thankful to be surrounded by so many people who hold my beliefs and can encourage and strengthen me daily.

3. This blog: What started out as a way to journal a few thoughts and recipes here and there has been a whirlwind of fun and growth for me this past year. I’ve made quite a few “blog friends”, won a lot of free stuff, and even made a little money, all within a year. I had 3 of my foster-care articles go completely viral, which was a dizzying but exciting experience. I feel blessed that there are so many people out there who resonate with what I’ve been through and that I’ve even been able to help other foster parents not to feel so alone.

4. My church: While we loved our small parish in CA, it was an hour long drive every Sunday (and mid-week, if we could make it). Now, it takes us 12 minutes, so we’re able to go to as many mid-week services as we can cram in our schedule. Both of our priests have been great for us and for the kids. Gregory just started church school this fall and is in love (his church school teacher gave him a big hug and actually carried him to class the other Sunday!). After liturgy, the moms grab our coffee and head for the fenced in playground where we talk for about an hour while the kids go nuts. I often look forward to church because I get to spend time with many of the people I love most. I used to feel guilty about this, thinking that I should be going just for the ability to worship, but then I realized one morning as I looked around the parish– this is what Heaven will be like. Giving glory to God with the angels and all of my friends for eternity.

5. Jesse: Hubby gets to go last, but hey, that’s what he gets for being the most important. For 8.5 years we’ve been married, together for 3 years before that. I cannot fathom how he has put up with me over 11 years! And yet, here we are, miles and miles closer than we were when we got married, despite foster care, 3 cross country moves, and 2 kids. This guy is not only the best birthing coach and partner, he is the best dad. I mean, how many moms can say that their husband changes 50% of the diapers, despite the fact that he works all day? He gets up every Saturday morning while I sleep, just so he can spend “guy time” with his boys. I truly don’t know where I’d be without his steadfast love and guidance in my life. God brought me the perfect partner to spend the rest of my life with, and I am thankful.