Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Life Lessons with the Little Engine

First, let me say that we love the library!  Most of the time these days, I go by myself because my toddler loves to run away from me and hide in the aisles, and I now have an infant to keep attached to me.  Sometimes I take the older two with me while daddy’s home, but sometimes the library is my 1 hour detox break.  It’s like free shopping : )

And…when I come home with my bag full of books, you’d think it was Christmas morning around here!

Last night I made my bi-monthly library trip…alone…ah.  I borrowed lots of great, fun books.  Just as I was heading to check out the books, an oldie but a goodie caught my eye:  The Little Engine that Could.

Now…we’ve been talking about the character trait of perseverance for a couple of weeks.  Micah (5) has got it.  There are some things that he’s working on mastering in life that frustrates him.  What used to end in tears now mostly ends in a frustrated sigh with a low mumble of “o.k…just have perseverance.”  This is a big victory for us friends!

Noah (4) isn’t quite so quick to learn new things.  With him, it’s in one and ear and out the other.  Though we’ve been reading stories, coloring pictures, and talking about perseverance when relevant, I didn’t think he quite understood the concept.

Enter: The Little Engine that Could.  This particular version, written by Watty Piper and illustrated by Loren Long, is a beautiful rendition of the classic story. 

This afternoon, Noah was practicing drawing some shapes.  He’s just now starting to become interested in practicing some pre-school skills.  And like most kids starting this grand feat, he’s quite rusty.  He’s not one to buckle down and master something…he’d rather just give up; hence the reason perseverance is on our character radar.

After some shape-drawing practice, I decided it was time to bust out this Little Engine.  Micah, Noah, Sam and I sat down and read the book together.  The illustrations were so catching that even my “I won’t sit still” Sammy sat through it!  When we were finished, we talked about the two examples of perseverance in the book (answer key:  the little engine of course, and the silly clown that wouldn’t give up asking for help).  I asked them who had perseverance and why, and what do you know?  Noah answered correctly! 

Next, I decided on a whim to drive this home with a craft…this is so simplistic, so please don’t think I thought this was some fabulous, genius idea.  I simply wanted him to practice what we just had a breakthrough on.

Noah’s other challenge is cutting curvy lines.  I decided that we were going to trace rectangles and circles (reinforcing our shapes of course!), cut them out, and paste them together making our very own Little Engine that could.  We had some frustration, but it was quickly extinguished when we recalled that darling Little Engine. 

Start to finish, the craft took the three of us probably 40 minutes…remember, cutting is a challenge.  During the craft, Micah (my in-home evangelist!) said, “Mom, this reminds me of a Bible verse: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  Hmph.  Way to tie in a Biblical truth to our character lesson!  So, I wrote Philippians 4:13 in glitter glue and they finished their little engines by decorating them with some more glitter glue, a new favorite art supply.

I love afternoons like these when the time flies by because we had some spontaneous, meaningful, quality time together.  Tonight, we took a walk and Noah said thank you for explaining perseverance.  He didn’t understand what it meant all this time and now he gets it.  I have to remember that they are different boys, learn different ways, and don’t always speak up when they don’t understand! 

Now, if only I can get them to stop running through the house chanting “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”

Monday, July 30, 2012

Born with a Testimony

On Saturday, we celebrated our 3rd son’s 2nd birthday.  It was a celebration of survival!  This little man must have something great in store for him.  He has been our most difficult child, but our lives would be greatly deficient without him!  To say that he is difficult may sound harsh, but here are some Sammy highlights in his short little life:

He loves to climb.  One day, after literally taking him off of the dining room table about 10 times, he fell straight down, racking half of his two front teeth off…$500 of pediatric dental attention later, he smiles with his pointy front teeth and we thank God he’ll get new grown up teeth one day!

While taking the kids bowling, Sam, as usual, decided to run away from us…he tripped and fell into a set of concrete steps, giving him a huge goose egg right between the eyes…for the fourth time in his life!

Sam has eczema in epic proportions.  When he was a baby, he would scratch his head until he bled…his head got infected and as a 3 month old, we had to switch between applying antibiotic ointment to treat his infection and strong eczema ointment to keep his head in check…we still have to apply ointment every day to his poor, itchy skin!

Right after his sister was born, we discovered that Sam knows how to open child-proof medicine bottles.  He scaled the linen closet shelves, opened up a prescribed pain pill and proceeded to chew on one…thank God he spit it out…poison control was called, all is good, and we now hide ALL medicine…even the ones that are “child proof.”

Speaking of poison control…Sam again scaled the linen closet shelves one day, took a near empty bottle of pine sol out and drank what was left.  I was changing the baby’s blowout diaper at the time, and only became aware of the situation when he brought me the empty bottle asking for more…I then memorized poison control’s number.

He knows how to unlock and open all of our doors…even our old, big, wooden front door that gives adults a hard time!

He has broken two pairs of my eyeglasses, three pairs of my sunglasses, 2 vases, 3 picture frames, countless toys, all the doorknobs on the first floor of the house (no kidding!), one hinge off of a door, and has almost chewed through his crib. 

He loves to hang on things, climb on things, jump off of things and jump onto things.  He likes to rip things…paper, plastic…whatever he can rip.  He will play with toys sometimes…but unconventionally.  If it has wheels, he will stand on it.  If it is round, he will see how hard he can throw it.  And yes, he can climb out of his crib.

He hides our keys, phones, shoes, and the boys’ favorite toys.  He takes apart anything he can and conveniently loses small pieces that are needed to put those things back together.  He has flushed various objects down the toilet, and has taken off parts of the sink, never to be found again.

Now, before you start judging me (too late, right?), please know that I hardly EVER take my eyes off of this child!  Most of his antics are accomplished while I am attending to something that briefly requires my retreat…such as a diaper change, switching loads of laundry, running to the screaming cries of another child, or one of those selfish 5 second bathroom breaks that I seem to get about twice a day!  He is sneaky I tell you!  But he is ours, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

The main problem with Sam is that all this is done with innocent curiosity.  Though he means well, he’s exhausting.  Just when I’m finished fixing something, there’s another Sam-created issue to attend to.  But there are so many wonderful things about Sam too…he is probably our funniest child.  He understands what makes people laugh, and he loves to entertain us.  He says the cutest things.  His new phrase is “I mama’s sunshine.” And he is.  He is incredibly sweet with babies.  He is so nurturing toward his baby sister, and he has grown to love and play with other baby friends.  One of his only calm activities is when he takes care of his stuffed animals, making sure they are fed, changed, and burped.  And, he’s a snuggle bunny.  There are really only three people in the world that get the awesome privilege of a Sam-snuggle, though, which makes it all the sweeter: myself, my husband, and my dad.  But the best part of having Sam is that he’s here.  All of our kids are miracles…but I still stand back in awe of how we didn’t lose him over and over again. 

My children are so amazingly different from each other.  My oldest is incredibly intelligent, my next is athletic, and Sam is plain old adventurous.  He is the one that has frightened me the most in life.  They’ve all driven me to my knees in prayer, but I never really knew how to pray until we were blessed with our Samuel.  And this lesson started soon after we discovered we were expecting him.

As soon as we found out we were pregnant, something didn’t feel right…it wasn’t pain, but just a strange feeling.  I had 3 dreams in one week that I had been taken to the hospital and it looked as though we were going to lose the baby, but I always woke up before the end.  My husband decided that it was just hormones, and that I was fine; I needed to calm down.  Then, one early January day, we were taking our oldest boys to an ice rink.  While getting into the car, I had this overwhelming feeling of panic.  The whole drive over, I knew something was about to go wrong.  Sure enough, as soon as I stepped out of the car at the rink, I started to hemorrhage. 

My boys were 3 and 1 ½ at the time.  I told my husband to take them into the rink, and panicking, I drove myself to the hospital.  My dad met me there.  We waited…and waited…I started to go into shock because of the blood loss.  They told me I was having a miscarriage and they’d get to me as soon as they could.  By the time I was in an exam room, the nurse was apologetic, not knowing just how bad this was.  They ordered an ultrasound, but told me that I had lost the baby, and would probably have to undergo a procedure to remove him.  My dad and I were devastated…we did the only thing we knew how to do at that time:  we prayed.  Despite the many nurses who were all saying the same thing, we prayed.  Despite the initial grief counseling I was receiving, we prayed.  As I was wheeled down to ultrasound, we prayed. 

The ultrasound technician did her thing.  I had cried so hard I didn’t think I had anything left.  Yet, in the middle of the procedure, I started weeping.  She asked me why I was crying.  After telling her that I was still in shock from the news that I had lost my baby, she handed me an ultrasound picture.  I was staring at what looked like a lifeless little alien…just as my chest started heaving again, she turned the screen and I heard his heartbeat…live and loud, there he was!  She explained, though I do not think she was supposed to, that I had what was called a sub-chorionic hematoma that hemorrhaged.  I had no idea what she said, but I was elated! 

By the time they wheeled me back upstairs, my husband had joined my dad.  The look of relief on their faces was priceless.  But we weren’t out of the woods yet.  The dr. came in and explained that I was still actively bleeding.  The problem was that sometime during implantation, the placenta had slightly torn away, but reattached.  However, it did not fully reattach and continued to bleed, but inside the outer walls of the uterus.  Ultimately, it burst, leading to my hemorrhage.  He explained that it was still actively bleeding and needed to stop or else we would lose our baby.

At a follow up appointment, my ob described to us the many horrible scenarios that we were facing:  the baby could die from lack of nutrition from a depleted placenta; the hematoma could burst again and invade the uterus, thereby killing my baby;  the hematoma could grow so big and hinder the baby’s growth, causing him to be severely handicapped; the continued bleeding could put undue stress on my heart, endangering my life.  Scared, exhausted, and overwhelmed, we left the dr.’s office, bed rest orders in hand, looked at each other and cried.  I was 10 weeks along, actively, internally bleeding, and had been counseled to terminate the pregnancy for the baby’s sake and my own. 

We learned to pray like we never had before.  We started combing the Word like we never had before.  We started seeking God’s heart like we never had before.  It was evident that this experience was going to change us, we just didn’t know how. 

Our first decision was to continue on with the pregnancy.  Despite all the risks, we were told that there was still a small chance everything could turn out fine.  I tried to mother my 3 year old and 1 ½ year old on my own, despite my bed rest orders, for about a week…then I re-hemorrhaged and ended up back in the hospital.  The nurses took about 45 minutes to find a heart beat.  They couldn’t find it.  They brought in an ultrasound machine, but still couldn’t detect a heart beat.  At that point, they told us they had to bring in the dr. to confirm, but that they were very sorry.  When they left the room, my husband broke down.  We were confident that the Lord had told us to continue on.  We were holding on to His promises, and were filled with faith.  But this was emotionally grueling.  We sat there crying our eyes out, praying for our little guy.  Looking back, it seems so strange how attached we were to our little guy at 11 weeks gestational age.  Yet once you become an expectant parent, you know how quickly and strongly that bond is formed.  We had faith that this little man would be born, and be healthy and whole.  Twenty long minutes later, the dr. walked in and instantly picked up the heart beat.  The bleeding had slowed and I was sent home.

God met our every need for the next 30 weeks.  Every week day, there was someone here to lift Noah out of his crib in the morning, fix my boys breakfast, change diapers, make lunch, and put them down for their nap.  I learned so many things in this season: one of which is that God is our heavenly father.  He nurtures us and takes care of us, despite our earthly deficit.  At the beginning of this ordeal, I was angry and bitter that I was without my mother.  But, at the end, I walked away with confidence that it is God and not man who provides for me all the days of my life. 

Unfortunately, the next 30 weeks I battled with fear.  I had weekly dr. appointments and bi-weekly ultrasounds.  I was told over and over again of the risks, and was not given good news.  We were told that if the hematoma did not reabsorb completely at 20 weeks, that we had less than a 20% chance of having a full term birth.  The 20 week ultrasound was a roller coaster:  he was still alive, and the hematoma hadn’t grown for the first time, but the high risk ob advised us to terminate because the continued bleeding was putting too much stress on my heart.  At 24 weeks, the hematoma had grown again, completely covering the circumference of my uterus. The chances that we were all going to come out of this healthy and whole were dropping week by week.  I continued to bleed on and off through the entire pregnancy.  Every time I felt the baby move, I panicked that he would break the hematoma and that would be the end.  But God is so good.  He gave me peace throughout the entire process.  He brought the right people into our home at the right time.  He enlisted some serious prayer warriors to do some serious praying on our behalf.

At my 30 week appointment, we received another mixed report.  The hematoma was shrinking slightly, but the baby’s growth was said to be abnormal.  We were sent for an additional anatomy scan, at which they told us that he may have a heart abnormality, that his legs weren’t growing right, and that one of his arms appeared to be deformed.  They rescheduled us for an additional anatomy scan a few weeks later, hoping that the hematoma would shrink and that they could get a better reading.  Though it had never actually decreased in size, at 34 weeks, it shrank down slightly!  They were able to get a better reading, but still not great.  We at least knew at this point that his heart looked healthy.

Finally, at 39 weeks, my dr. suggested induction.  The hematoma was still present, and my heart was under stress.  Our hospital experience was unique in that we had plenty of medical professionals assigned to us, most of which were “just in case.”  To say that we were without fear that day would be a lie.  We had lived through a 30 week nightmare, and had beaten the odds.  But we weren’t out of the woods yet.  There was still a risk that I could experience complications.  The hematoma was still present, so there was a risk the baby could still be harmed by it.  While it was a different experience than the previous two births, we witnessed a miracle that day.  I was induced at 5 a.m., and Samuel (meaning God heard my prayer) Jonathan (meaning a gift from God) was born at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.  It was physically taxing on my atrophied, stressed body; it was emotionally draining trying to refocus my mind on faith and not fear; it was spiritually exhausting recalling every promise of God that I had crammed into my brain during the last 30 weeks.  But as I held my little boy, I thanked him for changing me.  Because of this experience, I would never be the same.

The following months after his birth included many other hard trials.  I honestly don’t know how I would have handled them without the experience I just had.  There were things about God that I knew in my head, but this trial of my life sunk them deep into my heart where I am confident they cannot be uprooted.

So every time we hear a crash in the house, a scream from a tormented older brother, a locked door opening, or the galloping feet of my fleeting toddler, we thank God for him.  We thank God that he entrusted us with this life.  We thank God that he hears our prayers and spares our lives.  We thank God that He is a good God, all the time.  We thank God that He gives us all testimonies, and that at birth Sam had quite the story to tell of God’s awesome faithfulness!  I thank God that he knows the end result of my life and has ordered all of my days to gently lead me and mold me into who I am supposed to be.  He is sovereign and powerful, still working miracles today.  I am glad that we are able to tell our kids about His faithfulness in such a tangible, real way so that they understand the power of God in their lives.

I know that not everyone’s story ends like ours did.  There are things on this earth that I do not understand.  But I thank God that He is always in control and has written down our days before we were born.  Despite our understanding, we must always bless His name…there is no one like our God. 
Happy Birthday to my Sam…a lover of adventure, a silly guy, and one of the loves of my life!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making Every Effort: My Parenting Pledge

I haven’t sat down to write for almost a week…it feels that I haven’t really sat down (besides to nurse a baby) at all!  Warning: this may be an incoherent post!

It’s been a hard week.  But today, I am glad.  I am glad because I have a God who goes before me, who knows what my heart needs to prepare me for what is to come, and who has given me everything I need to deal with things I do not even know are about to occur.  All I need to do is listen and obey.  Still, with all of that, life gets hard.

In the last week, we’ve dealt with family issues, parenting issues, health issues…and just when I told the Lord that I’m at my breaking point, my sweet baby girl who sleeps 12 hours a night went quite a few nights wide awake.  Lack of sleep makes any trial, big or small, much harder to handle.  Yet, in the middle of all the chaos, I’ve done something that I’ve never done in such a busy season… I made every effort to hear my first love’s voice, whether that be through a radio program, worship song, book, or carrying around a Scripture scribbled in crayon in my pocket.  Just when I felt that I had no strength, God has been so faithful to speak.  This is a good thing, because I realize that I need to fill up on the things of God so that I can pour them back out on my kids.

I’ve been chewing on a few pieces of Scripture for a couple of weeks now, not knowing why they seem so rich to me.  I feel like I could write forever about what I’ve learned from 1st and 2nd Peter these past few weeks.  Right now, I feel like every verse waters my soul.

I often feel like I’m coming up short in so many ways…my floors are dirty, my child is throwing a tantrum about everything, I missed somebody’s birthday…and don’t get me started about my hair, makeup, or clothes!  And when it rains, it pours.  When life gets rough, and trial after trial hits, all these inadequacies pile up and become giant insecurities that eat at me.  I’m not alone in this, right?  Those thoughts and feelings of inadequacy that we battle with suddenly become more real, and we may even start believing them.  Why?  Because it’s hard to believe that we are adequate when our floors really are dirty, our kids are misbehaving, we’ve been so busy trying to take care of our family’s lives that we have missed out on being a part of others. 

2 Peter 1:3 tells us that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”  In these long moments of feeling inadequate, I have to remember that I have everything I need to help me with life, but only through my knowledge of Him.  If I’m not making God the Lord of my life, checking in with Him, listening to Him, and letting him gently lead me, then I don’t get the benefit of having everything I need!  This is hard to do for so many reasons: pride, time, energy, physical limitations.  But again, His word says to “make every effort…so that we are effective and productive.”  

So this is my wife and mommy pledge of the week:  I’m battling those lies that daily seem to creep up and accuse me of being an inadequate wife, mother, and friend.  I’m committing to make every effort to add to my faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)    I’m preparing my mind (however tired it may be!) for action, being self-controlled, and setting my hope fully on the grace given to each one of us when Jesus is revealed! (I Peter 1: 13)  And even when I fail, when there are short comings, I will remember that the most important thing is to love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (I Peter 4:8)

It is a great comfort to know that we have a God who is sovereign.  He gives us the family, children, situations, and challenges in our life and everything that we need to live our lives to bring Him glory.  If you’re a mom and you’re reading this, you are blessed and loved.  You are doing a great job at loving your family.  Because you are constantly being poured out to serve your family and friends, press in and find time to hear His voice so that He can fill you up.  If you are a husband, keep your tank full as well and make sure that you wash your wife in the Word.  We, as parents, have such an important job to faithfully lead the next generation.  But we, as children of God, have an even more important goal: to know and love Him with all of our hearts, souls, and strength.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Exhaustion, Fear, and a Craft!

Have you ever had a day when you really wished you had a “redo” button?  Today was one of those days.

It started out well.  By 9: 30 a.m., everyone ate a healthy breakfast, got dressed, made beds and did their chores.  Practically speaking, it was a great start to the day.  Then, the bad attitudes started.  My two older boys are having a hard time understanding that their little brother just wants to be included.  Honestly, I don’t know how to handle this situation.  I want to protect their little lego structures, but I want to protect my little one’s heart.  It’s a tough situation.

Then, the discontentment crept in.  Since changing our eating habits, everyone has been more than happy with the food choices we have…except for my 4 year old.  After making him his “normal” favorite lunch, he broke down and complained about how he just wants chips and ice cream (which we never ate before anyways!) Later this evening, my oldest son’s slinky got tangled beyond repair.  We threw it away and he went to pieces, despite the fact that we still have 2 other perfectly functioning slinkys to play with in the house. 

Then, the fear started.  I posted about how my oldest and I had been dealing with fear here.  Fear is like a cancer.  It silently enters, mutates, and deteriorates whatever it can find that is good and whole.  My once fearless children have become fearful of going down in the basement playroom by themselves, of being in the dark, and of strangers (like the mailman) who are part of our every day lives.

As I sit and write tonight, I am exhausted.  How could such a great morning turn to an exhausting afternoon?  And the answer is…this is normal.  My kids are normal.  Sibling rivalry, fear, and complaining are par for the parenting course.  And yet, I am not one to sit back and just ignore it all. 

I’m still at a loss for my dear youngest boy.  My efforts of playing with him while the big boys play with big boy toys are becoming less effective.  Sometimes we take the approach of preferring their little brother over themselves, leaving my older boys unfairly without their much needed legos to complete their masterpieces.  Sometimes we justly tell the youngest “no” every time he demands his equal rights to the toys, resulting in loud, screeching tantrums and the recurrence of said demand over and over. 

The discontentment makes me, well…angry.  It’s a selfish thing, I know.  I want to say, “I worked so hard to make you a healthy meal, stop complaining and eat!”  Most of the time, I resist.  All I can do on this one is plug away.  One thing that has helped my oldest is perspective.  We have always shared with our boys what goes on around the world and in our city.  We’ve posted pictures around the house to remind us to pray for our brothers and sisters who need our prayers.  Our oldest seems to finally be understanding how fortunate we are.  His complaining has diminished and his praying for others has increased.  Still, he broke down over a slinky, which was a major reality check for us.  He is only 5 after all.  I guess this is one of those trials in my daily life that will produce in me perseverance…for now it’s giving me a headache!

As for fear…we are playing offense.  This is one issue I don’t to ignore.  I want to start giving them tools to use that will help when they struggle with fear.  As simple and silly as it sounds, we talked through (again) what fear is, that it is not from the Lord, and that He is always with us.  Then we did a craft that coordinated with their favorite movie series, The Chronicles of Narnia.  (In my boys free time, they chase each other around the house, swords and shields in hand, defeating the white witch and taking turns being Peter, the valiant, or Edmund, the traitor turned brave.)  We talked about what fears Peter and Edmund had and what would have happened in battle had they given in to fear.  Instead, they chose to be brave and courageous, knowing that they had been given everything they needed to fight and win the battle. 

I didn’t want to just be the lecturing mom.  My boys seem to remember every craft they’ve ever made, so what better way to reference what we’ve learned?  We made shields with the Aslan crest and “inscribed” our shields with some Biblical truth:  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid…for the Lord your God is with you.” 

We cut an old diaper box into the shapes of shields and covered them with aluminum foil.  Then, with red construction paper, I drew the lion crest and cut them out.  The boys colored the Bible verse and we made it into a battle song while we decorated.  Then, their favorite part, they glued it all together.

I’m not suggesting that this solved the fear issue.  But we stopped our day, talked through the issue, and attempted to shed some truth on it.  Besides, look how happy some markers and glue make kids!  Tonight as they sleep next to their new shields (yes, they are next to their beds), I pray that those words that we sang sink into their hearts so that one day they believe them.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Character without Courage

“Character without courage is empty.  Courage is what enables us to act on our convictions.” –Susan Yates-

This was the quote that kept running through my head when I toyed with the idea of blogging.  I’m generally a private person and I keep a lot of our trials and victories to myself.  But I realized that every experience in this life, good or bad, should be shared so that we can bear each other’s burdens and rejoice in our victories together!  However, having so many little ones, it’s difficult to get an entire conversation with another adult completed these days, which is why I’m thankful for the internet!

I’ve been so encouraged in the last 2 weeks by all the emails that I’ve received regarding my blog posts.  We’re all on a journey through life together, and I love that we can be honest and helpful with each other without judgment or fear!  Whether you believe what I believe or not, my heart is to encourage anyone who reads my words and to show my kids one day that every day with them is a gift.

A question that I received by quite a few people is what I do to teach my little ones Bible verses.  First, I want to say that I spend LOTS of time on each verse because I don’t want them just to spit the words back out at me.  I want them to understand those big words that the Bible uses.  I want them to have life experiences where I can say, “see, this is where that verse applies.”  We want the Word to be living and active in our home and something that they see us living out rather than regurgitating.  We want to teach them character through the Word, but courage to understand, believe, and then walk out what they have learned. 

That being said, we do Bible memory a few different ways.  Right now, we are going through the Focus on the Family Kids Character Development Series. Surprisingly, we are focusing on perseverance now (which seems to be the word of the month!) There is a verse that goes along with each character trait.  We read it together every day.  I print it out and post in a place where my reader sees it all the time (on the wall by his seat at the table).  I try to find a song with it, or we just make up our own.  They really have it memorized by the end of a week, but it takes some time to understand what we’re saying.  So, we don’t rush on to the next verse.  Last month, we worked on respect and it took us all month to learn that the verse we were memorizing meant that we should prefer another over ourselves.  Last week while on a play date, I watched my children giving up toys and snacks that other kids asked for despite the fact that they weren’t ready to give them up.  I was so proud that they seemed to get it!  While this is a life long lesson, I saw that they were ready to move on.    

For those of you who don’t actively memorize the Word with your children, I encourage you to start!  Before we started doing this, we felt that there were a lot of gray areas when it came to parenting.  Any time you take two adults from two different childhoods and give them a set of kids, a social experiment ensues!  We rarely bickered with each other before we had kids, but now all of the sudden we had our very different opinions about what rules we set in our home.  Here is what we believe:  we know that the Word of God is true.  So when there is confusion, we need the Word.  And when you have 4 little ones, you need it quick!  Memorizing became a survival skill and continues to be, not just for us as parents, but for our kids.  There are clear expectations and everyone is on the same page.  It’s also a way to gain new perspective on passages that we’ve been dealing with for years.  It’s fun to see the different interpretations and applications that we all have!
I also want to state the obvious:  we are not perfect!  Thank God He sees the finished picture and gives us grace and mercy to grow and change.  While I want to be encouraging, I want to be honest.  I am not who I was before I became a mom, and I am far beyond who I was even 2 years ago.  My faith has been tested over and over, and continues to be.  But I have seen the faithfulness of the Lord in my life, and want to give Him the glory.  I want my children to see His faithfulness in my life and in their own.  Sometimes that comes through reflection, sometimes discipline, and sometimes it comes from those trials where their faith will be tested.  Fires of experience burn into us principles of life which we live by.  I do not want to be a coward and keep these lessons to myself.  And I don’t want my kids to be cowards and keep quiet about the things that they believe.       

 Lastly, I want to say to those of you who are still reading despite disagreeing with me…thanks for loving us where we’re at…I promise to love you where you’re at as well.  I can’t expect anyone to fully agree with me all the time.  But I want to learn to love at all times and to respect others while boldly speaking the truth.  I want my kids to do the same.  I unapologetically live my life to please my Savior, but with the understanding that you may disagree with me…and that’s o.k.    I have courage to live out my convictions, sometimes falling on my face, sometimes getting beaten down by life, but always to run this race the best I can and teach my kids to run harder and faster than I did.  

I have learned through loss.  I have learned that our days are numbered and we have a limited time here to speak the words that God has given us.  I believe we are all born with different gifts and callings, and that He speaks to us different words to encourage each other.  Thank you for listening to what He’s speaking to me and my family.  I hope and pray that each of us finds the courage to walk out our convictions each day!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Last night, I took a walk with each of my three boys…separately.  Note to self: I need to do this more often!

I took my almost two year old out first.  He’s always the crazy, rambunctious wild child, and to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to having him unattached to a stroller.  However, in the name of de-energizing him, we walked (and ran!) hand-in-hand around the block.  I didn’t realize how many words he knew!  I get the basic, daily repertoire at home, but on a street, I realized just how grown up my little man has become.  He asks questions, waits for the answers, and speaks in sentences 4-5 words long!  When did this happen?  We had a lovely walk, pretending like we were dinosaurs (his idea) and collecting sticks.

Then it was Noah’s turn.  Noah is my 4 year old who absolutely loves having brothers and a sister.  In fact, he’s been asking me when we can have more kids.  He never tires of playing with his older brother, and always tries to be just like him.  Because of that, it’s hard to really tell what is going on in his little head and his heart.  He’s such a laid back, carefree kid…and really funny!  I laughed out loud, a good hard belly laugh, throughout our walk.  Noah is still confused as to when it’s o.k. to smile and say hello back to strangers and when talking to them is strictly not allowed.  We’re trying to teach him the delicate balance between stranger danger and polite behavior…erring on the side of safety : )  We were reviewing our safety rules when he said “And I know it’s not o.k. to take candy from strangers.”  To which I replied, “Very good Noah.”  Pause. “Yeah, because candy is not healthy.  We can only take fruit from strangers.”  Ugh!  We took another spin around the block to clear that one up!

I cherish my talks with my oldest.  He is my deep well.  He often says things to me that I have to chew on for a while.  Last night was no different.  He asked me what perseverance was.  It’s always difficult for me to explain things simplistically that I find so complex.  I told him it was working really hard at something and not giving up, even though it’s difficult.  He kept giving me examples of things that he thought emulated perseverance, but he just wasn’t getting it.  A couple of weeks ago, we were watching the Olympic swimming trials.  My boys were mesmerized by how fast these men and women could swim, and my husband told them all about how long and hard they had to train.  I reminded Micah of those athletes and told him that they have persevered over injuries, exhaustion, and their own thoughts that they can’t be the best.  “Oh,” he said, “so if you persevere, you should look tired afterwards…and be out of breath.”  Hmmm.  I told him that not all situations require physical exhaustion, but in a way he’s right. 

I don’t think I paid much attention to the character trait of perseverance.  I always thought of myself as persevering through anything that I didn’t want to do…like disciplining and training children day in and day out!  But just making it through the day is not persevering.  I think of the Olympic athletes that I can’t wait to watch and I ponder what their days are like.  They endure hours of grueling, physical training. They make sure they have fueled themselves correctly, resting and eating right.  They wake up early, tired and sore, to do it all over again, and try to do it better than before.  They do this day after day, for years. 

James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

It doesn’t say begrudgingly make it through the day.  And notice that enduring the daily trials is not in itself perseverance, but is our steady, faithful, joyful endurance which develops perseverance.  And what’s our goal?  Not a gold medal…as wonderful as that may be.  Rather, we will be made whole and complete, mature…not lacking anything. 

We make mistakes, we fail, but we keep on going.  I often get discouraged and tired.  But even then, I am thankful for what challenges I’ve been given.  After I had my sweet baby Emma, I went to my dr.’s office for my 6 week checkup.  As I was flipping through a magazine, a mom walked in with her severely handicapped daughter.  She was checking in for her daughter’s exam.  It never occurred to me that these poor girls were still girls and had feminine issues.  This young woman was strapped into a wheelchair and couldn’t speak, only grunt and squeal.  I overheard that she was 17 years old.  For seventeen years this mom had been responding to the grunts and squeals.  For 17 years, she was pushing her daughter in a chair, spoon feeding her, and from what I overheard, changing her diaper.  It was then that the P&G commercial came one…the one that shows all the moms of the Olympic athletes and what they’ve sacrificed to get their kids to the Olympics.  At the end it said “thank you mom.” 

Maybe it was just hormones, but I fought back tears really hard.  This poor mom sitting beside me had sacrificed much more for her daughter, arguably, and would never hear “thank you mom” from her.  This is how I know that God is very real and active.  I didn’t know this woman.  She could have been cursing God under her breath…but I doubt it.  She was gentle and patient and kind.  There was something different about her.  I know that she must have something inside of her driving her on toward a goal other than a high school graduation, a wedding, or a corner office for her child.  She looked as though she had 17 years of trials and maybe what I was looking at was a woman who was persevering, becoming complete and mature.  If that is what it looks like, I want it.  To me, she was an Olympic mom.

I’m glad I take the time to listen to my kids…I need to do it more.  Now I know my Sam can pretend to be a dinosaur, I corrected an important safety rule with my Noah, and my Micah made me really think hard about my heart attitude about my life challenges and what all these challenges are really leading us all to. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What we're eating...how about you?

I often wonder what it’s like in other people’s homes.  This sounds a little creepy, doesn’t it?  It’s not meant to be!  I used to live with a few families after leaving my mom’s house when I was 13.  I was able to see how they all live…some with small children, some with older children, and some childless.  I married my love when I was only 21. My twenties were spent trying to figure out how to be an adult, and a wife and mother at that, gleaning tidbits of knowledge and experience from those wonderful families who took me in for a season.  I learned a lot about marriage, parenting, work ethic, and keeping a home. However, one thing that was never a habit growing up, or in my twenties for that matter, was taking care of my body.  Eating right and exercise were never made habit or priority.  Now, I sit here at 30 years old after having 4 kids, having dealt with some health issues for years now, and I feel like it’s time to get a handle on it! 
Now, this is hard for me, and I feel really vulnerable even putting it out there.  Cooking was not something I grew up with, so healthy cooking is really a stretch!  I feel like adding a new way of eating and trying to squeeze in some exercise is like learning a new way of living entirely.  I thought it would be overwhelming and all-consuming, but surprisingly, it’s not.  Admittedly, I spend more time in the kitchen, but my boys (and baby girl!) are right there beside me, learning skills that I wish I would have.  My hubby and I exercise together after the kids go to bed, which has been a fun way of spending more time together.  So far, so good.  Different, but good.
We try to memorize a verse a week as a family, and 4 weeks ago, we learned 1 Corinthians 10:31 that says: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 

I wanted my boys to memorize that one as a spring board into learning a work ethic and joyful service, but God had something different in mind for me.  Every time I picked up something to eat that week, it was like a tape recording playing through my head…whether you eat or drink…do it all for the glory of God.  After a few days of wrestling with my bad eating habits, justifying them all the way, I realized that it was time to continue the pruning process and to learn how to lead my family into a healthier way of life.

So, we’ve recently made some changes in the Stack kitchen.  We have considered going vegetarian or even vegan…maybe we still will someday.  However, in the meantime, we are adding some new elements to our daily diet, cutting out processed food, and bumping up the nutritional value of what we eat.   

Here’s our challenges:  we are on a very fixed income, we have 3 very hungry little boys, and we are dealing with tree nut, peanut, and egg allergies.  Yikes! 

We’ve been at it for only 4 weeks now, but I’m proud of us!  My biggest challenges have been substituting whole foods for processed, convenience foods for breakfast and lunch, and making sure we have the appropriate servings of fruits, veggies, and proteins every day.  I buy as much organic as I can, but I only spend about $100/week to feed all of us.  I rather buy some non-organic and still have whole food than sacrifice and have to supplement with processed junk just to fill our tummies.  Disclaimer: we are not 100% processed free…we’re learning!

So that’s why I want to know what it’s like in other people’s homes!  I want to know how they eat, how what they eat or drink or whatever they do bring our Maker glory.  I know we are given this one body, and we should be grateful and steward what we have been given!

Here is some of what we’ve been eating:

Breakfast, Lunch, snacks:

  • Homemade oatmeal with agave syrup and bananas
  • Whole Wheat Toast and Greek Yogurt with chia seeds and blueberries
  • Vegan Banana Coconut Muffins (created by me!) and fruit smoothies
  • Whole wheat banana pancakes with fresh fruit
  • Caprese Salads
  • Hummus and Vegetable Wraps
  • Hummus and Veggies or Whole Wheat Pitas
  • Grilled Chicken Salads loaded with veggies and homemade dressing
  • Sunflower seed butter sandwiches (it’s actually good, and my Sammy can’t have peanut butter!)
  • Homemade Kale chips (which all my kids LOVE)
  • Chia seed, coconut milk and frozen banana smoothies
  • LOTS of fresh fruit and veggies!

Below I posted my weeknight dinner menu with a breakdown of cost.  After the cost of dinner ingredients are deducted from my budget, I add to it some new staples like coconut milk, chia seeds (which are a once a month purchase), bread, and lots of fruits and veggies.

 Baked Coconut Chicken Fingers, Corn, Spinach Salad:  $9.65 for 5 servings ($1.93/serving)

·         $3.00:  1.5 lbs. Hormone/antibiotic Free Chicken Breast: (B.J.’s sells a 10 lb. bag for $20)

·         $0.50: 1 cup Unsweetened Coconut (staple in our house…I think a whole bag is $1.50)

·         $0.90: ½ bag Panko Bread Crumbs (another staple): $1.79 for whole bag at Trader Joes

·         $1.79: Trader Joe’s Organic Frozen Corn

·         $1.98: baby spinach from Trader Joe’s

·         $0.79: Organic Bell Pepper (TJ)

·         $0.69: Locally grown tomato (TJ)

Eggplant Parmesan, Homemade Bread, Steamed Broccoli:  $11.58 for 6 servings ($1.93/serving)

  • $3.18: Two Eggplants
  • $0.90: ½ bag Panko Bread Crumbs
  • $3.00:  Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
  • $1.00:  Estimated price for my homemade sauce portion (pre-made and frozen in batches)
  • $0.50: Basil (Entire package for $2.29…will use the rest for lunchtime caprese salads)
  • $1.00:  2 heads of broccoli
  • The bread was all pantry items

Sweet Potato/White Bean Veggie Burgers and Sweet Potato Chips:  $12.82 for 6 servings ($2.13/serving)

  • $3.38: 2 lb. sweet potatoes
  • $2.38: 2 20 oz. cans garbanzo beans
  • $0.90: ½ bag panko
  • $2.69:  Tahini paste (this recipe only calls for a few tablespoons, so there’s much leftover)
  • $1.99:  Package of whole wheat sandwich thins
  • $0.79:  Avocado
  • $0.69:  Tomato
Sneaky Slow-Cooked Turkey Sloppy Joes:  $10.33 for 6 servings ($1.72/serving)

  • $4.87:  1.5 lbs. hormone/antibiotic free ground turkey (TJ)
  • $1.99:  Organic diced tomatoes
  • $0.79:  green pepper
  • $0.30:  zucchini
  • $0.39: Tomato Paste
  • $1.99:  Whole Wheat Buns
Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs with Spinach Salad:  $10.46 for 6 servings ($1.74/serving)

  • $1.00: estimated price for homemade sauce portion
  • $2.00: 1 lb. piccolini vegetable pasta
  • $3.00:  estimated price of  ½ lb. homemade hormone/antibiotic free turkey meatballs pre-made and frozen
  • $1.98: baby spinach from Trader Joe’s
  • $0.79: Organic Bell Pepper (TJ)
  • $0.69: Locally grown tomato (TJ)

 $51.84 for 5 dinners serving 5-6 people

Friday, July 6, 2012

Simple Summer Fun

This week has been crazy!  We’ve had visitors, picnics, Fourth of July celebrations, and a lot of rain…that all equals 3 tired boys, one messy house, and one overwhelmed mommy!  I started feeling crabby, which is never a good feeling.  It's an easy one to get though when you feel like all you do is serve others day in and day out.  I've been thinking and reading a lot about joy lately, which is why a quote on friend's facebook page caught my eye:

The feeling of joy begins with the action of thanksgiving.  –Tonia Peckover

Here's an excerpt from my journal about joy:

But joy is a smile inside our heart knowing that what we hope for will come to be, because what we hope for is true.  Joy is a inner sigh of relief knowing that the pain that we endure is for a specific purpose. 
Motherhood is tough.  There are bad days.  There is a need to discipline those cute little faces.  There are tantrums, messes, bad attitudes, exhaustion.  There is uncomfortability, sacrifice, and very little room for self.  But all this is to produce little men and women who grow up to be big men and women who will serve one another, love above all else, and have life experiences that shape them into their callings.  I'm always worried that I'm not doing enough for my kids, but if I take time to actively thank God for them, take time to proactively plan our days, and take time to reflect on what we've done, I indoubtedly receive a huge dose of joy!  Here's a little reflection on my week and this summer to stir up that joy in my heart.
Here’s some fun things we did this week with the kids that I am thankful for:

  • We made strawberry soup and veggie wraps (veggies from a farmer’s market we visited last week) and had a picnic outside.      (*Recipe:  blend 2 cups fresh strawberries, 1 cup vanilla yogurt, 1/2 cup orange juice, and 1/2 cup sugar. Refrigerate for at least 1 hr. before serving)

  • We made fresh squeezed lemonade and watermelon juice ice cubes.  We waited to drink it until daddy got home and we all had an impromptu special time together.   (*Recipe: dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup warm water.  Add 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice...about 5 medium lemons...and fill the rest of a 2 quart pitcher with water.  Crush watermelon and pour into ice cube mold. Freeze and enjoy!)

  • We had a dance party (which we do a lot!)
  • We made our own “wipeout” obstacle course in the cool basement.
  • We took turns doing silly things to make the baby laugh.
  • We went to a picnic, played with other kids, and talked with other grown ups!
  • We made (all together) a banana toffee pie with home made whip cream…the boys were amazed at how simple whip cream is to make!

  • We ate the pie all up (which I was thankful for!)
  • My husband showed the boys how to change oil on the car…while I didn’t let them crawl underneath because I was nervous, they handed daddy tools and asked a lot of questions!
  • We watched fireworks from our backyard and watched the boys play with sparklers and catch fireflies.
  • We played baseball outside one morning until it got too hot, then came in and watched a movie together in the air conditioning.
  • We played with our kitchen set all together and I was served an interesting combination of cantaloupe with ketchup and cauliflower pizza.
  • We made sidewalk paint and got messy outside. (*Recipe: in a large mixing bowl, mix 1/2 cup cold water with 1/2 cup cornstarch until it's thick like paint.  Add food coloring and store in a jar with lid.)
  • We played with our rainbow rice and learned about measuring and fractions.   (*Recipe: mix 2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol with food coloring in a ziplock bag.  Add rice and mix.  Pour onto a sheet of wax paper and put in sun for about an hour or two until dry.  Make as many colors as you like and pour into a container for measuring fun!)

  • We read all of our new library books at least two times.
And Friday nights are always family night…tonight, we are watching a movie with air popped popcorn!

And here’s some other fun things we’ve done this summer:

  • We visit a new park (or two) every week!  *Home school tip: we made a chart of what we like and don’t like about each park so we can compare and contrast them
  • We found tadpoles at a park and watched them for quite some time.  Afterwards, we were very curious about tadpoles and read a few books about them.
  • We took our cameras outside and took lots of pictures of things that interested us.
  • We visited a couple nature centers and a planetarium.

  • We look for the moon every night and talk about it’s different phases.
  • We made banana bread together.
  • My 4 year old has become extremely interested in cooking, so every week we plan our menu together and he helps me cook a lot!
  • We have a picnic with our toddler every week as the older ones play t-ball.
  • We cook out a few times a week, and the boys are learning all about how daddy grills.
  • We collect rocks and decorate them…we have quite the collection!
  • We go to farmers markets (or the Westside Market in Cleveland) and try out new fruits and vegetables…at this point, we’re trying to do new things with the fruits and veggies since we’ve tried most of them!
  • Daddy and the two older boys had a sleepover/campout in their room…complete with lots of giggles.
  • We planned a muppet-themed birthday party for my four year old and made lots of our own decorations, including a spider piƱata.  We also had fun coming up with a themed menu including rainbow connection fruit kabobs, Miss Piggies in the blanket, Party Like an Animal Pasta Salad,, Swedish Chef Meatballs, Kermit's Swamp Punch, Pepe's caliente corn salsa, and a snack table with popcorn, marshmallows, and Fozzy Gummy Bears...we had a blast!  Oh, and check out this cake that my sister made!!  I could seriously do a blog post all on this party!

  • We often play with squirt guns, water balloons, a water table, a slip n’ slide, or the good old fashioned hose : )
  •  We paint and play with play dough outside.
  • We are working on our first movie together (it takes some time when you have to keep stopping for the baby and toddler!)
  • We practiced a dance for one of our favorite songs and performed it for daddy after dinner one night.
  • We let the boys go to bed with glow bracelets one night…that’s it…but boy, did they think it was pretty great!
  • We go to the library…a lot!
  • We make up our own games to play and then challenge each other (think Minute to Win It)
  • We had a toy car wash.
  •  We planted a garden (it’s not doing so well though!)
  • We fed some ducks…and watched our toddler almost run into the pond!
  •  We’ve had many play dates with new and old friends.
  •  We’ve had a bonfire and roasted marshmallows.
  • We play with legos…a lot!

Not bad for halfway through the summer…there are many more things on my bucket list, and I can’t wait to experience them.  Summers are definitely different as a mom of 4 little ones.  It’s not as carefree as it used to be, but it’s still pretty magical!  Summer's only half over...so let's all get out there and have some fun!  And remember, even if life gets messy, loud, or stressful, let yourself experience joy and let out a little sigh in your heart...what you're doing right now, no matter what it is, has purpose! 

What do you and your family do for summer fun, indoors or out?