Monday, December 30, 2013

The Clemmons Crew Year in Review

It seems we've upgraded with four kids to being called Waylon, Natalie & Crew (according to some of our Christmas cards) :) Or maybe it's just the nice ring it has...Clemmons Crew...either way, I like it. 

With the year coming to a close, we look back to 2013 and marvel at all that has transpired. One year can hold so much, can't it? Here's some recap in our world.

Waylon has made a big transition in his career goals and spent much of the year working hard to make this change of direction happen. He has hopes to land a job as a full-time Fireman. We have felt the continued peace and freedom to step out of traditional ministry role and into this new uncharted territory. We see this job as a great match for Waylon and love the freedom of the schedule with 24 on, 48 off. This schedule allows us to give ourselves to a greater measure to the things we have great conviction to invest in, namely our family, and also the community around us. Through the year Waylon has disciplined himself in exercise, landed a job as a part-time Fireman, and received many hours of training with the Kentucky State Fire Commission. Waylon has loved the line of work and often cracks me up as he shares "cool" things he got to do, such as training by moving through a 1000 degree room, in 70 pounds of high-tech gear that allows him to manipulate flames with his gloved hands. Craziness. Not my idea of a good time, but our whole family has a big sense of gratitude to see the joy this line of work brings him. Big hats off to the Public Service people out there! As well, Waylon has been working for a good friend's company as a 2nd shift janitor. This job has been a huge blessing as it has provided for our family's needs and so much more. Turns out God knows just what we need. And in this season, pushing a broom and a mop, with lots of free time to hear the Word afresh, pray, and just be in a workplace are just what has been needed. However, we do feel expectant that things are about to shift. We hope to have word soon of a full-time position with a fire department coming.

Judah turned five this year, which is just crazy. He's officially "school age" and is tackling phonics, numbers, handwriting, and Bible at home at our "Clemmons Academy." He's doing a great job! He had the time of his life playing TBall again this year. He was known as the kid who would watch the stands as he ran the bases, waiting eagerly for everyone to cheer his name! At the sound of his cheers, a big grin would appear from ear to ear. He lives for action and spends most of his free time in a fantasy world as a ninja, Power Ranger, or super hero. He is a proud brother and loves playing with all of siblings.

Levi turned four (uh-hem..going on thirty) in September. His determination and deep friendship with Judah has led to him joining us in all the schoolwork this year. He is doing great with the material. He also loves art and has a wild imagination. When he is not saving the day with Judah, he is sitting at the kitchen table (or at his new easel) creating some masterpiece. He is very tender and talkative and his prayers make me tear up on a regular basis. Seriously. 

Clara turned two early in the year and has officially staked her claim as the girl in the house. She loves all things pink and purple and wearing dresses or skirts "like a ballerina." She knows how to hold her own and has shown a great interest in horses. She likes to join us for our school days for brief stints and is a gracious independent player when she loses interest. 

Samuel joined our family in July and has truly been a blessing. I'm not sure I've known a happier baby. He makes things brighter as he offers his toothless grins and easy laughter each day. And he has dimples. What's better than a happy, smiling, dimply baby? Can't think of too many things....

My year was one of many transitions as we adjusted to a 2nd shift daddy, a newborn, and homeschooling two boys. I'm learning so much about myself as I give myself to being a stay-at-home, homeschooling momma. I'm learning to be more disciplined, organized, and flexible as we navigate these waters. Some days feel like trudging through mud and others are full of laughter and milestones accomplished. And so it is with many things you give yourself to, I suppose. I feel strongly about persevering through the ups and downs of homeschooling to have these years and this time with our kids. 

Feeling grateful as we look ahead to another new year! Blessings to you, friends in 2014! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pain Unearths Perspective

Today was my 9 year anniversary. Though our date out will happen later in the week, we shared special moments throughout the day that allowed us to remember and celebrate. I'm so grateful for our marriage. I love this man so much and he still makes me giddy.

As the night settled down and one by one the kids got tucked into bed, I was left with just Samuel and I swaying in our bedroom to "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas". I cuddled his soft cheek close and prayed over him. As I prayed, and was thanking God for him, I realized...oh wow, tomorrow is another anniversary. Not one of wedded bliss, but one of loss...and yet, gain. And yet...Samuel.

God granted me Samuel. Those words are so real to me. They speak to me deep down and a gratitude bubbles over like I rarely know. One year ago, tomorrow, (who forgets 12.12.12?) we were in the ER with bleeding in my pregnancy. We were for the first time learning that yes, there was a loss. One baby was lost. And then we learned of Samuel. Eight week old Samuel was strong, his heartbeat sure. God had granted 2 lives, one going to be with Him so soon and one able to remain. 

I had been listening to JJ Heller's music a lot in that season. One of her songs is her personal story of her stillborn daughter, "Oliviana." (<---Take a listen.) I remember waiting after the ultrasound, waiting to hear any news, and talking to our baby for the first time. From my heart I said, "Baby, if you're are in fact going to be with's far better than coming to me,"as tears streamed down. JJ Heller sings it like this..."Oliviana, you're in the arms of God. Just a moment there, is better than here." Yes, it is. And yes, it hurts.

The doctor that came was so tender. He treated us with great care and concern and said, "Well, it looks like there were 2 babies. And one is still doing just fine." Twins? Did he just say that? But I wasn't really surprised, actually. I felt like I already knew deep down there were 2...I had a dream it was twins, I was growing at a crazy rate, I was breaking out in hives from crazy hormones, and I was so.tired. But it was real now. He just said it. And one was, in fact, already with Jesus. And yet, one remained. 

But I look at Sam. And I think, "Life is so precious! Why are you here with me?! You are such a blessing! I'm so glad you're here!" 

Go hug your kids. Tell them what a miracle it is they are here.

God's hand has been on their life before you even knew of them. And now they're here, with you, because He has given them to you. Wow. 

Painful realities have a way of waking us up. They can shake us to the core to show us what really matters. 

We can't take these sweet ones for granted. They are amazing gifts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving thanks, and not just on Thanksgiving...

Life is fast and furious with four small children. In our house, over the past several months we've conquered these milestones: 2 boys no longer napping, a new baby coming home, and beginning homeschooling. 

So, the norm is giving, giving, giving...getting lessons ready, making meals and snacks, nursing, sweeping up piles, teaching lessons, cleaning up messes, laundry (and more there ever an end to it??), baths, wiping bottoms, reading books, tucking in little tired bodies....whew! After everyone is in bed, regardless of the fact that it may only be 8 pm, I'm not useful in the least. 

Oh but, I'm learning more and more to love the journey. Truly. It may sound like drudgery to look at all the task of a stay at home, homeschooling mom. 

Much more than the lists of to-dos for my days, are the moments I get as I stay home with my children. 

I've committed this year to being a year of focusing on giving thanks. Looking, searching anywhere in my days to see how God has given me a moment of grace, a sweet gift, anything that allows me to see His fingerprints in my days. I started in January making my list. I'm on gift #809 now.

And you know what largely fills the pages of my journal? Moments with these 4 little ones. 

Times of deep laughter, tenderness, milestones witnessed, my perspective changed through their eyes...I love these kids. Though I've never been so tired in my life, and I've never felt so stretched on such a consistent basis, I am so honored and grateful that this is my life.

"Mom, you're cute," coming from a sure little boy.

Little hands tenderly touching my face as I read a book.

Hearing "Your sins are forgiven!" belted out as a parade is started in the living room.

Watching the excitement coming when their first sentence is read! And knowing it was because I taught them those skills!

Seeing cards penned by my boys for one another, reading: "I like playing outside with you. happy. laugh. Thank you Levi. Love Judah."

Belly laughter from a 4 month old.

This year of thanks has helped me see how blessed my life is. It's a discipline to see the good, but oh so worth it.

So, as Kid President said in his Top 20 Things We Should Say More Often, "say thanks, and not just on Thanksgiving." He is so right.

Start now. Begin a list. Read 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp and be inspired. 

Some of you may have days that are very similar to mine. Others of you may have days that contrast greatly. Whatever it is you give yourself to, there will be hard times in the investment. Yet there are always gifts, waiting to be seen, acknowledged, received with gratitude.

Search them out.

See the beauty. 

Build your faith in our good Giver.

Be happier.

Happy Thanksgiving :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Life with Levi

God gave me 2 boys in 15 months.

At the end of September, we were able to celebrate 4 years with our 2nd born son.

I feel the need more and more to slow down and take in my kids. They're doing it...growing up so fast, like everyone said they would. Now as I snuggle my 3rd son, just 3 months old, I marvel at how in the world it has all transpired. Levi is four. What?!

 Levi came five weeks early, looking nothing like his brother. Though he came a week earlier than Judah, he was almost 3 pounds heavier. He let me know from the start that you don't master raising children, for they are all so different. Levi perplexed me because he didn't like to be rocked (didn't all babies like to be rocked?!), but would rather play himself to sleep under his play mat. And the differences between he and his brother have only continued. It's kept me on my toes, and honestly, makes the boys great playmates.

Levi is the silly one with a vivid imagination. He can often be found making his brother and sister...well, all of us, giggle. Today, for example he had taken his own spin on the jingle from the 80's doll "My Buddy". "My Buddy, My Buddy...everywhere I go, he goes! My Buddy and me!" Remember this?! There was "Kid Sister" too. Well, he obviously had heard us singing this jingle in the past and decided to create his own version. He was found loudly singing in the bathroom this morning, "My booty, My booty...everywhere I go, he goes! My booty and me!" 

He is the one who knows what is right and wants to make sure you do, too. Whether it be telling any smoking person that it is bad for their body to do so, or correcting his sibling's English, Levi is not afraid to let you know what's what. I love him for that. As he matures, I can see him being one who would confidently stand for truth or confront injustice. May he do so courageously. And in the meantime, help me get over fear of man as he tells the lady at the Dollar Tree that she should not be smoking that cigarette.

He is our most affectionate child, needing a kiss, a hug, and a hugga mugga (eskimo kisses) at every bedtime or goodbye. To fail to remember this ritual will leave him in a heap of tears. He has a special "blue bear" stuffed animal that he loves to snuggle at night and accompanies him whenever he needs to feel brave. He is our tenderheart.

Lately his imagination has taken him into another reality of conquering daring rescues as a superhero. He proves himself to us often with remarks of how big he is getting. The other night while tucking him in, he confesses, "Mom, I'm glad I'm a cool ninja." too :)

I love this boy. He is so different than me. I watch him play in true fascination sometimes. Where does he come up with this stuff? I'm glad he is my son. I'm very grateful for all the laughs, adventures, tenderness, and hugga-muggas he adds to our days.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Training Time

We're training over here in the Clemmons' home. All of us, in some form or fashion are in training mode.

Clara is trying to conquer potty training, her ABC's, and mothering everyone in the house (me included...yeah, we're working on that!).

Judah & Levi are training their minds by learning phonics and number work, training their spirits by memorizing Scripture, training their hearts by learning how to love well with 4 kiddos in the house, and, of course, as 4 & 5 year old boys, are in constant super hero training, perfecting their costumes and improving the story lines of their daring rescues on a daily basis. 

Waylon is a couple months deep in firemen training, experiencing all the physical demands this job expects. He is also in lack-of-sleep training as he juggles his regular 2nd shift job, the firemen training, and a full-time school load. I know. He's a great man.

Samuel is sleep training (a very loose form of such...more along the lines of learning to sleep in any location, under any circumstances type of training) and in perhaps the most delightful training I can think of: learning to smile, giggle, and coo. What a great little guy he is to have around!

And me, I'm training to homeschool my children (a most humbling endeavor, that I have decided will have to make me look more like Jesus as I daily stare my weaknesses in the face) and training my body to exercise again after a long vacation in this department. I'm even doing push ups. My body is freaking out. 

All this training has required investment. Time is so precious to us in this season. We are keeping our eyes on the goal and giving what we've got every day to be faithful. It's not always pretty. It's downright painful at times. But, we know it's all worth it. We're here celebrating each little step of progress as it comes. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dear Samuel

Dear Samuel,

You're here now. And we couldn't be happier...each one of us in our family. Judah follows you around all day waiting to touch you and talk to you. He can't wait to introduce everyone to "our baby." Levi likes to find you with your eyes open and teach you things. He's been teaching you a lot about ducks lately. You'll learn a lot from him. Clara calls you "baby brother" and often wants to know if you're alright or where you are if she isn't near you. Daddy can't get over how handsome you are and holds you with pride. And me....well, so much stirs in my heart in our quiet moments together.

God has done a work in my heart as a momma. Thankfully, it's so much easier than it used to be to lay my desires and hopes aside and just be a momma that loves, whatever may come. Late night wake up calls from you don't leave me frazzled, but instead marveling at your tiny little body that is so full of life. Granted, you have been a gem of a baby....very content from the start. But still, I celebrate the work that God has done that I may embrace you with great joy. You are a precious gift. And sleep will come someday. But today, you are tiny and eat often and give me still moments around the clock to care for you. I love our today.

You look a lot like your big brother Judah...same eyes (I think yours will be brown too), same brown hair, similar noses, and a slim frame. You have your Daddy's dimples that make me smile every time they appear. You have my toes (trust me...this is a good thing! Have you seen Daddy's toes?!). 

You make little grunting noises as you sleep. A little hmm-ing sound that lets me know you're well.

You are already becoming more and more the things we have prayed for you to be. Samuel who brought great comfort. You, son, have been like a balm to my heart. You have rightly put things into perspective when I look at your thriving life. And it's not just me....I've seen troubled hearts soften and put at ease as they hold you. May you continue to bring comfort to hearts that are heavy.

I look forward to learning more about who you have been made to be.  

You are a precious gift. You are loved.


Your Momma

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Celebrating our Judah - 5 years old!

Judah is turning 5 tomorrow. I can hardly believe it. 

Photo Credit: Liz Thomas Photography, 2012
He was joyfully anticipated after losing our first baby when I was 3 months pregnant. We were so happy to hear the news of him and see him grow.

He was supposed to be Riley Elizabeth, a girl, based on our one ultrasound where they were 80% sure he was a she. I guess that 20% margin was greater than we realized.

He was almost born in the car, on the way to the hospital. Labor was fast and furious and Waylon, by the grace of God, decided to floor it to the hospital, instead of pulling over on the side of the road and deliver him himself.

We learned he was breech as soon as we got to Labor and Delivery. But it was too late for a c-section. He came minutes after arriving to the hospital. He was born in his amniotic sac, making it look like I delivered a balloon. Once they popped the sac, he wasn't breathing.

Nurses and specialists were scrambling. And just as the specialist was about to force air into his lungs, he fought and began breathing on his own. Our small fighter from the start.

And small he was. Though he was just a week shy of being "full-term", he weighed only 3 pounds and 7 ounces. And he was no longer Riley Elizabeth. He was our son. Daddy beamed at the news.

His breathing stabilized within hours, but he was tiny and couldn't eat or regulate his body temperature on his own for a bit. We stayed with him in the hospital for 2 1/2 weeks so he could eat and grow. 

Naming him Riley Elizabeth was definitely out, and from the time we first heard the news of our surprise boy, Daddy knew his name should be Judah...Judah, meaning "praise" or "celebration". After the shock wore off for me (it took a good day!) I was certain no other name fit him better. There was a great sense of awe in his little life, and praising God for him was all we could do. 

God was so present in his delivery. And has only continued to be. This boy has seen more specialists because of health complications than I can keep track of; he was hospitalized or visited the ER at least once a month for his first 6 months of life; he has went through 4 surgeries and one emergency blood transfusion thus far. But now, a solid year removed from any health complications with Judah, we can say in the fears, in the trials, and in the seasons of great health, God's goodness and mercy has always been so obvious in his little life.

I love this boy. He has made me so proud to be his momma. I adore his intense gaze. Those deep brown eyes have been taking everything around him in since he was a little 3 pounder in the NICU incubator. His love for people, learning, and sports makes me smile. His energy level never ceases to amaze me. His sweet words melt my heart. The unexpected, "Momma, you're pretty," and "Momma, you're sweet" seem to make everything else around me stop as I bask in the goodness of those easy words tenderly rolling off his tongue. So easy, yet so powerful. 

I'm so grateful we have him to celebrate tomorrow. Praise God and celebrate, we will, for our Judah Daniel!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Finding New Mercies (& gardening!) in the Drama of Raising Toddlers

Levi tried to "wash my computer for me" with some soapy water left over in his body wash bottle about 3 weeks ago. Then we found out that our "Black Tie Warranty" expired in April, and it was May. This means no computer for momma.

And honestly, it was OK. I don't want to get over spiritual about the sovereignty of God, but my first thought (OK, maybe my second thought...) was, "This is good. Thank you, God. Less distraction. I need this." And you know what? It has been good. And after all, we aren't without a computer (we still have Waylon's). I just don't have a computer with easy access all throughout the day. And I like it.

So I've been spending time tackling my new favorite hobby: gardening. It is something that involves more family participation than a zone out time that can often occur for me in front of the computer. It's funny though, the running joke in our house is that I most definitely DO NOT have a "green thumb" because our first year of marriage I killed a cactus house plant Waylon had gotten for me. A cactus. Yeah, that takes skill. 

But here we are in our awesome home with raised beds ready for action, rich compost, great soil, and already established strawberry beds, blackberry bushes, a few blueberry bushes, and a pear tree. We would be crazy to let this stuff go. And so, we have begun learning and just going for it. 
Pears coming!
Blackberry bushes are going crazy!
Blueberries beginning :)
Our first attempt at planting anything (and it was from seed...which felt even cooler!) was last fall when we did fall crops. And to our astonishment, we enjoyed carrots, lettuce, spinach and onions from our garden beds planted by us. (Our beans and broccoli didn't fair so well, but we were so excited about the rest of it all, we did not care!). 

So we are going for it again this spring and summer and having so much excitement in the whole process. We have been eating fresh lettuce, spinach, and green onion daily in fun salads for lunch, ending many meals with bowls of strawberries, and just snacked on our first carrots last night. I had no idea how rewarding gardening would feel and how much I would love having dirt in my hands! Plus, again, it's time outside enjoying the sun and fun with the kids and teaching them as we go, too. A win all around! Though I didn't take the initiative to set these computer boundaries on my own, I'm grateful for the change in my days. Thanks, Levi.

And yet, though this no-computer-more-time-outdoors season has been awesome, I'm challenged as I read my favorite blog lady's post today as I'm also in a season of "nesting" and feeling SO much demand internally to have all my ducks in a row: 

"What do I want my children to remember — my joy in clean floors, made beds and ironed shirts — or my joy of the Lord?
You will be most remembered — by what brought you most joy.
The joy of the Lord is your strength and the person of Christ is your unassailable joy – and the battle for joy is nothing less than fighting the good fight of faith." -Ann Voskamp

Oh yuck. This hits at my heart.

Just today I was boiling over Judah going into his bedroom and dumping all his puzzle pieces, all his Imaginext toys (both buckets), and most of his clothes from his drawer on his floor. Did he not know I had a list a mile long in my head that "needs" to get done before Samuel comes? How did dealing with this crazy mess fit into it all? 

Waylon gently led me to not go into "freak out mode" and think about the bigger picture. Would I allow this mess to control me for the morning? And would I hurt Judah in the process by handling him in anger? 

Now, don't get me wrong, he had a responsibility with this mess, but how would I go about getting him there? That is the important thing. Yes, he must learn responsibility, consideration of others and his things, but how do I come alongside him to get him there, especially when it messes with "my agenda?" 

It takes a shift in our perspective. What is the most important thing in my heart? Is it really a clean bedroom for my boys? Is it "To love the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength...and to love your neighbor as yourself?" Yes. This is Truth. This is right perspective. Crushing Judah to ensure a clean room is not loving him as myself. 

So glad His mercies are new everyday. And grace is available immediately. I need it. And learning to be grateful that Levi "washed" my computer and Judah makes his room look like a tornado hit it. My boys help me see the condition of my heart and challenge me to walk with the right gaze. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Raising a Daughter....Who is Like Me

Last Friday I had a rare chance of getting out of the house with just Clara. Waylon's sweet "Mamaw" offered to take the boys up to our campsite for the weekend early to spend some special time with them. So Clara and I spent our morning together, just us ladies, hitting up my favorite grocery spot, Yoder's (an Amish bulk/salvaged goods spot) and a local greenhouse to pick up some of our plants for our garden beds. I'm seeing it more and more, the difference in raising boys and girls. For the first time, it dawned on me....Clara wants to be like me. Maybe it sounds silly, to just notice this, but my newly chattering Clara several times that morning would joyfully mimic me and say "Like Mommy!" like it was the greatest thing on earth.

I'm used to my boys ready to scale a mountain, fight a dragon, or rescue someone from the burning flames.....but now there is Clara, my daughter, who thinks pushing a stroller, wearing sunglasses and lip gloss, and looking "beautiful" are the exciting things in life. There is weight in this. What am I showing her as I live my life, as a woman, in front of her?

And I am also realizing that she is much like me. She seemed to come out of the womb ready to take on the world. She has never been a "needy" child, in fact, quite the opposite. She is my independent little lady. This has been a blessing and strength in some ways. She has made each transition easy because she takes it in stride, she does not give up easily, but persists in challenging obstacles, and she requires less "man power" when it's me taking on 3 toddlers. And yet, each of our personality characteristics have their downfalls. Clara is the one wrestling to get out of my grip when I try to safely lead her through a parking lot. After all, she can manage on her own, so she thinks. Oh, how humbling and so familiar. This is me....wrestling when it isn't wise. Sometimes, we need to be weak. We need others. Clara needs me to get across the parking lot safely now. I need so much more than I am willing to receive or willing to ask for.

Ironically, against her usual nature, Clara has been a bit more needy the last couple of days. It's causing a train wreck in my mind and a good way:) Tonight, she wanted me to comfort her and cuddle my arm while she was put to bed. She clung to me, and I let her, and relished the moments. She wanted me there and felt it was in her best interest if I was there. It sunk in deeply. How am I depending on others now, because I need them, as I'm 8 months pregnant and mothering 3 toddlers? Am I letting others help? Am I asking others for help when I need it? Oh pride, you have to die.

I pray over Clara Grace every night as I tuck her in for bed. I always pray the meaning of her name over her....that she would be a bright light for Jesus ("Clara") and that she would know the great need she has for Jesus and the empowerment that comes from Him ("Grace"). I need this work to continue in my life as well. I'm grateful for my Clara Grace that helps me see myself in honesty and cling to Jesus all the more.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Clemmons Kid Line-up

I feel like I've been able to relish my kids and their sweetness more than usual lately. I find myself thinking all the time..."You're SO cute!" and wanting to share stories about them with everyone.

But, seriously, they are so sweet. So uniquely different. It is making the anticipation mount to meet our Samuel and see who he is and the personality he's been given. 

Here's who we have so far....

Judah - my oldest and most cautious with a deep gaze, sizing up everything before jumping in. He has the most energy to burn and could play any sport with great enthusiasm. He responds with big grins when you give him words of encouragement and has a great hunger to learn. He loves having company over and would much rather being playing with someone than by himself. He has a tender spot for his sister Clara and often gives her whatever she wants, even if it means sacrificing something he loves. Clara affectionately calls herself "JuJu's girl" because of this special affection he has for her. He is very visual, often recalling directions to wherever we're going as we drive and is entranced by any form of visual media (he could watch shows all day if I'd let him). He thinks Levi is hilarious and is often found giggling at his brother's silliness.

Levi is the dramatic one and the story teller with a wild imagination. He loves to make people laugh or capture their attention with some crazy story he has dreamed up. He's our blondie that feels strongly about keeping his long hair and has definite opinions about the clothes he wears. He loves adding to his daily ensemble with glasses, ties, hats, backpacks, bells, whatever can help him feel unique. He is very tenderhearted and his meltdowns are often expressed in a heap of tears. He is independent, eager to try everything on his own first, and is very content playing by himself. He could sit and doodle with a marker and paper for hours and loves to work on puzzles. He has a great ear and remembers a tune with ease and finds memorizing a breeze if he hears it. He'll join his brother in his athletic pursuits, but it's usually short-lived once he finds a flower or bug in the yard he wants to explore.

Clara is our only girl, but knows how to hold her own. She is no push-over. Falls and bumps usually don't get much of a rise out of her, but taking something she wants sure will. Then, in typical girl-fashion, emotional tears follow. She is my most independent in nature, ready to conquer any new feat, often way before I am ready to teach her. What she sees her brothers do, she is convinced she can conquer as well, and usually, she can. Her drive for independence makes her a patient, determined worker because she will try and try again until she has mastered her skill. She adapts well in new circumstances, and is most generally very easy-going. She has a love and fascination for animals, no matter the size, and is particularly fond of dogs, cats, and horses. She is a Daddy's girl for sure and can have a hard time sharing him. She has a sweet demeanor and often charms those she meets. 

Love these kiddos and can't wait to see what Samuel will bring to our family!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Remembering Mercy

I had the honor of sharing my testimony at church on Sunday. And though I was shaking in my boots to appear before so many in my glorious pregnant state, God met me, and I was so grateful to be able to remember the work of His hand in my life and proclaim His goodness. He is so good. 

It's a truly remarkable thing that God would show Himself, His love & His forgiveness to man. And I have no greater story to tell than how He did this in my life.

It's easy to see the pretty & polished versions of each other. But we all have a story to tell, with good and bad, and likely highly unexpected portions. I desire to share a bit of my story to give a life example of the love of Jesus and the forgiveness He extends, despite who you are and the transforming power He has in our lives. My life today is all by His grace.

If ever there was a person that didn't seem to belong in church, it was me. Now outwardly I may have been able to look the part. Yet, no one on either side of my family attended church that was living. And as you can imagine, growing up in a small village in farmland, Ohio didn't allow much about my life or the life of my family to be hidden. My town had 2 stop lights, a brick road running through the center, no stranger in sight, and was caged in by many rows of corn. Not exactly the type of place where secrets are kept. And bottom line many other things could have defined me, but not church or God. Too many things tainted me and were known by others to sit comfortably in church. At least that was my impression....if I walked into a church on a Sunday morning I feared everyone staring and thinking, "What is SHE doing here?" This as I would find out later, was not the reality, but how I perceived things. And even more importantly, this was not how God saw me. Yet, church was foreign ground to me. And I liked to be comfortable. Besides, I truly saw no need for God. And ultimately it was an acceptable stance, by and large, because when it's not the Bible-belt, it's more culturally agreeable for God to just not be your thing. It wasn't for many. And it wasn't for me.

Instead, I defined myself by aiming for perfection and making something of myself. In response to the pains I had seen other family members walk through I was mature beyond my years and a very prideful young girl. I had seen mistakes made and the harsh realities that life could dish out and thought I had the answers and the willpower to just make life happen successfully. I was very driven and strove for perfection in everything my hand touched. I worked hard and was successful as a student, an athlete, and an employee. I did not dare disappoint.

God started getting my attention with an Ethics class I was enrolled in during High School. In this class it became apparent to me that experience was my guide. I had seen and experienced a lot and thought those things were the tools I needed to make decisions for my life. Together with my family, we'd walked through several divorces, many moves and transitions, physical and emotional abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, a propane explosion that forever changed my brother's life, and a battle with cancer that ended in death for a stepsister. We were survivors. We were forced to find what it took to get through the difficult things in life. Yet, I realized there were a whole gamete of issues that we hadn't faced. Abortion....when was that OK? Euthanasia....was that ever something we should control? As I aged and realized the weight of my decisions, I didn't trust that experience should be my guide. Some things I simply hadn't experienced....then what? But I saw these other students that had firm opinions as they based their decisions on their belief in God and what He had to say about things. I began to feel small. Who did I think I was?

And then, I had a rattling dream one night. We all dream. But this dream was not just any old dream. I woke up startled with a weight upon me that demanded action. I dreamt that God came into my room. He came in as a bright light and I knew it was Him. I couldn't look at Him, but laid on the ground, on my face, and kept saying over and over, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." And then I woke up. I struggled with knowing if I had just had a dream or if it all really happened. It all felt so real and the weight I felt was definitely real. For the first time in my life I felt sorry for things that were very justifiable to me and those around me before the dream. But now, I had knowledge that I was grieving God with some of my actions. So, I went into my "pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps" mode and decided I would just stop these grievous things. Well, what I didn't know was that I couldn't conquer being controlled by sin on my own. I needed the empowerment of God. After a couple of weeks of giving it my best, I feel into the same patterns and felt defeated.

At this time, I was invited to church by a childhood friend. I went. More pieces of the puzzle came together as lies were silenced about the perceptions I had about the church, the Bible, and Christians. I began to experience this man preaching from the Bible and captivating me with the fact that the Bible applied to my life today. The Bible was not some dusty old history book as I had always seen it. No, it had words of life. It pierced your heart. What? And the people didn't shun me. Thank God, the church I entered embraced me with a love like Jesus had for me, not showing partiality, but embracing me while I was caught in a life of disobeying God. And then I saw baptisms of girls my age, choosing to follow Jesus--making a choice--and making it a public thing. I found myself proud of these girls. What a big decision they had made! After months of going to church, I finally began to piece it all together. I felt the weight of my sin, I experienced the love and acceptance of Jesus in the church, I heard the truth of the sacrifice Jesus had made for me taking my sin upon Him on the cross, so that I may know God and be transformed by Him. My heart pounded deep in my chest and I knew that I had to release control to God. He knew what to do with my life....and buried beneath all my "strength" I portrayed to the outside world was a great awareness of my weakness and need for Jesus.

There is a song written by one of my favorite artists now that puts to words the feelings I had at the time I decided to give my life to Jesus. The song is called "Control" by JJ Heller. Here are some of the piercing lyrics:

"Oh's time to let you go.
Perfection has a price, but I could not afford to live that life.
It always ends the same. A fight I never win.

I'm letting go of the illusion
I'm letting go of the confusion
I can't carry it another step. I close my eyes and take a breath.
I'm letting go....

There were scars before my scars.
Love written in the hands that hung the stars.
Hope living in the blood that was spilled for me." -JJ Heller

Hope. Great hope and love in the portrait of Jesus spilling His blood for us. For us all. No one is outside God's love and pursuit. No matter your past, no matter your present:

"For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God's wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam's one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ's one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone." Rm. 5:17,18

What is greater still is that not only are we saved spiritually to have right standing before God, but God's restorative power to work in our hearts and minds is so real. I am standing before you, basking in the goodness and blessing of God because I have chosen to follow Him and He has begun and continued His transforming work in my life. 

Frank Buchman boldly spoke great truth when he said, "I stopped trying to run things the way I wanted to many years ago. I started listening to God and letting Him have His way in everything. If men like you did that, you would find the answers instead of spending your lives beaten by the problems you yourselves create." 

My marriage = submitting to His ways for relationships and reaping the blessing. I had only reaped the deep pains in doing things my own way.

The peace I have, despite the trials I face = His Holy Spirit granting me peace this world can't give. When the unexpected comes, His peace is real. 

As John 14:26, 27 proclaims - "But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. 'I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.'"

The release I have now to be weak, stop pretending I'm strong and depending on His strength is freeing and right. 

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12: 9,10) 

His weakness is stronger than any human strength. And His strength is perfected in our weakness. We can relax and just trust Him. He's got whatever it is.

If you are not following Jesus now, please know this:
  • You can never be outside His love and forgiveness. Never.
  • Choosing to follow Jesus is not just right spiritual standing, but it's choosing to walk away from the same problems you keep beating yourself up with....the sin that has control over you. God's blessings await those who follow Him.
  • You can not follow God's ways in your own strength, you must give your life to Him. He will give you new life spiritually and empowerment from the Holy Spirit.

If you are following Jesus:
  • He is faithful to complete the work He has begun in you. More healing, more freedom will come to us! He is making us whole and complete in Him.Let's keep trusting, keep looking to Him.
  • Remember the great work He has done in our lives....remember His hand. Allow the testimony He has given you, the ways He has gone before you, to fuel you with faith. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Healing God/Happy Birthday Clara Grace!

With the birth of our daughter, Clara Grace, came an amazing testimony of God's healing hand. We celebrated her yesterday with extended family, today with our little family, and all the while remember His faithfulness and power demonstrated in her life. Be encouraged. God is gracious to us beyond measure. 

It's still crazy for me to utter the words, "God healed my uterus". Thoughts still come to me like, "Really? Am I imagining things? Did this all really take place?" But graciously so, God has provided even the written medical reports for me to stare in the face when my faith wanes. It is true: God healed my "abnormally shaped" uterus. Upon the birth of Clara, my OB who performed my c-section declared as he delivered her, "Your uterus is fine. You have a nice uterus with plenty of room!"

I was first confirmed to have a septated uterus (meaning a dividing septum within my uterus) after my c-section with my 2nd son, Levi. The doctors suspected an abnormality in my uterus after my pregnancy and delivery with Judah. I had many things that pointed to this: a prior miscarriage, pre-term labor, growth restricted baby (Judah, my 1st son, was 3.5lbs at 36 weeks), and breech presentation. With Levi, I went to an early ultrasound at a pregnancy help center as a volunteer. I was helping the agency train in new ultrasound techs and I let the trainer know that I had a suspected a septated uterus to see if they could identify anything before my uterus became too enlarged to view this. The trainer did, in fact, see a septum coming down and said to me that it came down about a third of the way in my uterus. As my pregnancy with Levi progressed, I had to plan a c-section because he was, as well, in a breech presentation. My OB let me know that they would then get a good look at my uterus and be able to confirm the hypothesis they had formed. I went into pre-term labor with Levi at 35 weeks and they were unable to stop contractions, so the c-section performed at that time. After Levi was delivered my OB let me know that, yes, the hypothesis was confirmed as she saw a septum coming down my uterus during the surgery.

So, my pregnancy with Clara went forward and I began to have complications early in the 3rd trimester with her: contractions began at 29 weeks and I was put on bedrest and medication to hold her as long as possible. My doctor told me that I wouldn't make it past 35 or 36 weeks. In this season, we were surrounded again by an amazing praying support. Many people were petitioning God on our behalf, asking to keep Clara put in my womb as long as possible. I first began to wonder what God might be up to at 33 weeks when my doctor let me know that Clara had flipped. She too was in the breech presentation up until that point. The doctors had explained to me before with Judah and Levi that the septum prevented the boys from having the space that most babies have to flip later on. We took this as great encouragement! Clara was head down! Then, despite my continued contractions my labor progression actually reversed at one point when my doctor let me know at a weekly appointment that my cervix had thickened! Week 36 arrived and I was taken off bedrest and medications. The nurses at my hospital were made aware of my pregnancy and expecting me to come at any time (they later told me this as I recovered after Clara was born). But, amazingly, I went on for almost 3 weeks more completely uneventful and carried Clara to her scheduled c-section date!

The big day had arrived for Clara and I couldn't wait to meet her....and see what my OB saw in my uterus. Clara was born early on Good Friday, April 22nd, 2011. I heard her first cry and began to cry tears of joy myself. And then came these words from my OB, "Who told you had a septum in your uterus?" I knew right away....God had healed my uterus! The septum was gone! Tears began to stream down my face at this point and I managed to tell him that it was my last OB that told me that! He then continued to say, "Well, your uterus is fine. You have a nice uterus with plenty of room." 

God is so gracious to us! I'm still marveling at the work of His this precious little girl He has given our family and in the news of my uterus with "plenty of room"! I am so grateful that many of you have stood with us, at some point in this journey asking the Father to be gracious to us. He has heard our cries! He has delighted to show us His goodness and done a great work! Praise be to His name!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

For the Mommas Out There

I've been reading 2 Corinthians as of late and been encouraged deeply by the words Paul penned. I realized today, that I had reflected on this portion of the Word heavily when I was preparing for the birth of Clara. And here I am again, in 2 Corinthians, feasting, as I prepare for our next baby, Samuel. Apparently this message needs to sink in my heart as my family grows :) 

3 more months to grow with Samuel! Judah wanted to be the photographer :)
Excuse the blurriness....Judah was a bit shaky, but I love that he tried to capture them hugging Samuel like they do!
Big guy, photographer Judah.

Below is something I wrote almost exactly 2 years ago (8 days shy!) regarding this passage. I needed it again today. This is for all the mommas out there.

As I prepare to welcome our third child into our home, I've been reflecting on my role and purpose as a mother. I've been reading some of Paul's letters to the churches in the New Testament and have been really propelled by his example of fatherly love. It has been challenging me as a mother, and fueling me to remember what an important role I have as a mom. I share these things to encourage other moms out there....

Although Paul was not a natural father, he in many essences was a beautiful example of the heart a father should have towards his children. His letter to the church in Corinth contains an exhortation that I have constantly returned to as I've mothered Judah and Levi (I'll get to this in a minute). The hardest lesson for me as a mother has been again and again: I must die. Not in a real bodily sense (although I know this is true too), but in a more selfless sense when considering my wants and desires. Some examples that come to mind:  I must die to my desire to sleep 8 hours a night, uninterrupted; I must die to the hope I have to eat right when my stomach starts to growl; I must die to the desire of having my shower and bathroom times just when I want them; I often must lay aside my projects because the persistent need of disciplining and teaching beckons....the list goes on and on. Can anyone relate? This is a very practical, daily lesson that drives deep into my heart. Bottom line, I'm reminded again and again, this life is not my own. I'm not declaring that it is my childrens (although they do receive much of my energies!), but that ultimately, this life is not my own because it is Gods. My children are the life example God has so graciously given me to remind me and help me learn to walk this truth out. So this great passage from 2 Corinthians fuels me with faith to recognize raising children is one Godly pursuit and so worth the investment!

"For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; stuck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." (2 Cor. 4: 5-12)

I have written in my Bible, next to verse 12, "death in me, life in our kids." What a great understanding Paul had! Paul did so many things for the churches in his time of ministry! He prayed faithfully for them, he continually pointed out their strengths and sought to encourage them, he disciplined them when needed, he taught them when they were putting themselves in harm, he longed to be apart of their lives as much as possible, he consistently reminded them of the faithfulness of God and the glory of Jesus, and (the one that challenges me the most) he joyfully suffered on their behalf. Joyful that is a concept! Now I realize that Paul was up against a lot more at times when it came to serving these churches (his list includes things like being beaten, imprisoned and going without food) however, this is not to belittle the fact that we as mothers are truly in a battle to embrace joyfully serving and giving of ourselves consistently for our little ones. This is a big deal! This is hard! But in this hardship we can know, that by God's grace, we may feel perplexed, struck down, or even persecuted while raising our children, but we are not driven to despair or destroyed....we are able to be greater lights for Jesus because we must die to a life simply about us....daily! What a beautiful work God can do in us as we enjoy cleaning up vomit, being sleep deprived, and having those sweet little faces look up at us and say "Love ye, Mommy" (at least that's how Judah says it!) :)