Saturday, August 30, 2008

Too Big to Miss

About two weeks ago, Grant discovered a treasure in our local paper. A poster, detailing every aspect of the Oregon State Fair, was buried in the ads. He pulled it out and scoured it, reading every detail outloud to me and commenting about all the things he was going to do and try when we went. I actually wasn't planning on going to the State Fair, but Grant pointed to the huge logo and said, "It's TOO BIG TO MISS." We thought we'd go last weekend, but it didn't work out, which left today as our only option.

I had gone to the Oregon State Fair several times as a kid and always enjoyed it. My brother, Shane, used to run the milking parlor and so every three days or so, I'd run up a load of clean clothes, pick up his dirty laundry, bring him some "real" food from Mom, and hope for a glimpse of a particular farmer I had a crush on. Each time I'd visit, I would go to the blue and white pillars entrance by the barns and talk my way into the fair ("My brother's working the milking parlor. I have to get his laundry, but I'll come right back out."). One thing I never splurged on was the fair food, so when I met Curt and he took me to the Minnesota State Fair, he almost fell over when I said I had never really eaten "fair food." For him, that was the only reason you went to the fair. To find and consume anything fried that could come on a stick.

We set off today in great anticipation of a fun afternoon, with the kids reciting all the different things they were looking forward to. Curt and I were listening to their desires from the front seat and started counting our cash, figuring in the cost of buying four tickets at the door (Alli and Paige were free) and wondering where we could find an ATM! We parked and were walking across the back "parking lot" (a field with cars parked in) to the blue and white pillar entrance by the barns when we heard some people say, "Excuse me?" twice. We turned around to see a couple in a shiny black car, about ready to exit the fairgrounds. They said, "Do you have tickets yet?" We said, "No" and they said, "Would you like four free ones?" We both started laughing and were almost doing a jig in the brown grass about God's generosity to our family. We gave our free tickets to the lady at the gate and the kids dashed to the outdoor corral, just past the entrance, where farmers were showing their cows and calves combo.

The kids got a kick out of all the animals. We walked through EVERY barn and they oohed and ahhed and petted every animal they could. We saw Future Farmers of America showing their market lambs and clapped for the number one winner. We saw bunnies and chickens with funky hair dos, goats, sheep, both shorn and unshorn, cows and cows and cows, and huge pigs. Katie's oh-so-lady-like and loud comment when she saw a particularly large, male pig was "Look at it's nuts!" Talk about embarassing...

When we were done in the barns, we hit the food stands and ate "dinner" (if you can call it that) at the fair. Our family consumed 3 freshly fried foot-long corn dogs, one foot-long hot dog with all the fixings, a huge basket of french fries, a huge basket of onion rings that were so greasy and hot it took 10 minutes before we could eat one without burning our tongues, a "monster" bag of cotton candy, and an ice cream cone for each one of us. It probably cost at least $50, but it was worth EVERY penny. We inhaled the food, embraced the gut rot that came shortly after and dismissed any hint of eating healthy for the fun of indulging for one day.

We walked the midway, checked out the rides and carnival games and marveled at the crazy people who strapped themselves into a human sling shot and catapulted into space, flipping in circles and called it "Awesome."

We stopped in Familyville, where Paige played in the Toddler Tent while the big kids and Curt went next door to the Reptile Land and petted snakes and various reptiles. GROSS! We ambled through the OMSI tent and played with all the hands-on displays and 3-D puzzles. Grant grilled the man with the crazy large bug collection about bugs native to Oregon and across the country, and all the kids wanted to ride a bucking sheep, but we drew the line there and said No.

As we walked out, again through the blue and white pillar entrance, I was struck by the fact that I was retracing my steps of 15 years ago, only this time with my husband and four kids. And I smiled. The Oregon State Fair for our family was definitely "too big to miss."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ignoring God

I have been in a total funk lately. Parenting has been exhausting me. I feel short-tempered with my kids, who aren't perfect, but overall have been behaving well. I've been irritated with my husband for stuff that normally doesn't bug me. And my emotions have been on hyper-drive. I bawled my head off because a house I loved sold to another family even though we had decided to wait to buy a home until we ironed out some financial details.

And no, I'm not depressed. I've been ignoring God. Over the past two weeks, I have frequently been skipping my quiet time with God, almost intentionally, because quite honestly, I don't want to hear what He has to say. The feedback He keeps giving me is not what I want to hear. He keeps saying, "Wait," and "No," to things that seem important to me. And I don't like it. I want Him to see my agenda, my timetable and my desires and say, "YES. Of course you know better than me Jodi. Let's go with your plan instead of mine." And when He insists on being God, I see way too much of myself in our four-year-old daughter, Alli, who has mastered the temper tantrum. She screams and wails and throws herself around and won't look at me to talk things out if she still feels slighted.

So instead of opening my Bible at 1:30 every afternoon like I've done for years, I've found other more important things to do with my hour of quiet, like check email, play on Facebook, and surf Craigslist. I've done it with a little bit of arrogance too, with an occasional glance at my Java Blue Vera Bradley quiet time bag collecting dust on the shelf around the corner from the computer.

Today was a repeat of all the other days of the past two weeks: one minute the kids and I will be having the time of our life and I'll be reveling in the fact that I am the luckiest woman alive to have four awesome kids, sorry that school starts next week. The next I'll be listening to myself correcting their behavior in a nasty tone of voice, counting the minutes till they go back to school and feeling instantly guilty about it. The emotional ups and downs make me crazy, but I wasn't ready to leave my pity-party yet.

I met a neighbor at the park this morning and she told me that a family, with six kids, that lives 4 houses down the street was on vacation this past weekend and visited some sand caves in Puget Sound. The warning flags weren't posted and the entire family watched in horror as a sand cave collapsed on their 15 year old son, burying him alive. They dug for 20 minutes to get him out and by the time they reached him, his brain activity was gone. The medical staff kept him alive long enough for him to be a donor, but they'll lay him to rest this week. My "problems" all of a sudden seemed minor in comparison to what this family is going through.

We came home from the park at 1:30. I put Paige to bed and sent Alli to her room because she was throwing a fit. I glanced at the computer, thought of the family down the street, grabbed my Java Blue off the shelf and parked myself at the counter. For the first 30 minutes of my "quiet time," I listened to Alli cry and wail in her room. She felt her consequence was unjust, that the punishment didn't fit the crime and she wanted to make sure I knew she felt that way.

I chuckled when I read Proverbs 28:5, "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully." I thought, "What is justice? My daughter clearly feels I don't understand what it means." The thesaurus defined it as "conforming to a standard of correctness" and the commentary broke it down farther by saying, "the beginning of justice is concern for what is happening to others." In essence, if I want to be a woman who seeks the LORD, then I need to live a life that conforms to a standard of correctness AND be concerned about what is happening to others. The image of Alli's face with her swollen eyes, dripping nose, and hoarse voice, floated across my mind. The family down the street, who I've never met, started taking on form and I began to feel their pain. I realized that I have been burying my head in my arm, crying in self-pity about things that are relatively insignificant, and my self-focus has made my concern for others dip to an all-time low.

I knew that all Alli needed to settle down was a hug and the reassurance that I loved her, even when she was naughty, and I had been withholding her comfort intentionally. I closed my Bible, went upstairs, gave Alli a hug, stroked her hair and told her I loved her no matter what. I came back downstairs and told God I was sorry for ignoring Him and I asked Him to open my eyes to see His purpose for me in Newberg, on Oxford Street, for the undetermined amount of time that I will be here. I asked Him to fill my heart with justice - concern for others - and I started asking Him questions. "Where can You use me? Who can I bless? Who can I serve? Who can I minister to? Who needs to know You? Help me not to miss Your purpose for me here, in this moment, and help Oxford Street to be a better place because You gave me the privilege of being Your hands and feet on earth."

When I said, "Amen," I realized that my temper tantrum was over and that God was wiping my swollen eyes and the snot from my nose, stroking my hair and whispering, "I love you, no matter what."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Opposite Answers

Today God answered two huge prayers for our family with completely opposite answers.

Our daughter, Katie, is 6 years old and full of sweetness and joy. We were saddened when we found out one of her girlfriends from Illinois had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer that did not respond to chemo or radiation. The only treatment, outside of God's miraculous healing, was to cut the cancer out. The docs found it in her finger. We all started praying and Sydney entered her first round of tests. All those tests came back clean and everyone on her prayer team celebrated. Then we found out that the cancer could still spread microscopically and until the doctors started operating, we wouldn't know if the cancer had spread. Persistent prayers again were lifted on Sydney's behalf. Last Thursday, Sydney had surgery and the doctor's removed a finger, knuckle and lymph node from her left side. She recovered so quickly from surgery that she went home the same night. We all kept praying that the pathology results would come back clean. This morning, we celebrated, with tears streaming down our faces, as we read her parent's Caringbridge update - her labs were clean. Sydney is cancer free!!!! Praise God, the Healer, who chose to say YES to our prayers for healing for Sydney! We are so stoked.

Four months ago, almost to the day, we flew to Portland to sign the contract on my husband's new job and to look for a home out here. In three days, we viewed 33 homes, and of the 33 homes, we liked ONE, and only ONE. Of course it was the last home we viewed and it was a total fluke that we walked through it as it was WAY over our price range. But since we were already there, we viewed the home anyway. From the time we stepped inside, it felt like home. It was a layout we were familiar with and all the upgrades looked like we had hand-picked them. I got VERY emotional and started weeping because this home had already captured my heart. We dubbed this home the "Mother Ship" because it seemed so far out of reach. From that day, we continually prayed, "God, if the Mother Ship is the home for us, please don't let anyone buy it. And make a way where there seems to be no way."

We moved to Portland the end of June. The buyers of our home in Illinois closed on July 7th. On July 8th, the builder who owned the Mother Ship dropped the price by $40,000! I nearly fell off my chair when I got the email from our realtor. We were convinced this was God answering our prayer and two days later, we went and saw it for the second time. Again, we fell in love and the Mother Ship wormed her way further into my heart. I just KNEW this was the house God had for us and even though the new price was still a huge stretch financially, I was convinced we could make it happen. My husband, Curt, was a little more uncertain about the financial aspect, but we were so blown away by the timing of the price drop relative to the closing of our house in Illinois, that we decided to write an offer. And then we started running into brick walls. Every time we turned around we would hit another snag - our realtor was out of town, the builder's sales office was closed, our mortgage guy made a huge mistake and wrote up all the paperwork with wrong figures, and Curt started getting heart burn, which only happens when he's under great stress. After three days of ups and downs we slowed down and asked God what was up. He whispered in our ear, "WAIT."

I did NOT want to wait, but I trust my husband's capable leadership of our family, and he decided that he was not comfortable moving forward with the offer. So we drew back and kept looking. We viewed at least 25 more homes over the next several weeks and eliminated HUNDREDS of listings before even going to look at them. We kept coming back to two homes: the Mother Ship and one we called WD, for water damage. Last week, after making an analysis of the pro's and con's of each home, we decided to pursue WD first because it would cut off a big chunk of Curt's commute. But when we made the first initial step, we were stopped dead in our tracks by God saying, "WAIT."
We kept an eye on the Mother Ship, and in my heart, it was home. Today, on a whim, I drove past the Mother Ship, and felt like someone smacked me with a 2x4 when I saw a big "SOLD" sticker slapped on the sale sign. Our realtor confirmed that it went under contract two days ago. I was overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of someone else unpacking their things, choosing paint colors, hanging pictures on the wall and making memories in the Mother Ship. Our son, Grant, was equally disappointed and started bawling. He kept saying, "It's not sold Mom. You have to fight for it. Go and make an offer right now and fight for it. I'll give you all my money. And Katie and Alli will too."

Through tears I explained to him that God promises to answer our prayers. I reiterated that our prayer all along has been, "God, if the Mother Ship is to be our new home, keep it open for us. If it is not for our family, close the door and sell it to another family." God answered our prayer. He just said "NO," and sometimes that's a hard answer to process. I'm sure God will bring a perfect house for our family in His perfect timing and one day we'll be able to look back on today and realize why He said no.

For tonight though, I have to stand on the dock and let the Mother Ship set sail into the sunset of my dreams and be grateful that God said no.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

When God Says WAIT

I am a go-getter. I am slightly fanatical about crossing things off my To Do list. Since I became a stay-at-home mom, absolutely EVERTHING (even hobbies like "scrapbook") goes on my To Do list so I can have the sick pleasure of crossing it off and feeling like I am actually accomplishing something measurable in my day.

I can also tend to be a bit rash when it comes to decision-making. I consider my options for about 30 seconds, pray about it, pick something and roll with the consequences. I can't stand uncertainty and get frustrated with people who deliberate forever and never seem to come to a conclusion. When I worked in the "real world" almost all of my performance reviews said, "We can't believe how much Jodi is able to accomplish in a short amount of time, although she would do well to slow down at times, double check and consider all the options before proceeding."

Now that you know a little about me, can you feel my pain when I tell you we began a process of praying about, then actually following through with, moving cross-country, from suburbia Illinois to Portland, Oregon, a year, 2 months, and 2 days ago?!?!

During this time, we have seen God move mountains on our behalf. He led my husband to a perfect job, He sold our house in a real estate market that was completely dead, and He brought us to the perfect RENTAL (yes, I meant that in caps) home in Newberg, Oregon.

We have now resided in Newberg for exactly 8 weeks and living in transition is about 7 weeks 3 days too long for my blood. I am itching to buy a house, paint with brilliant colors, hang art work on the walls, develop friendships with my neighbors, and intgrate my kids and our family into our new community. But, God, who has a great sense of humor, keeps chuckling and then sending me a message, through multiple mediums, "WAIT!"

Wait? Please. Anything but "WAIT." I get frustrated if I have to wait for snail mail instead of email, when I want to leave a message for a friend and I have to wade through a million voicemail prompts, or with kid crafts that are marked for age 5 and up, but really take a genius to assemble all 200 pieces with Elmers glue that sticks to everything except the pipe cleaner that holds it all together. Waiting is not my strong suit.

And yet God persists, alternately whispering and then shouting, "WAIT. Jodi, slow down, take a deep breath, and learn the beauty of waiting on Me." In my humanness, I don't see much beauty in waiting, but I keep asking God to make me a more willing student.

My husband and I have walked through more than 50 homes in the Portland area and I don't even want to begin to guess at how many hours I've wasted scouring real estate listings and ruling out homes before we even have a chance to go look. Out of the 50 homes, only 3 have peaked our interest. We had a heart-to-heart early this week and decided to start pursuing the possibility of moving forward with a bank-owned home which we dubbed "WD" for Water Damage. The home was way out of our price range but we figured the water damage would be our bargaining chip with the bank, so we hired a contractor to write up a worst-case scenario estimate and headed to WD. On the drive there my mind was racing with images of our family celebrating Christmas in front of the fireplace, of small groups going deep in their faith, and of the yet-to-be-met neighborhood kids playing on our new fort in the back yard. Those images were shattered when I pulled into the driveway and watched in disbelief as the crew of contractors, hired by the bank, worked steadily at repairing all the water damage. I saw my bargaining chip go flying across the field that backed to the house and in my frustration heard God whisper, "WAIT."

The job my husband landed was a full-time position at a university, but they allow him to work one day a week in a clinical setting to keep his skills fresh and suplement our income. Once we moved to Newberg, he started interviewing with different doctors and his first offer was from a great group of surgeons. The only catch was that the hospital they need him at is an hour and half from our home. He already drives 50 minutes to work on the other 4 days and we were all sick about the idea of him driving so far on his clinic day too. He put that job offer on hold and began talks with a doctor who worked right in our little community of Newberg! The dreaming started again and we envisioned 5 p.m. dinners, lack of exhaustion from driving in traffic, and hours in the evening of wrestling with the kids after supper and helping them with their homework before bed. The day after God said, "WAIT" to WD, Curt got a "we're very interested but not in a position to hire right now" call from the doctor in Newberg and again God said, "WAIT."

I was so disheartened and made sure I told God exactly how I felt. Then I opened my Bible to read the Proverb of the day and these verses, Proverbs 21:29b and 30, JUMPED off the page: " upright man gives thought to his ways. There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD." I had written in the margain of my Bible, "being calculated is good - waiting and praying before acting is a good plan." I realized that my great plan of buying a home immediately, finding a community and getting my pictures on the wall within a week of taking ownership would be a total failure if God wasn't behind it. As I reflected on God's word to me, the frustration, discouragement and anger melted away and I found myself sitting in AWE of a God who loves me enough to teach me to WAIT.

Shades of Green

Our Saturday was COMPLETELY open. We kept the kids up late on Friday night and they actually slept in until 7 a.m., then watched cartoons until 8 a.m., so we could sleep. We got up, brewed fresh Starbucks coffee, fried bacon to a perfect crisp, and cooked pancakes loaded with fresh Oregon blueberries. After we filled our bellies, we laid around in our jammies voting on how to spend a weekend day completely free of obligations.

We decided to head to Silver Falls State Park, about an hour and fifteen minute drive from our house. The park boasts hiking trails through Oregon's amazing rain forest and one 8.7 mile loop that passes 10 waterfalls hidden in the forest. We packed a picnic lunch, beach towels, swim suits, camera, stroller, and park map and headed out.

It was a GLORIOUS day - low 80's with no humidity, clear blue skies, birds singing, and water skipping over rocks in the creek. We ate our lunch on a grassy knoll, ran some Olympic races (to stay patriotic), and found the breath-taking view point of the 107 foot Upper South Falls. From the top, we had a birds-eye view of the steep descent to get to the falls and of the trail, that actually went behind the waterfall. The cascading water had over the years broken huge cracks in the rock, leaving caves to climb in and around behind the falls. The kids were fascinated with the caves until we HEARD the bats and then saw one dart out of a deep cave and then back in again.

The hike we took was about a 4 mile loop and our kids (ages 7, 6, 4, and 2) never complained, although Paige had it easy in the stroller. We hiked up, over, and behind two gorgeous waterfalls, dipped our feet in the FRIGID mountain creek water, stared in awe at Oregon's dense rain forest, marveled at the different types of ferns and moss, waded in a mountain creek, caught a crayfish, balanced on fallen logs, took tons of pictures, and had a fantastic time doing it. At one point, we gazed around the rain forest and commented, "I didn't know there could be so many shades of green."

When we reached our van, the kids shoveled in snacks as fast as they could eat, and then begged to stop at the public picnic area that had a designated "swimming" area. We sat on the bank as the kids gasped and squealed and tried to get brave enough to submerse themselves in the icy water. When they had their fill, we loaded up and came home, tired and content.

We unanimously agreed there was no better way to spend our Saturday!

Monday, August 18, 2008

This is what living in Oregon is all about...

We went to Bend, Oregon, this weekend to visit my Dad and his wife, Marcy, and to spend some time in the great outdoors. My Dad is recovering from major surgery- he had his colon removed on July 17th, and he is experiencing complications from a secondary liver condition that was recently diagnosed. He felt pretty cruddy while we were there which made it seem even better that we are actually living here in Oregon and are close enough to come over for the weekend to mow the grass and do projects for him while he's recovering. Marcy was at a family reunion on her side, so we tucked Dad into bed and then took off to enjoy a day on the mountain.

We drove to Wickiup Reserve, the mountain lake where Curt completed the swim portion of his first Olympic triathlon in June. He showed us where the start and the finish were and we soaked in the beauty of a lake hemmed in by mountains on all sides. It was breath-taking beauty and the water was COLD!

We headed up the mountain road, stopping to take pictures of the gorgeous Deschutes River that winds through the mountains. It beckoned invitingly to us, but we had a destination in mind: Elk Lake, another mountain lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks and campgrounds. Even though we were planning on going swimming, we both completely forgot to pack swim suits for the kids, but decided that as classy as it is, we would let the kids swim in their clothes!

We found a great picnic spot - in the trees and off the beaten path of the regular beach and set up camp. The lake access from our secluded spot was littered with huge sticks from a fallen tree, so I waded into the frigid water and started clearing sticks out of the way. When the area was clear, the kids ventured in the water all gasping at the temperature difference between the mid-90 degree air and the cold mountain water. Even Paige, our prima-donna, who didn't want to go swimming, changed her mind and allowed Curt to "dip" her in the lake. The kids' squeals and giggles echoed over the surface of the water and seemed to reverberate the fun of the day. As we were packing up to head back to Grandpa and Grandma's house, Grant sighed contently and said, "Now this is what living in Oregon is all about..."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Starting to feel like Home

It reached an unprecedented 103 degrees F today in Newberg, but was surprisingly comfortable because the heat is so dry compared to Illinois. The kids and I wanted to find a watering hole to go swimming but didn't want to drive all over tarnation. Convinced that there HAD to be a place to swim in Newberg, we dressed in our swim suits, grabbed our towels and headed for the Chamber of Commerce, where we emerged with a stack of pamphlets and brochures touting all the local state parks and lakes.
We decided on revisitng Champoeg State Park, a park about 6 miles from where we live, and took off down Main Street. In the cute, historic downtown, we spotted "Critter Cabana" a pet store straight from the 1950's. On a whim, we stopped. Two HUGE picture windows - one with enormous, scary looking lizards that made Paige (and I) start crying and say, "Me no like wizards. Wet's go. Hurry Mommy. Hurry. Wizards SCARY." The other picture window was full of cats and kittens playing with toys. As we entered the store, a large white exotic looking bird perched on a fake tree - NOT IN A CAGE - startled me when it moved and I saw the sign that said, "I bite." Not my kind of store, but my three little animal lovers were in heaven. I finally coerced everyone back to the van and we headed out to the park.

We saw a sign that said "Riverside Area" and followed it through the heavily-wooded park to at parking lot with wide-open picnic areas and enormous trees offering shade from the heat, but no water in sight. We found a trail and followed it to another trail that ran parallel to the Willamette River. But the river bank was steep and overgrown with blackberry bramble with no visible way to get to the water. We started praying for a way to get to the water when we spotted "IT" - a tiny dirt trail, cut through the bramble with "steps" dug out of the dirt to avoid having to scoot down on our butts. We parked the stroller at the top of the bank and carefully picked our way down the slope to the river bank.

We watched boats fly by on the water with skiers behind them. We saw tubers, water boarders, and anchored boats with their occupants swimming and enjoying the day. The kids were dying to get wet, so I started into the river to test the safety level and set up parameters. The water was murky and when I stepped in, this city girl cringed. Mud soaked up in between my toes and I fought the urge to run back to shore. But it was HOT, so I pressed on. I gave the kids the green light and they came racing into the water with no thought to the murky bottom or the mud in their toes. All the kids, that is, except Paige.

Our little princess wanted NOTHING to do with anything resembling dirt or mud or involving the muddy water. I'd try to dip her in the water and she'd yell, "No Mommy - no dip me in dat water." The shore line was also unsatisfactory because it was all dusty dirt, until it got wet and turned instantly to mud. The only "safe" place was in my arms. I found a piece of flat wood, placed it on the bank for her, and coerced her to give it a try. There she sat, in her white Ralph Lauren hand-me-down swim suit, perched on her stick throne, refusing to move because she didn't want to get dirty. It was hysterical.

Grant, Katie and Alli quickly discovered that the dry shore turned to mud instanteously, so they started dragging mud from the water onto the river bank and within minutes had a mud slide. I made the mistake of telling them that people pay big money for mud baths at the spa, so they decided to try it too. Time after time, they'd cover themselves with mud, roll in their mud slide, then run laughing into the water and rinse it all off. It looked so fun, I even joined in.
As we toweled off, miraculously chilled by the water even though the air was so hot, and got dressed to head home, we noticed the blackberries. The bramble was dripping with berries and we started picking and eating them. They were warm from the hot air and melted in our mouths. Ripe and juicy and sweet. It was heavenly. We all ate our fill and then loaded into the van - wet, dirty, hands stained with blackberry juice, and starting to sweat again from the heat, but so content.

Grant summed it up best when he thoughtfully commented, "You know Mom. Oregon is starting to feel like home."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Laugh or Cry

Have you ever had a day that skewed so far off course and fell apart so quickly that it almost became comical? In the moment of destruction, you’re faced with two choices: laugh or cry. I’ve tried both, but recommend laughing.

We recently moved cross-country from the suburbs of Chicago to the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. We arrived the end of June, with our four kids in tow, and even though I had lived in the Portland area as a kid, we knew about 4 people and wondered how we were going to fill the summer when we had no friends.

God was gracious and led us to a new church home on our first week of church shopping. On our 6th week, we met the Owen family who were in the same position as we were, only they had moved from Austin, Texas, and we beat them to Oregon by 5 days. Anxious to make friends, we exchanged contact information and I waited all of 24 hours to email my new friend to ask if she wanted to get together (so much for playing hard to get). We set a date for the very next day to pack a picnic and hike a well-known waterfall, located about an hour from her house.

The same night we scheduled our date, our neighbors (who we’ve met once), had company arrive from Minnesota that included adorable, 7-year-old twin girls. Our kids talked through the fence and Ruth and Emily quickly informed them that they were “tom boys” and “hated anything pink” which delighted our first-born son who is surrounded by 3 very girly little sisters. Before I could blink, they were playing tackle football and wrestling on the front yard. We had to rip the kids apart at bedtime with promises they could play again in the morning.

Tuesday morning arrived and while I was packing the picnic lunch, the doorbell rang, and in pranced Emily and Ruth. I started thinking about how impressed these Minnesota girls would be with the Columbia River Gorge, the view of Mt. Hood, hiking to the top of a 620 foot waterfall, etc. and decided to invite them to join us on our quest to tackle Multnomah Falls. Their mom surprisingly agreed to let them join us, so we loaded the van with stroller, picnic cooler, water bottles and books to read, filled all 7 seat belts with kids, and set off to pick up our new friends.

I was so excited about our day and it played out perfectly in my mind. My kids would fall in love with the same hike I’d traversed as a little girl, my new friend would feel an irresistible pull to my adorable and well-behaved children and Emily and Ruth would go home to Minnesota with great stories about Oregon’s breath-taking beauty and hospitable citizens.

I left the house about an hour later than I originally intended and arrived at the Owen’s home precisely at lunch time. After exchanging pleasantries and re-introducing the 6 kids I brought to Allison’s two girls, we decided to “picnic” on their back deck instead of attacking a road trip with hungry kids. We both felt pleased about how pro-active we were being to insure a great day, when her daughter came inside crying. Catie’s story, what we could understand through her tears, was that my sweet, gentle and compassionate son had punched her with a fist in her throat and caused her to bite her tongue. Mortified and guaranteeing it HAD to be a misunderstanding, I went outside to get the “real” story. For all his faults, Grant is always honest. He told me, through tears, that “Yes, I punched her, but she was making me mad. As I’ve thought about it, I should have talked to her instead of hitting her.” Do you think?!?! So much for good first impressions.

Allison didn’t change her mind about going on an adventure with us, in spite of “the incident” so we set off to find Multnomah Falls, the 2nd tallest waterfall in North America. We parked our vehicles and lined up all eight kids on the sidewalk. They “turned on” their listening ears, put their “eyes on me” and had the safety talk about staying on the trail, the importance of obeying the first time, and sticking with their buddy. The trail was narrower than I remembered, making it difficult to push my extra-wide double jogging stroller up the steep switch-back inclines, and it was crowded with tourists from all over the world who had to press themselves up against the side of the trail for me to squeeze by. Within the first 10 minutes, my normally obedient son blatantly disobeyed 4 times and then was disrespectful when I reprimanded him. Ruth and Emily were climbing over barricades and trying to walk on rock ledges with steep drop offs. Paige, my 2 year old, was crying for her blanket and her pacifier (which she is too old to have in the first place). Alli, my four year old wanted a snack, even though we had just eaten lunch, and then threw a fit that lasted at least 10 minutes when she didn’t get her way. Katie, my 6 year old, had to go pee SOOOOOOO bad, even though we all went potty before we started our hike. Any of you know what I’m talking about?

By the time we reached the summit of the waterfall and hit the one-mile marker, most of MY kids were in some form of melt-down mode and everyone we passed was staring at me or giving me sympathetic side-ways glances. They didn’t have to say, “Look at that poor woman – I’m so glad it’s not me” because it was written all over their faces.

We let the kids cool off in a little creek and then began the steep descent down the mountain. Grant and Emily were rough-housing and jostling each other for first place and nearly knocked each other off a cliff, which put my new friend in the awkward position of reprimanding kids she just met. Alli, for once an innocent party, assumed that she was in trouble, and starting yelling and crying about the injustice of getting in trouble when it wasn’t her fault. She cried the rest of the way down the mountain. Poor Katie, who still needed to use the restroom, was trying to walk down the trail with her legs crossed. When we stopped for a rest, I saw her face go in panic mode and then a very large trail of fluid dampen the trail. Grant saw that she had an accident and realized he too had to use the bathroom. Always with a flair for the dramatic, he screamed and cried the remaining ½ mile, holding himself and yelling, “Can we go a little faster. I have to go SO bad.” Talk about embarrassing. I wanted to melt into the trail, except I was unavoidable with my ginormous stroller and the clear resemblance to the 7 kids that preceded me.

Poor Allison had to quicken the pace to accommodate my distraught son and when we got closer to the lodge, I got stuck in a pedestrian traffic jam and got separated from all of our crew. A man behind me saw me trying to turn the stroller onto one wheel to squeeze through the crowd and started bellowing in his very loud and deep voice, “Woman with a very large buggy coming through. Make way for the lady with the big stroller.” I now know how Moses felt when the Red Sea parted.

I arrived at the lodge, sweaty, irritated, on the verge of tears and more embarrassed than I have been in years. Found Allison at the bathroom with the other 7 kids I brought along and said, “If you NEVER want to do anything with me again, I will totally understand, because at this point, I never want to do anything with me again either.” We both looked at each other, and in that instant started laughing. She whispered, “I’ll treat everyone to ice cream if it’s okay with you.” I thought momentarily about how I swore to Alli that she would get ice cream “over my dead body” because of her behavior, than looked at Allison, and said, “That sounds great.”

Solomon knew what he was talking about when he penned Proverbs 15:23, “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word,” and in Proverbs 17:23, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Allison’s timely response and our ability to laugh at the catastrophe of the afternoon changed the whole tone of our remaining time together. We both giggled as we watched all 8 kids, crammed on a bench, eating their ice cream as fast as they could, trying to beat the 90 degree heat that melted it as fast as they could consume it. I soaked in all the open-stares and sideways smiles from travelers as they observed our tranquil and good looking group of ice cream eaters and thought to myself, “If they only knew…”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I hate cancer

We had a wonderful morning today - spending time with new friends, enjoying the beautiful Portland mild summer weather and nice parks. Came home to an email that changed the scope of my afternoon.

Our 6-year old daughter, Katie, used to hang out with this darling pack of little girls in Illinois. All 5 of them were born within 6 weeks of each other and the summers were full of birthday parties and girly time together. One of her friends, Sydney, was diagnosed yesterday with a rare and aggresive form of cancer. Seemed to come out of the blue and her family and friends, needless to say, are swirling in an emotional whirlwind.

I intellectually understand the problem of corporate sin in the world and how it has far reaching effects to innocent victims, like Sydney, but when I picture her face, I find it hard to reconcile my emotions with the truth.

And being a mom, I can't hear about Sydney's plight without personalizing it. When her sweet little face pops into my mind's eye, it quickly morphs into the face of my own 6-year old daughter. Grant and Jenna are living out my biggest nightmare - a terminal illness in one of my children or my spouse. My heart is just breaking for their family. For this invasion of innocence. And I'm trying to make sense of it all. Why Sydney and not Katie? Why are Grant and Jenna shouldering this awful burden and not us?

I remember talking to the father of a little girl who passed away well before her time. With tears in his eyes, he told me, "the only reason this pain is bearable is because people like you, who never even met Labri, decided to come along side us and fall in love with our family. You loved her, even though you didn't meet her. And you weep with us in our pain. It's like God has taken the pain of all of this and divided it out among the body of Christ so that I don't suffocate under the weight of it all."

Thank you Lord that you recently whispered the truth from Isaiah 66:13 to me, "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you." As my tears wet this keyboard, God I NEED Your comfort. Please pour out Your peace and compassion on Grant, Jenna, Tyler, Sydney and Cal.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I am one of those people who requires a lot of sleep to function well. Send me to bed at 10 p.m. each night and I'll roll out of bed at 7 a.m. still yawning and needing coffee. I have no idea how I ever made it through parenting 4 newborns in under 5 years and managed to stay sane.

My husband, Curt, on the other hand, is one of those crazy people who loves mornings and rolls out of bed at 5:30 every day with a smile on his face and a ridiculously sunny disposition. He can function well on 4 or 5 hours of a sleep a night for weeks on end before he crashes from exhaustion.

When we started our family, we developed a kid-duty system that works great for our sleep patterns. I take the middle of the night shifts and he takes anything after 5 a.m. When our kids were younger and were frequently up at night, I was on auto-pilot and didn’t really mind interrupted sleep or the time alone with my babies during the night. However, now that our kids sleep through the night consistently, I find myself feeling irritated if they happen to wake up and my only focus is to get them sleeping again as soon as possible so I can escape to my comfy bed.

Our 4-year old daughter Alli is practically invincible. She is tough as nails and it takes a monster sickness to get her down. She recently came down with a swimmers ear infection and we couldn't believe how quickly she deteriorated. She was miserable - lethargic during the day, waking at night and clearly in a lot of pain. It was brutal.

The first night she woke up, I immediately slipped into irritation mode and tried to soothe her quickly so I could get back to bed. She was so miserable though that every time I would try to sneak out of her room, she'd start crying, grab my arm, and pull me next to her again. God had to practically smack me over the head with a 2X4 to shift my focus from my selfish agenda to the power of love available in that moment. My irritation dissolved into compassion and I was amazed at how instantaneously there was no place in the world I'd rather be than wide-awake in the middle of the night, comforting my daughter and wishing I could take her place.

We curled into a little ball on her twin bed, her body warming mine, and I felt her start to relax as I tickle-scratched her arm and stroked her hair. My emotions and feelings were on hyper-drive and I seemed to be soaking in every minute detail of our intimate time together. I listened to the music of the bullfrogs singing from the koi pond across the street and the wind whispering in the trees. I felt her little chest rise and fall as her breathing slowed to a rhythmic cadence and she slipped into a peaceful, deep sleep. And then I heard God whisper to my soul, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13)

Long after Alli fell asleep, I stayed. Smashed against the wall, my adult-sized arm intertwined with 4-year old fingers, and I marveled. That a Creator existed who could craft such a magnificent and breath-taking creature. That a Father-God existed who knew my name, my heart-ache, my pain, and who gently curls up next to me, tickle-scratching my arm and stroking my hair until comfort comes and I slip into peaceful rest.

I was a little groggy the next morning, but the sleep hangover was worth falling in love all over again, with my daughter and with God.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

28 Things I've Learned as Mom

One of my friends who is a first-time mom, sent me an email asking for input on parenting. Her questions got me reflecting on the past seven years, and I found myself writing this list. I hope it encourages you moms out there! Go get 'em!

28 Things I’ve learned as a Mom…

  1. Don't neglect your relationship with God - it has to be a priority if you want to have the energy to parent well. And God always comes through - when you make quiet time with Him a priority, somehow the other stuff seems to get done in some miraculous, unexplainable way!

  2. Fall madly in love with your husband, over and over again. Date him. Be affectionate with him in front of your kiddos. Tell him specifically why you respect him. Why you love him. Let your kids know that he is your FIRST love, aside from Jesus, and that he came first, before the kids. Your kids will find security in your love. Find a reason each day to love your husband more, even if you have to really dig deep that day for your reason!

  3. Make sex a weekly priority, no matter what stage of parenting you’re in and don’t make excuses about why you can’t do this. I know- sex is the furthest thing from your mind when you’re sleep-deprived, 20 pounds heavier than when you got married, and filling sippy cups, changing diapers and shuttling kids all day. Believe me - I get it and I often feel the same. But God is very clear in His instructions to us as wives to meet our husband’s sexual needs and to have our sexual needs met as well. After all girls, we are IT for our hubbies – they have no other sexual outlet. If we want to stay pure and have our marriages thrive, we need to make sexual intimacy a regular part of our week.

  4. Find your self-worth in who you are in Christ, not in your body shape or size. This has always been a tough one for me. We are saturated with images of size zero women with big boobs and flat abs and they look like that 2 weeks after giving birth! We are led to believe this is the “norm” and it’s so depressing. But girls, this is not truth. We are valuable, not because of our waist measurement or our bra size (or lack thereof), but because we are daughters of God. Princesses in His kingdom. Embrace this truth. Let it soak in. Rebuke Satan’s lies and realize that our worth comes from our identity as God’s daughter, not on our outward appearance.

  5. We don’t have to look like Angelina Jolie to smite our husbands. They CHOSE us and we define beauty to them. My husband, Curt, is so good at enforcing this truth for me. He often simplifies this by saying, “I love you and think you’re hot, so what else matters?” To his credit, he tells me this when I’m nine months pregnant and ready to explode with varicose veins that could touch the moon AND on those rare days when I can squeeze into my “skinny jeans.” Remember that you are the hottest naked woman your husband will ever see!

  6. You will never be a perfect mom and you will never have perfect kids. Anyone who tries to tell you differently or tries to pass themselves off as “perfect” is LYING! Set yourself free from this expectation and relish the times when your 6 year old is screaming on the side of the road because she fell 6 inches off her bike pedal and all traffic is stopping to see if you need medical attention.

  7. Say “I’m sorry, I was wrong to do that” frequently and often. Be willing to admit your faults to your kids and tell them how sorry you are when you mess up. I feel like I’m confessing sin to my kids on a daily basis, and even if it’s HUGE in my eyes, they always forgive me, embrace me and give me a clean slate. It’s not easy to backtrack and fess up, but it’s a great example to our kids on how to Biblically deal with sin and forgiveness and it also helps them gain a realistic expectation on relationships. Even when we love someone, we mess up and have to ‘fess up and seek forgiveness.

  8. There is no ONE correct way of parenting. If you are a schedule-freak like me and decide to follow Babywise religiously (at least with your first baby), you are not a better mom than the laid-back mom who lets their infant nap in the car seat if he happens to get tired while he’s getting schlepped from one place to another. We can all learn from each other and I grew so much relationally when I ditched the judgmental attitude and started to view other parenting styles through the eyes of “not wrong, just different.”

  9. Find parents you admire, and pick their brains. Ask them why they do certain things, what they like about parenting, what they would avoid, why they opted for 3 kids in 3 years or 4 kids in 20 years, etc. Look for kids you enjoy being around, and pick their parent’s brains too.

  10. NOTHING ever goes according to plan. Once you have kids, things have a way of spiraling out of control every time you turn your back. You think the kids are loading in the van while you take the dog potty, when in reality, your 4 year old is riding her bike down the street sans shoes, your 2 year old just messed her pants, and your 7 year old forgot his towel. Within 30 seconds, you just became 10 minutes late. Parenting forces you to become flexible. You can either laugh or cry. I’ve done both, but recommend laughing!

  11. You can’t control what your child does, but you can control your reaction to what they do. Acknowledging this fact has set me free from a lot of guilt over embarrassing toddler behavior. When my daughter started screaming at the top of her lungs in the library and the librarian kicked us out before I could even respond, I just took a deep breath and chanted internally to myself “You can ONLY control your reaction!”

  12. Don’t discipline in anger. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Nothing good ever comes from acting in anger. I have made my kids sit in isolation for up to an hour before until I can deal with the permanent marker drawings on the wall in a spirit of love instead of rage, and I’ve never regretted it.

  13. Parenting requires creativity. What works for one child, doesn’t necessarily work for another. So get creative and don’t try to force each of your individual kids into the discipline mold that worked for your first born.

  14. You will come to dread the “bewitching” hour. It miraculously occurs every afternoon around 4:30, right at dinner preparation time. Your child will become whiny, tired, hungry and inconsolable at precisely the moment when you can NOT focus on your child. In spite of what “the experts” say, your two-year-old will not need special ed if they watch Barney while you make supper, so put the movie on already!

  15. Try to embrace each phase of parenting, even the sleepless-nights-everyone-has-a-need phase, and live joyfully in the moment. I look back now and think we were CRAZY to have 4 kids in 4 years, and there were definitely days I would dial the emergency pager when my husband was in the middle of a surgery, bawling my eyes out, begging him to come home because “I just CAN’T do this!!” But drama aside, those days in the trenches, overall, were great. We still laughed all the time, managed to get out and about, grew in our marriage and in our walk with God. We made wonderful memories, although I wouldn’t choose to go back because I’m completely enjoying this next phase of parenting too.

  16. If you choose to be an at-home mom, it’s OKAY and normal, to go through a grieving process for the person you were before kids. My dream as a little girl was always to be an at-home mom, so I was really surprised when I wrestled with giving up the job I had come to love to stay home with our son. My work gave me a sense of purpose, a measure to weigh myself against, and defined a big part of who I was. Once Grant was born, I walked around in a constant state of sleep-deprivation, feeling like an over-weight dairy cow that was about to be sent to slaughter because I wasn’t producing enough on my daily quota! I would look in the mirror and see a shadow of who I used to be and I grieved for the familiar. Life at home all day with a baby seemed bleak with no way to measure success, but it does get better. You will find a routine. You will fall hopelessly in love with your baby. You will find something to stimulate yourself intellectually. You will lose the baby weight. It just might not happen overnight.

  17. People ask me all the time what my hardest transition was between kids. Although we both struggled with being forced to realize the depth of our selfishness after our first baby, the hardest transition for us, was from one baby to two. Figuring out how to juggle multiple needs was really challenging, but after a few months, we settled into a more predictable routine. Transitioning to 3 and then 4 kids was much easier for us.

  18. God’s plan for you family may look much different than your dream or your parent’s dream or your neighbor’s opinion, etc. Ask God to give you an open heart to accept His family plan for you and then embrace His answer. And remember, what works for your family may look completely different for your best friend, so try to embrace “not wrong, just different.”

  19. Consistency is a big key to successful parenting. Think carefully about what you say to your kids, because if it comes out of your mouth, you HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH. If you are constantly changing your mind or can be swayed by whining, fit throwing or negotiating, you leave the door open for your kids to NEVER obey the first time or with a happy heart. Believe me, we have seen this work to our advantage and we’ve been humbled publicly when we are failing in this area.

  20. If you stop enjoying your kids, it usually is a good indication that you need to step back and take a hard look at how you’re approaching parenting. It’s a cyclical pattern in our family that occurs approximately every 6 or 9 months. Curt and I will look at each other and ask, “Where have we gone wrong?” And it almost always comes back to CONSISTENCY. We get lazy enforcing discipline, the kids take advantage of it, and we all end up miserable. In that light-bulb-comes-on moment, we confess our failures to God, regroup, and start fresh.

  21. Don’t give your kids a higher level relational than they Biblically deserve. We should love God first, our spouses second, and our kids third. It breaks my heart when I see moms and dads neglecting their spouse because they are overly in-love with their children. If we want to be families that God can get behind and bless, we need to keep our love for kids in a Biblical perspective.

  22. We once heard a parenting expert suggest that we as parents say YES to our kids as often as we can and say NO to our kids, only when we really mean it. We have tried to put this in practice. If you really don’t care if your son has a handful of M&M’s for an afternoon snack, say YES. Does it really matter if your 4-year-old daughter is wearing pattern-with-pattern-with pattern and has a skirt layered over capris? Say “YES you can wear that – you have a great sense of style.” If you’re uncertain, say “I don’t know” although this leave room for negotiating from your budding attorneys to sway you to their side. And when you say “No,” mean it and stick to your guns without being swayed.

  23. Choose your battles. Wow! Have we learned this lesson the hard way! Two of our four kids know what they want, the path they’re going to take to get it, and will NOT be diverted from their course (we have no idea where they get it from – must be a recessive gene). Needless to say, we’ve had many battle-of-the-wills showdowns at our house and it forced me to evaluate the criteria I was using to define “important.” Does it really matter if my “fancy” daughter leaves the house wearing a sundress with flip flops in winter? Will the fact that my son took 2 years to potty train cost him a job offer as an adult or does it bug me just because it makes me feel like a failure? Will my two-year old need counseling if she still uses her pacifier for sleeping? If, in the grand scheme of things, the answer is NO, I force myself to just let it go, and life flows so much smoother. If the answer is YES and you chose to battle, you MUST win, no matter how long it takes.

  24. Take a specific area of parenting you’re struggling with and really give it to God. Do a topical Bible study, find worship songs that combat that sin, memorize scripture, and leave your-self positive reminders. I have been surprised to see that one sin I consistently struggle with is my tone of voice. I find myself raising my voice, even yelling at time, minimizing what my kids are saying, or speaking to them in a sarcastic or condescending tone. I HATE that about myself and am continually giving this sin to God. I have James 1:19-20 written in permanent marker on fancy paper and taped to the inside of my pantry door. It reminds me to be slow to speak, slow to get angry and quick to listen, all of the things I am consistently working on. Thanks to God’s grace and theses visual reminders, I’ve made significant improvement in this area.

  25. Maintain hobbies outside of being a mom. It took me a few years of trial and error, but I finally figured out that I might not be able to exercise 7 days a week, sing on the worship team every weekend and scrapbook at least once a week with girl friends, but I could still say YES to those things, in moderation. I started making time to maintain those interests and hobbies on a schedule that worked for our family and I have found such fulfillment, invigoration and refreshment in them. Taking time to pursue outside interests actually makes me a better mom.

  26. Laugh with your kids and write down all the funny things they say. I keep a book of all the goofy, cute, and funny things the kids say because if I don’t write it down when it happens, I forget by the next day. We often take out those books, re-read them, and laugh our heads off at how fun kids are to have around. And I know we’ll be re-reading them in 20 years and still laughing.

  27. Find moms you admire and ask them to mentor you and pray for you. I have found comfort beyond measure and great encouragement in times of wisdom gleaning and prayer with mature moms who have walked the road before me and can truly empathize with me when my heart is heavy.

  28. Love never fails. I have a friend who has been such a role model to me of what a Godly mom looks like. She has 4 amazing kids who are lots of fun to be around, a home that she opens to everyone she meets, and a thriving marriage and relationship with God. I came to her one day, crying hysterically because I felt like such a failure as a mom. She told me to look up I Corinthians 13:1-8, read it out loud and replace the word “love” with “a loving mom.” Verse 8 ends with “A loving mom never fails.” Girls, if we love our children, the way God asks us to love them, we will not fail. We may have days that feel like a failure, but in the grand scheme of life as a mom, love NEVER fails!

Curt's Olympic Tri

In spite of having the stomach flu for 36 hours before the race, my husband, Curt, ROCKED an Olympic distance triathlon this morning. He swam .9 miles, biked 28 miles and ran 6.4 miles in 2 hours and 55 minutes. His friend, James Speidel, competed with him and they finished with 5 minutes of each other.

My friend, Laura, "only" brought 2 of her 4 kids to the park, so we schlepped 6 kids around this ginormous park in Gresham, stopping at play structures along the course and cheering our men on. We saw a girl with GREAT hair that Laura wanted to copy, so we posed Laura in front of her for pretend pictures and snuck some great candids of the girl. We also made a 65 year old man's day by mistaking him for Curt from a distance, so we sent all the kids screaming "Go Daddy Go" down the path at him. By the time he reached Laura and I, we were all laughing our heads off!

I am officially inspired to learn to swim. Laura and I decided that next year we'll do the "girl power" Olympic tri at this park. So I guess I have to get with the program and get a bike and learn to swim. What a fun day!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Swimming Lessons

Our kids have always loved water. They never want to get out of the bath tub and if there's a lake, a stream, a pool, an ocean - they're in it. But we've never given them swimming lessons. One of those things that makes it on the To Do List, but never gets farther than that. I am not a good swimmer and I hate that I have a fear of the water. I don't want that for my kids, so we finally enrolled them in swimming lessons at the local pool when we moved to Newberg. All three of them THINK they can swim, but none of them really can, so we enrolled them in the beginner class for their age group which met for 2 weeks in 30 minutes sessions.

Alli was hilarious because most of the kids in her class didn't want to get their hair wet and she was diving under water and staying under for 10 seconds at a time before popping up. All the moms were laughing at her insane craziness and lack of fear. Grant and Katie were both doing really well too.

Today was their last day of classes and at the end of class, they each got a detailed report card listing out the prerequisites for passing to the next class and their progress was indicated for each expectation. Grant's teacher was clearly conflicted about passing him to the next level or making him repeat. He had originally marked that Grant met all requirements and put a level 2 on the sheet, then he changed it back to level 1 and marked off that Grant still needed to work on his back stroke. Grant, being the son of Jodi Stilp, who is unfortunately really competitive against myself, was all upset, and wanted to know if he could go back and have a re-do and demonstrate that he could, indeed, do the back stroke for 1/2 the width of the pool. To pacify him, I called the pool and explained the dire situation to the oh-so-nice lady who is in charge. She asked me how old he was and how many times he'd taken the class. I said, "seven and this is the first swim lesson he's ever had." She started laughing her head off and said, "well he should be really proud of himself then. It usually takes most 7 year olds a minimum of 3 tries to pass level 1. I can't believe he did that well on his first try." When I told my little overachiever the detailed update, he felt a little bit better about his accomplishment.

Katie completed about 1/2 of the requirements to pass level one, so she was recommended to repeat the class, but I don't think she even glanced at her report card or cared. She just wanted to know when we were going to re-enroll and which friends from her class were going to be there for her to socialize with!

Alli, no surprise, passed level 1 on her first try, even though she couldn't get her head wet for the last two days. She has a swimmers ear infection and it doesn't seem to be getting better. She has been MISERABLE for the last 3 days.

I'm inspired and think I'm going to sign up for adult swim lessons and learn to be comfortable in the water and actually swim for exercise. I'm thinking of training for a triathlon, so I guess I better learn to swim first!


Those who know me well, know that way back when, in my early days of marriage and parenting, we had a dog, named Abby, and the whole "dog owning" scenario was a disaster from the get-go. It was a learning experience though and I knew we'd get a dog again, some day, when we were more prepared and had realistic expectations. Our kids have been pestering me for a dog for the past two years and I kept saying, "If our yard is fenced when we move to Oregon, we can talk about it." Well, the first thing they said, when they saw our rental house was "it has a fenced yard. When can we get the dog?" Four weeks later, we adopted Springcreek's Stardust, or Dusty. She is a labradoodle and we are a guardian family for Springcreek, a well-known labradoodle and goldendoodle breeder in Oregon. Dusty is marked to be used for breeding but the Sundholm's don't believe in kennel-raising their dogs, so we got to adopt Dusty. We'll take her to vet appointments for health-testing, and if she passes the health tests, we'll contract with the breeder for 3 litters of puppies. When Dusty has fulfilled her obligation to Springcreek Labradoodles, they'll spay her and she'll be officially "retired." (all this fancy dog-lingo cracks me up). She is THE BEST puppy ever. Doesn't shed, is smart, adorable and really good with the kids. Never thought I could think a dog was so great!

Look What the Lord has done!

Okay - when I first met Curt and he was in his crazy Pentacostal days, we used to sing this song from the Brownsville, Florida, revival called "Look what the Lord has done. He healed my body - He touched my Mind. He saved me, just in time, oh I'm gonna praise His name. Each day, it's just the same. Come on and praise Him - Look what the Lord has done!" I've been singing that song all morning.

Girls, I've been looking for wood play structures/swing sets on Craigslist 3 times a day for two weeks and keep coming in second place to the free ones and the ones that fit my whopping $50 budget. This morning, I was SO discouraged and really gave it to God. Right before swim lessons, I posted an ad on Craigslist saying we wanted a swing set. NEVER thought anyone would respond, especially since I listed that I only had $50 to spend. Would you believe that a woman called me two hours later and has a wooden swing set AND a two-story fort/climbing wall/slide! And she wants to GIVE it to us. We're "doing her a favor" to take it out of her yard. We are SO excited about God's provision and wanted to share our excitement with you! I've attached a couple pictures from our "preview" session. Now to find a truck to haul it to our house!

Everything to Me

My husband, Curt, and I were approaching our 10 year anniversary. I knew he was getting me a diamond anniversary band and I started to wrack my brain about a gift that could compare. The thought crossed my mind, "maybe I could write him a song" and then as quickly, disappeared. However, later in the day, a theme came to me, then within minutes, a song with a melody! It was really straight from God. With the help of my good friend, Mark Chaffee, I recorded it and burned it to Curt's iPod. Then I made a scrapbook of our 11+ years of dating and marriage and incorporated the lyrics of the song into the book. The last page of the album had all the lyrics printed out and then I pushed "play" on the iPod. It was a sweet moment. Here's the lyrics...


lyrics and music by Jodi Stilp

When I was a little girl,
I dreamed of loving you.
My knight in shining armor,
Who always came through,
In the nick of time to sweep me off my feet
With love’s first kiss,
And our happily ever after
Was one I wouldn’t miss.

You are everything to me.
My rock, my leader, my soul mate,
I love your sensitivity.
You are beyond a dream come true,
And I can’t believe I get to spend
My whole life with you.

I grew up and learned that love is not a fairy tale.
Hearts get broken, trust destroyed,
My dreams of love in disrepair.
Then you walked in and smiled at me
And my heart skipped a beat.
Maybe you were worth the risk for me
To be warmed by love’s heat.

You are everything to me.
My rock, my leader, my soul mate,
I love your sensitivity.
You are beyond a dream come true,
And I can’t believe I get to spend
My whole life with you.

We have shared the last ten years
Together, side by side.
We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve taken risks.
We’ve seen our love in our children’s eyes.
And through it all, our love has grown
Beyond our wildest dreams.
You are my lover, my best friend,
You’re everything to me.

You are everything to me.
My rock, my leader, my soul mate.I love your sensitivity.
You are beyond a dream come true.
And I can’t believe I get to spend
My whole life with you.

Oh I can’t believe I get to spend
My whole life with you.