Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's In A Name?

A friend of mine recently had her second baby.  Up to the day of his birth she was lamenting over the fact that she and her husband couldn't settle on a name for him.  It brought me back to the days of pouring over baby name books, making lists of possible names, then lists of first and middle combinations.  Oh and then there's the "what nicknames could be made from this name?" consideration that ranks right up there with the "what do the initials spell?" question.  

So much thought and emotion go into the names we choose for our children.  Is it any wonder that a thoughtless, "You like THAT name?" ignites the fire that soon sends smoke pouring out our ears? Or once that precious bundle arrives we get irritated when friends and family can't remember the name we chose to attach to our child.  The reverse is true too.  People who gush over the name we chose become our new best friend as do acquaintances who greet our child by name.  Remembering a name, especially our children's names, endears that person to us.

I read a beautiful love letter today from a father to his children.  He tenderly expresses his love for each of his kids.  He is possessive and protective, ready to beat up anyone who intends to harm his brood.  He promises unwavering support, constant comfort, and whispers sweet nothings in his kids' ears when they are paralyzed by fear.  He calls each one by name and they are comforted by hearing their Daddy's voice.   It was so beautiful, I wanted to share it with you.

This Daddy says, via Isaiah 43, (emphasis in caps is mine) "But now, this is what the LORD says - he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you BY NAME - YOU ARE MINE.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the LORD, YOUR God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;  I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.  Since YOU are precious and honored in my sight, and because I LOVE YOU.  I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you;... Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth - everyone who is called by MY NAME, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."

My mother's heart resonated with the desire to protect, ease fears and comfort my children.  And my personal heart warmed when I realized that God, my Heavenly Father, hovers over me in love.  Calling my name and whispering in my ear, "I love you.  I chose you.  I will protect you.  I know your name and I even know how to pronounce your maiden name."   

What's in a name?  Maybe not much from an earthly standpoint, but I proudly bear the name Jodi Lynn Stilp, daughter of The King.

My Turn

Paige is the baby of our family.  And while she eats up all the attention that comes with being the youngest, she also gets a bit of the shaft too.  Not much that she does is a first in our family.  She lives primarily off hand-me-down toys and clothes and has spent a lot of her young life attending functions and events that revolved around her older siblings.  Concerts.  Graduations.  School pick up.  School drop off.  Going to the babysitter so I could chaperone field trips.  Sitting through soccer practice and swim lessons.  Tagging along on play dates, but not having many of her own.  She wanted to be included, but she just wasn't old enough.

A few weeks ago, Curt and I sat down to plan out this summer.  Grant and Katie wanted to go to Camp Tillikum, a cool Christian day camp.  Alli wanted to do gymnastics, but we chose Safety Town Camp for her instead to reinforce all those safety rules that don't seem to stay cemented in her brain.  Then there was Paige.  I spotted a "creative movement camp" (4 days of 30 minute classes) for 3-5 year olds that touched on all dance styles, but focused primarily on ballet.   Initially it didn't seem worth the effort to schlepp all four kids across town for a 30 minute class, but I decided it was time for Paige to have a turn doing something exclusively for herself.

Paige's camp started on Monday.  She found a ballerina costume in one of the dress-up drawers and left the house looking very girly in her pink tu-tu and purple bow.  We pulled into the parking lot at the Chehalem Armory 15 minutes EARLY, a miracle in and of itself, since I can never seem to arrive anywhere earlier than 5 minutes late.  (When you're paying for a 30 minute class, you just better be on time!)  Miss Cheryl, the instructor, was getting out of her car and she gleefully greeted my crew of kids with an oh-so-happy, "Well hello.  And who is going to be dancing with me today?"

Paige, who was still a bit "nowvous," timidly pushed her little hand in the air and said, "It's my turn."  We followed Miss Cheryl to the back of the armory, where a quaint little dance studio was tucked in the corner.  The peach sponged-painted walls were lined with a worn wooden ballet bar and the non-painted walls were decked out in floor-length mirrors.  One by one, excited little ballerinas and not-so-excited little boys trickled into the dance studio and mulled around waiting for class to start.

I wish I had my camera ready when Miss Cheryl called out, "Okay dancers.  Please come to the center."  When Paige realized she was one of "the dancers" she stood up straight, puffed out her chest, gave her siblings a really smug grin and waltzed to the center of the room.  When she reached the center, she glanced over her shoulder, a ginormous smiled plastered on her face, as if to say, "Finally, it's my turn."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

To Know and Be Known

The Newberg Public Library kicked off it's summer reading program this afternoon with a party on the front lawn complete with face painting and free ice cream cones from the local ice cream store.   It seemed like all of Newberg turned out for the event and we did a lot of standing in line.  To sign up.  To get our ice cream ticket.  To get our ice cream cones.  To get our faces painted.  To find library books.  To check out library books.  

While we stood in line, we looked around.  Everywhere we glanced, we saw people we recognized.  Kids from Crater (the first elementary school the kids went to) yelled howdies and gave hugs to Grant and Katie.  We saw at least half of Grant's 2nd grade class from Mabel Rush.  Alli greeted friends from her pre-school.  I ran into several ladies from the gym.  We saw neighbors.  Moms from MOPS.  Moms from story time and random meetings at the park.  

We didn't even notice all the waiting that we did because we were too busy exchanging hugs and catching up.  Even as we headed to the car, we continued to run into familiar faces.

It dawned on me as I was jimmying the van out of my parallel parking spot (which by the way - I parked in a parallel spot accurately on my first attempt - will someone please give me a medal of honor for conquering my fear of parallel parking?) how far we've come in a year.

When we signed up for the summer reading program last year, we'd lived in Newberg for all of 3 days.  I winged it to even find the library and was disappointed by the empty children's area.  No families to introduce myself to and no friends for the kids.  We left alone and went to the park to try to find someone to play with.  It was a lonely summer, but our prayers for friends did not fall on deaf ears.

God, who is so awe-inducing and who has much better things to do with His time than orchestrate connections, showed compassion to our family.  He faithfully orchestrated meetings at the park, connections at VBS, and swim lessons.  New friends at school, pre-school, story time and MOPS.  And one by one, we all found friends.  Grant.  Katie.  Alli.  Paige.  Me. Curt.  And not just one friend, but multiple friends.  

I was overwhelmed by God's goodness as I listened to the sweet sound of my children's names floating on the wind as friend after friend called out to them in greeting.  It's a wonderful thing to know and be known.  How much greater that God knows my name?  That my name floats on the wind as He lovingly calls out to me to come and play?  

A Monument

Would you like to take a trip down memory lane with me?   One year ago, I sent this email to the group of people who had been praying for us as we moved from Wauconda to Newberg.

"Well, we made it to Kearney, Nebraska, before we all melted down.  That's about 3 hours farther than our original goal of Omaha.  The kids were AMAZING!  We were in the car for 12 hours and I've had grocery trips that were worse than the 12 hours we had.  They got along (for the most part), found things to do, and watched a couple movies on our new DVD player for the car.  We are EXHAUSTED but glad to get such a good drive under our belts for day one.  Only a 5 hour anticipated drive tomorrow to get to Golden, Colorado, and see family and then we'll get a little break before we hit it hard again on Friday.  Thanks for your prayers!  Love- Jodi, for the crew"

It took me awhile to find this email in my bazillions of "sent" messages and as I searched for it, I kept printing update after update.  Each one chronicled the journey God took us on and showed His miraculous plan for our family.  As we walked through our adventure, nothing looked clear.  But as the emails unfold like a great novel, God's plan was and is abundantly clear.  I'm going to make a memorial book as a lasting monument to God's constant goodness and faithfulness in our lives.  How has God been good to you?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Being Overtaken

During my time with God today I was encouraged by Isaiah 35:8, 9b-10.  It says, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.  …But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return.  They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  

 I LOVED that last sentence: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  When was the last time I’ve been overtaken by gladness and joy?  When was the last time I can say that sorrow and sighing flew away?  As I reflected on God’s ever-present goodness in my life, even through difficult times, my eye caught a glimpse of the date in my journal.  June 16th.

 And I remembered.  One year ago, on June 16th, our kids spent the day playing with their best buddies, the Acosta’s.  While they made final memories, Curt and I supervised a fiasco called “moving” from our home in Wauconda, Illinois.  We watched all our earthly possessions and treasures get loaded onto a huge semi-truck in preparation to be driven cross-country to the rental home we’d rented sight-unseen in Newberg, Oregon.  If it could go wrong, it did. 

 When we finally joined the Acosta’s and our good friends, the Smith’s, for a sleepover and our last supper of Chicago-style pizza and s’mores around the campfire, it was approaching 8 p.m.  I wept as the Acosta’s left and we repeated the sorrowful scene the following morning with the Smith’s. 

 As we backed out of Rick and Ann’s driveway, the reality of what we were doing began it sink in.  Were we really leaving EVERYTHING familiar and following God into the great unknown?  The sorrow outweighed the anticipation.  As much fun as our 6-day road trip across the country was, we definitely did a lot of sighing as we tried to keep four kids happily occupied in their car seats for hours on end each day.

 The past year, that included Curt starting two new jobs, the kids starting two new schools, making all new friends, finding a new church and moving twice, has been exciting and exhausting to say the least.  There have been deep moments of sorrow and sighing.  But God, in His goodness, has walked each step of the journey with us.  He has whispered encouragement, direction and comfort in our ear.  And one year later, I can truthfully say that sorrow and sighing have flown away.  We have been overtaken by gladness and joy.  Thank you Lord!


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Referred Pain

I ran 12.65 miles today.  In an hour and forty-eight minutes.  It was a great course.  Some really tough, steep hills, a few super fun descents, and even a few miles of flat, fast road.  I felt like I was flying, racing against a personal best and feeling like I could conquer the world.  The euphoria of a great run was overshadowed by acute pain shooting through my kneecap into the tendons in the back of knee, radiating down my shin and setting my ankle on fire.  It was mind over matter to get my battered body up the steep hill to our house and my frustration mounted as I limped up the 21 steps from our garage to the main level of our house.

I remember the specific moment I injured my knee in February.  Stretched a little bit too far in the wrong direction on the balance ball and I instantly felt my mistake.  Curt examined my tender knee and determined it was more of a small "tweak" than a real injury requiring a visit to the clinic.  We treated it as an overuse injury and I followed all the steps to help it heal.  Forced break from exercise of any sort.  Started back slowly by running small distances at a slower pace.  Cross trained with weights and stretching at the gym.  

It's been four months of doing all the right things and in spite of an initial improvement in my pain level, my knee seems to be getting worse.   The stubborn side of me pushes through the pain to accomplish my goal of running a personal best half-marathon in two weeks.  But the more I push, the more my body fights back.  Curt described the fire in my ankle as "referred pain."  Medical terminology for your body's alarm system.  Ignore the source of the pain long enough and your body begins to sound alarms in other areas.  The brain says, "Since you're ignoring the knee, maybe I'll send sharp pain into your ankle and you'll be forced to stop and address the real problem."  It worked.

I had Curt re-examine my knee on our kitchen island in his makeshift home clinic.  I felt a bit frustrated as he pushed, prodded, twisted and turned my knee in a bazillion directions that were pain-free.  But then he tried McMurray's test and BINGO!  As I shrieked, "OW!" he pinned the source of the pain.  It appears there's a good chance I have a torn meniscus which would explain why, in spite of my best efforts and greatest intentions of rehabbing my knee, I'm not making any progress.  An MRI will most likely reveal both the source and the solution. 

I couldn't help but draw the parallel to pain in life.  Because let's face it.  We all have areas of pain in our lives.  Relational discord.  Buried hurt.  Unemployment.  Financial crisis.  Shattered dreams.  Unmet expectations.  Parenting faux pas.  Spiritual apathy.

When the pain initially rears its ugly head we have two choices.  Ask God to diagnose the source of pain and utilize His healing power, or we can try to fix it on our own.  Sometimes we ignore the pain.  Bury it and pray that it goes away.   Other times we keep ourselves occupied with activities and events that feel rehabilitative.  But in spite of our best intentions and well-planned efforts, the pain continues to festers.   

Before we know it, we experience referred pain in our lives.  Our struggle to find peace leads to depression or anger.  We feel inept.  Purposeless.  We wonder why God is not meeting our demands or following our self-prescribed treatment plan.  As the pain spreads, we realize we'll try anything to numb the pain that is no longer sequestered to one specific area.

While we flounder pathetically, God, the original MD, sits waiting for us to realize we are throwing effort after foolishness and make an appointment in His clinic.  He wants us to, in humility, lay our lives down on His examining table and let Him push and prod, twist and turn.  And He expects us to holler "OW!" when He nails the source of pain.  

Our honesty will free us up to allow God to show us the MRI results of our lives.  We'll see and rejoice in what is good, healthy and functioning well.  We'll also see in clear precision what is injured, broken and in disrepair.  While we mull over our injury, God, who is gracious and compassionate, is kind enough to give us a prescription for total healing.  Isaiah 26:8 says, “He will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces.”  It's a promise I'll mediate on as I limp around this weekend.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One Year Ago Today...

Exactly one year ago today...

Katie lost her first tooth at school.  We didn't even know it was loose.  Then she lost the evidence in her cubby and had nothing to put under her pillow for the tooth fairy.

Katie and Grant had field day at NCA, the private, Christian school they attended, but it got moved inside because of unpredictable Illinois spring weather.

We found out we'd been scammed out of $2,500 as a SELLER on Craigslist.  Even though warnings are listed all over Craigslist, we were so swamped with moving, we didn't read them.  Talk about made to feel like a total idiot in point 2 seconds.

I spent the morning at the bank trying to untangle the fiasco.  Instead of helping, our unsympathetic banker froze ALL our bank accounts, the day after Curt paid all our bills, including our mortgage, and two weeks before we intended to close them down and move to Oregon.

I cried throughout most of nap time, unable to handle to pressure of packing boxes, last minute arrangements with the movers, saying goodbye over and over to friend after friend, and trying to absorb the loss of $2,500 right when we really needed it.

Curt cried most of his commute home, unable to handle the pressure of saying goodbye to colleagues and a job he loved, pressure to pack and finish up our preparations to move cross country, saying goodbye over and over to friend after friend, and trying to absorb the loss of $2,500 right when we needed it most.

Katie graduated from Kindergarten and was irresistably cute in her gold cap and gown, smiling her toothless smile as she waltzed down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance.

Grant and his entire 1st grade class wowed the audience with the plethora of verses they had memorized and the adorable poem they recited that summarized their first grade year.  Grant's sentence was perfect for him as it encompassed the largest and most scientific words in the entire poem.

Grant and Katie participated in a two-hour graduation/closing ceremony at NCA.  The last event before it shuttered its doors forever.  Lots of crying and sadness that night from parents, staff and students who had come to view NCA as a second family.  

We had to wrangle Alli for the entire TWO hour presentation and try to keep her still and quiet.  We were close to tears by the end of the ceremony, but they were ones of frustration.  

Oh, and it was Curt's 33rd birthday. Definitely one for the record books as the worst birthday imaginable.

Here's hoping today is a better birthday than last year.  Love you baby!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dusty Smarty Pants

Dusty, our dog, has figured out how to sneak into the house through the screen door, even though it's completely closed (but not locked).  She won't do it if you're looking at her, but if she thinks we've stepped away, she'll sneak in.  Smart dog.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Keep Your Purpose Firm

Thanks everyone for your encouragement from my last blog.  Isn't it refreshing to know that no one is a perfect parent?  In spite of our greatest intentions, our love for our kids and our desire to live up to the iconic Parents Magazine parent, we fail.  We fail God.  We fail ourselves.  We fail our kids.  

And then we dust ourselves off.  Make it right.  Bask in forgiveness and move on.  3 steps forward.  2 steps back.  But we're doing it.  And in our effort to serve God by serving our kids, we are making our heavenly Daddy smile and say, "Well done."

Curt's time away from home was a great time of introspection for me.  God showed me clearly some areas I needed to focus on in parenting.  How do I balance that fine line between fulfilling my God-given task of instructing my kids in the way they should go vs. being a total taskmaster, nagging mom?  And since all four kids respond differently, how do I find a method of instructing each child that resonates with them but doesn't require a mental PowerPoint presentation for each child to keep it all straight?

I read with great encouragement Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You."  In the margin of my Bible, I had re-written the verse in a different translation and it read, "You Lord give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in You."  

KEEP MY PURPOSE FIRM.  The words leapt off the page.  God has a calling on my life.  A purpose for this season.  To raise our four amazing and wonderful children to be Jesus lovers and Kingdom changers.  Oh and to be respectful and hopefully a lot of fun to be around too.  If I keep my purpose firm and at the forefront of my mind, I will speak more gently.  Pray more quickly.  Love more freely.  Seek help from others and from the Holy Spirit sooner.  Kindness and gentleness will flow first instead of impatience and short-temperedness.  

Before I know it, these kids will be flying the coop and God's purpose for my life will shift.  So for this season Lord, please keep my purpose firm.  Help me trust in You.  And thank You for the peace You promise amid the storms of life.