Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

We just returned from a weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with my Dad and his wife Marcy in beautiful Bend, Oregon. We opted to make the drive over on Thanksgiving morning, by the light of day vs. tackling the Santiam Pass in the dark. Our goal was to pretend it was a school morning and have the van loaded with gear, kids and parents by 8:05 a.m., the time the bus picks the kids up each morning. We missed our goal by 25 minutes but still left earlier than anticipated.

It was a gorgeous day for a drive. A typical fall morning in Oregon, the sky was laden with clouds and fog but we saw a glimmer of sun and by the time we reached the mouth of the Santiam Pass, the sun began to burn off the fog. It was breath-taking to see the mountains, bathed in sunlight at their peaks and dotted with unbroken-up fog patches at lower elevations. The skies were clear blue and the bright morning sun reflected off the river and the snow-covered, towering pines. We oohed and ahhed and thanked God for His creativity and awesome power to create such beauty for us to enjoy. What a great way to start a day centered around giving thanks.

We made it safely to my Dad and Marcy's cozy home in Bend. While the kids bounced off the walls, we unloaded the van and helped Marcy put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving meal. An hour or so later (and a good two hours later than we normally eat lunch), the feast was on the table and all four of the Stilp children were in the guest room serving time for misbehaving, two of them wailing loudly. I couldn't help but sneak a picture of their plight. Once we calmed everyone down and took the prerequisite pictures of the beautifully decorated table laden with food, we dug in. I have never seen my kids eat so much in one setting, EVER! They were so hungry and I thought they'd never stop eating. Grant the Carnivore, took the turkey leg and consumed almost the entire leg in one meal. Little Ladies, let me tell you, he's available and if his manners continue in the way he exhibited as he devoured that turkey leg, he'll be available for a VERY long time! After lunch, the kids ran around in the back yard and the adults lounged in chairs on the back deck in a triptophane induced state, enjoying the 40ish degree weather, clear skies and sunshine.

Friday morning Marcy and I tackled the Black Friday sales, but on the Lazy Jodi time table. I am not a morning person and am of the belief that getting out of bed any time before 7:00 a.m. is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I mapped out my plan of attack on our drive to Bend on Thursday, so I rose, at 7:01 a.m., pulled on my sweats and dashed to Wal-Mart (2 miles away) to tackle the first store on my list. Was home by 8:00 a.m. for a shower, coffee and breakfast, and then grabbed Marcy around 9 a.m. to finish our shopping. We methodically knocked out Macy's, Old Navy and Target and finished at TJ Maxx the following day. It was fun to get so much accomplished in a short time period and really enjoyable to have some girl time with Marcy.

While we were shopping, the boys and kids tackled another wood chopping project. Grant swings a mean axe and singlehandedly chopped an entire wheelbarrow load of kindling. He was out there swinging his axe and doing Man Stuff all day with my Dad and Curt. Curt's wood chopping didn't fare as well. He was about 4 logs into his project when one got stuck in my Dad's log splitter, came shooting out and severed a hose. OOPS! Hope they invite us back next year... The girls gathered pine cones and played with the dogs and fun was had by all.

Friday night we bundled up and headed to the cute downtown section of Bend, the part with the one-way streets, specialty shops with adorable store fronts, multiple coffee shops and a huge pine tree in the center of town. We joined several hundred people for the tree lighting ceremony. We watched dancers and a choir perform, sang carols with the local Baptist church choir and listened to Santa lecture kids about proper behavior to ensure themselves a spot on the GOOD list. One hour later, we counted backward from five and yelled, "Merry Christmas" and nothing happened. So they ad libbed, "That wasn't loud enough, let's try again," and for a second time, we all counted backward from five, yelled "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" even louder and VIOLA! The enormous tree was lit. We piled back into our vehicles and finished the night with hot cocoa and leftover pie before bed.

Saturday morning, I went for my first outdoor run since having my knee repaired in August. I asked my Dad to run with me and off we went on the most beautiful morning imaginable. 21 degrees, crisp, clear, blue skies, bright sun and fantastic views of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and all the other snow-capped peaks whose names are escaping my memory. We jogged and talked, enjoying the morning and each other, and finished three miles in no time flat. I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate my first outdoor run than to share it with my Dad.

The rest of the day we mixed lots of lounging around with a trip to the park, more wood chopping, and jump rope twirling. Alli's new passion is jump roping and since it's not Christmas yet, her "jump rope" is a scarf. They jumped and chanted every jump roping chant known to man. What's up with wrapping up a baby in toliet paper and sending it down an elevator?

Today we enjoyed another gorgeous day for our drive home. Even though we've driven the pass multiple times, the view never loses it's wonder. The grandeur of the rugged white-capped peaks cast against the brilliant blue sky with painted horses frollicking on ranches in the scrubby desert brush. From every angle, another snow-capped peak, looming behind a house. A barn. A horse. It just takes your breath away.

When we were about 5 miles from Salem, we exited the Santiam Highway and headed to Tree Kings tree farm, a tree farm that came highly recommended. I have been to multiple tree farms in my life, but have NEVER seen such a huge operation. This is not your little Mom and Pop tree farm with free apple cider and a little barn filled with over-priced holiday knick knacks. As we pulled into the driveway, the roar of a helicopter deafened all noise and we giggled as we watched a helicopter driver flying around the fields with a huge cable and hook, grabbing pre-baled trees and piling them on the largest pile of trees I have ever seen. Apparently this tree farm sells over 300,000 trees each year and ships them all over the United States and Mexico! The high school boy manning the booth at the entrance/exit shouted directions over the noise, gave us a map and pointed us up the hill. Acres and acres and acres and acres of trees, varying in price depending on size and kind of tree. Mt. Hood and the Cascade Range that we'd just driven over provided a stunning back drop to the neatly lined rows of trees. We piled out of the van, the girls still in their church clothes, and laughed at how unlike Christmas the weather was. 55 degrees. Sunny. Blue skies. I was sweating in my sweater. We found the perfect tree immediately and Curt went to work chopping it down. It was well over 10 feet tall but had been mismarked as a 6-7 footer, so we took advantage of the pricing and got a screaming deal on our tree.

Our front living room now boasts a 10 foot noble fir, our entire home has the sweet fragrance of fresh cut pine, and hopefully by tomorrow we'll have the energy to start the decorating. Curt will adorn the perfect live tree with symmetry, grace and matching ornaments. The kids and I will tackle the 7 foot fake tree with multi-colored lights, mismatched ornaments and nothing resembling symmetry. And we'll all be happy. It will be the first thing we can be thankful for in this next year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm Thankful For...

In 2009, I'm thankful for...

1. My Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Good Shepherd and Friend, Jesus Christ. Where would I be without You? Thanks for helping me fall head over heels in love with You again this fall.
2. My wonderful husband, Curt, because you "get" me. You make me laugh every day, you love me in ways that minister to me, and you're so darn handsome. And did I say how HIGHLARIOUS you are?
3. Grant Andrew - you have changed so much this year. Your "fashion preferences" make me smile. Who knew a boy could be so opinionated about things? But I love that you know what you like. You've become so responsible this year and regimented as you take on all the academia of 3rd grade. Your vocabulary makes me laugh, your singing and guitar playing are so fun to listen to, and your tenderness melts my heart. What a sweet boy you are.
4. Kaitlin Joy - sweet little princess. Your kindness, sweetness and dramatic flair add so much to our family. God did a marvelous job when He made you such a unique blend of girly girl and tough chick and I love you so much. What would I do without you twirling and whirling around the house?
5. Alyssa Claire - life would be much duller without you. I'm thankful for your feistiness (even on the days when you exhibit a lot of it) and your ability to show compassion will always melt my heart. You have matured so much in your behavior this year and I'm REALLY thankful for that!
6. Paige Elizabeth - oh the baby of the family... I'm thankful that you decided to abandon diapers and be a big girl so early in this year. I'm thankful we all survived the transition to no more nukie. Your three-year-old labeling and pronunciations have made me laugh so hard. I will miss you when you go to school next year, and I'm thankful to have alone time with you in the mornings.
7. Dr. Sewell for repairing my knee so capably and God for aiding in the healing process.
8. Learning to meander and slow down has been good for me. I'm thankful for my recovery time this year, the things I learned about myself, and the wonderful network of friends and family who ministered to me and our family during this time.
9. Old comfortable friendships with history and layers. Memories and comfortability. I love you all!
10. New friendships that are developing for me, Curt and the kids. Getting to know the layers and layers of amazing people right here in Newberg and at Solid Rock. I want to know you all RIGHT now, but am enjoying the "getting to know you" process too.
11. My Mom and Terry for how they pour into our kids and do such fun stuff with them.
12. My Dad and Marcy being close enough to visit regularly and all the fun that we have together, especially at Pacific Crest.
13. That Curt had the chance to spend some time with his family doing all the things he loves about the midwest.
14. My girls weekend with Sony. What a great "sister" you are!
15. Monday night play date dinner nights that Kelly and I set up for Grant and Alden, but in reality, I think we look forward to them more than the boys!
16. The creation of the Stilpstabers and all the fun we've had together this year. I'm sure we'll be making memories together for years to come.
17. Brothers and Sister-in-laws and the roles they play in my life. I'm so grateful for relational growth that occurred and excited to see how our relationships will continue to morph in the coming year.
18. Adding Hadlock's to the family roster this year. Ben and Kursti, Jon and Maggie, Rebekah and Michael and all your sweet kiddos, it's been so fun to get to know you this year.
19. Knowing we don't have to move again for a LONG time. It's so wonderful to be settled and not saving boxes.
20. Solid Rock, a Jesus Church. Wow! Such great teaching, amazing worship, wonderful people... God is moving here and I am thrilled to be a part of that movement.
21. Curt's jobs and how hard he works at them to provide for our family.
22. The Good 'Ol Gal, our Jeep. You may have cost us some money this year, but what a reliable vehicle. I'll be sad to see you go, whenever that time comes (and may it not be within in the next two years since we just spent so much money on you) She's a good ol gal!
23. My Mini-Van. Never wanted to be a mini-van driving mom, but now that I am, what I would do without remote controlled sliding doors and all that space? If only you were 4-wheel drive to get us safely over the pass and back without stopping to put on chains...
24. God's creation. Could Newberg be any more beautiful? I pinch myself every day that I get to live here.
25. The ocean. I love the storminess, the grayness, the rain. The waves pounding the shore. The wind whipping through my hair. I love the pleasant surprise of showing up to a sunny day at the coast and how stunning a blue sky and bright sunshine changes the appearance of the waves and the sand. I love watching the grass on the dunes dance in the wind. Hearing my kids' laughter traveling on the wind.
26. Laughter. We laugh so much at our house and it's one of my favorite things about our family.
27. Dusty. Even though I like to grumble about how much work having a dog is and how I am the ONLY one who ever picks up your poop, you are most likely the nicest, most well behaved dog on the planet and I love you (but don't tell anyone).
28. Nap time. It's such a sweet reprieve from the busyness of the morning and my time to spend with God. I look forward to it every day.
29. Health. I am so grateful for a healthy family and bodies that work the way they're supposed to.
30. Running. I'm doing it! I'm running again and it feels so good to be back.
31. Conquering my fear of being underwater. I still don't love swimming, but I'm getting more relaxed in the water and I feel so victorious for kicking that fear to the curb.
32. The majesty of being hemmed in by mountains on every side. I love that everywhere I drive, I see foothills, distant mountain ranges, and on a clear day, snow capped giant peaks. I love how the weather in the mountains changes so quickly. I love exploring Parrott Mountain on foot. I love basking in the glory of the views from the top, the sweat-inducing struggle to reach the summit, and the eye watering rapid descent back to reality. It's one of life's simple thrills.
33. The Dillons for all that you do and are to our family. I can't really put it into words.

I'm sure I'm thankful for so much more, but my quiet time (see number 28) is rapidly winding down. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blink and They've Grown

Yesterday was my morning to volunteer at the kids' school. I stopped at my friend's house to drop Paige off, rang her doorbell and peaked in her window to wait for her to come to the door. Her baby boy, who I swear was just newborn last week, toddled around the corner, binky in his mouth, big boy hair cut, and arms flailing wildly to avoid toppling over (which he did 3 times in the distance to the door). Where did one year go?

I stopped at the office to get my volunteer badge and turned to head to Mrs. Kirk's third grade classroom. On the way to the green hall, I passed an adorable line of what appeared to be kindergarteners, all business, walking quietly in a straight line. As I giggled at how small but grown up they appeared, I suddenly recognized one of them. My 5-year-old and third-born daughter, who in my mind was not-too-long-ago an opinionated 2-year-old leaving a wake of destruction behind her everywhere she went and terrorizing the neighborhood by sneaking out of our house and into the neighbor's before we even knew she was gone. How on earth is that my kid waving vigorously at me from her spot in line, chest puffed out and standing tall to show me just exactly how grown up she really is?

Further down the hall, I glanced into the library-turned-vaccination-clinic and paused to watch the hoards of nervous kids shuffling around and waiting for their turn to become H1N1 flu-fighter super students. Girls giggled in little circles and boys jostled each other to maintain their spot on the pecking order. A swirl of turquoise blue caught my eye and I heard myself catch my breath as I realized the beautiful, smiling 2nd grader was our first-born daughter and Queen of Katie Land. There she was, tall and lean in her girly twirly turquoise skirt and leggings and oblivious to the fact that I was watching her, standing in line interacting with her gaggle of girl friends, and appearing way too old. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that she was a 22 pound, 9-month-old with the roundest face and four rolls of adorable chub on each of her thighs?

By the time I made it to Grant's 3rd grade classroom, I was a bit relieved that he was out of his classroom at reading group. I said hello to his 20-some classmates who were thrilled to take a break from learning about penguins and milk saying hi to the newest parent volunteer for as long as possible. I caught myself searching for a certain little girl who long ago stole my sweet son's heart and inwardly congratulated him on choosing well as she shyly smiled and waved. I moved to the hallway, taking down the Wild Things bulletin board and filing each piece of artwork in ginormous yellow folders made of poster board, and wondered where the past 8 1/2 years have gone. I found the hand-drawn monster with "Grant" written in slow, purposeful cursive in the bottom left hand corner and dug through the pile of folders to find my son's.

As I filed his artwork, I came across his collage. I pulled it out and as I examined each carefully cropped and placed photo, I realized it was a snapshot of all I was feeling. Looking back at me was baby Grant in a swing at the park, appearing to have stepped out of a Baby Gap catalog because when you only have one baby you can painstakingly dress him from head to toe multiple times a day. There was precocious 4-year-old Grant in his first school picture, dressed in his preppy polo shirt, smiling nervously and looking way too young to be in a school picture. There was 6-year-old Grant with his surfer hair, cut off jean shorts and button up shirt, head banging with a snow scraper as his fake guitar. And there was 8-year-old Grant, with his new spiky hair, skinny jeans, Converse, and grown-up attitude. Interspersed with the self-portraits were his favorite photos of each of his sisters, one of Curt and I, and several family Christmas pictures. One son, teetering on the edge between pre-adolescence and little boyhood. Eight years condensed into one collage.

I carried the stack of folders back into the classroom and glanced over to Grant's desk. He had snuck into the classroom while I was making copies and when he saw me, his face lit and he started to wave, then quickly put his hand down and did a more mature head-nod to acknowledge me. I stifled a giggle, blew him a kiss goodbye (much to his embarrassment) and headed to the van to pick up the baby of the family, who is somehow on the brink of turning four and has left behind all things baby related. Wasn't it yesterday we were bringing her home to meet her three older siblings?

Blink. And they've grown. I know that over the next handful of years, as each of my precious "babies" hurdles another milestone, I'll circle back to the oxymoron that the days seem long, but the years fly by. And I'll celebrate with them as I learn to pull back and let them spread their wings.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

26 or 28 or 31 or Something Consecutive Laps

Tonight Curt and I went on another swim/coffee shop date night. We swam for 30ish minutes and I counted out 26 consecutive grueling laps. Curt counted 31 and lapped me once, so we'll say I swam 28 laps consecutively. BRUTAL! Around lap 11, I started to get all mental in the water and felt that panic come over me. What if I breathe in the water? How can I catch my breath in such a short second? What if water goes up my nose? With every "what if" question, I felt my heart rate accelerate and my mind start going berserk. I kept quoting the Jodi Stilp version of II Timothy 1:7, "God did not give me a spirit of fear. But of power, love and a sound mind." And then for good measure, a little bit of Dory from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...." It lasted for FIVE excruciating laps until I finally settled into a better frame of mind. After we swam, we hit our new favorite coffee shop for delectable sandwiches, salad, soup and my new fetish, Italian cappuccinos with a feather drawn in the foam. I literally licked the foam out of the cup. It was that good. (Can't take me anywhere.)

Funny kid stuff from today: Paige (3 1/2 years) overheard me talking to my friend Britta on the phone and gathered from my end of the conversation that Griffin wasn't feeling good. She immediately suggested that we pray for him, so I asked her to do it. She prayed, "Dear Jesus. Fank you dat Griffin will feel better soon." Then paused as if thinking really hard and added, "Griffin Buttstaber (Buchstaber). Amen," as if God needed to know Griffin's last name to know who she was praying for.

Alli (who is 5) has been known to mix her words up and invent some funny words. When she was three, she told me she was "angertated." Don't you just know what she means? She, along with probably 500 other kids, calls hand sanitizer "hanitizer." She saw Bed, Bath and Beyond the other day and hollered, "Hey look Mom. There's Bath Towel and Beyond." And today's funny comment came in the car. She sneezed and then was stuffy afterward. As she was sniffing funny, she looked at me and said, "Mom, I was aaachooing a lot at school today." I contained my laughter and asked, "Oh, you were sneezing a lot?" She said, "No, I was aaachooing a lot." I repeated my question a second time and she repeated her answer a third time. I explained that when you say, "Aaachoo" it's called sneezing. She looked really confused and then said, "Well what's this called?" and sniffed really hard. To which I replied, "Oh, that's being stuffy." She got a contented smile and sat back in her chair. They make me laugh every day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Joy, Peace, Hope

When Curt and I started dating, he was mortified that my Bible was a gift from an old boyfriend, complete with a mushy love note written in the front cover. Given the fact that "Forever" ended up being a little over a year, I whited out all the mushy stuff and kept using my well-worn Bible where I could find favorite verses in no time flat. Eventually Curt got sick of seeing my old Bible and bought me a beautiful new one with my married name imprinted on the front cover. Can't white that out! My new Bible has become my prized possession and is the first study Bible I have ever had. It must be at least 4 inches thick, with large font, notes on every confusing verse, history tidbits, maps, charts, concordances and dictionaries. It's so big that I've resorted to using a quiet time bag for easier transport.

Last week I was digging through my nightstand and I stumbled upon my old Bible with the whited out love letter. It's a thin-line, which means the pages are about the thickness of tissue paper and the font is so small that you need a magnifier to read it, but it has the entire Bible condensed into a tiny little size that fits in my purse and doesn't require a trip to the chiropractor after toting it around. I shoved it in my purse and have really enjoyed reading it while I'm on the incumbent bike at the gym. Reading the Word refreshes my spirit and makes a monotonous chore fly by.

Today I plowed through the last half of Romans, a book that is well-written but difficult to understand if you don't have your game face on. I asked God to open my mind to understand these last few chapters and multiple times I had to back up and whisper the text out loud to make sense of it all. I'm sure I was quite a sight sweating on the bike, holding my beat-up Bible directly in front of my face to read the tiny font and talking to myself.

I love how Paul prays. He often just bursts into prayer in the middle of his letters. He did this twice in Romans 15 and each prayer spoke to my heart. Romans 15:5 says, "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus." Being an runner, I couldn't help but think of a race. What do I need to run a race well? Endurance. Encouragement. And a spirit of unity among the runners ups the fun factor immensely. Life with Christ is like running a marathon. To do it well we need endurance, encouragement and unity among the body of Christ. I was challenged to evaluate my life in light of these things. Am I utilizing God's endurance or quitting because it got too hard? Am I allowing God to encourage me? And am I being an encouragement to others? Am I an agent of unity in my circle of influence or am I divisive?

Verse 13 says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." On Sunday our pastor defined hope as "confident expectation." Being hopeful is not wishful thinking. It's confidently waiting on and expecting God to move. Who doesn't want to overflow with hope?!? The promise to fill me with joy and peace as I trust in Him was salve to my soul. As women, we tend to choose depression, anxiety, fear and worry. But God wants us to be filled with joy, peace and hope. Let's in unity come together and intentionally choose joy, peace and hope as we trust in our awesome God.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shopping, How I Loathe You

My hubba hubba husband took me out last night for a birthday date night. The kids were thrilled to have a "half-sleepover" at the Buchstaber's and we relished having an evening out. Over dinner we talked through our grief over Tyler's death and the alone time was a welcome solace to the craziness that normally ensues over family dinner. When we felt comforted, we moved on to the next item on the agenda: shopping. UGH!

I used to love to shop and there are rare moments now when I actually enjoy it, but being a mom of toddlers completely renovated my view of shopping. Why all the tempting trinkets and gadgets and bright colored candy at 2-year-old-eye-level? What is it about Target that brings out the evil in my children and they choose to publicly decompensate in the middle of the well-traveled aisles? Why does it take twice as long to buy five things with four children tagging along? And whose brainy idea was it to make a meal plan and a grocery list that rivals Santa's every two weeks and shop for it all on the same day? I have learned to loathe shopping, especially grocery shopping. However, it's a necessary evil so on we pushed.

I was terrified that on our one night to power shop we would find nothing on our long list of things to buy, but thankfully we were overly successful in our efforts. I considered going home for our sleeping bags after two hours in the Gap, but we finally emerged. Never mind that we were on a first-name basis with the entire staff or that I was folding clothes in the dressing room while Curt tried on one of everything in the store.... Kohl's was the next target and over another two hours, we mowed down everything on our list. Talk about exhausting! Until last night, I have successfully refused to wear skinny jeans, but I finally succumbed to peer pressure and bought not one, but two pairs, much to the delight of our kids. Apparently skinny jeans are "super cool." If only I had known years ago... We arrived at the Buchstaber's to gather up our brood of sleeping children and systematically carried each one to the waiting van. This was a much easier task when there was only one or two of them and the maximum weight was 20 pounds!

Tonight I'll tackle the groceries and I'm so excited about it that I've been putting off making the list all day. As much as I loathe shopping, I sure did enjoy spending time with my man. Now enough procrastinating. Time to make that grocery list.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Beautiful Lord

As I've been praying through Tyler's death, I listened to my new birthday CD by Leeland. This song spoke profoundly to me as I worked through my grief over such a senseless loss. And when the sun, or should I say Son, broke through the rain clouds this afternoon, I was overcome with God's love for me. Oh Lord, You are beautiful. You are Love. You are Hope. You are Peace. You are Comfort. Thank You for being in control. Help me to hold my life open to Your tender care. And please be with Tyler's family.

Beautiful Lord
words and music by Leeland Dayton

When the storms are raging all around me,
You are the peace that calms my troubled sea.
And when the cares of this world darken my day,
You are the light that shines and shows me the way.

Oh the beauty of Your majesty.
On the cross You showed Your love for me.

Beautiful Lord
Awesome and mighty
I'm captured by this love I see.
Beautiful Lord
Tender and holy
Your mercy drives me to my knees.
It's Your mercy that has made me free
Beautiful Lord.

When my sin is all that I can see
Your grace remains the shelter that I seek.
And when my weakness is all I can give
Your gentle Spirit gives me strength again.
And oh, the beauty of Your majesty
On the cross You showed Your love for me.

And I'm lifted by Your love to sing!
It's Your mercy that has made me free!

You're beautiful, my Lord!
You're beautiful, my Lord!

Senseless Tragedy

Curt called me this morning before the kids left for school which is something he never does. His voice shaken, he said, "You need to pray for our department. Jamie's baby died yesterday. We're all shaken up and potential students are flooding the halls waiting for interviews. How on earth will we pull it together?"

Baby Tyler died? How is that possible? I remember meeting Jamie when we flew to Oregon for a house hunting trip. She and her husband had one daughter, about a year and a half at the time, and were contemplating when to have another baby. I remember Curt coming home from work one day last year and saying, "Guess what? Jamie's pregnant! And Katie's pregnant too. They're due at the same time." What fun to be pregnant at the same time! I got the Reader's Digest guy-version of their pregnancies from Curt when I'd pick his brain. Are they showing? How are they feeling? When are they due?

Both girls delivered on the same day. One was over-due and one a bit early. Katie had a girl. Jamie had a boy. We all giggled at how fun it would be for them to watch their babies grow up together. I made pot pie times two for Curt to bring to their families and spent forever in the baby section picking out a boy outfit and a girl outfit, both in slightly larger sizes so the parents would have something new to pull out of the closet around the 9-12 month age.

I can't remember the exact time line of Zoey and Tyler's births, but I'm certain Jamie and Katie would have pulled those outfits out of the closet soon. And what a sweet age 9-12 months is. Babies start developing a personality and realize they can wrap themselves around your little finger with a few toothless smiles and some drool smeared across your cheek in the form of a kiss. Or reduce you to a puddle of tears when they've been screaming all day and all night because their teeth hurt. Or is it their ears? Or are they just being belligerent? If only they could talk and tell us what their problem is. They start moving and grooving. Ambitious babies, usually tall and skinny ones, start walking at this age. Not-so-ambitious babies, usually the chubby ones like mine, can't fathom the idea of getting all that chub going in one direction and decide to be content to sit on the floor and grab or roll to anything within reach. They figure out how to work those tiny chubby fingers and once they can pick up food, they make a game out of repeatedly dropping the food that they fought so hard to pick up off their tray and splatting it on the floor. The messier, the better, the louder the laugh. And my babies? They all had a "ni nite" - a special blankie they drug everywhere with them, like Linus, including to bed.

Jamie is not my co-worker, but I have a window into her life through Curt. Grandma gets the chance to love on the grandbabies on the days that Jamie works. Yesterday, Jamie came to pick the kids up and Tyler was taking a long nap. She went in to wake him up and he had pulled his ni nite up over his head in his sleep. How many times has that happened to my babies? But this time, his ni nite got tangled and it suffocated him. When she uncovered him, he was limp and blue. Every medical resource available worked on him until midnight when they finally called it.

My heart is breaking for this family. I can't even imagine the depth of their grief or how immobilizing it must be. And it seems so pointless. Why would life be cut down before it even had a chance to get started? How do you get out of bed? Breathe? Hope, dream or laugh again?

I can't help but thank God for the timeliness of the in-depth study of Psalm 23 that I've done these past weeks. I have 25 years of history developed with my Good Shepherd. 25 years, we've walked together, and in those years, He has walked me through life's valleys. When the valley was so dark that it sapped everything in me except my life, my Jesus carried me. He wiped my tears, held me, and sang me lullabies. I'm sure He cried with me and subsequently rejoiced with me as I gained back strength and hope and joy. He has faithfully been by my side and I have complete confidence in His care.

The darker the valley, the more I sensed His presence. And I feel it today. From a human perspective, this is a senseless tragedy. How could any good come from a sweet baby dying before he walks? But I don't see the big picture. I just see today. This moment. And I can trust that my Jesus will eventually take what Satan intends for evil and somehow, miraculously, transform it to good. For now, I once again, choose to climb up into His lap and listen to Him sing to me. And when He dries my tears and I find my voice again, I'll ask Him to wrap His arms of love around Jamie and her family, carry them through their grief, give them energy to breathe in and breathe out, and bringing healing to their breaking hearts.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So I'm Really Thirty Five?

The entire year I was 32, I was adamant I was 33 and told people the whole year that I was 33. A couple days before my birthday, Curt and I got into a heated "discussion" over my age. He had to get out a calculator and subtract 1974 from the current year to prove that I was indeed 32-turning-33, not 33-turning-34. Being 33 was easy given I already had an entire year of practice! When I turned 34 last year, it was hard to stop thinking I was 33. Even though I was the brunt of a well-told story, old habits die hard, and I was taken back by a conversation I had last week with my friend Kelly.

Kelly: "Gosh, you're going to be 35 next week. We're that much closer to 40."
Me: "I'm not going to be 35, I'm going to be thirty-fourrrrrr... Oh. Wow. You're right."
I've been so busy being 33 for the past three years, that somehow I'm mid 30's and didn't even know it.

Thank goodness for Facebook to keep me in touch with friends from all walks of life and thanks to all of you who stopped by my wall and left me birthday greetings. Every time I passed the computer, the little red light circle in the corner of my mail server was lit up with new messages. I felt so loved!

Being 35 isn't bad. I woke up at 7 a.m., my designated time to force myself out of bed on a school morning, to a house full of wide-awake kids, wrapped presents on the counter and a bundle of hand-made cards and crafted treasures. It was a bit overwhelming for me to have a party before I had my coffee, but it was a great way to start the day. Took Poogie to the gym anticipating a yoga class, but decided to talk to an old friend on the phone instead. I missed the first half of the class and opted for a long, quiet workout that I thoroughly enjoyed. I had so much fun at the gym that I almost forgot to pick Alli up from the bus stop, but remembered in the nick of time, thank God. Alli and Paige "took me out to lunch" since it's anything-I-want-day, but somehow I got stuck footing the bill. We relaxed this afternoon and took a nap, not because I was tired, but because I could. My Mom and Terry came over for dinner. She made raspberry trifle, not truffle (apparently there's a difference) and we did the whole nine yards of candles and singing Happy Birthday. Grant preceded the candle blowing with a solo rendition of Happy Birthday, singing and playing his guitar. I took a video and will post it later. Curt put the kids to bed for me so I could write this post and we are going on a date sans-kids tomorrow night (thanks Britta for watching the kids).

If day one of being 35 is any indication of the year, it's going to be a good one. Just don't ask me how old I am. Most likely I'll say, "Thirty-three."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stilp Six Updates

I saw the ortho surgeon again yesterday. He gave me a yellow light to increase my physical activity. I can start running SLOWLY (his emphasis, not mine) on a treadmill or flat street which are hard to come by in Newberg. I get to stop the twice-weekly physical therapy sessions which will free up my schedule considerably, although since I've spent so much time at PT, the entire staff can list our children's names and ages with their eyes closed. If I continue to progress on schedule, the Doc will give me the green light to do whatever I want at whatever speed I want on December 17th.

I got back in the pool on Tuesday for the first time since mid-August. My heart was racing, my mouth dry and my hands clammy. Why or why must I dread it so much? But Curt was with me and he encouraged me to take the step to actually get IN the water instead of staring in horror at it. And once I went under, it wasn't so frightening. I swam 20 consecutive laps and was completely stoked when we got out of the water. The 20 laps part was difficult since my cardio base is so depleted, but the mental game was much better and I only panicked a few times. Praise God for progress.

Curt is presenting at a PA Educators conference this morning. I'm so proud of him. What a stud. He's managed a really busy work load with ease and still manages to make us a priority. We are so lucky to have him.

Book club wrapped up last night. It was an unexpected blessing and time of spiritual growth for me. The Lord drug me into it kicking and screaming and then used it profoundly to grow my love for Him and my awareness of His love for me. The emerging friendships from sharing this with such a great group of women was a total bonus. I will be glad to get a few weeks to catch my breath from continuous hosting, although I'm sure the house will be much dirtier.

The kids are doing awesome. When we took Paige to the doctor for her H1N1, the office was having a coloring contest so I picked up sheets for all the kids. While they were home sick, they colored their entries and we dropped them off. Got a call yesterday that Katie won her age division. There was lots of celebrating by Katie and I, and lots of tears and disappointed sighs from the other three who were NOT winners. Good chance to teach about rejoicing with those who rejoice. Katie and Alli are taking a jazz class and Katie in particular seems to really be loving it.

Alli got a big ginormous STAR in the behavior section of her report at parent conferences and what a blessing to see her funneling her energy and passion into obedience and kindness. We are so proud of her progress this year.

Paige has been rattling off hilarious 3-year-old antidotes faster than I can write them down. Here are some recent favorites. We saw people being "bathtized" at church (makes sense to me). I told her she was such a good daughter and she wholeheartedly said, "I KNOW I am!" And I stopped at the mailbox in my PT's office to mail something to Clark and Evie Bear. She said in amazement, "There's a mailbox at physical ferapy?" I decided to enlighten her that there are indeed mailboxes EVERYWHERE, not just at our house. Her reply? "AMAZING!" And our dentist is Dr. Bizeau. She said, "I can't wait to show my boots to Dr. Zibeau."

Grant is finally taking guitar lessons and really enjoying them. Grant noticed our neighbor's got solar panels and was all excited about it. He acknowledged that it would be expensive to have them installed, but still inquired if we could get them. When I asked what the benefit was, he said, "They are a renewable energy source and good for the environment. They just installed a solar plant in Salem. I read about it in the newspaper." And apparently he corrected his teacher's pronunciation of "Tanzania" today in class (hopefully politely?!?!). Her response was, "I'm glad I have Grant around to correct me. He's such a wealth of knowledge." Will I ever stop thinking his verbal skills are funny?!?!

So that's our update. What's yours?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I Will Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever

An errand today took me on a road I haven’t traversed in 15 years. It also forced me to unearth memories that were shoved in the far recesses of my mind. Cobwebbed and dusty, they had been intentionally forgotten. Fifteen years ago was a painful time in my life. My parents were thick in a devastating public divorce and my Beaver Cleaver life lay in a million shattered pieces. In that moment, in my pain, I never would have believed God could redeem such a mess. That He could and would take something tragic and ugly and transform it into something useful and beautiful.

Fifteen years ago, my Good Shepherd came searching for me. Cast down, unable to right myself from the mess of my life, He rescued me. Picked me up. Held me close. Massaged life back into my feeble limbs. Cheered me on as I tried to find strength to walk again. Encouraged me as I stumbled and fumbled through the next steps. Laughed with me when I could finally run and skip again.

My Good Shepherd went before me through my valley. He knew the best route to the mountain tableland. He knew the risks, the dangers, and the perils that lay ahead of me. He knew my valley would be painful, difficult, and endurance-building. When I couldn’t walk, He carried me. When I was tired, He gave me strength. When I wanted to quit, He whispered encouragement to my soul. When I wanted to wallow in self-misery and bitterness, He taught me how to be grateful and learn to forgive.

My Good Shepherd staked His claim over my life. He stood openly in the presence my enemies and all that would harm or attack me in my weakened state, and He stood guard. He protected me. He loved me.

My Good Shepherd intentionally and meticulously poured His love, His care and His provision into my life. He met me in my shambles and poured His very life into mine. He redeemed my life from the pit. His love transformed me.

W. Phillip Keller in the last chapter of his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, reminds us that we should be proud to belong to Christ. “How glad we should be to look back and recall all the amazing ways in which He provided for our welfare. We should delight to describe, in detail, the hard experiences through which He brought us. And we should be eager and quick to tell of our confidence in Christ.”

When I look back on my life, I see my Good Shepherd picking up the pieces of my former life. I see Him throwing out the pieces that are no longer useful or functional and that don’t fit with His plan. I see Him fixing the pieces that are broken, creatively repairing and repurposing pieces the world saw as disposable. I see my Good Shepherd’s love. His diligence. His patience and forgiveness. I see rugged valleys and glorious mountain tablelands. I remember following Him through autumn storms to the cozy place of rest and safety of the winter months. I remember times of giddy anticipation to break out of the place of rest and into the spring pastures. And woven throughout my life, I see my Good Shepherd’s faithfulness.

Today, as I drove down the road of forgotten memories, I didn’t feel pain. Miraculously I felt joy, happiness, and gratefulness for all my Good Shepherd has done in my life. I called my Dad and then my Mom and we rejoiced in the unorthodox way that God so often works.

I delight to describe in detail the hard experiences through which He has brought me, because that path has led me to a place of complete contentment in my Good Shepherd’s care. Come what may, be it valleys or mountaintops, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me

I have an Aunt Shirley Boelter. When I memorized Psalm 23 as a child, I often wondered WHO Shirley Goodness was and WHY she'd follow me all the days of my life. Thank goodness W. Phillip Keller sheds some light on this in chapter 11 of his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.

As the poem wraps up, the sheep is so confident in the care she has received from her shepherd that she boldly proclaims, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life!" Her declaration conveys her "implicit confidence in the One who controls her career and destiny." It's easy to boast to the world about my Master’s goodness when life is running like a well-oiled machine, but what about when life gets messy? Do I still confidently declare that my Good Shepherd is the all-time-best when my dreams are crumbling and my aspirations lay in ruins? "These are the sort of times that test a person's confidence in the care of Christ."

When I look back on the desperate times in my life, I see that it was in the dark days, the messy pits, and the hopeless despair that my Good Shepherd cared for me most tenderly. Even the things I was certain God could never in a million years use for good became useful tools in His hands. "This is to see the goodness and mercy of my Master in my life."

The obvious result of my life should be one that touches others in the ways my Savior has touched me. Do I leave an imprint of Jesus Christ on those my life intersects with? Keller says, "Just as God's goodness and mercy flow to me all the days of my life, so goodness and mercy should follow me, should be left behind me as a legacy to others wherever I may go."

What will my legacy be? Do I leave blessing or pain? Frustration or peace? Anger or joy? Contentment or discord? If I am walking closely with my Good Shepherd, the overflow of His goodness and mercy should pour out of my life, splash onto those around me, and as Paul says in II Corinthians 2:14 be "an aroma of Christ" to anyone in a hundred mile radius.

Keller concludes with this thought. "Most of us forget that our Shepherd is looking for some satisfaction as well. He looks on my life in tenderness, for He loves me deeply. He sees the long years during which His goodness and mercy have followed me without slackening. He longs to see some measure of that same goodness and mercy not only passed on to others by me but also passed back to Him with joy. He longs for love - my love."

My Good Shepherd longs for love - my love. And I love Him, because He first loved me.