Saturday, February 27, 2010


Four years ago at this exact time, I was holding my fourth baby, in four years, for the first time. One glimpse of her scrunchy little face and I fell madly in love. My husband, who delivered her and made the official "It's a girl!" announcement, quipped about another wedding to pay for and another daughter to walk down the aisle. In that moment, my mind jumped ahead twenty-some years and I realized that Paige's Daddy was the first person to usher her into the world and he would also usher her down the aisle to her waiting groom if and when she gets married. Her heart is currently owned by a curly-headed little boy from church who introduces himself to strangers as a "Jesus follower." We're pretty pleased with her choice and hope she goes through with her plans to marry him, "but not until I'm 24."

At our house, birthdays are a big deal. "It's anything you want day" and we party all day long. Paigey chose her birthday menu weeks ago: strawberry and chocolate chip pancakes with whip cream and bacon. For lunch, she requested a hike and a picnic lunch of PB&J. Her dinner plans were to go out to eat at Shari's, but she made a last minute dinner change and switched to Red Robin because "they sing to you and give you balloons and ice cream." Everywhere we go we tell people, "It's Paige's birthday today," and she wore an "It's my Birthday" pin on each of her SIX outfits (remember it's anything you want day?) today just in case people didn't believe us.

Yesterday we had the kid party. Over the years I've gotten better at throwing birthday parties. Somewhere along the line I realized the more kids you have, the more chaotic it gets. I also realized the kids never wanted to play the games I spent hours organizing nor did they care about decorations and if they matched the invitation. I planned Paige's party on a school morning which promptly eliminated Stilp Children 1,2, and 3, and brought the focus to just Paige and her friends. She wanted "cut out cookies with pink frosting and sprinkles and NO cupcakes. And juice boxes cause Evie has dose." I exceeded my expectations with my decorating skills and the cookies looked like my second-grader decorated them instead of my kindergartener. I was very proud. We did my version of a "craft" - foam butterflies with foam stickers to decorate them, and played pin the tail on the donkey. Paige's tail was suspiciously accurate and when I asked her if she could see under the blindfold, she cheerfully replied, "Yes!" She opened presents, the kids got their goody bags, the moms got some strong coffee and everyone left happy.

Alli went straight from school to a play date so Paige and I had the whole day to be together just the two of us. On a whim, we went to the newest Mexican fast food place in town and ordered fried rolled tacos smothered in guacamole and cheese. We ate in the library parking lot and oohed and ahhed over how yummy our lunch was. We used a pack of wipes to clean up all the grease and guac off our fingers and then went in the library to get some books. Stopped by the auto body shop to have one last thing fixed on the van and sat in the lobby, snuggled up in some super comfy waiting room chairs, and read every last library book. Came home and "for a special treat" took a nap together in Mommy's bed. Paige opted to defy tradition and sprawl with her feet on my belly and her head at the foot of the bed. We snuggled and dozed on a gray rainy day, me and my baby who was almost four. It was glorious.

For "a special treat since I'm the birthday girl," Paige wore her fancy new dress to bed last night so all our breakfast pictures are in her new dress. We met Grandma Ru and Grandpa Terry at Tryon Creek State Park per Paige's marching orders. The trail was mud central since it rained all week, but today it was 60 degrees, blue skies and sunny. Spring is in the air and the trees are awash with color as pink and white buds open in the sunshine. We hiked about three miles through the thick forest and let Paige set the pace which left tons of time for the older kids to explore in the woods and make up games. The trail crisscrossed a swollen creek and we danced over bridges, hid in the woods, and skipped down the muddy trail. We opted to "picnic" at Grandma and Grandpa's house and moved the party south. Grandpa Terry spent the greater part of yesterday making a teddy bear birthday cake for Paige. It was adorable with frosting that looked like real fur.

When we were well past nap time, we loaded up and headed home for a round of present opening and dinner at Red Robin. Paige got a "dvd player" that curiously only plays CD's and also has a microphone that plugs into it. She treated us to a Taylor Swift concert, four-year-old style, complete with hair flipping and some pretty sweet dance moves.

As I tucked my "foa" year old into bed tonight, I felt that familiar feeling of my heart swelling with love. Was it really only four years ago that we welcomed Paige into this world? In some ways it feels like she was just born yesterday. But in the same breath, I can't remember life without her. We followed our bedtime routine which is continually morphing depending on Paige's mood. When she prays, I stroke her hair and recently she's started returning the favor. Only her stroking feels a lot like a combination of hair pulling and smothering and I hope she never drops this part of the bedtime ritual. After prayer, we gave each other five hugs, five kisses, five pat pats, five eskimo kisses, and finally five blown kisses. As we said our finally goodnights, she politely asked me to get her a water bottle with "cold water and seven ice cubes" and I was happy to oblige.

Four kids. Born in four years. And my baby turned four today.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Comedy of Errors

The past six months have had their share of tumultuous moments for our family. We've been visited by the swine flu, dealt with broken bones, bee stings, puncture wounds, and various facial abrasions. I personally have had surgery, dealt with over-use setbacks, a random toe injury, and most recently been plagued by an old neck injury that reduces me to a fraction of who I normally am. Which brings me to last week, a comedy of errors on a massive scale.

On Thursday, Paigey was inadvertently exposed to the crud that every other child in Newberg has right now. Normally I wouldn't care, but we were scheduled to leave on Saturday for a much anticipated vacation. Friday morning she woke up coughing and by bedtime she was sporting a low-grade fever to match her hacking cough. We decided to wait to pack for our trip to see how the night went.

Saturday morning dawned a bit groggy and cranky by all parties involved in the midnight hack fest. We called Brian and Nancy, the friends we were going to visit in Seattle, and they gave us their blessing to invade their home, sick child and all. We gathered our kids and gave them a verbal list of what to pack and then we all rushed off to throw clothes in a bag so we could get on the road. Alli, who is normally a great packer, clearly wasn't listening when we gave the run down. For a weekend trip she packed a vest and sweatshirt, one pair of extra undies, one "church" outfit, her blankie, two pairs of shoes, and four toothbrushes. No socks, no jammies, no clothes to speak of aside from the clothes on her body and a serious deficit in the undies department. Needless to say, her special Valentine shirt looked like it had been through the war by the time we got home from being worn three days in a row.

We pulled out of the driveway, two hours later than our original goal time, completely discombobulated and heavy on crabbiness. While Paige was hacking up a lung in her car seat, I was waxing poetic about how God must be protecting us from unforeseen danger by delaying our departure, but the Crab Master General (who had been ready for 45 minutes while he waited for Miss Poetic) was not buying what I was selling! Ten miles into our trip and before we even reached the freeway, I broke out some Valentine chocolates we'd been saving for the road trip. I offered one to Curt and he glanced down for MAYBE two seconds to make a choice. When he looked up, the truck in front of us had stopped suddenly and there was nothing he could do but slam on the brakes and wait for the crunch. Everyone was perfectly fine, but the impact was just great enough to crack our radiator cap, rendering the van useless except to drive home. Are you kidding me?!?!

We whipped a u-turn and headed back to Newberg serenaded by the wailing of four kids who had been anticipating playing with Grace and Griffin for weeks. While Curt kept one eye on the road and the other on the temperature gauge, I called the insurance adjustor and started navigating the labyrinth of paperwork that comes with an accident. I told the adjustor that we were on our way out of town and she cheerfully informed me that we had rental car coverage on our policy and it would cover a vehicle for the weekend. Before we had time to celebrate she sighed and said, "We work with Enterprise and they close at noon on the weekends, so you missed them by five minutes." Now what?

We bought the van because we needed six seat belts and Curt's Jeep only has five. It was beginning to look like we might not make it to Seattle when my friend Britta called to check and see how my neck was feeling (remember neck injury from week before?). We told her about our newest fiasco and since they only need five seat belts, she offered to switch vehicles with us. Blessed by her generosity, I trekked twenty-five minutes back the direction we'd just traversed to swap vehicles, then turned around and drove home to pick up the family and reload all our gear. When we pulled out of the driveway for the second time, it was FIVE hours later than when we left the first time! By the time we arrived, it was dinner time, Paige had a full-on fever and the other kids who are normally great travelers, had been alternately arguing with each other and whining about how LONG it was taking for at least an hour. SIGH. At least we made it safely.

Our time with Brian and Nancy and their kids was well worth the obstacles we hurdled to get there. We've been friends for seven years and first met when we were all living in Illinois. There's something so comfortable about a friendship with layers, the kind where you can be yourself and sit around in your jammies with bed-head and not be embarrassed, even though you probably should be. Nancy, who is a pre-school teacher, organized a Valentine scavenger hunt for the kids and the adults sat around in our jammies and giggled while our herd of six kids raced around the house, the yard, and down the street tracking down clues and solving worksheets. Brian is an eye doctor, so we visited him at work and he gave me a new prescription. Nancy and I went for a five-mile run around their beautiful neighborhood. It was a mild day and we enjoyed great conversation and gorgeous views. We took the kids downtown Seattle to the Pacific Science Center which was super cool. It was in a cluster of museums surrounding the base of the space needle. The entire afternoon was really satisfying.

Monday was our last day together and on the slate of activities was another gourmet breakfast by Brian and Nancy and a quick nature walk before we headed home. I woke up feeling really "off" with what I perceived to be muscle tension in my low back. When Curt tapped on it and I gasped in pain, he diagnosed a kidney problem and told me to make an appointment with my doctor. I was shocked at how quickly things progressed from mild discomfort to sharp pain that had me doubled over on the couch. I have to say the intensity of the pain rivaled, if not topped, being in labor. We went in search of an urgent care, but as luck would have it, it was President's Day and most of the doctors in Snohomish took the day off. Both urgent care centers we visited had two-hour waits and the closest emergency room was a fifteen minute drive the opposite direction. We opted to make an appointment with my doc in Newberg for later in the afternoon and hit the road. I figured being miserable in the privacy of my car was a better option than being miserable in a packed waiting room of sick people.

My doc diagnosed a kidney stone, prescribed heavy narcotics for the pain, and sent me home to flush it out with lots of water. The next day, I spiked a high fever and Curt drug me to the hospital for imaging tests and more evaluation by the doctor. I was so miserable that I didn't have the emotional energy to be embarrassed about my disheveled appearance or the fact that I was slumped over in a wheelchair the entire time we were there. Turns out I had both a kidney stone and a kidney infection. Lucky me.

It took two days for the antibiotics to kick in and put me out of my misery. In my coherent moments when I was laying in bed annoyed at the absurdity of being flat on my back and completely useless for the third time in six months, I kept thinking, "Don't complain. This is character building." Clearly there are some rough edges that God is shaving away in my life and the tool He's choosing is pain. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, talks about an ailment he struggled with for years. He asked God to heal him and instead God said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul so beautifully goes on to say, "That is why for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses.... For when I am weak, then I am strong."

I was certainly weak these past days. I found strength through my amazing husband who once again so capably and beautifully juggled guitar and dance class, bus stops, homework, tow trucks, rental cars and babysitting for me and the kids. I found strength through my family and friends who prayed and called and emailed their support. I found strength in my crazy wonderful friends who once again fed and cared for my family when I was unable to do so. I found strength through the peace God gave me while I was sick. I am finding strength from the invaluable lessons of empathy and compassion I am gaining from my weakness.

This past week may have been a comedy of errors, but like Paul, I am choosing to delight in it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Olympics from a 3-year-old Perspective (and other fun kid stuff)

We've been taping the Olympics and letting the kids watch some each morning before school. Yesterday after the big kids left, Paige and I were snuggled in the big cozy chair watching mens figure skating. She pointed to the ice arena and said in awe, "Mom, did you know if you skate there you get a teddy bear?" When I confirmed my amazement at this fact, she continued. "Mom, when I grow up, I still want to be a cowgirl. But when I grow up again after that, I want to be a skater and do fancy tricks and skate there (pointing to the TV screen) because then I'll get a teddy bear."

Later that day, we were driving by the golf course with the car windows DOWN on February 19th!!!!! It was 62 degrees outside, blue skies, bright sun, and the grass had just been cut. Alli, who is 5, exhaled loudly and relaxed into her seat contentedly. She sighed and said, "This is the BEST day of my life. I finally got to show and tell at school. There was a birthday at school so we all got treats. It's a beautiful weather day and I can smell grass." I couldn't agree more!

Kaitlin, who is 7, saw an LA Fitness when we were in Seattle last weekend. On our drive home, we passed another one in Portland. She pointed it out to the family and said, "Look. They have laFitness (as in lah) in Portland too!"

Grant, age 8, is all about Shaun White the Olympic snowboarder. He's always liked him but seeing him on the big screen has inspired lots of "tricks" - jumping and spinning and landing with a thud. In the family room. In the kitchen. In the aisles at Target. And this morning in his room which is directly above our bedroom. At 7 a.m. On the our sleep-in morning. We were convinced a herd of elephants was invading from Africa. Watch out world. Here comes the Flying Banana.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Snuggle Game

Our youngest daughter Paige, who will be four in a few weeks, desperately needed a nap today. Of course she didn't think she needed a nap so the ten minutes preceding the start of nap time were full of wailing, gnashing of teeth and throwing of things she normally can't sleep without like her "soft pillow, flower blankie, and ni nite." Part of the nap time routine each day is her insistence that I "lay by her for five minutes" which means I have to lay on the floor by her cute toddler sleigh bed until she falls asleep. If she's feeling really feisty, she'll up the anty to a "million jillion minutes."

Normally I relish this forced time out in each day, but I was babysitting my friend's 16-month-old baby, Sammy, who had already indulged in his afternoon nap. He also happened to be tired of Alli, our my five-going-on-twenty-five year old daughter, who wants nothing more than to be a mom and have her own baby to smother whenever she wants but settles for smothering Sammy every chance she gets.

My nap time solution was for all of us to take a "nap" with Paige. We piled into her room and got situated. Me laying on the floor next to her bed with Sammy sitting on my chest, "nukie and bubby" in hand. Paige flopping around, grumbling about not being tired, and settling on top of the pile of blankets and pillows she had piled at the foot of her bed in protest. Alli, who outgrew her nap I think before she was born and can't sit still to save her life, trying her best to lay still on the floor next to me because she couldn't bear the thought of being away from Sammy for five minutes. And finally, Dusty, our dog, who joined the party and settled at my feet.

As I felt the weight of Sammy sitting on my chest the memories of having babies came flooding back. The sweet smell of skin saturated with lotion and saliva from too many kisses, the gentle tickle of soft, whispy baby hair on my cheek, the euphoria of a chubby arm draped under my neck, the tender caress of wrinkled fat fingers mindlessly rubbing soft fabric of treasured blankets, and the rhythmic cadence of a chest rising up and down in peaceful slumber.

In that moment, it didn't matter that Sammy was already well-rested. I was adamant he was going to snuggle with me and take me back to babyland. I gently pushed his head to my chest and he surprised me by agreeing to snuggle. He laid his sweet smelling head next to my cheek and I stroked his soft hair and reveled in the weight of a baby on my chest again for the first time in a LONG time. He periodically sat up to look around, and each time I held my breath to see if he'd lay his head back down. And he did, each time settling back down cheek to cheek. We played the snuggle game, me, Sammy and Dusty snuggling, Alli flopping on the floor like a fish out of water but believing in her mind that she was holding still, and Paigey trying her best NOT to fall asleep, for approximately "five minutes" until Paige gave in to sweet slumber and Sammy decided he was done. It was heavenly.

Monday, February 8, 2010

An Answer

Today my good friend Melanie posted this update on the Friends of David page. "Remains believed to be that of our dear friend, David Adam Hames, have been recovered from the Hotel Montana and are in the custody of the U.S. government, waiting to be transferred to Dover (DE) for final forensic examination. We don't know how long his final examination will take nor how long it will take the military to transport the remains to Dover due to the snowstorm on the East Coast. I will post again when Renee receives the results of this examination. Thank you for your continued prayers and support." After weeks of waiting and praying and hoping and beginning the grief process, we all have an answer. As one of David's friends so eloquently put it, "body broken, spirit free."

We told the kids tonight. Grant, who was in the middle of getting his homework finished, stopped dead in his tracks with a look of shock and said, "Ah Mom. That's really sad," then after a long pause, "Will you sign my homework?" Katie got quiet, a little weepy and headed to her room to process with Daddy. Paige, who didn't seem to get it at all prayed again at bedtime for the "rescuers to find David." When I explained that they had found him and he was in heaven, she got really mad. "But I told God to find him not dead." Alli was the toughest for me. When I told her that David was in heaven, her face said it all. Total shock, anger and sadness. Her thought process was a lot like Paige's. "But we asked God to find him before he died. Not after." And then the tears came. Big, wet tears. She cried first for Aiden and Zander because "they'll be sad without their daddy." Then she cried for Renee' because "she'll be sad without her husband." Then came the tears for her friends, Kiki and Karly and Mr. Jon and Miss Melanie because, "He wasn't just their friend Mom. He was Uncle David." And then tears for herself because there would be no more episodes of Cranium's Ark for her to watch. We sat and held each other and cried for a man we never met but who deeply touched our lives and our hearts. Whew. Thank God for smeary mascara to provide some comic relief!

So we have an answer and it will take a while to process, but I'm so thankful for the comfort and hope that heaven offers and for my Savior and David's Savior, Jesus Christ, who extends to me eternal life free from pain and sorrow. I can't wait to meet you some day David!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Trying Not to Whine

Three years ago on my birthday, Curt walked into our kitchen carrying our 9-month-old daughter and cranked some music on his iPod. He hollered, "It's Mommy's birthday. Everybody head bang," and within seconds my kitchen was full of blonde heads banging to the music. Not one to do things half-heartedly, I exuberantly joined my crazy family until I heard the pop in my neck. I remember thinking to myself, "Well that can't be good," and immediately stopped the party. Two days later, I couldn't stand up straight because of the pain and I had numbness and tingling drifting down my left arm into my fingers. Diagnosis? Two herniated discs in my neck. All from a moment of family fun.

I'm glad now that I didn't know then how this injury would change my life. After the initial eight weeks of a continuous headache and six months of physical therapy, it finally went into remission. But it continues to rear its ugly head and I'm realizing that my moment of craziness will have life-long ramifications. I felt my neck stiffen up again six weeks ago followed by three migraines in two weeks. Got it loosened up again with yoga, stretching and lots of prayer. Thought I had turned the corner when I woke up on Tuesday in pain - the kind I recognized way too quickly and knew would not be a quick fix. And it frustrated me. In spite of my best efforts to get healthy and strong I seem plagued by injuries, old and new, that hinder my goals and force me to deal with pain on a much more frequent basis than I'd choose.

Pain is such an equalizer. No matter our social status, ethnicity or age, pain hurts us all the same. I find myself wrestling with wanting to be a whiner, but knowing I need to suck it up and find something to be grateful for. Quite frankly, I'd prefer to wallow in self pity and misery for awhile, but the life God has blessed me with doesn't allow rest for the weary. My four beautiful children need their mom. My husband, who has been so gracious to pick up the pieces I'm dropping and who is overwhelmingly compassionate, needs his wife. My weekly obligations aren't miraculously disappearing. Life goes on and I can choose to sit and whine or get going.

I read in Psalm 38 today, "My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart." David's a bit dramatic, but I empathize because I know a trial can be all-consuming. He ends his poem by saying, "O LORD, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior." That's where I am tonight. Asking God to come quickly to help me and trying to thank Him for the character building opportunities that present themselves by going through a trial instead of being removed from one. And for all of our sakes, I'll try not to whine.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Note from Renee' Hames

Here' s a note from Renee' Hames via Melanie: "Thank you for bearing my burdens for me. It's helped give me strength through this weight, until we know the answer. We are not in control of what happens today or tomorrow at the Hotel Montana--God ultimately has the controls. Daniel prayed for 21 days before his prayer was answered. I believe God could do the same for our prayers, but I don't know what His plan is for David. No matter what happens, no matter how hard it is, I want to remain faithful." The transition won't be an easy one. Thanks for praying for and with Renee' and all those involved.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Author of Life

Today is Day 20 since David Hames disappeared in the rubble of Hotel Montana. Twenty agonizing days for his wife, family and friends as they waited for news of his well-being. Twenty days of hoping and constant prayer. Twenty days of trying not to despair and wrestling with tough questions of faith. Twenty days of asking God to perform a modern day miracle and to bring David out of the rubble alive. Twenty days of wondering what God's purpose is if He chooses to say no to the earnest pleas from my children, my friends, and people around the world whose hearts are breaking for a family most of us have never met. Twenty days of riding this emotional roller coaster - functioning in life as usual, but always wondering, always checking for updates, always praying.

Today we moved both closer and farther from concrete answers all in one fell swoop. Melanie Dobson, spokesperson for David's family posted this note on the status of the recovery mission. "The lobby at the Hotel Montana is structurally unsound, and they are no longer able to use heavy equipment to clear the rubble. Because of the danger of collapse, workers must remove the debris by hand. Colonel Cintron apologized at the delay and told families tonight that it might take up to three more weeks to recover their loved ones. Heartbreaking news.

Dwight L. Moody once said, “One day soon you will hear that I am dead. Do not believe it. I will then be alive as never before.” We don't know for certain if our friend and brother has left this world, but if he has, we know that David belonged to the Lord (Ps. 116:15), and we can’t imagine him “resting” right now. Instead, we see him laughing and singing and playing his ukulele as he dances down the streets of gold, and we look forward to the day we can laugh and sing alongside him again.

Thank you for your outpouring of love and support and prayers for Renee and their family during the past three weeks. If you would like to follow the progress of the recovery efforts at the hotel, Brian Steidle provides regular updates via twitter. I will post again when we have specific information on David as well as further information about how to support Renee. Please pray for the entire Hames family tonight—that God will comfort their hearts and fill them with peace as they continue to wait for news."
Last week, as I was praying for David, God spoke to me again through a song on my iPod. Evan Wickham wrote a beautiful song called Hallelujah Jesus and we sing it often at our church. One of the verses talks about God and references Him as "Author of my life" which I found to be incredibly poetic, but not a name of God I remember reading in the Bible. Isn't it just like God to take a song that touched my heart and then continue to reveal Himself as the Author of Life to me?

Yesterday in my assigned daily reading I read Acts 3. Peter is laying into the religious Jewish leaders and says in verse 15, "You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead." Can you say instant goosebumps? Later that evening, I made the mistake of drinking a cup of regular coffee at 6 p.m. I know I did sleep at least a little last night, but I felt like my mind never shut off so I tossed and turned and dreamed and prayed all night. Every time I became conscious and started praying for David, I felt God whisper, "I'm the Author of his Life. I know David's story because I'm writing it. I know how it starts and how it ends. Aren't you glad you don't have to worry about it?"

Today I dug out my notes from a Beth Moore Bible study on the book of Daniel. She talked about the infamous story of Daniel's buddies, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who refused to bow to the idol and as a result were cast into a blazing furnace. God chose to spare their lives and they emerged from the fire without even a hair being singed. It was clearly a miracle of deliverance, much like the one we've all been praying for David.

Beth went on to elaborate that in life, God delivers us in varying ways with varying dividends. Scenario A is that God delivers us FROM the fire. Sometimes He saves us before we even know we're in trouble. Other times we sense trouble, cry out and God delivers us from it. The dividend of Scenario A, according to my notes, is that our faith is built. Scenario B is that God delivers us THROUGH the fire. He says, "I know you're walking through a fire right now and I am choosing to deliver you through it. I am right here with you and you're going to make it." The dividend in Scenario B is that our faith is refined. The last scenario is the one we didn't want to face. Scenario C is that God delivers us BY the fire into His arms. Sometimes He chooses to end our suffering and deliver us straight to His arms in heaven. The dividend is that our faith is perfected.

All along I've been praying that God delivers David through the fire, but it's beginning to look like God delivered David by the fire into His arms. It's not the result we all wanted, but I know that God is the Author of David's life and that brings me great peace. Psalm 30:5 says, "...weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Eventually we'll all emerge from this season of weeping and night, and rejoicing will come with the morning. It's a promise I'm clinging to personally and praying for Renee' and David's sons.