Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horses - Guest Post by Paige Stilp (age 6 years)

Paige (6 years old) loves school.  In pre-school, she declared herself an Owl Expert when they were studying owls.  In Kindergarten, Paige learned to read and has become the most avid reader of all our kids.  Her love of reading and learning has turned her onto writing.  She just wrote her first short story and is very proud to share it on the blog.   I also took a video of her reading the story.  You may have to crank the volume to hear her.  Enjoy.

Here's how she wrote her story out.  When out of room, just use marker and write over the pencil.

"I love horses because they are cute.  They run fast.  Their babies are called foals.  Some horses are brown.  I love horses.  They are awesome.  I love, love, love, LOVE horses.  They are my favorite animal.  I love horses.  When horses are being in a race, they have things that make them not do something else.  Horses get fed hay.  I love horses."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

From Stranger to Sister - Guest Post by Sarai Stilmot, AKA Sarah Wilmot

Today's post is a guest post from Sarai Stilmot, also known as Sarah Wilmot.  She beautifully puts into words the experience we've all had together in the past sixteen months.  It's almost like we all got a taste of what adoption is like and it's beautiful.  We will miss her greatly when she moves out next month.  But like proud parents, we are excited to see her spread her wings and gain more independence.  She is a treasure and we know you'll love her as much as we do.


The Stilmot Family
There is one family that you are born into.  These are the people you share the same genes with, the ones who drive you to school, and teach you to ride a bicycle.  I adore my family.  I praise Jesus for the incredible relationship I have with my Mom, Dad, brother and sister-in-law.  They are some of my favorite people.

Then there are families that God just plops you into.

I am a college grad who is making her way up the ladder of teaching full time.  And I live with a family of six.  Some may call my living situation unique.  Others talk to me with a quizzical look, trying to fit me into a predetermined box:  nanny? babysitter?  renter?  Don't you get along with your real family?  Wait, you live with four kids?  How does that work?  Curt was even asked if I was a foreign exchange student.  It is about time I explain how I became Sarai Stilmot.  To do so, we need to back up a few years.

Our first family outing with Sarai
It was the spring of 2009.  I was a college student pursuing my Elementary Education degree.  Every Sunday I went to Solid Rock and this particular Sunday was entirely normal.  The singing, the Bible study, the coffee, the people.  The pastor gave the invitation to go to the prayer room.  Again, all of these events were normal.

Yet something was different.

Unexpectedly and insistently, God's voice urged me: Go to the prayer room.  Go.  Now.  Why Lord?  I wondered.  I thought perhaps I needed to pray for a friend who was struggling.  So with that reason in mind, I hobbled out of my row, with an excuse-me, pardon-me, apologetic smile as I stumbled over legs, purses, and coffee cups.  Then in the prayer room, I sat across from Mary Ellen.  This wise woman exudes God's love.  Her whole body leaned in as she listened to me, her hands grasping her Bible, and she asked me if I belonged to a House Church.  I said that I did not, but I had wanted to do that at some point.  She suggested I try the House Church she goes Newberg!  The light began to dawn as to why God wanted me in the prayer room that Sunday.

Back in my college dorm I coerced my friend to go with me to this thing called House Church.  After all, I would rather not try it alone for the first time.  I had a night class that ended at 6:30, which was when House Church started.  So I called this woman named Jodi--and how do you say her last name?--to ask if it was alright if I came late.  She was warm and welcoming and completely flexible with a late arrival.

The first time I went, I knew I had to come back.  I was enamored with the idea of a house with a couch and a kitchen and people of varying ages.  I lived in a long hallway with a bathroom at one end, a laundry room at the other, and 18-year-old girls in the middle.  Curt and Jodi’s house was filled with laughter and people who instantly made me feel welcomed.  The fellowship was a source of life for me. Needless to say, I hardly ever missed a House Church night for the remainder of my junior year.

"Miss Wilmot"
In the fall of 2010, I was a senior starting my part-time student teaching, wet behind the ears and a mixture of anticipation and hesitation.  Before school officially started we had a supply night for the kids to bring in their fresh cases of Crayolas and token box of Kleenex.  As I greeted other parents and their third graders, in walked Jodi and the kids.  Katie looked at me in amazement and asked, “Miss Sarah?”

Katie was in my class as I taught place value, learned from my mentor teacher, and grew into the teacher God was calling me to be.  Katie was such a sweetheart: kind to her classmates, attentive in class, and a joy to be around.  While student teaching I remember second guessing my outfits on House Church nights, for how does one dress when around a student at their house for a small group Bible study?  My teacher world was mixing with my college world.

Trick or Treat - Sarai's first time
Within a few weeks, Jodi asked if I could babysit the kids.  All four of them called me “Miss Wilmot” as I piled them into the van for an adventure including Little Caesar’s pizza.  Then, student teaching was over, and my life suddenly had more free time.  In November of 2010 I had lunch with Jodi and Paige.  We had chicken noodle soup.  I sat at the kitchen table, the very table I am sitting at right now as I write this.  Jodi asked me about my plans for after graduation.   I talked about how I was considering doing my Masters’, but since I was dirt poor I was trying to figure out the logistics.  $500 doesn’t take you very far in the search for housing.  In the far back of my mind I had thought about how the Stilps had a guest room, but I never would have dreamed of asking to stay with them, for I didn’t know them that well and I didn’t want to impose.  I talked with Jodi about how I wanted to go on a university-sponsored traveling program, but didn’t have the money (the theme of my life at that point).  We had a pleasant lunch and I said goodbye and moved on.

4th of July
December rolled around.  As I sat on my university-issued armchair in the apartment I shared with three other girls, I listened to a voice mail Jodi left on my phone.  As I look back I realize it was a typical Jodi move: running at the speed of life, cleaning the kitchen, managing children, and multi-tasking, yet in the midst of it all thinking of me and taking the time to call.  Jodi graciously helped me realize what I was denying: the travel program was not realistic. I should just drop it and travel the world later when I have more money and know people going on the trip.  I felt relieved after finally making that decision.  Then came the invitation that literally changed my life.

 “I talked to my husband, and you are invited to stay in our guest room this summer while you work on your Master’s.”

Say what? 

            Live with the Stilps for free?  They barely know me!  How generous! 

Can't take us anywhere
After thinking and praying and processing, I called Jodi back several weeks later and asked, “Remember how you invited me to live with your family?  Well.... umm... does that invitation still stand?” Thankfully that invitation was indeed still open, and I moved my stuff in right after graduating in May of 2011.  This is now my sixteenth month living at the Stilps.  And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I am about to enter a new season of life, where I will be moving in with my brother and sister-in-law down the street from the Stilps.  I won’t be saying goodbye, for we are family, and family is forever.  We will still do life together, and I am excited to include my brother and sister-in-law in on the action.  God has blessed me above and beyond all I could ask or imagine, and I praise Him for how He orchestrated it all.

In answer to the quizzical looks, no I am not a nanny, a babysitter, or even a foreign exchange student.  I am the fifth Stilp child and they are my family.  The kids introduce me to strangers as their older sister and Curt and Jodi think of me as another daughter.
I knew I was officially inaugurated into the Stilp family when I was given a nickname. Everyone in our house has at least one, even the dog Dusty. Over a game of Settler’s of Cataan I became “Sarai.”  Then, when planning events that involved both the Stilps and myself (a Wilmot) we morphed into the “Stilmots”--Stilmot Christmas, Stilmot camping, etc.  Therefore, long before I ever get married, I have experienced an official name change: Sarai Stilmot.
I praise You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Only You can create and sustain family.  Only You could have orchestrated these events for Your glory.  Thank You for Your creativity and Your faithfulness.
Our Christmas 2011 Card Photo

Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? 

It's way over our heads.  We'll never figure it out.

Is there anyone around who can explain God?

Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?  

Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes!
(Romans 11:33-36 - The Message

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Can I Help?

Remember the post about learning to thrive within your limitations?  Three weeks have passed since I wrote that and I still feel challenged by everything that's on my plate.  I know this season won't last forever and that growth is often painful.

I've been working hard to put into practice the things God is teaching me.  I haven't worked in the evenings since school started.  I got those two projects done and made some progress on another big one that's looming on my To Do list.  Running feels therapeutic again and I'm even getting my speed back.  HOORAY for progress.  But I still have a lot of room for growth.

As a wife and a mother, it is my job to manage my home and my family.  It is NOT my job to do it all.  A good manager delegates work.  I've been a terrible delegator. My line of reasoning is logical but not always helpful.  If I can do it more efficiently or accurately, I do it myself.  If I don't want to deal with whining or complaining, I do it myself.  I've been so inconsistent with expecting the kids to help out around the house that when I do ask for their help, my request is often met with indignation and drama. Our current system leaves me feeling overworked and under appreciated and is teaching the kids to be lazy and entitled.  Clearly this is not beneficial to any of us.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, patience was nowhere to be found.  I was irritable, cranky and completely overwhelmed with two soccer games, soccer pictures, a football game, an evening work event, and a house in need of cleaning.  When my kids couldn't find their gear for their games and blamed me for not knowing where it was I about blew a gasket.  The Holy Spirit convicted me of my temper tantrum and then began to show me what I could do to change things in our home.

After I asked my family for forgiveness we sat down for a Family Pow Wow.  I reminded the kids that we are a team - Team Stilp.  As the overused saying goes, "There is no I in Team,"  but we were all functioning selfishly.  We talked about how God hates laziness and expects us to work hard at everything we do.  We talked about ditching the bad attitudes and replacing them with a willingness to be helpful with a happy heart.  And then we rolled out a new system.

I made a chart listing all the things our family needs to accomplish on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  A lot of it was stuff I have been single-handedly doing for everyone.  After we made the list, we delegated.  Each weekend we'll split up the house cleaning and yard work chores between the six of us.  We're all geared up for this weekend when we'll test it out for the first time.  I'm praying it goes well.

We also made a big sign that said, "How Can I Help?" and posted it on the pantry door.  I can't expect my kids to be helpful if I haven't taught them to be helpful.  I told the kids that every time they ask"How can I help you Mom?" and then do whatever job I give them with a happy heart, they can have a treat.  I've heard those beautiful words - "How can I help?" - more times in the last two days than I have in their lifetime combined.  And oh is it music to the ears.

An unexpected bonus from all this delegation is that it has freed me up to ask the kids, "How can I help you?"  This morning I was able to ask my girls how they needed help to get ready for school on time.  It felt really good to be able to bless them with little favors I haven't had time for lately.  Alli lit up when she discovered I made her sandwich for lunch, Paige actually let me help her pick out her outfit for school, and Katie was thrilled that I filled up her water bottle with extra ice.  We were all blessed by helping each other.

What about you?  Are you being a good manager or do you need to delegate more?  Or do you need to look around and start asking the question, "How can I help?"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Celebrating Vienne

One week ago my Haiti Sista Julie's life changed forever.  In a horrific way.  Her beautiful, exquisite four-year-old granddaughter died in a tragic accident.  Every parent's worse nightmare come true.  How - on this earth - do you go on?  Nothing about this is just or right or fair.  The grief, anger, and confusion are suffocating.  The silence deafening.  The pain sickening.

Vienne Juliet Piscitelli was charming, imaginative, and endearing.  Every Tuesday was Grandma Day and Julie looked forward to this day more than any other in her week.  Conversations with Jules often came back to Vienne who was adored by her Grandma.  I felt I knew her before I ever met her.  When I finally had the chance to meet her she drew me in within seconds.  Petite with big, expressive eyes she was clearly the love of her Grandma's life.

Vienne's memorial service was tender, sweet and completely sad.  Family members read letters to Vienne recalling their favorite memories and recounting the essence of who she was.  Vienne was a friend to all with a crazy imagination, giving her toys the funniest and most creative names.  We all laughed as her Dad pulled toys out her backpack and told us each of their names and specifications Vienne had for them.

She loved Jesus and played with Him every day, just like she played with her imaginary friends.  Her Daddy told us she thought of heaven as an amusement park where she was tall enough to go on all the rides.  She would frequently ask, "Daddy when can we go to heaven and play?"

A family friend (see below for all the lyrics) wrote a love song called Vienne that played while photos of her showed on big screens.  He wrote of Vienne's beauty and zest for life.  He also wrote, "Vienne we will see you again.  For us it will seem so long, so we'll needs God's strength to carry on."   There wasn't a dry eye in the building as we watched a slideshow commemorating Vienne's short but beautiful life.  It ended with a home video of Vienne peeking out of her bedroom door smiling.  With great enthusiasm, she waves and says, "Bye bye.  Love you.  I'll see you later."

Her Mommy's gut-wrenching honesty - "You were my obsession - good or bad - from the moment you were born.  How can I go on without you?" - captured what we all felt.  How do you ever recover from this?

I've been stumbling around in a bit of a daze.  Praying.  And grieving.  And wondering why things didn't go differently for Vienne.  Why wasn't the answer YES to protecting her?  Why did she have to die?

I don't have the answers.  But I know the name God gave Himself when Moses asked, "Who are you?" was I AM.  What He meant by that is Everything I am, I will be to you.  Faithful.  Comforter.  Healer of Broken Hearts.  Wisdom.  Strength.  Peace.  Hope.  It's my prayer for Julie and Tom.  Mark and Jenny.  And every other heart shattered into a million little pieces by grief and despair over Vienne's untimely death.

I have a fresh awareness of what is important.  And what is peripheral.  I have been choosing to hug my kids a little tighter.  Pray with them each morning before they leave for school.  Step away from the computer and the house work to just BE with them.  Kiss them at bedtime, even if they protest.  They are my legacy.  My joy.  My delight and as Jenny said, "my obsession."

I can't stop picturing sweet Vienne playing in heaven with Jesus who is no longer another one of her imaginary friends.  I can see them running hand in hand from one ride to another.  Flying down the roller coaster -  hands in the air and screaming with delight.

Play hard Vienne.  Love you.  And we'll see you later.

words and music by John Bruce

Because you’re in God’s hand
Vienne we know it’s not the end
For you it’s just the beginnin’

Even though it wasn’t long
The memories are strong
Beautiful Vienne

Vienne we will see you again
For us it will seem so long, so we’ll need God’s
Strength to carry on

Vienne sweet, sweet Vienne
Your smile so wide, your laughter so bright
We’ll hold onto those memories so tight

We look forward to the day when we can see you
Face to face and give you a sweet embrace