19 December 2014

Gratitude

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So it seems that these days, thankfulness is something that's only talked about for a few weeks in November, then completely obliterated in the fuss of getting things the very next month.

Having never celebrated Christmas growing up, I really didn't think twice about it, because no one I personally knew would get a bunch of stuff in December, either. That didn't mean I was any more thankful...I think every kid struggles with wanting things they don't have. We didn't grow up with a lot of material possessions though. Expectations were fairly low, and rightfully so. I honestly don't remember a time growing up when my mom, herding all 6 of us through the store, that any one of us asked for something, and especially didn't go ahead and pitch a fit about anything not coming home with us. I actually was shocked when we took someone else's kid to the store and I saw it happen to my mother, from this kid. I was maybe 10, and was utterly floored. It stuck out so much that, I still remember the exact store it happened in, and what aisle, even though I haven't even lived in that part of the country for the past 10 years. So props, mom. You are a rock star. :)

Being a mom, it's so hard when it becomes SUCH a joy to give to your children, yet balancing that with preventing a materialistic attitude is fairly tricky.

Our childrens' birthdays have consisted of simplicity, and *what we can afford*. Arden's first birthday present was a kitchen we created out of an entertainment center. Her second birthday present was a secondhand bicycle from Weecycled, and her 3rd was ballet lessons and the outfit to go with it. Thayer's first was a sandbox made by his fantastic Daddy.

Why am I telling you this? Because it doesn't exist in my children's memories to shop for and open new or fancy presents. Therefore, when shopping with community group friends for some foster children a week ago, Arden became inconsolable when she realized the things we were piling into our cart at WalMart were *not for us*. I tried to explain that the bikes we were buying were for children that didn't have a mommy or daddy, and she blurted "I don't want to have a mommy and a daddy, I want a bike!" amidst giant, plentiful tears and sobs.

It about broke my heart. What do you even say? Part of you wants to scold them for the awful attitude. But another part feels sorry that their little three-year-old mind is so confused why you would be buying presents for other kids and not them. Not long after this experience, we needed to shop for gifts again, this time for a white elephant exchange game. So to the store we went, once again looking through the exciting world of *new things*, and Arden asks "what are we getting?" and I replied "presents". She was ecstatic again, and dancing in the cart basket dangerously at the sound of this news. Then I had to break it to her that these presents were for friends, as she sees things she finds exciting and beautiful, saying "I really like that, mama!". I said, "Love, we aren't buying presents for us, it's just for a party" (big mistake) "OH MAMA! Is Megan coming to my party?" (At this comment, a complete stranger gave her the look of utter pity)...to which I replied, "Well, it's actually just Mama and Daddy going and Miss Emily is going to come hang out with you and you can play together."

I don't know which was more sad. The complete lack of reaction to this news, that there was no party for her and that the presents were for other grown ups, or the previous reaction to the toys going to kids without parents.

So, the question on my mind was: how does a parent in this season teach their child about gratitude when the whole world around them is aimed at moulding them into consumers? From the displays, to the strangers who think you must be the most horrible parent in the world to not be buying toys for your children in December.

I've lived in this humble little home for almost a year now, and it's been some of the happiest months of my life. This house is old, looks totally ghetto from the outside, and has some functionality issues (an ailing refrigerator and washing machine among them). But as it's been said:

So even while living debt free, in a house that is the perfect size for our little family, no more, no less, and finding joy in the people around us, and the beautiful relationship with Him, do I still find the time to get stuck on STUFF?? 

I thought I had this one beat. I really did. I would even consider that it has been a point of pride for me, the fact that I'm not into stuff like I once was. I've found that driving a Tahoe felt no better than driving a minivan. That living in a three level, 4 bedroom 4 bath house with debt is a whole lot worse than living debt free in a 3 bed 1 bath *rental*. The desire to have, to hold, to gather pretties and place them strategically around myself, I suppose maybe to feel better? That "stuff" isn't what we are made for, and that our souls continue to crave, even with the most extravagant of surroundings. My soul has found rest and purpose in finding ways to love others, and not stuff. My heart has been completely satisfied with the things I have being functional, the home I have being warm, the clothes I have being the right size (and warm!), and being completely free from the bondage of religion.

So I was surprised when it struck again last night. After shopping for the perfect "useful but not utterly boring" gifts for the exchange game (because I couldn't bring myself to buy anything no one would need or want in this season of our life, when it was likely that these gifts might well be the only gifts our friends get from us), I was pretty satisfied with our picks. Looking forward to the game because I hadn't played this game in a long time and haven't received a random gift; something I would never buy for myself, for a while. The game was played, and I found my heart grumbling. So much that I feel it must have been visible, the ugliness of ungratefulness was shown on my countenance. Drew and I had both chosen those gifts that are good to get, but not something others grab out of your hands so you can get a new choice. As I was sitting there, I'm thinking "what the heck! It's just stuff!", reason trying to take hold...and yet Satan still kept at me, and I confess my mood was pretty downcast. I struggled with the thoughts that it always seemed that those that have more than enough, continue to accumulate the things they want on top of having more than they need. Your typical grumbly heart.

It wasn't until I got home, and my THREE YEAR OLD DAUGHTER, the one whom I had been so disappointed in about her ungratefulness a few days before, came to me and asked if she could have my new day planner and pens (part of my gift), that I paused for a moment, wrestling with the idea that it was wasteful and that it was brand new, then decided that yes, she would find much joy in this, and said "sure, love, you can have it."

The delight and joy Drew and I both witnessed in that moment put us both to shame. My eyes teared up and I realized this:

The enemy of gratefulness in our children IS NOT the things they see around them, the people that "feel sorry" for them, or the society and it's emphasis on materialism.

The enemy of gratefulness IS our *very own* attitude towards the world around us, the things we possess already and the attitude WE carry towards those who have more "stuff". The gratefulness they see us choosing to express is what will teach them that stuff isn't everything, and that our attitudes of gratefulness is what defines our happiness, not the quantity, quality, superiority or inferiority of our "stuff". 

The threat is within our hearts. Not "out there".

It's a bummer I lost that one while I was in the middle of that moment, but it's a beautiful thing that the Spirit teaches us these lessons through our very own children, when it was us that thought we needed to do the teaching. Ironic?

Nope. The beauty of life in Christ. Unexpected and humbling.

15 December 2014

And the months go by...

My mind was blown how fast time started to go when I became a mom. The scary thing is that it continues to speed up. I can't remember the last time I checked in and wrote an update on Thayer, or Arden for that matter. Part of me wants to hang on to every single detail as it comes, every funny mispronounced word, every little ridiculous moment that make us laugh and laugh together. Another part of me is excited because regardless of how much I love each stage, somehow these kids just keep getting MORE funny, MORE beautiful, MORE precious to me. My heart just melts all over the place and my eyes want to tear up with the joy of witnessing both my kids just being who they are, and are becoming.

My sweet Arden girl. Such a beautiful love.

The things three year olds come up with are truly unique. I've heard from so many moms that there's just nothing quite like a three-year-old, and its so true. Thought processes have become so sophisticated, yet you still get the little word mix-ups, like "compello" instead of "piano", or calling her brother a "burrito" instead of a "weirdo". 

And then there's phonetic awareness. Who would've thought that I would hardly notice the fact that she didn't say "th", until she suddenly began saying it out of the blue? And that I would actually be really sad, because it was the very last sound she couldn't say? She's spoken so clearly for so long, being understandable to strangers from a pretty early age. Just last Wednesday someone was asking her what her brother's name was, and she was calling him "Sayer". The caregiver had to come ask me what she was saying. Bath was always "baff", three was "free", Thursday was "Sursday" and teeth were "teef". As soon as I took the time to think "Aww, she DOES still have little bits of toddler left!", it was gone. Completely gone. Overnight. It's teeth. Bath. Three. Thursday. Thayer. I about cried when I realized it. Her? She seemed to hardly notice anything had changed, except for the fact I had to video her saying as many "th" words as I could think of. :)

[She just came in here and told me, "Come look! I just found something perfect, like you!" HA.]

But she just keeps changing, so fast. Dramatic play has become more detailed. Communication, my word--it's like talking to a teenager sometimes. I will sometimes repeat back, incorrectly, something she said to me, and she will say it again until I repeat it correctly. She describes vividly her dreams to us. A few days ago, she said she dreamed "A HUGE parrot flew down and stole my bow!" Her imagination is such fun...I love to enter into her imaginations and go along with her to see what happens. Its pretty fun. For both of us. 

She has an attention to detail I didn't think was present in such small people. She loves her ballet class and she really does so well! She can mimic even the slightest detail of movement or pose. Of course, like all 3 year olds, she gets distracted, but if her mind is in it, she is amazing.

A couple weeks ago, I saw her with a screwdriver, making her way to one of the switchplates in the living room. Not long after, we heard her saying "a little help here??", and Drew went to check on her, and found that she had removed the switchplate and was holding it, the screw and the screwdriver, while standing on the ottoman precariously. Thankfully she hadn't poked the screwdriver into the box with the wires. Fine motor skills, check. :)

Now Thayer......that boy. There's something about the connection with a Mama and her son. I'm so happy I get to call him MY SON. He makes me laugh, and sometimes I'm afraid I will squeeze too hard when I'm overwhelmed by the gift he is to us. He's silly, smart, daring, and has a fun imagination. 
Because there aren't many words he won't try to say now, I won't try to count the ones he uses daily because it's way too many for a blog post. I love how he calls his lovey (whom he calls "Dolphie", for dolphin) and blanket his "stuff". Such a manly little man. I love how even if he just *hears* someone opening a set of blinds, he yells "SUNSHINE!!!" I love how attached he is to me, how much he loves to give me a "hug" or "squeeze", kisses, snuggles, raspberries, etc. Yet when it's time to go play in the walkers room at Adventure Woods (Hope) or the Kids Club (Gold's), he is ready to go, and has independence to spare. He loves it when Megan comes over to play on Thursdays, during our community group time. He says her name the same way he says "bacon". He also loves his sister "Ahnee", and loves to "deence" (dance) with her. I love the way  he grabs my arm and kisses my elbow while I'm changing his diaper. The way he brings me a giant book, combining the words "read" and "book": "Reek? Reek?" and will wriggle his way down as snuggly as he can get to listen to it. The independence when he shouts "BUCKLE!!" because he wants to snap his chest clip or his booster seat himself. The way he tries to pronounce "kombucha" and ends up with several syllables with "soda" on the end (I assume it's from his sister getting mixed up and asking for ginger soda when she means kombucha?).

I always wondered if there was really anything to the gender stereotyping thing. Arden LOVED Thomas so much, and I was ok with that. But really, I haven't met a more "manly" little 20 month old. (Of course there are exceptions... the instances in which his sister adorns him in princess garb, ballet slippers or high heels...)He loves football (and yells at the tv if a game is on), trucks, trains, being in the dirt (well, Arden does that too;), bugs, fist bumps, and all things daring/stunt-devilish. He brushes off falls, scrapes and bruises like nothing. 

Last week right before dinner and before I was supposed to meet my friends for a girls night out, he chose to dive off the side of the couch, from the top. Usually he dives from the back to the seat, and I always think he might snap his neck someday, but what can I do...he likes to do crazy stuff. If it's not that, it'll be something else. I heard the crash and crying, so I went in to gather info on what happened and sure enough, there was blood this time. I *may* have cursed, although I really am surprised it took him this long to get an injury of this caliber. It was in the middle of his forehead, about 3/4 inch long and fairly deep, and as far as I knew I didn't have any butterfly bandages. Drew found a couple in an OLD first aid kit, and we fixed him up. I went on with my evening plans, and Drew put the kids down for the night (TWO milestones in one night; NO nummies at bed time for the first time! I felt really bad that it was his first bloody injury and I wasn't there to snuggle before bed. During the night the butterflies came off, as I found out the following morning...with plenty of blood on the sheets. I grabbed some food to let the kids eat while we went over to CVS to get more first aid supplies, and came back home to fix him up before we had to go to Hope to decorate for Jingle Jam, a position I had volunteered for a couple weeks before. The steri-strips held (and are holding) delightfully and he doesn't even fuss when we clean it. Such a tough booger. 

That son of mine now SLEEPS...ALL the way through the night. It is such a blessing and I'm so proud of him! The transition really just happened, I didn't plan it. At some point I realized it was time, and stopped nursing him when he woke, he was mad at me for a night or two when he realized our routine had changed, but it took very little time for him to adjust, and he just quit waking. Glory to God. I literally lost four pounds the week after. Just getting uninterrupted hours of sleep. :O

He still hasn't had a haircut, and he needs one SO BAD...but I'm procrastinating because I know he will suddenly look so grown up with a haircut. ;(

He knows the colors blue, orange and white. He can name Thomas, James, Olaf, Cinderella and Tinker Bell. He also knows most every body part. 

Lately, both of them have been EATING, SLEEPING, and GETTING ALONG. I don't know why, but I'm grateful for it! 

Most days I feel like a failure as a mom, because I don't read enough books, create enough activities or art, or just take time to listen. But God is full of mercy and I'm so thankful for where he daily gives me grace and reminds me that it's not up to me to make their lives perfect, to stuff their time with activities, things, culture and the "right" education, it's up to me to love them with His love and show them who He is. That the most important things are to talk to Him, love Him, be thankful, love others, and be kind.

08 December 2014

I love Monday.



I realize this is a very unpopular sentiment. I also admit that positive has not always been my sentiment towards this particular day.

I have recently come to the realization that Mondays just light a fire in me. I'm totally invigorated by the chance to live another week full of joys. I am not sure when this change occurred, but I'm really thankful for it. 

In my past life, Mondays were so discouraging because I never felt rejuvenated after the weekend. I was completely exhausted, drained, and hadn't spent a bit of time with my husband, usually because he had to work on Saturday and Sunday was absolutely FULL of nonstop activity. The entire day was a rush from one thing to another. 

When Monday comes around now, for the most part I'm completely ready for it. My fuse is longer, not shorter, because I see a new week looking forward to opportunities to love others, listening to His spirit and passing on His love because I feel it so acutely after the gift of a refreshing weekend of worship, prayer, an exciting and truthful sermon, and time with my family and in my home. A place of rest and time to take joy in the beauty of His presence and the life we get to live.

I won't go so far as to say I *look forward* to Monday because I LOVE being with my husband on his day(s) off, but I will say I do not face a new week with dread and an empty soul like I have before. 

I know many people don't see any value in "taking a Sabbath", because that was part of the old law that we don't have to follow, but I now find a whole lot more value in taking time to feel whole in my soul. And it does take time. "The soul has a speed limit"  Intimacy with God is impossible for the hurried soul.

"I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels." (Isaiah 61:10 NLT)


23 November 2014

"Give us this day, our daily bread..."



"We are not owners." This has come to mean so much. None of it was ever ours to begin with, so trying to hang onto it for fear of another day is useless. Like trying to keep today's manna for the next day, it just turns to mold and maggots when we don't use it as it was intended. ALL of it is His. All we call "ours", from the money, to the education, to our homes, all the way to the universe we live in. We are allowed to borrow it and use it for the time being. When we are "all in" with Him we don't worry so much about what's next because we know He's got it. We don't measure our value in the things we own, or the clothes we wear, because our worth was never measured in an earthly way to begin with. His Love for us never changes, our value no more or less than another human. What matters is that we value each other the same, and use the *things* we are borrowing to radiate Him instead of storing up treasure that will eventually decay.

25 October 2014

MAC-ISA Invitational Master's Challenge

What a full, exciting day! This championship was held because the International Championship is going to be held in March of 2015, before our chapter would normally hold their regional championship (in April). So in order to send our champion to represent the Mid Atlantic Chapter, we had to hold a special event, invitation only, for the top ten climbers in the region. From what I understand, they took the scores from the last three years, averaged each climber's score, and invited the top ten scorers. These last three years were Drew's FIRST three as a competitor, and his overall scores were high enough EVERY year for him to be invited. 

Each championship starts with a very early morning gear check. Our entire family was up and at Algonkian park in Sterling at 6:30 am. It was COLD. We stayed in the car and watched Robin Hood for a good while. The first climber began at 8, and Drew was #8! After sitting all morning and part of the afternoon watching other people climb, and each one time out, I was getting tired of it, and also a little nervous that Drew would time out too! These are VERY good climbers, timing out on this master's challenge! 

I don't know why I worried. Drew was the first climber to finish the climb without timing out!!! I was SO proud. I wouldve had more great photos if I hadn't been trying to video at the same time. My long lens and no tripod made my video disappointing. I did get a few good stills while the video mode was still going, though, just not as great as I would've liked.

Certified Arborist & CTSP, True Timber - representing RVA!

during his climb

intensely pulling his lines out

receiving his award

Champions, in order of score

One thing you must notice about this ;) is that there is a greater score gap between Drew and Tom, than between James (long standing champion) and Drew! Also, Jocelyn's score was AMAZING, they scored her as a guy this year!

Friends and Champions!

21 October 2014

"baby" brother

My youngest brother is going to graduate soon! My mom asked me to take a few photos for his senior portraits, and although I suffer no delusions about my lack of skill, they seem to have fairly low standards and were VERY happy with them. Me, well I just enjoyed a fun afternoon (sans kids, thanks Mom!) out by the river spending time with my "little" (over 6 foot) brother, showing him the beauty of RVA, and getting to use my fun new toy! :) Man, I remember with this dude was born. Love him lots!!!






Lewis Ginter

One day when going to shop at Ellwood Thompsons, it happened to be one of the days they donate part of their profits to a community business. That business was the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, and they gave me two free guest passes. I kept putting it off, but I had to go before October 31 or they would expire! I have two sweet friends now that I enjoy  playdates with frequently, and I got us all together and we enjoyed a beautiful morning at the gardens!

Janiel reading to the girls at the "tea party table".

Cadence & Thayer sharing a tea party




sweet girls

the most beautiful butterfly I've ever seen.

and fly she does!