Monday, April 22, 2013

"I prepared you..."

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Three and a half years ago one of the biggest tragedies to ever grace my life occurred.  It knocked the wind out of me.  It shook me to my core.  When it happened, I refused to believe that it was happening to our family.  When we were going over funeral arrangements I felt like I was outside of my body watching other people grieve.  When I finally let myself believe that he was gone I had a husband that was completely broken, a son who couldn't believe his gaga was gone and all the pieces, and people, surrounding our life felt like they were crashing to the floor.  Although it's true that the pain stings a little less over time, this morning his face flashed through my sub-conscience like I was reliving it all again.  But God reminded me of the beautiful things He laid before me during that time and the many months after.  And I knew He wanted me to write about them here.

I remember January of 2009 very clearly.  One early morning I sat on our couch, staring at the fibers in our living room rug.  The rest of the house was asleep and I was almost jealous that they were.  The early signs of depression had already set in, although I was in denial because "Christians weren't supposed to be depressed."  I had known for some time that something was off, that I wasn't myself, but I couldn't really pinpoint exactly what it was.  I began to feel fearful of everything; fearful of car accidents, fearful of harmful parasites, fearful of childhood leukemia.  We had never been in a car accident in the Dominican, we had never contracted harmful parasites and Landon definitely did not have childhood leukemia.  Nonetheless, the unknown began to cripple me.  I didn't want to leave my house.  I didn't want Mike to go anywhere without me.  I didn't want to leave Landon with anyone.  Slowly but surely I was convinced that if we were separated, one of us would die.

Looking back, it sounds so incredibly dramatic but the reality is, in the thick of depression even the most irrational things become rational.  My irrational fears of loved ones dying went past my immediate family to my extended family as well; parents, sisters, in-laws.  It was a suffocating place to be.  The once out-going, happy, passionate person I was, slowly began to die within me.  I knew I needed help.

I began meeting with a mentor friend of mine who also happened to be an incredible woman of God.  I can't imagine what she thought when I laid everything out for her, but regardless, she acted in love and committed to walking me through this very dark time.  I discovered that the real source of my depression was a lack of trust in God and a completely warped idea of who He was.  I had a past that I never felt like I had been adequately punished for and I was waiting for the shoe to fall, the lightning to strike.  I couldn't wrap my mind around this whole "new creation" thing or the fact that my slate was wiped clean.  Surely, God was keeping a tally and just when I thought life was too good to be true, the punishment would come.  And because the punishment I deserved hadn't come yet, I sat waiting, day after day, wondering when the day would arrive and my life would be in shambles.

We began reading the book, "The Shack," chapter by chapter.  I realize this is an incredibly controversial book in the Christian sphere but for me it held all the answers.  No, I do not believe that God is a large, African American woman or that I can sit and eat meals with The Holy Trinity but it revealed to me the characteristics of God that had been hidden from me before.  And through those characteristics I began to realize how trustworthy God really was.  How He cared for me - how He paid the price for me so I didn't receive the punishment I deserved.  It changed my perspective, the cloud lifted.

For nine months we met and I was a different person.  Mike and I were expecting baby number two, we had moved into a new house, Landon started school.  Life was as good as it could get...

...and then the shoe dropped.

I don't need to describe to you all the emotions and painful recollections that surrounded the phone call we received when my father-in-law passed away.  Or the brutal months after as my husband dealt with the loss of his best friend.  Or trying to deal with a newborn and a very confused two-and-a-half year old, essentially on my own.  It just goes without saying.

Several months had gone by since Joe's passing and I was trudging my way through my devotions one morning.  The words, "I prepared you," kept going through my mind.   "I prepared you," He kept saying.  Prepared me for what?  For the exact thing I couldn't bare to happen, to happen?  For someone I loved to die?  For my world to go to shambles?

And then it hit me.

My world didn't go to shambles.  I was broken but not defeated.  He had prepared me nine months prior for something that He knew was going to happen on September 10th, 2009.  For something that should have rocked my world and crippled me.  He walked me through my deepest fear, gave me a clearer picture of His love for me and restored my trust in Him before the very thing came to pass that should have plunged me further into the depths.

Some people may see that as a spiteful God, to "let" something like that happen knowing it was the thing I feared the most.  But I saw it in a totally different light.  Jesus never said we will have nothing but rainbows and roses once we accept Him as our Savior.  He says, "In this world you WILL have trouble..."  Trouble is inevitable.  We live in a lost and broken world.  But what I realized through one of the biggest tragedies of my life is that I have a Savior that takes the time to give me knowledge, insight, hope and counsel to prepare me to face whatever giant stands in my path...past, present or future.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Life, Motherhood and Seizing Moments

I wrote a little post over on our ministry blog today...check it out!

A lesson in life, motherhood and seizing moments!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Winter Throwback

As the evening here winds down at a cool 73 degrees I remembered I had these great pictures from our Christmas in Wisconsin that I was totally reminiscing over.  It has been hot here.  And I mean hot, like not tropical vacation sipping Mai Tai's hot -- like the instant you step out of the shower you are already sweating, kind of hot.  For a girl who grew up in Wisconsin, I am sometimes overwhelmed by excessive heat.

So with a little Amy Grant Christmas album playing in the background and some perusing through winter photos from Wisconsin, I reminded myself of how much I love my parent's home around Christmas-time.

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If you've ever grown up in a home with multiple siblings, then you probably know that a majority of the time is spent bickering.  Whether it be over a borrowed clothing item or the last bit of Lucky Charms, there was always a reason to start something with my sisters.  But somehow, someway, the two weeks leading up to Christmas were heavenly, fight-free and absolutely my favorite part of the year.

Because Mike, the kids and I have started a routine of traveling back only every other year, this last visit I found myself going the extra mile to enchant my kids with Christmas in the States.  So often, our kids see us stressed out, exhausted and overwhelmed when we are in the States from the constant traveling, living out of suitcases and the many different beds we sleep in in a six week period.  And this time around, I decided I really didn't want my kids to have a bad taste in their mouths for the country that is still their "home."

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When a little blizzard flew through the village of Pewaukee, I would have much preferred to stay snuggled, drinking coffee, warming myself by my parents' electric fireplace.  But I knew, this Christmas had to be different.  And I have learned, in a very good way, that being a parent absolutely means forgoing a lot of your wants and desires to make special memories for your kids.  So after what seemed like a half an hour of putting on snowsuits, gloves, hats, scarves and boots -- our family took to the outdoors for a little snow fun.

When I was a kid the most awesome part of our neighborhood was the amount of kids around who were so close in age.  There was a little cul-de-sac right behind my house where the older kids would dig underground forts and snow blockades and we would have all out wars with snowballs.  We would play past dark, completely forgetting how late it was until one of the Moms would yell out to us to go home.  It was epic.

I wanted that for Landon and Emi so my Dad and I made a fort for the kids...and it was a complete failure.  Not for lack of trying, or skilled construction or even execution; they just had no interest in it what-so-ever.  I think Emi stepped in it once and said it was "cool" and then went about her business eating snow.

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This was the first year that I really saw so much bonding between the kiddos and my Dad.  Emi thought he was the best thing since sliced bread.  The Christmas tree would be lit up, the fire place going and my Dad would be watching something on TV.  Emi would walk into the room and just crawl into his lap.  It seriously made my heart melt.  If only she knew what an amazing Dad he was to me...and how special it was for me to see what an amazing Papa he is for her.

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We stayed outside until the kids were shivering so bad that their teeth were chattering.  We went inside and I conjured up some hot cocoa from ingredients that you might not normally use only because, in reality, my parents don't exactly make very much hot cocoa anymore.  We flipped the switch on for a hot fire and watched "A Christmas Carol."

I had the same warm feelings that I did when I was a kid coming in from a long day of snowball fights with my friends.  Only, it was that much more special to watch that same Christmas magic glimmer in my own kids' eyes.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

from Lemons to Lemonade

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Before there were blogs and websites and the stratosphere that is the internet; there were pen and paper and journals.  Ever since I can remember I have been writing.  I can still remember first grade when Mrs. Vermillion had us write a sentence-or-two-story about what we wanted to be when we grew up.  At that time I definitely wanted to be a singer like Madonna but by the time seventh grade rolled around and I had my first class with Mr. Johnson, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

My first few journals started out as, kind of, pictographs with a few short sentences about rainbows and ponies and sunshine.  But it wasn't long before I fell in love with poetry and descriptive words and metaphors.  I would spend hours writing songs and mini-novels, using phrases like, "...when the early morning dew kissed the lonely trees."  In fifth grade I even started typing my stories on our family typewriter (yes, I said typewriter) because it felt more "professional" when I clunked on those keys.

The world of blogging was opened up to me when we started our transition to missionary-hood when I found myself delving into this strange and unknown "digital journal" with a feeling of such excitement and opportunity.  I scoured other missionary blogs and, soon after Landon was born, Mom-blogs, just knowing it was something I wanted to take more seriously.

I think about writing 18 hours a day (sometimes more depending on how well I'm sleeping, or not sleeping, at night).  I wake up in the morning thinking about some epiphany or story I've been desperately wanting to tell someone -- whoever might listen in the wide open space of the internet.  Though, I rarely seized the moment to jump out of bed and write my thoughts down, until three days ago.

I have enjoyed following other people's blogs but I have known for some time that I needed to write differently.  Most people prefer to only write about the good days they have because, honestly, bad days aren't very inspiring.  But what I have found, in my own personal story and on my blog, is that people respond so much more to real-ness and transparency.  That everyone experiences really tough days (and maybe even weeks or months) and reading that someone else is struggling and learning through difficult times can actually be more inspiring that rainbows and ponies and sunshine.

This is not to say that my blog is going to be depressing.  I promise it won't be.  Believe me, we have some pony-rific days around here but if I wait for every pony-rific day to write our story, I won't be writing very often.  And that's not depressing, that's just life.  Life is challenging, beautiful, extraordinary and heartbreaking all at once.  But we have learned as a family this past year that even our battlefields are beautiful because God is a God of transformation and refinement. What seems like coal to us can easily be turned to diamonds by Him.

So that's it.  I'm turning my Lemons into Lemonade.  And even if only my current seven followers read what I have to say, I am ultimately writing for an audience of One and I know He thinks I'm pretty awesome even if some days I don't.