Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Cards

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! This is the first year we have sent out cards since losing Caleb. Christmas season is always hard and up until this point I haven't felt in the mood to put a happy picture of our family out there. But there has been a lot of healing and for whatever reason, this year I was ready. I think part of my desire was to make Judah a part of our family, just in case things don't work out. Like I wanted proof that he is actually here, right now. Grief is weird, what can  I say? 

Anyways, I love the pictures my friend took and overall the card turned out better than I hoped. When I showed Nathan my list of 73 people to send it to he laughed and said "cut it down to 25!"

25!!! But I agreed that spending $100 (or more!) to send Christmas cards to everyone on my list was not the best use of our money, especially after the financial stress of the last few months. So he designed the card himself and we printed it as a regular 5x7 to save money. Add a stamp and envelopes and you see why 25 was our limit. Sometimes, no most of the time, I hate budgets! Hoping that next year we can plan better and I can send out more.

Merry Christmas!

I also had no idea if I wanted Caleb's name on the card or not. We use the teddy bear in our family pictures to represent Caleb, even if only we know about it. In the end I let Nathan decide about adding the name and I'm glad he did. He also was hesitant to put "Baby Judah" just in case he comes out a girl! I told him we've had so many ultrasounds by now that this baby is for sure a boy! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor

Its no secret that one of my favorite books is The Hunger Games. I read them the summer after Abigail was born and I found so much correlation between the journey of pregnancy after a loss and going into the arena. The phrase that the Capital repeats over and over again to the tributes,

strikes me to my core. Because that's what pregnancy after a loss is-somewhat of a joke when people spout off statistics. You have already been on the losing end once and just like the tributes who have already had their names drawn, you can't help but be cynical. I especially like the scene from the second movie when Katniss and Peta are traveling for the victory tour. At one point Katniss cries out,

"I just want to go home and get off this train."

Her mentor's response is a sobering one when he says,

"Wake up! There is no getting off this train! They own you now and for the rest of your life."

 I feel that. I really thought birthing a live baby would trump the dead one, but in the end the experience of stillbirth seems like something that owns me and one long train ride.

The end of pregnancy is hard. I just made our final appointments and realized we have 14 of them in the next 4 weeks. Each appointment is filled with doubt and fear that the other shoe might drop. The whole thing makes me want to scream just like the people of the districts

Because that's what pregnancy will always feel like to us. And even if we do bring home a live baby there's a part of my heart that will still break because I know that same day others will leave the hospital empty handed. So this time we might get victory but at what cost? Just like winning the Hunger Games, bringing home a live baby seems to emphasize  how many babies don't make it out alive. 

But our story isn't exactly like the Hunger Games because we have the hope of Christ. Death is a part of this world and in the end none of us are getting out alive. Death is around every corner and threatens us like a thief in the night. Just ask the mothers of the Holy Innocent. Christ is born and just days later innocent baby boys are slaughtered in their homes because of the Christ child. Death scandalizes us, terrifies us, and leaves us in despair. That is why Christ came to overcome death.

In the end, the odds of getting out of this world alive are not in our favor-they never were to begin with. But eternal life is our hope. Christ came, He came. And as we read in Isaiah 61 He came on a mission to the afflicted,

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."

He came to free us eternally from death. He's like the ultimate mentor in the Hunger Games, always watching and helping. In the end, the battle has already been won. That was my hope after Caleb died and that continues to be my hope this time around. That even if the odds our not in our favor this time, that ultimately they will be when we are reunited eternally. 

Hope. That's what Advent is all about, right? Trying my hardest to have hope this season. To go with Mary as she whispers to me "follow me to the crib this time, not the cross." One week until we celebrate Christmas, one month until our baby is born. Holding onto hope even in what feels like we are trapped in the arena. 

"The one who calls you is faithful and He will also accomplish it." 1 Thessalonians 5:24

"The Lord Himself will fight for you, you have only to be still." Exodus 14:14

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us." Matthew 1:23

Friday, December 12, 2014

In Honor of Our Lady of Gaudalope

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! In honor of her Im going to share one of my favorite things to make-homemade flour tortillas!

Over a year ago I went to stay a few days with a friend in North Dakota. She is an excellent cook and you can read all about her recipes on her blog here. While we were visiting we made corn tortillas from scratch! Then we made flour tortillas! They were the best things I've ever tasted so naturally I came home from the trip wanting to incorporate them into our weekly meals.

I tend to make only flour and this is the recipe I use: Chef John's Flour Tortillas. They cost next to nothing to make and have only a few ingredients in them. I have found that buying vegetable shortening from Aldi is the cheapest.

First you roll them
Then you flatten them

Then let them cook!

I would defiantly recommend getting a tortilla press. I think it cost me $20 from amazon and its way easier than rolling them out yourself and trying to cut them into circles (though my North Dakota friend doesn't have a press and she doesn't mind the extra steps). 

We eat them with chicken (shredded in the crockpot with salsa-so easy!), eggs, beef, veggies, just about anything. And for dessert you can put sugar and cinnamon on them and yum!

This is my go-to recipe for a meatless meal that is really cheap. Tortillas with scrambled eggs with cheese and everyone is happy and filled up. 

Happy Feast Day-Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pray for Us!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

All 3 of them

Love this picture from our maternity/family photo session this past weekend. All three of my babies!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Giving your finances to God part II

Almost exactly one month ago I wrote this post about God and finances. We were on the tail end of a great few weeks where God had been coming through for us in very obvious ways. And it all looked like prosperity with more money in our pockets. In the last 4 weeks we seem to have entered into a new season financially-one of brokenness. In no particular order here is what has occurred in the last 4 weeks since that post I wrote:

-Nathan's car is still broke. We know for sure its not the battery (which we hoped bc it would be cheapest to replace) which leads us to believe its an electrical issue. It is in the shop as we speak and we are waiting to get an estimate.

-My tooth broke. A random side effect of pregnancy for me is that my teeth just break off. Out of pocket we had to pay $1000 to fix it. This came two weeks after just paying off the bill from my dental work last May, which was to fix the original broke tooth from pregnancy #1 three years ago.

-Our garage door stopped working. We can still manually open and close so we are kicking that down the road because its not urgent right now.(although being 8 months pregnant and getting out in the cold to open and close garage is starting to feel urgent!)

-Our stove broke. Cost $500 for new one. Then cost $200 for plumber to come out and re-install a gas line to get it up to code so the stove could be safely installed.

-My phone broke. It still works for everything EXCEPT calling! Taking it in this weekend.

-Last night on the way to take the phone in our furnace stopped working. Cost $350 for a repair man to come out on a Friday night and replace the motor.

So yeah, we are feeling a little worn down from the past 4 weeks. I wanted to write this and put the actual costs of things in here because I want to be real. We proclaim that we trust God with our money. But that doesn't always look like things never happening or us having a ton of money for savings. In fact it often looks like what the last 4 weeks have-things happening and us having to be detached from our money, our plans of how we would like to spend it. In prayer God has been telling Nathan over these last weeks "Do not be afraid to use what I have given you." While that sounds nice, in reality its been painful. We have watched as Nathan's long awaited for "extra" paycheck in the month of October went to pay these bills. We had been planning on putting that paycheck in savings. Now we are watching what little we have in savings go down, down, down as we pay off the rest of the bills. Not to mention my inward panic of the holidays coming up and a new baby being here (diapers!) in just 8 weeks.

But when things like these happen I'm always remind that my money is not my own. Its simply on loan from God and we are entrusted with it to be good stewards. We make an intentional point to always make sure money is our servant, not the other way around. And I must say-its been a great servant these last 4 weeks. Everything has gotten fixed in a timely manner. I've been able to see God working through the men and women who have come to our rescue and fixed all our broken things. More importantly we have not lost our peace. God is still in control even though it may not feel like it. I don't like having to spend money on these things, but that's life. Jesus said "In the world you will have trouble, fear not I have overcome the world." I'm learning that following Christ does not mean bad things won't happen but that He will be there when they do and He will give you His peace.

Right now I'm going to continue to trust God even though that scares me to see our savings go so low. And maybe you are thinking "well at least you have savings! We would be out of luck if these things happened." My answer-God would still come through. Yes, we have savings, but its not a lot. It certainly isn't the "6 months of living expenses" set aside for a rainy day that the world tells you to have. We don't have college funds set aside for our kids. We mostly live week to week, month to month on a strict budget and then we watch God show up. I firmly believe that if you want Him to show up in your finances then you have to give Him room to show up. I could take control of things myself, go back to work in an attempt to bring in more money. But God isn't calling us to that. He is calling me to stay home and raise my children. By being obedient in that I give Him room to show up since we only have one income.

Throughout these weeks I've been encouraged in a few ways. First I have seen God providing for two of my close friends. They live by giving all their finances over to God. The first friend had a check from an anonymous person show up this week. The money will cover all her extra monthly expenses that had piled up. It literally just SHOWED UP thanks to someone else in the Body of Christ who felt moved to give her money (see-it didn't come from her savings!). I have another friend who is diligently trying to buy a house. Her and her husband have lived in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment for the entire 3 years of their marriage. They also have two small children and have had to make sacrifices in their living situation in order for her to stay home. This week they found another government program that will help them put money towards a down payment on a house (not coming form savings!) Hearing their news and knowing that God is helping them encouraged me.

One last thing that encouraged me-God sent us bread. Last week Nathan came home from work with two loaves of our favorite kind of bread-the expensive kind that we only buy when its on sale. He said someone brought it to work and didn't want it so he took it home. And I cried. Because it was a small gesture but I felt God saying "see, I'm even giving you your daily bread. Don't worry!" And He is and He does and He will continue to. Day by day is how we are called to live and day by day God will come through.

I want to end by continuing to encourage others who are struggling financially. I want to show you that we get it. Its real for us too. Each month when I do our budget on paper I'm not sure how its all going to come together, but each month it does. Give God room to work, to show up. We had a season where He was giving us things and now we are in a season when He is asking us to give away our money, possibly even use up all of our savings. We will continue to do what He ask because in the end, Jesus is what we are living for. Praying for those out there with financial burdens. May you feel the peace of God even in the midst of financial difficulties.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The trickiest trimester

Well we are here-the 3rd trimester. I'm feeling the extra weight both literally and emotionally. Most women start getting excited by this point. For me I just start getting crazy. The anxiety ramps up and the appointments are often. The hardest part for me during this time is the decision making. One of the things that goes first when grief hits is my ability to make decisions. Since doctors never found a reason why Caleb died, they mostly put it on our shoulders as to how we proceed with each pregnancy. Decisions about when to start non-stress tests, bio-physical profiles and then the big one-when to induce-run though my head. I feel exhausted just thinking about the decisions knowing each one could be the wrong one for this particular baby.

Another hard part with this trimester is how visibility pregnant I am. Complete strangers everywhere we go want to talk about my pregnancy. That has the potential to bring up a lot and it takes a lot out of me to be invested in each conversation. I'm just not a normal pregnant person so it feels hard and awkward to be asked normal questions that I can't answer. 

So with all of these things swirling around we've really started pulling back from all unnecessary things. We decided not to go to Nate's work Christmas party. Any social functions for myself will most likely be put off until after baby. We're just trying to store up what little energy we have in order to make it through the next few weeks. It's defiantly a season of "no" which makes me sad because there are so many fun things this time of year, but I know its for the best. My anxiety go up, up and up when I'm in crowds and can't feel the baby moving. Its best to just stay home and rest up!

I'm also trying to surround myself with a good support network of fellow bereaved moms. They seem to understand how hard right now is without me having to explain. I'm also back to seeing my counselor once every two weeks. It will probably be once a week toward the end. And last but not least I'm forcing myself to buy one item of comfort food each week at the grocery store. I did feel guilty about that for a while but like my counselor explained " you can either lean on food for this short period of time and use it to calm you and comfort you or you could have more anxiety and need to take medication." So comfort food is working right now and we'll stick with it. 

The beautiful thing about this pregnancy, just so you don't think its all doom and gloom, has been God's healing throughout it. This past weekend a friend asked me if Abigail's pregnancy had been healing. I responded without having to think- "no!" Holding a live baby in my arms was so healing, but her actually pregnancy was way worse than Caleb's. So much worry, stress, and emotions. This pregnancy has in many ways begun to heal me from the trauma of Abigail's pregnancy, if that makes any sense. 

Carrying another boy has brought with it an array of emotions that I have had to work through. At first I resented that but once I leaned into it I saw how God wanted to use it to heal my heart even more. I still don't have words to explain it but I do know I'm in awe of how God can keep His promises. There were so many times that I begged for healing after Caleb died and it never came. But now, 3, almost 4 years later, its coming. Certain things that I had forgotten about God is bringing to the surface and redeeming them. It gives me more zeal to help couples continue to be open to life after loss. I meet so many people who, because of loss, decide to sterilize themselves or their partners out of fear of another loss. I think constantly about the conscious choice we made to try to get pregnant this time. If we had remained in fear and just stayed comfortable with our one live kid, we would have missed out on so much the Lord wanted to do. 

One last thing that has been overwhelming as a sign of God's faithfulness and love has been the name of this baby. We have chosen to name him Judah Thomas. In the old testament this is the verse that describes what the name Judah means:

"And once again she conceived and bore a son. "This time," she said, "I will give grateful praise to the Lord", and therefore she named him Judah." 

The name Judah literally means praise and thanksgiving. I heard a sermon once on "how to get through hard times." In it the speaker mentioned that in ancient Israel whenever the twelve tribes would go up to fight a battle they would send the tribe of Judah first. He said they did this because of the meaning behind Judah's name-praise and thanksgiving-and that through praise and thanksgiving of God was the only way to overcome hard times. I remember thinking if we ever have another boy I want to name him Judah. 

His name of praise and thanksgiving has been my anchor this pregnancy. Whenever the fears, doubts, and struggles come I just keep thinking "praise and thanksgiving." As we get to know this baby more God continues to reveal more about this him. Another thing is that in the old testament Judah was the 4th son and should not have gotten the birthright. But things happened and long story short-he did receive the birthright and eventually Christ came through his line. Our Judah should not receive the benefits of a first born son, but he will. Caleb should be passing on the family name but it will be Judah who passes it on.  Its amazing to see a name be chosen and then God continue to affirm that name. We went with Thomas because of doubting Thomas the apostle and my love for him. You can read about that more here. My hope and prayer for Judah Thomas is that his doubts will always lead him to encounter the Risen Christ, just like St. Thomas. 

So while this third trimester is trying, its not without grace. Please pray with us and for us as we wait out these final 9 weeks until his delivery. St. Jude and St. Thomas-pray for us!

29 weeks!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My admiration for the Medical Profession

This week has been a crazy ride of ups and downs. On Halloween my tooth broke off and I spent two hours at the dentist office getting it fixed. I have this nice side effect of pregnancy that includes my teeth literally breaking off during pregnancy. Now I will have one crown in my mouth to remind me of Caleb's pregnancy and another for this new baby. 

Then today I spent an hour at my OB office hooked up to the Non Stress Test monitor because I was worried about Braxton Hicks Contractions. Everything was fine and we even got to do a sono and see baby's sweet face. 

All of this has gotten me thinking about how much my view the Medical Profession has changed over the past 3 years. When we were pregnant with Caleb we took the 13 week Bradley Birthing Classes. While these were helpful, looking back I feel like they also cast an undertone of this view that "doctors are out to get you." Add that to the many documentaries, such as The Business of Being Born, that we watched during that time and I can honestly say that I thought I knew better than the medical profession. I was informed! I had studied and read up on natural labor and childbirth and I was going to fight my hardest against any interventions. But then my baby died while still inside of me and I was so lost and so broken.

All of a sudden the medical professionals around me scooped me up and carried me through the hardest thing I'll ever do-deliver a stillborn baby. They took care of all my pain and were gentle with me, cried with me, and made a terrible situation a little less terrible. Over the last 3 years since Caleb's death I can honestly say that through the doctors, midwives, nurses, specialists, counselors, and dentists, I have slowly healed from the brokenness that became me after Caleb's death. I feel like I went from one extreme where I did not trust them to this other place where I don't trust myself at all or my intuition.

That's where I was today and this week-not trusting my body or my intuition about what is right or wrong. Its a very humbling, small place to be where you are scared and fragile and uncertain. Instead of trying to do things on my own or even just trying to "pray through it," I called up my dentist the minute my tooth broke and got right it. Today I could have spent all day worrying about the baby but instead I thought "Im not in this alone, just call the doctor and go in." And so I did and the weight they lifted from my shoulders is so real. I truly feel God speaking to me through the medical professionals around me. The way my dentist promised me that I would not feel any pain for the 2 hours he was drilling. The way the nurses and doctors at my OB office got me in right away and never once acted like I was being extreme. 

After Caleb died I begged for healing. I heard stories of people being healed instantly from physical ailments. I wanted that, I wanted instant healing. But it never came. It never came emotionaly, it never came physically. But instead the healing came through seeing my counselor, through visiting 3 different dentist to finally find one who believed me and fixed my problems, through my doctors and specialist who say over and over again "we are in this together, we will get this baby out alive." 

Today I am praising God for medical professionals and the healing they bring. Sure, God can and does heal people through miracles all the time. But in my life Ive seen much more healing come through someone else in the medical field. I have such a high admiration for these people who selflessly give over and over all in an effort to take people's pain away. Isn't that such a beautiful witness to the character of God? Feeling fortunate to live in America where the medical technology and services are exceptional. Thank you Jesus for the gift of medicine and for teaching me that I cannot do this on my own.

I love this girl!

How did my baby get so big? Loving every moment I get with this little girl!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Giving your finances to God

I often feel like we have an unfair advantage when it comes to trusting God with our finances. After spending two years doing missionary work with a group call FOCUS, Nathan and I had first hand experience at seeing God come through. As missionaries we raised 100% of our salary, which came from donors. The entire two years taught me so much about the power of asking for help, praying specifically for my finances, and the obvious-seeing God come through.

I remember one instance where I was going to be $500 dollars short that month. I went to the chapel to pray specifically for the $500. A few days later I got a check in the mail for exactly $500 from a donor who I had contacted about 6 months prior. At the time she had been unable to donate because she was without employment. Little did I know that she had promised God that once she found work she would give a certain percentage of her first paycheck to me in thanksgiving for God finding her a job. Well that job came for her at the exact time I needed my $500. After that I really started trusting God with finances and in the two years of missionary work Nathan and I could tell you dozens of stories like the one above.

Then we got married and were unemployed. We lived week by week and kept trusting that God would provided. Except, it didn't look how I would have wanted it (a nice 8-5 job with benefits) but instead looked like a bunch of little jobs that came out of no where. We lived like that for the first 6 months of our marriage and while it was tough, there was also a freedom in it because we had no other choice but to trust God. Again we saw checks being sent to us from refunds from over a year ago, people giving us gift cards, etc. One day after the next God came through.

Fast forward to now where we are living on one income. At times I think what is harder than trusting God with our finances is giving Him control of them. When you have a steady paycheck coming in every two weeks it gets hard to imagine how God could work within that, because its such a "set" number. Even though we have steady income, we live on a tight two week, cash only, system. When the cash is gone, we wait until payday to get more.

With the new baby coming we have been doing some big projects around our house like new carpet, paint, etc. In August when we began these renovations I sat down to look at the budget and thought "no way can we afford this." I just couldn't see on paper how it was going to work out. So we began slowly and bought things little by little every two weeks. Interiorly, I was struggling with "should I get a part time job?" Its such a temptation for me to go back to work. I came from a working family with a working mom and I'm the only SAHM in my family. I feel constantly lazy because I don't work. But then I know that this is what Nate and I have decided is best for our family. So in my mind the thoughts of "you should be working, you should be bringing in something to pay for all these renovations" rang constantly. Then finally after taking it to prayer for a few weeks it went away. I started to have peace about just giving our finances over to God and letting Him show me how He would come through.

Let me tell you:
We had budgeted $120 for new light fixtures------went to the store and found them on mega clearance and got all 6 for just $36.00!

We had budgeted $150 for a new ceiling fan-----again another mega sale and we got one for $59.99!

I had secretly been wanting a combi double stroller to go with our combi car seat. But they are so expensive and I knew we just couldn't swing a new one. And a used one is next to impossible to find. But, this past weekend I found one on varagesale for half the price of a new one.

Nathan's car is in need of a new battery. Sometimes it starts, sometimes it doesn't. We keep pushing it down the road because we didn't have the money for it this month, which meant I took him to work many mornings! I went to our neighborhood social Tuesday night and guess who won the door prize? ME! And the prize was a gift card to auto zone where we buy our car batteries.

Yesterday I sat down to look at our grocery money for the week and plan meals. Since we had spent so much this two weeks on renovations it had left us with $10 for groceries. The good news was we were pretty stocked up in our freezer. The bad news was Nate's family was coming in Sunday for lunch and I wanted to feed them a nice meal. I began planning and going through the cupboards to see what we had and what I could come up with. I told Nate we were going to have a "scrounge" week since we only had $10. Then I went to take Abigail for a walk and out of the stroller fell a thank you card from a friend. She had given it to me last week at the park but I had forgotten about it. In it she thanked me for the clothes I gave her (Abigail's old ones) for her new baby. Out fell a $20 Hyvee gift card! So now our grocery budget for the week is $30 and I can easily provide the meal for my in laws.

So yawn, yawn, why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to not just trust God with your finances, but give them over to Him. Here's the thing-Nathan and I are in no way struggling in your typical sense when it comes to finances. No, we can't afford vacations right now and we can't just go buy things whenever we want them. We are not starving by any means, but we do have goals-make a loving, safe home for our family; send Nate to grad school without taking out any loans;me stay home with our kids. And God still cares enough to give us light fixtures and double strollers. He cares about the details. I've had so much fun waiting on the Lord to see where He will provide next. Its almost like this crazy game where I try to imagine how He will come through, but then its always so random (winning the door prize!) that I can't believe it. Every month on paper our finances don't make sense and every month God comes through in the small and little things. And every month we let Him, we don't go out and panic and get more jobs. Instead we just bring our needs to Him.

After 5 years of marriage on a budget I would say that my list of how to do it would go like this:

1. Cash only
2. Eat less meat
3. Plan means according to only what is on sale
4. Give it all to God and watch Him come through

God wants to come through and provide for us but we have to let control go. Challenge Him, try relying on Him for your finances for a week, or a month. Go to Him first when you see you will need something. Be specific. Tithe. We never hold back tithing no matter how tight it is because the money is not ours in the first place. Giving it away always makes me less attached to it, even though it hurts some months.

What I desperately don't want readers out there to do is to roll their eyes at this post. "Sure, thats fine for you to trust Him with your light fixtures, but we have series debt, medical bills, etc." Please, if He can come through for us in the details and the small things, He can come through for you in the big things and He wants to. Trust me, I've been there when I've had more bills than money coming in for the month and God always came through. Give Him the stress of your financial situation. And wait for Him to come through, which is often the hard part.

Another thing I want to mention is our discernment to allow our parents on both sides to help us financially. My husband wrestled with it early on because he felt that as the man of the house he should be the sole provider and taking "hand outs" from our parents just felt juvenile or irresponsible. He took this to prayer and what God told him was "How can you accept things from your Heavenly Father if you will not accept things from your Earthly Father?" Ever since then we have humbly allowed our parents to help us financially. Its typically with big things-my grandpa left us a down payment for a house when he passed away. My parents gave us new hardwood floors as a house warming gift. Nathan's dad has lent us money for his grad school until we got reimbursed. Recently my parents gave us money to put with ours for a down payment on a new van. Its humbling because I would like to say we did this all on our own-but we haven't. The truth is that our culture tries to make us all so independent and that's just not How God works. The Trinity is not independent from one another, but a communion of self giving and receiving love. We are made in that image and so its only natural to rely on our family. We hope that because of their generosity we can one day do the same for our children.

So thats my story. God is showing me He cares, He can come through. How have you seen God provide for you? I'd love to hear stories!

Monday, October 20, 2014

So long Halloween

I tried, I really did. As a family we often talk about walking the middle road in all things. So as Abigail gets older and is more aware of Halloween we began to try to find that middle road. We didn't want to be Catholics that rejected it all together. There are some aspects of Halloween I like (dressing up, candy). After losing Caleb and having all the joy sucked out of life, Im a firm believer that if there is joy and you can celebrate, then you should because life is just too short. So we were trying to find the good and toss out the bad sorta thing-dress up, but keep it nice and simple, not bloody or sleazy (and yes Im referring to our 2 year old-there are some costumes ever for her age that are awful).

I'll be honest and say I was really excited for this year's Halloween season. I'm 3+ years out from Caleb's death and holidays are finally returning to more joy than sadness. I was excited for Abigail to dress up and actually get excited. I was looking forward to her face as she collects her bag of candy. Simple joys, but so precious to me because I'm always aware that they could be gone in an instant. I knew we wanted to try out an event in the area at a local Wildlife park. I had heard that it was scary, but that if you came between certain times it was geared towards little kids.

So we went-and we painfully paid the $20 out of our small 2 week cash only budget to get into the event. Looking at the map I got excited-there were train rides, a s'mores station, story telling, hay rack rides and trick or treating stations. These are what memories are made of, right?

First stop-the train. Abigail was very excited to ride but once we got going the whole trail was filled with awful Halloween decorations. And really, I should have expected it but I think I was picturing more "Fall" decorations than Halloween. Fake people hanging from trees, people walking along the trails with fake blood, witches and devils everywhere. It was awful and the whole time I wanted to shield her eyes-because it was all so demonic and nothing "fun" about it. But I thought "maybe its just the train ride, on to better things!"

And so we went to the tick or treating stations. There were 12 and each one had a little themed station that you walked through after getting candy. I think 11 out of 12 were themed "cemeteries." As we walked through there were fake tombstones everywhere with phrases like "worm food now," or "Rest in Pieces." And at first I had to laugh, because the irony is that this event was located right by the cemetery Caleb's is buried in and we were actually planning to go visit him after this event. So fake cemeteries all leading up to the real one we would walk though at the end of the night.

As we went through more of the stations I got more and more mad. WHY is this how we decorate for Halloween? WHY is it acceptable to put phrases like "worm food," and "rest in pieces" as a decoration? Because its not some made up thing or joke-its the reality. Caleb's body is in pieces  and is getting eaten by worms. I challenge any mom out there to stop and think about that happening to their child and try to still function. I hate it, I hate death. I don't need more reminders of what is actually happening to my baby. By station 4 we were done. We started just getting the candy and skipping the walk throughs. We left the whole event shortly after and the wave of grief it brought on was hard.

We made our way to the actual cemetery and it was like a breathe of fresh air. It was peaceful, calm, beautiful at sunset. A little hard because since the last time we visited, two more babies have been added to the group. But you know what the phrases on the tombstones in a real cemetery say? "Behold I make all things new," "Do not let your hearts be troubled, you have faith in God, have faith also in me." " Let the children come." Hopeful phrases that calmed my heart and reminded me that while my son's physical body is decomposing, his soul lives on, that death is not the end.

In conclusion-Halloween Im just done. There is no reasonable way I can teach my children about a hopeful death while participating in the scary death side of things. So for now we still plan to trick or treat each year and dress up, but no more events or secular things like that. How can I teach Abigail that cemeteries are not a place to be feared and that death has been conquered if I let her participate in  this idea that death is "spooky?" The whole thing felt demonic and I wanted to run as far away from it as possible.

Alright, rant over. For me and my family we will be celebrating a Fall theme with the one night of trick or treating thrown in. I wonder how many others who have lost someone close struggle when they see the morbid Halloween decorations? And please stop with the skeletons-enough! They are the bones of a dead person, not some cute costume to dress your baby up in. Again, rant over.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What a weekend!

This weekend Nathan and I led our pregnancy retreat for couples in Des Moines, Iowa. It was a special weekend because not only did we get to lead the retreat, we also did our first ever training session with the diocese so that they could lead the retreats in the future without us there. AND the best part of the whole weekend were our hosts that we stayed with for 2 nights. Maria and Mark (their blog here) generously opened their home to us and fed us delicious food all weekend. I met Maria when she first e-mailed me after her daughter's stillbirth. For over 2 years we have been e-mailing back and forth. Now, finally, we got to meet in person. It was one of those weekends where I got to step back and see God work, not only in our lives, but in the couples' lives that we ministered to. It was also great because anytime Nathan and I can evangelize together is energizing. It always reminds me of when we were on our FOCUS team together and brings back all those great memories.

So the weekend came and went, and now its Sunday night and I'm exhausted. This was our last "official" ministry event for probably the next year. We will hopefully be bringing home a baby in January, and Nathan finishes school next August. We feel God calling us to take a step back and work on some of the "behind the scenes" stuff for our ministry such as non-profit status, figuring out how to copyright  our curriculum, and working on some local pregnancy loss materials. I'm a little sad to take a break, but I know it's needed. We have done a lot since last March - radio interviews, two retreats, speaking engagements, and newspaper and magazine articles. Looking back over the last few months, I can see how God's hand has been opening doors for us left and right. I had someone comment that "the Lord is really blessing your ministry." And my first thought was "He's not blessing it, He's desperate for it." Not that God can be desperate, but I think He is giving favor to Nathan and I for this ministry because His heart is breaking for all those hurting from pregnancy and infant loss. It's a terrifying vineyard to do ministry in, and one that I often want to run from. But I know God wants us here, and that keeps us going.

So, look for some updates on our blog - over the next few months. And please continue to pray for us and whatever God leads us to do next in this ministry. One last thing - we worked closely with Deacon Joel this weekend for the training. Him and his wife write at their blog, Check it out if you do not know about!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Going Live on Radio

Nathan and I will be promoting our upcoming retreat live on radio tomorrow (Thursday 9/25) morning. Listen in at 9:00am CT by clicking the link and then listening to the "live button".

Catholic Women Now Radio

Oh and here are the details of the retreat, in case anyone is reading this and in the Iowa area!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lean In

One of the best things (if I can even call it that) that my son's death taught me was to "lean in." Lean in to the grief, the sadness, the emptiness because there is no other way. Lately our sweet 2 year old has been tough to handle. I say right, she says left. She throws fits over every.little.thing. And bed time-bed time! The once great sleeper now screams and throws fits each night as we forcefully put her to bed. And there is part of me that is tempted to just run from it. Distract her with "things" or rewards instead of doing the hard part of following through with discipline. After a long morning with lots of errands and lots of tantrums I thought to myself on the drive home "lean in." Lean in to this season where apparently she needs more of me than before. Don't resent it, don't make it more than it is-just lean in. Put your routine and your schedule on the back burner for the time being and buckle down on the follow throughs. Lean in. Such a simple thing but hard to do. I'm glad I learned it with my first. The hard part now is leaning with all of our children. Caleb's grief is heightened because of this pregnancy. Abigail's attitude is exhausting. This new baby makes me more and more physically tired as the weeks go on and I get bigger. Lean in. I'm going to keep leaning in because I know that's the answer in the end.

Abigail pretending to be....Can you guess? A pizza slice! She saw a man dressed up as a pizza slice at a festival recently and has not stopped talking about it since!

Baby Boy # 2 at 18 weeks. Looks a lot like an alien to me!

Our sweet first born

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Its a BOY!

Baby Carr #3 is due to arrive in January. We are happy, excited, scared, nervous, a little of everything. I was SURE it was another girl so learning it is a boy has been somewhat of a roller coaster of emotions. Pray with us that this baby be born alive and well and that death would never again enter my womb. St Jude, pray for us!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Travel Much?

This summer turned out to be a lot crazier than I anticipated with travel! I think I made the mistake of booking trips back in April and May and didn't bother to look at the calendar to see how close together all of them were! Basically from July 4th-August 16th we have been on the road. Day trip to Chicago, weekend in St. Louis, 9 day vacation back to see family in North Dakota, Girls trip to Wisconsin and then a speaking engagement up in Chicago. We had so much fun visiting everyone and seeing things. Looking forward to just staying put this Fall and letting things calm down a bit!

From North Dakota:
Abigail with her Great Grandma who is 90! Such a great woman who raised 12 children!

Aunt Georgia's dog, Miley!

Great Grandma Bonnie, Nate's mom Gwen, and Great Grandma Loraine. We were blessed to have them all together for a cook out one night!

Picking her first carrot from the garden in North Dakota

With Aunt Georgia

Watching Daniel Tiger with Grandma Gwen and Cousin Kitara

These two are only two weeks apart!

Playing in the sand in South Dakota at the Christenson's home

Abigail loved laying in Gemma's big girl bed!


A Birthday Cake for Daddy!
 In Wisconsin:
Each summer my mom and her close friends get together and take all their daughters and daughter in laws together for a fun weekend away. This year was low key but its a good thing because we had: 2 two years olds, 1 twenty month old, and 1 five year old. Busy Busy girls that loved to play together!

They had a bounce house!


backyard splashing

All tired out!
In Chicago:
We were invited up to speak at a Day of Commissioning for the Respect Life Coordinators in the Archdiocese of Chicago. We got to have a booth all day and share pregnancy loss resources. In the afternoon we had the opportunity to share our story of Caleb with the whole group (about 150 people). It was the largest group I've been in front of, not counting the radio. It went great and we even got to meet Cardinal George. 

Getting our picture with Cardinal Francis George

Overall it was a great summer! So fortunate to have the time and freedom to travel!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Everyone Needs a Front Porch

This week I gave our front porch a good scrub down. As I was moving things and cleaning, my mind kept drifting to how much I love this little porch. When we bought our house I couldn't have cared if there was a porch or not, especially this porch. When we bought the house it was in poor shape- old windows, CARPET, and dusty red bricks-basically the previous owners had been using it as a storage space and it did nothing for the house. 

So, we made some changes. We got new windows, tore up the carpet and painted the floor, painted the bricks white, laid down an indoor/outdoor rug and re-painted some old wicker furniture. We also inherited a hutch from friends who were getting rid of it. In the 4 years we've lived here Ive been able to decorate the front porch for each season. So it looks cute, but I had no idea how practical a screened in front porch would be! Here are some reasons I love it:

1. Friends can drop off anything and it stays dry/hidden from street view. Probably at least once a week I have someone dropping something off or picking something off. It saves me time and is so convenient for retiring things to others and getting things back.

This table is the usual drop off table where people can leave things!

2. Strangers don't come to the actual door, just the porch door. This feels like less of an invasion than if I had to just open my actual door into our living room when random people come knocking. Also, the porch door can be locked for extra safety.

Actual door that leads into our living room-no strangers get this far because its inside the porch!

3. No messy shoes! Shoes come off on the porch and stay there!

4. It's a great green house for the Spring time. This year Nathan and I saved around $200 by planting our flowers from seeds. We used the porch as a green room and it was the perfect temperature with the sunlight to grow things.

The "seasonal" hutch that gets a makeover every  new season!

5. Its just so darn welcoming! I love having this entry way to welcome people. It just feels inviting and cozy.

Great light and sitting space for reading or chatting

So there are a few reasons why everyone needs a front porch. Not really, but I certainly won't buy another house without one. I love, love, love my porch! What are your favorite parts of your house?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sacred Psalms

For about the last month or so its been on my heart to read a psalm a day. But, to start at the back and work my way to the front. This kind of prayer has been really fruitful because 1) Its not very time consuming 2) I can remember it throughout the day/week and go back to it often 3) I've been going back and forth between The New American Bible and The Message (which as I understand is NOT an actual translation of the Bible, but one man's rewritten, prayerful interpretation of it?).  All of these things have lead to a lot of spiritual peace and breakthrough in what was a dry spell. So I thought I'd randomly post here some of the favorites Im getting out of God's Word.

Psalm 139:11-12

New American Bible
If I say, "Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light-
Darkness is not dark for you, 
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one"

The Message
Then I said to myself, "Oh, He even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact-darkness isn't dark to you,
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

I love these lines and when I read them I was brought back to a time in my life when things were so dark. In fact these verses led me to create a whole retreat around them based on darkness and finding God in the darkness, or rather letting Him find you. So today if you are feeling the darkness, know that God is there, He is near. Darkness is not dark to Him, the one who has conquered all things.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Weekend trip to St. Louis

This past weekend we headed South to St. Louis with my parents for a quiet, low key weekend away. It was awesome! I think the main thing that made it so great was that we did not plan a lot of things. Instead we swam at the hotel pool and did Grant's Farm on Saturday and The City Museum on Sunday. We had never been to either and I was super impressed by both of them.

Grant's Farm was very easy to get to and the only cost was $12 per vehicle to park.You then enter the park and get right on a tram that takes you through an outdoor wildlife preserve where the animals literally come right up to the train! Abigail got to see cows, deer, bison and peacocks up close. Then the train stops and you get off at a small zoo area. Here we walked around and got to bottle feed goats, see elephants and lamas and ride the carousal. Oh and Grant's Farm is run by Aniherser Bush  so free beer samples are scattered throughout-another perk. It was just big enough, but not too big. We saw everything and were out of there within 2 hours.

The City Museum was another highlight. It was the craziest museum I've ever been to. There are no maps and enough to do to keep any age entertained. There were underground caverns to explore, roof top climbing and our favorite-the Toddler Town. Abigail was able to ride in a train, climb through a ball pit and do arts and crafts. The entry cost $12 a person and Abigail was free. I think it was totally worth it because you could spend all day there. Nathan is already planning a daddy-daughter trip back with her when she's old enough to really climb things.

Eating the best fried chicken in St. Louis at a restaurant called Hodaks!

Overall the weekend was so much fun! Did I mention we stayed at my favorite, the Drury Inn? My favorite hotel because of the complimentary breakfast AND 5 o clock snack time? I love this place because every night between 5-7 they put out hot food and snacks that are complimentary along with two alcoholic beverages per adult. Its so nice with a toddler in tow not to have to worry about snacks! There is also always popcorn in the lobby along with fountain soda-the best!

Already looking forward to going back sometime and doing it all again! Now its time to rest up before our next trip in two weeks-North Dakota!

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Feast of the Sacred Heart

When we were planning our wedding, June seemed like a reasonable month to get married. We were leaving campus as FOCUS missionaries in May, so we figured that would give us a month to get settled and do some last minute wedding planning. I remember going to mass and then going to McDonalds for one of our regular breakfast dates. We sat down with the calendar and then pulled up the liturgical calendar online. Nathan attributes most of his conversion back to the Catholic faith to Mother Mary, so naturally he picked June 20 that year which was the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was on a Saturday and we thought it would be great to dedicate our marriage to Mother Mary. So we called the Church-yes they were free that Saturday. We called the reception hall-no they were not free that Saturday but could do Friday. Friday? Did anyone get married on Friday? We thought about it and then looked up the feast day for that date, June 19th. It was (duh) the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We rolled our eyes as we said of course Mary would never want to steal the show from her son and we felt her pushing us towards His Feast day instead of Hers.

So we went for it. It was all practical at that point-cheaper everything because of a Friday wedding. We did have one freak out when we realized the Feast of the Sacred Heart was not only a Feast Day but a Solemnity, which meant we weren't sure if we could use our wedding readings or if they had to be the ones assigned to that day. Turns out you can get married on a Solemnity and you can have your own readings-yeah! So June 19th came and it was special to celebrate our marriage on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. As the wedding day went on I noticed how many images and statues of the Sacred Heart were around our parish.

Can you see his statue-in the right corner? 

I knew little to nothing about the Feast Day but it was nice to have the image of the sacred heart and the immaculate heart as a symbol to represent our marriage. And I'd say at that point, that's all it was, a symbol. I didn't understand it but I liked the idea of a heart being so passionate with love that it was on fire. I also loved the roses on Mary's Immaculate Heart. What I failed to see on both were the thorns and sword, something that is also part of marriage-suffering.

When we moved into our home a year later we felt called to put an image of the Sacred Heart up in our home. We read up on the tradition of Enthronement to the Sacred Heart and we knew it was something we wanted,

The enthronement will restore the family to Christ because the family is putting Our Lord and His interest first. In return the Sacred Heart takes over the interests of the family. Our Lord Himself has promised that He will bless and sanctify those families who enthrone Him as King. He asked St. Margaret Mary, to whom He revealed His Sacred Heart, that He be allowed to reign over the homes of the rich and the poor; that He be solemnly received as King and Friend and that His Sacred Heart be honored and loved. Consider Our Lord's beautiful promises carefully and then full of trust and confidence, sincerely and devoutly follow step by step the Enthronement Ceremony.

So we bought a statue and invited some friends and family over with our priest friend and had a big party to celebrate along with the beautiful prayer that goes along with the enthronement. Whenever someone walks into our home this is the first thing they see:

Over our 5 years of marriage I can see how and why God had us marry on this Solemnity. The love, the suffering, all of it together just makes sense. I love the Feast of the Sacred Heart and the way it shows us how much Jesus understands us. How His heart burns with love for us but is also suffering because of sin. I love that the Feast Day is followed by Mary's Immaculate Heart, also filled with love but suffering as well. 

I still don't have all the words to explain why this Feast is so important to us, but it just is. I love belonging to a Church that acts as a good mother. She knows her children and what they each need. We needed this Feast Day and we needed it to help shape our marriage. Every time I see that statue in my home I am reminded that I vowed to not only love Nathan, but to suffer with him and for him as well. 

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have Mercy on Us. Most Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary-Pray for us!