Open

Open (verb used with object)

Open (as verb)                                                                       to move (a door, window sash, etc.) from a shut or closed position so as to admit of passage

I am so often closed to new possibilities, a slave to my own preconceived ideas and prejudices.  My view is obstructed by so many closed doors that I have shut before taking in the the panorama before me.  I wonder sometimes if I would notice Jesus if he was standing right in front of me as I push my shopping cart hurriedly through the grocery store or walk from point A to point B with blinders on, set on my goal and nothing else.  I forget that Jesus stopped frequently on his long walks to consider and fill the needs around him.  That he loved people not by adhering to a to-do list nor by writing people off because they didn’t fit into a certain mold (Jewish, pious, perfect), but by being open to the Father’s leading.

Lord, give me the desire to tap into that awesome God spirit.  To open my heart and my mind to all the possibilities you have set before me.

 

Life!

This little guy turned 8 just a couple days ago.  I’m not sure which is my son, but one of these pulsing, dividing zygotes most certainly is. He would not have come into this world without the help of many medically gifted hands, 21st century technology, and one very willing volunteer womb.  He was every bit alive at just 48 hours gestation and miraculously moving toward a life outside of the petri dish where he got his start.  I marvel every time I look at this photo. That we are even able to peek into God’s handiwork at this early stage takes my breath away.

Because of the orchestrated nature of my son’s conception, we caught another ultrasound glimpse of him about four weeks later, solidly implanted in my dear friend Johnna’s uterus, beating heart the music we had waited 10 years to hear.

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And then again at 6 weeks gestation, our little turtle — a champ at growing his ear buds and leg buds, ears, eyes, and nose, and on his way to a beautiful, functioning brain.

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Life!  A bundle of cells transforming itself into arms and legs and thought and feeling and possibility.  Dictionary.com defines life as “the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.”

It is a powerful force that pushes its way through, reaching purposefully toward its potential. Namely, a fully formed human being, made in God’s own image.

Now, flash forward – or rather outward – from this small protected place to the larger world in which we all live and move and have our being.  This outside place is not so friendly to the intricate processes going on inside, unseen but for the occasional and fleeting ultrasound glimpse.  Rest assured, we are safe.  We are already on the outside.  But this growing, metabolizing dynamo, not so much. Those of us who have colonized the outside feel it our duty to protect our property rights.  There can’t possibly be a place for one who is not yet here.  Too inconvenient, too demanding, too untimely, too expensive, too unplanned, too imperfect.  This budding human being is over entitled from the beginning, demanding too much of us.  We, after all, were here first and we don’t take kindly to sharing.

So much of the rhetoric out there glosses over the reality that – when we make a choice – it is really no choice at all for the tiny human in his earliest stages of development.  Do we really believe that our actions are somehow justified simply because they are undercover and obstructed from plain view?  That ending the life of a tiny human being growing inside us will leave us unscarred?

Regardless of circumstance (except mortal risk to the mother), there is room in our world for every  single human being conceived.   There is help for the single mother and the families that can’t afford another mouth to feed.  There is help for the scared teenage girl and even the victim of rape.  We cannot make our compassion contingent upon our circumstances.   We cannot so easily forget our own humanness and the fact that we were all once a dividing bundle of cells, fully dependent on the selfless gift of another to give us life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Frugal (& Sane!) Spa

 

So I threw a spa party for Faithy’s 10th birthday.  This was her request after we did a mini relaxation session with the family in our new great room.  Initially, Faith thought I could be the spa worker and attend to all of the girls’ needs – massage, manicure, foot treatment, etc.  Yeah, as much as I love taking care of the needs of my family, I wasn’t so thrilled about the idea of washing the feet of a bunch of 4th grade girls (clearly I am not up for this, Jesus).

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Spa Party!

So, I convinced Faith that the girls could attend to each other for the spa party and I would provide the materials.  Soft music, candles, nail polish, lotion, foot baths, etc.

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Manicure & Facial Mask Station

 

As much as I love throwing theme birthday parties for my kids, I do not relish the idea of spending a fortune on something that will be over in a few hours and most likely end up in the landfill before the week is out.  My goal is to keep the party simple enough for me to deal with without feeling angry afterwards (yep, I’ve got a healthy  smidge of martyr in me) yet capture the meat of the theme in a minimalist yet magical way for the kids.

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This is what we landed on:

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Who’s up for a little pampering? 

Spa stations -

1. Cucumber eye pads (which, seriously, have been sitting in my bathroom closet for the last 7-10 years), with aromatherapy neck & foot wraps (again, closet), tingler scalp massage, hand & foot rub (with lotion from the closet).  I had all of this stuff on hand, but the girls do not need to be let in on that little secret.

2. Soothing Aroma Foot Baths (Framing ideas and naming them is everything.  Notice I did not say Cheap Epsom salts from Dollar Tree ) – With dish tubs and one package of lavender bath salts from.  I did help the girls with these by changing the water for each girl and adding warm water.

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Foot Baths

3. Manicure station – I just threw my older daughter’s nail polish (she got about 30 bottles for her last birthday!) in a clear glass apothecary jar from my kitchen and – wa lah! – instant glamour.

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4. Facial Mask Station – Banana, honey, and yogurt face mask recipe

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Battery-powered candles keep your spa clients safe.

5. Goody bags (which I normally hate for the aforementioned reasons) contained items the girls could actually use and consume.  Manicure sets, face wipes, lavender bath salts, mirrors, body lotion, and lip gloss (all from Dollar Tree)

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These goody bags and their contents aren’t plastic toys that will end up in the landfill before you can say “Spaaaaa!”

6. I cannot stress this enough for the busy moms out there.  Do not mess with food for kids’ parties!  This is no time to worry about organic finger sandwiches with imported goat cheese and whole grain bread.  We eat healthy 99% of the time in this house, but for parties tis better to buy some pizza rolls that will be devoured than to throw away what your current magazine promises to be “the quinoa salad that every kid will love!”  At our party, we had grapes, strawberries, blueberries, cheese puffs and pizza rolls.  There were no complaints!

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The muffin liners did not work for this. Next time, I’ll use bowls.

And look how fancy and pretty this “sparkling seltzer” looks in a pretty glass pitcher.

Enjoy your frugal and pampering spa party without breaking the bank or your back.

P.S.  I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like cherry 7-up (yep, red dye is magically delicious!).

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50 Shades of Great

Man giving a present to his girlfriend

“My girlfriend and I are going to see that movie this weekend.”  This from one of my high school students before class started one day this week.  Of course he could only mean one movie, THE movie that everyone has been talking about.  This date was to be a part of the young couple’s Valentine’s Day celebration.  I cannot overstate the heaviness of heart when I considered how many of my students — and teens around the country — will be viewing this movie without even thinking twice about it.  It seems that what’s down is up and what’s up is down in our world of relativism.

But rather than curse the darkness, maybe we need to light a few candles.  Maybe we are spending a bit too much time walking around proclaiming the power of darkness when all along we’ve got the secret weapon in our back pocket.

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“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  Phillppians 4:8

So the real questions is: What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?

That we are masterpieces, made in God’s image and by his handiwork.  Our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps most importantly, that we belong to Him and are not to be used or abused by another for self gratification, nor to share our thought life with snapshots and moving images from someone else’s bedroom.  Can we boldly share this truth with the people in our lives who desperately need it?

The truth is that God is GREAT.  Way too great, in fact, for substitutes to intimidate us so much.  Way more than 50 shades of great, but let’s at least count that many and revel in our great God.

50 Shades of God’s greatness

1. He is not just loving, but love itself

2. He is all-powerful

3. He is all-knowing

4. He has a plan for us

5. He bestows his grace freely upon us

6.  He chose us to be His people

7. He works all things for our good

8. He gave us the right to become children of God

9. He gave us His spirit in our hearts as a pledge

10.  He has no condemnation for those who are in Christ

11.  He rescued us from darkness

12. He is trustworthy

13. He gives us eternal life

14. He forgives us

15. He blesses us

16. He created us in His image

17. He give us hope

18. He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies (can’t wait!)

19. He supplies all our needs

20. He gives us strength

21. He makes us conquerers

22. He gave us His word

23. He gives us spiritual blessings

24. He delights in us

25. He bears our burdens

26. He puts gladness in our hearts

27. He makes us dwell in safety

28. He gives us peace that passes all understanding

29. He crushes satan

30.  He increases our power

31. He heals us

32.  He is a strong tower

33. He is our light

34. He is our salvation

35. He is our refuge

36. He is our strength against the enemy

37.  He created the Earth

38. He created the seas

39. He created the universe

40. He sent His one and only son for us

41. He allows us to experience freedom

42. He created the heavens and established a place for us there

43. He is mighty

44.  He calls us His children

45. He is the beginning and the end

46. He is good

47.  He is just

48. He is kind

49. He is awesome

50. He is God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter of Discontent

 

“It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.” Psalm 74:17 NIV

Ah, winter…my nemesis.  I have long deplored this cold and bleak season.  Nearly every February, I dream of moving south to more moderate climates and have even gone so far as to start searching out real estate.  Winter makes me grumpy and edgy.  It stirs up feelings that I am able to ignore most other seasons because of sunshine and green grass and colored leaves and the ability to come and go as I please.  Winter stops the mindless busyness and brings all of my “stuff” front and center.  It speaks truth:  You are not in control.  The world can be very cold sometimes.

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I am stripped down without all of the artificial happiness that exists during other times of the year: celebrations and shopping and running from here to there and the warmth of the sun on my face.2015-01-17 010 2015-01-17 011

But I have realized the truth about winter.  It forces me to acknowledge my total reliance on God for my daily needs.  I cannot pretend that all is well if, indeed, it is not.  And if I experience deep abiding joy in the dead of winter, it can only be attributed to my great God.2015-01-17 012 2015-01-17 013

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Hazel hangs out with the wet snow gear in our mudroom,. Like me, she is waiting for spring.

So I say, “bring on the winter!” And I thank Him for this season of discontent, when I am reminded of His great love for me and that is enough.2015-01-17 014

Perfection Paralysis

Is it as hard for you as it is for me to set realistic goals?  I tend to either set them “pie-in-the-sky” or none at all.  Well, after reading Jen Hatmaker’s blog, The Thing About Being More Awesome, I was inspired to write some of my own goals and to go easy on myself if I fall a little short.  After all, a goal is “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.”  Thanks Dictionary.com!  Notice that nowhere in this definition is there anything about great bodily harm to the goal setter if said goal is not achieved.  A goal is merely a target that we can keep working toward indefinitely without any sort of reprimand or guilt.  Dear readers, please repeat the last line to yourself.

And so, to report on one of my goals for the year:  Monthly “dates” with each of my kids individually and my husband.   I’m going to be completely honest and say that I’m choosing to report on this goal because it is one of the only ones (out of 8) that I can check of my list for January.  This is what we did:

Hubby – dinner out and ice skating – 3 hours – $40

Lainey – hot chocolate and great conversation at local coffee shop – 1 hour – $5

Faith – Hot chocolate, checking out books, and reading at our local library – 1 hour – $1

West – Sledding and froyo at Peachwave – $7 – 1 1/2 hours

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As you can see, none of my kid dates cost a lot of money or a lot time, but they were well worth it to my kids and gave me a brief respite from the mommy guilt that I carry around most of the time.  Even after a quick devotional every morning, dinner together most evenings, and reading together and tuck-ins most nights, I never feel like I’ve done quite enough. That is when I rely on my heavenly Father to fill in the gaps and to remind me that all of our goals will never quite be reached this side of heaven.

A Beautiful Choice

I received an email from Focus on the Family today that describes the story of Susan, a woman whose life and the life of her baby were changed after she watched last year’s Tim Tebow Super Bowl commercial.  You can watch Susan’s story here.

As a mother of 3, my 2 adopted daughters and son that we had through a gestational carrier, I know how this story could have turned out differently. My girls’ birth mothers could have made a different choice.  Instead, they chose adoption.   A forever family for their babies and for two parents-to-be desperately desiring that blessing.

I also know what my son looked like at just a few days old.  A tiny bundle of dividing cells, very much alive and thriving, placed inside another woman’s womb to carry and care for for the 10 month journey.  Within 6 weeks he went from pencil point to beating heart — a tiny human no less person because of his early stage of development and even more miraculous because of the 10-year journey that led to this.

If people would step back from their rhetoric for just a moment and consider the miracle that is life, how different our world could be.

The Gift of a Snow Day

 

As a teacher, I am blessed to experience what many only experience as children:  the snow day.  Let me tell you, I think I appreciate this surprise gift of time even more now than I did when I was a kid.  It is an opportunity to clean house, do laundry, and (yes!) even grocery shop so that the weekend is deliciously free of these tedious tasks and I am free to enjoy my family and maybe even some “me” time.

Once I showered and dressed, I spent 15 minutes in front of my “happy light” (which ironically is actually a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) light eating my morning bowl of cereal and perusing BH & G.  Vitamin D is a rare commodity here in the Michigan winters and this light gets me through the long, gray days.SAD light

 

My 4th grader, Faithy, spent time creating her mobile about the capuchin monkey.  Even though we do not share the same genes, we very easily could considering how alike we are.  Totally type-A, we both have a hard time relaxing, feeling our best when we are working toward an end goal.

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How about you?  How would you spend a surprise gift of one day – a snow day just for you?

The Journey

I sit in the middle of the empty room sobbing, holding a tiny and perfectly new cotton Onesie to my chest.  Rocking back and forth, I let out all the pent up grief I have stored up over the past four years.  Not that I haven’t cried before, mind you, but this is different.  My whole life comes down to this one moment when nothing else matters except for what I clearly do not have – a baby.  Four years of putting on a happy face and thinking positively that everything will work out if I just try hard enough have brought me back to this reality.  At this moment, I know that I have come to the end of myself.  There is nothing more to be done.  All the diligent research on infertility interventions and the grueling treatments themselves have returned me, once again, to this place that I have come to know so well – childlessness.

Being childless among so many “childful” people was like living in a different world for me.  Before my experience with infertility, life had always plugged along just as I had planned.  High school graduation?  Check.  Undergraduate and graduate college degrees?  Check.  Successful career?  Check.  Marriage to soul mate?  Check.  It was only after experiencing the earthquake of infertility that I began to question my naiveté that I had ever had any control over my life’s course.  It started to dawn on me, as the darkness of my chronic heartache descended, that the ease at which my previous goals were achieved was not due to sheer determination and hard work, but most likely a large amount of dumb luck.  Not that I believe in luck, per se, except to say that I was lucky that my plans for myself happened to align with God’s plans for me up until about the age of 26.  After that, there was a five year period where I wrestled with God to the point of utter exhaustion.

In short, infertility rocked my world.  It forced me to think of my life in terms of very separate chapters: Before Infertility and Now.  The “Now” chapter was written one day, and sometimes one moment, at a time with the excruciating tick of the clock drawing me ever closer to a future that I was certain I would never recover from.  My dreams of having a family went so far back that I could not successfully separate my yearning for children from the rest of me, which made me believe that if the one did not happen, the other would cease to exist.  The biggest realization of my life came down to one very small, very terrifying, and, in the end, utterly freeing idea:  I am not in control.  This is my story.

Chapter Two

 

My husband, Mark, and I started trying to conceive on a celebratory Valentine’s weekend getaway.  We were getting ahead of our initial plans for starting a family, but only by a few months and we decidedly agreed that making a baby on the holiday honoring love and lovers would be a perfect story to tell to everyone when we announced that we were expecting in a few months.  Looking back on our conversation that weekend, I am incredulous at our unbridled optimism.   Though I know many couples have successfully achieved a family based on similar planning, it still seems unfair to me that pregnancy can be achieved on the very small budget required for the pre-copulation dinner and a movie.  When sharing this observation with other couples undergoing infertility treatment, some have sardonically pointed out that many have gotten pregnant on a far smaller budget.

A Memory

It is August.  Our first meeting with Nena and Ted, possibly the birth parents of the baby we have been waiting five years for – if they pick us.   We’d like to wait for our caseworker, but it seems she is a no show and we’ve already made obvious eye contact with the birth couple.  We can’t exactly ignore them while we wait for a chaperone.  We nervously walk up to formally introduce ourselves and are surprised by hugs instead of handshakes.  We sit down and talk, nervously at first, but the conversation flows surprisingly smoothly after just a minute or two.  Ted is very talkative.  Nena more reserved.  My first impression of her is that she is a natural beauty.  She has honey blond hair pulled back into a bun and wears a shirt that makes me think she is truly a free spirit.  She is radiant in her pregnancy and certain that she is making the right decision about placing the baby for adoption.  Abortion was never an option for them, she says, but they also couldn’t just drop off the baby at some kind of orphanage.  As an infertile woman, I realize that in the U.S., typical orphanages don’t even exist anymore.    If they had, I would have had a baby a long time ago, even if I had to wait in the bushes and grab the baby in the basket in the dead of night.    I am now thankful that I didn’t take matters into my own hands because I realize — somewhere between the introductory hugs and this moment — that the baby in Nena’s belly is meant to be ours.  I only hope that she has had the same realization.  It seems we are about to find out as conversation turns to the reason we are here today, in this restaurant; strangers until just minutes ago and now making a decision together that will change all of our destinies – theirs, ours, and this precious little one — forever.

Ted tells us that our profile caught their eye because we looked young, about their age.  Nena’s initial impression of our profile — our life story in three pages — is a bit harder for her to articulate.  She says that something about the pages — pictures and text chosen so carefully by us months before — glowed.  She couldn’t walk away from the table full of profiles at the agency without taking ours and putting it at the top of her pile.  I am almost dizzy with anticipation.  Does this mean what I think it does?  I am not sure I am ready to give hope a place in my heart yet.  Doing all of the adoption paperwork is much different than execting an actual baby — a  son or daughter — to come into our lives.  All of a sudden I regret having put myself in this position.  So much could go wrong in a long line of things that already has in our journey to parenthood.  I don’t think I can live through another disappointment.  Then I remember the lesson that God has tried to get through my stubborn head over the past five years:  You are not in control.  You are not alone.  I love you.  I have  good plans for you.  Do not be afraid.  I take a deep breath and smile across the table at this beautiful woman who holds my hopes in her hands at this very moment.  She is smiling back at me.  It seems she has something she wants to tell me.  “We had an ultrasound,” she says.  “Do you want to know what this little bun in the oven is?” she asks.  “Yes,” I reply, waiting for her to say the words that will allow me to breathe once again.  She is beaming now, her face glowing with the good news.  “You’re having a girl.”