A gift of words to my beloved olive shoot

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r-dayandafter210My arms reached down and pulled the orange-haired baby out of my body. Ten days late, I wanted to get this show on the road! A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

That old song by Helen Reddy, “I am woman,” could have been my anthem cry. I felt like I could conquer the world by this one singular action. I still get rather uppity whenever I think about my hands being the first ones to touch my child and being the one to welcome him into the world personally. It was instant love and connection.

The delicious ginger boy I once cradled in my arms has now become a handsome 17-year-old man.

Today I honor him.

I praise the Lord for him.

My heart bursts to overflowing because of him and I’ll stop there or I’ll just start crying.

Sometimes it takes my breath away when I consider God’s goodness, how He knit that boy in my womb. I imagine most moms feel that way about their children, how blessed we are to hold vessels of love in our bodies, don’t you agree?

wh401Truly it is by grace that I am the mama to three awesome olive shoots. I know the person I was, I did not deserve such bounty. One day when I am before Jesus, I will tell Him, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again into eternity.

Though I will never know what it’s like to have a daughter, I do know what it’s like to have a ginger.

Furthermore, I am an authority on raising an Isaac and could easily write a book on this journey.

These might be a few chapters –

Laughter – True to his name, Ike is the child who makes me reel with giggles. Once he gets going, there’s no stopping this kid. Often the Hubs will be driving and Ike will begin using one of his funny voices. Soon Ike and I are both competing each other for who can drive the Hubs the craziest with our silly antics and jokes. The Hubs will have to scream for us to stop because he lacks our jocularity. We rarely stop. 😉

Tenderness – As humorous as Ike is, he also has a gentle side. He is warmly affectionate to me even at this age and I have seen him deeply touched by the pain of others.  He recognizes others’ struggles and is on the side of the weak and impaired.

sc00305c8bLast year, I was sitting next to a boy during a basketball game. This young man attends our school and he has some disabilities. He beamed as he cheered Isaac on from the bleachers. This boy didn’t know I was Isaac’s mom and when I introduced myself to him, he said, “I love that guy.” I believed him, it was so obvious. When I asked Ike about him afterward, he smiled and said, “Tom’s (not his real name) the man.” Time and time again, I have noticed how my orange hair, freckle-face olive shoot has compassion for those who don’t really fit in with others. My heart bursts with joy each time I see the sincerity of his heart.

He’s the cool kid who is relaxed around people of different cultures and skin tones. He hopes to one day adopt and have a melanin-rich child in his family. I adore picturing Ike as a husband and a dad, he will be a wonderful leader and mentor.

Struggle – But it’s not like life has been easy for him. Ike had a speech problem when he was younger and it was only through hard work and perseverance that he was victorious over this.

Also having two high achieving older brothers can leave big shoes to fill. He often puts a lot of pressure on himself though we reassure him that we just want him to be the best ISAAC he can be. And at times, by his own admission, Ike can have a temper as red as his hair but because of what the Lord has done in his life, Ike usually (not always) can now control his anger and tongue. We rejoice in his accomplishments. God is good!

Humility – This is my precious OS who freely apologizes to me when he is a stinker. He desires to be in right relationship with the people he loves. Ike is able to speak into people’s lives because he knows what damage a prideful heart can cause. As a teenager, I cannot recall one single time when I genuinely apologized to the extent that my son does and trust me, like most of us, I should have done that with great regularity. Ike is the kind of kid you want as your friend because he will tell it to you straight and speak with a voice of experience and authority.

Suffering – This summer I sat Ike down and spoke honestly with him. Since he is the only boy living at home all year, I told him that I felt the Lord was calling Ike into a difficult time of suffering. He was going to get a front-row seat into Alzheimer’s and dementia that his brothers would not know. It would be a very painful time but one that the Lord would carry him through. His grandpa’s conditions were serious and there would be great sorrow. Although the situation has not mapped out exactly as I expected, my words have proven true. As much as I hate it (I will refrain myself about some other feelings I’m having…), Ike has been resilient and strong. His heart has been courageous beyond his years.

photoServant – Which leads me to the next part that I didn’t expect. Though Ike has faced great suffering, God has also recently blessed him with a super cool surprise!  A “little” brother! We are now hosting a Brazilian exchange student for the year! Instead of being the youngest brother, our ginger now shares his home with Chico, the 6’1″ dark-haired guy from the Sao Paolo area! The two are quite a pair and you can’t help but smile when Ike is helping him. He shows Chico how to mow the lawn, take out the trash and empty the dishwasher. Ike helps him with homework, the proper use of American slang and how deal with us as his foreign parents. My OS is a living example of how a teenager can live a Christian life and not be swept up by the world. Yes, it’s not always perfect but no one is and that’s ok. Ike truly pours himself out in joyful service to Chico in every way. There is a smile in our family with this new addition and in many ways, it’s because Ike takes the lead in caring for his new buddy/brother.

photoOctober 29th is a day which calls for great celebration! I am the mama to a strong, kind, talented, adorable, hilarious, gentle, super studly olive shoot! I love you, my Isaac.

Five minute Friday – She

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When I walked down the stairs at the missionary house five years ago

She caught my eye, took my breath away

“Wow, she’s so pretty!” I thought to myself.

All of us at the girls' prison in El Salvador

All of us at the girls’ prison in El Salvador

Then I went to the girls’ prison in town

And she acted as my translator as we spoke about redemption, purity and freedom in Christ

“I love her heart,” I thought to myself as we both openly wept at the beauty of the moment.

Then my oldest son began speaking to her

He, a cadet at West Point

She, a college student in El Salvador

And soon enough, they began to fall in love

Two countries away, a romance and a host of many obstacles

They have persevered

And on Sunday, in this beautiful tropical land

He dressed up in his finest, heart beating like a drum

What a moment!

What a moment!

He reserved a table at Ruth’s Chris in downtown San Salvador

And when the waiter brought out the creme brulee, there on the plate

Even though they spelled it wrong, she understood! What a sweet memory in every way!

Even though they spelled it wrong, she understood! What a sweet memory in every way!

She read a life-changing message!

Even though there was a typo since English is not the first language of this country

995474_10151567058450059_296521023_nShe became more than the pretty girl I first met in a faraway land

She was elevated from just being my son’s bonita, his girlfriend…

She became my future daughter-in-love…

Join us at this writing community and share!

Join us at this writing community and share!

My son’s future wife ❤

She said, “YES!”

I could write more but I was only given five minutes! What do you think about the word “she”?

Today I ate two donuts, don’t judge – a daughter-in-law’s journey

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Take that Alzheimer's!

Take that Alzheimer’s!

Before 9 am,

I had an argument with my husband

I had an argument with my freckle-face, orange haired olive shoot

Contacted the 24 hour help/crisis line at the Alzheimer’s Association, again

I stressed about an impending, almost certain family conflict regarding care management of our loved one with a brain disease

I learned my ministry-minded middle’s bike had been stolen in Chicago

And I had not one but TWO donuts

A Boston creme and a marble chocolate/vanilla swirl one

You got a problem with that?

I didn’t think so.

Then I called my mom who listened without judgment

And I texted a friend who met me for lunch

And biked nearly 12 miles

While sweating

And talking to Jesus

Because I’m talented like that

Today's truism. This is the note attached to the container of cookies. I'm only showing the note NOT the cookies!

Today’s truism. This is the note attached to the container of cookies. I’m only showing the note NOT the cookies!

My friend greeted me with warm hugs, a pretty smile

And a container full of fresh, home- made cookies

Which are stowed away in the freezer

In an undisclosed location

I felt slightly normal

Then I cleaned up around the house

Began marinating the ginger/lime chicken

Patched things up between Ike and me

And the Hubs and me

Continued reading Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s too.

Tonight I just want to feel the Hub’s arms around me

And enjoy the refreshing circulation of our new air conditioner

Maybe go for another bike ride

I’d also like to laugh

And kind of marvel at the way the Lord got us through another day

And probably eat a cookie too

Shhhhh…

A dozen things YOU can (and should) do to help people dealing with Alzheimer’s

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When this card arrived in the mail, I was so blessed!

When this card arrived in the mail, I was so blessed!

If you aren’t directly involved with someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia, you will be soon enough. Since becoming a very reluctant member of this community, I have been accruing thoughts, advice and opinions on lessons our family is learning along the way.

This is my partial list of observations and I imagine these tips are useful for anyone in a care partner role. If you are a long-distance family member and not involved in the daily care of an impaired person, you will avoid much strife by heeding these simple recommendations.

1. Do not add to the stress level. We realize you have your own life and struggles but if you grouse and complain about how busy you are, we want to throttle you. Ease tensions by remaining calm and kind, that’s what we are trying to do while fighting against a terminal illness.

2. Do not make idle excuses about why you can’t help. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If you are a hindrance to the care of a person with dementia, then you have become a burden. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Deal.

3. Reply to emails. If the care partner took the time to give you an update, the courtesy of a response is much appreciated. At the risk of being too demanding, may I also suggest something more than a one line reply? Tensions are high enough. You sacrificing your time to write a paragraph of communication will bless those in the midst of trouble.

4. If you don’t believe them, come find out yourself. Yes, it’s hard to even imagine a loved one having such tremendous difficulty with the simplest tasks. True, it is physically painful to hear of the almost hourly decline but suck it up. Second guessing people is useless and if you are suspicious, then spend time with the person and pay attention to the signs and clues that there really is a problem.

A message from a superbaby/ministry-minded olive shoot.

A message from a superbaby/ministry-minded olive shoot.

5. Encourage – I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to receive frequent text messages from my OS saying, “You’re doing a great job, Mama!” It’s like a cookie to my soul and I gobble it right up. I know it has meant a lot to the Hubs to hear me inquire if he needs me with him to do something.

6. Don’t make suggestions on additional things they could do. For example, the Hubs and I have spent over 10 hours a day individually attending to our loved one’s needs. Even the mere suggestion that we might just run over and give this person daily medication is asking too much.

7. Listen. If a family member opens up to you and invites you into their hurt and pain, find the time to empathize. If you don’t have time to listen at that moment, offer another time when you can talk. I have noticed that care partners need to talk and unload. Once I get started, it’s hard for me to stop.

8. Contact the care partners. Appreciate their help. If you are unable to be there, then think of things you can do to acknowledge the enormity of the task. We are weary and thirsty and rarely get any appreciation from the person we are assisting. Usually we get just the opposite, quite honestly.

9. Contact the brain-diseased individual. Make all efforts to be in that person’s life. It’s kinda not about you, btw.

10. Educate yourself. Please don’t tell me you don’t like getting on the computer or reading or any such nonsense. I was reading other things before my life necessitated more education about this disease as well.

I am blessed with loving and caring friends. Here's just one example of the sweet people I know.

I am blessed with loving and caring friends. Here’s just one example of the sweet people I know.

11. Pray. Yes, pray. Lift these people up to the Lord. They are deep in the trenches. A friend sent me this Scripture the other day. Another cookie to my soul.

12. Send cards, be creative. When my grandma had Alzheimer’s, my sister arranged frequent Skype dates with Grandma. I felt reassured when Lorri gave us a virtual tour of my grandma’s assisted living center. The pang of knowing my grandma would never return to her home was lessened when I saw her new dwellings.

Which one of these suggestions resonates the most with you? What would you add to the list?

Remembering a Ranger – a message of wisdom and service – thank you, Colonel Kail, RLTW

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photoIn January, my son sought advice about Ranger School from a man he trusted who had been there, done that way back in 1998. (Massive understatement)*

At the time, Nathan had no idea how treasured this email would become only six months later.

On July 24, 2013, Colonel Eric G. Kail passed from this life into eternity with Jesus after a valiant fight with transitional cell carcinoma. Amidst tears of sadness, Nate, the Hubs and I were reminiscing about Eric’s impact on our lives. During that phone conversation, our son casually mentioned this email and began to read it to us.

With my (now) Ranger’s permission, today I share this email as a sort of eulogium to a great man. Even if you’re not in Ranger School, my hunch is you will appreciate the insightful words written by a man of great honor, Christian faith and wisdom. Eric would get a kick out of knowing he was featured again in my blog! He was always such an encourager.

Here’s the email…

Nate,

Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished so far, and for snagging a Ranger School slot. Thanks for asking, here’s my two cents.

1. Ranger school is not fair, nor are the people who run it. I don’t mean that negatively, but rather just as a fact. I saw far better soldiers than me not make it through the first week due to injury and some were even picked on and singled out until they quit.

2. Try to learn something about yourself everyday and acknowledge the work of your peers. No one likes an overt cheerleader who comes across as trying to get the squad to like them. However, quiet and man-friendly encouragement goes along way.

3. Consistency is key, especially when you are member of squad and not the patrol leader. Spotlighting is only working hard when you are in charge, and it is an ugly thing.

4. Remember the school is designed to get you to your worst point, and then deal with it. So, things like packing list changes and last-minute fragos are by design and not something you should ever let get the better of you.

5. You’ll have moments and days when staying at Ranger School is the last thing you want to do. Two things help. First, always find something (never someone else) to laugh about. Second, you’ll spend your entire army career helping soldiers over come hardship. So, learning how to pull yourself out of despair is a good skill to acquire.

6. Never feel sorry for yourself, although you may want to daily.
Keeping a journal of just a few comments or bullets each day will help you reflect on this when you are back in the real world.933882_621564467863032_1204880649_n

7. Enjoy becoming a dangerous and competent man, but not pridefully. Our society is too quick to put sweater vests and choir robes on Christian men and to domesticate them into mediocrity. We need strong warriors who understand unconditional love and possess the will to manage violence in our defense.

8. Most, if not all of the learning you will accomplish is about yourself and your failures while in Ranger School. You’ll learn some cool stuff, but more than anything you’ll learn the value of never quitting. I had to remain in the elevated push-up position for two hours one evening because some instructor wanted to get an LT to quit. Two hours seemed like an eternity then, but merely a blink of an eye now. Funny thing, I ran into that instructor years later and we had a good conversation on my terms. He was a small, angry man inside and out.

9. On your worst days, remember that your future soldiers and NCOs are counting on you to finish what you completed. Don’t worry if you get injured, that happens to the best of them. But when you show up with your tab, your soldiers and NCOs will know that at least you finish what you start.

10. Soldiers only want to know one thing about you. Will you take care of them or drive them like a rental car. Completing ranger school tells them up front that at least you know what it feels like to be driven like a rental car and are less likely to do it to them.

Hope this helps. I’m very proud of you Nate.

photo copy 3

img_2250* By the way, Colonel Eric Kail was Ranger certified in 1988. He also did some other awesome things like marry a wonderful woman, have two kids and other important things like get a Ph.D. and publish a series on leadership in the Harvard Business Review. Eric served for over 25 years as an Army Field Artillery Officer in both conventional and special operations units. He has several combat deployments, including Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Among Eric’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor. While our family knew Eric as a close personal friend, Eric was most recently the course director for military leadership at West Point.

On behalf of my entire family, Eric, you will be missed but we mourn not as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). See you soon, Colonel Kail.

Other blog posts you might want to check out:

From a West Point grad – written with love and in honor of Colonel Eric Kail

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I met COL Kail while I was just in middle school at Apex Baptist. At that time I had no desire to join the military, wear a uniform or take orders. I just wanted to be a normal guy with freedom and a regular college experience.

You know that saying that says the easiest way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans?

Well I guess God was laughing when I told Him that because I eventually ended up becoming a cadet at West Point. In a strange set of circumstances, the Kail’s had been sent to Korea last moment only to come back to West Point during my time as a cadet.

162938_10150100327385379_7643059_nAt that time I knew he was a good man, but I didn’t know him. As a cadet I went over to the Kail’s house for a little R&R and was able to get to know the family better. What I found was that weren’t just nice, fun people.

They were (and still are) amazing people.

COL Kail especially impressed me because I saw how he interacted with others professionally around campus. I still remember talking about our leadership class with other cadets and they said, “My instructor’s amazing-COL Kail is the man!”

540225_10151141079026038_1658347826_nThey didn’t just think he was cool however.

It was evident that they had a deep respect for him.

One of my friends was amazed that COL Kail already knew the names of his students before they came in. He had memorized them before they ever stepped into the door. That kind of attention paired with his confidence, charisma and humility made cadets (myself included) opened us up to share about ourselves and to learn from his experience and example.

Although COL Kail never formally mentored me, I count him as one of my mentors. His example has inspired me to be a better Army officer, and more importantly a better man and follower of Jesus. Ever since we all found out COL Kail had cancer it always seemed like he and Mrs. Kail were the ones comforting everyone else.

IMG_3623I have been inspired by their abiding trust in the Lord and their belief that God works everything, even things like cancer out for His good and His glory.

That kind of example has been powerful for me to see and I am not the only one.

As I continue my Army career I pray that I may love my future soldiers like I could tell COL Kail loved his.

I pray that I may have faith like him and I pray that I may be a mighty rock for my family one day as he has been for his own family.

I am proud that COL Kail is my friend. And no matter what happens in my own life, I hope that I may be able to set an example as COL Kail has for his family and for everyone around him.To the Kail family, may God bless you and give you peace. You are an inspiration to us all.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Respectfully yours,

Nathan Winter-Hartley
USMA ’12

Lessons I have learned from my children – guest blogger

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For those of you who have children, do you believe that God gave you the exact child(ren) He knows you should have?

My first child was several years old when I came across this question. It meant so much to me.  Why? Because prior to it, I often questioned God, “Why?! Why this child for me? I’m failing!”

100_7271My child is The Strong Willed Child. And me – I tend to be too laid back and easy going. That didn’t seem to me like a good mix. Surely God made a mistake?

Oh but wait. God doesn’t make mistakes. Ever. Uh oh.

In reading that question for the first time – that God gives us the exact children He wants us to have, I began to see my first child differently. It became, “What is God trying to teach me by giving me this child?”

I’ve never looked at my children the same since changing my mindset/attitude.

One thing I’ve learned is that the lessons God is teaching me through my children constantly evolves.  As soon as I think I have one more thing figured out and ready to cross off my “lessons learned” list, God throws another one at me. The potter refining the clay.

I have 4 children, each one so different from the others. Maybe the variety because God has so many, many things for me to learn!

Tabitha, or “Tabby” as she prefers to be called, is my oldest child and is an 11-almost-12 year old.  Tabby is very “strong willed” or “weak willed” according to Charlotte Mason, used to be very hyperactive, and loves silly things and people. She is a voracious reader, is very musical (plays piano and enjoys singing), loves photography, and has a compulsive need to craft almost every day. (Tabby makes all sorts of things – like chocolate lollipops, soaps, tie dyed baby clothes, beaded jewelry, etc. – and sells them through her blog The Craftsy Kitty in memory of her angel sister Lilly.)Tabby and Lilly

I am absolutely amazed at how a person’s temperament comes through so early – even in the womb. Tabby was my child that was the most aggressive when I was pregnant. Towards the end of my pregnancy, at the fetal monitoring test, most of the time was spent with her (from inside me) kicking off the belts strapped on me.  The nurse commented that my baby was making it clear she would hate car seats and being constrained in any way. I was skeptical. But the nurse was right!  From the first second I first strapped Tabby into a car seat she screamed and fought. That continued way too long.

Tabby quickly learned to use her screaming and crying to manipulate me. I was completely baffled by this child as she was so different than me!  Oh I did have experience with her type though, my mother and one of my brothers are also very strong personalities like her. But there I was struggling not to be bossed around by a small child. (Now that’s just embarrassing to admit!)  Tabby made it clear from the beginning that she did not care for authority. That has been, and continues to be, her biggest struggle in life.

So how does a “wimpy” mama deal with a child like that? By spending much time in prayer begging for wisdom. By learning to be a stronger person. By standing firm in what she believes is good and right – and by sticking by it, no matter what storm comes. By trying her best to be consistent in all things, no matter how wearisome it becomes. By loving her daughter even when it feels like the battles will never end.

So am I now “super” mama who has all this perfected now? NO. But looking back, I can see how far I’ve come. Not only does my child no longer control me, but I have grown in my relationships with other people. I don’t often let others push me around anymore. I’m not so timid about speaking up and sharing my beliefs. I don’t worry as much about what people think.  And I’ve gotten really good at asking God for help! (I was a single mom raising Tabby on my own for several years and came to see her as the child that God and I were raising together. I loved this feeling.) I feel like I’ve become more creative too, in working with Tabby in teaching her to use her strengths for good.

Though of course every time I think I have something figured out then BAM! some new situation arises with my creative girl to send me back to my knees in prayer.

100_8191In my son Hunter, 4 years old, I discovered that raising boys really are different from girls.

Really different.

Whereas girls tend to be sneaky and passive, a boy is just in your face with his disobedience. Ah, that makes life so much easier. 🙂

Hunter is my affectionate child – both physically and verbally. He gives me hugs throughout the day and tells me he loves me a dozen times. I grew up in a home that was not this way so having Hunter around reminds me how important this is. He often asks me “Mama do you love me?” It reminds me of our relationship with God. God is always there loving us, no matter what. Do we tell God we love him?  Do we act like it?

I homeschool my children and for about the last 2 years, our homeschool day starts with me working exclusively with Hunter. Honestly I had never planned to sit down and “do school” with a really young child, but you see, God has given Hunter an amazing brain. I almost can’t keep up with it at times. School time is one of his favorite times of the day and he’s disappointed on weekends because we don’t have school. He LOVES math and science especially, but delights in learning almost anything. He is a “workbook kid.” It’s not unusual for me to hear “Mama, can we please do an extra page of math?” when I’m ready to move on. I have had to really stretch myself to keep up with this 4 year old’s education! And I’m proud to say I have finally learned how to hook up parallel and series circuits successfully, something which I never “got” in government school science class. Hunter loves electricity, plumbing, building, appliances, anything with a motor. Everyday he will suddenly say “I have to draw!” and he will draw house plans or a washing machine with all it’s wires and plumbing showing, etc. He even has dreams about this kind of stuff!

This is Hunter's dream dial! What a clever fellow!

This is Hunter’s dream dial! What a clever fellow!

I find I continue to be amazed with Hunter’s enthusiasm for learning and often feel ashamed I don’t always have that same enthusiasm for opening my Bible and learning more about God. This is something I pray about. Hunter delights in so many aspects of God’s world and it has taught me to appreciate and wonder at more things too.

My third child is a little girl named Lilly, who now lives with Jesus. She is my “most famous” child as people from all over the world know about her, through my blog. Lilly lived for 17 months (7/4/10-12/15/11). She had a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. More than half of the babies with Trisomy 18 die before or at birth.  Of those that survive birth, most die in the first 2 months of life outside the womb. Lilly was one of only 5-10% of birth survivors that lived to see her first birthday. She was a fighter! And she was aptly nicknamed “Little Firecracker” by hospital doctors and nurses when she surprised them by staying alive after birth (being born on July 4th.)

100_2080We first learned that Lilly may have Trisomy 18 during a routine ultrasound when it became apparent that she had holes in her heart, clenched hands, and several other “soft markers.”  That is when I learned to be praying even more for my children. I begged God to allow me to bring Lilly home from the hospital. Not only did He grant my plea, but allowed us to have and hold Lilly for 529 days. Lilly’s life was a rollercoaster ride and I only was able to hold on tight by God’s mercy. Many days were very good.  But other days were terrifying.  She almost died in front of my eyes 5 times. I prayed many desperate prayers for her – and for me, just to be able to breathe. My biggest fear was in her actually dying and during her life I prayed that God would help us through that when it came. The most horrific thing in my life for me was finding Lilly dead one evening. (She died during a nap.)  But I survived. I felt God holding me through it. Through Lilly, I learned firsthand that God will truly never leave us nor forsake us. How do people survive something like this without Him? I can not fathom.

Lilly had a beautiful smile and laugh. She loved her family and her daily routines. She loved experiencing new things. She made it very clear she did NOT like hospitals! Nor medical equipment in general. She was physically and mentally delayed. I sometimes feel like children like that are closer to God that we are. As she amazed me, and others, over and over again, I knew for sure that God truly has a plan for each of us. I also learned that no matter how young a person is, they can have a huge influence on others – even complete strangers. God never makes mistakes. Though many in the world saw Lilly as broken, I know she was perfect. Her life inspired me to reach out to others, especially Trisomy or angel families, and to begin The Lilly Memorial Project.

When Lilly died, she took a huge piece of my heart with her. However, not long after she passed away I was shocked to find out I was pregnant. (As I type this I still feel surprised and wonder “What will God do next??!!”) Our Solomon was born 9 months – to the day – that Lilly died.  Is that not a “God thing”? Our rainbow baby, Solomon, has brought more healing with him than I thought possible. (A “rainbow baby” is a baby born after the loss of another child. A rainbow is a thing of beauty after a storm, even among the destruction of the storm.) I had many fears of losing this boy while pregnant and then after his birth. I do not often live in this fear anymore, but I do understand fully that every breath we draw is a gift from God.

100_3491Solomon is his own very unique little person.  For the first months of his life he wanted to be held almost all the time, even at night.  I had never had a baby like this and admit I became very frustrated at times. (It did not help that we moved only 3 weeks after he was born and I had a house to unpack!) My frustration made me feel very guilty too, because I knew this baby was a blessing from God and I was so thankful for him. But then I read something that made me see Solomon’s almost constant clinging to me as a beautiful illustration of God love.  Just as I was holding Solomon so much (and still do a lot!), God holds me. As my arms are around my baby, God is holding me. Constantly. He never lets go.

I thank the Lord daily, even many times a day, for my children. We have no control over when the Lord will call them home. We do not know God’s future plans for them. But as long as we are blessed to have them, we can love them, appreciate them, and be thankful to God for His goodness in allowing us to have them.

Lisa blogs over at Pray4Lilly. She spends her days homeschooling, making to-do lists that never get completely done, talking to God, and stealing moments here and there to read.

Here’s the blog post I wrote about the day of Lilly’s passing. She was a very special little girl. Thanks Lisa for your heartfelt thoughts and perspective!

Love and letters, part one

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photo copy 5The response to writing my Soldier has been incredible.

Most of us do not understand how wonderful it is for a military person to hear from loved ones and friends.

The longer I am a mama of a Soldier, the more it sinks in.

For my son, he has loved every single message.

Here’s why. Imagine marching 800m through the swamps, then doing a 9k patrol base at night followed by a 17k back. Your letters matter to these weary men.

Picture getting 30 seconds to inhale an MRE (meals ready to eat) somewhere in the mountains but then getting a funny card from a friend delivered to you sometime during training. It can kind of make you feel like a person for a second. If there’s a stick of gum inside, even better!

So today I want to highlight some of the incredible letters and cards Nate has been receiving, I’m amazed at everyone’s thoughtfulness. We’re not done yet, so please keep writing, I feel blessed because of you.

Dog owners – Can you believe that Nate is getting a letter from a couple who adopted our emotionally disturbed greyhound, Toughie? Years ago, we were the owners of a retired racing greyhound. Poor Toughie was an emotional basket case and we had to find him another home. Before going over the Rainbow Bridge, Toughie found some infinitely patient souls to care for him. Now they are sending Nate a letter! Oh how he will chuckle seeing the name Toughie again!

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Oh dear nephew, your cousin will cherish this picture forever! He will love all the detail and action! I love you and so does Nate! RLTW!

Cousins – This picture is from Nate’s seven-year old cousin, Jon. The more I look at this picture, the more I love it. Tanks, swamps, fish, words of encouragement, this drawing also has plenty of action and Nate is smiling through the whole thing. I’m not so sure about that in real life but I do know this. Nate will grin ear to ear because of this letter. According to Jon, Nate is the #1 23-year-old and I have to agree!

Katie and the kids she's working with this summer.

Katie and the kids she’s working with this summer.

Classmates and cool kids – One of Nate’s high school classmates is working with K-5th kids this summer.

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Daniel, this is a beautifully written letter. You are a really nice guy!

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974857_10201224092465611_1526572933_n Stacey, this letter is a work of art. Nate will love it!

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Thank you Alajah for thinking of my Soldier.

Since Nate is a strong example of perseverance, obedience, courage and integrity, determination, Katie had an idea.

Last week she talked to her kids about unconditional love. Then the kids sent him some snail mail. Just look at the adorable sentiments expressed by these precious children!

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So bright and colorful! Much prettier than looking at the swamps! Thanks y’all!

Thanks to Katie and her efforts, Nate will receive 30 Scripture filled letters from these boys and girls. This will mean the world to him!

Brothers – Equally delightful are the cards my orange hair, freckle face OS sends his brother.

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It takes a unique mind to come up with this character. What a creative little brother!

Spermy the Whale is the featured character Ike created during his middle school years.

Spermy now makes regular appearances on correspondence with Nate.

In particular, Nate has specifically mentioned how much he enjoys getting these bizarre greetings.

Ike really makes some interesting cards...

Ike really makes some interesting cards…I know he enjoys sending them to his bro.

It would seem that Spermy the Whale is transforming from a gangsta with grillz and a gold chain to entering the business world sporting a briefcase and a professional tie. The grillz are now a thing of the past. Um, ok!

My joy multiples as a mom. On behalf of all the families we represent who have a son, fiance, husband, boyfriend or brother in Ranger School, know it is a highlight for us to know others care.

From Korea to California, Texas to Michigan, El Salvador to New York and all points in between, thank you, bless you. We should never undervalue the significance of sending support to our military servicemen and women.

Questions: If you have a special person in the military, how have letters and cards helped your loved one?  What are creative ways you offer support to others! Let’s share ideas!

Ranger School student – do not grow weary

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Good thing we don't have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn't showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

My boy hadn’t showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

As wonderful as it was to hear our son preach on Father’s Day (and oh, it was indeed a blessing!) –

We found ourselves crestfallen later in the day when getting news about our oldest son who is at Ranger School.

Sending and receiving letters is the way loved ones communicate with their Ranger School students. Thankfully our Soldier is a frequent letter writer. A sizeable stack of letters has been accrued during his journey thus far. I’m reminded of the letters Nate began to write when he began his Army journey at West Point.

2013-06-23 15.53.51Ranger School students are also quite adept and clever and some have found another way of communicating very important information.

Through a simple ATM withdrawal, Ranger School students can communicate whether they think they are a “go.”

Last Sunday, Nate used the ATM withdrawal to speak to us.

The general rule of thumb is if a Ranger School student withdraws:

$20 – He probably passed.

$40 – He passed.

$60 – He probably didn’t pass.

When we checked Nate’s account (with his permission) we saw the dreaded withdrawal. $60. Crud muffins. On Father’s Day no less.

At this stage in the game, the guys are at their breaking point. Hungry. Exhausted. Sore. Smelly. Irritable.

Disappointed is not an adequate word to describe it felt learning this news. We all started wearing our grumpy pants. He was almost done with the whole thing. Bummer.

It even hurts to write this because the reality is that many of Nate’s close buddies graduated without him. Although we were (and are) really excited for them, I’d be lying if I didn’t say how sweet it would have been to see my boy get his tab with his buddies.

Yet if we linger on the melancholy, we’d miss God’s blessings. Beyond the tab, we trust in what the Lord is doing.

Though Nate had not received any mail, God arranged a special delivery of the highest order at a time he really needed it.

Cousins who are also brothers in Christ.

Cousins who are also brothers in Christ.

My cousin is in the Army. He’s in Special Forces as Battalion Chaplain. A well-seasoned, determined minister of the Gospel, Mike has the biggest heart for military families you ever did see. Mike is also very respected by his large, extended family of whom I am a part.

Well, guess who happens to be stationed in Florida?  You’ll never guess who preached at Nate’s chapel? Yes! My cousin!

So although I didn’t get to see or talk to my boy, a trusted family member did. Nate is as hungry spiritually as he is physically and what Mike shared with the guys challenged and encouraged them. Mike preached from these verses in the Bible –

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

The main point of his message was this. Trust your equipment.

According to Nate, the message resonated deeply with these weary men. Mike shared that he wasn’t just talking about a Soldier’s gear but something else deeply important. My cousin/chaplain encouraged these men to trust in God’s Word. It is fail safe, 100% reliable and true. As a veteran of Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq, Mike has married, buried, carried and tarried many a Soldier and his/her family. He’s got the cred to speak in a way that makes these guys listen. God has mightily used Mike and his family.

At one point during the message, one of the Nate’s buddies turned to him and said, “Dude, is this guy your cousin? He is awesome. He’s the best chaplain in the Army.” I imagine my weary boy sat up a little taller hearing these words.

The Lord’s ways are not our ways. He has a purpose. Even though this time it wasn’t for Nate to get his tab…Nate got a boost in his spirit. We pray he will become a Ranger on July 11th. But even if he doesn’t, the Lord is sovereign, we love him regardless, of course. We trust our equipment too and will not be dismayed.  RLTW.

Welcome guests with a great salad – get your crunch on!

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IMG_20110120_185631“What I love most is an abundance of simple food of perfect quality and staggering freshness, very simply and respectfully treated, tasting strongly of itself.” Sybille Bedford, in The Artist’s & Writer’s Cook Book, 1961*

Isn’t that an awesome quote?

On Fridays a box of locally grown, in-season produce arrives at my doorstep from The Produce Box. Fresh fruits and vegetables bursting with color and flavor are a highlight to my week.

In our family, salad is a verb. With the exception of my ministry-minded middle who is loath to leafy greens, the rest of the gang enjoys a fresh green salad. Click here for Nate’s favorite salad!

My first experience with homemade dressing was while living in Normandy, France. My French family created their own salad dressing using Dijon mustard and vinegar and it was sublime. Prior to that I thought the only way to have a salad dressing was to buy it! Boy, was I wrong!

I guess you could say I had “un grand moment avec une salade” or “a big moment with a salad” in France.

Really, it’s so simple to make your own salad dressing. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth the small effort involved.

IMG_3010_10241. The taste is far superior to that of a bottled salad dressing. It never ceases to amaze me how many salad dressings there are in the grocery aisle but you could do the same thing at home, quite honestly!

2. Instead of some gi-normous food manufacturer determining your ingredients, you can please your own palate and your family’s.

3. You can substitute, reduce or omit ingredients based on what’s available in your cupboards.

4. Time saving The few upfront minutes I (or one of my olive shoots) invest in making extra dressing beforehand, allows us to conveniently have a fresh salad in minutes. When I make extra, I  just use a clean glass jar to store it in the fridge. When making the dressing for others, I repurpose a jar that used to contain jelly or jam.

I prefer to buy only triple-washed spring mix or romaine lettuce. That’s because despite my valiant efforts to adequately wash the leaves, I’m often left with a gritty bunch of dirt in the greens and ain’t nobody got time for that.

The recipe I’m including below is a favorite.

Add blackberries plus yellow and red peppers to give the salad a summer flair. For a different salad, throw some pears and walnuts for a delightful and slightly fancy twist. Often in the Christmas season, I toss handfuls of pomegranate seeds to make it festive and add a fun crunch. My buddy and writer pal Meredith stopped by one night and got to try pomegranate seeds which totally rocked her world! #truestory

If I have some homemade kale, spinach or beet powder handy, I’ll sprinkle a little on the salad for additional flavor, color and nutrition. Yes, I take salads seriously.

Here’s the recipe, hope you enjoy!

4 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon honey**

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mix it all together and shablam, you’re ready to dress up your salad.

Questions – When you say salad, what is your family’s reaction? Does your family even eat salad? How do you make it appealing?

"My mom makes me eat salad and that's why I have big muscles. She's the best."

“My mom makes me eat salad and that’s why I have big muscles. She’s the best.” Aaron’s buddy Caleb looks by in awe.

*Quote from Simple Food for the Good Life by Helen Nearing

** Raw, unfiltered honey is the best. If you can, get your honey from a local beekeeper. Clover and wildflower honey have the mildest flavor.