Soaking in the love

Somehow these Monday gratitude posts are all I seem to manage these days…must be the last month of pregnancy, trying to help sick kids get well, keeping (sort of) caught up with homeschool and, well, I think that’s really all!  All I can manage at the moment at least.  After a very healthy, uneventful pregnancy, this past week my blood pressure went up a fair bit and there were concerns about the baby’s health so I’ve been trying to be on “modified bed rest” as directed.  My goodness is that hard with 4 loves running around my house!  But the best part of a unexpected things like that is the way those around us rise to the occasion so that’s what my list centers around today:

#348 – bursting into tears upon hearing the sound of a best friends’ voice on my phone after too long

#349 – the same precious friend and her number 6 baby belly next to my number 5 baby belly

#350 – the dinners and treats and ‘love muffins’ she drove a long ways to bring me

#351 – my mom and sister checking up on me every day

#352 – my sisters’ willingness to do even the tiniest thing if it will help knowing that it all spells L-O-V-E

#353 – another friend also driving a long ways to help this week

#354 – my gem of a brother-in-law willing to do my Costco run for me

#355 – seeing justice play out in an honorable way

#356 – going to sleep thinking of baby names

#357 – the snuggles that go along with sick little ones

#358 – an amazing mama who makes for a crazy fun Nana to my children

#359 – getting to peek at baby today by ultrasound

#360 – being caught up on laundry and dishes…at the SAME time!

#361 – peace and the reality that the outcome of the little and big things in my life don’t rest in my hands

One year later

A year ago this past week our life changed forever.  While it is indisputable that the parents we know and love will eventually die, at our age I think it’s normal to assume or expect that they’ll still be around a while.  And when they do pass on, we hope we’ll know it’s coming and have the chance to say goodbye.

When Chris’ dad didn’t return from his hunting trip last January, I waited for the logical explanation.  His mom and I prayed on the phone and talked to pass the time as the evening got later.  I was certain, in my optimism, that he’d pull in her driveway any minute.  Logical answers didn’t come and neither did his dad.  As I watched my husband throw warm clothes on and packed him food for the long drive to join the search, fear crept in.  I hugged him long and hard and tried not to cry.

I tucked kids in their beds and started to ponder the possibilities.  My sister, then pregnant with my niece, offered to come over and sit with me.  I did what I tend to do and said no, that I was sure I’d be fine and everything would be okay.  Two hours later, past midnight I said yes, please come.  She tucked herself into my bed and we sat.  We waited as sleep eluded us.  We prayed in silence.  Mine sounded more like pleading, begging for just two things…..Let his dad be okay….If he’s not okay, please don’t let Christopher be the one who finds him. I whispered and whimpered the same prayers all night long.  My sister had to leave in the morning to get back to her son.

And shortly after she did, a five word text message (that was the only way he could communicate with me at the moment) told me that both my prayers had gone unanswered.  It was the most gut wrenching moment of my life.

The ache that followed for all of us was unbearable, we were overtaken by the shock of loss.  The hole that had been blasted open in one moment was a gaping one.

People cared for us and loved us in every imaginable way in those following days.  My parents who’d been at my ill grandmother’s bedside, not expecting her to live, were across the country.  They flew home immediately.  Incapacitated completely, I watched in a cloud as other people stepped in and ran life for me.

The months that followed were walked out in a tender, raw way.  We both knew that our hearts were in pieces and we could not tolerate harsh words or bursts of anger – so there simply were none.  We process loss in very different ways so we held one another with mutual respect and did our best to let each walk the journey as needed.  We’re still doing that because it just seems the only way.

It was in those months, knee deep in grief, that I began this gratitude list on Monday’s.  As I questioned my faith and really the very nature of God for the first time in my adult life, I began to read a blog that pointed my heart in a different direction.  I took her challenge to join in and to start keeping track of what I could choose be grateful for.

#339 – learning how to say yes to help

#340 – resolving that there will be some questions left unanswered for the rest of my life

#341 – the beauty of memories

#342 – the sovereignty of God in all things at all times

#343 – the extra year my grandma was gifted (and the gift it was to all of our family in turn)

#344 – living out the choice to embrace the small moments of greatness

#345 – how it feels to be loved well

#346 – the way tears cleanse the soul

#347 – the way pain can open your heart to so much more love when you let it

Back to the gratitude list in 2011

#326 – tiny feet pressing out from my insides all day long

#327 – the chance to travel east to celebrate the life of my amazing grandma

#328 – a six year old boy with patience enough to try and teach his 2 year old sister chess

#329 – pillows, so many pillows, that make sleep possible

#330 – re-entering homeschool today after a longer than expected break

#331 – new ideas on daily life and family

#332 – new recipes on the docket

#333 – a new church, new start, new friends

#334 – a new one year, chronological Bible to read nightly with my husband

#335 – the way the starting of this list helped change my outlook on life last year

#336 – powdered sugar donut holes

#337 – all the energy that comes out at kids birthday parties

#338 – kind words from sweet-old-man-strangers at the grocery…”You must be nearing the end of your journey (seeing my belly), many blessings – they grow fast and leave so treasure every day okay?

The mirror a child is

There was a time just a few short years ago when modeling respect and giving the gift of honor to my husband was low on the list of things I did well.  In fact if I asked him, it might not have even been on the list.  I did not appreciate his sacrifice of time and the investment of his energy into a job that provided for our family.  I simply expected it and acted like it was just what he should be doing.  While maybe it was, I still missed the boat entirely of expressing gratitude for him being the breadwinner for our family and giving me the gift of staying home to raise our children.  Perhaps then I didn’t see it as a gift even…but that’s another post.

The worst part of this was the uncanny way our kids picked up on it, though quite young at the time, and the lack of respect they bestowed to him.  More than once I heard words and observed a tone of voice as they spoke with him that sounded uncomfortably familiar.  It sounded like me.

The more I seek God’s heart and simply read the Bible, I’ve come to believe that children and the task of raising them is one tremendous way that the less-than-lovely things in my heart are refined and drawn out.  It’s a process that won’t ever end and one that will never be fun.  But it is critical to me growing and learning how to love.  God’s directions are simple, in John 15, just love each other as extravagantly as God is loving you.  Thing is, loving little ones that destroy your home, soak up your good sleep, complain about the food you make them and are in general, imperfect tiny human beings….is one of the hardest things to do some days.

These past two years have held all sorts of things I didn’t anticipate or plan for.  When our fourth baby was born, our life was in a fair bit of disarray.  Our kids reflected it right back to us.  It was painful.  We both slowly, sometimes grudgingly, laid our lives down and sought new hearts.  We had big choices to make.  We learned new ways through trial and error to love and respect one another.

When we see the mirror that our kids are holding up today, it is certainly a mix, the growing and learning are never-ending.  But when my kids pray at the lunch table with no prompting from me “Dear Jesus thanks so much for daddy working so hard so we have this food and mama can stay home with us…”, my heart spills over in delight.  Of course those same kids an hour later can later bite one another or throw a prized lego creation across the room.  It’s not perfection at all.

It is however, a process.  A good one.  Only just now in this current season of life am I finally realizing that perfection isn’t the goal after all.  A simple life poured out as a daily offering to the Life Giver is more like it.  Some days that’s messy.  Some days its beautiful.  Every day it’s a choice I make.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

otherwise known as “The recipe my husband regularly over-eats with”, he says as I type this up!

I always grab the giant bag of broccoli at Costco since when we have it on hand all cut and ready, we certainly eat more of it.  But whenever the bag is running low, I whip up a batch of this soup and its a hit with the whole clan.  Best part is I can start it at 5 and it’s ready before 6 with very little work.  If I plan ahead I’ll make some whole wheat oat rolls to go with.  However it’s quite filling and good all by itself if need be.

1/4 cup butter
1 onion diced
2 cloves fresh crushed garlic
few grinds fresh pepper
a generous pound of fresh broccoli, chopped small (or processed for a few pulses in food processor)
1 quart of chicken broth
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
salt to taste
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or if I’m out of that, I’ve used a mix of all sorts of cheeses)

Melt butter in a pot.  Cook onion in butter till soft.  Add garlic and pepper, cook a minute.  Stir in broccoli then chicken broth.  Bring to a boil and simmer until broccoli is tender (about 15 min).  Whisk flour into milk until dissolved.  Stir into soup and continue stirring often until thickened.  Reduce heat and stir in cheese until heated.  Season with salt as needed.

And for the perfect after dinner treat (AKA favorite pregnancy snack)?

A sliced banana spread with Nutella (how did I live so long without it?) and crunchy granola sprinkled on top.  Delish!!

A gift beyond measure

She’s not missed any big life event despite living a couple thousand miles across the country.  In fact to look through my stack of photo albums you’d think she lived here.  And you’d also think she sure has been some neat places.  And that she has a great smile, a truly great one.  She has delighted in so much of life with us.  She surprised me by flying in for my first baby’s shower.  Thus she was also here when, a few hours after that baby shower, my water broke and my first babe came 5 weeks early.  It is her name that we gave as our daughter’s middle name.

She came out just as often as the “great-grands” started to arrive.  She snuggled and enjoyed them and we relished watching our children have the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents.  Though they’d traveled most the world over, dined with dignitaries and stood boldly for causes they believed in…these time watching her love my kids have been my favorite.

Last January we thought she would soon be gone, literally as we walked through the sudden loss of Chris’ dad, she faced tremendous health challenges that seemed insurmountable.  Truly beyond anyone’s expectations, she made it through.  A bonafide miracle I’d argue.   Not able to travel however, we wondered when we’d see her again.

When my mom told me she was flying back east to bring Grandma out for the month of December, it seemed too good to be true.  I think we all held our breath till she got here.  But she did.  “My soul needed to be here” she told Grandpa on the phone shortly after she arrived.  Not highly mobile, we knew we’d need to drive to her and plan our gatherings around what would work for her.  We did.

Tea parties, gingerbread house decorating, Christmas cookie making, present-opening, lots of great food and just as many wonderful smiles.  Crazy boys running around or building legos by her feet.  Dressing up like princesses or Rylee sitting reading to her.  The weeks were packed with sweetness.  My advent plans along with many other holiday plans fell by the wayside.  But somehow it was okay, it was more than okay it was a treasure.  Talk about treasure, she told me shortly after she’d arrived and was talking about her family “I am so rich, to have all of this, all of you”.

The day after Christmas we spent the evening with Chris’ family, our first altogether gathering since his dad’s been gone.  Hard.  So good to be with one another but emotions were barely below the surface.  My mom called on our drive home that night to tell me that Grandma had had a stroke.  She was in the hospital but stable.

The next morning things changed quickly and I called my husband in tears to come home right away so I could go be with her and my family.  We sat around her bed and the moments that followed were holy ones.  My mom read her favorite Psalms.  We sang her hymns.  I could not utter a word but just stroked her silver hair and wept as I watched love pour from Grandpa that I’d never seen but known existed.

Things stabilized again for a couple days but it was clear the end was very near.  I asked my grandpa at one point how long they’d been married.  While many things are foggy for him at the moment, this was crystal clear, he exclaimed before I’d finished asking “Why 63 years and 2 months!” and then shared little bits about their early life together in Kansas.  I bit my lip to not cry and thought I want to know the months and years when I’ve been married that long…goodness, I just want to be married that long! What a legacy.

We all took turns sitting at the hospital with her, holding her soft hand and sharing memories.  Looking across the bed at my own mama, more than once I thought about how someday I will have to do this with her…then realized, someday I hope I get to do this with her.  To sit with someone so very close to the door of heaven, truly felt like hallowed ground.

Thursday morning as my kids and I were just heading to Costco, my mom called.  “She’s gone, it happened so fast.  I was here with her, just me.”  I sat outside my car in 25 degree coldness crying warm tears into the snow.  I drove home, passed the kids all off quickly and went to my parent’s house.  Eyes kept filling up and voices were broken but oh the hope and peace of knowing she is in the perfect place.

Grandpa kept saying “She was where she wanted to be…what a place to spend her last 3 weeks!”.  Though not at all what we expected or planned, I can’t help but feel like we were just given the most precious, sacred gift in getting to share this last bit of time with her.  We just didn’t know exactly the gift we were receiving until now.  What a joy-filled sendoff to eternity!  What a load of sweet memories we have stored up!

If there’s been any theme for us this year, the year that I declared the “year of JOY” as I rang in the New Year, it is this:

Life is fleeting.  We do not live with some guarantee of tomorrow.  Today is a gift.  Don’t wait for whatever it is you’re waiting for to treasure the life you’ve been given.  It will always be complicated and it will always hurt.  But there is beauty in the unlikeliest of places and there IS joy to be had even when nothing seems to be working out.