He Lived and Is Loved.

We tried for a few months. All of a sudden, there was an extra line on the test. It was faint- but very there. I tested again a few days later, and it was much darker. There was life.

And then the sickness hit. Like a forceful storm, it covered everything. All-the-things were hard. I was dizzy and nauseous. Stuff around the house went undone. I cried in frustration. The weeks went by. We saw him via ultrasound at 8 weeks. He was a-moving and a-shaking, just like all our other live babies.

We decided to announce his presence. It was a bit before the 12 week mark but I’ve never cared about that *at all.* (That’s a whole other post.) We were so happy. But I was still soooo sick. I started feeling little flutters and movements which made my day.

On my birthday

I needed to know who this was, that was giving me such a hard time! I needed to know his or her name, and just know their identity. I tried two internet blood tests that just didn’t work out for me. After crying and having a total meltdown, Sim booked me in for a gender ultrasound.

It didn’t go as planned. There was no heartbeat; we went to the hospital.

It was confirmed, baby died. I was booked for an induction the following day.

Sim went and picked up our crew from the church where they were being looked after by family. I feel bad that he had to tell them on his own. There was a lot of crying and sadness. I drove myself home, stopping at Walmart on the way. I picked out a special blanket to wrap my baby in, and bought myself the same one for the kids to snuggle at home.

I went home, to a dark, cold house, with a dark, cold tummy. I ran a bath, and weeped. Absolutely weeped. I am TERRIFIED of labour. I’ve avoided induction every time, even being way overdue.

For weeks, whenever the labour fears started to creep in, I would ask Sim. “I’m strong, right?” And he would laugh and say, “Oh yeah.” Obviously, I only mean strong in God’s power and might. I can do none things on my own. That’s just a given. But God and I have gone through over 100 hours of labour together, two hemorrhages, and so many things that scare me when I think too much. I was already afraid to birth this baby, even at week four. I kept repeating, over and over: “I’m strong, right?”

Well, now my baby has died and I have to go through ALL the stuff that scares me most- and with no life in the end. No joy, no sweetness. No new baby smell. Nothing. Just emptiness. No fingers to hold, no toes to count.

We got to the hospital at 8am, the labour and delivery ward. When I went to the desk to check in, all the ladies stood up in a line to greet me and said “Hello, Sandra. We are so sorry.” They were literally the kindest people I’ve ever met. We were escorted to a room with a purple butterfly on the door. Everyone who entered knew what it stood for, and were gentle with their tones and just so sweet. They wheeled in a cart with hot chocolate, coffee, teas, baking and chips. I laughed- I could drink as much coffee as I want, I guess. We could help ourselves all day, along with the hospital meals brought at lunch and dinner.

They started the induction at 11:30- four pills inserted high into my cervix. The OB looked like one of my friends, which made me trust her right away. I requested the full of buffet of pain relief, in case I wanted it. I’ve delivered all my babies naturally, but I had no desire to take one for the team this time. I had to lay still for thirty minutes to an hour after each round. Sim and I watched TV on his laptop, and cried and laughed alternately. Four hours later, it was repeated. And again. It got more painful each time. I heard a baby cry down the hall. There’s nothing like that sound.

My tummy started to ache. I was expecting contractions and heavy cramping, and instead I was just freezing cold and screaming hot alternately. My abdomen ached, but there wasn’t really a break in between, like contractions. It was just a constant hurt. I don’t think my pain threshold was all that high, though. I really was being a sucky. I’ve been through a lot worse, with two spine surgeries, etc. But everything just hurt.

They offered me the pain relief or sleeping aids around 9:30. I didn’t think it was “that bad” though, because I didn’t think it had really started. I asked how long the genuine labour would take when it got going. “Six hours?” I asked. “Hopefully. . . .” My nurse responded. It can go in any direction, there’s not much for predicting. I turned down all the meds, expecting it to get worse and wanting to have options available.

Around ten pm, I started to shut down. I CAN’T DO THIS. I don’t want to be here. I want to go home. I want my kids. I want it to be a week ago. It wasn’t physical pain, but just constant waiting and noticing every twinge and ache and wondering if this was “it.” It all hurt, but not all-encompassing, it was just super uncomfortable and I couldn’t ignore it. I wanted it to be done so bad, but I didn’t want him gone. I was crying and we were watching “Christmas Vacation.” I could feel myself going downhill fast. The nurse brought in a cot for Sim to sleep. They kept mentioning that when it was “go time” we would have to pack it up and make some room. I remembered the tools, the blue paper everything is wrapped up in, the smells of the latex and all the equipment. Ican’tdothis. I remembered all my other labours.

Around 10:40 I went to the bathroom. I felt pressure. When I felt ready to push, I was supposed to tell the nurses so they could get the doctor and have everything ready, start my IV since I’ve hemorrhaged in the past, and put in motion the whole thing that scares me so badly.

As I sat there, I felt God say in the pain of my heart. “Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

I gave just the *tiniest* little push, and felt my baby come out in his sack. I started yelling for Sim, and I just held it there, waiting for another contraction. I knew they were worried about my body retaining the placenta, and I knew the cord could break very easy at this stage of the pregnancy. I waited, hearing the chaos coming down the hall and in my room, and felt my body push on its own the rest of the placenta. I could tell, even without seeing, that everything had come out.

I cried and yelled, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you! Thank you!” The nurses probably though I had lost my mind. I was crying and just so thankful.

I was thankful I could do it on my own, and not have a whole bunch of people around me with yucky tools. I didn’t have to have a D&C. Seriously, so much of this stuff just freaks me out, and He totally spared me all of it. I am so thankful for His mercy, even when things are terrible.

They brought me back to bed, and the nurse cut the cord. They laid my baby on my chest- just like so many times before. He was so little. He weighed 67 grams and was 15 cm long.

He had two beautiful eyes.

Ten perfect toes, ten teeny fingers.

A look in his face that was totally Elijah.

A big belly.

Sim and I took turns holding him, touching him and thanking Jesus for his life.

The nurses took photos of him. In some, he’s holding a little, white heart that fits perfectly inside a big heart that the hospital gave me to wear around my neck. They weighed him; measured him. Every time they held him, they kept the blanket perfectly straight, adjusting it as needed. They reverently took him from me, and gave him back when they were done. They wheeled him gently in the little cart with a bassinet, carefully and slowly.

Finally, I had all the medicine I needed to not bleed out- not that it was even a thing, just a precaution that they always do to me now. We opted to leave a few hours after his birth, at 2:30 am. Then we could be home with the kids when they woke up.

We held our baby one last time, and replaced him into the bed.

They put a white blanket over his bassinet.

We left, without him.

It hurts.

It hurts, but God is good.

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.

 Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Some excerpts from Psalm 34)

See The Battle

A few weeks ago, we sang in church about our weapon being a melody, and fighting our battles with prayer. This was super convicting to me- getting ready for church had NOT gone well. Maybe you know what I mean. We overslept, the whole crew needed baths and showers, nothing got put away the night before since we had gotten home late, we were out of milk, etc. And of course our oldest had worship practice earlier, so that adds an element of chaos getting him out. Everyone bickered and sniped, we couldn’t find the littlest one’s shoes (she takes them off constantly) and we just tornadoed our way down the highway. Yuck.

Dusing worship time, I realized that these moments, the ones that are SUPER HARD and CHAOTIC *are* my battles. It seems ridiculous, but it’s true.

I know some mamas walking through the shadow of death; some who have just lost their husbands; some who deal with health issues of their children or themselves; and the list goes on. Some women face incredibly hard, all-encompassing struggles that last for months or years. I pray that God gives them an extra measure of grace and peace.

What is a struggle? Or a battle, worthy of the promises that come with it? I think it can mean a much broader spectrum.

I think a battle can be any time we are losing our self control to the issue at hand. When our anxiety skyrockets, our blood starts pumping, our voice takes an edge, our patience wears thin, and our joy wavers. This is the battle- in the everyday trials of life in this place.

This all flooded over me during worship. I bawled while I sang- and prayed that He would help me recognize the battle, while I was in it. What a beautiful thing it is to struggle- because then we can access the promises from God! Here are a couple of my favs:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Unfortunately, I got to test it and see if my new lens held up. Our precious, wonderful, fabulous feline, Emily, snuck into the van that night when we were unloading. Of course, we didn’t notice until the following day. Well, I had a PILE of errands that outnumbered my afternoon, and I was planning to take my mom along, who is housebound, to get her out for a bit. Of course, we got out the door later than I hoped. And the smell. I’ll let you imagine it. I found the location of the bulk of the mess. Since kids aren’t supposed to wear their coats in carseats (a really fun new rule!), and since it was warm when we got home, all their coats were left in a pile on the seat. Apparently, that made a nice nest for dear Emily. All their coats needed a few washes (I think it only hit the top one, but I was still undone.) Did I mention that my washing machine was broken, and the repairman couldn’t come until Thursday?

Instead of losing my salvation, I simply hummed. “This is how I fight my battles.” Something changed: I could feel it. I didn’t laugh; I didn’t see the “good” in it. But I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t frustrated. I didn’t speak sharply to the kids, and I didn’t carry it in my neck and shoulders, or for the rest of the afternoon. It was over. Something changed.

I got it cleaned up pretty quickly, and we were on our way. This may not seem like a big deal, but honestly, things like this seem to happen a lot, and they just break me! I do alright with patience when it comes to humans- but silly, annoying circumstances make me crazy. It’s always made me so frustrated and angry with myself. Finally, I feel hopeful that by identifying these little, tiny moments of struggle, I can use them to be closer to my Father.

How about you? What are the things that just “undo” you? What triggers you to lose your self-control? How have you seen breakthrough in your struggles? I would love to hear about them.

You’re Doing Great.

We were so blessed to go to a couple’s home this summer, who are in their next stage of life. Their kids are out of the house, and they are eagerly awaiting grandbabies. They loved on us, and made us feel pretty darn special.

I thought it was “all about the kids,” until the Mama looked at me and said, “You guys have it so hard now. When we were raising our kids, as long as we didn’t feed them cookies for lunch, we were doing okay. Now everything is wrong to everyone, and you can’t really win for trying.

Ummm. Yeah.

I think I, personally, fall into the “crunchier” side of the spectrum- crunchy being all about breastfeeding, baby led weaning, cloth diapers, whole foods, etc. etc. Sorta a neo-hippy, if you will. But I’m not all the way crunchy. I’d say about 70%. We still eat Kraft dinner (that stuff is delicious) but I do feel appropriately guilty and/or embarrassed about it. I’m actually hoping no one even reads that sentence. Maybe I’ll delete it. If we have other kids over, I certainly wouldn’t serve it, lest they tell their parents. When it comes to purchasing organic foods, it just simply isn’t in the budget. I prefer to buy in-season and stay away from as much processed as I can. There’s also a lot about natural medicine and living that I appreciate- but there are some instances where I just don’t feel certain about something, and we are at the germ-infested doctor’s office exchanging an infection for a virus, I’m sure. I make compromises, depending on the needs of our family at that moment, and I refuse to feel guilty for any of them.

The point is- I am always doing the wrong thing at any given moment, to a large percentage of people, young and old. I sleep train my babies, which has resulted in very little crying through that first year. I can usually tell from the first few seconds of a cry what is wrong, and can fix it. Generally, with very few exceptions, my eight week olds sleep eight hours at night, and by 13-15 weeks, they are going 12 hours. That is straight through, without waking up. But if I tell people that, they assume my babies lay in bed for hours crying (they don’t at all. When you have three to four little people per bedroom, it would be incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing to let them cry. It would become a complete chaos situation really quick.) My Oma was taught in the hospital not to feed her babies past 10:00pm, which I think is unbelievably cruel, but that’s what they were taught. Sleep training means different things to different people.

But. We believe there is always a “right” and a “wrong.”

Never mind that they are always fluid, and always changing (which, if you believe in absolutes like I do, means that they aren’t actually “right” or “wrong” at all.) Science, data and research is always proving one side over the other on all-the-things. It may change in ten years or from generation to generation, but the proof is there. Momentarily. Until the next funded research project.

So what are we supposed to do? Throw up our hands and give up? Let ourselves feel discouraged and depressed about the things we do that are not the popular opinion? Or bulldoze our way through mommy groups, proving to others that “THIS” is the best way?

The problem, with sensitive, possibly hormonal, mothers, is that if we are doing the “wrong” thing- no matter what the reason, and to what group of people- we believe we are a bad mom.

This simply isn’t true.

Listen to what it says.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

A weakness is not a lack of trying. It’s not a surrender, a white flag, or an “Oh well, guess this just ain’t my thang- I’m just gonna lay down right here.” It’s a heart that’s trying- and still falls short.

And man. Do I ever fall short.

So yeah. I’m just gonna keep on plugging. And where I’m failing- that’s where He’s showing up. I am going to delight in my weaknesses, not hide them. Not show them off, mind you, because it’s certainly nothing to be proud of. But on the days where the schoolwork took a little longer than normal, because someone FINALLY conquered long division, or discussion over our novel was super exciting- we just may have some good ol’ mac and cheese. I like it with ketchup.

You’re doing great, Mama. Yes, you.

Chores- The Key To Smooth Home Management

I would love to say that “I don’t thrive in chaos.” That would be such a poetic, positive way to state my problem: I literally can’t handle mess, cacophony or tripping over small objects. I turn into Grumpy Mom. This would all be well and fine if I had pretty much any other job. But, here I am, mom of six (soon to be 7) and my oldest is 9. Chaos kinda comes with the department.

But for THREE YEARS I have been investing in chores. It sounds so easy: make a chart, buy some stickers, sit back and drink some lemonade while the house cleans itself. Let me assure you, that’s not what happens. For THREE YEARS I have been training, working, living and teaching. And finally- after months of sweat and tears (and one night-long hotel room stay two years ago when my handsome hubby kicked me out after a Mommy meltdown) I think we have gotten it. Here is an article I wrote last year, when the children were mostly responsible for maintaining our home. I didn’t realize then that they still required a great deal of oversight, and that the chores took too long in the mornings and left me cleaning up later in the day. It is helpful if you are just starting out, but here are some tweaks that have made it work, and actually lessened my load. Did you hear that? I am doing less cleaning daily and weekly.

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Different Times for Work: Mornings were simply not enough. We don’t have a large home, and though we try be as minimalistic as possible, eight people simply take up space. While the day would start out clean, it all had to be put back together again after bookwork and morning time, and again at dinner. This all fell onto my shoulders, and I often felt like I was cleaning and straightening up all day, but that there was nothing I could do about it. It is so important to me that everything is clean when my HH comes home, though he says he doesn’t care.  I would much rather come home to a peaceful home free of land mines, so I try to give him that. We now do specific chores in the mornings, at 5:00, and on Fridays. The daily morning and afternoon jobs keep the house tidy but Fridays we don’t do morning chores and instead, after school, we do a deep clean. This is my “anchor,” the time I can count on to get everything to rights. If for some reason we aren’t able to do this on Friday, we do it Saturday. More on deep cleaning later.

 

Prepare the areas: It is very hard for young children to walk in a room, scan, and see what needs to be put away, and what is meant to be left out. Piles of papers, room corners full of toys, and general clutter all looks the same as the stuff that might need to be cleaned up. When we had our home for sale, I really worked at organizing and de-junking, and finding a home for every single thing we own. It took a long time, and there are a couple areas that still seem to be magnets for the squatters (the top of my fridge is always “temporary” housing, as well as my command post in the kitchen) but I am mostly there. All the surfaces- dressers, tables, desks, etc are empty, and nothing is to be left on there. Same with the floors, and everywhere else. No hiding places, just homes. This is something that you can work on as you go- don’t be afraid to start a chore system before you’ve accomplished this, and simply update whoever is responsible as you complete it. Even photographing the area, and how it’s meant to look, can be helpful for some kids.

 

Clipboards: These are seriously essential for so many things, including car trips! For chores, everyone has their own clipboard with a sheet of page protected paper. On it in easy, clear, itemized bullet points are their responsibilities. For example, I don’t just write “Clean the Living Room.” That’s way too open ended, and doesn’t really give accountability to areas that may be missed. Instead, I write it like this:

  1. Clean up anything on the floor, bringing it to its proper home.
  2. Clean up anything on the couches, and put it where it goes.
  3. If anything got left on a table, return it to its home. Wipe all table surfaces if there are any spills or sticky spots.
  4. Look under the couches- everything likes to hide there to escape from you!
  5. Shake the rug outside if you see any crumbs or little pieces on the floor.
  6. Sweep the floor around the rug.

Because it’s in a page protector, they can choose to check off each job with a marker, and I wipe them when they’re returned. They did that at the beginning, but now it seems to be second nature to just do the next thing on the list. I like that it’s portable, and when they tell me “it’s done,” they can bring me the clipboard and I can see for myself. The lists also make it easier for me to check and see if everything has been completed, and to keep each child’s job straight. That’s the MAIN component of successful chores, that I learned from the Maxwells’ book: Inspect what you Expect.

 

Mastery over Rotation: We don’t switch around jobs. If you have a responsibility, it is yours for at least six months, but probably a year. This way, if I get lazy or busy with my governance, I know who is responsible and can make sure they put a bit more elbow grease into it. They get to “own” how things are done, and get really good at it. Our six year old daughter is very particular about the way she organizes the bathroom, and I let her do it her way. She likes certain things in certain places- and sure! She’s the one in charge. She actually came up with an ingenious way to store toilet paper, and I am thankful. No more “emergencies.”

 

Friday Deep Clean: they have always had weekly chores that were extra, but the jobs themselves weren’t as imperative or just not that helpful to me. I am very much my mother’s daughter and like everything to be cleaned and tidied all on the same day. Though the bathroom is wiped down daily, I like everything to be mopped, dusted and CLEANED once a week. It helps my mental health. This is the day that beds, closets, behind the doors- all the hiding places are shed with light, and order reigns again. The children do most of the house, and I do the family closet and kitchen counters because those areas are my favourite. When I’m done, I help whoever has the biggest load depending on the week we’ve had. When the house is turned to rights, and I pray someone will “pop over” (no one does: people only surprise visit after/during school time) we have a special snack. Since we homeschool, I never bought granola bars, cookies or fruit snacks, but now I buy a box just for Fridays. If you’re a super-amazing mom, you can bake something. It’s their highlight of the day, and even though it’s usually lunch time, I let them scarf em down!

 

Enjoy it!/Music: I let them listen to their music of choice. Obviously I have final say, but they all have their own playlists on my phone or Youtube and they love to sing (or in the One With the Role’s case, dance) while they work. I will have to catch a video of him, it’s so classic. It is veeery annoying to walk from room to room and hear a different, loud song in each place, but the payoff is great. I think this goes hand in hand with being a family who “values” work, and doesn’t just try to get it done as quick as possible. I want all our children to grow up with a good work ethic like their dad, so I want to model an attitude that says, “Hey! This is our home. It’s worthwhile to take care of it wholeheartedly.” This means I have to watch my attitude about almost all of my life. They can’t see my whining or putting off chores, or grumbling while I clean something up. Nope, it’s good to work. We often repeat: the family that works together, plays together. And mercy, can we play!

 

Last Notes: I don’t let them waste time. Chores lasts until about 9, and then I like to start our Morning Time. Obviously, there’s a big amount of wiggle room. If one of the kids is doing an awesome job and just needs a few more minutes, I’ll wait for them. But I don’t tolerate procrastinating. If the chores didn’t get done before school, they will have to be done immediately after books, before they can have lunch or screen time or whatever they were looking forward to. Same with 5:00 chores. If they aren’t done by dinner, they’ll have to do it right after instead of doing whatever the family is doing. This has seemed to be a good natural consequence of a bit of time-wasting we had going on. If the chores aren’t done by  lunch (school is usually done around 11-11:30), their screentime is forfeited for the day. It’s only happened once, and now they see it’s much easier to just get ‘er done. I can’t remember the last time they weren’t done before school, though. THREE YEARS. It took us THREE YEARS to find this flow.

We don’t tie allowance into this at all. They work here, because they live here. If they are saving or trying to get more cash for something in particular, I will offer extra jobs for money that they can do on their own time. We would like to start doing allowance, only to help them learn about money and budgeting, but it will not have anything to do with their chores. I don’t give stickers or stamps. But mercy, they get huge hugs for being such upstanding, invested, members of our family. I also try to really notice the “special touches” they leave to bless the space they care for.

 

**Chores are important. It’s important that children know how to care for a house, know the ins and outs of managing a home, and are able to clean up after themselves. It’s also the first “work” or “employment” that children can be trained in. They will be working in some form or fashion their whole life, and we need to start believing that it’s not a bad thing at all! Of course we want a good balance between work and play, but if they don’t have those bits of work, they often don’t even appreciate the play. It does our children a favour when we teach them how to work hard, to find fulfillment in the work of our hands, and that they are a crucial, needed member of our family. I also believe it’s important that they know that work needs to be done, and it shouldn’t all fall on Mom. There are no magical fairies that come to clean the house, do the laundry and make the meals. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with helping your children, or serving them in some ways (I love doing laundry, and keep that job to myself) but if they don’t notice what’s being done, it isn’t much of a gift. I believe it’s my duty to set these children up to be contributing members of society, and its starts at home.**

 

What chores do your children have? Was it a struggle for your family? Do you do all the work in your home? I’d love to hear from you!

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Hospitality and Children

In the day and age of cell phones, busy schedules and so much on-the-go, old fashioned visiting and having company over has really fallen by the wayside. It wasn’t that long ago that days “out” consisted of spending afternoons at the neighbors’ or visiting on porches in the summer: now everyone is cocooned  in their own little houses and share pictures of their life on Instagram.

Visiting over leisurely dinners is a precious gift. Inviting people to your home is a way of showing them an intimate piece of yourself. Whenever we get invited out, it is a very BIG deal to us. The kids talk about it for days in anticipation, I relish the outing and the visit with ADULTS, and it just adds a little bit of nourishment to our souls. When you have a bigger family, or maybe your “circle” just doesn’t do that type of thing, you may have to start a trend yourself. Here are some easy tips for having people over, when you feel a bit overwhelmed.IMG_1409.JPG

  1. Invite two groups. I always invite people in multiples. Either two single people, or two couples, two families, etc. That way, if handsome hubby and I are both busy with a child (they outnumber us, so it WILL happen at some point in the visit) the conversation can be carried on without us. It may sound harder to have more people, but I find that things flow easier.
  2. Keep it simple. Right now is the perfect season for outdoor barbecues! The house will require limited cleaning before and after, the menu can be easy, and it’s just more relaxing all around. Spilled juice is no big deal outside.
  3. Research. Do they have allergies or intolerances? Make sure to know that before you start cooking. Sending someone to the hospital is never a great ending to an evening. Also, try to think of a couple things going on in your guests’ lives that you can ask about, and even tell your children so that they might participate in the conversation. Usually, our kids are assigned one question each (at least) to ask of the guests. With our oldest, I have been teaching him to ask follow up questions. For example: “Where do you work at?” “What do you like about it?”  It helps them become conversationalists, too.
  4. Menu. Make something easy, affordable and in bulk. I ran out of food at one big get together (there were three surprise guests, in my defense, but I’ll never live it down!) I like to serve things that will go far- soup, spaghetti, turkey with the sides, etc. Anything you can add lots of sides to goes over well with different allergies and tastes. Think salads, finger foods, breads, chopped vegetables.
  5. Prep. The more you can do ahead of time, the better. My favourite evenings are the ones where I made all the food up the day before, so that during the day I could clean up and spend time with the children, and keep my focus where it should be. This way the kids could be more involved- they’ve collected leaves from outside for the table, made name cards for the guests, pictures to gift them when they leave- but there needs to be a sense of peace and time in order to have fun in this way.
  6. Drop it. If you start to get stressed by the condition of your home, the food, anything- check your heart. Romans 12:10-13 says:”Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;  not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” In opening your home to others, you are showing God’s love. Don’t lose focus on that and try to “get it all done.” He doesn’t care about the state of our homes nearly so much as the state of our heart. He doesn’t care that dinner is burnt, but that you made it in love. He is our only Audience- do all you do for His glory.
  7. Pray. Pray over your home before they arrive; involve your children. It is so important that our homes are shelters in the storms, and places where people feel safe. Pray for your guests, pray for your children. Pray for your meatloaf, if you think it needs it.
  8. Relax. Have fun! If people made time out of their busy schedules to come to your home, they obviously value time spent with you. That is the highest honour, when time is so dear and treasured. So don’t worry if the kids start fighting at the table, or ask a super embarrassing question, or forget to shut the door when they use the bathroom. It’s part of your charm!
  9. Start small. Dinner sound like too much? Have guests over for coffee on a Sunday night. They probably won’t stay as long, some baking or a quick snack is plenty, and it’s a great way to ease into the process.
  10. Activity. If you can incorporate a game or activity into it, all the better! One of our family’s favourite times was spent at a couple’s house who helped the kids make all their own individual pizzas. It was a time to be treasured!

 

Hospitality is something that I don’t practice as much as I’d like. There is something about breaking bread with friends and people you don’t know that well that adds a specialness to your week, and your relationship. This summer, I am going to make it a goal to have three different occasions before the end of August to encourage our children on how to be good hosts, and to give some friends and acquaintances a night out. Who’s with me? I’d love to hear your best stories- good times, crazy times, and embarrassing times- when you have tried to be a good host!

A Letter to Myself

When putting away the Christmas clutter decorations, I wrote a letter to pack along with them and open next December. I know it will be new again, and I won’t remember writing it, because I wrote a grocery list last week and I didn’t remember anything on that by the time I get to the store.

Dear Me,

You’re looking well.

It’s all over. Another holiday season, another chapter, another year. Your tree was pretty bad. Seriously. Lights on half the tree is not better than “none of the tree.” It’s not usually a choice like that. I know that lights go on sale for 50% off on Boxing Day, but then you bought two packs of lights. If you would have just bought one box of lights three weeks before, you wouldn’t have as much stuff to put away now, and people wouldn’t look at you all sad when they see your tree.

I’m glad you took the whole month off school. It was busy enough! I’m glad you took them to do a few service projects, so that they can be a light to others (not 50% of a light, like your tree) and to teach them the world is much bigger than they are. Metaphorically and literally. They won’t forget that. Now try to be as courageous as your kids- people might not call you “so adorable!” but they may listen and you can be a light too. (Again, a WHOLE light. Not half.) It’s easy to hide behind their cuteness, but make sure you model evangelism and a “fear not” attitude. They will catch on one day, when you are always in the background. They will follow.

The gifts went well. Three each is enough. Every year you get all worried that it’s not enough, that other kids get more, blah, blah, blah. THEY LOVED IT. The gifts were thoughtful, in budget and you didn’t hurt yourself on the sewing machine. Well done.

The Christmas books, movies and activities were fun. You didn’t do all of Truth in the Tinsel, but your kids do not all like crafts, and don’t like them every day. It’s a beautiful thought to make a Christmas ornament each DAY of Advent, with part of the story to go along with it, but you have four kids. Four children X 24 Days= 96 ornaments in total. Are you really just trying to make up for the lack of lights? Either way, they had fun with what we did. Maybe next year you’ll do a couple more. Who cares? Not them.

The family Advent went WAY better than you thought. Special Sunday dinners, reading a litany and lighting candles in your wreath was something all the kids looked forward to. But the way you introduced it to your handsome hubby (Remember? “Hey! We’re going to do this.”) left a lot to be desired. If you have something you want to do as a family, present your ideas thoroughly and don’t get absolutely furious if he doesn’t love them as much as you in the first ten seconds. Good grief. Give the guy a break. Your homemade wreath was fun to make, even if it doesn’t look as nice as you wanted. I’m just proud you didn’t spend any money, and used stuff from around the house. Maybe next year you can find a special one to keep from year to year (and remember, November 30 is NOT the day to start looking!)

The baking. There’s something special about filling the house with yummy smells, and mixing cookie batter with the kids. Flour on their noses, accidentally spilling the chocolate chips in the bowl. Christmas music in the background; making up beautiful platters to bring to all your parties. What are you even talking about?! That didn’t happen. You used a hand mixer once, but other than that, there was not a square/cookie/snickerdoodle/chocolate yum yum to be found in your house. Who cares? Use the excuse that you’re trying to eat healthy or something. No one cares. The kids didn’t, and you were actually a little more peaceful than last year.

The decorating (other than your tree) was fine. Definitely mediocre at best, but you don’t care about that anyways, so why pretend like you do? It took way less time to put it all away in the end.

The date night with HH for dinner and the last bit of gifts was awesome. Do that again. Don’t forget to make his Christmas fun and special too (even if he doesn’t jump up and down like the kids do.)

All in all, I think this year went well. You took time to prepare Him room- in your heart and in your home. The little things either happened, or they didn’t, but they were little anyways. You bulldozed your way through a few things it would have been better to ponder in your heart, but that’s what it’s all about. He came for you just as much as He came for your babies. Accept His grace, His mercy and start fresh again. Marvel over the fact that a baby has saved you.

If I can give you any advice next season, while I am still fresh from this one:

  1. *If something is pushing you or pulling you along, and it’s not Jesus, cut it out.
  2. *If you are staying up late to make something magical the next day, you will just ruin it with your fatigue and lack of energy. Don’t do it.
  3. *Pick a couple things and do them well, and with love. It’s better than a lot of things rushed through and done with impatience.
  4. *Smile more.
  5. *Don’t be embarrassed when you cry through the Christmas songs. Your soul has felt it’s worth!

Love always, your biggest enemy your friend,

Me.

P.S. Buying all your gifts online so that you only went out once- DO THAT AGAIN.

Sandra

How about you? What did you learn (maybe the hard way) this year? What saved you time or heartache? What is the most important thing to remember about Christmas with little kids? I’d love to hear from you!

Life hurts.

It just does. As surely as there’s life, there’s death. They go hand in hand. 

I knew I was expecting three days before my period was even due. When you do natural family planning, you kinda know. It was so crazy: I ovulated twice in one month which completely came as a surprise. We were ready for the first, the second time (after Googling if it was even possible) we knew that God had a different plan for us.

Nonetheless, I am nothing but frugal and waited exactly 24 hours from when my period was due. I was up the whole night before, dreaming of our new baby. At 5:30 am, it was positive, and I waited for my handsome hubby to wake up. I let him take two sips of coffee before I bubbled over.

We were slightly overwhelmed, but by the end of the day, pumped. We kept it quiet for the first bit. I made plans to school through the summer so that we could be done when our baby (a boy, I’m sure of it) arrived in March. After all, isn’t that what homeschooling is all about? Making school fit around your family?

I was sick, but not as sick with the girls. They were a special brand of possibly-on-the-verge-of-death sick. This was more of a queasy, walking on a ship at sea after eating three Big Macs sick. I found that the better I ate, the better I felt. Almost all whole foods, with some grains mixed in for convenience. I drank liters of water.

All the while, we smiled at my growing belly. It goes quick, with the fifth. My pants stopped fitting at a month. Leggings and low rise jeans got me through the next one. Imagine if it were twins? How funny!

Finally, even the No Frills ladies were commenting on my new accessory. Yes, this is a baby bump. Yes, we’re excited. Yes, I know where they come from. We realized that all our acquaintances and the people who see me on a regular basis now knew, but not family.

We were so excited. Each new life that God has given us we have received as a total gift. Each pregnancy seems to go faster and faster. I LOVE being nine months pregnant. I love how close my emotions are to the surface: I feel so genuine in my feelings, and how they regularly spill down my cheeks. I love being a woman, an ambassador for life. It’s never “easy”: we have dealt with breech babies turning, a car accident at nine months, falling down the stairs at 6 months, Braxton Hicks, salsa that MUST BE HAD RIGHT NOW, nursing while pregnant, missing heartbeats (that later turned up after a few weeks) and ultrasounds, pee tests, blood work and glucose testing. Never have I needed to go for an ultrasound in the first trimester: I always know my dates (of conception and last periods). 

Pregnancy is bliss. After all, we can throw our charts out the window, because you can’t get pregnant twice! Life is good. Kids are excited. Life is crazy, but with the two of us and a whole lot of Jesus, we can swing it.

baby

Flash forward.

Sitting in the hospital for three hours, feeling my baby leave my body and not being able to stop it. Waiting through every person that gets called to hear MY NAME! Please, call me back. Please, do something. Please.

An acquaintance comes in. “Well, if you wouldn’t have told anyone, you could have pretended it didn’t happen.” 

Finally, they call me back. They tell me that the ultrasound tech is on her way home. I lose it.

They are frightened, call her back. She examines me; tells me that I don’t need any more children when I already have four! But I love THIS ONE. They are all different, and I love this one so much already. Please, tell me if it’s alive or not.

Test is inconclusive. Fetus may be dead. Fetus may be viable. Come back in a few days.

Two days of cramping, bleeding, but possibility.

Monday rolls around. “We must have school today! We want to be done before Baby comes.”

Halfway through math class I am bawling in the bathroom, feeling the hope drain out of me while the other kids fight and bang on the door.

“He hit me!”

“She was bugging me!”

“Juice! Mom. Juice!”

Please, give me five minutes to say goodbye to our baby.

After another hospital visit and more pain than I thought, our baby is gone. A life is gone.

Well if you wouldn’t have told anyone, you could have pretended it never happened. What a nightmare that would be. Because he was here. My baby boy was here, and now he’s not, and I’m sad. But he was. And I’m so thankful that I was excited and proud of my baby for the time he was in my body. What a privilege it is to have had him for as long as I did. I don’t know why any of this happened. But it did.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! 

baby2

STEP RIGHT UP! It’s time for the circus!

Last year, on our first day of home educating, in first grade, our first child, it was HORRIBLE. It did not go well. I don’t remember exactly why, but I remember thinking, they are going to hate school, learning, and it will all be my fault!

Cue the circus. After our work was done, I found the box I had just purchased off a buy/sell site on Facebook. It had a circus game, table cloths, animal headbands, and special bags for popcorn (that was really cool for us. Low standards.)

circus

We had a great night. They won a DVD that I already had (What’s in the Bible? had a special promo through a buyer’s club. I got the whole series, but they don’t know that yet. We give them one for special occasions.) We played the game a few times, made popcorn, ate it out of special bags, and watched the movie together. The day ended well.

We kinda do all-year round school. We started grade 2 in May, but have taken off the last five or so weeks. I like the flexibility of taking time off when we need to, and taking the whole month of December off. We are really always “schooling,” it just becomes who you are. But now we’re ready to get back in the swing of structured things, and we have some new friends that are here during the day while their mom works. This made for a way better circus!

Sandra 1898 Sandra 1901

This year, I put more thought into the games:

Knock the Balls Down with a Ball

Sandra 1913

Shoot the Cans with a Water Gun (which turned out to be too hard for the littles- they used a hose)

Sandra 1921

Throw the Water Balloon in the Basket (obviously the other kids had to stand behind the basket as a wall. It was smokin’ hot, so they loved this part!

Sandra 1939

 

For our morning snack, we popped popcorn in the air popper and put it in those same special bags.

Sandra 1889

 

For lunch, we had homemade pizza (that we had made a few weeks before and froze) and a dance party. The prizes from the circus included a cd from our church’s VBS, and it provided a great soundtrack. In the afternoon, we made caramel apples. I’ve never done it before, and would suggest making the caramel while kids are otherwise occupied. It took a few minutes of stirring, and they were reeaaaallllyyy excited. I used this recipe, but I did it in half and used honey instead of corn syrup. It was so ridiculous good. Even thinking of it now, oh man. There is nothing like homemade caramel.

Sandra 1962Sandra 1958

So that was our “first” day of grade two for our eldest, and kindergarten for our second. Next year I would like to involve face paints and a photo booth. I looked up whether you can use acrylic paints as face paints, and I found mixed results. I don’t mind using my kids as guinea pigs, but having other kids over makes me be a little more cautious. So, next year.

What do you do to celebrate the first day, whether you do it at home, or in school?

Trans Fats, Conspiracies and Provision

I’m tired. I have been trying to switch our family over to whole foods, as quietly and calmly as possible. I don’t want to hear a lot of whining, complaining or arguing: that’s why I don’t talk to myself anymore. But as I do this, I am fighting the “rules” that I’ve been fed for years by the media. I’m starting to not only trust that butter is better for you than margarine, and that maple syrup and organic honey are better than white sugar; I’m beginning to put my money where my mouth is. Slowly. But it makes me tired. I can’t trust anything. Every other Facebook post is about a conspiracy engineered by big Pharma/GMO’s/Obama.

*I can’t trust doctors. They are out to make us sick, so that they can heal us.

*I can’t trust the GMO’s. And they make everything.

*I can’t trust the government. Ever. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, they are out for their own gain.

*I can’t trust the “systems.” Welfare, criminal, social, school, etc. Basically, if it has the word “system” in in, and it’s not DOS or Windows, don’t trust it.

There is officially no establishment outside my little home in rural AB that I can trust that will not hurt me or eat my children. This has been backed up by research that they are hiding from us. I definitely believe that there is credence to parts of it, but maybe some is reaching. You have to give the conspiracies that are made up a lot of credit. It requires an amazing imagination to come up with some of this stuff. They even falsify Amber alerts. For what purpose? Almost every “share” on facebook can be researched on Snopes to show that it is nothing but a crazy rumour that someone made up.

Sometimes I think of deleting all social networks. So I can live in my little happy place, where no one is trying to kill me and put razors in the baby food (obviously, I don’t use baby food. That stuff is deadly.) I try so hard to do a good job, as a mom, wife, Christian. And yet everywhere I turn, someone is telling me it’s wrong. I’m sure it’s always been that way, but never as passive aggressive, quickly and repetitive as Facebook can be. We can’t even always trust Christian establishments. I know lots of people who’ve been hurt by people in a church (and then turn around and hate the whole church) and obviously the World Vision decision, fallout and reversal, just made everyone hang their heads, for various reasons.

I can trust no one.

But I can trust One.

The One who provides.

The One who heals.

The One who loves.

The One who saves.

The One who has a plan for me, my husband, my children.

Of course, we often pay the consequences of our choices. That’s fact.

But His promises are not contingent on my actions.

I am so thankful for His promises.

 

 

Happy Holicrazy {Part 2}

We’ve all seen the pictures, the taglines, the defiant “I’m Keeping Christ in Christmas.” I love facebook for keeping alive the passive aggressive war of semantics, beliefs and agendas. After all, it’s your facebook, you can post what you want, right?

So, are you? You know, “keeping Christ in Christmas.” Let’s start a checklist. For me, too.

Have we used your credit card to buy gifts you can’t afford?

Have we bought a Christmas present for ourselves?

Have we engaged in gluttony, envy, pride, wrath, greed, etc. due to “the holidays”?

Have we aided and encouraged the consumerism in our children, and the children around us? 

I think we can all say that we have definitely done some of these. So what’s the point here?

Well, I think the point is this: When we post ownership of the holiday, and all which it is in our present day fashion, we are owning a holiday that doesn’t truly exist anymore. Christmas is so far removed from the manger scene. So far removed from the virgin birth. So far removed from the stable. I think that I can safely say that if you ask any of our children the best part of Christmas, they will say the gifts. Most of Christmas in Canada, 2013, has NOTHING to do with a stable. (Check out last year’s post, Happy Holicrazy!)

Can you see Jesus shopping the malls, buying toys made in China by other little children, spending too much, dead tired, snapping at His children when He gets home because He took on too much AGAIN?

Probably not.

So what are we doing? What are we doing that is so different from the “world”?

It’s a rhetorical question, I don’t really have an answer.

I wonder how people who don’t profess to live for Jesus feel when we say, “I keep Christ in Christmas.” Do they feel the love of Christ that first drew us to Him? Are they feeling the arms of His grace enveloping and removing their sins? 

All this to say, of course, I am trying so hard to keep Christ in Christmas. So hard. We try not to get our kids a lot, because I don’t want that association of gifts=Christmas. We are teaching them to say “I like” instead of “I want” when they happen to venture into a toy section. They don’t see catalogs, flyers or commercials, so that’s narrowed it down a bit. We include them with the giving, either for gifts from Compassion (things given to other children/people around the world in their name) or baking cookies for neighbours, or helping in the community. But we still have so much worldly stuff: stockings, Christmas tree, lights, big dinners,mistletoe (my hubby’s good-looking, what can I say). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of it: but it has NOTHING to do with Jesus. 

So, is this the hill we want to die on? The proof that we love Jesus? The proof that we are saved by His grace? The facebook picture that we are “Keeping Christ in Christmas?” 

I would like it a whole lot better if it said:

“Trying my hardest to keep this holiday about Jesus, even though I’m going to mess up and the kids are going to get spoiled, and I’m going to go out of budget a little; but I know that He loves me anyways, and that He will forgive me, and that His grace is the reason I get out of bed each morning, and if you want to know more about Him, and what He can do in your life, please ask me.”

Might have to work on the wording.

Happy birthday, Jesus!