Faith

Peace

I had a blog post nearly completed, and I accidentally deleted everything. So, let’s try this again!

A couple of months ago, my husband and I went on our first getaway since our kids were born. It was much needed. Our first stop was for a bike ride on an old railroad track turned into a trail. It was my first bike ride on an unpaved surface, and…it was also cold and windy. When my fingers and ears started getting cold within the first five minutes, I was ready to turn around, but we kept going. We road for about 13 miles total. The first couple of intersections we road through were highways, then there was a gravel road, and then there was a path with two worn out ruts. The farther we got away from the highways, the quieter it got. I’ll be the the first to admit, I’m not the most in shape person, and I had to stop a couple of times. One of the first times we stopped, we were stunned by the silence. It was almost palpable. Coming from living in a small/midsized city and in a house with two active and talkative toddlers, silence is rare. It was so peaceful.

This week’s Advent theme is: Peace.

What comes to mind when you think of the word “peace”?

Tie dye wearing hippies? Being out in the country? Your children’s nap time? Five minutes to yourself to enjoy a chocolate or a cup of coffee?

Peace is something we all dream of, and it’s something than can seem so…impossible.

Luke 2 tells us the story of Jesus’ birth and the angel’s announcement of His birth. Luke 2: 10-14 says, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I don’t know about where you live, but from my perspective, the world is not a peaceful place. I’m even more convinced of the lack of peace on earth since I got married and moved to my husband’s hometown. I’ve heard more gunshots in the past (almost) five years than I had my whole life. Some of them have sounded too close for comfort.

If you don’t hear gunshots in your town, you’ve probably concluded the earth is not peaceful after a year like 2020. So what on earth were the angels talking about then?

Because of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and His resurrection, we can have peace with God.

Way back in the beginning of time, a man and a woman, named Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. When they disobeyed, sin and death entered the world, and all humanity has felt the consequences. Romans 5:10 tells us before Jesus, we were enemies of God, and through Jesus’ death on the cross, we were reconciled with God. It says, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

Following Jesus also brings us peace with others.

Jesus teaches us to love each other, live in humility, to forgive, and to be peacemakers. We’re not responsible for the responses others may have, but we are told to do our best to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18).

Trusting Jesus gives us peace in life.

In John 16:33, Jesus acknowledges that the earth is not peaceful. He says we will have trouble, but in Him we can have peace. He says, “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.”

While the world is chaotic, we can have peace with God and others and in life because of Jesus.

Faith

Hope

My son looked out our living room window on Thanksgiving, after the sun had set. Our neighbors have started putting up Christmas lights, and when he saw them, he said, “I think it looks like Christmastime!”

The next day, he insisted we needed to wear Christmas hats while we decorated, and both of my kids wore Christmas hats as we went to one store on Black Friday. We all donned Christmas hats as we went to see a light display that evening. I think my toddler may be starting a new tradition, and I love it.

There is something so comforting, grounding, and nostalgic about traditions, especially for Christmas. My mom’s family has playing Bingo for prizes on Christmas Eve as a tradition that began generations ago and has continued on through the years. The prizes range from random snack foods to fun gadgets to bottled coffees to the always wished for gift cards. We all envy the one person who seems to win every game, despite the Bingo cards changing each round, and we feel sorry for the one person who inevitably loses more than anyone else.

When I was around 6 or 7, my mom started another Christmas Eve tradition: gingerbread house building. My houses were not very structurally sound for the first few years, and my siblings decided I was a garage builder. It’s only recently that I’ve escaped from their mockery and have proven my gingerbread house building abilities.

Another Christmas tradition my mom started was observing Advent. Starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving and continuing to Christmas Eve, my parents and all six of us kids would gather around the dining room table with a Christmas cookie or some other treat, maybe some hot chocolate, and sometimes a game or craft, and we’d take turns lighting the candle(s) and reading that week’s Bible passages. This is one tradition that I’ve already continued with my toddlers, and this year, I’d like to share it with you!

The first Sunday of Advent focuses on hope.

Right after the first man and woman sinned against God, He began to reveal His plan to redeem the people who had just broken His law. In Genesis 3:15, God spoke of one of Eve’s offspring who would strike the head of the Serpent. He said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”” For centuries all of creation lived in expectant hope for that day.

Two thousand years ago, the One who was promised to strike the head of the Serpent was born, and now we live in hope for His return and eternity spent with Him. One day He will wipe away every tear, He, the Prince of Peace will reign over us, and we will be with Him forever.

In a year of unknowns, change, anxiety, isolation, division, loss, and so much more, I am so thankful for the hope we have in Jesus. Unlike the ten months (and counting) I have hoped for a positive pregnancy test only to be disappointed, hoping in Jesus will not leave us disappoint. One day, we will not be plagued with sickness, infertility, cancer, or death. One day the Body of Christ will be with our Bridegroom, and we will be of one heart and mind. My heart yearns for that day.

Knowing that what we are now facing pales in comparison to the joy that day will bring makes my trials and sorrows seem more bearable. Knowing I have hope brings light to the dark days because they are temporary.

How does this hope change your present? How does this hope change you?

Life

Kancation!

If you know my husband, you probably know him as a quirky, witty, easygoing, funny guy. When we got married four and a half years ago, I moved to his hometown, and I had multiple people ask me what it was like being married to Thad—he’s a character. That’s the Thad I saw on our first date as he danced in Dunkin’ Donuts. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of him. It wasn’t until we faced challenges that I saw there was more to him than his surface level quirkinesses. He had depth and wisdom. Over the last four and a half years, I’ve learned something else about my husband: he is a hard worker.

From working multiple jobs to pay off debt to talking with overseas factories in the evenings, he works hard to take care of our family while still making time for bike rides, walks, and outings with the kids and me. Because he’s in sales, getting away from the office is tricky. If he’s not working, he might miss an order and could lose the order and/or the customer. If there is an issue with the order and he’s not available to fix it, he could lose the customer. Since he’s almost entirely commission based, fewer sales and customers negatively impact his salary.

So in the time we’ve been married, he has never taken a vacation. Sure, we’ve gone out of town, but he typically works remotely while we’re visiting family. He even responded to a few emails and took a few calls on our honeymoon. If anyone needed a vacation, it was Thad.

Recently his stress level had increased, and he had a couple of panic attacks. He hardly talked to the kids or to me. As his wife, it was difficult to see him struggling. Thankfully, his boss recognized his need for a vacation and told him he should take a week off.

Last week, my mom came to get our kids and take them to my grandparents’, and Thad and I embarked on what I’m calling a Kancation. We stayed at three beautiful places in Kansas and had such a lovely time.

We left on Monday afternoon and headed to Vassar, Kansas for a bike ride on the Flint Hills Trail. According to Kanzatrails.org, this trail is built in an old railroad corridor that dates back to the 1880s. The trail stretches for 117 miles, and Thad insisted I’d be surprised by how far I could go.

As we started out, my hands and ears began to hurt because of the cold. Thankfully, it warmed up a little, which made the ride more enjoyable. However, I quickly proved Thad’s statement wrong because I was not at all surprised to find that I was getting winded and exhausted.

Towards the middle of our ride, we saw some beautiful scenery, and we realized how incredibly quiet the trail was. There were no cars or houses around us, and even the cows were silent. The silence was a little eerie, especially after living in a house with two toddlers!

By the ninth mile, I felt like I was dying. We made it a total of 12.86 miles in an hour an thirteen minutes. Our legs felt like noodles as we walked back to our van. I cannot imagine riding the whole 117 miles!

The first night we stayed at a tiny house on a 60 acre lake in Lyndon, Kansas. It was brand new, beautiful, and so peaceful. We both slept well, despite not being awoken by cries of “I want Mama!”

Our hosts left a gift card to an adorable local coffee shop, True Brew, and after stopping for coffee the next morning, we headed towards our next stop.

For our second night, Thad booked a room at a bed and breakfast. I’d never stayed at a bed and breakfast, so I was a little apprehensive. We stopped at Chase County State Lake and hiked to the waterfall. Unfortunately, we found it to be a water trickle because it hadn’t rained in a while…

After our hike, we arrived at the beautiful Clover Cliff Ranch. The owner, Susie, met us at the door and gave us a tour before showing us to our room. The original part of the house was a one room cabin built in 1860, and two more additions completed the house by 1883. We headed out for a hike around the ranch’s 4,000 acres and then went for dinner.

By the time we returned from dinner, the other couple staying at the ranch had also returned and were watching TV in the front living room. We said “hello” in passing and went up to our room. I have to confess, after seeing the other couple, I started wondering if we were entirely safe. What if they were serial killers and we were alone with them in a big house, in the middle of nowhere? Susie had mentioned there was wood ready for a fire out back, as well as everything we needed for s’mores, so out we went!

After making s’mores, we spent some time by the fire, and I was disappointed. Part of the draw of being out in the middle of nowhere was having a better view of the stars. But for the second night in a row, the sky was cloudy, and we couldn’t see a single star. I realized I needed to pray that I’d be able to see the stars the next night. I thought about asking my mom and grandma to pray as well. A little bit later, I looked up, and the stars were starting to peek out from behind the clouds. Within a few minutes the sky directly overhead was full of stars, and I was filled with awe and thankfulness for a God who knows the desires of my heart.

The next morning we went down for breakfast. Susie served us coffee and a beautiful, delicious berry trifle for the first course, and mentioned she had been praying I would be able to see the stars.

As we were eating the trifle, the other woman staying at the ranch came down for breakfast and she started talking to Susie. While they were talking, I overheard they were in ministry, and I felt silly for having been fearful the night before. The second course was an amazing breakfast sandwich with sausage patties, egg, cheese, mushrooms, peppers, and some sort of a sauce. We want more of it!

We talked with the other couple for over an hour. We heard their story: he was a former Muslim who came to Christ a couple of years into their marriage, and within the last decade had left his high paying job to become a missionary to Muslims. They prayed for us. I marveled again at the goodness and faithfulness of God for ordaining a time of refreshing and encouragement in the middle of nowhere Kansas, and I hated to leave.

After leaving the Clover Cliff Ranch, we drove to Hutchinson, Kansas to tour the salt mine. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up watching movies from the 30s to 50s, and I find those decades fascinating, so I was pretty excited when I heard the portion of the mine covered by the tour was from the 40s and 50s!

While the enormity of the mine was interesting (each pillar was either 40 ft by 40 ft or 50 ft by 50 ft), what I found most interesting was the fact that the miners’ trash was still left laying on the ground where they had left it. It is more cost effective to leave things in the mine than to bring them back up to the surface, so what comes down to the mine stays in the mine. Because the mine has no humidity, the temperature is consistent, and there are no pests, things are preserved really well, and their trash was fascinating to look at.

From the salt mine we got coffee and went to Ellsworth, Kansas where we stayed in a limestone cabin from the 1800s.

The owner, Linda, said the farm had been in her family for over 100 years. The cabin had been run down for as long as she could remember, and a few years ago, when she was having work done on another part of her property, the contractor kept coming back to the cabin and encouraged her to restore it, so she did. She believes the lower level may have been a barn and the upstairs may have been used as a living quarters while the main house was being built.

Whether it was a cabin or a barn, it was charming. From a ladder used as the stair rail to her mom’s laundry washing tub used as the kitchenette’s sink, Linda had so many special touches throughout the cabin.

Despite the cold and foggy night, the wood stove kept the cabin surprisingly cozy! When the fog cleared the next morning, we were able to see the beautiful view.

Our plan had been to travel to Little Jerusalem State Park from Ellsworth, but when the weather was cold and windy that morning, I had to ask Thad if he thought we would enjoy it in that weather. We made the decision to wait to visit Little Jerusalem until the weather was nicer and to surprise our kids and my family instead.

On our way to my grandparents’ Thad drove us to Wilson Lake State Park, and I am so glad he did! I could have easily said, “Thad, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It was beautiful and felt much more western than the parts of Kansas I have seen. My pictures do not do this place justice.

Thad had heard of the park because there is a black diamond bike trail there. When we stopped, I assumed we were stopping for a hike. I was mistaken. We had stopped to go mountain biking. I should tell you, until last year I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a decade. Until Thad bought me a bike this spring, I hadn’t ridden since last year. I had never gone mountain biking. Our ride on the Flint Hills Trail was my first experience riding on an unpaved trail. Thad insisted we were taking the easy/kids trail. Within the first minute of mountain biking, I announced I was not enjoying it. It was bumpy! My hands and arms started hurting. I struggled to stay in the narrow rut of a trail, and I had to walk my bike up some of the steeper parts. But I did it! Would I do it again? Yes! The views were gorgeous, and we hope to go back. Sometimes changed plans are surprisingly fun!

As we traveled on to my grandparents’, we saw a sign for the “Geographic Center of the Continental US”, so we made another quick stop before being reunited with our babies.

While at my grandparents’ we finally got a picture of my grandma, my mom, my daughter, and me. I’ve wanted to do it since my daughter was born, but we’ve forgotten to do it every other time the four of us have been together.

We had such a nice time on our Kancation! I’m including the links to the places we stayed in case you would like to take a Kancation of your own!

Tiny house in Lyndon https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/43859553?adults=2&source_impression_id=p3_1603143367_jbeEUoHLtGefYyYa
Clover Cliff Ranch in Elmdale https://www.clovercliffranch.com
1800s limestone cabin in Ellsworth https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/13277814?adults=2&source_impression_id=p3_1601827029_%2B2OhXA%2Fz8ovK99KB

Special thanks to our families for making our trip possible!

Faith, Life, Momming

Is It Well?

Fun fact about me: I’m an Air Force brat. My dad was in the Air Force until I was 16. I’ve moved a total of 11 times, and lived in 5 states (6 if you count college) and two countries. Nine out of the first 13 years of my life were spent living in base housing (two of the houses we lived in were either condemned or torn down right after we moved out). So we never really settled in, and we knew those houses weren’t truly going to be home.

The year after we got married, we moved out of the house my husband bought when he was 24 (by putting the down payment on his credit card via a cash advance……..) and we bought our first house together. It’s a split level with four floors, and after finishing the basement, we’re sitting at about 2,200 square feet. We’ve done a lot to this house. We’ve refinished the kitchen, replaced the flooring on the main level, refinished the fireplace with shiplap, replaced the windows, replaced the hall bathtub and surround, replaced the vanity in our tiny master bath, finish about half of the basement, replaced the back door, relocated the door to the garage back to its original location, and replaced or refinished a few lights. The projects seem endless, and so many places in the house don’t quite feel finished or fully decorated.

Our master bedroom had been untouched until last year. We had the mismatched chest of drawers we had each brought into the marriages, and hand-me-down decorations on our walls. After I refinished our headboard and a matching set of dressers we found on Marketplace, our room felt so much more cohesive. The newly refinished furniture necessitated a new wall color, which meant new wall decorations were required. I found a couple of pieces I loved at Hobby Lobby for our room, and one that was perfect for our bathroom (did I mention how tiny our bathroom is?). It wasn’t until last month that I realized just how perfect the artwork was for our bathroom.

If you know my story, you may remember it took us a lot longer to conceive our firstborn than I had expected it would. We received a male factor infertility diagnosis the month of our first anniversary. It wasn’t what we had hoped for, but it was good to have some clarity. On our anniversary, we made a stop at IKEA. As soon as we got off of the escalator, my husband pointed out a family not too far from us and asked if that was the associate pastor of the church I had attended and worked at before getting married. It was. We were an hour from home, and they were two hours from home, and some how we were in the same place, at the same huge store, at the same time. They had been a blessing to me while my husband and I were dating, and knowing they had dealt with infertility, I confided in the pastor’s wife. Before we said goodbye, they prayed for us (specifically that we’d have 100 babies). Later that week, I spent time praying and surrendering to God, knowing that I needed Him to do something—whether that was healing me/my husband, taking away my desire for children, or at the very least assuring me that He was with me through the desert of infertility. I heard from God, and I knew He had either healed us or that He was least with us.

Two weeks later, I cried my eyes out when I saw the second line that I had prayed to see for so many months. When my son was six months old, I was shocked to see another positive pregnancy test. I love my two little ones! I think they’re pretty cute and special.

I’ve been on both sides. I’ve experienced the exhausting roller coaster of hope and disappoint, the frustration, the jealousy, the questions, and the waiting that infertility brings. I’ve experienced the surprise, fear, and bittersweetness that an unexpected pregnancy brings. Both experiences solidified my conviction that God is the author of life, and whether I’m trying to conceive or trying to prevent pregnancy, He is the giver of life, and it comes in His timing.

A little over two years after our surprise positive pregnancy, we’re back to dealing with infertility. I’m back to seeing one line, when I have hoped and prayed to see two lines. Today we received a test result that shows our fertility has decreased since we were trying to conceive the first time. The doctor suggested we see a reproductive endocrinologist, which seems to say IUI or IVF are the next steps to take medically.

My heart is heavy. This is month ten, and I’m weary in this wait. This feels hopeless, medically speaking. My heart and arms long for another baby. While I was still pregnant with my second, I believe God gave me a vision of a third, a little boy in a blue and white striped romper. It sounds crazy, but I saw my older two sitting in front of me and the tiny little boy I held, and while I never pictured myself having a blonde baby and am still surprised that I have a blonde, my daughter had light hair.

I know nothing is too difficult for God. I know God is the giver of life. I know if the vision truly was from Him, He is able to give me a third. I know He has a good plan. I know He has perfect timing.

And yet, I’m still heavy hearted. I still feel like crying. I’m frustrated and disappointed in myself for feeling this was despite my faith and knowledge. I remember that Jesus cried at Lazarus’s tomb, despite His power and plan to raise him back to life.

Infertility is like exercise for my faith. It isn’t fun. It hurts. I don’t enjoy it. But I know that it’s good for my faith. I know that when my faith is put to the test, I get to see God’s hand at work.

And so, the artwork hanging in my bathroom is unintentionally perfect. As I wait for the tests to show one line or two, I see the words, “It is well with my soul.”

After I read the test and my hope turns to disappointment or to joy, I read the words, “It is well with my soul.”

Whether or not it feels good, “It is well with my soul.”

Whether or not I feel it in that moment, “It is well with my soul.”

This is one of those times it doesn’t feel good, and I don’t feel like “it is well”. But I know the truth is that God is faithful, able, sovereign, and so good. Despite my feelings, it truly is well.

Faith

Good News or Bad News?

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? I can never decide which order is better. Does the good news make the bad news not so bad if the bad news goes first or does the bad news take the joy out of the good news if the good news goes first? If the good news goes first, does it give you strength enough to hear the bad news? If the bad news goes first, what happens if the good news isn’t as good as you had hoped? I think I’m leaning towards the bad news going first.


When my son was born, I was amazed. My labor and delivery had been quick and uncomplicated. He had really good apgar scores. He wasn’t jaundiced. We even got to come home a day early. He gained his weight back quickly. By one and a half months, he was sleeping from 10 pm to 7 am. Everything was great, and I was so thankful.

I left his four month well child appointment feeling disillusioned and very afraid. While listening to his heart, the doctor heard a murmur. He assured us it was probably unothing, but just to be sure, he wanted to get it checked with an echocardiogram. I spent the rest of the afternoon crying and holding my baby close.

He had an echocardiogram a couple of weeks later, and we got the results a few days later: my son had a hole in his heart, an atrial septal defect to be specific. My four month old had no symptoms of the hole. He was happy, meeting developmental milestones, and he was extremely active. He jumped on my lap during our entire consultation with the cardiologist.

The cardiologist informed us that, because of its size, the hole was unlikely to close on its own. We were told to watch for signs of heart failure, to watch his color, to monitor his growth, to watch his breathing rate. Flying in an airplane could be risky.

Another echocardiogram and another consultation at a Children’s hospital, showed that the hole was even bigger than the first echocardiogram indicated. The hole would need to be surgically closed between the ages of three to six because large ASD’s like his were unlikely to close on their own. There were two possible methods to closing the hole: transcatheter closure or open heart surgery. Open heart surgery would be required if there wasn’t enough tissue surrounding the hole. Clinically, he was healthy and showed no signs of having a heart defect.

We prayed nightly for the hole to close. Friends and family joined us in praying for our little boy. Despite the doctors’ lack of optimism, we knew God could cause the hole to close. And while I hoped and prayed God would close it, I knew that He had a good plan for my special little boy, and I knew that His plan might mean we cross paths with people in the hospital who needed to hear of the hope we have in Jesus.

At our next appointment 6 months later, we were told there was no change, but that we needed to monitor his growth because he was on the small side of the growth chart. Nine months later, he had another echocardiogram, and the cardiologist told us the hole had grown in proportion to his heart. There was good news though: there was enough tissue surrounding the hole, and open heart surgery would not likely be needed.

Last week, a year after our last appointment, we had another echocardiogram and cardiology appointment. Because of Covid, the hospital has implemented a one parent per patient policy, and I was unable to be at his appointment. I prayerfully braced my self as my husband and our little guy left for the appointment. We’re getting to the timeframe we were told surgery would be likely, and I dreaded it. The thought of my son sedated while doctors performed surgery on his heart unnerved me, despite the knowledge that it was a common procedure.

During the appointment, I kept watching the patient portal for any uploads of clinical notes or discharge instructions. An hour after his appointment time, I saw the discharge instructions, and I read the words: “Today a limited echocardiogram was completed which showed spontaneous closure of the atrial septal defect.”

I broke down. I was dumbfounded. All I could say was, “No way, God! No way!”

His 11mm ASD, the one doctors didn’t think would close on its own, is gone. In the vast majority of studies I’ve read online, no instances of spontaneous closure of large ASDs were noted.

I’m so grateful for doctors and medicine, but I’m beyond thankful that God intervened before the doctors needed to.

I don’t know what you may be facing today, but God is still working miracles. He is still healing. He is still doing things doctors don’t expect.

I can confidently say it was worth hearing the bad news to be able to hear the good news. It was worth the tears of sorrow and fear to get to cry tears of joy and relief.