27 January 2015

New Frontiers

Since our marriage in February 2003, we have called Maryland our family’s home.  To be honest, we always felt like Maryland would not be permanent for us, but every time we thought about moving, God closed the doors.  Over the past five years or so, as Justin’s role increased at New Hope Chapel, we knew God was calling us to remain in this area for an indefinite time.

This year, God has been whispering into our hearts.  It hasn’t been clear what He was saying or why He was saying it, but we sensed there was change in the air.  

About a month ago, it became abundantly clear that God is asking us to simplify our life.  After twelve years of pastoral ministry, He has asked Justin to be in a place of “wilderness” and set aside leading ministry for a season.  This means that Justin will be transitioning out of his role as pastor over the next several months at our beloved church - New Hope Chapel.  

 We have lots of NHC memories,
like baby dedications
Karlene has started the process of preparing for nursing school.  She’s been taking prerequisites and is hoping to get into a BSN program, since she already has her bachelor’s degree.  

At the same time, God has asked us to go to a land that He will show us.  It appears now the doors are opening for us to move.  It appears that He is calling us to Lancaster, PA, and so we are in the process of either renting out or selling our home here and purchasing a home up there in the city (see FAQ section for more details).  

Each step in this process has been full of confirmations.  While we are incredibly sad about moving further away from so many friends and Justin’s family, we have this incredible peace that surpasses understanding.   There are a few purposes for this new frontier in our life.  Primarily, God is calling us to focus on our relationship with Him and strengthening our relationship as a family.  This will also be an opportunity for us to downsize and save money.  We sense that God has something else for us down the road, and we want to be financially prepared for that.  We’re certain that at some point in the future, we’ll look back and see why God has called us to take this big step.

There's lots of things we'll miss about our home in MD,
but we'll only be less than 2 hours away.
As far as a timeframe goes.  We have a contract on a house in Lancaster and have begun the process of either renting or selling our current home.  We extended the closing date until mid-April to buy some time.  When we move really depends on when someone wants to move into our current home.  However, we have obligations here until May.  Justin has told the church that he’s willing to stay on leadership until then to help with the transition process.  Karlene has classes Mondays and Wednesdays, and the kids have classes Mondays and Thursdays.  So at least for a couple of weeks (maybe a couple of months), we’ll be straddling the Mason-Dixon line, commuting back and forth and staying with Justin’s family.

Please keep us in your prayers as we make this giant leap to a new phase that God has for us.

On a lighter note, some of you may have lots of questions.  So here are those answers (and yes, people have actually asked some of these questions).

Q: Why Lancaster?
A: There’s something about that city that draws us there. Justin’s college roommate and his family live there, and so we’ve visited them many times over the years and have really enjoyed the city.  Ironically, at the same time that we began sensing that God was leading us there, Karlene’s sister Micayla announced that she will be moving to Lancaster with her husband Aaron who just landed a job at the famous Sight and Sound Theater.  This will be the first time Karlene has lived in the same city (well really in the same vicinity) as her family since she left for college.  

Q: Does Lancaster have electricity?
A: No, but we are building a giant hamster wheel and making the kids take turns running on it to generate power to charge our Apple devices.  As long as Annalía keeps running, those Trivia Crack games can keep going.  Just kidding… obviously.  When most think of Lancaster, they think of farms and Amish life.  Lancaster also has a nice city.  I guess it sort of has a feel like downtown Annapolis but at a fraction of the cost and no water access.  So I guess nothing like Annapolis… maybe more like Elicott City or Frederick.  Over the past few years, it has been revitalized with a lot of community activities.  So yes, to answer your question, Lancaster has electricity, indoor plumbing, and all those modern amenities.  But if you feel like peeing outside brings you more in touch with the Pennsylvania-Dutch roots, then just know we aren’t bailing you out of prison when you get arrested.

Q: Are you becoming Amish?
A: If we say yes, will we still be able to use our Apple devices?

Q: Will you continue homeschooling?
A: The future of education is the one room schoolhouse.  Just kidding.  We have very much enjoyed our homeschooling experience with Unitas.  It has been a wonderful community.  But we also have to be realistic in our time constraints, especially with Karlene going to nursing school.  There’s a great Charlotte Mason school that meets four days a week.  Right now that appears to be the plan.

Q: Have you found a church there?  Do you know what ministry God will lead you to?
A: We have really important theological standards like no expectation of wearing neckties and a healthy amount of men sporting beards.  Just kidding.  We’ll look for churches when we cross that bridge.  But one thing is certain, right now, this is not a season we’re looking to formally serve in ministry.  Of course, we will eventually, and we want to be at a place where we can be of service and live missionally.  But right now we’re focusing on letting Jesus minister to us and focusing on ministering to our family.

Q: Will you start rooting for Philadelphia sports teams, i.e. Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, etc.?
A: God has given us many crosses to bear; that certainly isn’t one of them.  

Q: How about Pittsburgh teams?  Will you become a Steelers or Penguins fan?
A: That question doesn’t even deserve a response.

Q: Can we come and visit?
A: Yes! Yes! Yes!  (Unless we don’t like you very much, then we will happily give you a list of adorable B&B’s in which you can spend your time.)  We’re planning on purchasing a city home that has a third floor with two extra bedrooms and an extra bathroom.  Right now we’re planning on using that as our guest suite.  There’s plenty of places to visit like Hershey Park and the Amish country.  And best of all, you could drive down the road and be able to say, "I've been to Intercourse, PA."  Bucketlist.

Q: Will you be taking Luna?
A:  Never, in a million years, did anyone think that Karlene would ever truly love a 4-legged furball, but God does still perform miracles.  It turns out that right around the corner is this swank dog part (the city won a huge grant or something).  It has artificial turf (not really sure how that works), water fountains for the dogs, and more tennis balls than you would find at Wimbledon.  So while we let our kids play on the rusty falling down slide in the kid’s park, we’ll let Luna live it up in her own doggy paradise.  

12 February 2012

Eat your heart out Pinterest

I love beauty. I love when something as simple as a notebook feels special when it has a pretty print on the cover. However, I can get a little carried away sometimes. Like when Annalia's crayon box broke, and instead of just putting them in a ziplock bag, I made a pink, cinch bag to hold her crayons. Which of course meant she needed a matching bag to protect her "I Can Read" books, and now I want to make her cute matching name tags for her book bag and lunch box. See what I mean - a little carried away?

So of course, as Valentines Day approached, I started looking around for a really cool card idea that I could do together with the girls. I found this adorable froggy one - cute, right? Now, don't get me wrong, I think a beautifully, handcrafted card is a treasure, and shows a level of care and thoughtfulness that has been a little lost in our day and age.

But let's be honest, I wasn't going to make those cute froggy cards thinking about how each of
Annalia's classmates would appreciate the thought. No, I want all the mommies to think I am a cool, creative mom who takes time to do fun crafts with her kids.

Well, it was a busy week, (strep throat, scarlet fever, ear infection) and I didn't even think about making Valentine cards. we get to Sunday night, and of course I can't let her go to her class' Valentine's Day party without cards for her classmates. So, I pull out some old Thank You
cards (left over from our wedding) and colorful paper. She starts cutting out hearts, gluing them on, and all by herself, she creates these beauties.

I was humbled. I think about all the beautiful creations on Pinterest that I want to do, adding to this ridiculous list I think will make me a "cooler" person.

Tonight, I watched my daughter carefully cut, glue, and create individual cards for her friends, thinking about each classmate as she chose the colors and style. And I was reminded that this is what I love about handmade crafts. The thoughtfulness. The care.

It reminds me of a lady at church who hosts the most beautiful parties. Little flags label the foods, name plaques tell me which tea is in which pitcher, and the decorations are carefully handcrafted and gorgeous. With each detail, I know that she has been planning for weeks for my visit. She has put thought and care into making me feel welcome and comfortable in her home.

This is what I want to strive for. Thoughtfulness. I don't want to do things to show off, to make myself look cool. I want to make something because I know what joy it will bring to my friends, my family, and myself.

04 January 2012

The Journey

I have never liked due dates. I always thought it was silly that we assigned one specific day for the baby to arrive. With each pregnancy I would work hard to forget the "day" and just think about the general time. But this time, when there is no longer a baby to expect, all I have left is her due date -today- January 4th.

It is hard to reflect on the last 5 months, filled with questions and grief with little comfort and no answers. A week after giving birth to Hope, we moved into our new house - and I hated it. The house that we had bought envisioning 4 kids filling the rooms. Everywhere I looked I saw the spaces I had visually marked out for the new baby. That corner where I might put the swing I finally had space for. The ridiculously huge master bedroom that would have been perfect for keeping my newborn close-by. The beautiful soaking tub I had looked forward to laboring in. I hated it all.

But as it does, life kept moving on. People stopped greeting me with a sympathetic look. School started, both for Justin and Annalia (and myself as we began homeschooling,) Justin was voted in unanimously as the pastor of our church. And we started using our house for all the entertaining and hosting opportunities that has also influenced our purchasing decision.
But as much as I tried, the grief just didn't seem to fade. And with the grief, lots of guilt. I mean, it isn't like mine is the worst story out there. Woman have suffered so much more, losing all their kids in one fatal accident, watching their only child suffer for months before dying, and on and on. Yet I was still so consumed.

And of course, the questions. Why did God give me a baby I didn't plan, only to take her away after I was finally excited? How do I pray in Faith again? And just what role does Faith play in the way God answers our prayers? Did I make a mistake - holding her, naming her? Maybe it would have been easier if I had never seen the person that I lost. The more I dwelt on the questions, the worse I felt.

Psalm 119:28-30 says, "I weep with grief; encourage me by your word. Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your law. I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your laws.

We chose the name Hope because it means relying on something that we may not be able to see, or aren't feeling at that moment. There have been many moments these past few months that I have really let God know how I am feeling - and it wasn't pretty. It was easy to lie to myself. To say that God didn't care about me, that He didn't have a plan, and was mistaken if He thought I was strong enough to handle the multiple blows that had hit our family this summer.
But I have learned I can't focus on these things. I have to set my eyes on Jesus. I have to focus on the things I know. The Truth. "Truth soothes our fears, changes our feelings, and shapes our thoughts. The truth is what we need when the hurt is the deepest." It has been a journey, and I am not sure I see the end anywhere in sight. But I guess that is what Faith is for. As for the doubts, fears, and the lies I believe while wallowing in my grief - I guess that is what Grace is for.

"He shot His arrows deep into my heart. The thought of my suffering and hopelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By His mercies we have been kept from complete destruction."
Lamentations 3:13, 19-22

06 July 2011

Hope's Story

I have always shared the birth story of my babies, but I debated sharing this one. Not the typical labor and delivery excitement like with the first three. Do I really want to put my pain out there for the public to see? But you all have been so supportive, so comforting, I want you to know.

When we found out we were pregnant with number 4, I have to admit it took a while for me to be excited. Although I had always wanted 4 kids, we had decided that Xander would be our last biological child, and even took steps to insure that. But soon I noticed how I could smell everything. So I took a test - and cried.

However, in the weeks to come, we bonded. We were all excited to add another child to our family. We started thinking about names, wondering if it would be a boy or a girl, and really moved our house search into high gear. We put a contract on a house, got to hear the baby's
heartbeat a few times, my belly button popped, I felt the first movements, and we were getting excited.

A friend called to say she was training another nurse on the sonogram machine and they needed pregnant mommies to practice on, and would I like to come in. Of course - who passes up the chance to get a sneak peak at their growing little one. And being the 4th, I figured, "what the heck, let's invite the whole family." I would be 14 weeks, and I was pretty confident we would be able to see the sex of the baby, as I had found out with both Naomi and Xander even earlier. The training nurse started looking around, and practiced taking measurements. Pretty soon, she leaned over and said that they weren't seeing what they expect to see, and maybe I should go see my midwife. I wasn't too worried at first. People have always had trouble finding my babies' heartbeats, and I knew the statistics. Once you have heard the heartbeat, and are past 12 weeks, the chance of miscarriage goes way down. But after seeing my midwife, and then the obstetrician, we learned that we had a
baby girl, and that she had died - probably that day.

Devastated. Crushed. Words just can't describe as we now had to think about the next step. I had 3 options. I could wait for my body to pass the baby on it's own, I could have a D&C (Dilation and Curettage - a medical procedure where they would force my cervix open and scrap out my uterus) or be
induced. The idea of the baby coming while I was home alone with the 3 kids sounded like too much. And I just couldn't even imagine the thought of being put to sleep while the doctor dismembered my baby girl to remove her from my body. The midwives and doctors agreed that the safest option was an induction.

Sat, July 9th, we were supposed to be moving into our new house. Instead, we were at the hospital. Before starting anything, we asked for another sonogram. Even though we both knew the truth, we had to see that still, silent screen one last time. They gave me some medicine to start things, and then we sat around and waited. I had expected it to be painful, and I had expected it to be emotional, but I didn't expect it to remind me of all my other births. The intense back pain that started every other labor. The horrible side effects of the epidural I remember from Annalia's birth. The way I felt my water break, like with Xander. The intense desire to have her near me after she was born. But that is where the similarities end.
Instead of rushing to hold and nurse my newborn baby in joyful anticipation, they handed me a tiny, perfectly formed baby no bigger than my hand. Our hearts broke.

We did all the things new parents do. We counted her fingers and toes - perfect. We touched her face - she has my chin. We just sat there and stared at our daughter. We decided then to name her Hope. In Hebrew, qavah (hope) means more than just wishing something will happen. Rather it is a confident waiting in something you know to come. To expect it. It also means to bind together. So although this whole experience has been so difficult, we know that our hope is bound God, and that He is sovereign, and we can trust in that.

After a bit, there was nothing left to do but say goodbye. As we sat in our empty room, with our empty hearts, Justin read Isaiah 40 to me, reminding me that God has everything in control. I may not feel it now, but deep down, I do have that hope.

It has been interesting going through all this with a 4 1/2 year old in the house. Annalía has been very involved in this pregnancy from the beginning. Early on, she told me she had heard in a dream that it was a girl. When we told her that the baby had died, she was crushed. But, being 4, she verbalizes everything while she processes is. She reminded me that Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, even after he started to stink. When I told her God probably wouldn't put another baby in my belly, she reminded me of Hannah's prayer, and that Samuel means "God answers." When I heard her crying at night, I went in to hold her, and she tearfully confessed that now she wasn't going to get to hold this baby while standing up, (something I had promised her). She seems to be working through her grief a lot faster than me though. The tears and anger are gone and she talks about her little sister all the time. She brings me things to make me happy, and she reminds me that she will never forget her little sister, Hope.

I am so blessed to have such a wonderful family. Justin has been so wonderful as we have cried and grieved together. The kids have been such a comfort, as I am reminded that so many women go through this with no children at home to help heal their hearts. And I have been blessed with such supporting and and understanding friends. The outpouring of help and prayers has just been overwhelming.

And now it is time for me to keep going. It doesn't mean I am ok. It doesn't mean there is a moment that goes by that I don't think about her and hurt. It just means that we have hope - a longing expectation that Jesus is caring for our child, a joyful knowing that we will meet her in heaven, and a trust that we are bound together with God as He holds us, comforting us through this season of pain and sorrow.

06 March 2011

Curlylocks


Curlylocks, Curlylocks,
Wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash dishes,
Nor yet feed the swine.

But sit in the parlor
And sew a fine seam,
And dine every day
Upon peaches and cream.

I am curious to hear what you think of this little nursery rhyme. I can picture my ultra-feminist friends bemoaning the idea that a woman's place is to sit pretty in her parlor and be doted upon by her hardworking husband. And although I have to admit that I had a bit of that reaction myself, ultimately this warms my heart. Here's why.

The other day at church, Mr. Stu whispered these sweet verses to my darling, curlylocked Naomi. Side-note of Mr. Stu. He is this inspirational, 98-year-old man who continues to live every day to the fullest. Always prepared with a profound thought or funny quip, it pains me to watch his lose of hearing keep him from the meaningful conversation I know he craves. One weekday, Mr. Stu stopped at the church to pickup his forgotten bible. He seemed a bit out of breath, so I asked him if everything was ok. He stopped to look at me, turned up his hearing aid and asked what I said. After repeating myself, he says, "Yeah, I'm fine. Well, I just got back from the gym, so I am a little winded."
Anyway, Mr. Stu has a special fondness for my Naomi. I believe her curly hair reminds him of his late wife. I don't know much about this woman, but I do know how much he loved her. How he is still proud of her beauty, that he was so lucky to have her. That he cared for her to the end, moving into the nursing home with her, even though he wasn't in need of the services.
We live in a time when woman's rights have come a long way, and don't get me wrong, I am thankful for the freedom I have to either choose a career, or not; a husband, or not; a traditional life or one packed with travel, adventure and danger. But there is something to be said about a mans desire to protect his wife, and a woman's desire to be cared for. Whether that manifests in the traditional "man=breadwinner, woman=homemaker," model, or in something a bit more radical, I want my girls to know that it is ok to have needs, to need people. And that I will love them dearly, whether their heart's desire is to scale the cliffs of Kilimanjaro or to sit in a parlor and sew a straight seam.

26 December 2010

Lessons from "Little Women"


I didn't grow up with cable, so Christmas never included 24 hours straight of "The Christmas Story" or any other countless holiday movies. But it is certainly one aspect of Christmas that I enjoy now. So when I laid down one night and saw that Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" was on, I was thrilled. I remember really liking the movie when I was younger, but I seemed to get so much more out of it this time. There were a few things that really struck me this time. I don't know if it is because I am getting old, or if it the phase of life I am in, but I wanted to share.

1- Simplicity - I loved all the Christmas decorations: the hand-tied garland that flanked every entryway, the bows tied from left-over red scraps. I am so often ashamed by my ridiculous amount of possessions, purchased for a ridiculous amount of money at some store, or from some garage sale. After watching the movie, I was inspired to make my own wreath. Something I have always wanted to do. It wasn't crazy hard, it didn't take forever, but it certainly took time. It took energy, and I ended up with something I was proud to put on my door. But what if I had to make everything I used? Every article of clothing that had to be cut and sewn? Every grain of wheat that had to be harvested, dried and ground? Would I think twice about my "needs"? Something as simple as chicken stock, bread, pasta, butter - what if I had to make these things everytime you wanted it? Perhaps I would be more cautious of the things I use.

2- Simple Food - The March family has fallen on hard times during the war, as has the whole community. On Christmas morning they lay a breakfast spread that each girl marvels at. The main delight? Bread with butter. Later, Joe is in New York and has meet Prof. Bear. At one point he hands her a gift - a simple orange. Later that night she writes by candlelight while eating her pealed orange. Would I be satisfied with a simple orange as my bedtime snack? I think about my options each night for a snack. The food in my fridge, freezer and pantry could probably feed my family for weeks, maybe months. I work hard to make simple, unprocessed foods for my family. Yet thinking about this made me realize just how far from "simple" I live.

3- Some things don't change - I never liked Amy, in the book or the movie. I still remember reading the book as a child, and throwing the book across the room when Amy marries Laurie. And I was so upset when she waisted a whole months rag money on limes. What a silly desire. But don't we all do that, buy into something simple that every one else wants? I do it. The "all natural" looking toys I like my children to have, trendy clothes, a well-designed home. These are my 26 limes that cost my family a whole months rag money.

4- I am old - I remember watching this movie when I was in highschool, and I was not satisfied at all when Joe ended up with Prof. Bear. Why? Because Laurie was a young, energetic character while Prof. Bear was old. What happened when I watched it this time? Somehow Prof Bear wasn't so old. He was charming, intelligent, and sophisticated. The movie certainly didn't change, it must be me. I must be getting old, because the ending was so much more satisfying this time.

I watched the movie with Annalia this time. I know it was silly, to think that she would enjoy it at her age. She didn't. She kept asking if we could watch "An American Tale" instead. I really hope I didn't ruin it for her. At the end, she said "I didn't like that movie." Probably had something to do with Joe (a boy's name) ending up with the old guy.

23 September 2010

Moon Festival


Remember the beginning of the summer when I shared about our disastrous journey to the National Zoo in DC? (I'm not a true blogger, so I don't know how to link to past stories - sorry). I won't bore you with the details, but it involved a long drive, traffic, no parking, vomiting, and ultimately an early end to the day.

I have learned my lesson.

Last February my girls discovered NiHao KaiLan, a Nick Jr. show that is basically Dora The Explorer, but for Chinese culture. I hate to admit it, but I kind of like the show and its eastern, "think of the group" way of solving problems.

Anyway,
They learned about the Chinese Moon Festival, where you eat dinner under the full moon and eat moon cakes. So of course, me with my love for anything that has to do with a culture other than my own, decided to enlighten my children and make moon cakes with them. I got some pretty weird looks at the Asian market when I was asking for the ingredients. Apparently no one eats moon cakes in the winter - as the festival is in the fall. I guess it is kind of like looking for Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes in August.

So we waited - all summer - looking forward to the Moon Festival. Looking back, it is kind of silly. It isn't like there is some cool meaning behind the festival that we could focus on. Just another one of those "turning of the seasons" kind of holiday that is part of most cultures.

Silly or not, I planned an elaborate family outing to Chinatown in DC. And by elaborate, I mean we had no other plan than to just go downtown and eat at a Chinese restaurant. Yup, I drove to the metro, paid the parking and the train fare, dragged the double stroller and my baby in a sling through the DC Metro - just to eat at a Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown.

And it was totally worth it. Only you and I know that what we did wasn't a big deal. My girls had no clue. According to them, we had taken them to China itself, with roasted ducks hanging in the windows and signs written in unreadable (for us) Chinese characters. We went to the "Wok 'n' Roll" (corny, huh?) where the girls had bubble tea, dumplings and ramen. The servers were impressed with Annalia's Chinese words (Thank you KaiLan), and they were thrilled with Xander.

I love going places that are so influenced by another culture that the workers barely speak English. It makes you think you are getting the real thing, not just take-out General Tso's Chicken. I knew I was in one of those places when a waitress came up to me and offered to hold Xander while I ate. I can't even imagine that happening at a "Friday"s or "Chili"s. So I happily handed him off and devoured my Chow Mein. Justin just stared at me in shock.
After our yummie and uneventful meal, we packed the kids back up into the stroller and sling, and I handed the girls their mooncakes. (purchased, I learned that no one makes their own moon cakes). I had thought of taking them into a little store to buy a souvenir. You know, something else to make the trip all that way worth it. But they were ready to go home, and I didn't argue.