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Michelle Warner

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Slowing Down in the Christmas Frenzy

Posted on December 15th, 2014

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So far for us, this Christmas season has felt chock-full of many to-dos.

I don’t know if it’s because Olivia’s birthday is at the end of November and being my mother’s daughter, I can’t let a birthday go by without a big celebration (a post with pictures to come at some point soon!), and so I was too consumed with her birthday to prepare for Christmas until it was over.

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Or I don’t know if it’s because Thanksgiving was later this year so once we returned home, it was practically December, and we were off to the races with all we had to do.

Or if it’s because I am pregnant and so instead of wrapping presents and decorating the house, I mostly just want to collapse on the couch when Olivia is napping.

Or if it’s because Jared had LASIK surgery this past weekend so we traveled to Indy (for his brother, an eye doctor, to be a part of his care), which meant more packing and scheduling (but fun cousin bonding time too!).

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Or if it’s because December just feels very full of lots of expectations, parties, Christmas shopping, Christmas card-writing, and Christmas decorating, and it’s easy to get overtaken and miss the whole point all together.

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Whatever the reason, I’ve been trying to keep my heart tuned into God through all the busyness, but it definitely is not easy, as I am sure you can attest. I desire our Christmas season to be one that’s meaningful and not one that’s so full we don’t have time to look for and reflect on the meaning.

We are beginning to think about Christmas traditions and how we want to foster reflection in this busy time of year. Because as fun as all the Christmas activities are, the main point is slowing down enough to remember why we have Christmas in the first place. I’ve found that if we don’t actively slow down our minds, Christmas can come and go without us ever taking time to savor what God has done in our lives throughout the year.

Along with that, if I don’t take time to stop and look for Jesus in the midst of the Christmas excitement, I can easily fall into the trap of more, more, more–including more expectations for how magical the season will be. And before I know it without continual reminders back to Jesus, Christmas comes and goes, and leaves me with a big sack of disappointment with how “real” it felt instead of how magical I hoped it to be. Yes, there are moments that may feel magical, and I sure do love and treasure those, but when my perspective is where it should be, those are just icing on the cake  of a special season rather than needed events to complete the holiday for me.

A few things have come to mind that we are trying to do to capture “the reason for the season” and so I thought I would write them down in hopes that they would encourage you as well as that you would share ways you have found to slow down at Christmastime as well. I am all ears!

  • Quieting my own heart

Probably by far one of the biggest things I am learning as a new mom is how crucial it is make sure I am not neglecting myself. It is so easy to become consumed with our kids’ lives that thinking about ourselves as moms gets placed totally on the back burner. Now don’t get me wrong, I am also learning how motherhood is a lot about sacrifice and letting go of some of the luxuries I used to enjoy, but I don’t think it helps anyone if I don’t nurture my own self in this journey of being a mom. And then add on the pressures and expectations of Christmas, and I can see how moms get to the New Year and they’re barely keeping it together because they have given, given, given all season (and year). So, one thing I am trying to do for myself is to quiet my own heart to meet with God and stay in tune with how He is leading and speaking to me. (And this also helps keep my expectations in check too!)

*Advent Reading

Last year for Olivia’s birthday, my mother-in-law gave her The Jesus Storybook Bible. Not long afterwards, I read something on Pinterest about reading through advent with The Jesus Storybook Bible. Since my brain felt pretty fuzzy being a mom of a one-year-old, I decided that sounded like a good place to start to prepare my heart for Christmas.

Let me just say that it was such a refreshing read! If you have not read The Jesus Storybook Bible, I highly recommend it and not just for kids. It’s a fresh way to read the truth we find in Scripture and it’s communicated in a new way. I found the advent reading schedule here, although I am sure there are many reading plans out there.

This season I have been reading through Ann Voskamp’s new advent book called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. I didn’t really know much about it, but anything Ann Voskamp has written has caused me to think, so I decided I wanted to see what it was about. I have not been disappointed. This too is written with children in mind and is meant to be read as a family, though this year I am just reading it by myself. I love the questions at the end of each day to discuss together and then the action step to do as a family. Ann also created ornaments to go with each day but since I am just reading it by myself this year, I haven’t done that part (but look forward to someday!).

Ann also wrote a book last year called The Greatest Gift: An Advent Devotional that is geared more toward adults. I read it last year but honestly I need to reread it because I think my brain couldn’t handle too much depth at one time. (Oh, the life of a new mom!)

I am hoping we can read through the Christmas season next year as a family when Olivia is more able to grasp what is going on. (So far I am just trying to convince her that on Christmas it’s Jesus’ birthday instead of Livi’s birthday. For some reason she thinks every occasion now is a cause to celebrate her big day. Ha!)

*Christmas music

One more note, Jared and I have found that another helpful way to quiet our hearts and reflect on the season is through music. My most favorite Christmas album these days is Chris Tomlin’s Glory in the Highest but of course Christmas isn’t complete without listening to all of Amy Grant’s Christmas albums too! We also are enjoying Michael W. Smith’s new album with many country artists. I am in love with his song with Carrie Underwood, All is Well.

  • Making time for our marriage

In the almost seven years that we have been married, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s the importance of being intentional to set aside time to nurture our relationship. It just doesn’t happen otherwise. We are realizing that at Christmastime this is so key as well–otherwise we will get through the whole season and miss out on connecting at all.

*Christmas concert

We’ve started a tradition of going to a Christmas concert every year, though I am the first to admit it hasn’t happened every year and most likely isn’t happening this year (a good test for me to put into action what I’ve been writing–that if I need those magical moments to complete my Christmas season, I will be sorely disappointed!). Last year we saw Amy Grant and Vince Gill, and it was such a nice break to get away together for dinner and then time to listen to good music and take in the season together.

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*Ornament giving

We also started a tradition early on in our marriage where we gave each other an ornament that represented the year. This is by far one of my favorite traditions for two reasons: one, it causes me to stop and reflect on what ornament represents Jared for that particular year. When we were working through our views of money and budget in our first year of marriage, I gave him a Starbucks coffee ornament to symbolize our many discussions; when we were writing more together, I found a pencil ornament to symbolize the project we worked on as a couple. And two, it reminds us of how faithful God’s been to us that year.

As I was writing this, I looked up at the tree and smiled as I saw ones that represented our times together as a couple. It’s especially been meaningful now that we’ve gone through some difficult times because Jared gave me some sentimental ones during my cancer road that I will always treasure.

We write the date on bottom of the ornament so that we don’t forget what was happening. Speaking of not forgetting, writing this post is reminding me I need to still get him an ornament for this year. :) (And just to keep it real- we have definitely had a couple of years in the past where we were shopping for our ornaments after Christmas!)

*12 Days of Christmas

Something I started last year that I am doing again this year in a new way is the 12 Days of Christmas for Jared. Last year, I found this idea on Pinterest (apparently last year I spent my down-time surfing Pinterest!) and found these great printables that made the whole idea pretty simple. Since Jared and I both are not really gift people, I decided to just think of things he needed (socks, chapsticks, collar stays, a snow brush, etc) and then weave it into the 12 days. And since I am a words person, I wrote a note with each one about how that represented something I loved about him.

IMG_4747It was surprising to me how much Jared appreciated this and he looked forward to what his new little gift was going to be each day. It was a reminder to me that we all love to be told the reasons we are loved, even for my non-words-husband!

So this year, I decided to tweak the idea a bit because more than little gifts, we need time together. Again, I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew one of my friends had tried it last year, so I decided to go for it. This year I am giving him 12 Pre-Planned Date Nights, and most of them are dates at home like a movie night, game night, reading night etc. I used these free printables, but really you could use just notecards. I haven’t done much beside writing out the date idea for each month and giving him a new one each day. It’s not much, but I think it communicates what I am trying to say–let’s make time to connect in 2015. With a new baby on the way, I think it’s going to be that much harder, so I am hoping these dates will help make our time a priority.

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***

Thanks to pregnancy, I woke up super early this morning and have written this entire blog before Olivia is awake. That is a feat in and of itself but I better sign off because she will be stirring any moment. I would love for you to share in the comments if you have a tradition that either you enjoy individually, as a couple, or as a family to help capture the meaning of Christmas. And it doesn’t have to be super deep, I’d love to hear your favorite tradition because sometimes the most simple are the most meaningful (and a lot of times they don’t come with a lot of expectation weighing on the event–another big plus in my opinion!).

I’ll end with a quote that stuck out to me during my reading this morning from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift because it totally captured what God has been speaking to me about this season:

“Christmas cannot be bought in a store. Christmas cannot be created in the kitchen. Christmas cannot be made by hand, lit up, set out, dreamed up. Christmas can only be found–right there in the manger” (86).

 

 

 

A Babymoon Blunder or Blessing?

Posted on December 3rd, 2014

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Ah, the time had come.

Jared planned a Babymoon for us to get away before the busyness of the fall and the holidays kept us homebound. We had been debating if we should go away for a few days for reflection and connection as we celebrated our almost two years with Olivia and prepared for our next little one to arrive. We decided in the hustle and bustle of daily life that, yes, we needed a few days away together. Once Jared booked the flights and hotel, I could feel my excitement rising.

I dreamt of sleeping in without having to bound out of bed to a work schedule and an energetic toddler. I visualized myself on the pool chair, losing myself in a book for hours and not feeling guilty. I couldn’t wait to sit over a meal with Jared and not have to coax a toddler to eat her peas all the while. For this tired mom, it sounded like heaven.

For the record, I have loved being a mom. There are parts of it that are exactly what I envisioned it being all those years ago. But there have also been some extremely difficult moments when I realized that motherhood is much harder than I expected. Days when I have had to give up everything I want to do for the sake of my daughter. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t always sacrificed with a willing spirit. Sometimes it’s been with a grumpy heart, wishing I just had some time for me.

So needless to say, this gift my husband was giving me of three and a half days on the beach sounded blissful.

The date finally arrived and we woke up at 3:30am to begin our long day of travel. Even that crazy hour for this non-morning person couldn’t dampen my mood. We were ready. We were packed. The grandparents were in charge and the typed directions for Olivia’s every hour were laid on the counter.

I should mention that during the week leading up to the trip, the weather presented us with a potential snafu to literally rain on our parade. A tropical storm was churning in the Pacific Ocean and threatening our sun-filled paradise vacation in Cabo. Jared and I prayed and discussed the options, wanting to make sure we weren’t forging ahead with our plans if it wasn’t the best plan or what God had in mind. But after praying, discussing, studying the weather reports and weighing the cost to rebook the trip, we decided we felt comfortable continuing on with our vacation plans. We stuck in a puzzle and extra books in our suitcase in case it rained most of the time. But even that sounded like a vacation because it just meant more sleep and down time for two exhausted parents.

On our layover in Dallas, we checked the weather again and were pleased to hear that the tropical storm was downgraded even more and it seemed to be no threat. When the hotel worker picked us up from the airport, even he mentioned how in Cabo they experienced tropical storms all of the time and it only rained for a brief part of the day and then the sun returned. Ah, exactly what we needed to hear. See, the weather forecasters were creating drama where there wasn’t any!

Arriving at our hotel and breathing in the salt from the ocean brought instant peace to my tired soul. I couldn’t believe I was actually in paradise and given four whole days to unwind.  Jared and I didn’t waste much time changing into our swimsuits and heading down to the gorgeous pool. We laid on the towel-covered lounge chairs for several hours reading our books and letting the stress of every day life begin to seep out of us.

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After showering and watching a little of the football game (okay, so I didn’t exactly watch it but it was on and I sat next to Jared reading my book as he watched it!), we decided to head to dinner. It was tempting to just order room service since we had been awake since 3:30am after a full day of travel, but we decided that since it could rain the rest of the time, we wanted to eat dinner at the hotel’s restaurant overlooking the ocean.

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The view was amazing and even though I was more tired than I would have liked to truly soak in the beautiful scenery and special company, it was still a wonderful time. Adult conversation, beautiful views, and no toddler battles!

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The next morning, I woke up really early, much to my dismay. My internal mommy clock was programmed for 7:00am whether I liked it or not. I crept out to the patio of our room while Jared slept and took in the beautiful view. The clouds had set in and the waves seemed higher than before, which disappointed me for a few minutes because I realized that maybe a storm really was approaching. But I didn’t let myself feel discouraged for too long because I knew I was so blessed to be away even if the rain did come.

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Jared and I enjoyed the morning with a delicious breakfast overlooking the crashing waves and then a walk on a path by the ocean. We took pictures of the big waves and marveled at how stirred up the ocean seemed, but we weren’t really fazed because we didn’t have a context for how it was when the seas were calm. We even sent pictures to our parents, trying to reassure them not to worry about us.  Everything is fine here, Mom and Dad!

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We headed back to our hotel room to change into our swimsuits for another day at the pool (though we knew we would likely get more clouds than sun). While we were getting ready to leave, the hotel concierge called to tell us that because the storm was coming, we needed to make sure we were back in our room by 1:00pm.

No problem, we thought.

Down at the pool, we watched how high the waves climbed before crashing down on the shore. “Wow, we’ve never seen waves this high, “ Jared and I said to each other. Even though the waves looked fierce and the sky looked ominous, I still didn’t feel overly worried about the impending storm. As we had walked down to the pool, I asked a hotel worker about the storm and he said, “A little rain and a little wind.” Okay, sounds good to me. Even though out of the corner of my eye, I watched as the hotel workers surrounded the perimeter of the pool with  sandbags, I decided they must be preparing for the worst-case scenario. (Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?)

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As we stood in the pool marveling at the waves with some of the other hotel guests, the sprinkles turned to rain. We could tell the skies were about to let loose, so we hurriedly grabbed our things and started up the path to our room. Just as we suspected, the rain turned to a downpour with heavy winds. We made it to our room just as it began intensely blowing.

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The rain pelted the windows sideways and seeped under the doors. I looked at Jared with big eyes that said, “Wow, this is not just a little rain shower.” Just then, water began dripping through our thatched roof and Jared and I scrambled to find trash cans and glasses to catch the drips.

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The phone rang and interrupted our scrambling.

Jared hardly said hello before the concierge blurted out, “Hi Mr. Warner, we have decided to evacuate the hotel.”

“Ok, where will we be going for the night?” Jared and I had embraced the possibility over the last few minutes that maybe we’d have to go a safer place for the night while the storm blew over.

“Well, we have decided to send our guests on a bus to San Diego…It will be a 24 hour bus ride.”

Huh?!

You can imagine our disbelief. A whole day’s worth of driving to evacuate this silly rainstorm? That seemed a little extreme.

“Well, I don’t think we are ready to do that. Let us know if any other options arise.”

We hung up the phone thinking how crazy it was that the hotel’s only option was to bus us 24 hours away. From all they had told us up until this point, this tropical storm was going to blow in and blow out. Why did we have to evacuate 24 hours away and incur plane charges and a blown vacation (literally!) when the storm would be gone before we even made it to our destination?

Regardless, we realized we would be leaving our room for the night so I started collecting my things, stuffing everything back in my suitcase, and praying for wisdom about what to do. Jared and I prayed together that God would direct us and make it clear what we should do. We didn’t want to be so stuck on our own plan that we placed ourselves (and unborn baby) in danger.

Not ten minutes later, a knock came to the door. One of the hotel workers wanted to talk to us about evacuating. I was trying to be patient as I listened to him talk and then my ears perked up when he said, “Mr. and Mrs. Warner, this is the worst hurricane that will have ever hit Cabo. A Category Two once hit us and it knocked out the bridge to get to the airport. They are now saying this will be a Category Four, I think this one could be really bad.”

Oh.

For the first time, the gravity of the situation began to hit us and we realized there was no other choice but to board the bus. I didn’t know anything about hurricanes, but I knew enough to know I did not want to be overlooking the ocean in a Category Four hurricane. We hurriedly packed the rest of the room and walked down to the bus meeting area. While the rain had stopped for a while, it picked up again on our walk. We stood in the rain holding our luggage as we waited to board the bus, smirking at each other because we knew we better just laugh at the blunder or our Babymoon. 

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It wasn’t until we were settled onto the bus that the realization of all that had transpired hit me. The next day of my vacation was going to be spent on a crowded bus rather than a spacious resort. It felt a little cruel and I’ll admit that I let myself cry for a few minutes, processing the dichotomy of my reality to our heavenly vacation and the 27 hours we were fortunate to experience.

But thankfully I married a husband who not only has a level head but also strives to hear from God and keep perspective. We shared many conversations over the next few hours about the situation. (Nothing like being forced to sit next to each other with no cell service and not much else to do to encourage good communication!) Yes, it was a bummer that our babymoon was hijacked by a hurricane, but it felt quite entitled to stay there too long when people were in danger, losing their homes, and stuck in Cabo for days on end. And not to mention, we knew that we were blessed that we were even able to go on vacation.

And if we needed more perspective, our trip from Cabo to San Diego took us through the desolate desert. The shacks (literally) that people lived in reminded us that there was an entire other world out there whose biggest problem that day wasn’t that they had to leave their resort and ride on a chartered bus. Sometimes opening my eyes to see the bigger world is all I need to jolt me back into perspective.

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We thankfully had left Cabo four hours before the hurricane so though it was a little tense as we drove, we finally outran the storm. We made it to a remote gas station in the middle of the desert at 7:00am, twelve hours later. Jared waited until then to mention how thankful he was that we didn’t encounter any safety problems through the night–something I hadn’t considered, and boy, am I glad because I didn’t need any help imagining a frightening situation. 

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[the bathroom at the gas station we stopped at.]

The rest of the trip was long (we had to stop six times for the Federales [Mexican army] to search our bus and bags), but thankfully uneventful.  We kept hearing reports of visitors stuck in Cabo and hotel workers’ homes destroyed. What started as frustration to have to change our vacation plans turned into gratitude that we made it out of Cabo safely.

Not to mention we still had homes to return to. And so many other blessings to list. 

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It’s been two months since our Cabo adventure, and Jared and I are still processing the lessons we learned. One of the biggest take-aways for me was that though I desired a relaxing vacation way from the stress of life for a few days, God wanted instead to expand our view beyond our little worlds. It’s another reminder to me that though we may picture life going one way, God may envision it going another to grow us or teach us more about ourselves or Himself. It’s not always pretty, and thinking back to my cancer situation, it’s not always enjoyable, but I am learning the key lies in changing my perspective and opening up my heart to what He is trying to accomplish. When I shift my view from myself and onto what He is doing, I gain a peace that doesn’t come from anywhere else. Not a perfect vacation. Or perfect health. Or a perfect marriage.

And along with that nugget, God also reminded me that I can’t see the full picture, only He can. His hand of protection was totally upon us, and how grateful we were (although maybe more in hindsight). Jared and I have been learning the lesson of gratitude and this was another reminder to truly thank God for the ways He has protected us and led us, even if it wasn’t exactly how we wanted it to go.  I am learning that sometimes I must choose gratitude rather than wait to feel it. As I choose to be grateful, slowly the feelings come and my eyes are opened to all of the blessings I have.

Although our Babymoon wasn’t the perfect paradise that I dreamt about, it bonded Jared and I closer together in our marriage and taught us a deeper lesson about gratitude. All in all, quite a blessing.

As we mulled all of this over while eating dinner in San Diego, rain began drizzling from out of nowhere. We laughed and joked about the rain following us wherever we went, but then God painted the most beautiful double rainbow in front of my eyes and reminded me how much He was with us and providing for us. It was the most fitting end to quite a Babymoon adventure.

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Five Years Ago Today

Posted on November 10th, 2014

I took Jared to the airport on Saturday morning at 3:30am. Although I am far from a morning person, it was actually really nice to have some space and time to think and reflect all to myself in a quiet car. (Olivia was fast asleep at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.) As I drove and listened to good music, my heart became really full as I reflected on how gracious and faithful God has been in my life.

It started with thinking about how Jared was flying down to Orlando to golf with his brother and dad, something he did eight years ago that allowed us to reconnect while I was living in Florida. I would have never thought that after five years of being apart, God would bring us back together in His perfect timing and give me my deepest heart’s desire.

And then as I drove the stretch of highway on the way home to my house, I reflected on the fact that I had driven that road back and forth visiting two boyfriends at different seasons of my life. And while they were both great guys, I was so grateful that God led me to Jared, God’s perfect match for me. Though those years of dating felt quite long and excruciating at times, God taught me so much about myself. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the wait.

My mind stayed in reflective mode and I smiled thinking how I would have never guessed as I drove that road all those years ago that one day I would live off of that highway with my husband, daughter and almost-born daughter. It would have been something I would have only dreamed of during those seasons. And yet, look at how gracious and faithful the Lord has been to me to give me such gifts.

And then all of those thoughts led me to realizing that I was coming upon a very momentous anniversary in my life. Five years ago today, I went into (what we thought was) a routine surgery to remove an ovarian cyst but the results of that surgery altered my life forever. A cancer diagnosis. Another surgery. Chemo. Loss of my hair and possibly my fertility. Fear of what-ifs.

And yet here I am, five years later and my cup runneth over with a rambunctious two-year-old and a baby on the way. And a stronger marriage. And a deeper faith.  And a more grace-filled perspective on life. And a clean bill of health for five whole years.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that music speaks to my heart during times like these and I’ve had several songs floating around in my mind the last several days. One has been one of Jared’s and my favorite’s right now: Big Daddy Weave’s Overwhelmed. And one has been the song I heard the day before my surgery when I was feeling anxious about the what-ifs: That’s What Faith Can Do by Kutless.  But as I type right now the song on my mind is the one that one of my best friend’s sang at our wedding: How Could I Ask For More? By Cindy Morgan.

I wish I could stay in this reflective moment, but Olivia has now bounded into the room and the sound of an excited little girl has disrupted my thoughts. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

With a grateful heart, praising God for His faithful hand on my life these last five years, I sign off for now. Thank you, Lord. How could I ask for more?

***

How Could I Ask For More?

There’s nothing like the warmth of a summer afternoon
Waking to the sunlight, being cradled by the moon
Catching fireflies at night, building castles in the sand
Kissing mama’s face goodnight and holding daddy’s hand
Thank you, Lord, how could I ask for more?

Running barefoot through the grass, a little hide and go seek
Being so in love that you can hardly eat
Dancing in the dark when there’s no one else around
Being bundled ‘neath the covers, watching snow fall to the ground
Thank you, Lord, how could I ask for more?

So many things I thought would bring me happiness
Some dreams that are realities today
Such an irony the things that mean the most to me
Are the memories that I’ve made along the way

So if there’s anything I’ve learned from this journey I am on
Simple truths will keep you going, simple love will keep you strong
‘Cause there are questions without answers and flames that never die
And heartaches we go through are often blessings in disguise
So thank you, Lord, oh thank you, Lord
And yeah, how could I ask for more?

 

Living a “Small” Life as a Mom

Posted on October 29th, 2014

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As I mentioned in a recent post, I had the awesome privilege of attending the MOPS conference this year. One of the biggest things I took away from it is that sometimes motherhood can keep me living very “small.” I oftentimes do not feel I have the time and energy to open my eyes to the “bigger” things going on around me because my world is filled with changing diapers, negotiating toddler battles, and listening to songs about animals on the farm.  And then I crash on the couch in the evening with a brain full of mush because I gave every ounce of energy I had throughout the day (and then this brings up a whole other topic of being intentional in my marriage and friendship, and one Jared and I keep talking about as we are in the throes of parenthood…).

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[The cute friends I spend the most time with these days.]

For the last 23 months, I have been reflecting on and wrestling with my role as a mom and as a woman. Part of me is accepting the fact that what “big” used to look like in my life will now look different as a mom with a new job responsibility. In a lot of ways, I have had to surrender how I may want to spend my time (writing, teaching, meeting women for coffee, reading, reflecting) and embrace that my new normal looks much different and in so many ways, much fuller and richer. And it doesn’t mean I can’t do those aforementioned activities, but they just require more creativity and flexibility–and if I’m honest, oftentimes it doesn’t happen because I don’t have the energy to figure out how to make it happen.

Anyway, I don’t have any well-developed thoughts to share today, just a few that are percolating in my mind and in my prayers. I mostly wanted to share this blog I read recently that I really resonated with: “When You Worry Your Life is Too “Small” to Qualify for “Big” Ministry” by Lisa Jo Baker. I highly recommend it!

I read a book of hers recently entitled Surprised By Motherhood which I appreciated. Here is an excerpt I underlined and have been thinking about since:

“Some days I still miss the Lisa-Jo I used to be. But those days are rarer than they were when Jackson was just a few months old. Like a pair of saggy old jeans on a Sunday afternoon, the word mother fits me more comfortably now. But there were days under the lilac jacaranda when I shook my head and couldn’t understand how I’d lost myself in the wash and spin and rinse and repeat of new rhythms I couldn’t find my groove in…This was a new rhythm, and my body was awkwardly fumbling toward the beat.

So I rocked and walked and soothed and wrangled my own confusion. And still I stood with one foot in the life I thought I loved as I waited for the baby I’d wanted to start to love me. Nonsense. I lived a lot of nonsense before life started to make sense again. But that’s because the breaking up can be a slow process. Becoming a parent is a lot like breaking up with yourself. And it takes time till you can keep time to a cataclysmic new beat. It takes courage to say no to yourself and yes to someone else. Over and over again–days, weeks, weekends, years, and trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s on end. The way a gut-punch takes your breath away with the sheer shock of the change.

So I spun and spun in dizzying circles, until sometime just before Jackson turned one, there in the distance I spotted the small unremarkable speck of who I used to be. And I waved. And the dance swept me on” (90).

And then a few chapters later, she writes, “No, God doesn’t ask us to trade who we are for the label of ‘Mom.’ Rather, He builds all the courage and calling of a lifetime into a story line big enough and rich enough to encompass kids, passion, work, creativity, and dreams that don’t end in the labor and delivery ward” (154).

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I am still processing how all this plays out in my life, and in full disclosure, right now this means finishing this blog post that I started during nap time as Olivia watches a Mickey episode. And I better sign off because it is approaching dinner time and I need all the creativity I have left to muster up something to make for dinner!

 

You Make Me Brave

Posted on October 5th, 2014

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the annual MOPS conference (“MomCon”) with several of the girls on my MOPS Steering Team. The theme this year was “Be You, Bravely,” and what a powerful theme to hear women such as Jennie Allen, Lisa Chan, Shauna Niequist, and Angie Smith share such truths.

I especially loved the worship led by Meredith Andrews. She often led worship at a church we liked to visit in Chicago, so it was especially meaningful to worship with her again. She introduce me to the song, “You Make Me Brave,” and I have been playing it nonstop today since returning home. It was originally recorded by Bethel Music and I wanted to share it with you below.

I hope to write another blog post in the future about more of the thoughts on my mind from the conference, but I will leave you with this powerful song and the question – what does your brave look like? One of the best insights that one of the speakers shared was considering that being brave doesn’t have to be a monumental shift but maybe just a brave step. Is God leading you to take a brave step in your life?

You Make Me Brave
by Bethel Music

VERSE 1:
I stand before You now
The greatness of your renown
I have heard of the majesty and wonder of you
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow

CHORUS:
As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

VERSE 2:
I have heard You calling my name
I have heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace
Into Your grace

BRIDGE:
You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the promises you m

 

Here’s to taking a brave step!

Jessica’s Book-Themed Baby Shower

Posted on August 31st, 2014

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I had the wonderful opportunity to host a baby shower for my sister-in-law, Jessica, a couple of weeks ago. I have known her since she was a freshman in college and we have experienced many seasons of life together so it was very special to celebrate this new season of her becoming a mother (and my brother becoming a father!).

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As I was praying through the shower and all of the details, I felt led that I wanted to share some thoughts at the shower about being a new mom. I have actually wanted to write a blog entry for a long time about this subject and so I was thankful for the opportunity to take some time to reflect on motherhood.

So without further ado, below is the devotional I shared, followed up with some photos of the special day.

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Jessica,

As you can see from all of the books around, you will read your fair share of children’s books once your baby arrives. One of my favorites is I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak. I thought I’d read it to you in case you haven’t read it.

I love you through and through.

I love your top side. I love your bottom side. I love your inside and outside.

I love your happy side, your sad side, your silly side, your mad side.

I love your fingers and toes, your ears and nose. I love your hair and eyes, your giggles and cries.

I love you running and walking, silent and talking.

I love you through and through… yesterday, today and tomorrow too.”

In the past almost-two years of becoming a mom, a deep love for Olivia has grown inside my heart. My heart just swells over the cute things she does. And since she is entering the twos, she can look at me and blatantly disobey me but it’s amazing the love I still feel for her, even if she frustrates me to no end!

I’ve been continually struck as I grow in my love and experience in motherhood that as deep as this love is for Olivia, God’s love is so much more perfect and deeper than my love. And as I’ve been on this journey, I have felt like God has been inviting me to grow in my understanding of Him and His love, which is what I wanted to talk about today.

Before I begin I want to say that there are many amazing women in this room who have been mothers for thirty or forty more years than me and who could probably give this devotional with many more insights and experiences to share. But as a new mom, I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve felt God has been teaching me about His love as I’ve begun my journey.

The first thing God has reminded me as a new mom:

God’s love is not earned. You don’t have to perform to earn His love.

Jessica, you and I are wired similarly when it comes to being productive and getting things done. And if anyone ever doubted if you and Eric are productive people, all they have to do is hear about all that you’ve accomplished since moving into your house two months ago! You guys amaze me with how productive you’ve been.

I will tell you that one of the biggest adjustments for me as a new mom was how LITTLE I accomplished throughout the day. What a shift to go from checking so many things off my to-do list before baby to being excited if I actually took shower in a day!

Through processing all of this and shedding a few tears, God opened my eyes to see that part of me felt really good when I was productive and I had something to show for the day. And though I have been growing for years in realizing that God doesn’t love me more or less for what I do or don’t do, having a baby and having my life totally change has taught me this lesson in a whole new way.

I learned that it’s more than okay if you can’t do it all. That you don’t have to have the laundry washed, folded, and put away all before the baby awakes—and that is AFTER you’ve been up three times in the night. It’s more than okay if everything doesn’t get done.

It took me a while to realize that when you feel like you are accomplishing nothing—like responding to emails, taking a shower, actually reading a book—take heart, because you actually are accomplishing everything when you take care of your little boy. Because when it all boils down to it, the time you spend with him is building trust and intimacy that no amount of productivity can match.

As your baby arrives, you will have love in his sheer existence (okay, and maybe exhaustion too!). He doesn’t have to do anything for you to love him more or less. (And please rest assured that there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t have this magical “love at first sight” for your baby. Many moms will attest that their love for their baby grew and grew as they got to know their baby more and more.) But as you spend time with your baby, you’ll find he doesn’t have to flip to his tummy or even smile for you to love him more, you love him just for being him. I am learning more and more as I am a mom that God loves you and me the same way and in an even deeper, more perfect sense. You don’t have to perform for him to love you more or less. He is utterly over the moon for you and loves you for who you are, not what you do.

The second thing God has reminded me as a new mom:

God’s love is wrapped in grace. He invites us to accept His grace-filled love.

It’s so easy to say, “accept grace” but much harder to really internalize these words and allow it to change our lives. I’m learning that in motherhood and life there are a lot of expectations—and most of them unspoken. They come from society, people in your life, other moms, and even yourself. And so as moms we seem to internalize expectations more than grace.

As you probably remember, in the first couple of weeks of Olivia’s life we had a difficult time figuring out nursing. We had multiple appointments with doctors and lactation consultants. After one such meeting, I left in tears and as I drove home trying to uncover why I was so upset, I realized it was because I felt like I was failing as a mom. And I was only two weeks in! I had expectations for myself that I wasn’t meeting, and I felt like a failure.

God has been teaching me throughout this journey that He has no expectations for me to be the perfect mom and to perfectly handle the transition into motherhood flawlessly. You don’t have to—and probably won’t—perfectly balance working outside the home, spending time with Eric, taking care of your house, and keeping up with all of your friendships, and spending time with God. It will not look like it used to look. God has been reminding me that, like I said above, He desires just to be with us. That’s it. And he’s extending His grace to us over and over as we grow into our new roles as moms.

Back to the expectations that we feel as moms: I’ve had a crash course over these last two years in realizing that I also need to accept God’s grace as we see other moms who may appear to be balancing it all perfectly. Or moms who have a hot meal prepared every evening for their families. Or moms who are dressed in an outfit not consisting of yoga pants and actually have make-up on! Or babies who sleep through the night at two weeks. Or who are awesome nappers. The list goes on and on.

I’ve had to learn to stay tuned into God and hear His voice the loudest rather than the expectations all around me. And ultimately to accept God’s grace to not try to be and do it all.

The third thing God has reminded me as a new mom:

God’s love compels Him to provide for our needs. Your loving Father knows what you need.

Your new role, especially at the beginning with a newborn, is to take care of baby Toy’s needs. You’ll feed him, change him, hold him, bathe him because you are the parent and you know—more or less—what he needs. And if you don’t know, you’ll figure it out eventually! (I can attest to the whole baptism by fire thing!)

This role as a mom has given me a new perspective on how God sees me. When I come to Him with concerns or requests, He is not annoyed. He loves that I came to Him with my needs, just as I feel with Olivia. One of the cute things Olivia says these days is, “I need help,” and I can’t resist helping when she asks in her sweet voice. In the same way, God loves when we come to Him for help and He loves providing for our needs.

This was never truer to me than early on when I was trying to get Olivia to take a nap. As you know, she has never been a great napper; she just didn’t want to miss all the excitement. So I was up in her room rocking her, bouncing her, doing everything I could to convince her to sleep. I remember saying out loud, “Olivia, you’re so tired and you need some sleep. Mommy is right here holding you, just go to sleep.“ At that moment, it clicked with me that God often does the same with me. I may be kicking and screaming over a certain circumstance in my life, but He is lovingly saying, “Sweet Michelle, I know what you need. I know you may not like it, but trust me as your loving Father to give you what you need.”

And particularly how it relates as a mom, when you’re up at all hours of the night, trust Him to give you the strength you need to make it through the day. When you feel like all you do is nurse all hours of the day, trust Him to give you the time to get done what needs to be accomplished. When you go back to work and don’t know how you’ll do it all, trust Him to provide the big and small things you’ll need.

Spoken from experience, there will be moments when you literally don’t know how you can do this motherhood thing, but God has used motherhood to draw me closer to Him and refine areas in my life that have needed refined. And He knows as a loving Father that I needed that, even if it hasn’t always been easy.

These are just a few of the lessons that I have learned on this motherhood journey. To close, I asked a few people in both of our lives to share what they have learned about God through motherhood.

  • “Being reminded of His patience with me. It’s so hard to have patience with my daughter at times because you tell her the same thing over and over day in and day out, but she still will do it. But it’s the same way with me…And that God has a sense of humor!”
  • “I think that God has taught me that schedules, expectations met, and perfect decisions, are not the mark of a healthy family…our hearts toward God are. I’ve learned that everything changes post baby (priorities, commitments, social life, my body, my relationship with my husband), but it’s okay because God hasn’t changed and never will change. His steadfast love never ceases, and I can always bank on that…even when I feel like I don’t know myself or my life anymore. I can trust that he’s doing what he’s always done in my life – working something new and beautiful. “
  • “God does care about the mundane details of life…and the first 3 months sure are full of the mundane! Eat, play, diaper change, sleep, and over and over. There’s purpose to the daily tasks we have to complete. Doing those well allows for a kid who’s growing, learning, and thriving, and slowly builds the trust relationship between baby and parent!”
  • God’s love has no limit. His mercy runs deep. Very deep! That motherhood is a precious gift not only to the mother, but to the spouse, the marriage, of course the children, but also to the world b/c the family is they very foundation on which society is built. As it goes with the family, thus goes the world. We have been entrusted with a huge task as mothers, but thankfully, have not been call to walk this path without His aid.”
  • “I have learned the importance if truly abiding and testing in him. My personality is such a type-A and I feel guilty when I feel like I’m unproductive or when I take time to rest when I could be doing something to help around the house. But He has taught me that I need to rest. Work is good…but I need time to rest so that I can do the work and be a good mom. My quiet times with God became that much more important whether it be a walk, a work out, or sitting in my room just listening to worship music. The house work or whatever needs doing will always be there. I find that if I start with just resting in Him and keeping his peace with me throughout my day I am more patient and ready for the mommy moments that sneak up.”
  • “God will use motherhood to shape you and mold you into the woman He wants you to be so you can be the best mom for your son. It will be easy to look around at other moms and start to compare “If only I had her patience” and “If only I had her creativity” or “If only I had her energy.” But God chose YOU to be his mom and no one else. Take it one day at a time (because there will be glorious days and there will be hard days) and know that He is using those good and bad days to change you and mold you into the woman He wants you to be.”
  • “For a person who could easily feel that she had to earn God’s love through good behavior and performance-based criteria, through motherhood I began to understand the Father’s love for me with new clarity. I began to understand that my very existence filled His heart with love for me.  And how nothing could separate me from the love of God. I also began to understand why His love meant that He needed to set boundaries for me for my own provision and protection. When I ignored those boundaries, I began to understand how it grieved Him and how much He yearned for me to make a course correction.  There is nothing like parenting to give you a fresh revelation of God.”
  • “I think when I finally just let go and play and enjoy my son a little bit without thinking of all the things on my to do list, the whole time I’m playing with him I feel like God says, “See, it’s okay. I want you to just be with me like this.”
  • “Seek wise counsel from other parents but try to not get too caught up in everyone’s opinions. Be confident in your choices and try not to compare to others.”
  • “That grace is bigger than just a pretty idea or my daughter’s middle name or something to throw around loosely in our circles when we’re talking. Grace is a capital “G”, a man, Someone who died on a cross for me, so that even when I mess up, lose my patience, scream too loud one too many times, thank the good sweet Lord I am covered by this thing called Grace and that it keeps me on my knees looking to Him and able to even tell my kids, “I’m sorry, Momma messed up.” Parenting is a big old dose of humble pie. But I’d delighted to eat it every day with the gift of being a mother as the exchange.”
  • “How crazy God can be about me even when I am so messed up and have so much to learn. Also how it grieves Him to watch me fail and yet He loves me too much to not allow the opportunity to learn. Also how my value can only come from Him, often I want to be the perfect mom and am always disappointed there.” 

***

I loved throwing Jessica’s shower with her sister-in-law on her side, Sarah, and Melissa, my twin brother’s wife (though sadly Melissa wasn’t able to come to Cincinnati for the shower since her daughter was just beginning kindergarten). But we worked as a good team; Melissa was in charge of the invitations and print work, Sarah was in charge of the food, and I was in charge of the decorations.

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The pinwheel wreath made out of book pages hung on the front door, greeting the guests, and introducing the theme of pinwheels and books.

A closer look of the pinwheel wreath.

A closer look of the pinwheel wreath.

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Right after the guests entered the door there was a Giving Tree where they could write encouraging notes to Jessica for her to read in the middle of the night when she’s up with baby. :)

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The favors were also sitting on the table: bookmarks and bookworms made by Jessica’s friends, Christin and Jenna.

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I made the book banner out of an old Dr. Seuss book.

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Of course I had to write a few book quotes on the chalkboard!

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We also had a place for the guests to sign a book for Baby Boy Toy.

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“Wait! Stop here you see, And write a very special message to me! A WELCOME wish to just say hi, To your favorite, newest little guy. On the front, the back, or any page, It’s something I will treasure all my ages.”

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We also showcased Eric and Jessica’s favorite childhood books.

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The centerpieces at one of the tables.

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The centerpieces from another angle.

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Not the best picture due to the sunlight but here is a photo of the centerpieces at the other table.

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Jessica’s college friends sitting at the table.

***

Now onto the exciting part, the food!

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A photo of Sarah, Jessica, and me before we plated the food and finished the last details.

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Melissa printed out food tags to match the font from the invitations. Of course I had to embellish them with a few pinwheels. :)

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I wrapped the silverware with a red napkin to keep with the color scheme and then added a book page napkin ring.

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My vision was to add a book page pinwheel to each napkin but when I factored in the time it would take, I decided it wasn’t worth it since it would just be something that was thrown away. :)

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Sarah did a wonderful job planning out the food items and corresponding them to the appropriate books.

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For Green Eggs and Ham, we made four different quiches as well as avocado deviled eggs.

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Sarah made a three-pea chicken salad to correspond with the book Peas and Thank You.

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We used Strega Nona to go with the yummy pasta salad Sarah’s mom made.

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We found a way to add veggies in by using The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

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To the left of Peter Rabbit, we served yogurt parfaits in little mason jars to go along with the book Jamberry.

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Of course we had to include some caterpillar skewers to represent The Hungry Caterpillar.

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I know I already included this photo, but I wanted to show it again to highlight the two other food items. Sarah made cream cheese muffins to go with the book If You Give a Moose a Muffin and we made Monkey Bread to go with Curious George.

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On the counter, we included the desserts and snacks. We had Oatmeal Coconut Bars to correspond with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and we had an assortment of cookies for If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. We also had herb-flavored popcorn (that Sarah made on the stove which was so yummy!) to go along with If You Take A Mouse to the Movies.

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My mom must have taken this photo without me knowing  when we were getting ready, but I wanted to use it to show the drinks counter (in the background) because we unfortunately didn’t get a photo of it head on. We didn’t worry about matching the drinks with books but included fruit-infused water, sparkling lemonade, Izzes, and sparkling water.

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We also served coffee since it was a brunch.

We also served coffee since it was a brunch.

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I didn’t get a better picture of the “Welcome Baby” pennant so this action shot will work. :)

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Isn’t Jessica’s belly so cute? :)

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After we ate we tested our knowledge about childhood storybooks and took a little quiz. I was not prepared for the fact that so many would get all 10 correct (so they got pats on the backs instead of prizes. Whoops!).
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An action shot of meeting reading I Love You Through and Through before giving the devotional.

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The happy couple at the end of the shower. :)

With Grateful Hearts

Posted on July 28th, 2014
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“Wait, what did you say?”

 

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“I’m going to be a big sister?? Does that mean I have to share??”

 

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“Well, if I can still play with my woofie, I think I’ll be okay.”

In case you didn’t guess it, we are so humbled and grateful to announce that we are expecting our second child in February. After the road we have walked with my cancer, we feel so blessed that I was able to get pregnant again. We do not take this gift lightly and humbly thank God for His provision. My heart still is so tender for those who desire to have a child and have not been able to yet, and I want you to know that if that’s you, I am sincerely praying for you and asking God to minister to you in a personal way. There were many times when hearing the exciting news like this broke my heart and brought me to my knees as I continued to wait. So please know that although we are very thrilled to share our news, I do not share it without empathy of those wishing for a different story for themselves. I ask God to tenderly meet you as He did for me as well.

There is so much to say but I wanted to post our news today since we had our 12-week appointment and heard the baby’s heartbeat. We would appreciate prayers for a healthy pregnancy for both me and baby. And also for prayers for sweet Olivia whose world is about to be rocked! I gave her a Big Sister book after we found out we were pregnant and I wanted to post this video of her reading the book the other day. It has become her favorite book to read and definitely my favorite thing these days is to listen to her “read.”

[**Well, I am having some difficulties uploading the video so check back soon!]

Thanks for all your prayers and support in this journey!

Caring Through Cancer

Posted on June 11th, 2014

Recently a dear woman in my Bible Study was diagnosed with cancer and I experienced that feeling that I know many felt when I was going through my cancer treatments: I want to help, but how? It can feel overwhelming to know where to even begin because there is so much we want to do but feel at a loss as to what would really encourage.

Although I wouldn’t have chosen to walk through cancer, one benefit was experiencing the amazing generosity of so many people in my life. Because of the way people loved me, I feel more equipped in how to love others through challenging experiences. This is not to say I always do it well; I think one of the most difficult parts about supporting others is making the time and following through with the desire to encourage and help. It is definitely an area I am trying to grow in and asking the Holy Spirit to prod my heart when I need it.

I thought I would share some of the ways that people in my life encouraged me so that if you are looking for ways to bless those you love who have an illness, you have a starting point. Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list so please feel free to share if you have another idea to add.

 

Meeting Emotional Needs through Encouragement

Many amazing friends encouraged my mind and spirit in such creative ways:

Mail

One friend organized many people in my life to send me a note so that I would have something in the mail each day. Every day I would look forward to discovering who sent me a card or package. Being the words person that I am, I loved hearing from so many loved ones and I have kept all of the cards to this day.

Another friend decided my chemo journey was like a marathon and since she had run one, she wrote me a new narrative about my race each week. At the end of my chemo, she sent me her medal and other things to symbolize that I endured the race. It was such a thoughtful gesture and I will never forget it.

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So many friends sent cards (whether they were a part of  “Operation Encourage Michelle” or not) and they truly uplifted me. It is amazing how a simple card can go such a long way. (And now that I have just gone through the death of my Grandma, I am reminded how much it means!) I wish I had taken a photo of my pantry door in my kitchen when I was going through chemo because it was covered with the cards I had received. (If you look closely in the photo below you can see some of the cards hung on the doors.). I needed to see those reminders daily, and so appreciated that people took time out of their busy schedules to drop me a note in the mail.

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[I am so grateful for all of the friends including this sweet one who ministered to me so tangibly during my cancer journey. Also please note the cards hung on the doors and the necklace I am wearing which I mention later in this post.]

Flowers

I am not necessarily a flower-person but especially when I was going through an illness where so much felt discouraging, the sight of flowers was so uplifting. And it really is true: when there are no words, flowers speak. My aunt and friend gave me rose plants, which were thoughtful because they lived beyond my illness and were a constant reminder of their thoughtfulness and God’s faithfulness. Another friend sent us a fruit bouquet, which was along the same lines because it brought me great cheer but it was also practical because we had as much fruit as we wanted to eat!

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Care Packages

Friends and family sent pajamas, slippers, movies, candles, sheets (to bring cheer to the hospital bed, pictured below) and so many other nurturing-type gifts. I still wear the pjs and when I do I think of how far I’ve come and it brings a deep sense of gratitude.  Jared’s aunt knit me a prayer blanket to put on when I was cold and I so appreciated her labor of love. Big or small ways that people reached out encouraged my heart.

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IMG_0939_2Devotionals

A couple of friends sent me some books that encouraged my heart.  The one that I connected with the most and highly recommend was entitled Praying Through Cancer: Set Your Heart Free From Fear. It was originally written for breast cancer patients but it included such wonderful truth and encouragement that it didn’t matter. Also there were excerpts for 90 days and each was only a page long, so it was very manageable with chemo brain! I also appreciated reading Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper. I recently heard about a book entitled Warrior in Pink by Vivian Mabuni. I have not read it but know people who think highly of the author who is on staff with Cru.

Music

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know how much music and lyrics encourage me so I really appreciated when friends sent me gifts related to music. Several friends sent me cds and a sweet friend made me her own cd of songs to encourage me. I played it almost every time I would drive down for an appointment.

I have always wanted to make a playlist of music that spoke to me during my treatments and journey. Maybe someday in my spare time I will do that (ha!), but in for now here are a few of my favorite songs that I would play on repeat:

  • “Healer” by Hillsong
  • “Healing Is in Your Hands” Christy Nockels
  • “Hosanna” by Christy Nockels
  • “How He Loves” David Crowder
  • “Heal the Wound” by Jami Jamgochian
  • “Our God”, “Need You Now” by Chris Tomlin
  • “Hope Now” by Addison Road
  • “Your Love Never Fails” by Jesus Culture
  • “After All” by Meredith Andrews
  • “Unredeemed” by Selah
  • “Cast My Cares” by Tim Timmons

Bible Verses

My thoughtful gift-giving sister-in-law ordered me a necklace with my favorite Bible verses (from Etsy and pictured in the first photo posted above) so that I could tangibly hold onto God’s promises. From that idea, I wrote down the Bible verses that spoke to my heart on a spiral notecard book. I brought that with me to each of my appointments so that when I was in the waiting room and needing some reassurance, I would pull it out and remind myself of truth.

Presence

Sometimes when there are no words, just your sheer presence is all that’s needed. So many friends came and sat with me at the hospital or in my home. I will never forget that a few friends and family members flew or drove in to spend a few days with me. It was also especially helpful to have someone else at my appointments so that I could have another set of ears to hear the information the doctor told me. Even though I knew I could go alone, having my mom, Jared, my mother-in-law or another friend offer to go with me truly spoke to me. I think it’s hard for so many of us to accept the help and encouragement of our loved ones but the persistence will speak volumes.

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[When in the hospital for several days, you do crazy things to make the time more comical!]

[I appreciated all of the friends who were truly "there" for me. Many not pictured as well!]

[I appreciated all of the friends who were truly "there" for me. Many not pictured as well!]

 Support

An organization called Inerman Angels was also helpful because it gathered people with all sorts of cancers together for support and encouragement. I also really appreciated getting together with those my age who had gone through cancer treatments. The camaraderie is irreplaceable when going through such an illness like cancer.

Prayer

Nothing is more powerful than prayer and nothing meant more to me than when people reached out to me to let me know they were truly praying for my healing. No card or flower could touch the power that prayer to a Sovereign God had!

 

Meeting Physical Needs in Tangible Ways

My friends also met so many of my physical needs and cared for me during my cancer road:

Hair

As I shared on this blog before, losing my hair was one of the most difficult parts of my journey. A group of my friends organized a “Hair-cutting Party” to shave off my hair. They brought food for tacos, we had a time of prayer and sharing, and then they shaved my hair. It was a time I will never forget and their encouragement through a very difficult time made it so much easier.

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Other friends and family members sent me scarves or hats. I felt so loved knowing they were thinking of me in that way, and I enjoyed having the variety to choose from each day.

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Wigs

Another dear friend shopped for a wig with my mom and me. I think her mission that day was to make me laugh by finding all of the ridiculous wigs, picking them out for me or trying them on! I look back on what could have been a difficult day with fond memories because of the laughter and encouragement.

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A note about this sensitive subject of losing your hair: Usually once your hair falls out (which as I mentioned above, it is much better to just shave/chop it off than to watch piece by piece fall out), it takes two to three months after treatments for your hair to come back enough to cover your head so you don’t need a wig or scarf. The investment of different cute hair accessories is worth it and will help normalize life as much as possible.

I was shocked to see how expensive wigs were but here are two helpful pieces of advice:

I ended up having two wigs—one I bought and one I received free. That way when I needed a little variety, I had it. The wigs are really hot and itchy on your head but some days when I was going out to dinner, I just wanted to have hair on my head! (Speaking of, there is a wig hair cap, which goes over the head before the wig, which helps some with the uncomfortable qualities of the wig. And there is also a sleeping hat that I wore because my head got cold at night. And then Jared would affectionately call me Michael Phelps because I looked like I was going for a swim!)

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Pampering Gifts

Because it is so hard to lose your hair, any other way to emphasize other beautiful features really is priceless. I did not know that I would lose my eyelashes and eyebrows, so splurging on some fun eye shadow helped. You can’t go wrong with earrings or other jewelry pieces either. I will never forget when one friend came to visit and painted my nails because she wanted me to feel a little pampered. There is also an organization called “Look Good, Feel Better” that I know has been so helpful to many.

Groceries

I also will never forget when one friend showed up at my door with two big bags of groceries and filled my fridge and pantry with delicious goodies. Another neighbor brought over a huge box filled with fruits and vegetables from Costco. Both of those kind gestures spoke volumes to me. One friend even brought me Graeter’s ice cream in the hospital!

Dinners

So many dear friends and neighbors cooked us dinner. One of my friends set up a calendar on www.mealbaby.com and friends filled in the boxes to bless me with meals. It was so helpful for Jared and me to not have to worry about cooking meals during that time. The effort it takes to make (or buy) the meal will never be wasted.

Remedies

Unfortunately, chemo can affect people in all different ways depending on the length of the treatment and kind of treatment. But there are a few side effects that are more or less “universal” and I’ve found a few ways (mostly through the advice of my kind friends) to help ease the discomforts.

  • For mouth sores, jolly ranchers, chloraseptic lozenges or spray for your throat, salt water gargles/listerine gargles and popsicles are all helpful. My nurse friends sent me hard candy in the mail which was a great, practical gift.
  • For nausea and tingling or loss of feeling in extremities, acupuncture and massage seem to help. A gift card for a massage could speak volumes.
  • For chemo brain, unfortunately I am not sure there is much to do with the brain fog, but I do know that acupuncture and rest helped.

I was fortunate to not have chemo for too long of a period so I do not feel like I am an “expert” in this area. Please share in the comments below if you have found a remedy for a chemo side effect that could help others.

Rides

Offering to drive the patient to or from cancer treatments can go a long way as well. I don’t think I ever went to an appointment by myself, which is a testament to my amazing friends, family, and husband.

Cleaning

I found out about an amazing service called Cleaning For a Reason that comes to cancer patients’ homes once a month and cleans your house for no cost. To find out more information, go to www.cleaningforareason.com. If they do not service your area, offering to come clean the house or do the laundry can speak volumes as well! Both my mom and mother-in-law cleaned our house from top to bottom and when I didn’t have enough energy to get up from the couch, that gesture served me so much.

Help

After my second surgery, my energy was very depleted. One of my friends offered to come over and decorate my house for Christmas. Seriously?What good friends! They wouldn’t let me do hardly anything but sit on the couch while they served me. It was so hard for me to let them love me that way, but it communicated so much care to me and I will never forget it.

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Integrative Centers

I feel blessed that God brought led me to a couple Integrative Medicine Centers that helped support my healing during and after cancer. I especially benefitted from The Block Center, who provided a nutritionist to help know how to eat food that could help keep my body strong. I also took many supplements to improve my immune system as well. I had never had acupuncture treatments before being diagnosed with cancer, but after my experience, I highly recommend it. There is a wide range of people and places connected to acupuncture, so I always chose to go to a place where the treatment was more in a doctor’s office setting and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable in any way.

***

It has been such an encouragement to me to relive some of the ways that people reached out to me as I was going through cancer treatments. I pray that this list can help jump-start for you ways to encourage people in your life.

And to those of you who reached out to me during my journey, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will never forget your kindness!

 

Super Smoothie Recipes

Posted on April 30th, 2014

wednesdaywisdom

I have been making and eating a healthy smoothie for over four years now. I have tweaked the recipe since I wrote about it and thought I would share it again. Mainly, I wanted to share it because I read an interesting article about a “Berry Brainy Blizzard Smoothie” that I wanted to post today as well. Annnnd…the real reason is it is finally getting warmer so smoothies sound much more appealing and refreshing!

My [tweaked] Super Savory Smoothie Recipe:

**Makes four smoothies.

2 Tbs. ground flaxseed [Make sure the flaxseed is ground so that you can receive all of the health benefits.]

2 Tbs. Barley Green [Read about the health benefits here and here. I bought mine through Ell Farm but I also found it online here.]

2 Tbs. Brewer’s Yeast [Read about the health benefits here. You can buy it online here or at Whole Foods.]

1-2 Tbs Whey Powder [Read about the health benefits here. My nutritionist recommended Biochem which you can find at Whole Foods.]

  • I do not use this any more because of the dairy component but maybe I should reread the health benefits and think about it. :)

½ tsp Cinnamon [Read about the health benefits here.]

1 6 oz. container organic yogurt

2 cups frozen berries [I buy frozen bags of Wild Blueberries and Mixed Berries at Costco but anything will work. Blueberries continue to be recommended for brain health. See the article here.]

1 banana (to make thicker)

A big handful (or two) of spinach or kale [Read about health benefits here.]

**Sometimes I add an avocado, a peeled orange or any other fruit that needs to be used.

Fill the remainder with water.

Blend!

  • I have to give a shout-out to my beloved Vitamix. I had no idea the world I was missing before I had it! I know it is super expensive but we decided it was worth it because I make smoothies so often. The smoothie is literally finished blending in two minutes and it takes another two minutes to clean the blender. Totally worth it in my book. (I bought mine at Costco which is the least expensive place I have found it.)

I was happy to see that my smoothie was similar to the “Anti-Flu Super Smoothie” that was posted on The Super Healthy Kids website. The author also includes really helpful information about the ingredient benefits as well.

And if you wanted to compare one more smoothie recipe, here is the “Berry Brainy Blizzard Smoothie.”

Any other ingredients you add in your smoothie that I haven’t mentioned? Please share!

Here’s to a healthy summer with lots of cups full of smoothies!

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Is it ready yet, Mommy?

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Olivia always goes to find her little cup for me to pour the smoothie into when she sees me get out the Vitamix. I love that she is on board too!

Trampled Death by Death

Posted on April 16th, 2014

wednesdaywisdom

I’ve been staring at the computer screen for the past several minutes trying to think how I should begin this blog post. At the time of loss, it is difficult to find words to express the feelings welling up inside.

Last Saturday, my sweet Grandma met Jesus face to face in heaven. I bet that was such a glorious experience for her and even as I type those words I know they don’t even begin to describe that moment. I take such comfort in knowing she is with Jesus and that because of our relationships with Jesus, we will see each other again. Actually, that truth has brought such immense comfort to my heart because I am so very, very sad that our time together on this earth is no more. She was so special to me and we have shared some very precious memories that I hold very dear.

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The morning after she died, Jared and I went to church. In all honesty, I wasn’t feeling up to going to church as my heart felt really fragile and sad. Not long after we slipped in, the band began playing Matt Maher’s song, “Christ is Risen.” As the lyrics played on the screen, tears filled my eyes because it was as if Jesus was reminding me of what I really needed to hear. Being the first time that I have lost someone so special to me, I found such solace knowing that heaven wasn’t just a nice thought but it actually was real and when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, He meant it. And not only that, but because of my Grandma’s faith in Jesus, she was there at that very moment. In my finite mind, I could picture the joy she must be experiencing being healed,  whole, and fully who God made her to be. It made me smile.

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When we sang the line in the song “Christ is risen from the dead trampling over death by death,” tears choked my words and all I could do was stand there nodding. I will never forget that moment because I internalized the truth that Jesus trampled death by dying Himself. It wasn’t just a thought in the clouds but it was an actual promise. What hope! Death was not the end for those who know Christ, and I have never been more comforted of that truth.

A dear friend of mine lost a family member this past week as well and she made the comment that they do not grieve without hope because they are “Easter people.” I have never thought of it in that way, but how grateful I am that because Jesus died for my sins and then conquered death by rising again, I do not need to despair about death. Yes, I am immensely sad that my Grandma is no longer with me on earth, but I am deeply comforted of the promise of heaven. We are Easter people with deep hope amid our grieving.

I know this Easter will be special as I continue to internalize these truths and picture my Grandma dancing on the streets of gold with Jesus. May these truths rest on your heart in a fresh way as well.

Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely you bled, for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bow to none but heavens will
No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown
No burden great can hold you down
In strength you reign
Forever let your church proclaim

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
Our God is not dead, he’s alive! he’s alive!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Rise up from the grave…

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My Grandma made me a quilt for my wedding. This was just one example of the selfless love she poured out on us.

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My grandparents were married 62 (and 3/4) years and celebrated every anniversary with a sundae. What a legacy of committed love they have left for us.

They have been so involved in my life, through the ups and downs.

They have been so involved in my life, through the ups and downs.

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Our last time shopping at garage sales together – a past time she taught us how to do!