Inside Shadows..

IMG_7878-0.JPGAuthors are mysterious people.. Citizens who live in secretive places .. with secretive lives.. right?

Well …that isn’t me.

I am just an average Joe (or Joe-etta)! I’m the mom who donates all her daughter’s old books to the school library.. in a sweatshirt and jeans.. and a messy ponytail. (gasp– shocking I know).. I’m the lady who you pass on the road, singing her heart out. I’m the stranger who smiles at the toddlers in grocery carts… and yes.. I am the lady who cries in the lobby of the school when her son has a hard day.

I am NOT mysterious at all.

So maybe I can’t really be an author?!?

HOWEVER… I have written a book.. Shadows!!! (note the extremely proud.. and excited smile.. almost like it is my newborn child)… and four months later?!? Four months after contacting a publisher .. it is published. On that day?  The day that my book, Shadows, went “Live” online? YUP… I was the lady doing the happy dance .. in her pj’s! I was so happy to have that long process done.. and so happy to be able to introduce my beloved characters to the world.

Now if you are looking for spoilers for Shadows?? Then you would be in the wrong place… I love that no one expects the twists and turns in my book. I love that readers say they (literally) can’t put Shadows down. I love that my friends call me to say they love where Shadows leaves off.. but that they couldn’t have predicted the ending. And if I gave you spoilers?? Well that would.. umm… “spoil” the surprise for you… So in a sense.. by not giving you spoilers.. I am giving you a gift.

But this morning? This morning as I sit here, sipping my chai.. all warm and cozy in my favorite sweater and my thick.. warm.. wool socks.. I realize that I can really identify with Emma..

Shadows follows the life of Emma.. Emma Fern Wells… Emma feels she is plain. Plain with no distinguishing characteristics. Everything about her is average… and she is ok with this. Add to this that Emma is busy.. so busy that she feels like she has no identity.. no chance at being noticed by anyone. And she accepts this.. content for now. It sounds dramatic.. but it isn’t! Emma just… exists…

I can relate to Emma… In my life I don’t stand out.. and I like it that way. Why? Well.. because I like to watch people and observe their natural behaviors. When you don’t stand out? Well… everyone relaxes around you. It’s a wonderful life! And I understand busy.. (Ok.. my husband says I crave busy.. While I don’t know that I would go so far.. I will admit I volunteer my time freely.)

But here is where our similarities stop..

For one.. Emma is young.. (alas.. with 2 children taller than me.. I cannot claim youth.. Although I am not sure at what point I became “not young”.. hmm?? I seem to have missed the transition)..

Beyond that?? Emma stays focused on her work long enough to finish each task.. She lets her mind wonder while she churns her butter .. but her feet stay firmly planted. Me??? Well the chapter in Shadows .. the one where Emma burns the cookies? Sigh.. that describes me much better.. especially when I am in the mood to write..

Now.. I placed this young (and focused) girl in the community of Vermontville, Michigan.. shortly after it was settled.. so 1850 era. I used common names in this valley.. common family names… and the fact that it was a farming community.. Then? Then my book took flight… the characters came alive… I laughed with them.. cried with them.. and fell in love with them..

But the storyline? I have had that in me for awhile.. long before I moved to this picturesque valley. Where do my stories come from? Sometimes from a section of a song.. you know the phrase that has you wondering what happened in the songwriter’s life that would make them write it? My ideas are sometimes born in that moment. Sometimes when I see people in public.. with happiness or love.. or worry.. painted on their face.. Ideas are sometimes born in their emotions. Sometimes when I read other books.. by other authors.. the characters that are overlooked.. the storylines they leave undeveloped.. ideas are just waiting to be born there.. Sometimes during research, I will come across old traditions, commonplace crimes of the times, historic events, natural disasters.. weird unexplained phenomenons… I have found these facts to be a lot stranger (and more unpredictable) than fiction. In these facts.. stories are just begging to be told.

But a lot of the time? Ha.. a lot of my story ideas are born from my dreams.

I have some of the craziest.. most vivid dreams.. Dreams that seem so real.. I am still thinking about them when I wake. In fact, well into my day.. I will still be wondering how they would have ended. From these dreams? YUP.. the best of my ideas are born.

But storylines aren’t straight.. they curve.. and stop… They veer off.. and merge with other storylines.. THIS “maze” of storylines?  This is what makes a good story.. This is what kept me up typing until my eyes wouldn’t stay open.. This is what prompted me to take a notebook with me to every appointment.. every meeting… every spare second that I could jot down notes…

Confused?

Ok.. take my life… I am so excited about my book being published!?! So excited that I do a crazy book lady dance every time there is a “first” in my life.. First book sold online.. first blog read in a new country.. first book sold overseas.. first review posted online… etc.. you get the picture. But my excitement? It doesn’t overwhelm me like you would think.. Why? Because life doesn’t travel in a straight line. I have kids.. I have a family… I have responsibilities.. ha…. I have LAUNDRY…  and right now I have a 3 year old nephew who has to have 18 months of chemotherapy. If those things didn’t affect my excitement? Well? Then I would be a robot..

In order for Emma to be realistic? In order for this character to seem ALIVE… she has to let her surroundings affect her. She has to let her friend’s life-changes affect her thoughts. She has to let her previous encounters effect her future actions. She HAS to let her emotions affect her choices…

If I can make Emma comes “alive” for a reader? Then they won’t be able to put her “life” .. her story.. down. They will want to keep reading until they know how her story ends..

.. and for me… life doesn’t end..

So neither does Emma’s story….

Be prepared..

IMG_6998Ever since the day my daughter was born, she has proven to be unfailingly … unpredictable. If I thought she would act a certain way, she would always pick the other. If I thought she would do great at something, she would refuse to try. She was SO unpredictable.. it was almost predictable..

As a young mother, I decided I was going to rock my infant daughter to sleep every night (because my wise mother had not allowed us to rock our baby brothers)… At 3 weeks old? At 3 weeks old, my daughter decided she had enough of that. She screamed until I laid her in her bed. She peacefully fell asleep on her own. This pattern continued with having to feed herself.. dress herself.. pick her own clothes. What ever I thought she would choose? She would suddenly chose something else.

I decided early on.. I was going to have to be prepared for anything.

My motto became… BE PREPARED!

I remember one camping trip fondly. My daughter was 2.. and fairer than any child I had ever seen. So I dressed her in a swimsuit.. in case she got wet in the wash tubs again.. or got too close to the water pumps… or “accidentally” spilled her juice on her clothes again. Then I slathered her from head to toe in a strong sunscreen.. that way I wouldn’t have to call out to her to stay in the shade.  Setting her down outside the tent, I then sprayed her with bug spray .. so the mosquitoes wouldn’t carry her away.

With a nod of satisfaction… satisfied that I had been as prepared as I possibly could be.. I turned back into the tent to prepare my second born.. my easy going son.

I had only JUST started dressing my son… when the laughter started. I am not talking about cute giggles. I don’t even mean a short laugh of amusement… This was full blown laughter.. and it was coming from the adults in our camping group. Trying to catch his breath, my husband called out, “Hey honey.. come here a minute… and… and bring the camera.”

Scrambling toward the door… I stepped outside to see my beautiful blond haired child.. covered in black dirt… from head to toe. While I was preparing to protect my daughter’s porcelain complexion, I happened to create the perfect glue. So perfect in fact, that when she laid down and rolled around in that dark sandy black soil? It stuck instantly to her.

And in the middle of that dirt caked face? A beautiful smile…

So I laughed with my family.. and reached for the camera. But I vowed.. I would be better prepared next time.

Then one night, I tucked my second grade daughter into bed.. and reached for the book on her night stand. Startled, I realized it wasn’t the same book that I had been reading to her.. It wasn’t the book I had been reading to her every night for the last week..one chapter at a time.

“Where is the book we were reading yesterday?” I asked her, confused.

“Oh I finished that one .. that is the next one in the series,” she replied nonchalantly.

“You finished it?” I repeated, still confused. “How? We only read chapter 10 last night..”

Taking a deep patient breath, my daughter replied.. “You left off where it was getting good.. I had to know how it would end. So I took it to school today,” she finished with a shrug.

“But we were reading it together,” I stated bewildered.

“You go ahead and finish it,” she encouraged. “But tonight you can start this one.” Pointing to the book I held in my hand.

In that moment? In that moment, I realized I was never going to be fully prepared. I was always going to be surprised by her.

So I decided…

I would go on being prepared.. but I needed to let the control go. Or at least the illusion of control. You see?!?  I never really had control. And I knew that I needed to just let the rest go.. I needed to let the NEED to feel prepared for ANYthing go.. and just lean on faith.

Now that my daughter is a teenager.. YUP.. she is still unpredictable.. But she no longer surprises me every time. We have come to expect her to be unpredictable. Always taking her two choices.. knowing that she will choose the only option we didn’t offer… We have just come to expect it.

So my new motto has become.. BE prepared and leave the rest to God..

This works for me.. most of the time. I still prepare myself for several scenarios… and occasionally I am still surprised by the unexpected. And occasionally? Occasionally, I am unprepared for it.

No matter how many times I talk myself through it? I am always surprised when someone lets me down. When someone that I look up to, behaves in a way I could not predict… in a way that disappoints me… it always takes me by surprise. I have to force myself to give that surprise back to God.. and to lean on faith. Faith that THAT person is dealing with unpredictable surprises of their own. The faith that everyone needs understanding.

It works well.. until the next time.

Recently, my family had something happen.. that none of us were expecting.. and we certainly weren’t prepared.

My youngest brother and his wife have a 3 year old son. Beautiful 3 year old boy.. with a beautiful soul.  As he progressed through his “terrible” 3’s? We, as a family, prepared to help guide the independence.. we prepared to keep a straight face when funny sassafras came out of his independent mouth… we prepared to pretend to be firm when needed. We all want this amazing boy to be the BEST that he can possibly be.. so we prepared to support his parents when needed.

But we prepared for the wrong thing…

My nephew was diagnosed with NF this spring. NF stands for Neurofibromatosis. A genetic disorder that we all believed to be characterized by large birthmarks .. and cyst growth on the skin. Again we prepared.. we prepared to make him feel comfortable in his skin. With these growths.

But again.. we prepared for the wrong thing…

Neurofibromatosis (NF) can cause tumors to grow on nerves… and cysts on bones… and anywhere.. on any organ system in the body.

My nephew? Well this beautiful  3 year old boy has cysts growing on his leg bones.. causing so much pain that he can’t sleep.

We weren’t prepared for that….

Then through a routine eye exam, they found what the specialists knew could happen. A non-cancerous tumor growing on his optic nerve.. behind his eye. Non-cancerous prepares our hearts to not be scared. But in fact, these tumors are too risky to operate on. When left unchecked, a growing tumor can damage his eye sight. The solution?

Chemotherapy.

Our beautiful, sweet, amazing nephew… needs chemotherapy..

We weren’t prepared for that either…

I don’t think anyone could be prepared for that…

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn; and a time to dance;”  Ecclesiates 3:1-4

God has never promised us a perfect life… and it is not even close. But He has given us other promises. Promises to give us strength.. promises that we need not fear what He has planned for us.. promises that all things will make sense someday. And in these verses.. He tells us that after the tears.. there will again be laughter. Sometimes that laughter comes in the middle of the tears.. like a rainbow in the midst of a storm. Sometimes… it’s much later… after the storm is but a memory.

I don’t think we will be able to fully prepare this young boy …or ourselves… for the next 18 months.. But we can definitely try .. The rest? The rest we will have to take on faith. Faith that God will be there and get us through what we aren’t prepared for. That he will get this young boy and his parents through whatever they aren’t prepared for.

I have a feeling that my nephew will be more prepared for his chemotherapy treatments then us adults will be. After all.. he has 2 amazing parents with a deep faith in God. But it is always hard to see a child struggle through hard treatments.

So this week? This week was my time to weep.. and it was my time to break down.

But next week? I am praying that next week will begin the time of healing for my nephew.. and a time for laughter.. and a time to build up .. To build up in preparation for this road we will travel with this beautiful boy.. and his parents..

And in 18 months… I am praying it will be our time to dance…

The year of the locusts…

IMG_0031 (2)

Once upon a time.. a long, long time ago… the locust took over…

Actually in truth, it was 1875.. and the worst of the locusts were only there for the summer.  So they should have called it the Summer of the locusts. (Just my opinion, of course..)

During this Summer of the locusts.. Farmers watched their fields of mature crops get eaten to the ground by black “clouds” of these locusts. A locust is just a grasshopper, right?!? Such a simple insect.. seemingly harmless on it’s own. But in clouds of 1000’s? Clouds that took five DAYS to fly over towns on the prairie? Five days that they blocked out the sun. In these clouds, the locusts took everything… Crops, leaves from trees, clothes hanging on lines, ax handles, fence posts… everything…

A tiny insect most often no longer than an inch and a half.. brought farmers to their knees.

If the locusts had just eaten all the clothes on the line.. the farmers may not have lost their farms.  If they had just eaten the ax handles, the animals may not have faced starvation.  If they had simply ate the crops.. the farmers may not have had to seek shelter with family elsewhere… But these small insects ate everything in their path.

Some of these farmers did give up. Total loss of faith. And I have to admit I can see why… Knowing your children have no clothes.. no food for tomorrow.. no way to chop wood to cook with… nothing to feed your cattle.. the cattle you were fattening up for market.  With NO WAY to support your family? Yes.. I can easily see why they would pack their families up and move on.

And still… many farmers did not give up.

Maybe their losses weren’t as severe. Maybe it hadn’t been wash day for them.. maybe their sheets, towels and extra clothes were safely tucked inside. Maybe little “Johnny” had remembered to take care of the ax and the rakes… sparing their handles.  Maybe they had already put up a supply of hay before the locusts came. There is no way for me to know for sure if the severity of their losses affected their decision to stay put.. and to have faith…

But have faith they did.  Many farmers picked themselves up and replanted their crops in June. Not knowing if the crops would even grow in the typically dry, hot months… Going on nothing but faith.. they re-planted. And hoped…

They were gifted with unexpected rains that summer and their crops flourished. Their immense faith was rewarded.

  “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten– the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm– my great army that I sent among you.” Joel 2:25 NIV

What a great promise that God gave His faithful followers… Those who showed faith and replanted.. God repaid them their lost crops. Those who lost their faith.. those who packed up their hungry families and moved on? They moved on– empty handed.

How could they have such faith? Faith placed in a God who admits that HE “sent” the great army “among them”? How can faith withstand that statement? There could be many reasons.. but to me? To me there is another promise that stands out in God’s Word.. A promise that echoes with comfort for me..

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also placed ignorance in the human heart, so that no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV

Why locusts?

On this beautiful fall day, why am I writing about locusts?

After weeks of not typing a word.. why are my first words about locusts?

It’s simple… this was my Summer of Locusts.

Now it is true I have quite a few grasshoppers in my garden.. but my locusts don’t really jump around and eat tomato plants.

This year has been long months of trials after trials… you know how it goes…. A screw in your brand new car tire.. unexpected expenses.. sickness.. medical mysteries… teenage “stages”… disrupted plans.. squash bug invasions.. a fungus killing off half your garden… delays.. watching a child suffer… and funerals.

As I watch the world around me.. I see that I am not the only one suffering from Locusts. A young family buried their newborn..  A beautiful soul called out for prayers as her father slowly left this world.. My whole family grieved when my uncle was unexpectedly called home.. a beloved sister in law lost both of her parents within months of each other and watching a young nephew suffer.

Oh yes.. we have all had a Summer of Locusts…

And what have we done?

What have I done?

I hate to admit it.. but my Locusts brought me to my knees.  I am the farmer who collapsed to her knees in the dirt. Shocked as I looked out at the destruction left behind. Helpless in that moment.. speechless against the pain.. but not hopeless. I held that hope tightly in my hands.. fearing if I loosened my grasp that I would lose it completely.

As I looked around.. among what remained.. I saw things out of place with the grief.. things out of place with the sadness and stress.. Little things. Little things that show God’s promise to repay our losses. I watched my daughter use her voice.. her gift from God.. to comfort others. I watched people step forward to share stories of how my Uncle touched their lives.  I watched my parents tearfully give their beloved brother into God’s care. I watched with pride as my little brother fought through his grief and sang song after song with me in my Uncle’s hospital room… singing through tears and choked voices. Even through my tears and shock, I could see the Blessings God was repaying.. my book successfully being published.. a letter from our new exchange student.. watching my nieces and nephews display love and comfort to others.. watching them grow into their beautiful souls… and feeling the love and support all around me.

So I pulled myself to my feet.. wiped my tears and began picking up the pieces.  But I still clung to that hope. Holding it tightly in my hands lest it fall apart too..

“When are you going to write again?” my niece asked me one day. And then she asked it again the following day.. and the day after that.  She might as well have been asking me, “When are you going to loosen your grasp on your hope? When are you going to trust it? Plant it in the ground .. and with a little faith.. watch it grow…”

I think I will…

I think I just did…

..and in the end… it will be beautiful…

We got this…

kayak pic

Our annual Family camp is a fun time for everyone … and I would never miss it. Swimming, taking hikes, great food, games, kayaking, water balloon fights.. lots of photographs.. and laughter. Then at night everything slows down with singing and talking around the campfire.

But camp can get a little stressful for some of us. Whether you are a mom of twin babies.. or a parent with cranky kids… or my own child is having an OCD day.. With 19 cousins? We are bound to have at least one set of parents who are over-loaded.

THAT is where the kayaks come in…

We have a lot of kayaks.. the cousins will all set off in large groups to explore the world unknown… explore a hidden cove .. or go around the island.. There are always animals and sites to see…  perfect for adventurous kids…

But sometimes? They are perfect for parents… You see? We put stressed out parents into kayaks and push them out into the lake.

Those stressed out parents always look back once and call out, “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” and a promised, “We won’t be gone long.”

With a laugh, we call back, “Take your time–We got this..” And we prepare ourselves to distract, cuddle and entertain.. And we plan on taking that responsibility until the parents come back.. relaxed and rested..

As a parent of a child with special needs? That time in a kayak is amazing.. Our family always chooses small rustic campgrounds with remote lakes.. Where the kids can kayak easily and safely. Without fear of fast boats.. and small enough we can always see where the kids are at.

So when we launch our kayak onto that lake? It is extremely peaceful. The wind whips away the sounds of the world around you.. as you gracefully slide through the water. As you paddle further and further from camp, that peace seeps in .. and you lose track of all time. The noise (and stresses) from camp disappear .. and all you can see is the lake .. reflecting like a mirror as you drift along.

I imagine that is how heaven feels. That peace that fills you as you drift. Occasionally looking back toward camp… the noise and worries hidden from you… so all you know is the peace…..

At family camp this year, we missed someone. My uncle is pretty sick and was unable to make his annual visit.. He was unable to bring his Arizona tea and small gifts.. He was unable to brighten camp with his laughter and teasing…

As we pray everyday.. every hour.. that God will touch him and heal him if it is in His will … I am preparing myself in case God is calling my uncle home. I can’t imagine not having him come to our family holiday celebrations, my kid’s plays and especially family camp. But I do know that God has a plan.. a plan that is perfect.

I also know that my uncle feels he has unfinished business here. He would be leaving behind a son and a grandson.. but my uncle trusts God to know what is best for him..

It is kind of like that kayak ride… As we put my uncle in the kayak .. and launch him into the water… he is saying to us, “I’ll be right back.. as soon as my body heals.” And I really hope he will..

But if God wants him to keep going? If God is calling my uncle home?

Then.. I don’t want my uncle to worry…

With tears in our eyes … we will call back to him,

“We’ll miss you.. but until we see you again… We got this!”

My garden…

ImageLast year, we pulled the most beautiful zucchini out of our garden.  Beautiful and huge.  And far too many for our family alone to eat.  In fact, we had so many?? … that we dubbed 2 of them the “twins” and took to carrying them around in preparation for the birth of twin cousins we were looking forward to… 

I love to watch my husband work in our garden.  

Night after wintery night, he maps out his garden.  Maps out and plans where to plant the varieties.  Ordering his chosen seeds well before he could even dream of planting them.  Then my husband starts to prep the ground.  Tilling… and tilling… then tilling it again.. Just when I think he must be bored beyond imagination… with tilling… he is finally ready to plant.  So.. he carefully paces out the rows.  He paints the row markers.  And then it begins… We follow the directions on each little packet.. 12″ apart… 1/4″ deep…. plant in rows… plant in hills… build trellis…. Each little seed gets its own specialized growing conditions… 

And then we wait for them to grow…

Water daily… plant in full sun… fertilize… water….

Then wait….

My husband is so sweet those first weeks… when he walks his carefully marked garden looking for signs of life…. The joy from those first sprouts?  Beautiful to behold….

And then the weeds start to grow… 

Weeds are unimaginably horrid things… they grow where nothing else can grow… And grow well… Soon?!?  Soon tall, healthy looking weeds tower over those tiny little sprouts struggling to grow.  

And we begin to pull them… On hand and knee, we pull each weed from the base… hoping to get the whole root system with it so that it won’t resurface.  After an hour?  After an hour.. we start to simply grab handfuls of weeds and pull… not caring about the whole root…

After weeks and weeks of fruitless weeding… Days and days of weeding ..only to see the same weeds resurface again and again…?  We buy a bottle of professional weed killing spray…. 

Then we turn our attention back to the care of our plants.. My husband makes sure they are watered when it doesn’t rain… builds supports where needed… 

Over and over… day after day… 

Until harvest…. 

Sometimes we find that no matter how much work we put into a crop.. they turn out deformed.. or small in size… And sometimes they don’t grow at all… 

Now deformed fruit.. is fruit that looks DIFFERENT from the typical crop… our curved neck squash?  It never “curved”… But most of the time.. deformed fruit tastes just as sweet… It is harder to show it off to your friends or brag it up… but it is just as enjoyable… Small fruit is the same… 

But our zucchini?  Those were something to behold… Showing pictures of a beautiful zucchini over a foot long?  That is easily brag-able.  To have such obvious evidence of ALL your hard work?  

Truly satisfying….

Sometimes I feel like parenting is like gardening… 

We carefully plan the size of our garden on cold wintery nights…. Order all the supplies we will need WELL before we will ever need them… Talking about the special instructions we think we will need to follow… 

Then we wait… Wait and see what God has given us to grow.

Sometimes we don’t get what we expect .. Boy versus a girl.. artist versus an athlete… Or TWINS…. 

Sometimes we get deformed crops.. disabilities we hadn’t planned for… disorders we have to read up on… But these crops tend to be the sweetest… but they are harder to brag up…

NOW.. I said “harder” to brag up.. not impossible… my son has Autism.. and a splash of Mood disorder… and I brag him up all the time… Just takes a different audience… And my son definitely has his own fan club…

But still you water them… you give them plenty of sunlight (praise and love)… you build a “trellis” if you need to give them extra support… and fertilize them (My son cleans me out of “fertilizer” daily)…. and then there is nothing to do but pull the weeds that spring up…. 

Those weeds?  Those weeds are everywhere… weeds grow by your “prize” kids… they grow by your “average” kids.. and they grow by the “hard to brag on” kids… Weeds grow EVERYWHERE… Honestly???  Honestly sometimes I would prefer to pull crabgrass and Canadian thistles.. when you compare them to bad attitudes, rolling eyes, bad words, exasperated sighs, bad grades, aggression, irritating habits.. or medical issues.. (or heaven help us drugs and alcohol)… But if you don’t pull those weeds?  Then pretty soon they over run your kids.. and your garden!  Just like your crops.. your kids will still continue to grow with the “weeds” stealing their sunlight… but they won’t be as strong.. and you won’t want to show them off to your friends and family.  

I know.. I know.. kids don’t actually need sunlight to grow..  But when a child’s most obvious traits are bad habits.. snotty phrases.. stubborn silence… That child may as well be covered in weeds.. It is harder to smile warmly (at least genuinely) at a child covered in bad habits… It is harder to hug a child who is stiff with resentment… It is harder to shower pride on a low achiever… So in effect?? YUP.. those weeds steal the sunlight in your child’s life..

So at the end of the day.. when I am exhausted… and my daughter shows signs of “sassafrass tree” growing on her roots… I can chose to ignore it this once.. to save my energy.. hoping it will go away.. or I can choose to pull it up by its base… and watch carefully for signs of its return… 

And I really don’t want anything to steal my daughter’s sunlight.. 

Is it Enough?

IMG_7166 (2)I have always wanted to have a lot of kids.  You will notice that I didn’t say “have a lot of babies”… Don’t get me wrong.. I love babies.. I could sit and hold my twin nephews all day if I had time.. and I long to hold my far off nieces… But my dream of a house full of kids was a little different than you could imagine…

And God’s plan for me was far different than even I imagined…

You see.. even as a child… I wanted to adopt all the children in the world who needed a family… all the children who needed love… who needed safety.. all the kids who needed a listening ear.. or a shoulder to cry on…  I knew I was going to need a BIG house..  But as a child I felt like that was my calling… and it continues to live in my heart to this day.

You may think that once I gave birth to my own two beautiful babies… That once I looked into their precious faces… I would change my mind… That once I had 1 girl and 1 boy of my own I would be quite content with my own family… You would be wrong.  My children ARE beautiful.. inside and out… They are everything a parent could wish for… but I still feel God has called on me to have a lot of children.

God has a plan for me… and it has involved a number of children .. but God did NOT plan for those children to be of my own flesh and blood.  God even used my husband to guide me to the right path.  For my husband?  2 pregnancies were quite enough… Why?!?  THAT my friends is a tale for another day… What I will say?  Sometimes God whispers His plans in a still small voice… sometimes He uses a megaphone…  My husband heard God’s voice loud and clear…

Today I have over 40 kids who live in my heart.  Over 40 kids whom I pray for.. 40 kids whose pictures Bless my shelves.  40 kids who are scattered all over these United States…

17 of those kids are my nieces and nephews… 17 kids with bits and pieces of my siblings… a few with bits and pieces of myself.. 17 Blessings whom I love to see when ever time allows… 17 kids who range from newborn to age 21…

Over the last 16 years, I have accepted children into my home on a daily basis.  I have lost track of the exact count of children shared with me through the years…   but I could give you every child’s name and age.. Every child I cared for while their parents had to work.  Every child I cared for while their parents took a much needed break.  Every child I cared for while their parents mourned a loss… while they needed to be somewhere else.  And then I returned these children to their parents at the end of the day.. the end of the week.. and once .. I returned a child at the end of an extended stay.  When I moved home to Michigan?  It broke my heart to say good-bye to those pieces of my heart.  I go to visit them when ever time and money allow.. but I frequently miss them… So?  So.. I follow each child in pictures (internet is a Blessing to me).. and I pray for each child in turn..

Today?  On this exact moment in time?  I have 2 daughters…. (and a son)…. Two daughters who are 16 years old.  Two daughters who are reluctant to go to sleep at night… who hate to get up in the morning.. two daughters who beg for a pop (different flavors of course..)… two daughters who eat chocolate… two daughters who love ice cream… love to sing at the top of their lungs… who love to laugh… Two daughters who love life…

The difference between them?  One was born here in Michigan… the other was born Egypt…

YUP.. my second daughter is borrowed.  My Egyptian daughter is part of an exchange program.  A program designed to promote understanding of other cultures and religions from around the world.  A program designed to help promote peaceful relations around the world.  Through this program I have come to realize .. that teenagers around the world are pretty much the same.  They all love to laugh… they all love to LOVE.. they all love to have fun… they love to sing  (I have heard the song “Let it Go” in a number of languages)!!!   They all think their country is the best at times.. and the worst at others… The teenagers in this program are the bravest kids I have met.. strong kids with hopes and dreams all their own.. but each one still needed a safe and loving environment for the year that they are here in the US..

We were Blessed to be chosen to Host our Egyptian daughter for half of this school year… Parts of the year were tougher than others… Struggling to master a tough language… Struggling to fit into a different culture… Struggling to learn (and pass) hard school classes…. but those struggles are not what I will remember.  I remember the first time our second daughter held a chicken.. I remember the squeals when she saw her Easter basket… the first time she caught a fish… I will remember the excitement of prom dresses.. the laughter through the cracks of a door… and I will remember the duets sung at loud volumes.. at all hours of the day.

This daughter born into another family?  She has firmly planted herself in my heart… Her strength.. her love… her smiles.. her desire to become the best person possible.. through any tough circumstance…  I am so happy that I was Blessed with the opportunity to allow her into our home.. the opportunity to drive her back and forth to school.. the opportunity to cheer her on at games… to sew a dress for her… to make sure she had enough to eat… and the opportunity to give her a hug when she needed it.

Through out the month of June.. small pieces of my heart will scatter around the world.  As the students from this exchange program go home .. to finally see their families again after almost a year.. many of these students will take a piece of my heart with them.  Brazil, Germany, Mexico.. Pakistan, Indonesia, Japan… Belgium… and a good sized piece to India too.  And a large chunk of my heart with travel to Egypt next week….

You may think I feel good because I am making a difference in so many lives…

It does feel good.  It feels good to see smiles instead of tears… It feels good to hear laughter in any language..

But I don’t think that is what God’s plan is for me.. You see every time I take a child into my heart … It changes me… It changes the way I see the world.. It changes the way I think… and sometimes it changes the way I breathe…

Next Wednesday, when I take my Egyptian daughter to the airport… when I struggle to get her through check-ins and security checks.. when I struggle to breathe… While I am struggling to NOT cry until after she is safely on the plane home to her family… I will not regret one moment … not one tear.. I will not regret taking this child into my home .. or letting her into my heart.  Because the hurt of saying “Good-bye.. for now,”  is nothing compared to the Blessings I have received…

You may ask… Is it enough?  Is it ENOUGH of a Blessing to suffer through the pain?

Yes… I think it is..

Is it enough?  Enough kids in my heart?  Enough chunks of my heart scattered around the world?  Am I now content?

I would have to say No… I feel that God has more planned for me… more to Bless me with…

And who am I … to deny myself a Blessing?

Don’t mind the dust…

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We are having an open house tomorrow for our exchange student… our beloved Egyptian daughter.

And I wanted my house to be perfect.. ok.. I wanted the garage to be perfect.  My house is too small.. and the weather too nice to have a gathering indoors.  So my goal was to organize and clean my garage… so in the end it wouldn’t look like a garage.

Well… Garage.. slash… sewing room.. slash storage.. slash art supplies.. slash… Yes, my garage is very multi-purpose.. But my hope was to disguise the “multi”… But alas it was not to be. The shelf I ordered to organize the drawers of overflowing art supplies.. came 3 days late.. arriving late Thursday. Everything I cleaned would get messed back up.. My chickens followed me everywhere… Every complication under the sun.. complicated my week. Nothing went right…

Add to that my teary-eyed-ness as our time with our exchange daughter is coming to an end..

You guessed it.. my garage is barely organized. … I was obviously not thrilled…

But with all the complications that frustrated me to tears… I also had surprises.. 3 surprises to be exact… 3 separate surprise visits from family and friends.. Each visit bringing smiles and laughter with it… It felt just like Christmas. With every smile I began to relax..  I could hear God’s still small voice whispering to me…

What is this really for?

So tomorrow when people begin to arrive at my house… They will see totes and totes of my preschool teacher “tools”. (You never know when you may be called to teach preschool again.  I have to be ready..)  They will see totes of costumes. They will see baskets of material stacked in front of my sewing station… And they will probably EVEN see a toy that we missed picking up from my nephews playtime today…

And they will see me smile… because no one really cares if my garage is cleared. They don’t care if I condensed my teaching totes. They don’t care that I have 2 totes that still need to be unpacked.

Tomorrow is about celebrating our Egyptian daughter… one of the most amazing girls I have ever met… Celebrating that God chose to Bless Us with her…

So that is what we will do….

Food for thought…

If you came to dinner at my house… you might think that you would want to pass on seconds.  You see..  my house is Gluten free.  Well to be exact… we are Gluten free… dairy free… yeast free… corn free… low sugar… and 20 other free’s.  Everything else is on a 4 day rotation.

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Master chef

In fact.. you may think we eat sticks and twigs… (Ha.. we actually bought a brand of pretzels called “sticks and twigs”… we didn’t buy them twice.. yuck!)  There are a lot of “non-desirable” healthy gluten free options out there.  But we have also found very good options as well.

We hosted an exchange student this year.. and she was more than a little worried about our food.  When her first meal was spaghetti… followed by Angel food cake… she soon relaxed.  She came to realize that dinner may be rushed (especially when I get lost in “Writing Land” or Researching.. or between practices and games)… but it all tastes relatively normal… And fresh… Cooking Gluten free (and corn free) usually means cooking from scratch… So no Chicken with Shake n Bake… But we still have breaded chicken.  We still have Parmesan chicken… We still have roast.. we still have gravy… and …we STILL have brownies…

Gluten free cooking takes a little practice.. and was very overwhelming at first.  So we changed tactics.. Instead of focusing on the things we could no longer have.. We made a list of all the things we COULD eat… and went from there.  Technically.. I went to the store.. with headphones and classical music… I read the labels of 100’s of boxes.  I found which mustard was gluten free.. which dressings… which taco shells… which cereals… which chips… which hot dogs… You get the picture…  It was a lot of research (in the beginning)…

But it was worth it…

It was SOOOOO worth it….

You see.. I see my son improving daily as his body heals.  I can see the symptoms of his Autism… his Bipolar… his confusion… his aggression… I see them slip away as his body can absorb vitamins and nutrition.. I see the light in his eyes more often than the shadows… I hear laughter more often than growling… 

Yes…

It was worth it…

But something unexpected happened… My daughter (I am not going to embarrass my daughter today) and I both improved in health as well.  My asthma.. my headaches… both only occur occasionally now.. My skin cleared up… I lost weight… 

If you could lose weight AND feel better while still eating brownies… would you?  

Yeah … me too…

I was so happy…. but I felt so guilty… and even ashamed.  WHY had it taken me so long to figure this out?  WHY in all my research did I NOT find this sooner?  WHY did God let me go so long without finding this solution?  WHY did it take my son hitting rock bottom before I figured it out?  And HOW ON EARTH did I miss all of the evidence?

YUP.. instead of being happy to find all this research.. I cried.  I cried hard.  My son’s life was a mess… and it was primarily from the food I was giving him.

I have been praying for a year for the Lord to help me forgive myself.  

This morning I was reading my devotion.. and it asked the question… “Why did God let Joseph sit in Jail for 2 whole years before He released him?”  And I sat up a little straighter… “Why didn’t God let Joseph out?  Let him be free and productive while waiting for Pharaoh to have his dream?” And I put my Chai down…. 

Now I am no Joseph… I was not the favorite child of a favored wife… I was not the youngest child of a large family… I was not sold into slavery by jealous siblings… but I think I may have prayed the same prayer as Joseph.  As he sat day after day in prison.  Prayed night after night for answers.. Prayed night after night to be delivered from his prison.

Don’t get me wrong.. Autism isn’t a prison.  My son’s smiles and laughter have always brightened my day.  His hugs and insights have always made me a better person.. But Autism .. aggravated by vitamin deficiency and malnutrition?  It is very limiting.  There were days we didn’t dare go in public.  Afraid he would be overwhelmed… So for us.. It became a prison…

And like Joseph… I think God had a plan for me… And that plan may have called for my son to hit rock bottom… I think God knew I had to be ready to change my whole world… God had a plan.. and He waited for His perfect timing… 

Because.. as my favorite verse (this year) says… “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

When God led me to the Nutrition specialist?  When He delivered all those test results into my lap?  I was ready… 

and It WAS beautiful….

Taming the beast…

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Once upon a time… a long time ago.. when I was a little girl.. I had a cat.  Ha!!  In truth, my siblings and I had a LOT of cats.  I am not really sure where they all came from.  I can’t remember ACTUALLY picking out a single cat in my life.. They just appeared over night.. often in multiple numbers. 

To little girls?  YUP.. it was heaven.

My sister and I loved all those cats.  But the problem was.. our cats weren’t actually tame. 

They would come to us when we called them.. (because we always had food)… They would follow us… (because we never brought enough food).. But very rarely could you hold a cat for more than a few minutes. 

In fact.. you know the National Geographic Nature shows .. the ones where the tiger lazes peacefully in the sun.. looking elegant and regal… Then the camera man flashes an image of that same tiger in full snarl mode.. attacking its prey…

YUP.. you just got an image of our cats….

One summer day?  My sister and I decided WE were going to tame those cats..

Ok.. we just wanted to tame one cat.. A particularly cute gray cat that we had named.. “Cutie”… (Original right?!?)… So we put our brilliant minds together and came up with a plan….

We needed a leash…

I mean if you saw all those elegant people on Television.. They led their tame and obedient dogs around on leashes all the time… That HAD to be the key… (And besides.. can’t you imagine showing up to social event with your elegant and regal “Cutie” cat walking tamely at the end of a jewel studded leash… YUP… we were going to be the envy of ALL our friends…)

So we NEEDED that leash…

Now as you can imagine… YUP.. no jewel studded leashes were laying around.. But we were NOT to be deterred.  We would simply make one.  So?  We raided my Mother’s yarn stash.

Even though we were young.. my sister and I were intelligent.. So we knew that 1 strand of yarn wouldn’t be effective.. and we suspected it wouldn’t be comfortable.  So we braided 3 strands together for an elegant leash.  We knotted one end into a loop for the handle.. and the other end into a slip knot.. (For easier capturing, of course..)..

Then we were ready…

With a dish of cat food… We began to call KITTY KITTY KITTY…..

And Cutie came running…

So elegant.. so unaware of her new destiny… unsuspecting of the danger that (cleverly hidden behind our back) leash held.  Cutie fell right into our trap…

In a flash, my sister slipped the leash around Cutie’s neck.. and tightened it enough so it fit snuggly.  It was so simple… so easy.. (to steal a phrase from one of my daughter’s favorite kids’ book…)… so perfectly perfect….

And then everything went wrong…

…quickly…

When that leash tightened on Cutie’s neck.. she snarled… I stepped away (..hey.. I had seen that inner tiger in action…).. That hardly tamed cat pulled and pulled on the end of the leash.. terrified and snarling… Until we released the end of the leash..  Freed from the apparent danger, Cutie quickly scaled a 50 foot tree at the edge of the woods… Running gracefully across the first branch … Cutie leapt beautifully to the next tree.. And nearly made it…

Nearly…

You see Cutie still had that beautiful, hand braided yarn leash… trailing behind her… And as you know.. Yarn is like Velcro.. it sticks to everything… And stick it did… The loop caught on a branch.. And Cutie’s elegant escape was cut short, jerking her back…

And she was falling.. falling… until she came to the end of that 3 foot leash..

Our relief that our ingenious leash saved Cutie from a 30 foot drop?  Well that relief was short lived…  It was immediately apparent that our ingenious hand tied slip knot leash had turned into a noose.. A great noose too.. because through some bizarre twist of fate.. apparently my sister and I could make some seriously strong knots… As that cat flailed and snarled and flipped and swatted and flailed… in a constant scurry of motion.. All the time, making the most horrendous wailing noise… We began to pray the knot would fail… and then Cutie could fall to safety…

It did not…

I began to cry… and to call my Dad…

Now… My Dad?… My Dad didn’t like cats… he never has.. And he was especially not fond of the pack that adopted our household…

But with my sister and I calling for him?  He came running out of the garage ..(from whatever important job he was fixing).. Came running to see 2 emotional girls pointing up into a tree.. at a blur of motion he guessed to be a cat.. on the end of a rope..

Now just as Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh.. to do the job God instructed him to do.. My dad’s face was less than eager..  but still he fetched the tallest ladder he owned.  When that ladder fell 10 foot short.. My Dad went and retrieved chunks of 2×4’s .. hammer and nails.. Holding the hammer, nails, and boards.. he scaled the ladder.. and began to nail the “steps” into the trees…

All the while?.. Yup.. my sister and I implored him to hurry…

When my father nailed the last board into the tree.. he climbed those make shift steps.. stood on his tip toes.. and finally reached the cat.  Holding Cutie up with one arm.. my dad tried to unloop the yarn leash from the tree.. which sounds relatively easy..

But you see.. Cutie?  Cutie was NOT tame.. not tame at all.. and she was terrified… So while my dad was saving this cute gray cat..  standing on his tiptoes on a 12 inch board (30 feet above the ground)… risking his life for his daughters’ sake?

That cute gray cat.. was shredding my dad.. I watched in horror as my dad struggled to hold onto the flailing, snarling ball of fur .. who was scratching my dad’s neck and face.. and arm.. the same arm that was saving her life..

And then?

Then when Cutie’s neck was free.. she tore free of my dad’s safe arms and JUMPED to the ground.. landing safely on all four feet.. and sped away.. (In fact.. it was a long time before we saw Cutie again..)..

My dad? 

My dad took in a deep breath.. and slowly climbed down from his death perch.. slowly climbed down the long ladder.. and put his feet on solid ground.  I could see the angry looking scratches on his cheek.  There were trails of blood running down his neck.. But his face?  It was completely emotionless as he looked down into our faces…

Looking down into the faces of his two young daughters’ tear stained faces.. he calmly said.. “Leashes do NOT belong on kittens.”

“Ahhh.. okay dad.”

With that being said?  He folded up his ladder and went back to the garage.

Those steps that my dad had nailed into the tree?  Those steps stayed… For years, we would check to see if they were still there.  I remember pointing them out to my younger brothers and telling them the story of Cutie.  Our attempt to tame a wild cat.. I remember watching their solemn faces as they listened in horror to my dad’s narrow escape with his life.. (ok.. I liked to make it more dramatic then it was..)… Those steps were still there (old and decaying) well into my adult years..

For me they stood as a clear reminder..  

When ever a task was put before me.. whether it was by my parents or put there by God?  When I would be tempted to forget the instructions and run away (Just like Jonah ran from Nineveh?)… I can still see my Dad locking his jaw and climbing that tree to save that untamed beast for my sister and I.. Even though he didn’t like cats.. even though he was probably fixing someone’s car.. even though he doesn’t like heights.. Against all of those undesirable reasons.. my dad moved forward .. determined to do the job expected of him. 

I remember those steps my dad nailed into the tree..  when I move forward to tame my beasts…

Where are you?

ImageEveryone makes a journey through their life.  My journey was pretty even paced until I had kids.  Then?  Then there were quite a few years where the journey was rough.. and full of pot-holes.   When my son was unstable?  And we tried medicine after medicine to try to help him?  There were days (and weeks).. that I was so exhausted that I begged God for answers.  Days that I dreamed of those dog-days of childhood. (You know?.. the days when you were a teenager.. and you were SOOOOO bored.. and you were the ONLY one in the world still at home and not at the beach… with NOTHING to do?!?..)  … Yup… There were days I wanted to be bored again…

But I knew that it was all part of God’s journey for me.  I knew that EVERY step on that path had a purpose… So after some tears.. and a deep breath (or two.. or three…)… I prayed for strength .. and took that next step…

When I look at Jesus’s journey on this Earth… it makes mine look like those dog-days of childhood.

Actually.. the beginning of Jesus’s life wasn’t so different from mine.  After His amazing birth and His family’s escape to Egypt… Jesus’s childhood sounds kind of .. well?.. kind of boring..  His family moved around some.. Jesus went with them.  Mary and Joseph took their family on “vacation” every year.. to Jerusalem.. Jesus went with them.

And then when Jesus was 12.. His parents left him behind.. When they noticed He was gone?  They rushed back to find Him in the Temple..

After that.. There is nothing much to note.. The Bible merely states that Jesus lived in Nazareth with His family.. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  Luke 2:52 .. In other words.. Jesus grew smarter… He grew taller.. He made God proud.. and everyone liked Him.. An excellent childhood… but still?  Pretty uneventful..

So in Jesus’s Journey through life? The path through His childhood was pretty easy..

In fact, the Bible says His Life was pretty non-eventful until Jesus was 30.  Why 30?  I am not sure.. maybe I will ask God someday when I see Him.

But what we do know is that at 30.. Jesus started His Ministry.  He collected disciples.. and started His Journey to spread the news of God’s Love .. and God’s Plan for us.. And for this part of His life?  Jesus actually did travel a lot.  If you read through the book of John?  You see all of the places Jesus travelled to.. Mostly on foot.. sometimes in a boat.. and even walking on water once.  We know that His ministry lasted around 3 years.. But still that is a lot of walking even for 3 years.

As those 3 years came to a close, Jesus prepared to carry out His Father’s Plan.

Yes.. at the ripe old age of 33?  Jesus prepared to die.  Not because He was sick.. No.. Jesus had been well cared for by friends and followers on those 3 years of Ministry.  He was not about to die for anything He had done.. Jesus was blameless.. sinless.  No.. Jesus was preparing to die for each and EVERY ONE of those friends and followers… and He was preparing to die for each and every person who was about to put Him to death.  To die that we all might live..

All the while Jesus was preparing to save us?  He had to keep walking down that Path.. one step at a time.. And those last few days? I can imagine it took a lot of strength to keep walking.  To watch a crowd of your country men demand that you die?  Yet He kept moving forward.  When they forced him to carry a gigantic cross on His back?  Jesus kept moving… He kept putting one foot in front of the other.. When they beat Him? Just kept walking.. He followed His journey.. for us…

So I have to ask?

Where are you?

In your journey through life.. where are you today?  Where are YOU on Good Friday?

Where am I?

Am I in the crowd that demanded the release of a murderer .. instead of a sinless man?  No… I see no sense in this.. except that it must have been God’s Plan…

Am I with Peter?  Am I denying that I have a personal relationship with the One true God’s Only Son?  Am I denying that I spend time each day in prayer with Jesus?  I think sometimes I am.. Not purposely.. but when I can’t find the right words to express my faith.. sometimes I remain verbally quiet… But Peter?  Peter loved Jesus.. and so do I?  So yes.. sometimes I travel with Peter….

Am I in the crowd that watched Jesus drag His heavy cross?  A cross that is to symbolize his crime?  A crime He didn’t commit?  Do I stand in that crowd and watch Jesus struggle?  Do I reach out a hand wishing to help?  Do I step forward?  Step forward and allow myself to be forced by the soldiers to carry the cross with Jesus?

Am I with the soldiers?  Am I hitting God’s Son? Poking Him with sticks?  Stabbing through Jesus’s side with spears?  Am I offering Him sour wine?  Am I laughing at God.. and His Miracles?  Taunting Jesus’s inability to call on God to save Him?

Am I with the Priests?  Am I still doubting that Jesus IS the Son of God?

Am I with the crowd who divided up Jesus’s belongings?  Am I gambling with them to see who would take His robe or His sandals?  Am I hoping that having a Holy item will bring me prosperity.. or luck?

Am I standing with Mary, Mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross?  Am I holding her hand?  Am I holding her up as she watches that beautiful boy.. that beautiful soul die before her eyes?  The miracle child that God gave her. The child that grew within her. The child she protected and raised. The child she watched and wondered at. Am I watching with her as Jesus’s blood pours from His wounds? Do I hold Mary’s hand as the crowd laughs and taunts Jesus? Do I hold her tightly as He struggles to hold His head up? Am I crying with her?  No.. when I imagine standing with Mary.. my chest hurts so bad I can’t breathe.. I wouldn’t have been crying.. That would take too much strength.. I am on my knees with Mary.. wanting to reach out.. wanting to demand they take Him down… wanting to scream at everyone of Jesus’s innocence.. scream the insane injustice they are carrying out.. But all of that takes breath… so I just kneel.. and hurt… Right next to His mother…

Am I hanging on the cross next to Jesus?  Are my sins so great that I deserved to be crucified?  I have sinned.. All have sinned.  No one who has sinned is worthy of Heaven.. so Yes.. I should be hanging on the cross.. I should have nails through my hands and through my feet.. I should have holes in my sides..

But I am not.. Jesus took my place.. He took THAT section from my Journey away from me.. So instead?  Instead I am forced to walk PAST His crucifixion. But where we stand to watch?  God has left that decision up to us…

When Jesus knew that Every item on God’s Easter List was finished (John 19:28)… His last words, “It is finished!” echoed through the air… Jesus knew then that His Journey was done.. Jesus had fulfilled God’s plan for Him…

So.. today at noon.. when the sky should dim in rememberance?? When every head should bow in shame?? When a tear should come to every eye?

Where will you be?

Everything sounds better with the echo of a still small voice.