A Hunting We Will Go

Hello Monday and all of your mercies!

We crammed our weekend full to overflowing with celebrating a certain little girl who recently turned five, and our annual tradition of pumpkin pancakes and tree hunting merriment. Fun all around.

I am lucky to have married a man who LOVES Christmas. We are celebrating our tenth married Christmas this year, and we have some wonderful traditions:

We start in November with getting matching Christmas PJs for the girls, four personalized stockings hung by the chimney, pumpkin pancakes before tree hunting, and the list goes on. We love Christmas as both a time to focus on Jesus, and a time to be together, make memories as a family and to enjoy the wonder of the season.

Yesterday we hunted for the perfect tree, but everyday I want to remember to hunt for the beauty around me, to sniff out the graces, and to give thanks for every gift, large and small.

{Want to hunt graces with me today?}

hot coffee on cold mornings
little girls making paper snowflakes
folding warm laundry
warm afghans
lights on a tree
fuzzy socks
physical therapy
little girl tights hanging to dry
a clean house
five years of life for my youngest
my husband, my friend
texting with my Dad
people to love
pumpkin pancakes
strength for every day
new stickers for journaling

{linking up with Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts and Lisa Leonard's Hello Monday!}


The Birthright

The same oriental tea set that would sit unnoticed at a garage sale is priceless in my eyes. It is adopted as a precious possession because of whose it was.

My grandfather served in the Korean War and brought back this tea set imprinted with silver dragons for my grandmother.

She was priceless to me. Not just my grandmother, but someone I understood and someone who understood me. My father's mother: a soul mate born in the 1930s, a friend.

The year I became a wife, she died of a massive stroke.

So when what was hers becomes mine, it is precious. It is precious because it was hers, because it was passed down to me.

Her dining room table and chairs, her wooden hutch that holds my wedding crystal and our homeschooling books and art supplies, her odd little tomato pitcher, the framed picture of us together at my wedding (the last time I saw her in this life), and now her dragon tea set and a pair of white cups and saucers, covered with dancing red snowflakes.

These things are not her legacy. Her legacy is imprinted in me -- like blood it runs through me. Her legacy to love God and love people, to serve with His hands, and to pray for and encourage those she encountered.

I sit late at night, flipping through the pages of a worn Bible that smells like antique library books; a Bible that was hers, and before that, her mother's. I see her tiny script in the margins, TYF!, Thank you Father. I hear her voice giving thanks for the things He gives, and picture her hands receiving, even when the gift doesn't seem good.

Her things are not her legacy. They are just things. Her legacy is the rich wisdom and love with which she graced her children and grandchildren.

Without knowing Whose I am, perhaps I sit unnoticed and am passed by, without worth. Without knowing Who loves and care for me, maybe I am unlovable.

It is because of His blood I am precious. It is because of my spiritual birthright that I am a treasure. And it is because I know the Giver that I can learn to accept what is given, whether I would choose it or not.

Giving Thanks: The Good and The Bad

{Savoring the Sweet Moments with my Youngest}

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays because it is a day to focus on all we have for which to be grateful.

One of the reasons I love Ann Voskamp and her book One Thousand Gifts and her blog A Holy Experience, is her emphasis on giving thanks for all we have. But this is not just a fluffy, cotton-candy-and-rainbows giving thanks. Oh no... this is the learning how to give thanks for every specific little gift, and for all of the hard things too, so that my life becomes a form of worship back to God, every breath a prayer.

If you are reading and you are thinking, You have no idea what I'm struggling with right now. You must have it good, you are right. I have no idea what you're struggling with, my friend. And I do have it good. I have all I need and more. I am truly blessed.

And there are hard things too...

and the most recent, a terrible diagnosis for someone I love very much {please pray}

So because of the hard, I must keep counting the good. I must keep noticing it and taking stock of it, propping it on the shelves in my heart and pulling it to the forefront so it doesn't escape my sight.

Today, I keep taking stock of my Monday Mercies.

her blonde cornsilk hair and peaches & cream complexion
her long legs and Mama-like brown hair & another year of her life to celebrate
another day to notice and to worship
opportunities to speak love and encouragement
a second cup of coffee
clean sheets
colored Christmas lights strung across our little house
sunshine, God streaming across wooden floors
two hands, despite the swelling and aching
two legs, despite the occasional limping
a washer and a dryer, for recycling dirty into clean
a new prayer journal
spiral bindings to gather and hold, a pen to note and remember
the man that married me

Will you join me? Just start today. Start on a Post-it, if you like...


Therapy for a Spine and a Heart

Some mornings, my husband turns my heating pad on before he starts his day, so that as I continue to sleep, the moist heat will start to soak into my spine which has stiffened through the night. If I don't take the time to thaw my spine every morning, to use some heat, a hot shower and gentle stretching, my spine will be less flexible and more painful all day.

The joints in my spine may someday fuse into one solid bone; that is the proverbial mission of Ankylosing Spondylitis, the form of inflammatory arthritis I have that attacks the spine and other joints.

As unpleasant as this sounds, surely there are worse things.

What if my heart gets stiff? What if it becomes inflexible, cold, seized up? What if I don't take the time to thaw out my heart? What if bitterness or resentment inflame?

To allow His warmth to press into my heart, I must shower it with awareness, service, compassion and thanksgiving. I must learn to see with His eyes and serve with His hands and continually count the ways He loves and cares for me.

If I don't thaw out my heart, it may eventually fuse cold, hard, unyielding.

I must take care to ensure that doesn't happen.

I must train it, like I train my spine to stand tall and to gently bend in physical therapy. I do home exercises, standing tall and making my spine make contact with the wall. This is painful.

I must also do my heart exercises. I must exercise it to care, to serve, and always to show compassion; to keep it in contact with His heart.

If I work daily with my spine, it may not fuse. If I work daily with my heart, it surely can't.

daily gratitude to thaw a heart:

little girls in horsey pajamas
tomato soup for a rainy day
bread in the bread machine
electricity for a heating pad
His messages
music, such a gift
physical therapy to train a spine
small group Bible study to train a heart
a warm bed
unceasing grace for every day
cinnamon muffins hot from the oven
her 7 year-old voice singing, "When We All See Jesus"
her 4 year-old kisses


My Wish List

I long to inspire.

I want to write and publish.

I want my words to be healing and a gift.

I want to love my community well and to be loved well in return.

I want to be authentic, not fake or pretentious.

I want to never stop looking for the beauty around me.

I want to make art, write poetry, read literature and great memoirs, bake things that make our house smell like a home; not limit myself or put my talents in boxes.

I want to be a remarkable mother.

I want to be grateful, not resentful.

I hope that by sharing my loss journey, other bereaved mothers will feel less alone.

I dream of a storybook childhood for my daughters, as they are my storybook dream.

I want to light a spark in them: a thirst to create, to read, to love well, to be kind, to express themselves, to learn and be curious and observant; always to grow.

I want to creatively document this one wonderful life I am given.

What do you want?


Story Made Beautiful

I want to thank you for being here with me Thursday, as I used some of my courage to not only remember our baby {that is so easy to do} but to speak his name.


Your comments and your tears were a gift, and I thank you.

6 years. Shocking that it has been that long, but as you know if you've read this story before, I had a healthy child afterward, in the midst of some years which are easiest to describe as the years of Perpetual Operations.

Not only was she healthy, she was hearty -- born pink, crying, 9 pounds and 8 ounces of second chance.

Today she is tall, lanky, and turning FIVE this month. A "rainbow baby", or baby after a loss, she is my breathing representation of grace; a symbol of God's presence in my story.

We named her Natalie Kate.

Having children was my life-long dream and there were a few times when I thought it might not come true. Life threw obstacles. And yet, here they are, these little women, my dreams come to life.

So humbling. So humbling that He saw fit to allow me to be a mother, their mother. So humbling that it worked out, in spite of, despite, the obstacles.

I am so grateful. Soaked through to the bone with gratitude. This was what I yearned for, and they are here. Not all three, no...

Not all three, and that is hard.

But these two, Hannah and Natalie, they are here and they are breathing and growing, and I breathe thanksgiving and grow faith.

He has made my story beautiful, even with not-so-beautiful ingredients.

Breathing gratitude today.


A Baby with a Name

{our sweet firstborn, touched by loss at a young age}

Six years ago today I went to the hospital, pregnant with a baby with no heartbeat. Some hours later I went home to my pig-tailed firstborn, not quite two years old, no longer expecting our second, a baby we were going to name Benjamin Jack or Sierrah Grace.

Some weeks later, in the beginning stages of grief, Jonathan and I decided to name our lost baby. I have never shared that name publicly. It has felt too personal to me, too sacred.

We named our sweet little one Jordan.

Jordan means "Descendant" which I loved because this was our child, whether we got to keep him (?) or not. Jordan can be a boy name or a girl name, and although we have always felt our baby was a boy, we have no proof of that and no way to know.

I loved that it is a Hebrew name, just as Hannah is. I liked that even in death, they shared something.

I also loved that this baby, so wanted and so loved, had a name that began with the same letter as both of his parents.

So there's no birth certificate, no hospital baby bracelet, no ink-stamped little footprints, no announcement picture. But there's another child in my heart. Not just Hannah and Natalie, but Hannah, Jordan and Natalie. I have two living children; two here to hold and to raise, and a third I hold in my heart.

Jordan Lynn: carried in my womb for 10 weeks; carried in my heart for a lifetime.

Never forgotten, not for a day. Particularly remembered every year on this date, November 10th.


Relearning to Simplify

"The average woman today, I believe, would do well to appraise her interests, evaluate the activities in which she is engaged, and then take steps to simplify her life, putting things of first importance first, placing emphasis where the rewards will be greatest and most enduring, and ridding herself of the less rewarding activities."
{Belle S. Spafford}

I believe that in order to live a life of balance and joy, we must determine what our priorities are and then guard the space around them, so that we can attend to them well. 

My main priorities are my marriage, my faith, my daughters, my home and home life, my family, friends and community, writing, journaling and Live Art.fully. These are the things and people I live for. They comprise such a full life that I must be careful to limit the other areas where I expend energy.

I am relearning this week how to safeguard my time and energy so that I can live and love better.

What are your priorities? What measures do you take to safeguard them?


What I Want You to Know: A Letter to My Daughter

I want you to know that I love being your mother
From the moment you were nestled into my arms the night you were born, I knew you were exactly where you were meant to be -- in our family. You have been my Little Love since that moment; my {literal} dream come true. I have taken, very seriously, my role to love and nurture and guide you. I have done a good job and I have done a bad job. I have succeeded and failed. I have tried to love you well. You have taught me right back how to love well. Because you, Sweet Girl, you love people well.

I want you to know that I love being your teacher
Sometimes it's challenging and sometimes it's downright frustrating, but I love those moments when your eyes light up because you've worked a multiplication problem in your head and come up with the right answer or when you quickly read through several sentences before realizing how well you're reading. I love watching you paint and create art. I love watching you slip away into a world all your own, where you mix colors into new hues that match the ones you hold in your dreamy mind. I love watching you use two or three paintbrushes at a time, because that's how eager you are to create.

I want you to know that I cherish my memories of your first few years
when you and I had lots of one-on-one time.
I have such fond memories of those years of nursing you, rocking you, feeding you, bathing you, dressing you, playing with you, snuggling you, reading to you, taking you for walks and watching you grow and learn and fall in love with the world around you.

I want you to know that I love watching you be a big sister
Sometimes you get overzealous and sometimes you act before you think, but mostly... mostly you are protective and sweet, compassionate and caring, adoring and a great friend to Natalie. You are a great friend to me, too.


I want you to know that I have fabulous ideas of how to teach you and how to raise you and how to ensure you feel as special as you are
Sometimes my energy runs out before I can make those ideas into realities, and I hate that. So we learn to modify. Maybe today I can't take you for a walk to the playground, but I can sit in a lawn chair in the backyard and watch you swing high into the air, your corn silk hair flying out behind you like streamers on a bicycle. Maybe I can't bake cookies today but I can sit with you and read Sarah, Plain and Tall and watch you fall in love with the characters of Caleb and Anna and Seal, the cat.

I don't know what God plans for marvelous you, Hannah, but I know they are marvelous plans.

I just want to take this moment to thank you for what you have taught me and for all the love you have brought to my life.


Monday Mercies: 10.24.11

Despite a cranky hip and a painful morning, there are no shortage of Monday Mercies today:

beautiful fall sunshine streaming in
leaves swirling down
this song by owl city. its intro feels like possibility
baking loaves of pumpkin bread
and a batch of peanut butter cookies
time with my girls
a phone chat with a friend
a new book in the mail
the aroma of cinnamon and cloves wafting from the oven

What are your Monday Mercies?


Not Good Enough vs Just Right

As hard as I try to convince myself otherwise, there are going to be some days in which I can't succeed like I want to; success won't look like I envision. I won't be able to make my life look like what I think it should. It will be exhaustion and low-grade fever and pain that's hard to bear.

It will be a cottage full of Mama Bear and Baby Bears in pajamas at nearly 3 p.m.

That's chronic pain for you. That's chronic illness.

It will also be a chance to slow down that we wouldn't otherwise take; a chance to wear fuzzy pink slippers and bathrobes and pile into a big bed that's just the right size and read a big pile of storybooks.

It will be time to learn some Spanish. Time to discuss manners, sibling relationships, trying new foods, the science in the natural world.

It will be time for cuddling close -- for a 4 year-old head on my shoulder, and a 7 year-old hand, tanned brown from summer sun, resting on me.

It will be time slowed down.

And this evening when Papa Bear comes home from work, the house may not be clean, the table may have gone unused for schooling, but we will be calm and loving, and we will have learned and grown today, and we will be a little bit closer for this time we told to slow down and the hours we cuddled close and knit our hearts together.

Isn't that the success I envision?


Monday Mercies: 10.17.11 {No Greater Mercy}

There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health except it be sickness; and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health…
It is a good thing to be without a trouble; but it is a better thing to have a trouble, and know how to get grace enough to bear it.” {C.H. Spurgeon}

Pondering this quote today and recognizing Truth. Thanks to Ann Voskamp for including this quote in her post.
My Monday Mercies...

sunlight spilling in on wooden floors
little girl legs in aqua tights, tucked into pink furry slippers
the learning, even when it's hard
the teaching, even when it's hard
jobs in this economy
flour for bread-making
washing machine to spin linens clean
pillow & heating pads to help combat pain
stacks of warm sweet laundry
sweet little faces
hands that hurt less today
marriage and partnership
autumn-hued leaves

What are your mercies today?


National Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day

Today we remember, on a national scale, the babies gone too soon due to miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, SIDS...

If you are one effected by a loss like this, please share a bit of your story in the comment section. It can be just a date or the name of your little one. You are not alone!


What's Next in This Chapter?

After years of slavery, the people of Israel have escaped from captivity in Egypt and run into a big problem -- the Red Sea. The Red Sea lies between them and their freedom. Their hearts sink. There's no way for them to get through it or around it. They feel defeated.

But then they call out to God, questioning His plan.

"Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?"

And Moses tells them:

"Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

{You probably know what happens next. God performs a miracle. He uses the Israelites' faith.}

He instructs them to get moving. To pick up their staffs and raise their hands over the sea and walk in.

So they do.

Let's just stop there a minute. This whole story could've ended another way. The Israelites might not have listened. They might not have used their faith, listened to God, and walked forward. The Egyptians would've caught up with them and re-captured them.

But they listened. They did what God was instructing them to do. They held onto their faith and their staffs and they moved forward.

And God performed a miracle. He divided the Red Sea into two parts, with an aisle of dry land between two mighty walls of water. The Israelites walked through, unharmed, and then God returned the water to normal and it swept over the Egyptians who were chasing the people of Israel and the Bible says that not a single one survived.

In the same chapter as the Israelites thought they would escape, the feared they would not. And then they were delivered.

Their Deliverer showed up!

And in the very first verse of the next chapter, the people of Israel are praising God for rescuing them and for granting them true freedom.

How does this apply to your life today?

In your current chapter of life, where are you? Are you trying to be free? Are you facing a huge barrier that seems insurmountable? Have you called out to God with doubt? Has He answered you yet? Is He rescuing you? Has He delivered you? Are you free?

A lot can change in just one chapter.

Just hang on -- the Lord will fight for you.


Thoughts on Healing

Healing is a touchy topic. Especially when you are the one deemed needful of healing.

There are all kinds of healing -- physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, social, marital.

Throughout my three plus decades I've experienced a few of those. Not necessarily instant or dramatic. Not easy.

I have felt conflicted when people suggest I pray for healing, get anointed, etc....

I wasn't sure why that was. It's not that I want to be sick and in pain.

During this past weekend, while attending a Women of Faith conference, some of my thoughts and feelings on the subject became more clear. I haven't written about it for a few days, trying to allow time to process it more fully.

I hesitate to put it here because of reactions and comments. I hesitate because I'm not sure I can express it clearly enough.

But here it is anyway:

I believe healing comes in different forms.
I believe healing looks and feels different to different people.
I believe my healing might come in the form of physical pain & disease.

i'll give us all a minute to think about that.

I want what God wants for me.

I desire to be the woman He created me to be. I trust His plan for my life.

If that includes this, so be it.

Please understand, I don't make that statement lightly. It doesn't mean that I won't fight and keep searching for effective treatments. It doesn't mean I'm giving up. It doesn't mean I'm succumbing.

It means that as I go to physical therapy, do my exercises, endure times of severe physical pain, limp, swallow vitamins, swallow medications, drink lots of water, take my heating pad to bed every night..... as I do those things, as I fight the best I can, I trust.

I trust He knows what's best for me.

And while all of this doesn't appear to be the best, if it draws me to His heart, if it forms me into who I am created to be, if it helps shape His plan for me, I trust.

*all images in this post taken by our friend Terence McLeod.


Who is the Best Daddy in the World?

Today I had a conversation with my 4 year-old daughter Natalie. It went like this:

Jennifer: "Don't you guys think we have the best daddy in the world?"

Natalie: "Well, not the best daddy. But he is nice."

Jennifer: "Oh, really? Who do you think is the best daddy?"

Natalie: "Every single daddy in the world who takes good care of children is the best daddy yet."

I thought her response was profound. A big thank you to all the daddies in the world (including my dad, Larry, and the girls' dad, Jonathan) who take good care of children.


When You're Walking in Shadow

As a person of faith I know, cognitively, that I am not alone. That my God walks with me, never leaving me.

But sometimes the shadows come and I walk in darkness. And that walk becomes a limp.

I wait for the moments I step into sunlight again; I wait for the warmth that takes the pain away, the light that soaks through my heart.

It's one thing to know that I am not alone.

But sometimes I need to feel it, to see it, to touch that knowledge.

Today I am thankful for the visible and touchable reminders God sends into my life that tangibly reinforce the reality of His presence and grace.


Children's Literature We Love

I wanted to share some of our favorite books for children, including Jonathan's and my childhood favorites, the favorites from our daughters' early years, and the series we are reading to them now.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. 
Goodnight Moon
Hannah loved this book so much as a baby that we tracked down the companion book, My World. Both copies are now tattered and worn, having gone on many outings and adventures with us. Two other books by this author have captivated Natalie: Runaway Bunny and Home for a Bunny.

Curious George by Margret & H.A. Rey
The Complete Adventures of Curious George: 70th Anniversary Edition 

Hannah's favorite toddler & preschool year books. I can't tell you how many times we've checked these yellow books out from the library. We even had a Curious George themed party for her 3rd birthday.

I believe the reason this series was such a favorite of Hannah's was due to the similarity between her personality and George's. For a while, I even described her as a "Curious George" as she got into lots of mischief, but by the end of the day she always made up for it.

Some books have become classic children's literature for a reason. Here are some big hits in our home:

Peter Rabbit & other stories by Beatrix Potter

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Velveteen Rabbit
I have to admit this one has become more meaningful to me after having a child who loved a stuffed bunny as if it were real. Natalie & her Cinnamon Swirl Bunny are never far from one another. I also love this passage, since becoming well acquainted with joint pain:

 "Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But those things don't matter at all because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

Corduroy by Don Freeman
Corduroy (40th Anniversary Edition)

A little girl named Lisa falls in love with this teddy bear at a toy store. Published in 1968.

Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name

A fabulous way to introduce Jesus and the Bible to children. The author does a phenomenal job of carrying the prevailing theme of the Bible through every story in this book. A wonderful introduction to the heart of God.

Owl at Home - Arnold Lobel
Owl at Home -- An I Can Read! Picture Book

This is just the most loveable owl. He makes tea out of his tears.

Mr. Putter & Tabby - Cynthia Rylant

Mr. Putter & Tabby Pour the Tea

Charming stories of an old man and his old cat. Some of the stories involve Mr. Putter's neighbor lady and her dog.

Chapter books I read and loved as a girl that we are now reading aloud to Hannah & Natalie:

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

All-of-a-Kind Family

Five Jewish sisters living in New York in the early 20th century. Though poor, they find no shortage of adventures and happiness.

American Girl Books - {Molly, Samantha, Kaya, Kirsten, etc...} Assorted Authors including Valerie Tripp {not only do these stories portray girls of various ethnicities with good values and strong moral character, the realistic life plots give plenty of opportunity for teaching & discussion between parent and child, and help kids learn about historical periods.}

Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury

The tales of little girls who meet at age 5 and become best friends. Published in the 1940s. 

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Boxcar Children Bookshelf (The Boxcar Children Mysteries, Books 1-12)
These mysteries about 4 siblings are a generational hit in my family. My grandmother read them to my dad, my parents read them to me and my siblings, and now I have read them to my girls. These books captivated my imagination, probably in part due to how our family of 4 kids (two boys and two girls) was like the character siblings of the book. 

My favorite little girl book:

Baby Dear (Little Golden Book, 306-52)

Baby Dear by Eloise Wilkin {a story about a little girl whose mother has a new baby. The little girl takes care of her dolly just as the mother takes care of the new baby.}
From the age of about 4, when my mom gave birth to twins, I couldn't wait to be a mother. My copy of this Little Golden Book was so well loved that the spine fell apart and my parents reinforced it with masking tape. When I was a teenager my mom and I found a new copy in the grocery store and bought it. 

Jonathan's favorite boyhood book:

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Where the Wild Things Are

What are some favorites from your childhood & in your home?

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