Hey, I think I Love you…

Today, August 13th, 2016, is my 5 year wedding anniversary. I’ve been a married woman for 5 years! Holy cow, I never would have even thought this was a real thing.

This last year in particular was the one where I feel like I finally have figured love out. Love has always kind of confused me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. But this year, I think I learned what it is.

But instead of boring you with the definition I’ve come to understand, I’d rather just talk about my best love of a human of all time, Christian Hodgden.

We started dating when we were just youngsters… and spoiler, we’re still young. But we’ve certainly come a long way from being these people… 29672_386363735825_658625825_4547838_1455570_n

I mean… that hair

This picture was taken on an Easter Sunday when we were dating. We hadn’t quite considered the possibility of marriage yet, but knew we were really into each other. Being young and a couple makes people ask you a lot of questions, and this made me constantly ask myself – why Christian Hodgden? It really was a different kind of guy than I had ever even known, much less dated. It really would have been easy to answer my own question with because he’s crazy intelligent (different than I’d ever experienced), or because he’s respectful (again, quite a change for me). But that’s not what makes Christian the guy for me.

What made Christian my main-squeeze-4-lyfe was this simple statement: He knew what he believed, and he knew why he believed what he believed. For him (and for me as well) that means that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, and that God is all powerful, and provides all we need. We serve God because that’s what we believe, and we know there is a fulfilling and true Love (and grace) that comes with that.

All the single ladies, please know that this trait in a man is absolutely invaluable. If your man knows why he believes what he believes… I think that is the definition of a solid foundation. And if your foundation is solid… you are unmovable.

I remember articulating this to my BFF Hannah when I first realized I liked Christian. I had been through a series of weird guys, and I had finally decided I’d just be content with God, because I had actually taken the time to let Him fill me up in a real way. So it was a new twist on my life when I saw this long-haired, half-homeschooled, nice-guy from across the room at church a few times a week. The fun part for me was just how much hotter I was than him. (It’s probably the opposite now…)

Christian and I dated for a year, got engaged, and got married 8 short months after being 18. We graduated high school, got married, honeymooned (a.k.a. learned how hard it is to travel when you aren’t old enough to rent a car), moved out of our parent’s homes, and started college all in the same summer. I also had my first job that paid regularly scheduled paychecks.

It was an awesome precedent to the theme of our marriage – fast and furious, and sometimes hard. But the excitement those who love us had for our marriage and future, and the God we knew was on our side made us feel invincible.

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Weirdest pic I’ve ever taken. This was the most fun thing we did on our honeymoon to Maui.. a tour of the pineapple fields. Young and dumb much?

I went on a mission trip to Cambodia for two weeks right before our first anniversary, and had this crazy sickness, that we later found out was a baby growing inside me. The day we found out we were pregnant was a classically terrible response. We just cried and blamed each other. But then we rose to the occasion, and went on with our lives. Yet another trademark of our marriage. When you have a purpose and a sense of greatness inside, it’s easy to accept and adjust to new realities.

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First Anniversary Picture…

By year two, we were having a much better time. Some of the best times we’ve had so far. I’m looking forward to topping it, but for now, suffice it to say that things were as they should be.

Russell (our first baby) was perfect, we were moved away from home, which was actually a good thing in that time. We were able to discover who we were as a family, and we really liked what we had found. Christian was working as an intern at a job he really loved, and although I was staying home, I was really making some choices on who I was going to be as a mom. That’s something I recommend every parent do – decide what kind of parent you are going to be, and stick to it.

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Year 2… the wonder kids. Bliss is the word I think of.

And that ‘going on third’ year was the year, as many know, that tragedy struck, and we only got to live 11 months with our first born son, Russell. It was also the year we had decided to pursue our first adoption, and ended up receiving our amazing baby Roman.

These people in this picture above are really strangers to me now. That feeling of being invincible, is not as strong as it once was. By no means would I say we think of ourselves in any different way. God showed himself even more real amidst our loss, and our loved ones swarmed us in an unbelievable way. But our speed and fervor for what lies ahead got reigned back, and it’s been an interesting journey along the way. It seems, at times, we are navigating uncharted territory. To be so full of life and to have the wind knocked out in a few different ways is something not many were prepared to guide us through.

But that foundation… it’s really something. Our core beliefs have remained unshaken. Our feelings, those are something I gave up relying on a while ago, and I’m glad for it. No matter what things looked like, we always knew why. Our why isn’t something I plan on articulating, because it looks different for everyone, and I wouldn’t presume to think that my “WHY” on what I believe will be something that speaks to anyone but me. But I do know that it is a necessary thing to seek out in order to build a strong foundation. If I can stand on a truth that I have cultivated a strong and bullet proof belief for – FOR MYSELF – there is nothing that can deteriorate it. Not death, not uncertainty, not fear- not anything.

My husband is a man who knows what his truth is. If it weren’t for that, I would’ve chose someone hotter. (Just kidding).

Year 3 brought in our 3rd baby, the girl who will go down in history as the only thing who can repeatedly stress me out. Renee is a princess, and the silliest of princesses there ever were.

Year 3 was also the year of healing. We had to put that wind back in our sail, and we are still in some ways doing that. We did a lot of self discovery, only to go back to the fact that we really won’t ever understand everything.

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3rd Anniversary Pic.. Excuse the Instagram filter.

And this past year, we really became best friends. I look back at our first year together, and we barely knew each other. I think having more kids, for us, made us have to swim through late nights, lots of diapers, emotional ups and downs, lots of dishes, and just a lot of poop (from the children) to find each other, and when we did, it was so much better.

I realized that no matter how hard I try to be friends with other people, I’d rather spend an hour saying nothing to him than I would a whole day with anyone else. Unless we were kayaking – I really like to kayak.

Our kids noses never stop leaking snot, our house is apparently on a strict mess-only protocol, our families are both amazing and ridiculous simultaneously, and who knows what our bank account looks like (please can someone figure that out for me?) But at the end of the day, there is nothing a little snuggling and falling asleep watching Netflix can’t do to infuse our souls with the connection we’ve spent over 5 years developing.

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Last year (2015) our 4th anniversary.

I’m really excited in writing this post. Christian is notoriously un-romantic (a fact I’m finally at peace with, and also still hoping will change). So it’s hard to spotlight him. But he really is the kind of guy who needs to be celebrated. Unfortunately the Facebook status “OMG Christian plugged my phone in for me AGAIN…. like he does every night. I just love knowing I’ll never run out of battery first thing in the morning. (50 heart-eye emoji’s follow) #blessed.” It just doesn’t get as many likes as it should.

But that’s my guy. Consistently heroic, in the small and important ways. And man – is he rational. (swoon).

I want to end with one more picture from our dating years. I find it ironic, that even though it’s probably the cutest thing we’ve ever done, I don’t think that at that time I really connected to what we were doing. I think I was actually focused on drinking the shake (pictured below). But now, that it’s year #5, and our kids are finally going to be older than infants (a long awaited victory), I feel like he’s been my best friend forever. I feel like that picture really depicts who we are now, way more than who we were then. How crazy is that?

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Moral of the story.. haircuts make the heart grow fonder. Happy loving, everyone.

 

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And then she came along…

Ah to be a woman.

What a powerful advantage to have. I look at my life as a woman, and am constantly inspired by who I am, and the restless power within all woman-kind. I could call out all the cliche’s related to woman-power, like building, feeding, and nurturing humans all simultaneously and usually while wearing other hats, but that’s too boring. You already know that’s amazing.

The women I know can lead a room full of people to their greatest victories. They can defeat the greatest of obstacles with grace, strength, and a pair of heels. They can meet every goal just because they want to, but they do it because it’s attached to purpose. They are unstoppable forces, that have been there all along. They are full of passion, and value the men in their lives immensely. They know exactly who their sisters are, and they build them up as if it were themselves. These women are innovative, and will take things to the next level. They are driven by intuition and love, and are freaking smart. Need a heart surgery? To go to space? Ask my girl – she knows whats up. My ladies are shaking the very earth you are standing on, because of the fire that lies inside of them. That girl is on fire.

I don’t buy into secular feminism, because I think the Bible is clear on what is inside of women, as well as men, and it’s not the same things you will hear feminists speaking of. While the Bible was written in a time where the culture demanded silence on the women, the authors still were able to sneak in a glimpse of what women really are – a Force.

Esther saving a race, Ruth pioneering a society, Mary birthing a savior.. Don’t even get me started on our ancestral accomplishments.

These truths have been known to me since I was young. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to question the authority my gender holds. Thank you Jesus for a new age that respects me and my girls in a way that is unprecedented.

But fast forward to September 2014, and let me tell you what kind of fear I let into my head.

After Russell passed away, we were very unsure of what to do on the question of having more biological children, because the disorder Russ had was genetic, and we knew there was a 25% chance we could pass it down again.

Christian and I honestly didn’t see eye to eye on this topic, and I believe both of us had valid reasons for how we felt. We knew we would adopt again, and so we weren’t worried about Roman being an only child, but something inside me wasn’t ready to be done with using my body to produce a child. I had a terrible birth experience with Russell, and I wanted to rectify that. I wanted to experience natural childbirth so badly, I wanted to breastfeed one more time, and I just couldn’t face the thought of giving that up without feeling uneasy.

But we had lost Russell just a year before, and the wound had not completely healed. We were sore and not yet fully at peace with the idea of God doing the miraculous. We wanted to believe that God would divert another child bore to us from the disease, or even that the diseased genes in our body would somehow disappear, but our faith was not quite at the level it should have been. Although we knew He does perform miracles, because that is evident in the Bible, we didn’t fully feel that way. But lucky for us, we don’t rely on our feelings very much.  And we aren’t very good with birth control.

And so July of 2014 I discovered I was pregnant for the second time in my life. This pregnancy was a drastically different experience than the first.

With Russell, in the first days of discovered pregnancy, I was unsure of how my life would look after the baby came. I now knew exactly what it meant – I would sleep even less, and be even more physically demanded from, and I would have no choice but to simultaneously process and accept that reality.

Before, I was worried about things like having twins- I was deathly afraid of twins with my first pregnancy, as they run in the family and I was afraid of being what they call “overwhelmed”. Now I scoff at myself for even entertaining the concept of being overwhelmed, because that is my new normal. I was worried about setting up car seats right, or having a highchair. (Now my kids regularly eat cheerios off the floor.)

But this time, I was worried about my unborn child having a disease that would end her life prematurely, or at least was worried that that was what others were worried about. I knew I had a responsibility to be the voice of faith over my family’s situation, and that everyone was aware of what the outcomes could be.

It was also our 3rd kid in 3 years, so there weren’t as many baby showers or people getting excited about my growing belly. It was more like “Oh look, it’s spring, and you’re having a kid again”. Which was slightly disenchanting.

And then we found out we were having a girl – and all the things I knew were amazing about women vanished, and I began to fear the reality of being charged with raising one.

First and foremost, I was worried about her teenage years. I hadn’t ever had a solid grasp on why purity was important as a teen, and had bad habits because of that. I was terrified that she would make the same mistakes, and have a different outcome because of it.

I was sick over the fact that 90% of the women I know have hated (or strongly oppose) their mothers at one time or another in their teenage years, and I don’t consider myself someone who could possibly be hated (I know.. I hear how silly that sounds).

And I just didn’t know what raising a solid girl with my outlook on life would be like. I was scared senseless about all these things for about the entire second trimester of my pregnancy.

But finally, I started to deal with it instead of just being scared.

Women – I want to ask you about your issues, your baggage. One of the greatest gifts God graced me with was this unquestionable ability to process and deal with my issues quickly. I don’t understand why it’s so easy for me, but it always was. I remember even as a kid, deciding I wasn’t going to be insecure anymore. I was like 10! and I’m not saying I handle(d) it all perfectly, but I saw great value in moving forward, and I always strived to achieve that.

What are you dealing with today?

I believe that if you don’t deal with your issues as soon as you recognize them, you have handicapped yourself. Jesus came to bring life abundant, and you can’t live in abundance when you’re weighed down by struggles.

And if you are in the midst of something that you have not yet passed, I don’t think this concept applies to that. I’m talking about those issues we’ve had for years that we are aware of why and how they came, that we don’t give to God, because it’s hard.

I looked at my core issue with being fearful of having a daughter. I didn’t understand what caused me to stumble in my formative years, and a lack of understanding has always been a point of frustration for me. I evaluated what was important in child raising. I spent hours meditating on what the Word said, and researching what I wanted to really focus on as a parent. And then I wondered why I hadn’t done this the first time.

I reflected on something my youth pastor had once said, “Your parents only have 18 years to teach you how to obey God.” And that had settled it in me. All I have to do as a parent, if all else fails, is teach my kids how to have a relationship with God. It’s that simple. There are a lot of things I could add to the list of “I should teach my kids this…” but if I fail at all of those, that is okay. I trust that if my kids know the God I know, the way I know Him, they will be able to thrive, no matter what else they know. Even if they are dumb as a thumb, or homeless, I know that God will still have them.  Of course I probably won’t let that happen, but that’s not even something I should spend energy thinking about.

And to further this peace (especially on the part about purity), I needed tools.  I did some research. I decided to find a stance on sex that I would feel great about teaching my kids. Mary Flo (I know – sounds made up) has a philosophy on teaching kids about sex that I just find brilliant, and we have already started to incorporate it.

And that was it. I had let go of my concerns and equipped myself with the tools.

So with that out of the way I was able to begin to focus on the amazing thing that was going on – I had been charged with raising a woman. The excitement when I say that is full on! I feel like my daughter, Renee, who is now 1, is going to be a true force to be reckoned with.

I’ve known my life was meant to be great for a while, but a long time ago I got a word from God that told me that it wouldn’t be my actions that change the culture of America, but it would be the repercussions of my actions. What that means I still leave room for interpretation, but I often think that will specifically apply to my children. And I just HOPE my daughter could become the fulfillment of that. She’s already shown herself to be a fighter (literally- with me and my husband… sigh) which is actually a great quality, and an independent thinker, and as beautiful and as interesting and as smart as a girl can be.

I’m still not sure what’s going to happen to us when she becomes a teen, but I’m pretty excited to embrace what comes.

Ah to be a woman…

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Every Step is on the Way

I have always believed that I will live to be 120. I don’t know why that number is so important to me, but I can’t wait to reach it. I literally can’t wait to be that old. People of course look at me like I’m crazy when I say that to them. They always want to remind me that I’ll be uncomfortable, maybe sick, all my friends will be dead… etc. But I honestly can’t wait!

I have this vision in my head. It involves a beautiful gigantic backyard, with umbrellas, lemonade, and sunshine. And all my grandchildren (no pressure Roman and Renee.. but I’m expecting a lot of grandchildren. I want a sea of grandchildren). I want them all to be surrounding me and Christian, and I want to tell them about all the things I have done in my life time. I want to tell them stories of bravery, stories of deep emotion, and I want them to know what it means to be a leader, what it means to live on purpose and what it means to unapologetically follow Jesus. Mostly I want to look back at my own life and know I lived a completely full life, that left an impact. That’s why I want to be 120. I just need a lot of time if I’m going to live that kind of life. A life packed, FULL of greatness.

But then  I think of my surroundings. Right now I’m eating a turkey sandwich in the ridiculously small break room of the Starbucks I’m working at. I’m deciding whether or not to go back out there for a refill of my drink with the last 7 minutes I have on my break.

I mean really, thinking about where I’m at, i cant help but think, “what am i doing here?” I have dreams of leading a nation, raising children to lead the world, and i’m spending my days cleaning old milk out of the drains on the floor of a starabucks?

It seems unlikely. It can be frustrating. Maybe you feel this way too.

It can feel as though we have all of this potential, all this willingness to step into the greatness we were created for. There is so much giftedness in us that no one even knows we have. And sure, in a perfect world we could use that ball of amazing-ness (amazeball, if you will) and really make something happen. We could spend all our time and energy solely focused on making our mark on the world.

But lets be real here- sometimes i dont have the enrgy to get off the couch to get my own cup of water after a crazy day. And how in the world can i pay my bills just “being awesome”?

Again, seems unlikely.  

We are in a culture that values outcomes. Generally speaking, we do not live in a place that values rest, or allows the time for development. We dont get the opportunity to round out our understanding of how to balance life. If you arent producing results, you don’t count.

How frustrating. I know what’s inside of me,ready to burst out, and I know that I need this season to grow and learn and rest, but as far as anyone else is concerned, I don’t count. Why is our world like this?

What if we, as a culture, put the spiritual and emotional success of an individual on par with career and physical success? What if the journey was as valuable as the destination in actual, day to day reality?

What if everyone wanted to live to be way too old, because they knew they needed every year. They needed all that time to develop themselves, develop their families, expand their vision, and then learn their way to results?  None of these things don’t require time.

What would that look like for you?

I would encourage you to take a moment to think about that. Close your eyes and imagine it.

Chances are you are bored with that visualization.

Because again, the reality is you still have to make a living, take care of your chores and tasks, and so on. And vision casting and personal development end up looking like the blank stares of deep thought. In our world, that doesn’t count as productivity. 

Some people are actually blessed to have careers or day to day lives that support these time consuming methods of “the journey”. Perhaps they obtained this lifestyle/workplace through perfectly executed strategy, or divine opportunity. But some of us don’t, and this is who I am speaking to.

I would like to encourage those who have had twists and turns to the original “plan for greatness”. Maybe you got laid off from that awesome job that was going to propel you into the next great thing. Maybe you were hit with a serious depression and missed a valuable window of opportunity for the next big move, and now its too late. Maybe your family isnt living up to your expectations, and you feel held back. The list could go on for your specific circumstance, and please know none of those circumstances are insignificant.

But can we still be great, when our strategy for greatness has failed?

I think we can. I think that every step in our journey is on the way to greatness, when we are intentional to make it so.

2 thoughts on this-  use what you have in front of you, and realize that it is going to be hard, and that is okay.

The journey of being and doing great is hard in itself. History is proof of this. But when your particular strategy fails, you may be subject to a greater difficulty than you ever knew was possible. But the sooner you embrace the incredible difficulty, and learn how to function in the sweat and pain, the better off you will be! There just isn’t a way to sugar coat this, but the reality is jsut that. It’s hard, and it sucks, and sometimes hurts. This is the price of greatness.

Lastly, know this. Just because you are off track, doesnt mean your track has ended. You may not have the resources you expected, and that can stop a lot of people from moving forward. But if you choose to, you can become your own resource.  You can take what you don’t have and re-invent what you need. Where there is a will, there is a way! This is especially true when you have nothing, or have lost too much. Become resourceful, and make the absolute most of what you do have. Don’t waste a thing, and become incredibly observent of what is available. And never take for granted that God always provides.

No matter what, don’t let your situation, and the fact that it isn’t what you expected, stop you. You have been inspired by God for greatness, you are created to be great. Circumstances are much smaller when you live fully, for long enough. Every step is on the way.

 

The Juggle Struggle.

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Today I felt the weight what my immediate future holds.

I woke up well before my eyes opened, to two tiny baby feet in my face, and the unsettling sound of a dishwasher and vacuum going. I was immediately aware that my day off would be yet another one full of challenges. My husband was awake, cleaning everything in sight. He likes to do this on my days off, because normally he stays at home with our children, and due to the demands of babies, he is rarely able to spend focused time cleaning. So when I’m not up at the butt-crack-of-dawn to open the Starbucks store, and am able to care for our 2 babies, he gets all too giddy to vacuum those floors.

Thirty minutes go by, and I’m able to be a sneaky ninja just enough to reclaim my bed space, and to keep my son – 1 and a half years old who had a fever all night – from waking up.

Just as we get comfy and snugly, I hear the faint cry over the baby monitor as my younger 7 month old daughter wakes up, hungry and a diaper well above capacity. The dishwasher is still going, and seems to be much louder the earlier it is in the day. This is my alarm. This is my day off.

We get our kids up and fed. The quiet peace that surrounds breakfast time is amazing. Unfortunately it only lasts about 10 minutes, and at this point I haven’t even really woken up yet. My hair was all knotted, my face still dry and smeared with the make up I forgot to take off as I crashed to sleep the night before.

I always resent myself for not using that first 10 peaceful minutes to infuse my body with the caffeine it so desperately needs. I chose to shower instead.

I only have one mission on this day off, and that is to finish my online Starbucks College Achievement Plan orientation.

In my head this seems do-able, but in real life… hmm.

My husband is at his wits end dealing with my constant messy style of living, and our children who have been in and out of sickness, test his patience with their sleep deprived outbursts. I decide this is the morning to pop open that $1.98 can of happiness – cinnamon rolls. This lifts his mood, and I decide to seize the opportunity to jump online.

I get about 1/3 the way through the first assignment at hand, when that tiny little baby girl comes crawling fast towards me. This can only mean one thing for her – she wants to eat from mom. As much as I cherish her cuddliness, I know that I don’t have the energy to sustain focus on what I’m doing with multiple interruptions.

My husband sees the need, and with his tummy happily full of buttery cinnamonny goodness, he shares the magical word that make everything better. “Outside”. To an infant, this means sleepy escape. To a toddler, this is a nirvana of unexplored wonder. To me, this meant 20 minutes of hard core ‘study’ time.

Upon them leaving, I nearly finish everything.

Decent ending to a decent morning.

But this gives me a glimpse into what my immediate future holds. This was just the orientation.  I haven’t even started actual courses yet. What will it be like when it’s Poli Sci 500, and 20 page research papers are due, and I’ve got a week of over time ahead of me?

I have yet to do school successfully after an 8 hour shift at work. For starters – my legs can’t move for a full 10 hours after work, so how could I even make it to my computer? Impossible! And other than that – just no. So I know my days off are my best chance at getting through this coursework. Bigger chunks on less intense days. It’s honestly my only option. My children will never stop needing me, and knowing what it’s like to stay at home, I KNOW my husband needs a break too.

So how can I do this? How can we do this? Maybe you have a different day to day. Maybe you substitute the word child for “sick grandma” or “second job”. How can this be done? How can we improve our quality of life while simultaneously swimming (drowning) in responsibility?

First of all, we can never sacrifice what’s ACTUALLY important. If you look back, and your family doesn’t know who you are, it is in fact, not worth it. But you can balance this concept by choosing to be truly present.

Sometimes, that means spending 5-10 solid minutes of me staring into my daughters eyes, telling her she is loved and valuable, instead of spending 2 hours “watching” her play. If 2 hours isn’t what you have, do it better than you ever have in 5 minutes.

That means instead of unwinding with 2-20 hours of TV (which I previously thought were absolutely necessary), I take myself and my exhausted hubby off the couch, and we eat cereal in bed and marvel at the videos he snapped of our kids that day.

(Correction – I eat cereal in bed. He doesn’t like the mess it makes.)

And second, if we can just remember that long term reward can take short term sacrifice, it makes it so much better. If it’s hard now, it’s okay, because a better future is ahead because of the difficulty. Don’t let the challenge be what stops you. Take it, master it, and win.
Lastly, work smart. I am in online school because of how I live my life. I’m not at all interested in being 40 and having my first child. We got started young, and I do not apologize for that. But that makes it a little more tricky to balance in a culture that doesn’t respect that method of family raising. I had the University experience when I was first married, and they did not understand that I had other things going on. I am truly thankful that the Starbucks College Achievement Plan really gets it. I found what works for me. No excuses any more! Master your time!!

In the words of Shia LaBeouff “Just DO IT!” Let’s go!!

Tea Time: You Get Out What You Put In

I’d like to start by mentioning that after several experiences of putting together events in which I put my heart and soul into, I have become something of an event planning ninja. A novice ninja, perhaps, but a ninja nonetheless.

I heard a story about the concept of what you put in you get out in church this weekend, and it reminded me of the Thanksgiving we had last week.

I spent months planning Thanksgiving. Months.

It was that important to me.

I will give you the cliff notes version of my Thanksgiving: 3-D pumpkin pie invitations in the mail, 25 place settings of real china, homemade everything (the most important part to me), a B O M B turkey, photo booth with props, and leftover bags including homemade cranberry jelly and take home “thankfulness” activities.

I had a BINDER. 3 rings that held the master timeline, the 18 recipes that made up our menu, shopping lists, and to do lists that would make this event be what I envisioned.

I wanted it to be more than just eating- it had become something of a drag for our family, and I wanted to make it special- something to remember.

I wanted it. And so I prepared.

It was work. I really realized that on Thursday morning around 3 am when I finally finished all that prep I had started at 10am the morning before, so that on the day of I could seamlessly swap things in and out of the oven, without missing any family time.

I put my heart and soul into that, and all the other events I’ve ever done that were important to me.

But my pastor shared this concept with us on Sunday in a sports metaphor (of which I only understood a third of) and then it dawned on me.

What if I put this amount of preparation into something truly meaningful?

By meaningful I mean more than just it made my family happy, more than just it was memorable, more than just ‘awesome for a day’.

Something that could really change the world- what if I put that kind of heart-and-soul preparation into that?

**Cue a series of questions for your reflection**

What goal are you pursuing? What are you trying achieve, put on, or accomplish? Whether it is small or big, meaningful or just for fun, what is it? Can you identify it?

What kind of preparation are you putting into that?

When is the last time you passionately and meticulously thought through every detail for the thing you wanted, and then began to execute that plan?

When I think about this concept, I’m incredibly inspired.

My pastor was pretty spot-on with his sports metaphor. In fact this concept is often amplified in sports movies. When the underdog knows he is going to be put in for the big game, he practices harder and better than ever before. He studies every film the film room has of that opposing team so that they can know exactly what they are up against. And when the game time comes – they almost always emerge victorious because they were fully ready – despite the numerous odds that were stacked against them.

The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 really reminds me of this principle. The metaphor Jesus is using is for us as Christians to always be on guard, as we don’t know when He will come back. But that has little to do with what I’m thinking. I like to think that the 5 wise virgins also had a 3 ring binder, like the one I had for Thanksgiving, which was filled with the details they needed to remember for their trip – like the extra oil that made them so famous.

But truly what is it that we can put that kind of energy into? What is worth it to you?

Perhaps it is building an organization. Maybe you have dreams of a better world for foster children, and you want to do something about it. What kind of heart-and-soul preparation are you putting into that dream? Is every waking moment spent obsessing over the plans for the building space you will use? Have you spent hours thinking through the programs you will put in place? Have you read every document you can get your hands on that speaks to the field you are in? Do you know what you are up against? Will you defeat the opposition, despite the odds? If you become an expert on what your up against, you will know exactly how to win.

Often times fear, lack of resources, or even something like having “a steady job” interferes with this kind of preparation. That kind of preparation is usually saved for special occasions because it is so difficult. But why would you let difficulty be the end point of your great work? If you aren’t living to make the world different, is what you are living for worth it?

Think bigger than just being comfortable. When you do, I believe you will find an enormous amount of fulfillment, you will teach your children (and your children’s children- and their children’s children) something that will last forever – and that is that we are here to not just be, but to be great.

Don’t have resources? What do you have? There is no way that a true winner will be stopped because they didn’t have everything in a row in front of them. Don’t have the building space for your organization? Well your backyard it is. Don’t have money for that project? Get on Pinterest – DIY until your thumbs fall off. Kids taking too much time away from your dream? Find a way to include them in what your doing. Bring the pack n play to a few meetings. You can figure it out, if the cause is important enough.

Honestly, my Thanksgiving was awesome for my family, but one look at the Kardashian Thanksgiving table-scape put me to shame instantly. (Dang you Instagram!) But those memories made were so precious, and the vision of family togetherness that I had really did come through. It may not happen like you think it should always – but with the kind of heart-and-soul preparation I’m talking about – you will win.

I’ve been meditating on what that means to me, and I haven’t fully discovered what it is that is worth that kind of excellent preparation for me. But when I do, I will be sure to share.

Please share with me what this means to you! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(Also for all those who are pin happy – the rest of this post is all about Thanksgiving! Feel free to share and check out all the ways you can improve your holiday get together’s! )

The most important part was the menu of course! I didn’t get many good pics of the food, but all of these links are pretty close to what mine looked like!

Appetizers:

Puff Pastry Tarts

Loaded Sweet Potato Skins

Skinny Spinach and Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms

Sides:

Roasted Garlic Sage Pesto Pumpkin Soup with fried Pumpkin Seeds

“Pumpkin” Rolls (Mine turned out less than pumpkin looking)

Crispy Autumn Kale Salad

Green Bean Casserole (Non processed!)

Baked Mashed Potatoes with Parmesan

And Grandma’s Stuffing (Grandma on both sides!) No recipe for that yet…

Meats:

My AMAZING turkey! I use a combination of Anne Burrell’s brine and turkey prep, and I use Alton Brown’s cooking method for a super flavorful and super juicy turkey!! It’s amazing.

Prime Rib that my mother in law cooked! Delish!

Desserts: (other than pies on pies on pies that family brought)

Cranberry Parfaits with Sparkling Cranberries

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cinnamon chip biscottis with French Hot Chocolate

And of course, a cocktail: The Rummy Pumpkin

And now, please enjoy a slideshow of the pictures that were taken! (I wasn’t able to get everything photographed, sadly 😦 I need a photographer to follow me around I think.)

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Tuesday Tea: Fear is not an Excuse

It was December 2013, we were in yet another hospital room, just Christian, myself, and our little Russell.

Russell had a pretty mild virus we were fighting, and as the transplant protocol requires, we had to wait it out in the hospital.

We usually spent our time in the hospital watching TV (usually Food Network- I consequently love to cook now because of all that Food Network).

But as we settled in at this particular visit, Christian began to scroll through his Facebook feed and noticed an old acquaintance that had moved to Texas years earlier. He and his girlfriend were expecting a baby, and were seeking adoption.

I was a Facebook friend with that friend as well, and I had seen the post. I really didn’t think much, just thought through how hard that might be in their situation, being teenagers and regularly the “on again off again” couple.

Christian turned to me, he was reclined in the chair, and he says to me “so… Are we up for adoption?”

I looked at him, I threw up my arms as if to put the environment around me on display and said “what?! We are in the hospital right now? What?”

That was the beginning of our journey through adopting our son Roman.

Christian and I both had decided individually before we even knew each other that we wanted adopted children as a part of our family. We didn’t have a plan for how that would go down, but as we should have expected, God would put that timing into its perfect place.

We were definitely clueless, really didn’t have much money, and had no idea where Russell’s transplant would land us in the long run.

After that initial conversation when Christian asked me if we wanted to adopt, I had some time to pray and meditate on what that would mean. I re-learned a lesson that I had become quite familiar with in that time.

The lesson: fear is not an excuse.

What is fear? Why do we as a culture allow fear to rule us? Why can’t we see outside of comfort?

Why should we be afraid of following the voice and call of God?

Why do things like not having enough money, the right job, the perfectly timed children, etc. drive our decisions?

He takes care of even the birds in the air… He is your Loving father… He only has the best plans for you. Why would you worry?

Fear is not an excuse.

Fear of disappointment is not an excuse to give up on what you feel lead to do.

That was the attitude we took in pursuing our adoption.

We reached out to Roman’s biological parents. The dad was the connection, but we had never met the mom.

His response was incredibly enthusiastic; hers (rightfully so) was more timid. Being separated by an entire state, we set up a Face Time meeting.

That set everything in motion. She liked us, we liked her, and so we commenced. Her grandparents had adopted her, and her grandparents had adopted her mom. So they knew a lot about adoption, and advised her to use an agency local to their city.  We of course agreed to their terms.

We had a few phone calls with the agency, set up a trip to Texas to meet both the parents, and the agency liaison.

I think now is a good tome to mention again that we had no idea what we were doing.

Although I believe being called to something means, “do it”, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy.

Fast forward to Valentines Day, 2014. We were very excited to head down to Texas for our first face-to-face meeting with the biological parents and the adoption agency liaison.

We were also going to find out the gender when we got there! It was going to be a great day. We left Russell with family, and headed out to Texas.

It was 9am that morning when we got the call that Russell’s transplant was ready. We were already across the border, and had to turn around.

And as you may know from my last post- that was the last day we had with our son Russell.

We not only had to process grief, but we were now faced with a new decision. Roman was due on April 24th, and it was February. We had to make some tough decisions, and we had to decide quickly.

Will we still pursue the adoption?

Will we become parents again after just losing our first child?

I honestly didn’t know what to do.

My husband, the rock that he is, usually just knows what to do. He honestly did not know.

This was to date THE hardest decision we’ve made as a couple.

On the one hand, no one would blame us for backing out. Most would even encourage us to back out. It’s what seemed easiest. we had been quoted by the adoption agency that we needed about $10,000 to use them. We had no money. Not to mention we were grieving, and the process was complicated and would take a lot of time and energy that I wasn’t sure we could muster up.

But when you feel called to something, there is this undeniable voice that reminds you that it’s God inspired. Who are we to ignore that?

But still it was just a hard call. Clearly the reasons against outweighed those for.

Decision time was approaching. If we were going to back out, we needed to let the parents know as soon as possible so they could choose another couple.

We had to figure out where that giant sum of money would come from. Would we take out a loan? Ask people? So many hard things to think about for two grieving parents, just 21 years old.

It was one week after Russell had died, and we were laying in bed talking about how we had no idea what to do.

We gave up talking, and decided to pray. We don’t usually give God ultimatums or timelines, but in this instance we needed a clear answer. We just needed guidance.

We prayed out loud together.

“God, if this is supposed to happen, you will make the money happen by this weekend.”

(It was a Wednesday, so we figured we’d give God a couple days I guess.)

The next day, I had an all day salon session that my family had bought me as a gift. (Oh how I love the salon). My sister was with me.

It was about 11am when I had a text on my phone from a friend who a year earlier had enrolled us in the life insurance policies he had started selling. He was asking for our address.

I figured he was sending us a “thinking of you” card or something.  I asked him why he needed it.

His text back said “So I can send you the paperwork for your policy on Russell”.

I wasn’t sure what he meant, as insurance in all forms confuse the toots out of me.

He replied “you guys had coverage on Russell, and your check will come to about $10,000. We need to get the paperwork started.”

I was brought to tears.

That was when we knew for sure for sure that this was of God. We had honestly forgotten that we asked for coverage on Russell, this was truly shocking, and all the confirmation we needed to pursue our adoption.

It was exactly enough to meet the quote the agency gave us.

It was time to call them and let them know.

We hadn’t told many people about the adoption, since we hadn’t officially started the process with the agency, so it was hard to explain ourselves to those on the outside looking in.

On paper, our situation looked shady. We lost our son just months before attempting to adopt- it looked quite iffy. It appeared to those who didn’t know the whole story that we were trying to replace our son with this new baby.

Of course you know that is not what happened. And further, we had a bigger support system than most people in similar situations.

But unfortunately that wasn’t clear to the agency.

The liaison called that same day I found out about the money. The first contact we’d had since we let them know we would have to reschedule the original appointment that day we were called in for Russell’s transplant.

I let her know we had lost Russell, but after much thought and prayer had decided to pursue the adoption. She had to talk to a few people, and said she would call back.

When she did call back, she told me that looking at all the circumstances, they as an agency (specifically the social worker on the case whom I had never met or spoken with) couldn’t justify putting their stamp of approval on the adoption. I pleaded to let me have an interview with them so they could see that we were different, but the liaison said definitively that they could not take us through their system.

I was crushed. An initially difficult and complicated situation had now grown much, much harder.

I was then worried that because this obstacle seemed insurmountable, we in fact were not called to this despite the incredibly clear confirmation we received.

Ugh- fear. Such a killer.

I confided in my pastor with our back and forthery on what the right decision was. She reminded me that if it’s supposed to happen, God would make a way.

Sometimes reaching out is the only way to really hear what you need to hear.

She was right, of course.

We told the parents what had gone down, about the money, the agency, and how we felt.

They took a few days to think about it, and agreed to still have us be the parents. We would pursue a private adoption. (That means using your own lawyer/social worker instead of having an agency do that for you.)

We finally met up with them in Texas, set a plan in motion, and waited for the arrival of our son.

Roman Michael Hodgden (we got to choose his name) was born April 13th, 2014 at Hendrick Hospital in Abilene Texas. We had to wait about two weeks in Texas for all the paperwork to be signed and legal, and at last, we brought our tiny baby boy home.

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Our hotel digs while waiting for adoption papers to be filed

I even got to nurse him, as I still had milk from Russell.

Roman, now nearly 2, is a beautiful boy, who laughs often, and truly loves life.

He did not replace Russell by any means, but he did fill our arms again.

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Our family in May 2014

 

I learned that once you become a parent, being a parent becomes a part of your identity. That is not something that goes away.

I am so grateful for how Roman entered our family. He was not only our second born son that is ours to watch grow and be great, but he is another personal evidence of God in my life. Another reason I know that I know that my God is real and is actively looking to fill my life with the best.

To end, I’d just like to say this – if you have been letting fear be your excuse for not being all that you are called to be – don’t.

Fear is not an excuse. There are great things in store for those who are bold enough to step into the unknown.

God has you.

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The End of a Life, the Beginning of a Legacy

 

It was February 21st, 2014 around 5 pm. The doctor who was responsible for reporting our MRI results came in. I already had a strong dislike of this man, because I could sense he hated how optimistic I was that my baby boy, only 11 months old, would live a long, full, purposeful life.

He opened the doors that concealed the computer in our hospital room, and began to show us the scans of a normal brain, and then showed us our son’s. I was more and more irritated as he began to talk.

I had quite a knack for being incredibly full of belief in a miracle when the doctors handed us bad report, after bad report. I literally didn’t care what they said. Not because I didn’t want to face reality, but because I knew my God was bigger, and that the promises in the Bible of healing were real, current, and for my son.

But this particular doctor really knew how to rain on my belief parade, and it made me mad.

 

I only had 2 encounters with this doctor. The first was on our 1st day in the PICU while waiting on a second transplant for Russell. (The first one failed just hours after the surgery due to a mysterious lack of blood flow to the organ.) But this final visit was the one when he told us that our son had suffered brain damage to an irreparable extent. The damage had manifested during the 3 days we spent waiting for a new liver that never came.

Those 3 days of waiting had dragged on and on. We’d spent approximately half of Russell’s final 4 months of life in hospital stays. But all that time combined doesn’t compare to how long those 3 days lasted.

 

It was a very different world, the Pediatric ICU.

Aside from a more attentive staff, and quieter arrangements than that on the regular “Ped’s floor”, it also differed because instead of staying up late with Russell, trying to make sure he wasn’t too upset from going NPO for 2 days in a row, or trying to help the nurse keep him asleep during 2am vitals, it was just my husband and I, essentially alone, sitting in a room with our baby, who was no longer in a conscious state of mind.

His bloated body filled just a small portion of the bed. There were wires in and out of just about every part of his body. He was sedated, in no pain, but essentially asleep. It felt like that – that he was just sleeping. The ventilator and multiple dialysis machines were doing the work that his body no longer could.

His eyes would open every once in a while, and I would so desperately try to elicit a response from him. I was hoping he would know he was loved, and hoping he knew it would be okay. That is all I cared about, was him knowing he would be okay. I wanted to transfer the peace I had about the situation to him.

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The first day in the PICU after the first transplant.

 

The Bible talks about a peace that comes from God and his Holy Spirit that surpasses human understanding. That peace was incredibly real to me in those hours.

The time in the PICU was one where I spent as much time feeling that peace as I could. I made sure to protect that environment. There were a few times I even kicked out some of the more nervous nelly family members and friends from the room, because I just couldn’t allow them to affect that atmosphere of peace I had encountered. I meditated in the promises of the Bible for all 72+ hours.

Until that stupid doctor came in with his stupid images, and all that belief no longer mattered in the face of facts. That was it. There was no more wait and see.

This was the first time I realized that my baby could actually die.

Upon hearing that he was no longer able to stay on the ventilators, my first reaction was simply to be angry. I don’t think I was angry with God, because in my heart I knew it wasn’t God who took Russell’s life away. That goes against the character of Jesus, and I don’t believe that is what happened. But I was angry because I simply could not understand.

I walked down the hall to the bathroom across from the general waiting area – I had to avoid eye contact with everyone there on the way. When I cry, I like to do it in private – bathroom stalls, showers, and closets. So that was where I was headed. I just kept muttering, “I don’t understand”. That was the only thing that kept racing through my mind. I wanted to understand, and I couldn’t. The reality hit me like a train. I sat in that stall and just felt it all.

I wanted to know why my belief didn’t matter. I wanted to know why the promises of healing in the Bible seemingly didn’t apply to us. I wanted to know why God let me down. I wanted to know why my son was on the verge of death. I just wanted to know why. I felt like if I could understand this, I could come back to that place of peace.

But the thing is, that peace that comes from God really does surpass understanding. I now understand that I, in fact, will not understand. That is still hard, nearly 2 years later, to think about. But to anyone who may be struggling, please, PLEASE hear this – that peace is still possible, even with the unanswered questions.

That peace is and was a very real thing.

But there it was. Our new reality was that our son would not make it to his first birthday.

The doctor (the PICU doctor on call who we liked) gave us the instructions as they turned off the ventilator. We would get to hold our son in his last living moments until there was no more gasping for breath. We were allowed to hold him in this time.

His body was heavy. He had accumulated not only wires flowing in and out of his body, but since it was his liver that needed the transplant, he couldn’t process his bodily fluid the same way a healthy human can, and his body was filled with excess water and fluid. It was strange to be holding him for the first time in 4 days and the weight feel so unfamiliar. Christian and I took turns holding him. We spent a few moments with our immediate family so that they could say their goodbyes, but the last few gasps of air he took were just between my husband and I.

We helped the nurse take his footprints, and waited with him until the coroner came to pick him up.

There were a couple of moments of great significance that night, and the following day.

The first was a visit from Christian’s great aunt and uncle, who also lost a child.

They answered our practical questions. They told us that when we don’t know what to do – which is a common feeling in that surreal emotional void that comes when your beloved is no longer there – to just hold each other and cry. It seems like one might do that naturally, but in a time of intense emotion, it’s hard to know what kind of behavior you should display, and what isn’t healthy. But I think having them walk us through that was so, so important. It allowed us in the first moments of grief to be able to look forward, and have a sense of direction. We weren’t just wandering aimlessly in our thoughts and feelings after that encounter. I am so grateful for their insight.

The other significant moment for me was how my husband responded.

When the night’s events were over, family members and friends had gone home, we were left all alone, and suddenly childless. We chose to spend that night in the hospital room we were borrowing through the Ronald McDonald program, so that we didn’t have to immediately face our empty apartment where Russell’s toys were still laying on the ground.

As we entered that room, and laid on the bed, we took our aunt and uncle’s advice and just held each other and cried. But Christian showed a side of himself that I am still in awe of. He did process his own emotion, but his attention began to turn toward protecting me. He wrapped his arms around me, and began to remind me of all the beautiful memories we had with Russell. When he could have been wallowing in his own sadness (and I would have been okay with that) he turned my deep sorrowful thoughts of the life that was no longer, to the life that was. He mustered up the spiritual understanding he had, and gently turned my attention on those things. He was indeed a rock for me in those moments. For this I am so, so grateful. I used that example of his strength in the following months, and in some ways “returned” (for lack of a better word) that to him in his darker moments. I truly believe if we survived that, we can survive anything.

The last significant moment worth sharing today, is how there everyone was for us, especially that night. We had accumulated somewhere around 500 people that had been following our story, outside of just family. There were somewhere around 50 people who came to be with us that night.

I personally was astounded at the love and care people took of us when this happened. In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have thought that many people would care about our story. Our pastors, my Mary Kay sisters, our family and so many were so incredibly there. It truly inspires me and warms my heart to think back on this. We had meals provided to my parents, Christian’s family, and us for a solid 3 weeks after Russell passed away. It was all just amazing. If anyone is reading this that was one of those people, my heart is so truly grateful for you.

There were many other moments of significance in that time, but honestly those are the things that stand out. We planned a funeral, we pursued our adoption, and we have had another baby since then.

I want to further share how I processed this spiritually and emotionally, because I have learned so much from this, but I will save that for another time.

My closing thoughts are this: If you have a life, please live it. Do something great with the time you have, because every minute is precious.

Until next time…

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The last time I held Russell when he was fully concious.