advent this year

I’ve always loved the season of advent, though my experience of it has varied pretty widely since I became a parent. Some years it was more sweet than I ever could have imagined, like Luke’s first advent or the year I was pregnant with Gracie. Other years it was chaotic and rich with grace. This year I think we are somewhere in between. It’s been a joy watching the kids anticipate Christmas through their advent routines each day, but I haven’t felt as grounded in my own personal anticipation. Quiet mornings of solitude have been hard to come by thanks to a couple weeks of 5:30am kid wake ups (WHY, children? It’s the darkest time of the year!). Nevertheless, advent marches on, and I’ve tried my best to prepare room in my heart for the coming of Jesus.

This year I decided to incorporate four advent activities into our daily routine – each day the kids would get to take the lead on two of them, then they’d switch the next day. In the morning, we take out a new character in our nativity advent and then unwrap a Christmas book.

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This nativity calendar was a new gift, and it has been a big hit with both kids. It’s a little tricky to me, because how do you put things into order? It seems like baby Jesus should be last, but it’s a little awkward to have everyone – including the wise men! – showing up before him. Alas, that’s what we did. I think it’d be too confusing to run this calendar mid-December through Epiphany, so it is what it is. And as you can see from the picture, the kids have fun playing with it and rearranging it each day anyways.

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Also new this year is our book advent. I realized that we had accumulated a bunch of Christmas books that I put away each year, so it’s pretty exciting when they come out. I decided to make it a little more special by wrapping each one so that they could take turns opening one each day. I mixed up the order in the basket, so Luke has to find the right number each day, which is good practice for him. Some are simple board books, but they’ve all been well received. I didn’t quite have 24, so I supplemented with a few dollar store coloring books and stickers for a few days. We’ll definitely be doing this again, the kids have loved it.

In the evenings we focus more on the true meaning of advent. After a couple years of trudging through “family” advent devotionals that were still going over Luke’s head, I brought it down to a better preschool- and toddler-friendly level.

Before dinner, one of the kids helps light the advent candle(s) and opens the door on our little Precious Moments advent calendar from my childhood. Each day gives a snippet of the Christmas story – 1: “Long ago in the city of Nazareth…” 2: “Lived a young woman named Mary.” It’s perfect for little ones.

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After dinner, we read a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible. This has by far been my favorite part of advent this year. My kiddos have always had a hard time with “Bible reading” – as soon as they see their Bible, they ONLY want to read the Noah’s Ark story. Not even joking. But suddenly we’ve had a shift, and they (well, mostly Luke) are engaging in each story. A big help in that has been coloring sheets. Each day I print out a related coloring page, and they color it while I read the story. It helps to have busy hands, and Luke got interested in coloring about 5 minutes ago, so the timing has been great. Hearing him ask questions and seriously coloring his page has filled my heart. And the Lord knew I’d need that, because Luke always has a really rough growth spurt around his half birthday (December 10). His behavior and emotions have been a roller coaster, but doing this Bible reading together has been a true sweet spot. Often he wants to keep coloring after the story is finished, so I sit and color with him, which is bliss.

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Zondervan Publishing actually offered free printables for the the advent reading plan this year, so it’s been fun to use them. The kids take turns pulling the next one out of the basket, and after our reading is done, we hang it up with a little clothespin. I love the Jesus Storybook Bible because they make such an effort to clearly show how each story “whispers His name” – getting to dialogue with Luke about this, and starting to expand his understanding of Jesus’ birth has been awesome.

So that’s what we are doing this year, with Luke at 5.5 years old, and Gracie at almost 3. I’m excited to see how our celebration will grow and evolve over the years!

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not waiting to wait

Now that it’s halfway through January, my blog reader is finally starting to slow down with all the new year’s resolutions and goals and various words people have chosen as their theme of 2015.

And I’m over here, still reflecting on advent.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the newness of January, and I’ve done my own share of goal setting and re-organizing for the new year. It’s just that I am still thinking about the end of 2014. Maybe it’s the fact that Luke still asks if we can celebrate advent every day, or just the general speed of life these days. Either way, I’m still processing.

I love the season of advent. I thrive on anticipation, always have. So advent is just right for my personality.

This year, advent didn’t go exactly how I’d hoped. A nasty (and long-lasting) stomach bug made its way through 3/4 of our family, spread out over three weeks. I received more etsy business than I’d really prepared for, which was awesome, but made for a busy month. Gracie has been teething/growth spurting/whatever-ing that has caused some sleep disruption. And Luke is three and a half (enough said).

Last year, advent was such a sweet time. I was in my last trimester of pregnancy, which brought with it lovely anticipation and a killer nesting instinct. I was so well prepared going into advent that I had plenty of time to enjoy the season awaiting the celebration of Christ’s birth.

This year? Not so much. Many times Ian and I made the dramatic comment, “I feel like our lives are out of control.” Because our home has been a bit chaotic. And with the sicknesses, we had to hunker down and stay home more than usual. Which means more mess. And despite my best efforts at creating big-movement opportunities (pillow jumping, anyone?), it means excess energy from our boy. Which results in frenzied activities like decorating and re-decorating the tree.

Look closely and you will spy a napkin, ribbon, a box, some bows, a library DVD, a stuffed animal and a baby bottle.

Look closely and you will spy a napkin, ribbon, a box, some bows, a library DVD, a stuffed animal and a baby bottle.

Or filling the pack-n-play up with random toys in the time it took me to slice our pizza. Not make it, just slice it. (And yes, the pack-n-play emerged as a desperate attempt to corral the baby while I took a shower).

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Our chalkboard was definitely not pinterest-worthy by any means. I was usually a couple days late switching the week’s theme, it was written in a hurry, and usually covered in scribbles by the end of the day.

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We went through a family advent devotional that includes a Jesse tree with an ornament for each day. I had high hopes to create felt ornaments for Luke to unwrap every day and stick on his felt tree. I got through day 5.

I thrive in a neat and orderly environment. I don’t like to relax until everything is cleaned up. And yet, for this season of life, there is so much grace. So much.

Instead of waiting until I had everything nice and neat and prepared before celebrating advent, I was able to jump in and embrace what was there before me. Mugs of coffee gone cold long before I even got my first sip, bows and wrapping paper strewn about, stopping Gracie from her valiant attempts to reach the Christmas lights, reminding Luke for the millionth time to please be gentle with the ornaments – God found my heart in the midst of those chaotic moments and allowed me to anticipate his joy despite my own idea of what waiting and anticipation might look like.

Did it feel as magical as last year? No. But it was full and rich and beautiful in its own messy way. And Jesus’ birth? Not exactly a neat and orderly event either. I’m sure Mary had different ideas about where she wanted to bring him into the world, but once she held him in her arms, I doubt it mattered. And I felt a bit like that this year. Sure, the constant mess might have overwhelmed me, but if I looked up and saw the two little cuties I’ve been blessed with – a boy who memorized our scripture-based advent calendar and a baby girl so curious about everything around her – then my heart felt filled and grounded.

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Infertility, Adoption, Pregnancy: Our Story So Far – Part 2

It is still so crazy to me that Ian and I have experienced infertility, adoption, and pregnancy. All three parts of our journey have deeply affected who we are – as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.

Every person has a unique story. Often our stories overlap in places – those moments when you feel a connection of “yes, I know what that feels like!” Throughout my life, I’ve always been greatly encouraged by hearing other people’s stories – both ones that I can easily relate to, and ones that widen my perspective of the different experiences that people have. I wanted to take some time and share our story – so far. I wrote most of these posts a year ago, but I wanted to wait until we had another little person and not just a pregnancy before finishing the last part. Well, apparently I ended up waiting 10 months. Anyways, here you go – in three parts over three days, so you’re not stuck reading it allll at once!

To read Part One, click here.

Part Two: The Absolute Joy of Adoption

Just minutes after meeting our son!

Just minutes after meeting our son!

Sometimes when I tell people our adoption story, I feel almost guilty for how quickly we seemed to move from despair to hope. Silly, I know – it’s just that many people have stories that involve years of disappointment and loss and indecision related to their infertility. For us, it was pretty straightforward – which is definitely a reflection of our personalities. While we were heartbroken to discover that we probably wouldn’t get pregnant, it didn’t change our desire to have a family. We agreed that IVF was not something we wanted to try, so adoption was the next thing for us to consider. Again, we were so blessed to have close friends that were just finishing the adoption process – in fact, their daughter’s adoption came through just weeks after we made the decision to adopt! Her arrival not only solidified our decision to adopt, but she was such a joy and encouragement to us, like a bonus gift from God affirming our journey towards parenthood.

Now, I’ve always loved adoption – one of my best friends was adopted, and it always just seemed like a cool part of who she was. I also had this idea that maybe her parents loved her a bit more than most parents, since they went out and found her, she didn’t just “happen” to join their family. However, never did it seriously cross my mind to actually be an adoptive parent – that seemed like something that was for “kid people,” and I definitely did not consider myself to be a kid person. I mean, I think kids and babies are great, but my personality is to relate to them in the same way that I do adults – I have a closer circle that I enjoy investing time and relational energy in, but I’m not crazy about getting to talk with, play with or cuddle every kid I come across. Some people are just natural “baby whisperers” or have personalities that attract kiddos to them – but that’s not me. So my initial – and maybe only – hesitation with adoption was, “really, God, me? Are you sure I’m the right person to adopt?”

Once we started the adoption process – the application, the fingerprints, the homestudy application, the classes, the homestudy visits, the profile book – it was exciting. Sure, it took time and sometimes the paperwork was tedious, but it was all a step closer to growing our family. I still remember exactly how I felt and what we did on the day of our first homestudy visit – such anticipation! It’s interesting to look back and see what happened emotionally over just a short time: from grief over our infertility – some days I felt like I could barely catch my breath from the pain – to an almost giddy, joyful anticipation.

When I think about this time, the word that comes to mind is elpis, a Greek word that is most often translated as “hope” in the New Testament. The word is so much richer than the wishful use of “hope” that we often use today – elpis is a confident expectation of things to come. I was confident that God was at work growing our family, and that made it easier – even exciting – to trust him through all the unknowns. Was it still hard when it seemed like everyone I  knew was getting pregnant? Sure. But it helped so much to be moving forward in a direction – I could still feel the grief (and jealousy, let’s be honest) but I had a solid place of hope to land on, not a bottomless pit of despair.

We were able to complete all our requirements and be officially approved and ready to adopt about nine months after we started the process. While it was super exciting to reach that point, we knew that we could be in the next phase indefinitely, just waiting for a birth mother to choose us to parent her child. This, in my opinion, is the hardest part of the adoption process. All those supportive people in your life? Suddenly they are asking you questions all the time: “any news? baby on the way?” It’s completely out of love and support, but it does get tiring – having to think of a response, and having to hear the questions on days when you are discouraged or are trying not to think about how long you will wait.

Waiting for an adoption is tricky - how much do you prepare? How much can your heart take? This was Luke's room one month before he joined our family - we had a carseat, a crib, and one newborn-sized onesie I had hand-stamped.

Waiting for an adoption is tricky – how much do you prepare? How much can your heart take? This was Luke’s room one month before he joined our family – we had a carseat, a crib, and one newborn-sized onesie I had hand-stamped.

To our complete surprise, we became parents only a couple months after completing our requirements! I will never forget receiving the phone call from our social worker.

I have never felt so incredibly elated, shocked, and overwhelmed with gratitude. It was like getting the news of a positive pregnancy test and having the baby within 30 seconds – if that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is! You can read more about Luke’s birth story and adoption finalization if you want to relive the awesomeness.

I’m pretty sure I stayed high on that mountaintop of love and joy and excitement for at least a year. One of the things I had worried about with adoption is that I wouldn’t get the postpartum hormones that help you bond with your child. That turned out to be a ridiculous fear, because holy moly, I was in love and the hormones showed up even though I didn’t give birth to him. There was never a moment of question; we were his parents and it was just meant to be.

Now Luke is three. Three! Most days go by without his adoption crossing my mind (although I think about adoption in general all the time – praying for friends who are still in the process and dreaming/scheming about adopting again someday). I’ll be reminded of how he joined our family when a stranger asks “where did he get his curly hair?!” or when he talks about how Gracie grew in my tummy. I don’t think he fully understands his story yet, and it’s just not a priority in his little world just yet. But we’ll keep telling him the amazing story of how he joined our family, and it will be a part of who he is.

Trusting God with my heart’s hopes and desires is a challenge – I like to hold on tight to my plans. I do hope that my ability to trust him continues to grow as he proves himself faithful over and over and over again. There are so many stories in my life of God’s abundant faithfulness – times where I didn’t get what I wanted; instead he gave me something much richer and deeper. And this – the story of how our firstborn son joined our family – is one of my favorite stories so far.

So in love with my little man.

So in love with my little man.

 

Infertility, Adoption, Pregnancy: Our Story So Far – Part 1

It is still so crazy to me that Ian and I have experienced infertility, adoption, and pregnancy. All three parts of our journey have deeply affected who we are – as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.

Every person has a unique story. Often our stories overlap in places – those moments when you feel a connection of “yes, I know what that feels like!” Throughout my life, I’ve always been greatly encouraged by hearing other people’s stories – both ones that I can easily relate to, and ones that widen my perspective of the different experiences that people have. I wanted to take some time and share our story – so far. I wrote most of these posts a year ago, but I wanted to wait until we had another little person and not just a pregnancy before finishing the last part. Well, apparently I ended up waiting 10 months. Anyways, here you go – in three parts over three days, so you’re not stuck reading it allll at once!

Part One: Joining the Infertility Club

Celebrating our 3rd anniversary on Orcas Island.

Celebrating our 3rd anniversary on Orcas Island.

A few months before our 3-year anniversary, Ian and I decided that we were ready to add a little one to our family. We eased into it – not particularly “trying” to get pregnant, but leaving ourselves open to it happening. Around six months or so of that, we started being a little more intentional (ovulation charts, anyone?). When we still hadn’t gotten pregnant after about a year of that, we decided to do some testing to see what was up. Even though we really wanted to be pregnant, we were pretty chill about the whole thing, and were surprised that the doctor immediately gave us the label of having “infertility issues” simply because we’d gone a whole year without conceiving.

After a series of tests for both of us, they gave us our results, and they weren’t super promising – their recommendation was for us to pursue in vitro fertilization, and the most aggressive approach of IVF at that. They said it was highly unlikely that we’d  get pregnant with anything less than that procedure.

At this point, let me just say that while I don’t wish infertility on anyone, I have been immensely thankful that we have been able to have multiple friends with infertility challenges. Without those relationships, I think I would have felt so alone. And even at the very beginning of this journey, while I didn’t understand all the emotions that it would bring, at the very least I knew we weren’t alone, and that made a huge difference when hearing our diagnosis. (So if you are experiencing infertility – reach out to someone you know – it helps SO MUCH. Heck, email me if you think you don’t know anyone that’s walked down this road).

I’m not sure what other fertility clinics are like, but our experience was so bizarre. The doctor delivered this heavy news to us, then we were immediately ushered into another office to meet with someone about scheduling and financing an IVF procedure. No joke, she pulled out a calendar and rattled off the next few potential dates and what that would look like for us as far as injections, timing, etc. And of course the $15k+ financing options were discussed too. And everywhere you looked in this clinic, there were photos of happy babies – success stories. It was so strange! Luckily Ian and I were on the same page and walked out of there with a simple “yeah, we’ll think about it.”

While I wasn’t super emotional during that appointment (shock, I suppose), that evening I pretty much fell apart. It felt like my heart had been shattered, and I continued to feel intensely hurt for the next few weeks. I definitely questioned God’s goodness, and whether he even cared about the details of my life. Yet, even in the midst of sorrow, I was able to see glimpses of his grace – particularly his gentleness to my delicate heart. There were many ways that we could have discovered our infertility diagnosis, but the way it came about – sometimes phone calls from doctors that were slightly out of order, or premature – I felt like God gently eased us into hearing the news. For that, I felt extremely grateful – like I just barely survived emotionally because of his gentleness to me.

Nevertheless, infertility is a huge shock. I know there are some people that grow up knowing that they have infertility challenges due to a medical condition or some other known reason, etc. But for the majority of infertile couples, it comes as a complete shock. Having kids is just something you expect to happen – it’s perfectly natural for people to ask, “when will you start having kids?” because for most people, you just decide to go for it and it happens not too long down the road. Even more, infertility and pregnancy loss are still not talked about very openly, so even though lots of people experience struggles, it’s not always out in the open.

Even for us – personally knowing other couples that couldn’t get pregnant – it was a shock. Sure, it happened to them, but we had no reason to suspect that we would have any trouble conceiving. So it took time to adjust to this news that seemed so big and daunting. Again, I am SO thankful for our friends who have walked with us. This was a dark and difficult time in our journey of growing a family, but thankfully it was only part of the journey…

Celebrating our 4th anniversary

Celebrating our 4th anniversary, about a month before learning of our infertility challenges.

ten on ten: august 2012

I’ve found myself worrying about the future a lot over the last few days.

Our family is facing some changes and unknowns. We balance the “how is this going to work?” with the hope that I’ll find a new job before I leave my current position, a new job that will be a perfect fit.

Ultimately, we have to trust that God is guiding our family, and we just need to take faithful steps in whatever direction he leads, and at the pace he sets. And you know what? He has never let me down. I am over-the-top blessed, and that’s why it’s ridiculous to waste time worrying.

So my game plan for today was to choose gratefulness over worry. To help keep me on track and present in the  moment, I decided to link up with this month’s ten on ten.

seven: A few moments of crafting to the sounds of Luke babbling as he wakes up.

eight: Clean diapers for a new day. And a great helper, too.

nine: Loading the dishwasher. not my fave task, but satisfying to complete.

ten: mmm, homemade yogurt.

eleven: I love when Luke curls up and drinks his bottle in my lap. It feels like he’s still a little baby (and he actually sits still for more than 10 seconds).

twelve: Costco Gas. We were rocking out to Caspar Babypants while we waited.

one: We shared a nectarine at lunch. It was juicy and yummy.

two: I finally remembered to pull the pizza dough out of the freezer.

three: Lately I’ve been going through almost a whole pitcher of iced tea a day. Yep.

four: His laugh melts me in seconds.

That was my day.
And it was great.

love

everybody, everybody wants to love
everybody, everybody wants to be loved

happy is the heart that still feels pain
darkness drains and light will come again
swing open your chest and let it in
just let the love, love, love begin

[everybody by ingrid michaelson]

I am a big fan of love. Who isn’t?

I think about love a lot. I think about how blessed I am to be loved by so many people in my life. People who love me when I’m at my worst. People whose love brings out the best in me.

I think about the crazy, huge love that Jesus has for us. The love that the Jesus Storybook Bible describes as the “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” It’s crazy because we don’t deserve to be loved the way we are – all messed up with mixed motives, good intentions that never take flight, and flat-out failures.

But sometimes – and I don’t think I’m the only one here – God’s love feels so far away. So distant that I start to think that he must not care.

I’m not talking about right now – heck, now is one of those filled-to-overflowing-with-love kind of times in my life. But two years ago, I thought I might die of heartache.

I honestly don’t remember the exact day that we got the official diagnosis of our infertility issues, but it was somewhere around the end of January or beginning of February. At first there was sadness and shock. But then, oh my, devastation like I’ve never felt. It was awful. I felt like my world was crashing in and I couldn’t breathe.

I think most people just assume they’ll be able to have biological kids. So when we learned that we probably wouldn’t get pregnant without the help of in vitro fertilization, we were pretty surprised.

I cried hard for weeks, and I am not a huge crier by nature. I cried when I woke up, I cried falling asleep, I cried multiple times throughout the day – it was rough going.

And I can tell you that I didn’t have the kindest words for God and his “never-stopping” love during this time.

It’d be easy for me to sit here and say “but look at me now! We adopted this incredible little boy and life is wonderful again!” (Okay, he is incredible!) But what’s actually amazing – to me – is that I felt like life was wonderful again long before Luke came along. And THAT I credit purely to God’s love, grace, and faithfulness.

Yes, there were those weeks of crying and grief and feeling like I was at the bottom of a dark pit. But there was also grace in so many ways. Even in my sadness and anger, God somehow gave me the strength to cling to those bits of light. The grace of having close friends who understood what we were feeling and were able to support us so well. The grace of gradually getting our “diagnosis” piece by piece – a few tests were done, and the doctors went from “maybe you guys will need a little medical help getting pregnant” to “you’ll need the most intense IVF treatment out there” over the span of a few weeks. God was so gentle to me in that way; I don’t think I could have taken the shock of the whole situation right away.

And somehow love pulled me through. I was kicking and screaming about how unfair and unkind God was to me, but when I started to quiet down a bit, I was met with immense love and hope. I’m not talking about a simple acceptance of the circumstances or a change of plans –  I hear people say “oh, you can just adopt” as if you’re out shopping for something that’s out of stock and “oh, you can just get a different brand.” Trust me, no one “just” adopts, let alone couples that have gone through the shock of infertility.

The hope that I experienced – and Ian too, it happened for both of us as a couple – was full of eager anticipation and expectation about what God had in store for us. We went from wondering why God wouldn’t give us a pregnancy that we wanted so badly, to feeling like he was giving us an extra special privilege by leading us to adoption. After all the crying and grief, it was almost a feeling of giddiness. And definitely joy. The dreams that were crushed were replaced with bigger, brighter ones as we embarked on a new journey towards parenthood.

And what a ride! Better than I ever could have imagined, and pure love, I tell you.

potato print onesie / joy overcomes infertility devastationjust let the love love love begin

[everybody by ingrid michaelson]

grace for those crazy moments

It was one of those afternoons where things seemed to unravel quickly – mentally, at least.

It started with an accidental 10 minute nap in the car (Luke, not me).

That + teething  + a messy diaper right as he seemed to be drifting off to sleep + diaper rash  + over-tiredness = bad nap situation.

My patience faded fast. I had looked forward to the afternoon together – some good playtime on the floor, maybe a walk.
But this non-nap was taking over the whole afternoon.

After walking him around for awhile, I decided that maybe we should just forget about it and play. I could put him in the ergo for a nap later.

As soon as I set him down, his face crumpled and I knew he was saying “mama, I just need you to tough this out with me.”

So we walked some more, and soon he was sleeping peacefully. Not in his crib, and not for super long. But he relaxed in my arms and stretched out on the couch and he slept for just enough.

It’s those silly, frustrating moments that get to me. My mind can never stay with the situation at hand – sure, he was crying and over-tired, but it was only going to last for a little while. But my mind is waaay past that – “if I can barely handle one kiddo, how could I ever handle more?,” “This whole day is shot!,” and my personal favorite: “let me think of every.single.thing in my life that I can stress about right now.”

And you know what? As I watched Luke breathe deeply and sweetly, I realized – no, I probably can’t “handle it” on my own, and yes, the day could be a disaster if I let it, and sure, there are things that are stressing me.

But there is grace upon grace upon grace.

And that is what I need to cling to in those crazy moments.

(and let me state for the record, those moments are not many – we hit the jackpot with our amazingly content little man)

I love that God is patient with us in these moments, and thankful that he calmed my heart so that I could enjoy watching my son sleep, knowing that both of us are covered in lots of grace.

I’m linking up to the Found project on  Beautifully Rooted, a new blog that I’ve really been enjoying – it’s full of encouragement, craftiness and truth. They are hosting a weekly link-up called Found where you can share a photo of how you have found God in everyday life, and this is their first week!