Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Remicade, part 2

Last Friday I had my second infusion of Remicade (aka rat protein, aka wonder drug, aka inFLIXimab). As with my first infusion, it was super easy. No side effects, no problems, just 3 hours of me sitting in a recliner, blogging, knitting & instagramming. Not a bad life.

A few pics from my second infusion: 400mg of Remicade administered into my vein over the course of two hours, a poster in the hallway reminding me of all the germs infesting my body in the hospital where I receive my immune-suppressing medication (cruel, cruel irony that I have a bad cold as I type this), and my reward for having a needle placed in my arm during the lunchtime hour: falafel sandwich from Falafil King near the hospital. :)

All in all, it's been a smooth process. I'm thankful to be feeling better. My bloodwork still indicates that there is inflammation in my body, but my physical symptoms indicate that healing is indeed taking place. Since starting prednisone and then remicade, I've gone from losing lots of blood and going to the bathroom upwards of 10 times a day to normal, 1-2x/day visits to the bathroom. No more joint pain, no nausea. The only pregnancy symptom I'm experiencing currently is heartburn in the evenings. I'm feeling quite good.

Thanks for all your prayers and words of encouragement! Keep praying that the drug does its job and sends my colitis into permanent remission.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is it a him or a her, a ma'am or a sir? Part 3!

You can read about my previous gender reveals here and here. For our third baby, a surprise gift from God, I thought it would be fun to do a surprise reveal with the kids. This morning we had our 20-week ultrasound with the perinatologist and it was as perfect as perfect could be. I set up our secret reveal and waited for the kids to come home from school. Here's their sweet reactions:

Here's how we did the reveal:

They were both tickled, to say the least! I was afraid Maddie would be a little disappointed because she was hoping for a baby sister, but her response was classic Maddie: "I was expecting to have a baby sister, but I always wanted a healthy little baby brother! We're going to have another baby boy!" Sam kept picking up the little pumpkin and kissing it. They are seriously so sweet.
 And now for some ultrasound love! It was a perfectly wonderful experience. After our scare with Sam, I was afraid to be too excited about this morning's appointment. But as soon as the tech got started, she quickly assured us with "perfect" this, and "perfect" that. Everything measured easily and normally, much to our relief. As I sat there marveling over each amazing little detail, I completely forgot that we were also there to find out the sex! God had answered every prayer of my heart for a healthy baby. So much to be thankful for!

Perfect little profile:

Perfect little foot:

Perfect little left hand:

Perfect little smile:

Perfect little human being, growing inside my body! I keep saying to myself (in my best Rapunzel voice), "There's a PERSON in my BELLY." Crazy. And here he is, dancing away:

The Joyce family is over the moon! Thanks be to God for the incredible gift of the newest little pumpkin in our patch! And now, to think of a name. Stay tuned...

pumpkins, carved to order

It's pumpkin, it's pumpkin time. Da-dum, da-dum, da-da, da-da da-dum. (Flight of the Conchords, anyone?)

Anyway, obscure media references aside, after a long week away from the kiddos, it was SO good to be back together. Tonight was a perfect opportunity to spend some much-needed family time together. We carved pumpkins! Well, I made dinner and dessert and took pictures while Daddy & the kids carved pumpkins.

Maddie is a seed-remover extraordinaire! Ben is a hard-working carver who happened to take special, hand-drawn orders this year. :) Two pirate pumpkins ordered by our two pumpkins.

Sooooo cute! I think Ben did an awesome job and the kids are thrilled with their eye patches and other special requests (Sam's has ears). 

Looking forward to trick-or-treating with friends and around our wonderful neighborhood!

Monday, October 29, 2012

liebster love / things about me / blog love

So a lovely girl named Ellen, whom I met through the mug swap, nominated me for a liebster award. Who even knows the heck what this means, other than somebody reads my blog and wants to spread the love. I can get behind that! :) It's sort of a meme.

Liebster is a German word meaning sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. Considering I just came back from a Bavarian wonderland, well let me just say, Das ist zer gut!!!

The Liebster Award is given to up and coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.

It's simple...
1) List 11 things about you
2) Answer the 11 questions from the person who nominated you
3) Nominate 11 new people
4) Write 11 new questions for them to answer
5) Be sure to let the folks know they've nominated

11 Things About Me:

I love to bake. Being grain-free didn't stop me, but now that I'm back to eating flour and sugar (in moderation), I've been baking up a storm. This was my most recent and favorite recipe. I browned the butter and used the chai-cashew brittle. I almost died they were so good. Then I promptly wrapped them up and gave them away so I wouldn't finish the whole 8x8 pan myself.

I love the beach. I feel so at home at the ocean. I could walk for hours in the sand along the crashing waves. I got this from my sweet mom. She loves the beach more than anyone else I know.

I have THE MOST amazing family. I can't imagine a more wonderful, loving, supportive group of people to whom I happen to be related. I wish I could move my entire family down to my neighborhood. 

I love to read. I devour books. I read really, really fast and mourn when books are over. I wish I could slow down and enjoy books more, like a long, multi-course meal. I'm working on that. I love the smell of library books and used bookstores. Maybe when I "retire" I'll open a B&B where I can bake lovely things, host lovely people, and store a collection of lovely old books.

I have ulcerative colitis. My last scan showed that my insides are red and angry. That's why I head into SF every two-six weeks to get remicade infusions. Sitting in a chair for 4 hours isn't exactly a punishment. So far today (getting an infusion as I type this) I've instagrammed, facebooked, blogged, knitted, and looked at my new magazines. Sure beats running to the bathroom 9 times a day.

Speaking of colitis, I'm taking prednisone right now, too. It makes me crazy. And productive. And emotional. And wordy. The end.

I've been married for 12 years to my hubby Ben. I like him more every year. That is definitely God's sanctifying work in both of our lives. I highly recommend marriage and parenthood to increase the rate of personal sanctification. :)

Speaking of parenthood, I returned home from three days away last night to the most lovely, amazing, sweet, affectionate, and wonderful children. Sam said, "You such nice Mama. I love you so much. I never let you go away again......just kidding!" It seriously made me laugh and cry at the same time. His ability to express his feelings and his sense of humor grow with each day. What a crazy nut! Maddie kissed me a thousand times and shared all about her week. We snuggled together in the big bed, singing songs together and marveling at our luck to be parents to two strong, resilient, fun, loving, joy-filled kids. Such a great homecoming. Such a gift. I guess what this says about me is that I love being a parent, on the best of days (kisses and snuggles) and the worst (sanctification, baby!).

I am pregnant with our third child. We think it's a girl. I'm so sure it's a girl I'm knitting a pink blanket. If I'm wrong I'll be quite surprised, but I don't really care either way. We have a girl's name picked out, but not a boy's. I'll find out for sure on Tuesday at our 20 week ultrasound, as long as the baby is cooperating.

I'm a total klutz. I spilled bleach all over my black pants this morning. I trip all the time. I drop things. My hands shake when I'm concentrating, and it's worse if I'm hungry or highly caffeinated. I always have bruises that I don't remember causing. I run into things every day. I come by it pretty honestly.

I really, really love Jesus. Every day I fall more and more in love with the person and work of Christ. The love he has for his kids overwhelms me to tears. I feel so humbled and honored to be a part of his church and his family. I hope above all else that my life points people to the love, care, compassion, hope, joy and healing of a God who loves them.

11 Questions from the lovely Ellen:

1)   If you could be a book character who would it be? 
I'd want to live in the book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 
Love it. I don't think I want to be Mary, but I'd like to be her friend.

2)   What color are the walls in your home?
Downstairs they are a neutral taupe with accent faux-marbled painted walls. 
The previous owners did it and it looks good. Our room is light blue. Maddie's room is light green. 
Sam's is taupe.

3)   How often do you stop to thank God in and through your day?
Some days I feel like I'm in a constant state of gratitude. Other days, I'm way self-focused. 
I'd like to be more of the former.

4)   If the TV is on in your home, what are you watching?
DVR'd shows from the week: Grimm, Glee, Office Space, Modern Family, 
Parenthood, Pioneer Woman

5)   Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberry milk shakes?
CHOCOLATE, baby! But ice cream makes me really sick. :(

6)   How would you describe your style?
Mom style: workout clothes or jeans with a tank top, cardi and flip-flops (summer) 
or flats (winter). I'm not one of those girls who really loves to dress up. I don't wear a lot 
of makeup. Low-maintenances is the way for me. :)

7)   Name one thing about you that you wish more people would notice.
My green eyes! So few people have truly green eyes.

8)   Who was your teen idol?
John Stamos was my pre-teen idol. I was in his fan club.

9)   What is in your CD player or iPod cue right now?
Mumford & Sons, Civil Wars, Jesus Culture, Matt Redman

10)  What is your favorite accessory?

11)   If you could get on a plane right now, where would it be going?
Kauai, with my family & best friends, for a long vacation

11 New People (some of whom have more than 200 followers..but you should follow
 them anyway, because they're some of my most favorite bloggers):

11 New Questions to Answer:

1) Who is your personal hero?
2) Where is your favorite place in the whole world?
3) What is the best meal you've ever eaten?
4) Jesus: what does that name mean to you?
5) What do you admire most about your hubby?
6) If you could choose one super power, what would it be?
7) What do you like most about yourself?
8) Who is your favorite author (or what is your favorite book)?
9) Coffee, tea, or an alternative? Details, please.
10) Plastic, paper, or bring your own bag? 
11) What is one thing you wish for yourself, your kids, or your family?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Illuminations: Retreat Season

This past week Ben and I traveled to Leavenworth, Washington, for a Soma National pastors' retreat. It was a fun, relaxing, joy-filled, gratitude-inspiring, instagramming time. :) On our way over the Snoqualmie Pass, it was snowing! It was a treat to go from 70-degree East Bay weather to snow in 24 hours. The road was snowy, twisty, and two of us ended up pretty carsick. I felt bad for the guy who barfed. I managed to keep it together until we got out of the snow and on drier, straighter roads.

We stayed in the most lovely, cozy, and exceptional house. The views from our room (above collage, upper right) were spectacular. You could look up and down river, pear orchards surrounding the house and area, fall colors everywhere. Snow capped the tops of the mountains surrounding the river valley. It was breathtaking every morning to see as the clouds lifted and the sun started to break through. We were up before dark each day and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the sun come up.

The larger group gathered at another home across the river for prayer, worship, fellowship, and vision casting. The views from that side were gorgeous as well (bottom two pictures, above). I am from the Northwest so any time I visit I feel like I'm home. The colors of the deciduous trees set against the tall evergreens made me want to dance and sing. So, so amazing.

Every single pastor and pastor's wife (and one baby, Gage) were absolutely lovely. Honestly, I can't imagine a more wonderful, humble, spirit-filled, gracious and loving group of people. They are our "extended" Soma family and they truly feel like family, folks whose hearts we totally understand and feel at home with. I spent much of the past four days feeling really, really blessed. Who gets to do this? To journey with an amazing "nuclear," local Soma family plus a big bunch of crazy, fun cousins and aunts and uncles is beyond compare. God sure does love me!

Dinners out with a bunch of fun friends made for packed minivans (see Lesli, Kristi, Sarah, Dina, and baby Gage below, upper left pic). This was our last night together (Wednesday) and we went out to Mexican food then played pictionary, spoons, poker, and chatted late into the night. In the morning, I took a shower and then dried my hair looking out HUGE windows onto this view (below, upper right):

For our last meal in Leavenworth (Bavarian sweet spot in the heart of the WA Cascades), we were a little tired of heavy German food and hit up an amazing lunch spot. We were all yelping reviews after we ate there to help future Leavenworth tourists avoid the fried food and find the freshest salads and most delicious breads in town. The spot we ate lunch was on the left hand side of town in the picture above (lower left). We hit the road (no snow this time), with the two car sickies in front. The barfer drove and I sat in the passenger seat. :) On our way past Keechelus Lake, there was the MOST vibrant rainbow that stretched right over Hwy 90 and landed in the lake. You could actually see where the rainbow ended and we drove right under it! It was amazing! I took like six pictures as we drove through, and the one above (lower right) was the best. But it doesn't come close. I'll never forget it.

A few of my takeaways from the past few days:

Gratitude for our local and national Soma family. Humbled by everyone's grace and support.

God loves his church. He is jealous for it. Our enemy will do everything he can to steal our joy, destroy our hope, send us packing, or break our spirits. But the power and authority of Jesus is greater than any scheme of the devil. Resist him, and he will flee.

God is doing something really amazing both on a local and national level in his church. We have favor we shouldn't have. It's inexplicable apart from the work of the Spirit in the church and in the hearts of people. We are part of something really, really big that is going to have an impact on the hearts of the lost, for the glory of God. I have absolutely no doubt.

Our kids are learning a greater, deeper, richer experience of Jesus. Already we have kids listening for the voice of God and learning to wait on the Lord. How incredible. I truly believe that the next generation, our kids, will carry on the work we've started and all for the glory of our risen savior.

God is equipping his people and his church for a work that is far beyond their own skills, talents, or abilities. The work we have to do requires a radical dependence on God and a leaning into the Holy Spirit. Without a mighty anointing and the work of the Spirit, we are hopeless. We cannot and must not do this on our own strength.

God has given our church (national and local) leaders with hearts that are truly seeking him. I have no question in the ability of our leadership to lead us faithfully and diligently as they humble themselves before God and each other, working out their salvation with fear and trembling.

The Spirit is alive and well in our local church. We've been asking God to speak, and he is answering. People are getting dreams and visions and words from the Lord. Prophetic words are being spoken. Hope is being birthed in a new way. 

I have been ill for a reason. I have been asking God to reveal the reason and timing for my illness and though it is still unclear, my heart is turned again and again to the story of the blind man, of whom Jesus said,

When we were in WA, a group of faithful believers gathered around to pray for me and lay hands on me. As we've prayed for the past few years for God to heal me, we've also simultaneously been praying for a pouring out of the Spirit in our church and on our people. We've asked for healings and miracles and signs and wonders. And I've told God many times, "I'm happy to be a healing in our community, if your will, and for your glory and the joy of your people!" How awesome a story would that be?

Anyway, as everyone was praying for me, I felt so at peace. I had a vision of a leaf, floating down the river, and then I saw myself being carried along, downstream, floating and being carried along by the prayers of God's people and the work of his Spirit. I don't have a clear interpretation at this point, but in the moment it was enough for me to feel completely at peace, completely carried, completely trusting in God's plan and purpose for me. But I'm going to keep hoping and keep praying. I'd love to tell the story of how God healed my colitis as an evidence of his healing power and as hope for anyone needing healing! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

the prednisone project: bathroom cabinets, paperwork, bedding

Last May, my friend Mel started a 40 bags in 40 days project, simplifying her life (and closets) by sorting, organizing, and trashing. I was amazed at and inspired by her pregnancy nesting instinct and the tenacity with which she tackled all of her closets and cabinets. Little did I know that just a few months later, I'd be 1) pregnant, 2) nesting, and 3) on prednisone. Obviously, #3 has the most impact on my current preoccupation with all things organizing and sorting. So much so that I started "The Prednisone Project:" a list of all the things I'd like to accomplish while in this crazy, energetic, highly organized, freakishly efficient space in time (only 6 weeks left until I'm tapered off).

You saw the closets. Here is the master bathroom, and I actually took a few "before" pictures! And a few "during" pictures. I'm impulsive, what can I say?! 

Under the sink, before and after:

All of the extra beauty products (lotions, creams, soaps, etc.) are in one bin, medicines (none expired! yay!) in another.


The top drawer, "during" and after:

Stuck those nasty makeup and hair-caked trays in the dishwasher. SO much better! And yes, that is the extent of my makeup and hair products. I'm a simple gal.


Ben's drawer, "during" and after. With the top two drawers, I was in such a hurry to get the dishwasher loaded that I just dumped everything out of the trays and into the drawers. They were somewhat organized into compartments, but full of dirt, hair, and old junk.

Removed from Ben's drawer: contact lenses (he had lasik two years ago), lots of old allergy meds (expired in 2005-2007). Sooooo much better.


Bottom drawer, before and after:

I threw away tons of old flossers (unused but just floating around in the drawer with hair and dust bunnies. ew.). Also lots of hairspray/product caps, old nail files, trial-size lotions, etc.


The cabinet, after:

With the cabinet, I threw out a bunch of old jewelry I don't wear anymore that was constantly tangling up my lotions, etc. on the bottom shelf. I moved all the medicines that were on the shelves to under the sink. I put jewelry I don't wear very often up on the third shelf. Nail polish and dog stuff on the top shelf. (We've had an issue with helping ourselves to nail polish). Oh, and you get a sneak peek of our totally 80s frosted glass and mirrored light fixture. FAN-cy!


Here is the bucketload of trash I collected from under the sink, three drawers, and the cabinet:

Can you even believe the amount of extra stuff that was just taking up space in our teeny little bathroom?! Goodbye super expired meds, old watches, stretch mark cream circa 2006 (didn't help), random papers, wrapped soaps (never, ever use bar soap), jewelry packaging, face paints (ugh), & party favor lip gloss (double ugh)!


Last on my list, and not in the bathroom, was the bottom of our linen closet. AKA "the paperwork spot." I throw papers in here randomly throughout the year, sort and organize them quarterly or so, then really organize them come tax time. This year, I'm ready for tax season (having a newborn baby will not lend itself to organization, clear thinking, etc.). Just planning ahead here. All of our medical bills are in the big 3-ring binder. All of our important tax forms (donation receipts, utilities, household expenses, work-related stuff) in the small 3-ring binder. Everything else filed away in the rolling file or categorized by tax year in manila folders. 

No before, just a really blurry (I'm cool with it. Are you?) after photo:

I even vacuumed up all the little hole punches off the carpet. This might make me the happiest, this little piece of organization right here. Paperwork is totally NOT my favorite thing. 


Oh, yeah, and I washed all the bedding. Pillowcases included. When I climbed into my bed Tuesday night, after that horrible, awful, no good day, man oh man, those clean sheets and puffy pillows felt SO GOOD:


Upcoming items for "The Prednisone Project:"
- create a list of all the church plant families & kids for our transition
- make personalized photo books for the kids

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Daniel, Trust, & the Sovereignty of God

This week my husband is out of town on a five-day fishing trip, completely off the grid, enjoying a much-needed and well-deserved time of respite. 
Not that it’s great timing on this end. We are coming out of the absolutely most difficult time of our lives. I’ve been horribly, terribly sick. I’m pregnant and on all sorts of crazy medications. We have been walking under a heavy cloud of spiritual oppression as the enemy has tried anything and everything to discourage, distract, threaten and prevent us from following God and planting our church. People we trust and love have believed and participated in spreading lies, accusations, and rumors. It’s been, quite truthfully, awful.

What would I do without God's Word? I've been deep into the Psalms and the book of Daniel this week, and I have a few thoughts to share with you.

This morning my Psalm reading was in chapter 109:

Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They beset me with words words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them, so they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love....

But you, O LORD my Lord (love that! not just once, but twice beseeching), act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me. (verses 2-5, 21)

Something that has absolutely overwhelmed me about my OT reading is the faithfulness in which some of God’s people walked. The book of Daniel, of which I’ve read four chapters since Ben’s been gone, contains the stories of faithful men who trusted in God and were protected from distraction, from accusation, and from fire itself when they called on the name of the Lord. This difficult week’s (month’s/season’s) theme might as well be: 

God is great, God is in control, God is sovereign. Trust him.

First, Daniel, of which the Bible says, “God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master (Daniel 1:9). The Bible says also of Daniel and his fellow nobles Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams (1:17)
From the beginning of their time in service to the King, God gave these men what they needed in order to be faithful as they acted in trust and obedience.
When King Nebuchadnezzar has a troubling dream, he asks his servants to tell him both the dream and the interpretation, testing their “skills” and calling into question their competence (versus desire to remain alive by being agreeable and sharing favorable prophecies all the time). None of his magicians, sorcerers, enchanters, or the Chaldeans are able to fulfill his request. In his rage and frustration, the King is about to have all his wise men executed when Daniel steps in. Trusting God, he requests that the King “give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation (2:16).”
Daniel goes to his companions Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and “told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery (2:18),” in order to save their own lives from the King’s execution decree. 

That night, the mystery was revealed to Daniel. He goes to the King, and he ways, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (vs. 27-8).”

What strikes me about this particular instance is that 1) God gave the gift of insight into visions and dreams to Daniel ahead of time, so he is prepared for this moment; 2) God gives Daniel the gift of faith to tell the King he would have an interpretation for him; 3) when God reveals the mystery, Daniel immediately blesses the God of heaven (v. 19); and, 4) Daniel takes absolutely none of the credit but gives God the glory he deserves for being revealer of mysteries and holder of truth (2:28-30).

The result is that King Nebuchadnezzar recognizes that “God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries (2:47).” God gets the glory from the lips of the King!

A chapter later, the king erects a statue in his honor and orders everyone to bow down and worship, or be thrown in “a furnace of blazing fire (3:6).” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship anyone or anything beside the true God. Listen to their faith and conviction: “We have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If (this is a REALLY big ‘If’) our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O King, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up (3:16-18).”

The king is so mad that he heats the furnace up to seven times its customary blaze and orders the strongest guards to bind these men and throw them in. The fire is so hot it consumes the guys who lifted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace!

What strikes me here, again, is the unabashed trust in the sovereignty of God displayed in the words and actions of faithful men. As Daniel put himself out there without any promise of God’s revealing, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego put themselves out there, fully recognizing that God in his greatness (in control of everything) can either choose to save them or not, but regardless, they will not deviate from worshipping God alone.

D.A. Carson says this about these men: 

“Observe: (a) Their basic courtesy and respect are undiminished, however bold their words. (b) They are completely unwilling to apologize for their stance. The wise believer never apologizes for God or for any of his attributes. (c) They do not doubt God’s ability to save them, and they say so: God is not hostage to other gods, or to human beings, emperors or otherwise. (d) But whether or not God will save them they cannot know—and the point is immaterial to their resolve. Faithfulness is not dependent upon an escape hatch. They choose faithfulness because it is the right thing to do, even if it costs them their lives. The courage we need in this anti-Christian age is courteous and steadfast. It never apologizes for God. It joyfully believes that God can do anything, but it is prepared to suffer rather than compromise hearty obedience.”

The king looks into the furnace and sees not 3 men, but four, one of whom “has the appearance of a son of God (3:25).” The men are called out, and everyone in attendance can see that “the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them (3:27).”
I went to a commentary on the above passage, and this is what I read (it’s long, and it’s in KJV-talk, but it seriously moved me to weeping tears in the coffee shop where I was sitting, reading):
“He answered and said, lo, I see four men looseNot bound as the three were, when cast in; but quite at liberty in their hands and feet, and separate from one another. As this fiery furnace may be an emblem of the fiery trials and afflictive dispensations the children of God pass through in this world, being not joyous, but grievous to the flesh, though useful to purge and purify; so this and some other circumstances attending these good men in the furnace are applicable to the saints in such cases; for though afflictions are sometimes themselves called cords, with which men are said to be bound, yet by means of them they are loosed from other things from the power and prevalence of sin over them; from the world, and the things of it, they sometimes too much cleave and are glued unto; from a spirit of bondage, and from doubts and fears; their hearts under them being comforted and enlarged with the love of God; he knowing, visiting, and choosing them in the furnace of affliction; or making known himself to them, his love and choice of them; whereby their souls are set at liberty, and the graces of his Spirit are drawn forth into a lively exercise, through his love being shed abroad in them. Walking in the midst of the fire; the furnace being large enough to walk in, and where they took their walks as in a garden; nor were they concerned to come out of it; nor uneasy at being in it; the violence of the fire being quenched, as the apostle says, referring to this instance (Hebrews 11:34 ). So afflictions are a path to walk in, the narrow way to eternal life, through which all must enter the kingdom of heaven, of which there will be an end. Walking in it supposes strength, which God gives his people at such seasons; and when they have his presence they are unconcerned; none or these things move them, nor can they separate them from the love of Christ; they walk on with pleasure and delight, sing the praises of God, as did Paul and Silas in a prison, and as many martyrs have done in the flames: conversing with Christ, and with his people, they pass on, and pass through the more cheerfully, and are not anxious about their deliverance, but leave it with God to work it in his own time and way; nay, are ready to say with the disciples, it is good for them to be here; and indeed it was better for these good men to be with Christ in the fiery furnace, than to be with Nebuchadnezzar in his palace without him. And they have no hurt; either in their bodies, or in their garments, neither of them being burnt; they suffered no pain in the one, nor loss in the other. Afflictions do no hurt to the people of God; not to their persons, which are safe in Christ, and to whom he is a hiding place and covert, as from the storm and tempest, so from the force of fire, that it shall not kindle upon them to hurt them; nor to their graces, which are tried, refined, and brightened hereby; faith is strengthened, hope is encouraged, and love made to abound. All the afflictions of the saints are in love, and are designed for good, and do work together for good to them that love God; they are sometimes for their temporal, and often for their spiritual good, and always work for them an exceeding weight of glory. 
And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God; like one of the angels, who are called the sons of God; but many of the ancient Christian writers interpret it Christ the Son of God, whom Nebuchadnezzar, though a Heathen prince, might have some knowledge of from Daniel and other Jews in his court, of whom he had heard them speak as a glorious Person; and this being such an one, he might conclude it was he, or one like him; and it is highly probable it was he, since it was not unusual for him to appear in a human form, and to be present with his people, as he often is with them, and even in the furnace of affliction (see Isaiah 43:2, 48:10, or my experience in the hospital), to sympathize with them; to revive and comfort them; to bear them up and support them; to teach and instruct them, and at last to deliver them out of their afflictions.” 
Okay, I’m crying again. Read that bold section one more time. We are coming out of the furnace. I believe it. God himself has been walking with us in our affliction, he has taken what Satan intended for evil and is using it for our good. God is not only in control of our situation, not only is he sovereign, but he already gave us all the gifts we needed to withstand the journey. In our weakness, he gave us faith to walk forward, one step at a time. In the lies and accusations, he covered us with steadfast love. In the deepest, darkest, loneliest moments of this season, God entered into the fiery furnace. He walks right alongside us, refining, encouraging, loving, protecting, strengthening, and in all, bringing himself glory.
D.A. Carson, one more time:
“Nebuchadnezzar articulates the lesson he has learned: God is sovereign, he raises and abases whom he wills, none can withstand him, and every virtue or strength we possess we derive from him.”
God, you are sovereign. May you get the glory in all things, both in our affliction and also in our deliverance. Amen.

baby #3: four months

Dear Sweet Babe,

The prenatal handbook from my doctor's office reads like this: "Week Fourteen-Seventeen: Time for a different wardrobe." Um, look at the belly changes between 12 and 15 weeks. Time for different wardrobe is right!!

I finally broke down and bought some maternity pants. Ugh. Nothing is worse than spending money on clothes you will wear for 25 weeks, then be so glad to get rid of you'll want to hold a pants-burning party in your backyard. But, the belly has spoken. No more half-zipped zippers and rubber-banded buttons. Stretch material, all the way.

About a week ago I had a checkup, heard your heartbeat, and confirmed my uterus is taking up serious residence in the belly. At 16 weeks, it's practically to my belly button. You've got lots of room to maneuver in there. And maneuver you do. In a week fraught with emotion and difficult decisions, you've been dancing and thumping and flipping and making your presence very much felt. Thanks for that. You especially liked the tuna melt dinner. (As did I. Good taste.)

I'm looking forward to seeing you soon. In about 11 days, we'll find out for sure whether you're a him or a her, though prevailing opinion in this household is that we're carrying a baby girl. I'm looking forward to knowing for sure. Mostly because I'm needing to connect with you. It's been a rough road so far, little baby, and I haven't been exactly expectant with hope. I've been stressed and fearful, overwhelmed and cautious. God keeps whispering in my ear, "I've got this. She's mine. Making babies is my joy." So I'm doing my best to rest and let God take care of the details. 

So until then, you're loved, little baby. And so am I. Loved by the King. That's a safe enough place for both of us to rest for now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

this day!

I'm not usually much of a complainer, but today? Today totally demands its own post, for posterity's sake, and as public evidence as to why I am entitled to a) complain, and b) a week at the spa. Hubby, make note. (Ben left Sunday afternoon for a five-day float trip down the Rogue River. A dream trip, all expenses paid, with a few of his best friends).

So let's get started, shall we? It all started innocent enough, 24 hours ago.

One of our traditions when Ben is out of town is sleepovers. The kids get to sleep at least one night in the "big bed" with me, and I will often let them sleep together as well. So last night at 8:00, I sent them off to their sleepover in Maddie's room. They both wore nightgowns. Cute.

This morning started at 5:00am, when my nightgown-clad cuties joined me in the big bed, it wasn't as cute. I made certain they knew that it was NOT time to get up, but time to continue sleeping, which, miraculously, they did. It was nice and cozy until Maddie calls out in the middle of some crazy pregnancy dream I was having, "Sam's peeing on me!" We all jumped out of bed at 6:12am to a huge, wet, warm puddle stretching over my sheets and onto my memory foam mattress topper.

After drinking a large cup of coffee, reading some amazing passages in Daniel, and taking my prednisone, in a fit of organizational OCD, I spent about 1 1/2 hours sorting, organizing, and cleaning up the kids' books and bookshelves. Today was the book fair at school so I wanted to make room for the new books and get rid of some old, torn, marked-up, (boring) ones.

We decided to walk to school. I needed the exercise, I was desperate to get outside, and I figured it would be a good way to start the day and burn off some energy. We were a few minutes late. Oops. Sam and I took the scenic route home and happened upon some turkeys. Gobble gobble.

We came home and I checked a few more things off my "prednisone" list. (Yes, I created a list of things I hope to accomplish while on my energy-producing, crazy-making prescription). I picked out an outfit that a) fit, and b) looked pretty cute! While I got ready, Sam played hide and seek in my bedspread, which was rolled up on the carpet after the early morning pee incident. Then the little man and I went out to sushi: California rolls and tempura shrimp surrounded by crab salad, covered in unagi sauce. Yum.

We picked up Maddie, hit the book fair (kids spent their book allowance in a record 4 1/2 minutes), then took Sam to speech. Came home, put the kids in their rooms for "quiet time." Maddie came out after seven minutes, saying she was bored, and I told her to look at her new books and play quietly while Mama had a little break. Admittedly, I heard some significant noises coming from her room, but I ignored them in order to finish my prednisone project of organizing the paperwork, and also to eat some chocolate while catching up on my favorite blogs.

She came downstairs about 45 minutes later, asked if she could draw quietly at the table, and I acquiesced. Then I asked about the noises upstairs. "Oh yeah," she remarked, "I was going through my books." "Did you pick them up?" "No!" "Well, go back upstairs. No starting a new activity unless the first is cleaned up." (That's our family rule when it comes to big mess activities). Sighing, stomping, attitude followed. "Maddie, go upstairs, clean up the books, but please do it quietly because Sam is still sleeping."

Two minutes later, they both come back downstairs and Maddie is in tears because she's afraid she woke up Sam with her stomping, attitude, etc. but then Sam says he never took a nap because he was looking at his new book fair books. Cue Mama's sighs, stomps, and attitude (well, at least two of those).  I told Maddie she wasn't in trouble, but she needed to pick up the books if she wanted to do something fun before our chiropractor appointment (an hour and a half away, little did I know....)

Every. single. book. removed from the bookshelf. Piled up around the room. "I was playing librarian." "Awesome, well be a good librarian and organize all the books by size, type and Dewey Decimal System." Cue more tears. Then a tantrum. Then screaming, crying, etc. 45 minutes later, ninety percent of the books were still on the floor.

After the fourth or fifth calm explanation of the family expectations for big messes, I abandoned my paperwork organization/librarian oversight to grab something from my bedroom. Then I saw it: my bedspread, with THREE crayola markers (some not washable) wrapped up inside. Enormous turquoise, green, and fluorescent yellow marker splotches bleeding through my off-white bedding. I admit it, there were some tears at this point. (Earlier in the day, when I was getting ready, I saw Sam bring three markers upstairs and told him to take them down immediately and re-cap them. "Markers stay downstairs at the table, buddy.")

At this point, Maddie had been "cleaning up" for 45 or 50 minutes. With big tears and desperation in my voice, I let her know that it was SERIOUSLY. TIME. TO FINISH. I put Sam in timeout in his room. I took a deep breath, carried my quilt downstairs, emptied a half bottle of oxiclean on the 4-5 inkblots, then returned to deal with the upstairs situation. 

"Sam, we talked about this on Sunday. Then again on Monday. When you are careless with Mama's things that are valuable to her, it is both disrespectful and disobedient. You know that it is NOT okay to have markers upstairs. It is absolutely, definitely NOT OKAY to have markers on my bed. Remember what we talked about? If you destroy things that are important to Mama, then you will lose something that is valuable and important to you. Mr. Policeman and his motorcycle are going bye-bye."

Tears. Screaming. Apologizing. Bargaining. Hugs. More tears. Threats. "Sowwy, Mama." Hugs.

Before the chiropractor, we hit the grocery store for another bottle of oxiclean as well as some febreeze for the memory foam mattress situation. Came home, heated up dinner (Indian food from TJs--sooooo good, plus pears and steamed broccolini), added more oxiclean and hairspray to the stains, febreezed my bed. 

With no naps plus an emotionally exhausting afternoon, the kids were super punchy at dinnertime. Sam was all over the place, in and out of his chair, up and down. I asked him to finish his dinner, including at least one piece of broccolini, before leaving the table. He shoved a floret in his mouth, carried his plate to the kitchen, and said he needed to go potty. Which was odd, since he had just gone. But, whatever. I thought perhaps it was a  poop situation. A few minutes later, he comes out. 

For the next ten minutes, I follow Sam around downstairs, reminding him that he actually needs to chew and swallow the broccolini in his mouth for it to count. Eventually he heads upstairs to get his jammies. Five minutes later, I find a wad of chewed-up broccolini in my laundry basket in the hall outside the bathroom.

By this time I am wiped. I put on Veggie Tales for 45 minutes. We read one book at bedtime. The kids were tucked into their separate beds; no sleepovers after today. Kisses, hugs, and threats (stay in bed!) were given. All I could think about was chocolate, blogging about my day, and enjoying the silence. No joke, I went into the downstairs bathroom, and this is what I found:

Hand towel in the toilet. Kleenex box emptied. 

Quite an end to quite a day. Here's hoping the next 24 hours are less "eventful." ;)

pregnancy, the 3rd time around

Time to get real, folks. My first pregnancy? Loved it. We waited a long time for Miss Maddie, and when I finally learned I was pregnant, I was one happy mama. Sure, I had morning sickness, but only for five weeks. The zits, the hormones, the joint aches, the heartburn--they were all beautiful reminders of the growing life inside of me. Overall, I really enjoyed being having that baby in my belly. I really  felt like I was glowing. Even late into my third trimester, you could see my cheekbones, I was still smiling, and I had a sense of humor. I worked all the way up until Christmas, then had Maddie a few weeks later.

When I got pregnant with Sam, we were super excited to be expecting again. I started feeling nauseous around 5 or 5 1/2 weeks, and the morning sickness lasted past twenty weeks. I was tired from running after a toddler in addition to growing a life inside me. And we got really troubling news at our ultrasound that caused some serious worry. But some of the happy parts of pregnancy kept me sane: thick, lustrous hair, glowing skin. Toward the end, my joint pain was really bad (and most likely an indicator of the colitis relapse on its way). I did not enjoy being pregnant in proportion to the more pregnant I got. I was huge, tired, awkward, and more than ready for Sam to arrive.

And now, pregnancy numero three. A complete surprise. It was a significant hurdle just getting over the shock (after trying over a year to have a third, not being successful, then getting so sick, then giving up on the dream, well, it was a big, big shock!) But we were and are excited, because we love babies and always hoped for a third. However, within a week of finding out we were pregnant, I started experiencing symptoms of colitis relapse. The symptoms continued to get worse, and worse, and worse. By God's grace, we made it through the first trimester, though barely. I finally woke up, thanks to some much-needed prednisone. Thank you, wonder drug! Now I'm a new woman: cleaning house, making cookies, enjoying the heck out of my kiddos and finally starting to feel like myself. I'm finally settling in. Yet, the pregnancy. Pregnancy + prednisone = puffiness; my face is puffy, my always-hungry body is puffy. And if a puffy face isn't bad enough, I've got a few zits going on, too. No glow. No lustrous hair. The colitis took the glow right away! 

But when it comes down to it, I can handle anything for nine months. Surprise, relapse, morning sickness, zits, puffiness. There's a big prize at the end of this journey. Just trying to keep it real, folks.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Maddie: 69 Months

Dear Maddie Lou Who,

When you pad down the stairs in the morning, hair fluffy, nightgown disheveled, then curl up in my lap, your first questions always comes out like a wee little who down in who-ville, sweet and curious and anticipatory: "What are we doing today?" I wish I had the presence of mind and stillness of heart to savor every moment like this, where your wide-eyed curiosity and sense of wonder at the day ahead stirs some deep, vibrant love within me. 

Kindergarten continues to grow on you, but you're still using around the words "hate" and "school" in the same sentence with frequency. And now there's the homework to "hate" as well. Sigh. Only eighteen more years of homework ahead. Every day, the same question: "School today?" Five out of seven days, the same response. Five out of seven responses, not so favorable. Every day I send you off to school, hoping the magic switch gets flipped and you'll be super excited for school the next morning.  Still waiting... (updated at time of posting: Less drama, more happiness associated with school days. Phew!)

In happier news, you conquered the pull-up! After an entire Summer of practicing, you finally got those eyes above the bar and we are SO PROUD of you! I couldn't even come close to attempting a pull-up, but you stuck with it for months, practicing and practicing until you accomplished your goal. Way to go, strong, capable girl!!!

A teacher work day afforded us a much-needed Mama-Maddie date. We spent our two and a half hours together grabbing breakfast at Chow (you love the Marion Pancake) and hiking at San Damiano. It was a treat to get you all to myself. I love that SD is our special place, where we connect with each other, with God, and have some amazing conversations. It's hard to believe you're only five and a half; at times our deep spiritual talks are on the level of a friend. You are both wise and curious, characteristics that lend well to long talks and walks in the woods.

Today at lunch you asked me how to know whether the little voice you are hearing inside your heart is God or not. We've been talking about really spending time listening, trying to discern the voice of God. I told you that if you ever thought God might be speaking to you, to ask him to reveal himself to you, to   ask him, "God, is that you?" (We've read the Samuel story LOTS of times). Today you said, "I think he's trying to tell me something, because this is what I keep hearing:

'You are my beloved daughter. I love you so much.'"

I told you that it sounded very much like something God would say. There is no greater joy for me than to watch and observe your growing relationship with your Heavenly Father. You SO want to foster a relationship of listening with Him, and I just know that he is going to honor your pursuit of him.

We had your first Kindergarten conference this week. Mrs. L had plenty to say, but the thing she praised the most was your "kind and loving heart." Needless to say, I was a mess of tears and pride (hello, pregnancy emotions) upon hearing her reflections. Of course, your Daddy and I (and all who know you) recognize that you have a compassionate, loving, inclusive heart. You are always reaching out to those on the fringe, to kids who might feel left out. Mrs. L. noted that you've become quite a friend and comfort to a girl in your class who does not speak English as her first language, and it's made quite an impression.

Because we're all about celebrating the big and little things, Daddy thought of inviting you out on a special dress-up dessert to your favorite spot, Esin. You donned a party dress, three hair accessories, three necklaces, a bracelet, a ring, and a purse. You were quite fancy. Creme Brulee was your dessert of choice and you had no problem finishing it all by yourself (with a few bites reserved for Daddy & Sam). You even tried Daddy's coffee. So grown up.

Madeleine Noelle, it goes without saying that you are so, so precious to us. You have a heart of gold, an unmatched personality and zest for life, and a tender spirit that seeks truth. I feel so lucky to be your mom. You've taught me so much in such a brief tenure here on earth. Can't wait to continue learning through the years with you.