Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where I Learn about Beauty

  My mother-in-law, Dianne, is one of the most beautiful girls I have ever known.  I could say all kinds of things about her.  She's busy, patient, compassionate, and loving.  She's definitely a Proverbs 31 woman.  But to tell you all the beautiful things about her would make this post way too long, so right now I'm going to just let her tell you her own story.  
  Dianne recently spoke at a women's conference about the phase of life she is living right now, and the super-great guy she's living it with. It is rather lengthy, but take a bit and read it through.  I think you'll be blessed by it.   Here is what she shared:  

I am nervous up here in front of all of you, but my heart is warmed to hear the stories, with their struggles and triumphs, I’ve heard so far today.  Every woman has a beautiful story, and we are all on the same journey, so it helps to know that my own traveling is on a road that has been walked by amazing women who have gone before me.  I am blessed in the knowledge that my own story may encourage those women who have not yet reached this stretch of the road.  Our goal, in the end, is to hear our Savior say, “Well done,” and to spend eternity in worship and service to Him.  For now, though, in my nervousness, I’m clinging to 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are doing,” and tell you that I need some encouragement to get through this! 

My husband, Don, and I have been married for 43 years.  We’ve been blessed to raise four sons.  Shannon lives in Lynchburg, works for Pepsi, and is married with two children.   Derrick is an associate pastor in North Carolina, is married with two children.  Chris and his wife are in Arkansas helping plant a church….guess how many children they have.  It’s a pattern…two children.  And our baby, Stephan, is single and lives right next door to us.  Oh, I have stories to tell about raising four boys, but those stories are not for this time, so I’ll just say that all four of them are believers, they are happy, they are healthy, and they and their families serve the Lord in their churches and in their lives.

 I also have many stories about how our three granddaughters and three grandsons serve the Lord.  They are musically and creatively gifted by God.  Our oldest grandson, Tanner, goes to Liberty University, has been on mission trips to Russia, and serves in music ministries for Christian camps.  The rest of our grandchildren (Aubrianah, Anna, Alisyn, Benjamin, and Daniel) are following along that same path, serving, doing, going, creating, all for the glory of our Lord.  I could stand here and tell you how practically perfect my grandchildren are all day long…but it’s not the time for that, either. 

  The early years of our marriage found us in church almost every service.  Don was a deacon, teacher, and soloist.  He sang in the church choir, helped with every event, and was a part of special groups.  We were a busy family, and we filled our time with raising our boys and serving the church and others.  Don and I would dream, talk, and plan about traveling across the country, taking our time and seeing all the sights and enjoying God’s creation.  We looked forward to our children being out on their own, traveling their own journeys.  We loved them and still do, of course, but we did dream about taking a little time to ourselves, a little time to enjoy God’s view.  You’ve heard of the ‘golden years’, no babies under foot, no diapers to change, no teenager to transport to games, no kids to hear begging to go somewhere or asking you to buy them expensive tennis shoes.  The golden years, I’ve heard, are supposed to be a special time with your mate, to see the country or maybe take a cruise. 

  For many, though, the golden years aren’t so shiny.  As we grow older there are aches and pains, falls and broken bones, hot flashes and sleepless nights, loneliness and empty nest syndrome, and sometimes, Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

  My husband started having some physical problems early on.  He received a medical discharge from Air Force in his late teens due to hip and back problems.  He’s been plagued with arthritis and allergies most of his life.  Then, in 1995, Don had a quintuple bypass.  Soon after that, the memory problems started.  We thought it was from the prescription drugs, but when he stopped taking them the problems continued.  One doctor said it may have come from being on the heart and breathing machines too long.  Whatever the cause, we have had to learn to live with it.  It is the lot in life God is allowing us to bear. 

When our boys grew up and moved away, it wasn’t long until Don was no longer going to church with me.  He just didn’t feel like it.  I had a pity party every time I traveled to church alone.  I cried many times in the car, and again in the service when we sang songs that I knew Don loved to sing.  We went from being a family who took up half a row in church, to just me…one seat. 

  In addition to the worsening memory problems, and possibly sometimes because of them, Don has had even more physical problems.  He fell and broke his hip about six years ago and had to be in a nursing home for rehab.  I took a leave of absence from work and stayed all day, every day with him.  He also hurt his shoulder when he fell.  After he was able to walk without a walker or cane, surgery was done.  He had so much damage that only a shoulder replacement would help.  The doctor advised against the replacement, fearing worse memory damage.  We decided to try to live with the pain.  He had a ‘tens unit’, but he couldn’t get used to it.  He kept adjusting it and it would shock him.  He finally said, “I can’t get any music on this thing so you may as well throw it away.  And my shoulder is really hurting.”  So, now we’re praying about whether or not we should just go ahead with the shoulder replacement.  If he has it, I will need to be with him 24 hours a day while he is in rehab.  If he doesn’t have it, he will be in continuous pain…and he’ll tell me about it 24 hours a day. 

  Don can no longer mow, trim trees, plant the garden, or help with the upkeep on the pool.  We had always enjoyed working on our home together, but now I work alone-painting the deck, washing the car, or whatever projects need to be done to keep up a home.  When I had to quit my job, I went from seeing seventy people five days a week to seeing only Don most days.  All the decisions are mine; I do everything inside and out.  Sometimes I even have to re-do things that he has undone!  Several months ago I came home from church to find water in the downstairs floor.  I asked Don about it, but of course he didn’t know.  I cleaned it up and continued on with my day.  A couple of months later I heard him call, “My socks are wet!”  This time was much worse.  I pulled towels and rugs into the mess and started soaking it up.  When I went downstairs for more towels I could hear water pouring from the ceiling.  I thought, “I’ll deal with that later, one thing at a time.”  We had recently re-done the downstairs bathroom, now everything was wet and the ceiling tiles stained.  Pastor Wegner came and re-painted them.  He painted them on the garage floor, Don came into the garage and walked on them.  Now we have white footprints on the garage floor and Pastor Wegner had to paint them again.  I thank the Lord for the helpers He has sent to us, and the sense of humor most of those helpers possess.  Sometimes all we can do is laugh, and laughter is good medicine. 

  My boys have grown up and have lives and families of their own, and I am happy for them.  My empty nest did not last long, though.  Don has become my little boy.  I have to bathe him, help him dress, and sometimes talk to him as I would talk to a child…giving him directions for simple tasks over and over or reminding him what to do in certain situations.  The other day he had on two different shoes and one was on the wrong foot.  Some nights he wakes up in the middle of the night and then asks me questions for four hours, “Are you alright?  Are you cold?  I love you.  My arm hurts.  How long have we been married?  I thank God for you.  Ouch!!   My shoulder hurts!”  I’m thinking to myself, “Just go back to sleep!!!”  But the Lord helps me hold my tongue and most of my replies are just grunts. 

  Recently, as I was helping him with his shower, he asked, “Are you my wife?”  I said, “You better hope so, I don’t get in the shower with just anybody!”  Don is sick to his stomach most mornings, sometimes he goes three or four days without eating regular food.  He asks for ice cream all day long.  I usually make him his favorite egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, he takes a couple bites and says he is sick and goes back to bed.  When he is still and in bed the pain in his shoulders and back is less.  He calls for me many times to just say, “I’m sick,” or “My shoulder hurts.”  Once he gets out of bed, he is constantly calling my name, constantly asking for ice cream.  Some days he eats ice cream four or five times.  He goes out the back door and into the front door and calls for me, sometimes he says, “Does anyone live here?” 

  Don loves to visit people and he loves to have people over to visit with us, even though he forgets who we are visiting or asks our grandchildren, “Which one is your daddy?”  I am encouraged by the patience and thoughtfulness of others, though.  Our grandchildren answer his questions over and over, and when our children are able to visit, which is not often,  they sit with him and help me with projects.  I am especially encouraged by one 85-year-old friend.  I take her to church and shopping, and she sits with Don at the front of the store sometimes while I shop.  She went through a similar time with her late husband, so she has firsthand knowledge of how to pray for us…and she does so fervently. 

  Well, I feel like I’ve spent a long time here telling you about my trial.  Maybe more than I meant to, because I know you want to hear the triumph.  I know at least one of my daughters-in-law looks at me and is scared to death that she is going to have to go through the same thing with one of Don’s and my sons.  She’s told me she doesn’t know how she’ll do it, if she has to.  She sees the trial, but the triumph is much more difficult to see.  .  We have to lay our trials at the feet of the One who can handle them. 

I took an oath to my husband, and he to me…in sickness and in health.  We made that vow before God and I do not take it lightly.  And I know, if the situation were reversed and I was the one asking Don for ice cream and forgetting where I live and tracking white footprints all over the house, he would not take the vow lightly either.  Even in Don’s dementia his sweet spirit reminds me that he loves me and would take care of me the way I take care of him.  He tells me several times a day how much he loves me, how beautiful I am, how he thanks God for me.  He talks about how God has blessed us and our children.  I know many women would love to have a husband who loves her so much and expresses those feelings.    I love Don and praise God for him, even with his disease.

  When Don and I were young, we sang in a quartet.  One song said, “Whatever it takes to be like you, Lord, that’s what I’d be willing to do.”  Don and I searched our hearts back then.  What would we be willing to give up?  Even a child?  We searched and decided that whatever it takes to be like Jesus, that’s what we are willing to do.  I guess dementia was part of that plan.  The doctor reminded me last month that Don has a terminal disease that will only get worse.  Only God knows our future and he is our rock and stay in times of trouble.  What have I given up to be more like Jesus?  Nothing my husband and I didn’t commit to Him in the first place.  Nothing we weren’t willing to give. 

  Sometimes I do get depressed and moody.  Sometimes I get angry.  Sometimes I compare my situation to people who don’t have these problems.  I get sad.  When I’m depressed, I ask for forgiveness and for God to help me get through the nights when Don is talking, talking, talking and I am grunting answers.  I get frustrated and offer short prayers of, “Help me, Jesus!”  When I get angry, I remind myself that there is no point in anger…Don can’t help it…and I remember Phil.4:5-6, “The Lord is near, be anxious for nothing.” And Ps 55:22 “Cast your burdens on the LORD and He shall sustain thee.  He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved…His mercies are new every morning.”  Great is thy faithfulness, Lord.  When I get lonely, I speak God’s Word to myself in Deut 31:6 “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid for the Lord your God…is the one who goes with you.  He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  I also get scared, because I’ve heard of dementia patients get violent and don’t know their families.  When I’m afraid I think of John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” 

God has a positive purpose when all we can see are the negative circumstances.  We cannot blame God for our trouble.  Sin brought trouble in to the world.  We have to accept the circumstances that God has allowed into our lives, and then use them to refine our walk with Him! I want my sons, my grandchildren, and my three daughters-in-law to see Jesus in me as I serve Don through these trying times!  Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

  And what of our ministry?  Don and I were so active in our church and other ministry.  But I want to encourage you, whatever stage of life we are in, we can still be a blessing of service.  I do my Bible reading in bed.  I cook meals for shut-ins while Don is sleeping, and he goes with me to visit them.  We have a pool, so we are able to invite church families over to use that and fellowship at the same time.  Don can no longer lead a Bible study group, but we can host them in our home and allow other men to lead.  Having families in our home is an encouragement to me, feeding people something other than ice cream helps me find fulfillment for my gift of hospitality.  The Lord has provided helpers for us when we’ve needed them, and many of them have come from these small groups we are still able to host.  Our ministry is different now, just as it was different from when our boys were little to when they became teenagers.  And it will certainly change again. 

  Don still has a ministry, too.  He has always loved music, so I keep a CD player or radio near him most of the time.  It blesses my heart to hear him singing along to a hymn or finishing a Bible verse a preacher has started.  That is his ministry to my heart, even though he doesn’t realize it.  He also has a ministry of prayer, I sometimes hear him praying aloud from the bedroom. 

I often remember what Corrie Ten Boom said, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out?  Of course not!  You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through…”  In other words, don’t panic.  Don’t jump out, don’t give up.  Be patient.  God knows best, He knows the future, He is in control, trust God, Praise Him in all things.  May Jesus Christ be praised, now and forevermore.

My ‘golden years’ may not look the way I thought they would look, but Job 23:10 says, “He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”  Don and I will claim this verse, we’ll trust God through the trials, and we’ll come out golden anyway!  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Beautiful Freedom Part 2

  Becky's Real Beauty post from last year was the #1 most-read post.  You can go back here and read it to see why.  That post was a turning point in the healing journey Becky has taken.  It was part of the beginning, not the end...and this is more of the story!  

  When Becky started her journey, she started with the inside...where real beauty is cultivated.  When she got the inside all gorgeous, she started on the outside.  See, even though Becky's spirit was cleaned out and she was busy putting out the old stuff and putting in the new, she realized that her physical well-being was neglected.  So at the beginning of 2012, she decided that she wanted her outside to match her gorgeous inside!  

  Becky started a little Facebook weight-loss group.  She invited her friends to join, thinking it would be a great way for them to share tips, struggles, and victories.  But her little Facebook group quickly grew into many members...many Becky didn't even know!  It became a big support system for women who wanted to get healthy and lose weight.  Friendships were formed, weight was lost, lives got healthier, and beauty was multiplied!  

  Becky has lost 35 pounds this year, and she feels like her outside beauty now matches her inside.  It's not about getting skinny, though, it's about being healthy, eating right, and being a good example to her children. She's also discovered a new love...running.  She's run several 5k's this year and she keeps setting and reaching new goals for herself.  I love to hear about a new time she's set or a new race she's signed up to run!  

  We all know that Real Beauty is not  just about what we see when we look at a woman.  Becky was stunning before she lost weight and gained physical strength.  But when we feel good physically, and we are taking care of our bodies, and we are eating healthy foods, it helps that inner beauty shine through!  Ask Becky...she knows!  


Friday, August 3, 2012

Catching up With Some Beautiful Girls

I was looking through old posts on the blog today while thinking about the Beautiful Girls we've photographed and interviewed.  Because a beautiful girl's life is not stagnant, many of them have had life-changing experiences over the last several months!  Today I want to take the opportunity to catch up with some Beautiful Girls!  

 This beauty is about to celebrate her 16th birthday on Tuesday....

  ...this one just celebrated her 90th.

   This smart girl is learning sign language...

...and this one is learning to love running. (More of her inspiring story later!)

This beautiful bride spent a day this summer marrying the love of her life...

...and this teeny beauty spent a summer day fearlessly flinging herself down the world's largest slip-n-slide.

This sweet girl just became a big sister to a new baby brother....

...while this marvelous mom of three boys moved away, bought a house, and announced that she's expecting a fourth.  (fingers crossed that it's a girl this time!)

This stunning beauty just had a baby boy....

...while this athletic beauty was killing at softball games (You go, girl!).

This beautiful girl got her driver's license and her first job...

...and this one started college.

This cutie with the miraculous birth story drove off with her family to her new home in New Jersey...

...and the amazing girl who delivered her flew off to spend a month in Germany.

These two creative and clever cuties left us to move home to Richmond...

...and these two (with all the boys in their life) are spending an adventurous summer in California.

This shiny, fit, gorgeous beauty became a grandmother to a beautiful girl...

...while this one is busy packing up and moving out of a house she's owned for years.

  Beautiful Girls are busy girls, that's for sure!  They're doing things, big life-changing things and little day-to-day things that keep the world turning.  What have you been doing, beautiful girl?  Tell us!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Not the Beautiful Life She Expected, Even MORE Beautiful!

I started to write about my beautiful friend, Hannah, when I noticed a post on Facebook from her husband, Joe.  He was, once again, declaring his love for her.  At that moment, I realized that there is no one else in the world who knows how beautiful Hannah is than Joe.  I asked him to write about her.  I was expecting a short post, he's a guy after all...but what I got is a story about the life of a young woman, the plans she had, and the way those plans changed into the beautiful life she now has with her fabulous husband and her precious children Esther, Zac, and baby Benji.  

Piercing behind the soft and gentle demeanor is the spirit of an independent, determined, and beautiful woman. Hannah Elisabeth never imagined the turns and twists that her life would take when she stepped onto the campus of Liberty University in the Fall of 2005. Determined that she would set off on her own and make a difference in the world, she never thought that she would be back residing in Upstate New York with her husband and three children. 

Why? She had plans already set out of what she wanted to do and where God would want her. That is, she would finish her degree at Liberty University in Nursing. Then she would serve on mission field somewhere in Africa. She did not have her heart set on a family and if she happened to meet someone to share her life with on the journey, so be it. But that was not her intention. She was not a “boy-crazy” college girl who was looking for romance. She had a goal – to meet the needs of others. 

Little did she know that romance would find her... In a fast paced series of events, she became involved in a local Church, met the Youth Pastor who misread her genuine kindness for flirtation, fell in love with him, and was married by the next summer. Then a few months later, she found out that she was expecting a bundle of joy who would change the direction and plan that she had for herself. Quickly finding herself engrossed by morning sickness and the prospect of taking care of a little one, she changed her major so that she could finish her degree from home. 

Then just a few months after their daughter, Esther, was brought into the world, she relocated to Southwest Virginia, in the Hills of Appalachia, to join her husband in Youth Ministry. There she felt an immediate connection with the youth and began to pour her heart into them. Shortly after, Hannah and her husband decided that they wanted to continue to add to their family; however, this time the pregnancy was a little more difficult. Facing bed rest for herself and then later a premature birth, Zac was born into the world at 34 weeks gestation. The next week felt like the most difficult one that Hannah had to ever have encountered as Zac spent the time in the NICU in Johnson City, TN. Hannah remained strong during this entire time and used the knowledge she had received from college to help take care of Zac. However, that would not turn out to be her largest hurdle.

Just over a year later, Hannah would find herself in the same hospital going through labor. This time, after feeling confident that the pregnancy would go smoothly, they ran into some difficulty that they did not anticipate. During a routine ultrasound at the beginning of pregnancy, the doctor indicated that there was a strong possibility that the baby had a genetic abnormality. After further testing, it was indicated that the baby not only had Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), but may also have a heart condition. And like Zac, but at a much faster pace, Hannah’s pregnancy led to bed rest and early contractions. At 26 weeks gestation, Benji entered the world at only 2lbs. During the next 77 days, Hannah stayed primarily in Johnson City, TN with Benji in the NICU while her family was an hour and a half away. 

While there, she learned better than the doctor and the nurses Benji’s needs and often instructed them on the procedures that were set in place. She advocated for him relentlessly, even once stopping an almost accidental overdose of caffeine into his system. When he was finally released, he found himself only home a few weeks before he contracted RSV. The results were a series of hospital stays which involved surgery and then later pneumonia. Medical tests concluded that Benji did indeed have a hole in his heart, had chronic lung disease, pulmonary hyper tension, and silently aspirates. Throughout the entire time, Hannah remained strong and poised in front of others. Seldom, did she let others see the weight that was upon her shoulders. 
With almost mathematical precision, Hannah balances the medical care for her son, the role of a mother, keeping care of the needs of the home, and being a supportive wife to her husband. She works endlessly around the clock to make sure that everything is in order. She considers the needs of everyone else, before she looks to herself. She goes almost every night with broken sleep as she responds to her children needing assistance or to malfunctioning technology which needs to be reset. 

Hannah may not have earned her degree in nursing, but she certainly has earned an honorary one. She has also earned the deep love and respect of her husband and children. She has also changed her world for the better. She is a Beautiful Girl. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Beautiful Wedding Planner Extraordinaire!

  Nestled in, set back a little from English Tavern Road, sits a beautiful manor.  Glencliff Manor has become one of our favorite places.  The main house is stately, the gardens are charming, the little gazebo is quaint and reflective with its pretty little bridge.  The grounds boast lovingly tended greenery, graceful cherry blossom trees, a cheerful and colorful little potting shed, an inviting pool, and a picturesque pasture.  A pergola, archways, and a line of evergreens round out the gorgeous backdrop.  All sorts of friendly animals reside at Glencliff, ducks, dogs, cats, a horse, chickens, peacocks...even an alpaca named Evan.

  But the animals are not the friendliest residents you can find at Glencliff, and the gardens are not the most beautiful attraction there, either.  The most beautiful thing about Glencliff Manor is its owner, Teresa.  

  Aubrianah and I only met Teresa a few months ago, but she quickly became on of our favorite people.  Teresa has allowed Aubrianah to do lots of photo shoots on the grounds, and each time she has made us feel welcome and comfortable at her home.  She is generous and fun, and we love just being around her and her beautiful husband, Steve.  

 Teresa is also the wedding coordinator at Glencliff.  She has amazing ideas to make a wedding special, and she will bend over backwards to make a bride feel special.  The word she chose for her beauty board was 'compassion', a trait any bride would be blessed to get in her wedding planner, a trait any husband would want in his wife, and a trait every child needs in a mother.  Teresa's clients, her husband, and her children see this compassionate love on display for them, through Teresa.  

  Teresa is creative, inventive, hard-working, professional, fun, compassionate, and generous.  All those traits make her a Beautiful Girl!  


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beautiful Brides

  We just want to take a moment to congratulate one of our favorite sets of sister, Sarah and Keri, on their recent weddings!  We've loved these two since they landed here in Lynchburg to study at Liberty University, and we could tell right away that they were Beautiful Girls.  It didn't take long for two amazing guys to notice the same thing!  We love you, Sarah and Keri, and we hope and pray all the best and beautiful blessings for you and your new grooms!  

  Sarah with the sisters' fabulous dad...what an exciting year he must have had, marrying off two of his beautiful daughters!

  The gorgeous Keri, who had one of the BEST weddings I've ever attended, and married into one of my favorite families!  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Beautiful 40

  My husband and I turned 40 this year.  His birthday was in February and mine in May.  He didn't seem to mind a bit, but it's been hard on me.

  That's why, when 'it' was finally said today, as in 'the thing that has never been said before', I got really excited.  I mean, I think I scared the woman who said it because I screamed joyfully.  

  I feel the need to tell you the circumstances, because they make the fact that 'it' was said even more unbelievable.  I am not a morning person.  Actually, that's an understatement.  I hate mornings.  Six o'clock only comes once in my day.  Seven and usually eight o'clock, too.  I can't think in the morning, I can't talk, I can barely even SEE.  I.  Hate.  Mornings.  
  But I love my friend Jessica, I love her more than I hate mornings.  Jessica was having a yard sale this morning starting at seven o'clock.  Seven o'clock IN THE MORNING, and she could use some help.  So I rolled out of my bed at six, stumbled into the shower, threw on my husband's old t-shirt and my pants (how I remembered to wear pants at six o'clock IN THE MORNING is beyond me), and went out the door.  No brushed hair, no makeup, grumbling, half-blind from morning allergy.  It's really cold in the morning, and there's too much traffic, by the way, and the sun is way too sunny.  

  So what's the point in telling you that I had barely taken a shower, wore nothing on my face but a sour expression, and was freezing all day so I was wearing my holey, old-lady sweater over my husband's old t-shirt and who knows what kind of crazy pants?  

  Because, when the day was almost done, I met one of Jessica's neighbors.  And she was talking about her kids, and I mentioned my kids, and she said it.  The thing that has never been said.  

  I've complained about it, and if you know me pretty well I've complained about it to you.  You may have even been compelled to say the thing that has never been said, but I couldn't count it because I made you say it.

  See, I had my kids when I was pretty young.  My son was born when I was 21, my daughter came along when I was 24.  I already told you that my husband and I are now 40, our children are now 19 and almost 16.  No one, no one without my coercion, has ever met me, found out how old my children are, and said this thing, the thing that was finally said to me today:  

"You don't look like you have a 19-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter!!!"  

  YES!  THANK YOU!  I have heard this said to other women, I've said it to other women myself.  People say it to my husband.  No one has ever said it to me until today.  Was 40 the magic number?  Was it 19?  Was it my non made-up face?  The big t-shirt?  I don't know. 

  Then, of course, I got reflective about it.  The initial high of the compliment was great.  But then I started thinking.  Is it my goal to LOOK like I couldn't have had time to raise the children I've raised?  Um, NO!  My kids are amazing, beautiful, fun, practically perfect people.  I've been raising that boy for 19 years, and it's been difficult and wonderful and I'm just about done.  I've been raising that girl for almost 16 years and it's been demanding and fabulous.  Raising children is the most challenging and the most fulfilling thing I have ever done, or will ever do.  I want it to show.  

  So, I'm done complaining.  I got my one time 'you don't look like'.  I liked it.  But I don't need another.  I'm 40 years old.  I have a 40-year-old husband, a 19-year-old son, and an (almost) 16-year-old daughter.  We have each other, and we look like it.  And we're all beautiful.  


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Crybaby Beauty

  The other day, my daughter reminded me of an incident that happened about twelve years ago.  I won't get into the details, but it had to do with an especially aggressive debt collector, a misunderstanding, and a lack of knowledge of my own rights.  The collector called me, scared me, and I started to cry.  My daughter remarked, while remembering the incident, that it had been the first time she'd ever seen me cry.

  Really?  The first time?  I feel like I cry all the time.  Maybe I do, now.  But apparently I didn't always, or at least my child didn't notice it.  

  Have you ever looked into a mirror while you are crying?  I have, I don't recommend it.  I am not such a pretty crybaby.  I have cried when I'm angry at my husband for complaining about dinner....not so pretty.  I've cried when I didn't get my way.  I've cried when jealousy has overcome me, when I argued with a friend over some triviality, when my son would rather spend time with his friends than with me, when my daughter won't take my advice, when someone at my church said some unthinking thing I thought was mean.  Keep the mirrors away from me when I'm crying about those things, because I am not pretty.  

  But sometimes, I'm beautiful.  Even with the red, scrunched up face, smudged mascara, streaming eyes, and sniffling nose, I'm a beautiful crybaby.  And so are you!  I've cried at weddings.  I cry when I hear stories of salvation.  I cry at baptisms.  Sometimes I cry when I hear songs that remind me of people I don't see often.  I cry when my son sings praise songs, because I love to hear his journey.  I cry when my daughter goes off to camp, because I know I'm going to miss her.  

  All the crying that comes from LOVE, I'm ok with.  Weeping about the empty nest coming quickly....I'm ok with that, I'll miss having them around every day. Crying because I still miss my dad and my grandparents...I'm ok with that, too.  I love them.  

  And what about all that crying that comes from happiness?  Seeing my daughter's photograph in a magazine, checking my son's first year of college grades and seeing that he made it through! There's happiness in that, and relief.  The tears are a release of all that happy.  

  But my favorite kind of beautiful crying is when it comes from laughter.  I didn't ask my daughter if she remembers the first time she saw me laugh until I cried, but I hope she doesn't remember a beginning.  I do it a lot, and I hope I've always done it.  

PS...Baby 'A' here in the picture is pouting because we annoyed her.  She's still beautiful, isn't she?  I'm not so pretty when my crying is cause by being annoyed, though!  Ha!

 ****So what about you?  When's the last time you cried, and was it not-so-pretty crying, or was it beautiful?  


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Beautiful Friends I Didn't Wanna Help

  No matter what the reason is, the feeling I get from not being there for a friend is a bad feeling.  So I've been feeling bad lately.  Real bad.

  I had a couple different reasons, neither of them good.  In the first recent incident, my reason was....well, my reason was that I didn't wanna.  I mean, it wasn't a life-or-death thing and I didn't realize for a while how much my friend wanted me to do the thing she wanted me to do.  Or maybe I did know but I was in denial.  Because, as you know, I didn't wanna.  Oh, I did parts of the thing.  I even did some of the parts that I didn't wanna do.  But I didn't do all the parts, and certainly not the part that she wanted me to do the most and the part that I most emphatically didn't wanna do.  See, she didn't wanna do the thing, either, but she did it.  And she did it without me.  Because I didn't wanna.  

  The second recent incident involved another friend.  She called me, needing me.  In the morning.  Some of you know how I am in the morning, and if you don't know how I am in the morning, I'll tell you...I'm NOT HAPPY IN THE MORNING.  So, she called me, and I was sleeping, and I rolled over, saw who was calling me, thought, "She knows I am NOT HAPPY IN THE MORNING," and I settled back into my sleep.  Now, in my defense, I didn't know she REALLY needed me.  I listened to her message later, it didn't sound particularly desperate.  Or maybe I was in denial.  Because she did need me, she needed me right then, and she needed me a lot.  And I would have wanted to help her, I even would have wanted to help her early in the morning...if only I'd answered the phone.  But, I didn't wanna answer it.  

  How many more friends have I let down, just out of laziness, or inattentiveness, or denial, or just plain spite?  I don't want to think about it, because I know I'll come up with more examples.  I've faulted friends for needing help, because they've taken on too much in their lives.  I've delegated needs to other women, because they seem less busy than me.  I've even justified not helping a friend because it's not my 'gift'.  

  Let me pause a moment and say this, though, before my friends start testing me by saying they 'need' me.  Do you really?  Are you sure?  Is this just something you don't feel like doing so you figure misery loves company and tell me you need my help?  Is it something you have to do at all?  Or is it that you don't think I do anything so I should come help you do all the stuff you want to get done?  Because that's not needing, that's using.  And yes, sometimes I can be used.  Sometimes I like to be used.  Sometime I will want to use you, too.  Because we are friends, and being there for one another sometimes means we can use each other and we can have fun doing it, too.  But don't get mad if you want to use me and I say no.  Because sometimes I don't wanna.  But sometimes I do.  

  Anyway, both my friends forgave me.  The first one didn't say it straight out, but she always does forgive me when I let her down, and this wasn't the first time, so I can't imagine it would be any different.
 The second told me she forgives me, and she was able to find friends who actually did answer their phones, probably in chipper voices, and then went on to help her in their cheery way, because that's just how those annoyingly chipper, happy, helpful morning women are.  

  But even though both things did end up ok, I realized how important my friends are to me, and how not being there for them is a pretty rotten example to them of how much they mean to me.  So, I'll resolve to do better.  
Because the only worse feeling than letting down a friend who needs you is the feeling you get when a friend lets you down.  


Friday, February 24, 2012

Beautiful Birth Story

  Get your tissues out, because if you love a good birth story, this one will get you.  This story is chock-full of some of our favorite Beautiful Girls.  Kim, the gorgeous, funny, amazing woman who has been eagerly anticipating the birth of her second child.  Courtney, the vivacious, multi-talented, clever Vanderbilt student, studying to be a midwife on the mission field.  And Eden, our newest, littlest, miraculous beauty whose very existence made this story possible.  

  Courtney, at Kim's prompting, wrote this letter to baby Eden, after she was able to settle in and ponder a most miraculous night.  Sitting down?  Got your tissues?  Here we go.....

   Eden Vanessa- your name is as beautiful as you are.  And how you came into this world was pretty incredible, just like you.  It all started when your mommy and I said how cool it would be if I could catch you when she went to the hospital.  She wanted to have you all by herself, so we were going to stay at home as long as we could. Funny thing is, you had your own plans. Or I should say, God had His own plans.  You see, He gave me one week off, which happened to be the week that you were due.   But it didn’t seem like you were going to be ready to come out anytime soon. That is, until the exact hour I crossed over into Lynchburg.  Your mom sent me a message to let me know that she felt you stirring things up.  I went to bed Sunday night thinking that I was going to get to meet you late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.  Four hours later, I got a phone call from your mom telling me that her contractions were regular, but really short.  I still wasn’t convinced that you were ready.  But at three o’clock, we decided it would be a good idea to check on your progress and then we could all go to bed while we waited for you to make up your mind.  So I took my time packing my things for what I thought would be a long wait…little did I know that between 0300 and 0340 you would become tired of your little room. So tired that you decided to burst your own bubble to let us know that you meant business.  And that is how I found things when I arrived at your doorstep on a freezing February morning- an excited dad, an eager baby, and one incredible momma. As soon as I walked in, I knew you were ready to see your parents, and when I checked, my suspicions were confirmed.  Your dad went and started the car while I took your mom into her room to help get her ready to go. But as soon as we got to her room, we realized that we were being silly.  The hospital was no longer an option- we had to choose between the house and the car.  We opted for the stationary, warm house :) 

          Did I mention your mom was amazing? Well she was. And your dad was so amazing that he had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and granola bars packed for the hospital by the time I got there.  But like I said- you were ready, whether we were or not.  Since we couldn’t go anywhere, we decided to call in the EMS for backup. About this time, as I was watching your little head try to poke out, your mom decided to ask me if I was okay with letting you come out at home. Would it have mattered if I wasn’t?? I couldn’t tell her “no” then- but I knew that your brother had been so big that he had to be helped out.  I didn’t think you were as big as he was, but all I could do was pray for the Lord to use my hands and to bring you out as miraculously as He created you.  Well, pray and go over ways in my mind to get you out if you did happen to get stuck.  It was more comfortable for your mom if you came out while she was on her hands and knees- however, this was foreign to the EMS team. As they walked in the room, they asked me what we were doing.  Umm…playing checkers?  What did it look like we were doing?  Before I knew it, I was coaching your mom to help you come out slowly so she didn’t get as hurt as she did the last time.  She did great!! And the next thing I knew, your perfect head was in my hands and I was easing your shoulders out, bringing your little self into my arms.  I got to be the first to know and to announce to the world that you were a girl!  Did you know that you were the pinkest baby I have ever caught?? And that you opened your eyes and stared at me right before letting out the most heartwarming cry that I had ever heard? Handing you to your mom was the most surreal thing I have ever done…did that all really just happen?  As I write this one day later, I still don’t believe it. Our God is quite incredible.

           Writing your story is taking me longer than it took you to be born :) In fact, your dad asked me if that was it- it took your brother over 30 hours to come out.  The funny part is, we didn’t have anything ready to welcome you into the world, save some gloves. Your daddy had to go find me some bath towels to wrap you up and the EMS had to go find some clamps for us.  You got all the nutrition from your little food bank, and then your daddy cut your cord. With a scalpel. Do ambulances not have scissors? Then again, a man pulled it out of a bag- and why not choose the sharpest, pointiest, shiniest object you can find? But there you were- cradled in your mother’s arms with your dad staring at your beautiful face, and the EMS still not sure what really just happened. To be honest, I wasn’t so sure either.  And while we didn’t have any medicines on hand in case there was too much bleeding, you took care of that by being the world’s quickest and most amazing breast-feeder I have ever seen.  All I could do was laugh. The Creator of the universe still holds even the tiniest of us all in the palm of His loving hand.

          The rest is history. We took our time enjoying you, your dad held you for the first time, I helped your mom shower, the EMS helped your mom to the car (which was still running in the driveway…whoops- at least it was warm), they left, and your daddy carried you out to the car bundled up in towels.  You and your mom got checked in at the hospital, and everyone agreed with what we already knew-you were perfect.  After you were all settled in, I left on adrenaline. I used it to go back and clean- all I could do was laugh and sing His praise in total amazement...the only song running through my head had the lyrics "God is bigger than the air I breathe, the world we'll leave. And God will save the day, and all will say, My Glorious".  Did I mention that I still couldn’t believe you were born at home?

             I finally made it back to my bed in total exhaustion, but before I could sleep I wanted to read something to give Him thanks before I slipped into unconsciousness. So I opened His word to Psalm and happened to land at Psalm 138- “I will give You thanks with all my heart…I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your loving-kindness and Your truth: For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. On the day I called You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul…the Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your loving-kindness, O Lord, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.”  Oh how this sung the very words on my heart! All of this right before the chapter that tells you how you were created. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. For my frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were written all the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” 

                He created you for something so special, little Eden. I am already praying for you- that you will come to know this amazing Lord as your Savior at a young age. That you will realize just how much He loves you- so much that He died for you and then rose again from the dead so that you can walk through this life holding the hand that intricately formed every part of you.  Seek Him and Him only and you will never lose your way in this world. And you will spend forever in the presence of the God who has never and will never stop thinking about you.  That is how special you are.  And I love you.

                                               The privileged hands that held you first-
                                                                                     Your midwife,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beautiful Baker

   A few years ago, Cindi and I decided it would be fun to learn to decorate cakes.  At the time, our friend Wendy was a Wilton representative/teacher at Michael's.  So we took the class and learned the stuff and had our fun, and then we started making cakes for our kids and for baby showers and wedding showers.  We don't charge money to our friends, because we never know how the cake will turn out and we want free reign over the design!

  Then we did it.  We offered to make a wedding cake for a dear, beautiful girlfriend.  What were we thinking?  We made fondant and pretty leaves and bought a tiered stand.  It turned out fine, but as we finally set it on the cake table and stepped away, I turned to Cindi and said, "I will never do this again."  

  Then another dear, beautiful girlfriend of ours got engaged, and asked us to make her cake.  We lovingly made each miniature sunflower, hundreds of them, out of fondant.  I set them on my table to dry overnight.  The next morning there were tiny ants all over them.  I cried, threw them away, and we lovingly made hundreds more miniature sunflowers, and when we set the finished cake on the table I turned to Cindi and said, "I will never do this again."  

(that's Tanner 'helping' me in the picture, not Cindi! haha!)

  A couple of months ago, Cindi and I both received bouquets of roses to our doors....from a dear, beautiful girlfriend who has recently gotten engaged.  She wants her cake to be square and covered in fondant.  In a few weeks I'll be rolling out that sticky stuff and covering the holes with flowers and ribbon and maybe I'll cry, and when we set it in the car to be delivered to the church I am sure I will turn to Cindi and say, "I will never do this again."  

   But I've decided, I can cry and complain and hate making cakes, or I can count my blessings.  Oh, how I love all the beautiful girls we have made cakes for!  We've shared in the celebrations of their lives, marriages and babies and engagements and birthdays!  How fortunate we are to be in the middle of that kind of event!  And the appreciation of these beauties when we 'unveil' their cakes...always grateful, always in awe, no matter what state the poor cake is in.  Our girlfriends are our biggest fans, and we are their's.  

  Also, the blessing of getting to spend time with my great friend while we are complaining and eating icing off our fingers and covering up mistakes and making awful-looking roses (me) and beautiful, perfect roses (her), and even starting all over.  We laugh, we talk about what's going on in our lives, we just spend time together.  We're busy, cakes give us an excuse to take a break from life and just hang out together.  I don't love making cakes, but I love the women whose life events the cakes represent, and I love making cakes with my friend!  

  And how about the appreciation I now have for my friend Wendy?!  She's gone from cake decorating teacher at Michael's to full-time business owner cake extraordinaire!  

  Wendy owns Coffey Cakes, and she does all kinds of cakes, but I am most impressed with her wedding cakes.  Weddings are, hopefully, a one-time thing...and brides (and brides' mothers!) can be hard to deal with!  The cake has to be perfect for the perfect day, and THAT is pressure!  Wendy takes it in stride, though, because Wendy loves what she does!  She loves to meet the newly engaged couple and be around the energy and anticipation they bring to the planning, she loves seeing the look on the bride's face when she sees the finished product, and she especially loves spending the extra time with her husband...he helps her with some of her deliveries and is her right-hand-man!  

  Even though Wendy is no longer our teacher, she is still teaching us.  She gives us tips and encourages our work, even though we are nowhere near her level.  Wendy is a Beautiful Baker!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Beautiful Girls: Kickin' Tail and Takin' Names

    A friend of mine went to the movies recently, and saw a trailer for another movie.  I've been trying to find out the name of it all day, but when I finally got in touch with my friend and found out the name (Haywire), I realized it didn't much matter.  You know the movie.  Beautiful Girl is betrayed in some way, Beautiful Girl gets revenge by blowing things up, driving fast cars, and beating up mean boys...all while wearing tight outfits and looking amazing.  The end.  

  It brought up an old question for my friend, and she posted it to me.  Are movies like these a way for Hollywood to say to us "Women are strong and powerful only when they are strong and powerful in the same way men are (stereo-typically) strong and powerful."?  She wondered if movies like Haywire, Lara Croft, and Colombiana seek to blur the lines between genders, and even instill some confusion in young men about how they should treat women.  We tell our sons, "Never hit a girl."  Maybe we should add, "Well, unless she does something that makes you think she's about to throw you out of a window."  

  Is it all just a master plan to degrade men?  Women can bring home the bacon by killing the pig with a machine gun, and still pick up the kids from daycare.  Or save them from the Russian spies, or the edge of a volcano, or the French kidnappers.  All without smearing her red, red lipstick or bursting a seam on that snug leather catsuit.  Who needs a man?  

  My friend's husband says it isn't a big deal.  Lara isn't real, neither is Nikita.   He's content with the knowledge that his wife probably won't go vigilante on their daughter's mean ol' teacher, and he's fairly happy with the fact that she probably won't blow up some guy's car if her parking spot gets taken. He would, however, probably be ok with her wearing a snug leather catsuit, at least at home.   

  So my question to you is, what is feminine strength and power?  What are you teaching your daughter about what a strong woman looks like?  If we ever have an alien invasion, I'll wish for Sigourney Weaver's Officer Ripley by my side.  If I ever need to get back my stolen ancient artifacts from a tomb, I'll be the first to hire Lara Croft.  But for now, I prefer to look to REAL beautiful, strong women.  

  Oh, look, here's one now!

  Debbie is strong and powerful.  She's one of those friends that I don't see very often, but through the 'magic' of Facebook I draw inspiration from her. 

   Debbie is a pastor's wife, which takes a powerful patience. She's almost finished raising four amazing children, which takes a powerful perseverance. She's a teacher, which takes powerful compassion.  She's an adventurer, which takes a powerful courage and love of living.  She's a deployed soldier's mother, which takes a powerful faith.

 Debbie is a very Beautiful Girl.  But unlike those tough girls in the movies, she's not alone.  She has a partner in adventure, her husband, Bruce.  Bruce and Debbie go through it all together, and she makes sure his role in their marriage doesn't ever get degraded.  That makes Debbie even MORE beautiful.  

  In fact, I've changed my mind.  If we have an alien invasion or the zombies finally get themselves organized or my ancient artifacts get stolen, I'm going to call Debbie.  AND Bruce.  Maybe they'll even wear matching snug leather catsuits?