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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Narrow is the Way

If I could share anything with you all this Christmas season, it would go something like this...

When I was six years old, I can vividly remember my family living in a big farmhouse out in the country.  I remember coming home from Sunday school after church one warm afternoon and kneeling at a coffee table of sorts in front of a large window that overlooked our sprawling front yard.  It was there that I prayed a prayer that would forever change me. 

With my eyes closed and feeling the warmth and light of the sun shining on my face through that big old window, I confessed to Jesus that I was a sinner and that I needed a Savior and that I wanted to live for Him always.  In that moment, I asked Jesus to come into my heart and never let me go. I repented of my sins, and strived to live a life that honored Him.

Just writing it out, it sounds kind of remarkable to me from an adult perspective to look back on the childhood version of myself and to be able to recount so clearly the point at which I knew that was claimed by Jesus Christ for all eternity. Somehow by the grace of God, I understood with a beautiful childlike simplicity that I was bought at a great price…that Jesus Christ had sacrificed himself, taking my place on the cross and carrying the burden of my sin, so that I could be set free.
What a radical display of love from the Creator to the creation.

It was a concept far bigger than my six year old self could seemingly fathom, and yet I understood even then that I was a sinner, that I would continue to struggle with sin, and that if there was a God willing to love me despite all of those things and give me victory over them and even take away my punishment for that very sin, man, did I want to know Him.  AND, man, did I want to live my life for Him.

You see, I've always been a spiritual person, that is...I've always felt ALIVE and connected to God in a way that is hard to put into words but incredibly tangible in the workings of my life.  With God at the helm, I look back upon a trail of amazing circumstances in my life woven together in such a manner that there is no denying the presence of the Lord alongside me through every mountaintop and valley.  He has carried me at the times I couldn't carry myself.

And yet, in the times I have rebelled and tried doing life my own way, I have felt a very real separation/incompleteness/darkness...an emptiness marked by a void in my soul where only the light of Christ can reach into the depths and turn the darkness to radiance.  I need that light, and I chase after that light with all of being.  AND it is for all of these reasons and so much more that I so openly bare the name of Christ over my life.  I am a Christian...a follower of Christ.

I have spent my life studying the Bible, and yet I still feel like I haven’t even cracked the tip of the iceberg.  I still have so much to learn, and I still fall short in so many ways. I still say stupid things.  I still talk before I think at times.  I still struggle with doing things my way.
The truth is that from the time I really learned to read, I was constantly reading and studying my Bible.  There were amazing stories of great men and women of the faith.  There were big, powerful teachings that I longed to understand, and still today, I am buried in the Word of God, longing to know Him more and more each day, and the more I seek Him through His Word and through prayer, the more He reveals to me.

Of course, there are still days when I fall on my knees before the, Lord, asking, “You’re still there, right?  I need you, Lord.  Please, PLEASE, don’t ever let me go.”

You see, I’ve always sought after the Lord, even in my times of rebellion from Him, because I’ve always known that I am nothing without Him, and true to form, my Lord and Savior has time and time again proven relentless in His pursuit of me and in His faithfulness and love for me.  Time and time again, he has rescued me from myself as I struggle to keep my eyes on Him.  

He longs for all to seek Him and to spend eternity with him...

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 2:9

But, have we as a society turned a blind eye and deaf ear to Him?  Have we traded His goodness and grace for a lie?  The very lie that whispers, "You don't need God"?

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! Galatians 1:6-9

While my life has had its challenges at various times, it has also carried a world of blessings.  When I say blessings, I don’t just mean the material, although, I have always been faithfully provided for, but I also mean spiritually, physically, emotionally.  While I know that trials and storms will and have come, I have also seen the steady hand of God, the God of the Bible (as I offer to you that there is no other), fighting on my behalf.  When I lack wisdom, He provides insight.  When I lack endurance, He gives strength.  When I am afraid, He brings peace.  When I am lost, He always leads me back home.

Some people call faith in Christ a crutch or a sign of weakness.  Well, I'll take that crutch any day, thank you very much!

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10

So, I continue to chase after Him. 

If there were one thing I would ever want anyone to know about me, it is this…

I need Jesus, and I am nothing without Him.

So, I continue to fall on my knees and pray for a world that has traded the truth of God for the lies of self-indulgence, arrogance, pride and rebellion. Apparently, God got it all wrong, and we humans need to persuade Him to our line of thinking, or so we are deceived into believing. 

I continue to write about the “uncomfortable” stuff that makes us all squirm a little, the very stuff that the arrogant love to mock, but even so I know how much God longs for each of us to know Him...to know that we are endlessly loved no matter how dark our past...to know that we can spend eternity with Him where there will be no more pain and no more tears.  It's not too late, loved ones.  But a time will come, and the choice will be made, and that choice will determine eternity for each of us.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good.  For at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:7-9

I continue to seek the Bible and pray that I would be able to withstand the onslaught of garbage Satan is slinging on this world.  I wish I could say that he is merely a cartoon character with horns, but the reality is far too dark and grim and far too real for pretenses.  I continue to pray for other believers being persecuted around the world – that they would remain strong and true.   

The battle is, indeed, intense.  I pray that I too would be counted worthy to stand firm in the faith.

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

As I look around me, I see not only my country, but the entire world constantly under attack by Satan.  I pray that hearts of the lost would, instead, be opened to the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus and what he has prepared for those who love him.

What no eye has seen what no ear has heard and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Corinthians 2:9

Sin is rampant, loved ones, but we can have victory.

But he who stands firm to the end will be saved. – Matthew 24:13

You see, my friends, the wishy-washy attitude of do whatever makes you feel “happy” and feel good just to fit in has taken the place of sound Biblical doctrine even within much of the Christian community.  The church is under attack, and the message of Gospel of Jesus Christ is being lost in the midst of false teachings.  We, as a community, are trading in the Word of God for so-and-so's opinion on whatever the hot topic of the day might be.

We need to come back to the Lord.  We need to seek His counsel first.

So often we look for favor among men, and in turn we lose the favor of the Father.

Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33

Not all roads lead to heaven.  Please don’t buy into the lie of the Enemy.  

The road is narrow, friends.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Choose life, dear friends.

Have a blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Santa Clause or Torture?

This past weekend, my husband and I took our little girl to the Santa Land display at Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis.  I thought it was neat.  My husband thought it was creepy, at least the singing trees were anyway.  To be fair, he did make a good point.  The melancholy song of the trees seemed oddly out of place and, in fact, yes, even a little creepy.

What happened to good old fashioned Christmas carols, folks?  Instead, you have trees holding carol singing books humming out haunting, wordless tunes better fit for Halloween. 

A little suggestion for next year: Dear Macy’s, you might want to swap the soundtrack for something a little peppier. It is Christmas, after all.

Just sayin’.

Aside from that one little observation, the rest of the display was actually really cool.  I was totally impressed by the creativity and craftsmanship of the display.  Heck, I hadn’t been to the 8th floor of Macy’s since eons ago when I saw the Nutcracker display, so I was particularly excited, so much so that not only do I look like I just rolled out of bed, hopped in the car and went to see it at first light of day, I did, in fact, do just that, as the picture at the end of this post suggests. 

But THEN it was time to see Santa.  My husband looked at the long line snaking back and forth to the magical Santa containing room hidden behind the red velvet curtain and asked, “Should we take Chloe to see Santa?”  

As the caffeine from my morning cup of coffee began to fade, I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, “Okay.”  Soooo, into the line we went.  As we approached that “special place,” I could hear and see the screaming kids being dragged in to see the big, jolly guy.  I leaned over to my husband, and offered, “Looks like we’re in a line of parents looking to torture their kids just for a photo with Santa.” 

You see, I find that it’s important to keep a good sense of humor in these situations.

Santa Clause.  Good grief.  

I read stories to my baby girl all the time about the birth of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas because that’s what’s important to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the tradition of Santa bringing gifts is a fun one and one that I grew up with, but it’s just not something of importance to me nor has it occurred to me to tell my little one about yet.  For goodness sakes, we’re working on learning the ABC’s right now, so Santa is definitely not the priority. 

In hindsight, a little Santa101 may proven useful here.

And yet, there we were right along with the rest of the free world with our totally unprepared 2-year old waiting in a long, sweaty line to meet a stranger who definitely deserves to earn a good paycheck for dressing up as Santa Clause and enduring the screams of little ones across the world who feel violated by unsuspecting hugs and teased with offers of gifts that he doesn’t intend to keep.

Realistically, what kid likes being set on a stranger’s lap, that stranger being a huge, old (er…older) dude in a completely foreign looking get-up and THEN is expected to smile for the camera? 

Us parents, we’re just so silly sometimes!

Which brings me to my little girl…

My sweet, bright and happy little girl…well, it went down along these lines…

As my husband carried her into the “top secret chamber” of Santa Clause (it was one of two Santa Clauses in two separate rooms, and we got the one with the kind-hearted smile, btw), she tightened her little grip around her daddy.  My husband then handed her to me, and I in turn went to pass her to Santa.

Or…not so much.  

I’m telling you, gang, those big blue eyes of hers filled up with tears at lightning speed, and she screamed for dear life.  Santa tried to hold her, but she held both arms up to me, sobbing in protest as if I had just totally abandoned her.  I just couldn’t do it.  I swooped her back up into my arms and smiled at the kind Santa Clause and said, “It’s just not worth her getting this upset.  We’ll skip it.  Thank you for your time.”

Now, I know the token photo of the kids crying on Santa’s lap is somewhat of a rite of passage, but my baby girl was terrified and so upset that I just didn’t want that kind of memory.  Christmas time is about joy, afterall, and this definitely was not a joyful moment.

As I grabbed my coat to leave, the photographer asked if we would like to take a family photo with Santa and deciding that it might be just the thing to salvage the experience for our daughter, we did just that.  We took a photo with Santa as a family.  Granted, my husband and I are the only ones smiling, but at least Chloe was okay in the safety of her of her daddy’s arms.  Maybe she'll get a kick out of it a few years down the road.

Well, there you have it.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The Big Business of Turning Two

Last night while I was cleaning the kitchen and Chloe was drawing on the chalkboard with her daddy, I heard her say to him, "Daddy, you're driving me crazy!"

Wow! Out of the mouths of babes. 

In slow motion my husband turned around and looked at me with a confused expression.  I returned that same confused expression as we silently wondered to one another, "Did you teach her that?"

Nope, it had to be from daycare.  I laughed when I asked Chloe's daycare provider about it, and she said that she's pretty sure that she's said it to her son "because truth be told, he does drive me crazy sometimes.  Sorry!"

I totally got a kick out of her keepin' it real!

There are two things in this life that I am now convinced:

1.) When it comes to all the reasons in the world for laughter, I believe that life with a two year old far surpasses them all.

2.) Two year old's are exhausting, man.  I mean, I've got the cutest, little pocket-sized two year old with a seriously adorable personality who still somehow manages to kick my butt at least once a day, give or take a day.  That energy, I tell you, it's something, all right!

This past weekend carried it's usual fair of toddler entertainment, and there were a few moments that still had my husband and I laughing into Monday morning.

I must confess that I am fighting one brutal chest cold with a bark like a walrus (which is awesome and super-duper attractive) so my energy level is definitely waning.  However, I find this cold to be an excellent excuse for letting my child's imagination run wild on the home front as well as the following sucker-consumption which ensued.

You've been forewarned.

First things first, my daughter Chloe (aka Little Bean, Beaner-boos, Baby Girl, Baby Goose, Stinker-doos, etc.) turned two on October 22nd, so I'm a little behind here.  Surprise, surprise.

I tried taking her 2-year old photos myself a week ago, and I tried everything from pulling out the giant stuffed gorilla that she drags all over the house to bribery by means of dum-dum pops, which turned her disdain for photos and declarations of  "No pictures, Mommy!" into a skippity-do-dah, giggly sugar rush stroll through our yard that seriously rivals a fly on Red Bull.

I'm not saying I'm proud of myself for the suckers (to be honest it goes against my very dedicated unprocessed food approach for Little Bean), buuuuuuuuuuut a girl's gots to do what a girl's gots to do, and suckers did the trick, folks.  All that to say, if you see the vast majority of Chloe's 2-year photos of her with a sucker in hand, don't judge me (photoshoot to follow in a separate post).  As we've established, it wasn't my finest hour.

Ahem, I digress.

So back to the beginning...to the good stuff...to the laughter. If I were to journal the weekend, it would look something like this...

4:45 a.m. Saturday morning: Chloe wakes up.  Claims to be ready for the day.  In denial, I assure her that she wants more sleep.  Denied.  Through the fog, I hear her saying something about being "hungry." I make pancakes (whipped the egg whites separately...all fancy and stuff) only for her to not touch them.  Fail.  Then, she giggled, asked me to hold her, and I melted.  All was well with the world.

7:00 a.m. Saturday morning: Husband finally rolls out of bed.  Scolds me for "letting" Chloe wake up. Some silliness about how I should have put her back to bed.  You would have thought that I had set my alarm for 4:45 a.m., and then prompted her to wake up.  By the way, what's an alarm clock anyway?  I've forgotten.

11:10 a.m. Saturday: Chloe falls asleep in her high chair right smack in the middle of lunch.  Poor little peanut and daylight savings just cannot come to terms.

The rest of the day was a bit of a circus between encouraging Chloe not to shred cotton balls all over the floor to laughing so hard at all of the cute, new expressions she's throwing out.  Her daddy's favorite is when she says, "Stay here, daddy.  I'll be right back," and then takes off running down the hall to retrieve some toy that she's thrilled to show him.

My favorite is when she gets all serious, holds up her index finger and says, "Just one more, Mommy." Clearly, she's imitating me trying to bring story time, sucker time, Curious George time, etc. to a close.  Just one more book, just one more sucker, just one more Youtube video of that irresponsible monkey!

Or...perhaps, even better was a moment last week when Chloe ran her hand over the new layer of hair that has finally begun to cover her bare head and exclaimed, "Mommy, I've got hair!" I just smiled and said, "Yes, you do, baby girl.  Yes, you do!"

Still coughing like a walrus.  Awesome.  Still chasing my giggling toddler in circles around our island in our kitchen just to hear her laugh.

4:45 a.m. Sunday morning: Chloe wakes up.  Ironically, again claims to be ready for the day.  Something about daylight savings being a joke.  My voice is almost gone, but she's making up talking for both of us. I've been taking a lot of videos with my iphone these days just so I can hear that little voice throughout my day when I'm away at work.

I've also discovered that Chloe has fully embraced the phrase, "No, thank you." Who doesn't like good manners, right?  Of course, it's usually used in this context...

Me: Chloe, would you like to get dressed?

Chloe: No, thank you, Mommy.

Me: Chloe, please let mommy know when you need to use the potty.

Chloe: No, thank you, Mommy.

Me: Chloe, it's naptime, honey.

Chloe: No, thank you, Mommy.

I have never heard any single phrase used as many times as I heard "No, thank you," used this past weekend by my baby girl. She was testing the waters with it, liked the way it rolled off her tongue and quickly it became her response to everything. I've got to admit, though, somehow her rejection of naptime is kind of cute when she responds with a sweet, "No, thank you."

3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon: Chloe recites the whole alphabet song at snack time from her high chair.  It's the first time I've heard her sing the whole song.  Woot! Woot! Little Bean knows the entire alphabet song!

3:30 p.m. While cooking in the kitchen, out of the corner of my eye, I see Chloe, blue chalk in hand, coloring the white trim in the dining room, all while keeping her eye on me the whole time, just waiting for me to notice.  When I ask her what she's doing quickly followed by asking her to STOP what she's doing, she bolts around the corner.  Blue chalk still in hand, she peeks out from around the corner and then proceeds to color the wall with her chalk.

I run over towards her to retrieve the chalk, but since the words "stop" and "no" have lost any sort of effect, she takes off running, drops the evidence (chalk) into one of my tall boots and takes off into the kitchen giggling.  It's now clear that she thinks this is a game, but there's a lesson to be learned here.  The problem is that I can't stop laughing.

Soooo, I hide behind the corner in order to gather my composure, struggling to wipe the smile off my face and put on THE MOM FACE. You guys know the face. Of course, in reality, it was a failed attempt to sternly address the coloring on the walls business, so I let it slide (refer to waning energy level above).

Little Bean = Roughly a million

Mommy = 0

4:00 p.m. Chloe says that she wants to play with our dogs Peaches and Oliver.  I say, "Go for it!" While trying to whip together dinner, I hear a squish-squish pitter patter around me.  Thinking to myself, "I don't even want to know what that means," I look up to see a set of little wet foot prints encircling my kitchen island, which leads me to a pair of soaking wet socks on a soaking wet Little Bean...which in turn leads me to the massive puddle of water and mushy dog food swimming on the mud room floor.  Sooooo, that's what she meant by playing with Peaches and Oliver.  She literally took a bath in their dog dish.  Does that make me a bad parent?


Toddlers, I tell you.  They will make your heart melt like no other, and, then, THEY WILL BREAK YOU.  It's amazing really.

What more can I say?  It's an exhausting job some days, but, holy smokes, it is so worth it!

Since she was 19 months old, Chloe would say, "Bless you," whenever I sneezed (I sneeze a lot...darn allergies).  Even while holding her to my chest in the darkness of yet another middle of the night waking, when I would sneeze, that little face that should've been asleep would look up to my face and quietly say, "Bless you."  Even still this week, as I'm putting her to bed and I'm coughing until my chest aches, with each cough, she says, "Bless you, mommy."

No, no, bless you, sweet girl.

I. just. love. her.

And, I just love this business of turning two!

Happy Friday, gang!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Chloe & The Gorilla" Themed 2nd Birthday Party

Holy smokes, where on earth have the past two years gone? It feels like just yesterday heaven sent my husband and I the most precious little treasure...

...And today, that little treasure has grown into a vibrant, beautiful two year old. Celebrating her sweet little life comes far too easy.  Our daughter Chloe is happy and spunky and too darn smart for her own good, and we're soaking up every minute of it!

Oh, and she also happens to think that gorillas are the coolest!

Right on, Little Bean. 

It all started last year when her Uncle Joel and his fiancee Katie bought her the Rumble in the Jungle children's book for her 1st birthday.  It quickly became her favorite book, but even more so, she insisted on us turning to the page with the big gorilla and the baby gorilla. She always pointed and said, "Baby gorilla!"

From then on, she always got excited whenever she came across something with a gorilla on it (actually, she still does), and she soon started asking for the gorilla in the book as well as wanting to watch videos with gorillas.

Many early Saturday mornings, I could hear African tribal music streaming from the living room, and I would find her curled up in her daddy's lap watching some real life gorilla documentary on Youtube.  For real.

We've become quite educated on gorillas, my husband and I. :)

Chloe loves the way they bang on their chests and hoot and holler.  She imitates those silly gorillas all the while giggling herself silly.  It puts a great big smile on my face just thinking about it.

Then, this past summer, she finally got to see a real life gorilla at Como Zoo, and she was thrilled!

All that to say...since the gorilla has been the most memorable and long-standing feature of Chloe's 2nd year, naturally, a gorilla themed birthday party was in order. 

Of course, the trick was to take this often intimidating yet gentle animal (ahem, I'm kind of an expert now) and weave it into a girly theme.  After all, pink IS still her favorite color (she even insists on her pink sippy-cup dare I offer her one in another color), and the gorilla is finally, after all this time, stepping aside to make way for the different princesses that she keeps asking for these days.

It's been fun while it lasted. Now onto the party details!  
(To see Chloe's 1st pumpkins & butterflies birthday party, head over HERE)

I made just about everything you see below from the wood cake stand to the mini chocolate cupcakes to the cupcake toppers.  The cupcake display was, hands down, my favorite detail of the party!


I used this recipe for the chocolate cupcakes, and this recipe for the frosting.  This has to be the best chocolate frosting recipe I have EVER made.  Seriously, it's uh-mazing.  If you like to bake, go make these babies stat.  You're welcome.
While I did make the cake topper below, I did NOT make the pretty pink cake.  The fine bakers at Target made this lovely cake for me.  I did, however, get the idea for this style of cake from this darling party over on the Hostess Blog

Flowers!  Flowers!  Chloe loves flowers!  I love flowers!  Who doesn't love flowers?!

As a matter of fact, Chloe gets super excited and yells, "Flowers!" any time she sees them anywhere...like at the farmers market, in someone's yard, heck, even in the ditch.  While I have my own affinity for flowers, I knew Chloe would be particularly excited about these lovely, vibrant bouquets, so I placed them in every room just for her.

I wanted to create a unique backdrop for the dessert table that tied in with design of the invitations I made.  Remember these invitations?

I spent hours making this sign, and I really loved the way it turned out.

The funny thing is that as soon as the party was over, Chloe kept asking for this sign, so I gave it to her, watched her drag it around the house and eventually watched her graffiti over all of my artwork with all shades of chalk.  This poster is officially destroyed, but it served its purpose, and I am happy it brought joy to my little girl in more than one sense.  Ha!


I actually got the idea for the fabric chandeliers below from some decor at my church.

Yep, months ago, the ladies at church strung hemp rope like this with fabric tied all along it across the ceiling rafters at church.  I thought it was so cool that I snapped a photo with my iphone and later came up with a chandelier take on the same concept.  The chandeliers had a sort of funky/jungle-y vibe that I thought worked well with my theme.


This chandelier I made turned out to be huge.  Seriously, it's like 5 feet long!

Okay, so I cut out about a bazillion sparkly hearts months ago thinking I would have some use for them.  Well, I had no use for them whatsoever.  Then, the night before the party, I whipped up a quick heart garland just to not be wasteful, and you know what?  It turned out to be another one of my favorite details. Who knew?

Umm...so, I made a bunch of these time-consuming place cards.  Guess what?  I didn't use a single one! They are all still sitting on a shelf unused in my basement.  Good grief.  BUT, I felt compelled to share this photo with you to make myself feel better for wasting so much time on something I didn't even use.

Okay, so this is kind of a terrible photo.  It was an evening party, the lighting was terrible, and my hands were too shaky from one too many cups of coffee at this point in the day, so this photo is entirely BLAH, but it's the best one that I have that encompasses the dessert table.  Oh well!

In other news, did I mention that my hubby is a fantastic cook?  Yep, he whipped up some good comfort food for the party, including a crowd favorite: ham & cheddar cheese soup along with a big batch of chili.

When it comes to parties, I usually take a break from the typical day-to-day cooking.  Instead, I focus on the decorating, and my husband does the cooking.  Dividing and conquering in that fashion has always made for minimal stress come the day of the party.

AND the best part about the whole day?  Our little girl was ecstatic.  She was so happy!  I honestly couldn't have asked for a better day. 

Thank you to my hubby, grandparents, and all of the aunts, uncles and cousins that helped celebrate our Little Bean.  She is one blessed little girl, and we love her more than words can say.  

Happy 2nd Birthday, baby girl!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Heart Sessions: When the Rain Comes - An Update on My Toddler Pulls Out Her Hair

Constant sunshine can ruin a clay pot. Too much sunshine will make the pot fragile and brittle – even harder than it was to begin with. However, a little moisture or rain keeps the clay pot flexible and usable. Spiritually, it keeps us more humble and teachable. 
                                                                                                   – Chuck Swindoll (paraphrased)

I have this quote written on a post-it note stuck to the inside cover of my Bible. I scribbled it down several years ago as I was listening to a message by Chuck Swindoll on the radio. Clearly, the idea stuck with me.

I think of this message often, and I’m reminded that when the rainstorms of life start pouring down on me, if I am willing, the very circumstance that feels so uncomfortable may also be the very means by which our loving God keeps me humble and flexible and ultimately compassionate for others’ trials and heartaches - and not consumed by my own.  Ultimately, it is the rainstorms of life that continue to keep my heart softened towards others, as I recognize my own need for compassion.

The reality is that no one likes to be rained on…at least not the cold, wet, bone-chilling rain that sends you running for cover. I am no exception. I like the sunshine just as much as the next person, but as the great Dr. Swindoll points out, too much sunshine can leave us hardened and brittle.

It's true.

So I take the rain in stride, praying for just enough sunshine to bring me joy and yet keep me humble.

I'll admit, now that I have a child of my own, for the first time in my life, my instinct is to feel fear when a big rainstorm blows through...fear that my home will blow over and that my daughter will be hurt.  Just ask my husband; I pace back and forth checking the news for minute by minute updates for tornadoes or whatever the threat might be.  Storms scare me now in a way that they never have before.

I've got a family to protect, gosh darn it.

BUT...have you ever noticed how there are moments in the middle of a storm when you actually feel peaceful...even safe?  The moments where you grab a cup of hot cocoa, curl up under a blanket and watch the dark clouds let loose their fury all the while remaining completely still and at peace from the safety of being on the inside of that window view?

My walk with the Lord has been a lot like that experience.  The storms of life come as they inevitably will, but when I take cover beneath the shelter of the Lord, it's like I have that cup of hot cocoa in hand, and I'm all curled up in a blanket, peacefully awaiting the storm's passing...

Today, I am at that peaceful place.

Which leads me to an update on a previous post I shared about my daughter pulling out her own hair...

Even as I'm typing to you all now, I feel a lump in my throat as I fight back the tears.  They are not tears of pain, mind you, but genuinely tears of gratitude.  I received such an outpouring of emails and personal Facebook messages offering prayers and powerful words of encouragement, that I was just BLOWN AWAY by the kindness and compassion of others.

In response to those of you who have so kindly prayed for Chloe and checked in to see how she is doing, I thought I would share an update.

I was contacted by other mommas dealing with this very same confusing and yet distressing issue with their little ones.  We cried as we read each others' stories.  We encouraged one another, and we've been working through it together.

Even more so, I have been able to step inside the shoes of others.  I've learned of their struggles - the ones that hurt deep down inside so much so that they can hardly bring themselves to share their stories.  I've felt the weight of their heartache, and if you know me, I assure you that if I've told you that I'm praying for you, I really have been.  Prayer has moved the mountains in my life, and I know it will move the mountains in your life, too.

While I look on my initial hesitation to be such an open book about both the joys and struggles of life, I've found that the good Lord has used even the smallest of experiences I've shared to give others the freedom to open up and share their battles as well.  Many are struggling with their marriages, divorce, death and loss of loved ones, major childhood operations, cancer and so much more, and it's a reminder that we're all in this thing called life together.  No matter how polished someone looks on the outside, they have their struggles, too.

We all do.

More times than I care to admit, I've been quick to jump to judgement about someone and their situation only to totally eat crow later after their circumstances and struggles have been revealed.  Then, I feel like a total BUTTHEAD, crawling back on my hands and knees offering the compassion that should have been my reaction in the first place.

"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

It's so easy to judge, and yet all those hurting people really need is compassion. A simple word of kindness.  Encouragement.

Thank you, friends, for coming along this journey with me and giving me just that.  I want to do the same for you.

So where does it leave us with Chloe pulling out her hair?  Well, that last resort I talked about in the earlier post...well, that day came.

We shaved our little girl's head.

I couldn't do it, so my husband shaved it.

I understand it's a cultural thing for some to shave their daughter's head at this age, but it is not a part of either mine nor my husband's culture.  Our daughter had a beautiful head of hair for the better part of two years, so shaving her head was tough.  We hope this breaks the habit once and for all, but I'm trying to prepare myself emotionally should we need to do it again.

Here's what lead to our decision to shave her head...

I worked creatively to cover it up the bald patches, but, slowly, her head was becoming balder and balder on the top of her head from all the pulling.

Then, it went from bad to worse.  

In one week, she had pulled out so much hair, that I was nearly beside myself on what to do. The bald spot was so huge that there was no hiding it anymore.  She had a major problem, and we needed to take a drastic measure to try to correct it.  We shaved her head right then and there...with lots of tears from this mommy of hers.

Since shaving her head, I've only caught her a couple times trying to pull her hair (once trying to pull out her eyelashes - sheesh), but since she doesn't really have any hair to pull, there's really not much she can do.  I've also been really focusing on giving her real whole foods that I know to be particularly nutrient dense to fight the urge to eat hair (or any non-food items).  Nutrition has been a huge focus for me, so I've been sorting through what works and doesn't work to help her through this process.

While our struggle with Chloe pulling out her hair may seem minor in comparison to bigger battles, it has still carried its weight.  Watching your child do any sort of self-destructive behavior and not being unable to control it, sucks (for lack of a better word), but I'm reminded once again, that no matter how big or small the battle, we all feel hurt and heartache when our children are suffering, and there is a faithful Heavenly Father who still cares.

You know that peace in the midst of the storm I was talking about earlier, well, it hit me as soon as I let go, and we shaved her head.  The stress and worry, the wondering all hours of the night if she was pulling out more hair (and worse - eating it), it was all gone when we shaved her head.  Who knew?

It's been over a month since we shaved Chloe's head.  Slowly, her hair is starting to grow back in, but it's still really just peach fuzz at this point.  I love that beautiful little noggin of hers, and both hubby and I give her fuzzy little head lots of kisses.

I think she looks beautiful even without her hair, but I, admit, I do look forward to the day that it grows back in because, more importantly, it will mean that the hair pulling has stopped.

Thank you again, friends, for walking this journey with us.  Your prayers and words of encouragement have blessed us more than you know!

"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."  Isaiah 64:8

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chloe's 2nd Birthday Party Invitations

My daughter loves gorillas.

Heck, who doesn't?? 

Sooooooooo, in honor of her love for these majestic, gentle giants (Ahem...we've watched one too many gorilla documentaries), I am working on a very special "Chloe and the Gorilla" themed birthday party for my baby girl's 2nd birthday.

I will share more on this story once I share the rest of the party details, but I can tell you this much: I've been having so much fun working on all of the little details, and I hope to leave my precious baby girl with fun memories of a special character that brought so much joy to her second year. :)

I recruited the quick cartooning skills of my brother Mark for the sketch you see here.  I was struggling to take the image in my head and put it to pen and paper.  Somehow, he figured it out for me.  Yay!

From there, I took the sketch and ran with it.

That being said, here's a little sneak peek at the invitations I made for her party...

Simple.  Handmade. Just. For. Her.

Stay tuned for the rest of the party details later this month.  Have a blessed day, gang!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Place Cards: Mary Engelbreit + Camping

I have to admit that when I was first contacted to design place cards for a wedding that embraced both Mary Engelbreit hearts (for the bride) and camping (for the groom), I thought it was an odd combination.  However, being familiar with both, the vision for these place cards came to me almost instantaniously, and before I knew it, I had completely fallen in love with this charming theme.

Because this wedding was still a few months out at the time, the guest list hadn't been completed yet, so you'll notice the room left blank in the upper left hand corner of the cards for the names of the guests to be added later.

At first glance, these place cards look fairly simple, but as with all of my projects, each piece was drawn and cut out by hand, which is an intricate part of the creative process for me.

But...as you might imagine, these details do take time...

You know, late nights cutting out tiny blades of grass and praying that your calligraphy pen dipped in fresh ink doesn't splatter on that little tent that just took you waaay too long to draw and cut out.  It happens.  A LOT!

Finally, the project is finished, and pretty packaging ensues right before shipping. This is my favorite part...

Only to discover that the pretty box you purchased to mail them in (and give warm fuzzies to happy customer) is about a 1/16" too small because the hearts were glued on a 1/16" too far outside of the place card.  Thus, the lid does not fit on the "pretty" box.


I took a picture of the box anyway. :)

Seriously, though, I really enjoyed making these place cards, and I really loved the theme.  I truly hope they make a lovely addition to this upcoming wedding!


Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Toddler Pulls Out Her Hair

It's 12:17 a.m. as I hold my little girl tight against my chest.  I whisper, "I love you," to her, promising that I will be right there for her, all the while pleading a silent prayer over her.  I know that as soon as I lay her back down in her crib, the self-soothing will begin, and by morning, more hair will be gone.

I go to the bathroom, put my head in my hands, and I cry.  I cry out of frustration because I've done everything I think I can possibly do, and the problem still remains.  I'm a fixer, a problem-solver.  A perfectionist.  I don't do helpless very well.

At 20 months of age, my little girl started pulling out her hair...by the fistful.   I literally would find locks of her own hair in her hands and in her crib.

What was once a beautiful head of hair is now a checkerboard of bald patches that I work ever-so-creatively to cover up.  Gone are the days of pigtails and ribbons.  They have been replaced by a very real concern over the destructive nature of the hair pulling and one crazy-mom-on-a-mission determination to find the answer that will put an end to it once and for all.

Chloe is now 22 months old, so we have been dealing with this issue for the past couple of months.  I hesitated for a while to share it because I know how blessed we have been that she is an otherwise very happy and healthy little girl.  I whole-heartedly thank the Lord that I'm not in the hospital tonight, pleading over my child's life - a child struggling to survive.  Those parents, I tell you, are warriors...heros like none other, and I salute them. My heart breaks for them, and I offer them my prayers and my tears.

Plain and simple, no matter how big or small the fight, it hurts when you discover that your child is battling with something, whatever that something may be for each of us. I don't know why we are given the challenges we are given, but I still believe God is faithful, and while it stretches me beyond my comfort zone to put it out there, I hope it brings other mommies and daddies out there dealing with this same struggle some encouragement.

I have researched endlessly trying out one therapeutic method after another, waiting and holding my breath when one seems to work...for a while, that is.

For us, this hair pulling business came out of nowhere.  It started the week I first tried potty training my little girl, and it really came to my attention later that week in the car ride when we traveled to Madeline Island for vacation.  Chloe had always had a lot of hair, so it was alarming to see large patches of hair missing.

I don't know of anyone else personally who has experienced their child pulling out their hair, but a quick search (turned obsession) revealed thousands of other parents dealing with this very same issue.  No matter who it is, every single one of those parents, like my husband and myself, have been distraught over this behavior.

Whenever I mention it to anyone, I get a sort of taken-a-back look like it is the weirdest thing they have ever heard of.  To be fair, I don't know what kind of response I should expect of people.  It is weird.  BUT, it still stings, probably because I'm still in the thick of the battle.  I'm still a little sensitive about it, which it humbles me to admit.

At the same time, I want to be honest about it.  I'm told that toddlers pulling out their hair is very common (again, I know of no one else in my group of friends who have experienced it with their children) and that it is usually a phase that they grow out of, but often I silently wonder what if it isn't just a phase for my little one?  While most do, some kids don't grow out of it.

I pray that it is, indeed, a phase for my little Chloe.

My daughter pulls out her hair at three distinctive times - when she's napping, when she's sleeping at night, and when she's riding in the car - all times when she's very relaxed.  I've paid very close attention to her patterns, and I continue to try to intercept the problem and meet it head on.  I'm very mindful to respond in love and "redirection", as I'm told that scolding does not help the problem.

Just a side note, you would think that hair pulling would be painful, but it's referred to as self-soothing, as strange as it sounds.

I've tried covering her head in olive oil before she goes to bed so that she can't grasp the hair (yes, that was an actual recommendation, and, yes, I actually tried it...several times), I have cut her hair shorter, I have made puppets covering her hands, and I even ordered and still put these special sleeves on her for every single nap, bed time and car ride.

Just last week, I finally took away her pacifier for good since she would wrap her hair around the nuk, and eat it.  Yes, she would eat her hair.  Par for the course, apparently.  Just to clarify, eating the hair goes hand-in-hand with pulling out the hair.  Geesh. The first time I read that I thought, "You've got to be kidding me?!" but then once I realized my little girl was in good company with a bunch of other little hair eaters, I breathed a sigh of relief thinking, "Oh, that's normal." Relatively speaking.  ;)

I continue to pray for wisdom, believing that God still has time to care about my little girl pulling out her hair.

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."  Luke 12:6-7

I feel like I have tried everything short of shaving her head, which is another recommendation, by the way, that I just can't bring myself to do.  Shaving her head would be my absolute last resort and ONLY if I knew without a doubt that it would correct the problem.

We have had our encouraging times, though.

After a month of pulling out her hair and the incredible damage it wreaked, the puppets did work.  I made them out of socks, drew cute faces on them, and tied them on with ribbons.  My husband and I made a big deal about them.  We got excited for her and told her how fun her puppets were, and, you know what?  She actually liked them!

But then, after a couple weeks, our little Houdini figured out how to get out of them.  Finally, the answer we had been waiting for seemed to come.  These Scratch Sleeves have been our saving grace for the past month.  With them, she had stopped pulling out her hair altogether to the point where it finally started growing in.  Yay!

That is until last week when  I had the week off of work and tried potty training again.  She's such a smart, verbal little girl, and I hadn't tried potty training in two months.  The hair pulling had stopped, so I figured I would give it another go.  No lie, the very day I tried potty training in the most gentle and loving way I possibly could think of was the very same day the hair pulling came back.  With a vengeance.  She figured out how to pull her hair even with her special sleeves on.

Lord, help me.

So, I scrapped potty training immediately since I am now convinced there's a connection.  I've started giving her stickers, which she loves, when she wakes up without pulling her hair, but some days/nights are better than others.

So, as I sit here typing this out, it is now 2:40 a.m.  I am sleepless tonight because a couple of hours ago my little girl woke up, and as I lifted her out of the crib, I could feel the loose, pulled hair on her clothes, and by the light of the night light, I could see the void on her head where there once was hair.

I quickly grabbed a pair of socks and put one over each hand, then put her sleeves back on over top of them...double coverage was clearly needed.  Then, I just hugged her tight and held her, promising to soothe her back to sleep whenever she needed no matter how much sleep I lost...if only she would just stop pulling out her hair.

When she was finally back to sleep, I cried.  Like a big, old baby, I cried.

Then, I prayed.

And, now I'm writing.

Tomorrow is a new day, and once again I feel determined to press on.  I've always believed that when it comes to faith, their is also a call to action.  In other words, I truly strive to pray for wisdom over my decisions and the different challenges I face, but then I go forth in action.

I don't always make the right decisions, but, thankfully, the Lord has always been faithful in directing my path.  While He has allowed me to suffer heart ache and pain at various times in my life, I have always felt His very real presence in the midst of those battles, and for that, I am truly thankful.

"We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps." Proverbs 16:9

For anyone else out there struggling with your toddler pulling out their hair, I feel your pain, and I hope you find encouragement here today.

As for me, I'm off to bed.

Update: You can see an update on this post over {here}

Note: Out of all the resources I came across, this article was the most helpful, as "Case One: Sally" almost perfectly describes what we've dealt with for our daughter Chloe (minus the carpet eating, thankfully).


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Heart Sessions: Bottling Up The Good Stuff...Memories

How late is too late for a Father's Day post?


You see, I wrote this post waaaay back on June 6, 2013, and I had it all lined up and ready to hit "Publish" on Father's Day.

BUT, somehow, my teeny-weeny brain forgot all about it, which is kind of ridiculous because as you can see, I clearly put a lot of thought into this post.  All I can say is WOW.  I plead mommy brain on this one!

Again, WOW.

And that's all I have to say about that.  Now onto the good stuff...

Yesterday was yet another rainy day sandwiched smack dab in the middle of a series of seemingly endless rainy days, but the good news is that I had the day off of work and got to spend that day with my little girl.

After spending the morning juggling kids with one of my best friends and her boys, Chloe and I retreated to our afternoon nap zone at home with a fairly uneventful afternoon, but here's where my day took a turn from the ordinary to the I want to remember these little moments forever kind of day...

It was roughly 6:00 p.m., Chloe had just finished eating dinner and was set loose running in circles around our kitchen island while I was cleaning and putting food away.  Usually, Chloe and I see his car pull into the driveway, but we were both too preoccupied at the moment to notice, but then I heard it...the door to the mud room creak open.  Chloe was still distracted, but I saw him...the daddy was home!

Now, on a typical evening when Chloe is eating dinner and my husband gets home from work, he slowly peaks his head around the corner waiting for Chloe to notice him.  Of course, once she does, it's followed by a typical wave of excitement that never fails to fill my heart with the kind of happiness that I wish I could bottle up and spread to all corners of the world.  Well, here's the thing, last night was not typical.

You see when my husband walked in the door, he knelt down a few feet away from her waiting for her to notice.  She hadn't noticed anything until she finally looked up at me.  I smiled at her and gave nod toward the direction of the doorway.  She quickly turned, and when she looked up and saw her daddy there, she went nuts (in a good way).  She screamed, "Daddy! Daddy!" and took off into his arms, squealing and giggling and shouting his name.

I wish I had it on video, as a matter of fact, because there's just no manufacturing that kind of a genuine, ecstatic reaction. 

Baby girl was thrilled to see her daddy!

There are times when little ones realize that they have your attention and that they're being funny, so they carry on just to get a reaction.  Well, this wasn't one of those times.  This time, it was a moment of shear unbridled excitement that our little girl couldn't even contain if she tried to.  You'd think she hadn't seen her daddy in days or weeks let alone just a few hours!

The moment lasted for about 10 minutes with lots of hugs and laughter.  My husband and I just kept laughing at our happy, little girl, and something occurred to me in that moment: what a blessing it is for a child to feel so safe and secure and outright thrilled to be in the presence of her father.

I wish I could reach out to the many love-starved children of this world and give them even just a dose of what my little girl gets to experience on a daily basis.  My heart breaks for those precious, little ones who get anything less.

It was also a wonderful visual of how the love of a father can shape the way a child feels loved and the way she sees the world through the security of that love.  With Father's Day soon approaching, it's an incredible reminder of how blessed I am to have a husband that is willing to be present day in and day out and to love and care for our little girl in a way that would bring such a joyous reaction out of her just simply being reunited with her daddy at the end of the day.

Later that night, as we were reading her books and she was nestled in my arms, my husband brushed the hair away from our daughter's face and said, "Baby girl, your hair is getting so long.  I bet soon Mommy will have it in a pony tail.  You'll have a pony tail just like Mommy's." :)

I just loved that he said that. 

I smiled and knew that I needed to tuck that sweet moment away as a memory for my baby girl.

There are many things I appreciate about my husband, and near the top of the list is, undoubtedly, to witness his ability to be both strong enough to always make our little girl feel safe and yet gentle and kind enough for her to feel loved and secure.  Thank you, my love, for reaching out and grabbing the stars for this little girl of ours.

And...before I knew it, baby girl was fast asleep asleep.

Blessings to all the great fathers of this world,

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