Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Two Special Siblings

Quite some time ago, I saw this amazing post* about making a custom Shutterfly** photo book for talking to your kids about something difficult. I thought it was a brilliant idea and wanted to make one for my kids about their siblings in Heaven. But, being that I'm so cheap haha, I wanted to wait until I got a free coupon code. 

Well I did, and here it is. I love it so much. I love that I could say exactly what I wanted to in that book and explain Evie and Charlie to my kids in exactly the language I wanted to use. It's really special to me and I hope it is for them as well.

It was also just another special little touch that there was a template with butterflies and woodland animals, my themes for both Evie and Charlie. Love. 

Here is the book, so you can get an idea of what's inside. It's a treasure, for sure.

Also ... I have a free coupon code for you too :) Well, one of you at least. Just enter below for a chance to win this code for a free 8x8 shutterfly photo book. You'll have to pay for shipping, which is about $8 for me, but I think that's totally worth it.

Just leave a comment here telling me what you'd put in your book or visit my Facebook page and you'll be entered to win. I'll announce a winner Friday morning :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Thank you to Mary Evelyn for the idea. Really, such a great idea. She's amazing ... go check her out.

**Shutterfly is giving me no money for this post. Although they should ... sheesh ;)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sibling Love

A few evenings ago, right before bath time, I sent Micah upstairs to clean up his toys. 

"C'mon Joci! Let's go clean up the legos!" He always recruits her assistance.

"Yay-goes!" And she usually always follows enthusiastically.

A short time later I peeked up the stairs to see how things were going. In the middle of a clean playroom floor, Micah and Joci were laying down next to each other, huge smiles on their faces. He would shriek some crazy pattern of staccato screams and then look at her and she would copy, and then they'd both burst out in a fit of giggles. I didn't even mind the noise level, it was so precious! 

It's sad, though, always a little sad. You know why. Because no matter how strong their bond is and how much they love each other and how much my heart swells when I watch them play, there should be two more. Two more screams, two more giggles, two more hooligans to wrangle into the bathtub.

2 + 2 = 4 

Except in our case, 2 + 2 still equals 2. 

It's ok. I know it's my story and their story as well. But it still makes my heart ache a little every time.

My kids have two siblings they'll never grow up with. But, like I said here, I'm hopeful that it will make them more mindful of Heaven and give them an opportunity to share Christ's love and hope with others.

And I'm hopeful that, because of Jesus, I'll get to see all four of them together, one sweet day.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

That Time a Stranger Totally Creeped Me Out (and what offended me most of all)

My fingers gently gripped the bright red tomato, feeling for just enough give to ensure a pleasant ripeness on the inside.  I showed it to my blue eyed toddler boy, sitting patiently in the grocery cart next to me.  

"This is a tomato" I told him, placing it in the clear plastic produce bag along with a few others.
"May-toe!", he repeated enthusiastically.
"These are going to be great with our tacos tonight.  Mmmm ... tacos." I smiled at him.
"Mmmmm," he smiled back.

As we moved a few steps down to pick out some garlic and onions, I noticed a middle-aged man watching us from across the produce bins.  I smiled politely, as I was accustomed to doing when out with my baby, and returned to my veggie scouting.

Unlike most polite stranger interactions, this man continued to stare.  It made me uncomfortable.  I looked up at him again, this time no smile, as if to say, what's your deal, buddy?  He took it from there.

"That's a mighty good lookin' boy you got there." He stared at my toddler who was babbling quietly to himself.  "He's gonna have a lot of lovers when he gets older.  A lot of lovers."  With that last sentence, the man looked at me with a pleasant smile.  I guess he thought he had paid me a compliment.

The horrified look on my face must have indicated otherwise.  

I quickly turned my back and shielded Micah from this man's view and began to make a quick exit.  Oh my word!  Was about all I could think.  This man is a total creep!

The stranger must have noticed how uncomfortable this whole conversation was for me and likely, how inappropriate it was.  In an effort to redeem himself, he added one last gold nugget before he left.  

"Um ... I uh ... I meant a lot of female lovers.  Females, is what I meant."

I widened my eyes and shook my head in disbelief.  His clarification most certainly did not make me any more comfortable with this whole interchange!  Thankfully he left very quickly and we did not see him again.

In between checking over my shoulder to make sure this guy wasn't following us and managing Micah in the cart while still attempting to finish the grocery trip, I was trying to process what had just happened.  I was confused and shocked and a thousand other unidentified emotions.  I mean ... whoa.  Really?  How crazy was that?!

As we drove home, the groceries bags arranged, tetris-style, into the trunk and Micah buckled safely in his carseat, I thought about what happened in the grocery store.  This man was clearly way, way, wayyyy out of line.  But, I think what made me the most upset is that he thought he was paying me a compliment by saying, because of his good looks, Micah was destined for life as a successful womanizer.  And, I think what bothered me most about that is, being a womanizer is not at all a characteristic I would want to define my son.  Not in the least.

Imagine, twenty years from now, Josh and I sitting down with old friends and catching up on life over the past several years.  We'd pull out the family album and laugh and reminisce with our friends about old times and share stories of parenthood as we flipped through pictures of our kids' growing up years.  And then we'd get to a picture of Micah.  Still with his same sparkling blue eyes, but his face older and chiseled and quite handsome.  And we'd say, "There's our Micah.  He's an amazing man.  You know, he brings a different girl home every night?  Sometimes even two!"  And Josh and I would exchange a loving glance and he would pull me in for a tender side hug as if to say, we did it.  There's our son.  We're so proud.  Sigh.

Ummmmm ... no.  Not on your life, pal.

To my sweet, wonderful, amazing son, if you ever read this, here is what Mommy and Daddy truly hope for your future ...

[He] must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence ... he must have a good testimony among those who are outside ... 
1 Timothy 3:2-7

And this is my prayer for you, my sweet guy, to help you get there ...
Blessed is the man

Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,

But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Psalm 1

The world will try to tell you otherwise, my big man.  They'll deceive you into thinking Jesus's way is antiquated and uncool.  But, in reality, it is the way to true happiness in this life and beyond.  Please don't stray.  But, if you do, we will always be here to help point you back in the right direction.  You are so special to us, and to the Lord too.   Don't ever forget it.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

11 Simple Tips for Getting Healthier (aka how I lost 26 lbs. in four months)

Since 2010 I have been pregnant four times.  If you factor in nursing, there was only a brief period of time in 2013 when I wasn't growing or sustaining a life with my own body.  It left me feeling very ... not myself.  I felt like I hadn't "owned" my own body in quite some time.  So, after baby Charlie was born in September, I embarked on a get healthy journey - a journey to not only lose weight, but retrain my brain and body on things like portion control and not giving into every craving - things that I had really let go of during the last five-ish years but had always previously been a part of me.  

So friends, here are 11 tips on how I've been losing weight and getting healthier.  These tips are easy and attainable for just about everyone.  

1. Portion size - I keep a pretty easy gauge here - don't eat as much as your husband.  Unless you're married to Jack Sprat.  In that case, just eat a modest portion size that you know will fill you up an appropriate amount - no overstuffing, no leaving you wanting a snack in 15 minutes, just a modest, good amount.  

2. No seconds - don't do it.  If it wasn't on your plate to start with, don't add more.  Veggies can be an exception.

3. Don't eat anything after dinner - This one's kind of tough because I get the evening munchies.  But after dinner I'll let myself have something sweet and then ... no more.  You can do it.  Don't be afraid of an empty stomach - you won't die, I promise.

4. Eat protein at breakfast - This one's crucial for me.  It helps keep my blood sugar at an appropriate level and avoid crashes that make me run for a sugary snack. 

5. Small amount of calories at breakfast - A boiled egg and a piece of fruit are my standard.  Very low calorie but filling and, like I mentioned above, blood sugar stabilizing.  

6. Some of everything, not a lot of anything - These wise words come from the beautiful Giada de Laurentiis herself.  I love this because it gives me limitless options as long as I'm responsible with portion size (see #1).  And it keeps me from depriving myself and then wanting to binge on anything chocolate and cream-filled.  

7. Limit carbs and sugar - Yeah, I know.  It's true though.  This makes such a difference for me.  I don't like to talk about it though ... let's move on ...

8. Exercise Regularly - I typically exercise about 5 days a week, 30-40 minutes.  I did Couch to 5K after Charlie was born and loved it.  It makes running super attainable for your average couch potato.  It's awesome.  

Lately I've been doing P90X3, a sort of at home cross training workout.  I love it and have noticed a huge difference in my overall fitness and appearance.  Plus the workouts are fun.  Highly recommended.

9. Lots of water - I like to squeeze lemon juice in mine for flavor and additional vitamins.  They say 8-10 8 oz. glasses a day.  Well, go ahead, go pour yourself a glass!  I'll wait ...

10.  Don't eat off the kids' plates (or anyone's but yours) - Oh gosh.  I was sooooo bad at this!  Like a friend of mine said, you could consume like two whole waffles just eating the scraps the kids leave on their breakfast plates!!  Hands off, that's my rule for myself.  Even that gooey, cheesy bite of pasta that is just going straight into the trash can ... 

11.  Think "Am I making the best choice I can right now?" - This one came from reading Made to Crave, by Lysa Terkeurst.  Leftover pizza in the fridge calling your name?  Yum.  But maybe instead of three slices, have one nice slice, a side salad, and skip the soda.  See?  I didn't say you have to have a goji berry, wheatgrass, chia seed, barf smoothie every time you're hungry.  Just ask yourself if you're making the best choice you possibly can with the current options available in your fridge and pantry.  This mentality is huge for me.

So, there you have it.  These 11 things have been a huge part of my life since September, and I'm happy to say I'm only one pound (one!!) away from pre-baby weight.  But, more importantly, I feel good.  Making these choices has been making me feel much better about myself and I feel like I am not as controlled by my belly as I was a few months ago.

If you want to make some changes, I encourage you to.  If you're feeling alone about it just remember, I'm out here doing it too.  

You've got it, friend.  One good choice at a time <3 

Do you have anything to add?  What healthy choices make a big difference in how you feel?  How'd you kick the baby weight?     

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Year

Today marks the end of 2015.  It's quite possible this year held more changes for us than any other year since we've been married.  

We started 2015 off quietly and calmly, with a plan to do some home renovation projects, pay off more student loan debt, and bulk up our savings account.  Everything changed though, with a single phone call one Friday evening.

With that phone call, Josh was offered a new job.  And that was the end of our calm 2015.

At the beginning of February we found out we were pregnant with Baby #4.  In mid-February Josh was offered a new job.  And at the end of the month, we traveled to FL for a family wedding.

Because the new job was over an hour away from our home at the time, we needed to move.  So in early spring we started house hunting. 

By about April we had decided to build in a new housing development.  We were also trying to figure out what to do with our home and thought renting would be a good idea.

On May 21st we found out the diagnosis for baby Charlie.  Another baby headed straight to Heaven after birth, another agonizing four months of waiting.

There was a lot going on in the late spring and early summer with buying a house and figuring out what to do with our other home.  We quickly realized renting it out was not a viable option and started the process of selling.  Our agent was amazing and our house actually sold before it went on the market.

Still though, back and forth paperwork with buying and selling was pretty stressful!  I'm so thankful we didn't have to show our house too!!  Not to mention, Josh started his new job in June and, since we were far, he had to spend his on call nights and weekends at the hospital and away from us.  A lot of the paperwork stress and details of closing fell on me.  Suffice it to say I was reallllly glad when that was all over!

At the end of June, Jocelyn turned one!!

Our Norfolk house closed at the end of July and the couple who bought it actually let us rent back until our new house was ready (super huge blessing!).  

We moved into our new home at the beginning of September.  Thank you again to all the friends and family who helped!  I was quite pregnant at that point and moving was just ... tough.  But we did and I spent the next week trying to settle into our new place, which is more than triple the size of our last house.  It definitely took some getting used to!

A week after we moved in, baby Charlie arrived.  He was a tiny little guy ... we wish we could have had him longer.

A week after Charlie came, my Grandma passed away.  The kids and I made the trek up to PA to be with family at her memorial service.  Even though things at home were very unsettled, I'm very glad we went.

A few weeks later Josh and I took a solo trip up to IN for a friend's wedding.  It was a quick weekend trip but it was really nice to be together.

A couple weeks after that, Josh turned 30!  We celebrated with friends and family and lots of yummy food (and, unfortunately, I can't find a picture ...).

Then it was Thanksgiving time.  Josh actually built our dining room table and we hosted the feast.  It was really nice to be able to do that.

Just a couple weeks later I turned 30 and then one week later Micah turned 5!  One week after that was Christmas.  So ... yeah.  Decembers are big for us :)

Looking back on 2015, it felt like such a whirlwind of events and stress.  New job, new house, selling a house, new baby, two family tragedies, milestone birthdays ... just ... a lot.

I'm praying so hard for a calmer 2016.  And maybe less surprises than 2015 held.  

Here's to a new year.  Happy, happy, everyone <3

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Plan: Ours vs. God's

[We] had planned the perfect life, but God had interrupted our plans with with what seemed like a much worse plan of His own.  Have you ever felt that way?  If God had just listened to you, things would have been okay.  But now you're held captive by situations you never wanted to be in and can't seem to get out of by yourself.

If you've ever felt that way, you're not alone.

... that day in the waiting room, I began to see that God was using our hospital captivity to teach me about His character and to draw me closer to Him.  When I was alone pouting about how my plans hadn't worked out, God was able to break through my stubbornness and reveal another plan for me, a better plan - one that would draw me closer in my relationship with Him.

Myth: The plan I have for my life is much better than the place where God has me right now.

Truth: Where God has me right now is the best place for me.

Laura Story, When God Doesn't Fix It

This is a huge, important, hard truth, one that I still have to peek at through the spaces between my fingers, like you do when you're watching a scary movie.  My grieving heart still can't stare this truth boldly in the face, even three and half years after Evie's diagnosis.  It's important, so important, and I know it's there.  It just hurts.

It's hard to say, "This place, the one where two precious children of mine have died, is the  best place for me to be.  Yep.  Sounds good."  

See, that's hard.  And while I know it must be true, because God uses things like this to mold us into a more Christlike image, and because His character can't allow Him to do anything that is not good, it still hurts.

I don't know about you, but I feel like lately I've been observing how God often takes the thing we planned on most in this world to bring about that hard character molding.  For me, who always dreamed of a house full of my own children to care for and love on, He chose to take two (and please no more!).  And, let's be real, I will never again have a carefree pregnancy, should the Lord allow me to get pregnant again.  And, another reality, I have no assurance that we will ever be able to bring another baby home.  I sure as the stars hope so, but I truly don't know.  And all of these unknowns are forcing me to exercise faith and focus on the present and truths that keep me grounded.  I suppose I wouldn't have had to practice those in the same way had the Lord not taken Evie and Charlie.

Anyway, I hope this truth is one you can keep near and reference whenever you need it most, even if you can only peer at it for a moment, one eye at a time.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord.  
Jeremiah 29:11-13

Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 Days of Grief: Day 31

So, you may have noticed, there aren't 31 actual posts on this 31 Day series.  I'm ok with that.  But there have been things I've wanted to say and yet lacked the time/motivation to get them down daily.  So I'm compiling into one long finale post.  I'm not sure if this is a trick or treat.  We'll go with that last one ;)

My husband celebrated his 30th birthday this past weekend.  30 years.  30 good years, I might add.  30 good years for a good man.  

Words aren't his love language so I didn't write anything sappy or sentimental on Facebook.  But, if I did, it would have sounded a little something like this ...

There's a song on the radio right now with this recurring line:

If I got locked away and we lost it all today, tell me honestly,
Would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws, if I couldn't be strong, tell me honestly,
Would you still love me the same?

So, I've never been incarcerated (thankfully), but I have had a pretty big life-changing circumstance (losing two babies).  And those life-changing experiences showed my biggest flaws and left me feeling incredibly un-strong.  

Praise the Lord I am married to a wonderful man who, when asked honestly, still does love me the same even after all that.  He continues to comfort me and redirect my wayward thoughts and ground me in truth.  He wipes my tears and gives me space and gives me not space, as needed.  PRN, as he might say ;)  

Could a girl really ask for more?  Happy birthday to a truly wonderful man.  I love you forever, Josh Rieke.  

Anyway, that's what I would have written.  Or something similar.  I was also thinking of doing a more lighthearted post where I included this quote:
Haha.  Oh, marriage.  But really, he is wonderful.  

I've also been thinking a lot about this picture

It was me and Micah in March of 2012.  I had worked super hard to lose all (yes, all) of my baby weight.  And I was currently pregnant with a teensy tiny Evie-bean.  Life felt good.  I felt good.  I had my sweet boy and a baby in my belly and Josh was in school pursuing his dream and life felt like it was supposed to.  

In some ways I want to be that girl again.  Besides wanting those size six jeans she's wearing (hellllooo!  please??) I want to feel lighthearted and happy.  I want to feel free and optimistic.  I want conversations with others to be easy and not cast an awkward pall everywhere I go.  I want to be the girl I was back then.

But you know, in some ways I don't.  I like the post-Evie me that sees others in a more compassionate, understanding way.  I like the person that has a ministry here and that God is using.  And even though I would never pick this path and sometimes I wish it wasn't mine, I think it ultimately gives me the eternal perspective I'm supposed to have while I'm here.  I think those are good things.

It's been a painful path, a trial by fire for sure.  But I think I'm a more useful vessel now.  It's something to be thankful for.  Although I really would like those jeans back ...

Another thing I've been thinking about (I warned you ... long post.  and random.) is how much I hate the suffering around me.

I hate that so many women have lost babies.  And I hate their painful memories and experiences that go along with those losses.

I hate that my friend unexpectedly lost her husband while she was pregnant with their first baby.  I hate the way she has to now reconfigure her entire life.  So hard.

I hate that some loved ones have big financial burdens that seem to complicate typical life things.  I wish I could take it all away.  

I hate that people are lonely.  I hate that people have broken hearts.  I hate that kids get abused and mistreated and have hungry bellies.  I hate when darkness seems to win.  

I look at my children all the time and wonder what crap they'll have to endure as they go through life.  Does that make me a pessimist?  I don't know.  I think my eyes have just been opened and I realize that everyone has pain.  I hate that they'll have to learn that too.

I suppose that's why ... Jesus.  He overcame this world and lives in a perfect world now.  One day we will too.  That's a good thing.

Someone commented to me yesterday that I seem to have a lot of hope in the eternal - in the perfect world that Jesus promised, the one with no tears or suffering.  I think I need to believe in that world.  I need a world that exists where I can be with my babies I didn't get to know.  I need a world where I can be reunited with family and where every morning will feel like Christmas and the cinnamon rolls will have no calories.  My soul needs to feel the comfort of a place like this.  And the great thing is, it really exists.

Sure it'll be a while.  But it will come.  Until then, friends ...

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.
I Thessalonians 4:16-18

Come quickly, dear Lord Jesus.