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Haiti

Haiti (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

The second Caroline Project is right around the corner, with it comes more clarity on some of the details in carrying this out for our family.  The thing we’re doing this month, that will definitely become the norm, is that we have been talking through the organization with Jonah.  We talk about where it is located, the reason it is needed, what it does, etc.  It sounds so obvious, but for some reason these tangible things just recently occurred to us!!  This month we’re focused on an organization in Haiti.  We’ve been able to talk with Jonah about where Haiti is located, what the people are like, what needs exist.  We’ve been praying for them…and it’s just been so amazing.   I’ll write a detailed post on the actual organization next week, but for now, I leave you with the verbiage from Jonah’s prayer the other night:

“Dear Jesus, We pray for the mommies and daddies in Haiti.  Please help them to be able to have good jobs that allow them to buy things they need.  Help them to have houses that are safe for their kids.”

We find that we’re thinking about the organization more throughout the month.  We’re noticing opportunities to get beyond thinking about ourselves and our circumstances.

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Choices.

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First let me start by telling you that we have always, since the very  first miscarriage, been totally open to whatever it is that God wants to do in our lives.  Still today, we ultimately want our family to look how God wants it to look.  Even as we have processed what we WANT it to look like versus what it ACTUALLY looks like, we always land on this deep desire to have it look the way He wants it to.  Attaining this mindset does not come in a pretty package, I’ll tell you that much.  There are times that it has been a wrestling match with God.  It is messy and gritty, and honest, and beautiful.

Our options are as follows:

Invitro Fertilization:  This is a path we could choose and may have success with.  Our insurance would even cover part of it.  But, here’s the thing:  for many reasons (all of which I’ll likely write about at some point) we’ve had the most crazy 3 and a half years.  Plus, we’ve had 3 previous miscarriages.  3.  At this time, I’m just not ready to enter into the complicated world of invitro, especially with the past pregnancy losses.

Reconstructive Surgery:  This was what we hoped would be the route we’d take.  Joel could have a reconstructive surgery to repair the damage.  If our insurance covered this, we’d totally do this.  But it doesn’t.  The $8000 bill makes us hesitant to pursue this.  When you’ve had 3 previous pregnancy losses, it’s hard to wrap your brain around spending $8000 on another chance.

Adoption:  Actually, before we even had one miscarriage we did look into adoption.  We didn’t get the sense that God was guiding us that direction.  As it stands now, Joel is 3 years into his 5 year PhD program.  We’ve taken out a hefty loan for his degree and we are so, extremely hesitant to take out another huge loan to adopt.  (I’m sure someday I’ll explain our views on finances and living debt free).  I  believe 100% that God can fund adoptions in ways that people could not even imagine, which is what He’d have to do for us.  In a nut shell, our view towards adoption is that if God wants us to adopt, then He’ll have to make it very clear to us.

These are the main options, and the three we get the most questions on.  But here’s the choice leaning toward:

Having only one child:  If you have never had to deal with pregnancy loss and/or infertility, than you may not fully understand the occurrence of hope, followed by a crushing blow.  Because we have had both pregnancy loss AND infertility, we know this concept too well.  In order to get out of bed and do each day, we have to move on as if this is how our lives are going to look:  just Jonah.

The following is from an email I sent out to a group of fabulous women who I had asked to pray for us during the 8 months in which we were trying to get pregnant.  It was written 3 days after we found out  that we weren’t going to be able to conceive another baby…I included it this blog post because…I’m not sure exactly why.  Maybe because it is the most honest and vulnerable thing I’ve ever written.  Maybe because it describes so perfectly what we were feeling when we found out that that the above options were our only options.

“We are…barely functioning.  We are wasting time until we feel better.  I’m not kidding.  We are simply wasting time away, working, sleeping, taking solace in playing with Jonah, I’m watching a lot of Gilmore Girls, etc.  This morning I woke up and it was nice to have a weekend in between us and stupid last week.

Last week was really bad… “Hang on to simple truths” I was told by a dear friend on Thursday…I have a son…I have eternal salvation…I’m surrounded by people who love me…those were my simple truths last week.  On Saturday I read a post on one of my favorite blogs (www.aholyexperience.com) and then added these tasks to my “simple truths list”:  Just keep the focus simply on Christ, Walk forward, Keep company with Christ, Love always, Bend low.  Today, this is my song:

“Jesus draw me ever nearer As I labor through the storm.
You have called me to this passage, and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.

May this journey bring a blessing, May I rise on wings of faith;
And at the end of my heart’s testing, With Your likeness let me wake.

Jesus guide me through the tempest; Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning, Let me love You even more.

Let the treasures of the trial; Form within me as I go –
And at the end of this long passage, Let me leave them at Your throne.”

Joel and I are taking this time to process the information we received last week.  We are not trying to move forward to quickly.  We are not planning on doing any of the above options at this time, but are ruling nothing out for the future.  However, it is likely that in the next couple of weeks, once we have chewed on this for a while, we will try to move forward thinking that Jonah will be our only child.  If the Lord speaks into our hearts that He would like us to pursue other options then that is surely what we will do.

I would like to take a moment to thank you so very much for your love.  And to tell you a little about how you can show us your love during this time:

  • Please feel free to tell me how much you love us, and how you so badly wanted things to be different for us.
  • Please feel free to remind us how much the Lord loves us, and how He is Emmanuel, God with us.
  • Please do not remind us that “you never know what God can do…”  I get it.  I believe it.  I know your motives aren’t bad, it’s just that if we have to move on with Jonah being our only child, then that is the way our brain needs to think.  As stated before, we are certainly up for God to do whatever He wants…
  • Please try to refrain from reminding us of what we DO have.  I am aware of what we have with every single kiss I get from my son.  When he sits on my lap, his sheer weight has made me weep with gratitude.  The sound of he and Joel building a lego city in the background as I type this email are so very precious to me…  Insomnia has become a fairly regular occurrence.  One night last week at 2:00 in the morning, after reading for hours, I crawled up the ladder into Jonah’s lofted bed.  It was only there that I could get a few hours of sleep.  I had to be next to him…I had to be next to the thing that God DID.
  • Please, pray for wisdom for this family
  • Please pray for protection, unity, calm.

I appreciate you so very much.  I’m sad, you guys…I’m just so very sad…”

2 months have passed since I typed these words.  As happens with grief, it ebbs and flows.  Though I still have sadness in my heart over our reality, that sadness has settled to the ground of my heart, only to be stirred up once in a while.  Once the chaos of sadness settled, I discovered that there is an overlaying peace in my heart.  Peace that no “option” is the correct one, but that what we are to do is simply take one day at a time, trusting in God to walk with us and guide us.  So THAT is what we’re doing.  It is surrender and it is beautiful.

 black and white- jonah and mom

Truth found in the wilderness.

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I know that you are used to hearing from Anna, but this time she is encouraging me write which seems appropriate on Father’s Day.  “Good for her” I can hear some of you saying. It is really outside my comfort zone to be this “out there” to friends and strangers alike. You see, I am the more internal one of my family.  Jonah and Anna are friends to anyone who will respond to their warm and winning personalities. They are two peas in a pod. Then there is me.  I spend more time inside my heart than sharing it with others. So good for you, Anna, for encouraging me to share my experience with others. I apologize in advance, as my style of writing will be different than the breath of fresh air – cool glass of water – style that is my wife’s. I am definitely the more stoic and serious one in this family.

I have been trying to figure out what to say to all of you. Something I do often… I spend more time thinking about what I should say than actually saying it, and then spend a lot of time analyzing whether what I said was the right thing or not. I do this with strangers and close friends alike. It really is silly most of the time. So here I am doing the same, even questioning if what I have already said is what should be said.

One thing I do want to make clear is that, although it may be different, men experience just as much heartache and loss with miscarriages and with infertility as women do. Men do feel deep hurt in these circumstances, but I think the reason why it doesn’t seem that way to others is because men often go internal with this pain. I have to be in a completely safe place to be vulnerable, which is what is making writing today so hard. Anna and I have always experienced the circumstances of the past four years as a team – fully engaged, but also from very different vantage points and with different manifestations of pain.

 I think it is important to share a bit about the place I am in currently, so please allow me to do so. First of all, I feel as though pieces of me have died over the years. Looking back now, most of these things should have died as this is what it means to become a new creation. But when part of you dies, it is incredibly painful even if that is what is supposed to happen.   Secondly, my heart is big enough to love four children when I only have one. This means Jonah gets the amount of love for four kids. Fortunately, he has the grace to receive all this love even when it is inconvenient to him.  Finally, I really do think I’m a good dad. I would really like to be a dad to more kids but can’t. It is hard to not feel responsible for this fact since I’m the one whose body isn’t working properly. Actually, I would really love to be a father to a little girl. I would have been a great dad to a little girl… This is why the Caroline Project is so great, but also painful. Father’s Day is especially painful for me as I am sure it is for others who have shared this road in one way, shape, or form.

Now if I may, let me share just a few other things.

I recently went on a backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern Minnesota. You see, God’s Creation is one of my passions. It is also one of the places I need to go to in order to find healing and peace. There were a couple of nuggets of truth I found while struggling through 40 miles of backpacking in three and a half days with a pack that was way too heavy.

One nugget is the idea of forward momentum. One thing that was hard about the past four years is that I/we have felt stuck. Here we were in the very depths of the valley stuck in the mire and the muck. We desperately wanted closure to our circumstances. We desperately wanted to move forward. However, one problem was that I wanted closure to look a certain way; I wanted to move forward in a certain way. I thought there would be amazing victory with a beautiful child as we were rescued from the valley and set on top of the mountain. There was an answer to our deep questions/longings:  the closure we desperately wanted, the ability to move forward. However, it ended up looking a lot different than we thought it would or wanted it to look. The closure was an end to our ideas of having another baby, and instead, the forward movement took the form of a blog, a The Caroline Project, and raising chickens of all things.  There were times in that 40 mile trek that I was moving very slow; times that I am sure I looked terrible. But I was making progress. I had forward momentum; I kept putting one foot in front of the other no matter how painful. Through forward momentum, no matter how messy and/or ugly it is, we make our way to our destination. I could have sat down and quit, but I would still be sitting there stuck on the trail. By making any kind of forward momentum, I eventually made it to the campsite where I could rest, but also where I could look back and see how far I had come. Often the destination looks much different than what we thought it would look like, but in the end is exactly where we need to be.

I have one more nugget of truth discovered on this foray through the woods. As I was hiking, the idea of the narrow path came to mind. In Matthew 7:13-14, it says that “broad is the road to destruction and narrow is the road that leads to life and few will find it.” The Superior Hiking Trail is definitely Minnesota’s  “narrow road”, especially the section we did. The section included walking through the muck and the mire, climbing up straight verticals, descending rocky, ankle breaking valleys, and tiptoeing over narrow bridges over rushing rivers. Few people experience the North Shore of Lake Superior this way. They drive along highway 61 or maybe they hike the wide and flat state park trails, but few throw a pack over their shoulders and risk life and limb only to drag their butt into a campsite to sleep on the ground. I’ll be honest, it IS a little insane and I even enjoy it. But here is the thing:  it is totally worth it. I got to see things that few get to see. There were overlooks (that I paid dearly for) that were 100 times better than the views from highway 61. There were rivers that I got to cross that few in Minnesota have experienced or drank of their cool waters. One night we had a pack of wolves in our camp which was both terrifying as well as exhilarating. Danger can do that to a person; it can cause us to absolutely fear for our lives but at the same time it can make us feel the most alive that we have in awhile. You don’t experience that kind of pure, awesome danger sitting behind the windows of a car.

The qualities above define the Christian life, don’t they? The path is difficult and painful. It takes a lot out of a person and, if I am being really honest, can be really unpleasant on occasion. It is dangerous and risky; at times things can seem lost and you can feel completely spent. On top of all of that, it doesn’t always look like what you pictured it would. But here is the thing: it is totally worth it. You get to see and experience things that few do. Your character will never be the same. You become a completely different person and truly become who you were supposed to be. Life has meaning and a purpose. You walk the path of life, abundant life.  In the end, this is exactly where we were all meant to be.  Let me leave you with a line from a song we sang today in church. “I’m on a narrow road. It’s paved with grace and hope. It’s going to lead me home. I’m going free, I’m going free.”

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So this just happened…

You know how in Saturday night’s post I mentioned something about wanting to get Jonah involved in The Caroline Project, but not really knowing how?  How he knows nothing about the infertility?

The three of us are in the basement tonight, playing with Legos, and completely out of the blue, Jonah says, “So what’s this Caroline Project about, anyway?”  Seriously, that’s what he said.  I looked at Joel.  Joel looked at me.  I hunched my shoulders and said  “Well…I guess we’re doing this.  I’ll be right back.”  And I went and got our notebook, the one we’ve been tracking our spending in.  And then we told him.  Everything. (Well, the five-year old version of everything, anyway).

We told him that mommy and daddy aren’t going to be able to have any more kids.  And that we’re really sad about that because we LOVE being a mommy and daddy.  And then I showed him the book.  We explained that we’re sad, but helping other people makes us feel better.  That if we had a daughter, we would have named her Caroline.  That each time we spend money on him, we write it down and at the end of the month we give it to people who need it instead of giving it to Caroline.  And that makes us feel good inside.

And then we explained that we want him to help us choose the people who we share our money with.  We showed him the website of the place in Haiti we want to give money to at the end of June.  This place helps mommies and daddies learn how to be good mommies and daddies so their babies can grow big and strong, we told him.

That was it.  So many years of protecting him from all of it and it was over in about 5 minutes…and my heart was so sad.  Like it is really real all over again.

Then this happened:

I went out to the hammock and I cried.  I read my Bible.  I got eaten by mosquitoes.  A half an hour later 2 friends texted me within 8 minutes of each other.  Out of the blue they told me things about how much they are better people for knowing me, how I am a ray of sunshine, that they love me so much.  And it wasn’t them talking to me, it was Jesus.  Telling me that He sees me.  That He cares.  And there is so much comfort in that, even though in this moment, my heart is heavy.  So thank you, dear friends, for listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I really needed to hear it.

First Caroline Project Donation

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I’m sitting in my living room, thinking of what to say about our first Caroline Project organization.  I’ve been so excited for the end of the month, ready to take some action by giving.  But now, as I sit to write this post, I find that I am way more emotional about it than I expected.  I thought this post would only be me highlighting the organization we picked.  But as it is the first one, I am finding there are words to be said about how I’m feeling.  So permit me to spend just one or two paragraphs on me:

There’s this woman in the Bible who heard that Jesus was having dinner at a nearby home.  This particular woman had made some really bad choices in her past.  Luke 7:37 says that she “had lived a sinful life in that town”.  So she walks into the room carrying a jar of really expensive perfume.  It is said that this perfume would have cost a year’s wages.  She is crying.  The Bible says “she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”  Why in the world did she do this?  She did it because she was a mess.  And because she knew that Jesus was the answer to her mess.  She took the most valuable thing she had and poured it out at his feet.  The Caroline Project is our perfume.  It’s the most valuable thing we have, not the monetary part…but our hopes and dreams.  Our expectations.  Our mess. It is us pouring all those things before the Lord because He is the answer to our mess.

Over the last month we’ve been getting more clarity about how the Caroline Project is supposed to look.  Some things to note are:

  • All month we’ve been documenting how much extra money we spend on Jonah.  We’re giving the same amount to the organization as if we were spending it on Caroline.  On the blog posts, we will not be sharing how much we money we gave.
  • Each month, we’ll be doing a blog post on how we chose that month’s organization – “Voiceless” “Passed Over” “Unseen” “Marginalized”  – These are words we are thinking about when we choose the organizations…  These are the people on our hearts.
  • All donations are above and beyond our giving to our church.
  • We are thinking of ways to get Jonah involved…he knows nothing about what’s been going on over the last 3 years…so this is a little tricky…and yet, I think it can be simple too.  I’m open to ideas, so feel free to share!

Okay, here we go.  For the first month we REALLY wanted to do something local.  So the organization we chose is called T.H.U.G. Life.  THUG’s mission is to help homeless teens in the area stay in school (and go onto college) by providing for their needs…food, clothing, transportation, etc.  It was started by Sara Rink a year ago when she heard about the high percentage of homeless teens in our area.  Sara TOOK ACTION by starting THUG.

When this grassroots organization hears of a need, they do what it takes to fill that need: They’ll a kid pick up and give them a ride to school.  They’ll drop off a box full of clothing or some toothpaste and a toothbrush.  They’ll give gift cards for the grocery store or a restaurant.  There is a long-term vision of having a THUG farm, where people can stay in a family environment…all of this is done with compassion, without judgment.

Because THUG is fairly new, they are in the process of doing a few of things.

  1. They are raising awareness in the community.  THUG works with teens in the Saint Croix River Valley.  They want to see “a community coming together to help these kids make it.”  Volunteers are needed.
  2. They are gathering donations.  Items needed include the following: teen clothing, all types of toiletries, gift cards to grocery stores and restaurants, etc.
  3. They are raising funds to be able to provide the services they offer.  You could participate in this by:
  • Making a one time donation.
  • Commit to paying $10 per month for 12 months.  (I for one, think this is TOTALLY doable!  I mean, seriously, and extra 10 bucks a month?  Most people find a way to squeeze an extra $10 a month out of their budget!!)
  • Purchase one of their THUG articles of clothing.  All proceeds go to meet the needs of the teens.

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  To see the entire selection of apparel, search for T.H.U.G. Life on Facebook.

Here’s what I totally dig about this organization.  Someone saw a need in their community, and they just had to do something about it – so now they are.  Inspiring!  UGH, that is 100% HOW I WANT TO BE!

If you would like to make a cash donation, please do so by mailing your donation to:

THUG Life
c/o Sara Rank
424 Church Hill Rd
Somerset WI 54025

*Make all checks out to THUG.  Donations are tax deductible.

If you are or know of a teen in need of assistance, or you would like to get involved with THUG please contact:

Sara Rank
(651) 246-1323
thuglifesara@gmail.com

Oh, and in case you were wondering, T.H.U.G. stands for “Truly Humble Under God”.

Make these. I mean it!

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Today one of my coworkers brought in the scones I had mentioned in a prior post: She made them with lime and coconut, can you imagine?!?!  They were SO GOOD!  Way to go, Debbie!

I have this theory about recipes:  You really only need one good recipe for each different thing.  Sure, you can experiment with other recipes if you like, but when it comes right down to it, you only really need ONE good recipe.  The scone recipe?  Those are the only scones I ever make…

Another tried and true recipe I have is for cinnamon rolls.  They are the only cinnamon rolls I make.  This Friday and Saturday my husband is having “Dude’s Weekend”.  To help the boys out, I made them my most-favorite-ever cinnamon rolls!  These are light and fluffy, not too doughy, and can be frozen and reheated easily.  These cinnamon rolls are the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, which can be found here online here or in her book.

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Side note, this is an AWESOME cookbook.  One of my bucket list items is to cook through this book because it is just.  That.  Good.

Since she recipe is given in the link above, I won’t repeat it here.  I’ll just show you the yumminess that was happening in my kitchen this weekend.

dough  In the pan, ready to be rolled out.

rolled out

That’s beautiful, right?

pans

As you can see, this recipe makes 3 dozen rolls.  Which sounds like a lot, but really isn’t because you eat one pan,
give one pan away, and freeze the other pan.  As you can also see, Lionel Riche was on the View, telling me that I’m “once, twice, three times a lady…”  That’s right, Lionel.  That’s right.

done

 Ahhh, finished product!  Delicious.  Those boys will be HAPPY on Saturday morning.
Wife of the year?  Who me??

Every good blogger needs to post a reading list…

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I have, in the last couple of years, read some amazing books.  The kind you want to read again and again because the content connects with you on a deep level.  The kind you recommend to everyone you see because you just know that they, too, would love them.  In highlighting them, more specifically, their authors, I feel like I am talking about close, personal friends.  Seriously, it is common among my girlfriends to say something like, “don’t you think Shauna Niequist would really love this meal?”  or “did you see the funny thing Jen Hatmaker did today?”  (As if they were in attendance at the last women’s weekend getaway or something…)  It’s because these women are witty, vulnerable, challenging, and just genuinely likable.

To the authors, I have to say this:  Ladies, what you’re doing is working.  Across the country, groups of women are inspired by your words and, and are therefore, joining each other in community, focusing outside of themselves, and learning to let God do crazy things (Anything) in their lives.  Or at least that’s what it appears from where I’m standing, with MY people.  Good job.  JUST REALLY- Good. Job.

There have been many books over the last 3 years, but these are four of my favorites.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess  Jen Hatmaker.

Seven

The premise of this book is brilliant.  Jen identifies seven areas of her life in which she is living in excess and takes one month to reduce waste in each of those areas.  Food.  Clothes.  Spending.  Media.  Possessions.  Waste.  Stress.  For example, during the clothes month she only allows herself to wear seven different articles of clothing.  For the entire month.  Seven.  Seriously.  Food- likewise- she eats only seven different items of food for the entire month.  Insanity.  And…totally awesome.  In removing the excess from her life, she discovers that there is room to focus on what really matters loving Jesus and loving people.

I think the beauty of this book is that every person relates to it in a different way, as per his or her own area of excess, view of food, stress level, etc.  For me the major takeaway was not conviction of an area of excess in my own life (not that there aren’t areas of excess).  But I was blown away by her awareness of the marginalized in her world, whether on the streets of Austin or globally, and her intentionality toward interacting with them.  Blown. Away.

Something in me clicked when reading this book:  The desire to put foot to pavement to change something.  I do not think The Caroline Project would have been born if it weren’t for this book.

Also, Jen Hatmaker is a hilarious writer.  One of my girlfriends was reading this book on the city bus on her way to work one day.  Ya, she definitely snorted when she laughed out loud!  You might not want to read it in public, I’m just sayin…  Read it.  You will love it.  You will love her.

Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked my God and my Soul  Jennie Allen

anything

Jennie describes a turning point in her life, when she discovered the blog of Katie Davis who is a young woman living in Uganda, working and loving.  She tells of  her experiences after telling God “we will do anything.”

This was the book I was reading 2 months ago, right when we found out that the infertility was permanent.  A couple of days later, in the morning, I texted a friend that I could feel a part of me dying.  Later that same day I read the following words from this book: “…But all of that was building something, making us one, even though at the time it felt as if parts of us were dying.  In reality, they were dying-and that was okay; that was the plan.“  On that same page, “through our radical submission, God moves.”  Definitely the Holy Spirit used this book to speak to me during some of the darkest hours.  It was just what I needed to hear and  just what I needed to say to God.

Beware-When reading this book, (especially when read in conjunction with Francis Chan’s Crazy Love; which is what happened to me) look out!  Serious insanity may ensue.  For example, it might just make you commit to giving away part of your income each month because you can’t have any more kids…because you know that the only thing that matters is if God is doing something in your life.

I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy  Angie Smith

I will Carry You

This is the story of what happened when the Smith family found out that the daughter Angie was carrying was ‘incompatible with life’.  It was moving on so many levels.  Her honesty and vulnerability in describing their story was…beautiful.  This book was given to me somewhere in between the miscarriages.  Things I read in this book shaped my response for the next 3 years, including “All of us will have times of crisis.  The most we can do is put our hands on the stone and accept what happens next with the grace that says circumstances will define neither God’s love for us nor our love for God.”

 

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table  Shauna Niequist

Bread and Wine

This is the book I’m reading right now.  I’m savoring it.  Here’s what it’s about:  loving Jesus, loving people, loving food.  She writes her life.  And I swear, we’re friends…

In the chapter I read last night she described what pregnancy is like for a woman who has had a miscarriage.  I had to force myself read it quick, and emotionless, or I would have ended up in a heap on my couch.  This is a true story:  Because of this book, I recently added something to my culinary bucket list: making risotto.  Then, over Memorial Day, I went to that cooking class where the chef made risotto!  I am not kidding- THIS VERY WEEKEND I am going to make it.  Thanks, Shauna!  I invite you to come over for dinner.  Also, I can neither confirm nor deny that this is the book for 3 book clubs that I am participating in…

Alright- my work is done.  Now your turn- what are some of YOUR favorite books?