Surely Goodness and Mercy

 photo giftcard_zpsf87ea5e0.jpg

In the first few weeks after we found out we are expecting Baby Two, I had to wrestle through the fears of having another preemie. There’s nothing like having a baby born early to make you realize how little control you have over when a baby arrives. The biggest fear, then, is that Baby will come too soon, too soon to survive, that is.

I spent quite a few nights laying awake and praying for Baby, that she would make it to term, and that I would not be anxious all pregnancy long. After a while, Psalm 23 would start to come to mind every time I prayed for Baby, specifically the part in verse six that says “surely goodness and mercy will follow me”. I began to feel like God was confirming that “surely goodness and mercy” were going to follow Baby.

This wasn’t a guarantee. I had no assurance that Baby would even stay put long enough to reach an age when she could survive if I suddenly went into labor. However, I began to trust that she was safe in God’s hands. Maybe she would make it to term. Maybe God would take her home. Either way, God’s goodness and mercy would surely follow her.

Then one night I woke up with some pain. I immediately thought I was having contractions, Baby was coming, and it was too soon. There was nothing I could do but drink water and lie down and pray. As I did that, different verses from the same chapter sprung to mind: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. The valley of the shadow of death: that place where the fear of death lingers uncomfortably and inescapably close. We made it through the valley that night, and I finally fell asleep with some peace; God’s rod and staff were comforting me.

As the pregnancy continued, and I would often pray for Baby, a picture started to fill my mind: a happy scene with rolling green hills, a sunny sky, and a safe and happy little lamb. In my mind, the picture took more and more form until I realized it would be a beautiful quilt, and I began to pray for the chance to make this quilt for Baby.

I’m not a very experienced quilter. I have made one quilt for my nephew, and it was a rag quilt, pretty simple. The only other projects I’ve ever even sewn were an apron for Lydia’s birthday (using an online tutorial), a dress for Lydia that sort of turned out, and a cover for her diaper changing pad (which needs some repairs). But soon I had my sights set on this quilt for Baby, if only God would provide money for the materials.

Well, thanks to some kind gifts from my husband, my Mom, and another family member, along with some of my own savings, I now have enough money to make Baby’s quilt! So here is the grand introduction and also a request for some input from my readers. This picture is the computer generated version of what the quilt will look like:

 photo quiltpic_zpsd703f854.jpg

I’d like to keep the design unchanged, but I’m having a little trouble working out the colors. We’re having a baby girl (according to our ultrasound), but Dan and I think this quilt looks a little too boy-ish and certainly is dominated by greens. I’ve tried changing the color of the writing around the border and the background, but nothing seems to fit well with the rest of the picture. I’ve also considered using a patterned fabric for the dark green border and binding, but haven’t found a fabric that would match the inside picture and bring in more girly colors. Thoughts? Suggestions? Specific fabric recommendations? I appreciate any comments, and I look forward to keeping you updated on the quilt’s status and the months go on.

10 Things I’ve Learned in 3 Years of Marriage

 photo weddingpic_zps18a3c6c3.jpg

Today Dan and I are celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary. So, in celebration mode, I thought I’d share 10 things I’ve learned in 3 years of marriage. (photo credit: Dan Carlson)

 photo Dan_zps00f865e5.jpg

1. Respect is love

During our first months of marriage, Dan and I read a book together called Love and Respect. Through that book and our premarital counseling, I learned that the best way I can love Dan is by respecting him. What does that look like for us? (I’m all about the practical application) Well, Dan’s a visionary sort of fellow. So that means when he comes home and tells me his latest brilliant idea (that I may or may not think is brilliant), I don’t squash him like a bug! I listen and support his ideas, because I know I have a trustworthy husband who won’t put us into bankruptcy following some crazy idea he had during his lunch hour.

I can’t imagine any feeling better than the feeling of being loved, but for Dan, it’s the feeling of being respected. So, I can’t say I completely understand, but it really does work.

2. Physical exercise is to Dan what sleep is to a pregnant Justine

This is one I just figured out in recent months. For most of my pregnancy I’ve required a nap-a-day. Ok, so I can go one day without a nap and be alright. But give me two days in a row and I turn into a basket case. I just need the rest.

I used to get annoyed at how much Dan enjoyed exercise. Every single day he wanted to go lift weights or run or play a sport. When he started working full time, I realized that he starts to go crazy if he doesn’t get his exercise. So, I finally figured out that it’s not something to resent. I need my sleep and Dan graciously guards my naptimes. In turn, I’m learning to guard his exercise time.

 photo aisle_zpsa7b49082.jpg

3. Efficiency makes us a happy couple

Because Dan and I have one car, we usually do all of our grocery shopping on the weekends. For one semester, we had an arrangement where Dan was able to work out while Lydia and I did the shopping. In fact, Dan was so busy that semester that we had to do it that way. When the semester was over, I was thrilled to be able to have that shopping time with Dan once again. However, much to my disappointment, we seemed to get frustrated with each other during every single shopping trip. I figured out that Dan just felt like shopping was taking way longer than it should (even though it always took me that long). So, I decided to change things.

I started organizing my list in the order of the store aisles. We have a very particular route we take through each store now, every single time. On top of that, I planned far enough ahead so that we weren’t shopping at three stores in one weekend. I rotated every other week for two of the stores and bought things ahead of time.

Then Dan developed Super Shopper. It’s a simple, yet wonderful invention. I have an excel sheet where I keep a database of everything we’ve bought from three different stores. In the excel file, I list the items in order of our in-store route. When I make my grocery list (in totally random order), I run the program, and it automatically sorts my list by store and puts the items in the correct order for each store. This ingenious program took my grocery planning from over an hour to just minutes a week.

Efficiency saves me time during the week doing a chore I don’t enjoy much, it saves us time on the weekends so we can get in and out of stores crazy-fast, and it saves unnecessary tension and frustration between the two of us.

 photo whispering_zpsdbd61ed0.jpg

4. Love is doing what Dan loves

When we were first married, I would always try to make Thursday nights (our “date nights”) special by cooking some elaborate meal. Finally I figured out that Dan wasn’t big on elaborate meals. He much rather would have tacos or meat and potatoes than anything gourmet, and those things were easier for me to cook! Likewise, for my birthday a couple years ago I planned an elaborate surprise date night where we dressed up and ate a fancy meal in our apartment which I had decorated to look like a fancy private restaurant. It was fun, but afterwards I talked to Dan and found out his dream date with me would be to go to a Tigers game.

So I have learned and am learning, to love Dan by doing what he loves, not just what I love.

 photo receptionspeech_zps624e7085.jpg

5. Love is loving what Dan loves

Like my last point, I have learned to love what Dan loves, even if it’s not necessarily my “cup of tea”. This is another recent lesson that I remember journaling about last anniversary. Dan was on a kick where he read the news every day and would come home and talk to me about it. I thought it was boring. Finally I realized we would both enjoy our dinners together much more if I actually made an effort to care about what he was telling me. Later the conversations switched from news to business ideas and more recently it’s been a lot of talk about Dan’s career. It’s not annoying anymore. I’m thankful that I have a husband who trusts me enough to tell me what’s on his mind, and I don’t ever want to risk shutting that out because the topic isn’t one I would have chosen on my own.

6. Research is in the job description

After Dan and I were married, I had one semester of college left. Once that semester ended, I became a full-time homemaker. Through some well suggested reading from ladies at church, I learned that being a homemaker is a real job and should be treated like one. Dan and I always joke that stay-at-home-moms sit at home all day eating bon bons. Then Dan tells me that I’m the best stay-at-home-mom because I don’t just eat the bon bons, I make them!

Joking aside, there is plenty to do around the home to stay busy and part of that job (a big part in my case) has been research: nutrition, pregnancy, parenting, budgeting, cleaning…the list could go on! Since I am a steward of my home, I want to make sure I’m doing my job well, not just going with the flow.

 photo thanks_zpsa2521667.jpg

7. It’s ok to take a nap

That last point being said, I was a pretty driven homemaker and new mommy after Lydia was born. I felt like it would be lazy for me to take a break. After all, Dan doesn’t take a nap in the middle his work day. However, Dan also isn’t on call 24/7!

I’ve learned to take time out of the day to nap, rest, or at least relax. It makes for a happy wife when Dan gets home, which makes him a happier husband.

8. Having a preemie is more stressful than taking 19 credits at UofM any day

Dan and I don’t really fight. Our “fights” involve my being super sad and Dan being kind of distant until we can reconcile. But we had never had any of even these fights until Lydia was born. Through friendship, dating, engagement, wedding planning, and being married and in school full time we didn’t fight. When we got married, I had to take a bus every day to get to campus and stay until evening. We were super busy, super poor, and super happy.

The most stressful period of my life was my 19 credit semester at the University of Michigan, in engineering mind you! I would go home in tears regularly because I was so overworked and sleep-deprived.

But none of that comes even close to comparing with Lydia’s birth. For six weeks we dealt with postpartum emotions, going home every night without our baby, not getting enough food or rest, and to top it off, we had moved the weekend Lydia was born and hadn’t had a chance to unpack. That is when we had our first “fights”. (The best gift anyone ever gave me was when Dan’s parents and grandparents came home and completely moved us in about a week after Lydia was born)

Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t handle stress well, I would advise you to never have a preemie. That being said, God helped us through that hard time and we made it and are stronger for it. And, I’m extra grateful to have a wonderful husband who did go through all of that with me, and who stayed with me and even tells me that he still likes me in spite of it all!

 photo hands_zps6502555e.jpg

9. I will always love to hold his hand

When we were dating, Dan and I decided not to touch each other at all until we were engaged. Sure enough, when Dan proposed, I said yes, and he asked if he could put the ring on my hand. Many nights just before we fall asleep, Dan reaches over for my hand. Or while we are riding in the car, he’ll put his hand out to hold mine. Maybe I’m just a hand-holding sort of person, or maybe because of our history, it still always makes me grin.

10. It’s just better together

Each year I sit back and think to myself, “What is my favorite part of being married?” The answer has always been, “No more goodbyes!”. I just love being together every single day. Three years in and I still tell Dan I’ll miss him when he goes away to work, I still want to sit and watch when he plays sports, and I still look forward to Friday nights when Dan comes home and I get him for the whole weekend. Things just go better when we can be together.

 photo receptionkiss_zpse68d38e0.jpg

Happy Anniversary, Love!  It’s been three wonderful years, and I’m looking forward to many, many more.

The Roller Coaster of Life

 photo LydiaandMommy_zps762b1dc9.jpg

When I was a young teenager, I decided that life is like a roller coaster. Any time things seem to be going great, that’s the top of a hill and it’s only a matter of time before everything is going to go down. While that might not be the most Biblical view of things, as a teenager, that seemed to fit life just about right.

Well, lately life has been that roller coaster once again. This time it’s not due to being a teenager, it’s due to a very emotional pregnancy. I know it’s not right to blame a pregnancy for my behavior, but I can make a fair assessment that those pregnancy hormones are making life’s roller coaster a lot more hilly these days. And even if you sit me down and explain all the logical reasons why I’m overreacting, that I’m just being emotional and will feel better after a few hours or a good night’s sleep, those drops on the coaster still feel like the end of the world. And they happen much more frequently than they did back in those teenager years!

This weekend was very hilly.

Dan and I had been planning a big anniversary date this weekend, and at the last minute our plans suddenly changed. I was devastated. Two nights in a row I felt like my life was over. Saturday Dan was supposed to spend his entire morning, and early afternoon, at a church event without me or Lydia, and then our afternoon suddenly was plan-less. I could paint quite the word picture trying to describe how sad I was. In fact, as I lay in bed Friday night I had a pretty good blog post planned in my head all about suffering and disappointment. Then on Saturday, I realized I was overreacting. Again.

God is so gracious, though. I felt like I should tag along with Dan to the church event, where he was scheduled to be a judge. He couldn’t figure out what I was going to do the whole time, and I couldn’t really either. But I refused to be any farther apart from him than necessary, and I was determined to make the most of that day. Well, one of the judges wasn’t able to come do her judging and, as it turned out, I got to be Dan’s partner. So we spent the morning co-judging and then took off when the function ended.

As we left, Dan declared Saturday to be, not an anniversary date, but Taylor Family Fun Day. We started off with some errands, and got lots of free stuff. First we had to return a couple of items to Whole Foods, where we made the rounds through the store to try every free sample available. On the way in, we were informed about a Grand Opening across the street, so afterwards we headed over to the new North Face Store where we were given free carabineer key chains and water bottles. Then it was off to the library, where Lydia got a free set of gardening toys, three stickers, and a book. (These were prizes for the Summer Reading Game. We read her 10 books and she got the prizes)

 photo Lydiadancing_zps24a58f6c.jpg

On our way back to the car, we passed a store that was having a big sale on skirts and Dan bought me one as a Taylor Family Fun Day treat. For lunch, we broke all of our healthy eating habits and enjoyed some Cottage Inn pizza and loaded waffle fries. Yes, waffle fries. Even Lydia got to eat them. (Side note: Lydia is very small for her age, but you couldn’t tell by watching her eat. She can pack a ton of food into that little belly. But, maybe because of the pizza and fries, or maybe just because, in this picture she actually looks like she’s gaining a little weight!)

 photo chubbylydia_zps61cd38ea.jpg

And then the roller coaster hit another drop as we made a “quick” stop at a store where I was looking for some maternity clothing. After far longer than anyone intended, we walked out empty-handed with a tired Daddy, grumpy toddler, and disappointed, emotional Mom.

For a while, it looked like Dan’s Taylor Family Fun Day had come to an abrupt halt. Still, we drove over to Ypsilanti for a free Ben Hoppe concert. We arrived late and I took a while to compose myself before we found some awesome seats. (Our seats wouldn’t have been too bad if we had brought chairs, but we were sitting on a blanket on the ground)

 photo crowd_zps8757da64.jpg

However, it was during the opening song that hit my why I was feeling so absolutely devastated. It’s those crazy pregnancy hormones. Maybe I’m not as ridiculously hopeless as I thought…or at lease I have an excuse. This made the whole day better. I apologized to Dan and told him my sudden realization, something which he had known all along, and then we enjoyed the concert (except for Lydia, who had had far too much fun and far too little sleep for one day).

The concert ended and there was free ice cream. In the end, everyone went away happy. photo JustineandDan_zpsec5858cd.jpg

Baby Update: 26 Weeks

Since I have not given any real pregnancy update on the blog yet, I decided to update you all from the beginning of the pregnancy up to the present.

In April, we announced to our family and friends, and then everyone else, that we are happily expecting Baby Number Two. May 1st was our first prenatal appointment and our first view of this little one. According to her size during that ultrasound, she is due on November 30th, although Dan and I suspect her actual due date may be a little earlier in November. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Here she is measuring less than 3 cm (just over an inch) at 9 ½ weeks gestation:

 photo 9andahalfweeks_zpsf96b4f22.jpg

As Dan finished his last semester at Eastern, I was fighting more nausea than I ever had with Lydia. And I became an extremely picky eater. Of course, pickles and ice cream were my biggest cravings, but also macaroni and cheese (actually any sort of cheese), cinnamon rolls, and brownies. Lentils, broccoli, and salsa were absolutely revolting for those first few months.

Because Lydia had been born nine weeks early, I have an increased probability of having another preemie. And because Lydia had to spend her first six weeks in the hospital, and because that was one of the most difficult situations Dan and I have ever experienced, we were eager to do everything possible to prevent another early delivery. What can be done? Well, not much, to be honest. The doctors have been eager to keep an extra close eye on us, take lots of ultrasounds, and require extra visits. We have been prayerfully making our decisions as they come, and so far have found a pleasant balance of extra care and reasonability.

When I was twelve and a half weeks along, we went in for an intense ultrasound that was supposed to help determine our course of preventative treatment. Since things looked normal (as they always did with Lydia) we didn’t learn a whole lot from this one, but it was fun to see Baby again. Here she is, now just over 11 cm long (that’s almost 4 ½ inches):

 photo twelveandahalfweeks_zps16badb01.jpg

One slight complication the ultrasound identified was that Baby’s umbilical cord is attached to the edge of the placenta, instead of being centered. From our best understanding, this usually doesn’t affect Baby, but there’s a “possibility”, say the doctors, that Baby could not get everything she needs through the cord to grow properly. The solution is to do lots of extra ultrasounds to see if she’s growing, and if not, deliver early. We’d rather not deliver early and certainly don’t plan on delivering so early that she couldn’t survive, so we have delayed these extra ultrasounds for the moment.

In July we had our big ultrasound, the one where we found out that Baby is a girl. For most of this one, she was all curled up, making the tech’s job pretty difficult. Here’s Lydia’s little sister when she was almost 20 weeks:

 photo 19andahalfweeks_zpsa6bb7f33.jpg

According to this ultrasound, Baby is big for her age, which is good considering the umbilical cord situation. It also supports Dan and my theory that the due date may be a little off. Most people expect their baby quite close to the due date, but with our suspicions combined with my history, we have no idea when Baby might surprise us!

The good news is that tomorrow I will be 26 weeks along, and 80% of babies born at 26 weeks survive. The rate goes up to 90% at 27 weeks and hits 95% by 28 weeks. Needless to say, we are thankful to be where we are! For those who are interested, September 27 would be the date when baby is as old as Lydia, when Lydia was born. So that’s the next big milestone. My personal goal is to make it to November 2, 36 weeks, which is when most babies can go home without time in the NICU and without developmental complications.

So, there’s a breakdown of our past 6 months as far as baby is concerned. Thanks to all who have prayerfully supported us through the pregnancy so far. We trust that this little one is in God’s hands, and will be born when He wants her to be. I’ve also had my moments of anxiety, convinced that Baby would “certainly be born any minute!”, but many praying ladies from church have lifted us up and those fears have been replaced with the peace that passes all understanding.

Baby Two, we love you and are so excited for when God does bring you into this world, though we hope it’s not too soon!

2013 Carlson Family Reunion

 photo familypic1_zpsdb5679f1.jpg
This weekend, we had our first ever Carlson family reunion at my sister and brother-in-law, Christina and Matthew’s, house. Everyone arrived Friday night for hotdogs, s’mores, and reminiscing around the campfire. Most spent the night in tents in the back yard, but Dan, Lydia, and I slept inside (pregnancy privilege!).

Dad started a fire, Dan oversaw with the hatchet, the ladies chatted and watched the kiddos, and soon everyone had eaten a hotdog or two (or three, in the case of Lydia).

 photo campfire_zpsfda1e3c9.jpg

Lydia went to bed earlier than everyone else, but before she did, she had a chance to play with her cousin, Colten. They played in the sandbox, shared a toy truck, and threw the football back and forth with Dan.

 photo cousinsplaying_zps28cc1b9c.jpg

The next morning we all got up and went for a short walk to McDonald’s for some breakfast. On the way back to the house, we ran into Matthew, who had been given the morning off from working on the farm.

 photo mcdonalds_zps573b3515.jpg

Once we had all made it back to the house, and the kiddos and pregnant mommy took our potty breaks, we loaded up the cars to go to a nearby park and ball field. Dad, Matthew, Dan, and Tim spent the rest of the morning and into the afternoon playing some baseball, much to Dan’s delight. Steph and Nate’s dog, Alice, joined in on the fun. And Christina, Colten, and Lydia took their turns as well.

 photo baseball_zpsbbaa186e.jpg

Meanwhile, my mom, Steph, and I were hanging out over on the playground with Baby Coby and Colten and Lydia, when they weren’t off playing ball. Lydia developed a game that involved picking up dirt and pouring it on everyone’s feet, and kept herself entertained for quite a while.

 photo sand_zps854ddaba.jpg

As the ballgame wound down a little, some of us headed over to a nearby farmer’s market. My mom bought a jar of pickles to go with lunch, and Christina and I shared some incredibly juicy and delicious peaches.

 photo farmersmarket_zps03894ec7.jpg
 photo peaches_zps53a75299.jpg

Then it was back to the house where the ladies prepared meat and veggie packets and Tim grilled them to perfection.

 photo food_zpsb38ac461.jpg

As Lydia took a nap, the rest of us spent the hottest part of the day swimming in Matthew and Christina’s pool. I’ve been wanting to go swimming for ages, so this was my favorite part of the reunion! When everyone had cooled down sufficiently, we moved back into the shade for a few rounds of Catch Phrase.

 photo catchphrase1_zps6b06cc4f.jpg
 photo catchphrase2_zps95ee5f97.jpg
 photo catchphrase3_zps18f68a2e.jpg
 photo catchphrase4_zps50687686.jpg

The cousins played some more with Colten’s toys. Colten couldn’t understand what we were all doing just sitting in a circle when there was a bat and ball to play with.

 photo Colten_zps062b9c6b.jpg

Lydia grabbed the Boppy and wanted to know why she couldn’t hold Coby.

 photo Lydia_zpsb81d59c3.jpg

And Coby just sat and looked cute.

 photo Coby_zps8f8772c7.jpg

Soon it was time to pack up and head home. We made it home, tired and happy, just in time for a late supper. Overall, I’d say the 2013 Carlson Family Reunion was a great success. We’re hoping to make it an annual tradition.

 photo family2_zps07f7bb56.jpg

Woodchips and Flowers

 photo woodchip_zps4ab4e07c.jpg

Our house is surrounded by beautiful flowers and landscaping. The landlord does a lot of it, and hires other people to do the rest, but regardless of who is taking care of it all, we have been enjoying it tremendously. There’s a little bench out back where Dan and I like to sit in the evenings and talk while we watch Lydia wander around on the brick pathways. There’s a tiny wooden bridge that Lydia (and Dan and I) use to cross through the pine trees to reach a sidewalk leading to a nearby playground. There are tomato and pepper plants growing healthily all around the house and our landlord generously shares their fruit with us.

But my favorite part of it all is the flowers. Every week there are new flowers blooming, some that I know and love, some that I’ve never seen before. I will probably never have another opportunity to live in a place so surrounded by beautiful flowers.

 photo flowers_zps549fcad5.jpg

When Lydia and I go for walks, though, Lydia runs ahead, passing all of the pretty flowers. She turns the corner where brick changes to sidewalk and makes her way beyond the begonias. She is, of course, headed to the playground. If you try to stop her she’ll object by either saying “Slide?” or “SWING!” . And yet, despite her excitement, she often stops at the woodchips. Yes, Lydia loves to play with the woodchips, or just chips, as she likes to call them.  She picks them up and piles them on a big rock.  She transfers them from one part of the garden to another.  She throws them. She gathers them up and hands them to me. Woodchips hold her attention longer than most of her toys.

Today I had my blog post all planned out but didn’t have any pictures to go along with it, when I remembered the woodchips. I’ve been thinking about perspective over the past 24 hours, and the woodchips fit my thoughts perfectly. You see, I see the pretty flowers and wonder how Lydia can just ignore them to go pick up woodchips. She, in her sweet little mind, probably thinks I’m slow and silly not to share her excitement over the woodchips. We have different perspectives.

 photo smiling_zpscc050b1e.jpg

Life is full of woodchips and flowers. Some things we think are beautiful, and other things we just put up with because they come along with the flowers. (Or, if you’re more like Lydia, I guess it’s the other way around) On Friday, I shared some of my more recent woodchips

Woodchip: Our previous condo had mold and made us sick.
Flower: We got to move to this beautiful home
Woodchip: I haven’t gotten to unpack our stuff and really move in
Flower: Packing for the next move won’t be so bad

And the most recent…

Woodchip: On Friday, our bank refused to give us a mortgage
Flower: We have a nice apartment, close to Dan’s work, already reserved

The analogy can go a little deeper. Maybe I am willing to put up with the woodchips because they happen to come along with the flowers, but the woodchips help the flowers grow. In God’s eyes, every woodchip has a purpose and He, like Lydia, can see beauty even in the woodchips.

 photo kneeling_zpsa4cbcdd4.jpg

Yesterday at church we heard a sermon from Acts Chapter 22. The chapter starts off with the Apostle Paul sharing his testimony of how God brought him from being an active persecutor of Christians, to becoming a Christian himself. At the end of his testimony the crowd is so angry that they want to kill him. Just before receiving a flogging, however, Paul brings up his Roman citizenship, which, in the current situation made the flogging illegal. And so, the chapter ends with Paul narrowly escaping the torture and released to be questioned further the next day.

The very last point of the sermon was that God is in control, even when our lives look chaotic. And, yes, our pastor used the exact word from my Friday post: Chaos. Others could look at Paul’s life and see a lot of chaos, but now when we read the whole story in the Bible, we see God clearly leading and working through each “chaotic” event. What an encouraging reminder to me! Others may look on at our crazy summer of moving and moving and not unpacking and moving some more and think it’s a bit chaotic. I certainly do!  However, Dan and I have been carefully and prayerfully making each decision. That we had to move much more than we had expected doesn’t mean God led us wrong, and it doesn’t even mean that we failed to follow correctly, it simply means that God is leading in a way that looks chaotic to us right now.

God is laying down woodchips so that He can grow flowers.

Life in Chaos

 photo Lydia_zps5ca0bcde.jpg

Transitions

Last April, Dan graduated with his Master’s degree and we were both so excited to move off campus, get settled, and begin life without school. In May, we moved into a spacious two bedroom condo that was conveniently located right next door to Dan’s work. It was wonderful. After a while, though, we realized that there was a serious problem with the condo (mold was our guess) and it was making us, Dan in particular, sick.

In one week we searched for another place, any place, that could take us immediately and that brought us to the lovely town of Plymouth. While our Plymouth home is beautiful, it has its downsides too. It’s a long commute for Dan to get to work, especially when he already has to sit at a computer for eight hours a day, adding on another hour or two of driving hasn’t gone too well.

 photo stairs_zpsae10a021.jpg

Unpacking

My biggest struggle, though, has been the unpacking. This place is fully furnished, which means there’s just no room for all of our stuff. Well, that’s not true. We have found room for all of our stuff, but there’s not room to unpack and really move in. So all summer, I have felt like I’ve been living in chaos.

The laundry room, stairwell, and corner of the living room are full of boxes. Lydia’s room, which is actually an office, now looks like an office that got into a fight with a playroom. Half of our clothes are unpacked, and a lot of them are sitting in piles on open shelves in our bedroom, in boxes on the floor, and on top of storage containers on the floor of our closet. I can’t get to my cleaning supplies, my measuring cups, or our water pitcher. I can’t find the iron. Oh, and my nice organized collection of very important documents ended up in storage.

To add to the chaos, I’ve been off of my routine ever since my first trimester, when nausea prevented me from doing much of anything. I thrive on a schedule, but my schedule went out the window back in May with the first move. Without it, I was getting nothing done, and getting frustrated in the process.

 photo utilityroom_zps9e8c3f9e.jpg

Time for a Change

So, I sat down a while back to pray about things. And then I set some goals to tackle one at a time:

1. Go to bed earlier
2. Wake up earlier – pack Dan’s lunch and get him breakfast, and actually see him before        he leaves for the day
3. Take shorter naps
4. Get outside at least once a day with Lydia
5. Unpack one box a day

How did it go?

Well, it has been about a month since I set my goals. So how have I been doing? Well, I tackled the first one and started getting to bed earlier. About a week later I asked Dan to start waking me up when he’s getting ready in the mornings. We’ve settled into a lovely little routine to start each day, which makes the schedule-dependent-mommy in me happy. I succeeded at shortening and sometimes even eliminating my naps, but that one feels like cheating because I’ve been feeling so much better in my second trimester anyway. Lydia and I get outside almost every day, unless it’s raining. In fact, our day up to lunch has become pretty predictable, again, making me happy. As for unpacking, well, I gave that one up long ago. There’s just no point. Once I got things clean enough to host Leslie’s bridal shower, I decided it was good enough and that I’d just have to suffer through the rest of the chaos until we move.

 photo Lydiasroom_zpse1b81d41.jpg

How much longer?

I would love to know the answer to that one! Dan and I have a signed lease at some nice Ann Arbor apartments and we are tentatively scheduled to move in on September 6. However, we have also applied for a mortgage through our bank and are waiting to hear back from them. If it’s a “yes”, we’ll begin our search for a house, stay where we are until we find one, and then work our way through the complicated process of buying.

In the meantime, I’m sticking to my routine – even if it isn’t as regular as I like. I’m using Mr. Jenkins’ (our landlord) old plastic liquid measuring cup (with half the numbers worn off) for all of my cooking measurements. And I’m continuing to remind myself of the ways God has provided – this home, and all of our previous ones! I’m thankful for a flexible landlord, and a diligent husband who works hard to find us a place that will really feel like home. So life goes on, more chaotic than I would like, but completely in God’s control. We’re, as always, learning to trust as we wait.

Midnight Meeting

 photo midnightmeetings_zpsa7035b1a.jpg

During my Junior year of college I lived by myself in a cute little one-bedroom apartment on campus at the University of Michigan. While there are ups and downs to living alone, I enjoyed that transitional year and am grateful for it. I have many priceless memories of spending time there alone with God; sometimes in prayer, singing, or reading the Bible. One of those occasions happened to be about five months after Dan and I had started dating. And, while I enjoyed that time alone with the Lord, I started to panic as I thought about the possibility of getting married and giving that time up. I had heard how busy it is to be a mom, how you’re always tired and the work is unending. I had heard that it becomes impossible to have significant quiet times alone with the Lord. I also knew that just being a wife was, in a way, a sacrifice of the freedom that I had to spend time alone with the Lord so often without interruption. So, by the end of this particular evening, I was seriously questioning whether or not I ever wanted to get married, even to someone as wonderful as Dan. However, after a few weeks of serious prayer, thought, and a helpful book I felt let to read, I decided that this was indeed the direction in which God was leading. So, sacrifices or not, I obeyed.

Fast forward to this past Friday evening. Dan and I were talking, as we often do, about our future. Where would we live? What sort of career will Dan have (long term)? What are we supposed to do about all that right now? And, as is often the case, we weren’t coming to any solid conclusions. This evening, though, I was getting frustrated and impatient. So, as Dan ran into a store, I took the moment to pray through some of my unhappy thoughts. It’s not really ok to be angry at God, despite what our culture (even the Christian culture) tells us. I knew that I was getting angry, but God was gracious enough to offer me some clarity and comfort during those short moments in the car, and I was excited and grateful.

That night, I woke up earlier than usual. (In recent weeks of this pregnancy, I’ve been waking up once a night, around 3:00 AM to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom) I thought that was a bit odd and was soon fast asleep once more. Then, I woke up again. Now that is really unusual. That time, I couldn’t fall back asleep. So after tossing and turning for a while, I decided this was another one of those evenings when God was waking me up to meet with Him. I shuffled out to the living room, made some tea and a snack, and settled down to read my Bible.

I have been flying through the Gospels lately, and I found myself starting off another one, the Book of John. Different things have been standing out to me from each book, but I haven’t been doing any in-depth studying, just reading. In John 1-4, the thing that stood out very clearly to me was Jesus’ interaction with and care for individuals, one at a time. Andrew. Simon. Philip. Nathaniel. Nicodemus. The Woman at the Well.

Each person, Jesus already knew, before they knew Him. Each person, He told to “follow”. And, for all except Nicodemus, each person went and told others. And in the case of the woman at the well…

“Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.’”

As I sat under the cozy light from the lamp perched on a ledge above our couch, I enjoyed this uninterrupted time of Bible reading. No laundry to fold, no dishes to wash, to toys to pick up, no diapers to change…just uninterrupted time to sit back and read. I thought about how my name goes into that list of individuals. Like Philip, I have heard the call, “Follow Me”. Like Nicodemus, I was up during the night to meet with Jesus. Like the woman, I have had moments of discovering my own sinfulness, only to realize that He already knew. Throughout my childhood I heard about Jesus until I too could say, “It is no longer because of what you said that I believe, for I have heard for myself and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

I thought, more specifically, to the Friday night before, and how patient God had been with me and my frustrations. I thought about that night in my apartment alone when I was so afraid that I would never get any special time with the Lord once I was married, and certainly not once I was a mom. But those rumors I heard, about how moms just don’t get to spend any time with the Lord, I have found them to be false.

True, I don’t often have hour-long daily quiet times. True, I can’t just drop everything and sit on the floor and pray when I’m feeling emotional, sad, tired, anxious…and, true, I have a larger number of important priorities now than I did back then. But what is also true is that God gives us the spiritual food that we need, sometimes only one day at a time (or hour, or minute!) and sometimes only in small moments. But He feeds His sheep. We shall not be in want. He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters.

I have heard an analogy that God feeds us in the same way a baby is fed milk. Some newborns take hours to eat a meal, only to need another meal an hour later. As babies grow, however, they eat faster. Even though their stomachs are bigger, they still get all the food that they need, but in a shorter amount of time. Sometimes our Bible times after dinner are my only “food”. Other times I get a few minutes, or half an hour, to spend with the Lord. But sometimes, God wakes me up in the middle of the night and asks me to spend a little time alone with Him.

So, what’s the take-away from all of this? God gives Christians everything they need. God cares about individuals: me, you. God is gracious, and likes to give us good gifts, and loves to have special alone time with His Beloved. And the peace, and contentment, and hope, and joy that I have in this moment don’t come from a perfect life, or a well-planned future, or a sweet baby girl, or a wonderful husband. They are gifts that God delights to give His children. May you experience those gifts today.

Our Trip to the Camping Trip

 photo carseat_zps0f43f8f2.jpg

Today is rainy and cold, but this weekend the weather was absolutely perfect for our annual church camping trip.  Dan and I didn’t actually camp, but we spent the day on Saturday out at the campground.  It was a bit of a long drive, and we were running later than originally planned, so we put a gift card to good use and ate on the road.  photo subway_zps1b876f9c.jpg

Once we got to the campground, Dan immediately began scouting for a group of people who wanted to run around.  Instead, he found a few willing baseball players.  So he got to enjoy some baseball.  Lydia even got to play a little, and when she wasn’t playing, she was sitting with me eating raisins.  Don’t be fooled by the picture, she was having a grand time.
 photo baseball1_zps381b6f3f.jpg photo baseballpitching_zpsee532627.jpg photo watchingbaseball_zps8722e9fb.jpg
 photo Lydiahitting_zpse32858d8.jpg

After a while, Lydia wanted to go over to the playground.  So we spent a little bit of time swinging and then walked down to the lake.  The water was a bit frightening at first, but she enjoyed throwing wet sand into it to make a splash.
 photo Lydiaplaying_zpsc0e25ea2.jpg
Later in the afternoon, we had the annual church camping trip baptism service, where we had the priviledge of witnessing eight baptisms!
 photo baptismservice_zps2f00404f.jpg
 photo baptism2_zps861f1e97.jpg
 photo baptism3_zps720ec76d.jpg
 photo baptism4_zpseedf9fa8.jpg
 photo baptismcrowd_zps6548d8de.jpg
 photo baptism1_zpsf1fb2d68.jpg
 photo baptism5_zpsfcc3110a.jpg
 photo watchingbaptism_zpsc6ba4166.jpg
 photo baptism6_zps58c67782.jpg
 photo baptism7_zpsab5f03a9.jpg
 photo baptism8_zps6bd984f9.jpg
To wrap up the evening, we had some dinner and visited with various families at their campsites.  We stayed late and had to spend the rest of the weekend resting and recovering, but it was a great time.

Munchkin Update: 2 Years, 2 Months

 photo smilethumb_zpsd8068d8c.jpg
When Lydia wasn’t yet two years old, I started writing down monthly “reports” describing the latest things she was learning, saying, or doing. I thought it would be fun to keep a record of how she was growing and changing, and to be able to look back with her later and show her how much we enjoyed her and all the precious things she brought into our lives.

Just like those early days in the NICU, Lydia is continuing to display her feisty spirit. She is very stubborn, very strong willed, and more and more, she knows what she wants. We’ve been working, though, on sitting still. Each morning we listen to Adventures in Odyssey online and Lydia loves to sit in my lap and listen. Recently I started putting her on her blanket for Odyssey each day, which is much harder for her. She usually cries and says, “Mommy, lap?” over and over for a while before finally getting distracted and playing with a toy or lying down and sucking her thumb. So, I have been rewarding her for blanket time with some time on my lap! When Aunt Steph has new videos up on her vlog, we’ll watch one of those as the reward. Often Lydia will wander over to me and ask, “At Steph?” She’s also been sitting in my lap when I do my German practice on duolingo, and when it gets to be that time (just after lunch), she’ll ask “Guh-man?”

 photo sleep_zps0d40823d.jpg

Lydia loves raisins (which she pronounces “Reeses”) and peanuts (which she calls “cookies”) and watermelon (which she calls “gamma”). It’s a good thing we don’t have other people feeding and watching her or she’d be eating peanut butter cups and cookies and no one would know what to do for “gamma”!

 photo leaf_zps2662d67e.jpg

Lydia also loves having Daddy home. (I don’t blame her!) She’ll often say to me during the day, “Daddy at wuhk?” When I answer in the affirmative she sometimes asks “home?” When Daddy is home, Lydia loves to play outside with him at the playground (where he often challenges her to hang from the rings all by herself) and exercise. She’ll copy him as he does push-ups or sit-ups and sometimes she sits on his back to help him get more of a workout.  photo rings_zpsb545f136.jpg

Despite some battles we have to fight with her stubbornness, Lydia is still so sweet. When we ask her to, she can go get her hair brush from the bathroom drawer and put it away, throw away diapers in the trash, and fetch people their shoes (which she does on her own when she wants to go outside). When she gets hurt she will point to the painful area and say “it huhts” or, better yet, “it huhtses”. When I lay her down for a nap, she rarely goes to sleep without a little crying first. But even through the tears, she’ll give me a kiss and say “Bye” as she waves. She has started saying “See ya!” to Dan when he leaves for work, and also waves and says “bye” when we tuck her in at night. She’s picked up on some of the things I say to her. For example, when I have to quickly leave the room to do something I will point to her and say “I’ll be right back.” It’s pretty adorable to see her point at me and say confidently “All back!” before leaving the room.

 photo end_zps4b18649e.jpg