Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer 2014: thanks for the memories!

Another summer is in the books! Come and gone, I tell ya. Before it disappears completely, I just had to post some memories made! We were chaotic and all over the place this summer, but it sure was fun and wild and one summer we will never forget. . .

From golf tourney pronto pup eating. . .

to family Putt-Putt night!

From the lake in South Carolina with Mimi and Grandpa . . .

to London with Nana and Poppy and cousin Jackson!

From the beaches in Florida . . .

to the mountains in Kazakhstan!

 From movie nights at the theater . . .

 to snow cones at Jerry's . . .

 and all the fun times in between!

Summer of 2014, you were a wild ride we will always remember!
Thanks for the memories!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

growing in the heat

Summer is rapidly approaching its end for us. Actually, I feel like this summer was on a race to the end, since the beginning. We've had so. much. going. on. It wasn't a summer we're accustomed to, but a lot happened over the past couple of months, and we grew.

How we grow
Sometimes with growth, we see quick blooms. They are beautiful and we are thankful. Other times, growth comes after of period of being hard-pressed or intense heat or even a dry plateau.

I see this each year after I plant flowers in the pots on our front porch. The initial blooms are lovely and colorful! I water the flowers pretty regularly and they thrive. And then, somewhere in the middle of summer, they suffer through the intense heat and dry up. The blooms have to be dead-headed to make room for new blooms.

This summer has been exactly that for us. A little exhaustion and dry spell at the summer's beginning (coming off of Way's surgery and some other uncertainties) led to a beach vacation that provided some quick blooms. Summer took off with VBS and swim lessons and my trip to Kazakhstan, all of which provided growth for each of us. Then there was time at the lake, a camp, a trip to London, a retreat and we were blessed with more growth!

But the heat has been setting in and our weary blooms have been wilting a tad. I know the bright, purple blooms of our flowers on the front porch are coming, but we've had to be pruned and learn to cling to the Vine. School starts in a few days, Luke returns tomorrow (I'm sure jet-lagged from his first overseas trip), and a new routine is coming quickly!

Clinging to the vine
John 15 has been my focus the past few months. As we reach the end of a fun and exciting, yet tiring and challenging summer, I am reminded that I will not continue to grow and I cannot make it without Him. He's been dead-heading me and I need Him to satisfy my thirst and help me grow. My entire family does too. All of us do!

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. -John 15:4-5


Friday, August 1, 2014

FYI Friday: Way is 2!!

And just like that he turned. . .

Do I always start birthday posts like that? Because it's true. Every year that comes 'round I am amazed how quickly time flies!

FYI, our little Waybe is 2 years old! I look at him and feel so blessed that we've had him in our arms for 2 years now! I can remember his birth story to the detail and I love it!! Isn't it nice how we can forget the pain of childbirth once a little time has gone by? Actually I remember that too, but especially love that little Way was our only boy to come on his own! Glory!!! And obviously my favorite part of the story is having him here with us!

This year of Way's life has been full! He's had tubes (again) and heart surgery and he's now scooting around and finding fascination with almost everything! He's intrigued by the dishwasher--what toddler isn't? He's also turned into a tornado and in a flash he can empty a toy box and spread its contents all across a room!

At the same time he's happy to be moving, he's still so very content staying put and even happier not to work too hard! We've had some turnover in therapists (with people moving or changing jobs) and we had a therapy break after surgery, so Way has had a little set-back. He's easy-going and laid back, and while I'm thankful for that so far, our job now as his parents and advocates is to make sure Waybe is stretching and reaching his full potential! So with a new schedule and new therapists around the corner, I'm prayerful and hopeful this next year of his life is going to be awesome and one of growth in many areas! And now a letter to Way. . .

Sweet Waybe,
We always start everyone's birthday off with a birthday photo and sing Happy Birthday. You were wondering, "What in the world is going on here?" So cute!

We had breakfast with balloons and your brothers had the best time bopping them around the house! Luke wasn't with us today, he was out of town, on his way to London (yep), but he wanted to celebrate with you yesterday! He made sure we had cupcakes yesterday too, so you've actually celebrated your 2nd birthday twice!

We kept things low-key this year, which was nice, and actually what we all needed! It's been a busy summer!  You loved us singing Happy Birthday, and let Daddy put some icing in your mouth, but that was about it. Still not wanting finger foods, quite yet!

We had fun opening presents with you, too! Your brothers were especially helpful! And once the toys were out, Miles and Charlie even taught you how to use them! And while my camera flash kept boycotting the event and some of these aren't the best quality, I think you can see that we all had fun celebrating with you, Way!

Little Waybe, you hold our hearts! There isn't a day that goes by where someone isn't trying to elicit giggles from you--and when we get those giggles, it's like we've won the most treasured prize! Not a soul likes to see you sad (which happens occasionally) and often brothers jump to turn your frown upside down! Hope you won't be too spoiled!! 

You have a few signs under your belt--"More", "All-done", "Doggy" (maybe your fave), "Car", "Bye-bye", and sometimes ball, milk and pray when you want to use them! You especially love showing us the motions to "Wheels on the Bus" and "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" so we will all spring into action and sing them right along to you! You love your Puppers (lovie) still and seeing pictures of loved ones and babies. You are learning how to blow kisses and will give and accept hugs by leaning in (and kisses too)! You are growing right before our eyes!

Way, you are a true gift from the Lord! He created you and made you perfectly! You have so many people who love you, but know your Father in Heaven loves you even more! Happy, happy 2nd birthday! Thank you for your smiles and laughter that melt us, and your unconditional love that encourages us! We love you with all our hearts! Love, Mommy (and Daddy and your brothers)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When it's easy to go, but hard to leave. . .

It has now been 3 weeks since my return from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which means it has been over 5 weeks since I left to go. There hasn't been a day since my return that I haven't thought about or talked about my trip. The trip changed me. Maybe that shouldn't be all that shocking, but it has been for me. Hubby was thrilled for me to go. He knew I would be changed and learn and grow. I kinda kept thinking, "Eeesh! Lots of pressure, here. Don't be disappointed if that doesn't happen!" I also didn't want to have expectations of me or surrounding me, in case I was let down. That isn't a typical "me" reaction. I usually do have and set expectations of most everything in life--not really caring about the fact that I could be disappointed or let down. Sometimes I am, sometimes not. For this trip, however, I was a little guarded from the out-set.

But leave it to my wise Hubby to know exactly the way to send me off! He nailed it when he told me that he was excited for me to go for all the things I would learn, but especially because . . .and here's the kicker. . ."You cling too tightly to the boys and me. You need to be clinging to the Lord even more." HELLO! Wow. It was so true and a little painful, but so true! I am incredibly thankful for the wisdom my wise hubby shared with me and for all the prayers that surrounded me on my trip--especially for those who were praying for my peace as I left my family behind for 2+ weeks!

Back at the end of May, we had a family trip to the beach. What a place for our souls to rest and our family to connect!
I missed these little buddies and my hubby too, but I am thankful for what the Lord taught me while I was away from them. They were okay without me, and that's a good thing. They were also happy to see me when I returned! Sweet little Miles said 15 times the first night, "I'm so happy to see you! I love you!" And that's a good thing too! A couple of days after I returned a friend was asking about my trip and if I would return. Luke or Charlie chimed in with,"I hope not. I don't want you to go again." I get that, understand it, and melt a little too. But I also pray in time that they will grasp, as the Lord leads, we follow.

As I'm coming away from this trip, I'm learning about abiding. What does it mean for me to rest in Him? What does it look like to rely solely on Him and cling to Him? John 15 is the perfect place for me right now. I'm thankful for my trip to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and the friends I was with, new and old, who joined me as I started this journey (just for you, Honey, wink, wink) and especially the Lord as He has taught me what clinging to Him can bring!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kazakhstan: putting Southern hospitality to shame

Still sorting through my trip overseas in many ways and I'm finding that it's really entertaining to me to discuss the locale and culture of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (I'll call them K2). It seems that family, friends and lots of strangers have been surprised to hear that I would go/have been to K2. Honestly, I really didn't know where it was on a map before the Lord had me go there. And even more honestly, once I knew, I wasn't yearning to go. Africa? Yes. Lord, send me! And lots of other places? Yes, send me there too. But to some country I knew nothing about, that was near Russia, well I just had never dreamed of going there.

And then I said, "Yes." Once I did, I was all in. Found K2 on a map and Googled all I could about the origin and culture, etc. of both countries. But, not surprisingly, none of that could have prepared me for what I experienced the 2+ weeks we were over there.

At first blush

My initial introduction to the culture began before I stepped foot on the ground, as we were all boarding my flight from Amsterdam to Kazakhstan. A lady across the aisle from me, maybe 30 and quite pregnant, was sitting in her seat and stretched out a smidge onto the empty seat next to her. A few minutes pass and the doors are being closed, when the flight attendant brings a woman from the back of the plane, maybe 45, to sit next to her. The pregnant lady, whines a little and in English tells the flight attendant that someone else told her she could spread out a little and not have someone sit next to her. By the way, I completely understand her feelings of being pregnant and uncomfortable and about to be on a 7 hour flight. However, the flight attendant did not and kept insisting that this lady was cramped in the back and needed space too. There were several rows in front of us with empty aisle seats as well, so I was confused. Things heated up, and there was arguing and the flight attendant and the lady from the back were making the pregnant woman feel terrible. It was really uncomfortable. That's when the college student sitting next to me, leaned over and told me this was an ugly part of the Kazakhstan culture. I gulped and thought, "Yikes! What will I experience?" Turns out, the pregnant woman was able to sit by herself, though miserable looking and sad, while the other lady made a best friend in the row ahead of her and could not stop telling the flight attendant how thankful she was not to sit by the rude lady behind her. Oh.My.Stars!

There were definitely other times when I noticed that people seemed out for themselves. Not a lot of people let others enter or exit stores, the street, etc. before themselves. It just wasn't the way we live in the South. You know, when we almost fight in the grocery store to let the other person go ahead of us, or practically trip to run ahead to open the door for someone else.

Central Asian Hospitality not Southern

But what I found out quickly, was that if you were a friend, there was nothing these people wouldn't do to serve you.

While we were in Kazakhstan, we volunteered at a Young Life camp for children with special needs. We spent our time with the moms of the children with special needs, getting to know them, share in each others' lives and build relationships, all while encouraging them as they spent time away from their children. It was the toughest time for me on our trip. I struggled not knowing the Russian language and learning bits and pieces of these moms' stories through a translator. I questioned why I was there and wanted so badly for them to have Eternal hope in life. I've processed through that part of the trip and definitely know it was a time of growth for me. Part of that processing came through the last few days we were in Kazakhstan.

We had the honor and privilege of being welcomed into the homes of these families. They were delighted to serve us. Some of them prepared elaborate meals, with multiple courses. Some of them took off of work, losing vacation days or pay to spend time with us and serve us their best. Some of these moms had no furniture in their house, and spent hours in the kitchen preparing us food to make us feel welcome and show us their life. And I couldn't have been more thankful.


Bringing it home

These home visits were humbling, reality-piercing, heart-breaking, joy-bringing, encouraging and life-giving. In the South, where I live, people talk about Southern hospitality. People bring out their best, often to make people feel welcome, but maybe sometimes to show-off or to out-do each other. And sometimes, in an effort to keep things real around my house, I do the opposite and have people fend for themselves in hopes of making people feel at home. Eeesh!

But after experiencing Central Asian hospitality, I'm ready to make some changes in our house. I want to pour out love on our friends and family like these new friends did for us.

What an amazing God we have! He's made us all and all so uniquely. K2 is half-way across the world and our cultures are so different. To think of my initial thoughts back in March--Kazakhstan? Really? Oh, how thankful I am that He nudged me and gave me the opportunity to see His other creations, to meet these families, to engage in these cultures and to learn from them!

"even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many." Matthew 20:28

Thursday, July 10, 2014

different, yet the same (#k2stan2014)

I thought it might end up this way, but I was hoping it wouldn't. I had every intention to blog while I was over in Kazakhstan--especially since some of you tuned in just for our trip and to pray alongside us! But the blogging didn't happen. Wi-fi was spotty and completely unavailable in certain places, and then I just didn't have time and I was completely exhausted!

And now that I'm back, I'm still completely exhausted! I arrived a week ago--greeted by my sweet hubby! Ohhhh home (him) felt soooo good! But my littles were away with grandparents, so I wasn't able to have them in my arms until the night of July 4th--2 whole days later! The anticipation was killing me! But we are back together again and finally made it back home (we went to pick them up from their grandparents at the lake) last night!

So all is good and I've been processing so much! I'll be sharing the processing throughout the posts, however they come out, but the Lord was with us! It's not at all like I doubted He would be, because I know He is with us every second of every single day, but being so mindful of it over in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan was good for me. For all of us. And for those of  you who prayed for us--I wish I could express just how much it means to me and how much we felt it! We spoke of your prayers daily! We never had one hiccup in the entire trip, and believe me, we could have!

I left my off in my last post as Jeanne and I were going to be speaking to moms of children with Down syndrome. So let me start there. Or actually, lemme back up a smidge. We (Catherine, Jeanne, Marina--friend, National and translator and I) made it across the border from Kazakhstan (a 3 hour drive) into Kyrgyzstan without a problem, which was wonderful. I can give more details on that in a different manner, but let's just say, the Lord made that happen and move on! Oh, and it was hot. Hotter than Memphis, hot. But we made it. Praise God!

the drive from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan--the Kazak steppe
Quite an experience having to take our luggage out of a car and walk 10 minutes to a border crossing and pass through only to wait for our car, which took quite a while to get through! We headed off to find our guest house in Bishkek, checked in, headed out for our first Central Asian meal and came back to crash for the night--we would be jet-lagged for a good week and a half of our 2+ week stay!

Our garden view from our guest house

A typical breakfast scene during our 3 day stay in Kyrgyz. Tea and toast with Catherine and Jeanne!
The next morning, we prepared for our talks. And I felt your prayers. Nerves didn't swallow me up and I was instantaneously comfortable in the coffee shop with women speaking Russian. I immediately felt desperate to know Russian and how to communicate and would long for the ability to speak Russian for the entire trip. I did pick up just a tad, and I might be able to say I know more Russian than French, which I took a year of in college. Not really sure what that says. I'll leave you to make your guesses!

Jeanne's message was wonderful, as it would be the whole trip. She spoke of her story with her son, Jacob, which is told in her book, Parting the Waters. The Lord truly spoke through her to all of us! After her talk, we had tea and cookies and a couple of activities, like scarf-tying lessons (fun)!

And then, I told our story with Way and what the Lord has done in my life with him. I felt instantly connected with these mothers--almost all of them had a child with Down syndrome from the age of 1-3 years old. And while I couldn't speak directly to them without a translator, while I was looking into their eyes, I could see into their hearts. They live in Central Asia. They speak Russian. They are primarily Muslim. And they have a child with Down syndrome. So different and yet I know I have shared some of the exact same thoughts as each one of those women. And I was able to tell them that. And they knew we were the same. Heart-piercing. I was in awe of what the Lord was doing. It was like that for the 2 days we met with the women. Some came both days, some were new. We had a question/answer period at the end of our talks. All kinds of questions were asked and answered. I was even able to pray with a sweet Mama, thanks to lovely Marina who was able to translate for me. This Mama was gripped with fear. Fear of having a child with Down syndrome. In her culture, her child is viewed as cursed and even she is looked at as having done something to bring this on. And so we prayed. And we cried. And we laughed. And we hugged. And then  we said good-bye. I may never see her again, but I will never forget her.

Some of the moms (and a dad) who came to our sessions

A Mama I will not forget! Praying for this one!

My new heart friend, Dina, the one who organized the moms' group, and her cutie pie daughter, Abby!

Wow. So much more to say and so much unsaid, but I cannot express enough, how thankful I am to all of you who prayed! I cannot wait to share more, but the most important part of this trip was the Lord and His amazing work!! I pray I can translate some of that in more posts to come!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We've arrived!

And finally, after months of anticipation, my trip to Kazakhstan is here! So many people were asking me before I left if I was ready. In many ways, I was ready. The anticipation of leaving those behind was gripping me tightly. I was just ready to get the leaving part behind! I've talked about my word of the year, brave, and leaving to go was the next step in my *brave* journey!

*a beautiful piece of art, Catherine Burns, our trip leader made for me! She knew my word for the year and I'd say she full-court pressed me with this! She's a big reason I'm on this trip! So happy to be with her!

But also, I've been so excited! Excited to explore a new country and be a part of a different culture. Excited to talk to and share with other moms who have shared some of my exact same thoughts and fears halfway across the world. Excited to have the opportunity to encourage these moms. And mostly, excited to be going because I know the Lord wants me on this trip! There were so many reasons I could have stayed behind. The Lord could have said "No, not this time." but He didn't. He made it quite clear I should go, and so I've gone!

We arrived in Kazakhstan around 4:30 yesterday morning and after a tad of sleep, we got up and drove to Kyrgyzstan to talk to moms of children with Down syndrome. I will be sharing our story with Way and a lot about the therapies he receives (tonight--and I'd love your prayers to keep on comin') and the moms (including myself) will be blessed to hear from our main speaker, Jeanne Damoff, author of Parting the Waters!

*The mountains and sky on our drive from Kaz to Kyrg.

*Who's worried about Kyrgyz traffic when you have the view of those mountains?

I'm hoping to post periodically throughout the trip, whenever I have Wi-fi access, although it won't be from my usual blogging source, so we will see just how easy that is! And Instagram too! Thank you so much for the encouragement and support and prayers you have given me and our family surrounding this trip!


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