Monday, April 30, 2012


 it seems like little girls are slammed with 2 basic pictures of what a woman should be:

1. the supermodel
this is the woman with the perfect body and perfect clothes. she is poised and always put together, the woman who is never seen looking less than her best. this is the one who can also be the high powered executive, but only if she is in a "woman's field" like fashion. if she has kids they are equally as beautiful and they travel to exotic places during school breaks. she never has a bad hair day or or a bad idea--every plan she makes comes to fruition.

2. the supermom
this is the woman who has the perfect home. she always has freshly baked goodies sitting on a silver tray right next to the fresh coffee. she always looks just right, not too sexy or too frumpy. her kids are perfectly behaved and perfectly dressed. she bakes, roasts, and sautes with ease. she sews, knits, and makes window treatments. her home is always spotless and you could eat off of any surface in it. her husband never sees her without a smile. she has no desire to do anything outside the home--every desire she has is fulfilled within those walls.

it seems like society pushes girls to become the supermodel.
       unless you are a christian: then you are only supposed to be supermom.

i'm sure there are some amazing, godly women out there who fit into one of these categories. there might even be some who fit into both. if you are one of those women, you probably wear the uniform pictured at the right, and i'm giving you a standing ovation right now. there's no reason for you to read any further.

oh, wait--you're still with me?

if you are anything like me, you don't fit into either of those categories.

i'm that mom who sometimes goes out with my hair pulled up in a ponytail and no makeup. by choice. gasp!

i'm the one who will beg for a couple days' notice before you stop by so i can hurry and get things cleaned up (or at least shoved into closets... and under beds... and maybe under the rug...). i do have an amazing keurig (TM) coffee brewer, though, so i will offer you coffee. if you catch me when my sweet tooth is acting up you might even get one of the wackies (no bake cookies, for those of you who don't speak southern) that are sitting in my kitchen right now!

i'm the mom who sometimes says the clothes are clean *enough* to wear.

you'll see me wearing flip flops way more often than high heels.

i'm the mom who could probably sew a blouse if my life depended on it, but luckily enough that hasn't been the case for me so far (although i am fairly skilled with a crochet hook...)

i know nothing about fashion, even though i love watching project runway. i do have a sister who will buy me clothes and tell me to wear them, though, so i don't look like i'm living in a different era all the time.

i love them more than i can ever say, but i've gotta be honest--if i was home with my kids all the time, one of the 3 of us would most likely go insane. seriously.

so, i obviously don't fit into those categories.

am i supposed to?
what does God expect of me as a woman, a wife, and a mother?

this is the official start of my proverbs 31 posts, leading up to mother's day.
i hope you'll hang out with me a bit while we try and figure out how wonder woman fits into it all...

Friday, April 27, 2012

a special kind of day...

"a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (i have to admit, when i first read this verse you couldn't convince me that this didn't mean that a brother was born for arguments. but i digress...)

as the message puts it, 
"friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble." (proverbs 17:17)

a friend loves.

not "puts up with" or "likes you most of the time"--loves.

i've been blessed with some amazing friends in my life, friends who, despite the years and miles between us, i love and who i know love me.

one of those friends,
this redhead over here--->
is having a birthday today!

we don't get to spend a whole lot of time together (very little, to be honest--we're lucky to see each other every couple of years, something that needs to change...), but when we do get together it's like we haven't been apart. 

a friend loves at all times (through all kinds of weather)...

through first crushes--even on the same boy
line dancing, karaoke to deana carter, and hidden cameras

honeyballs and blue and green tongues
rumors and misunderstandings, even big, massive, ugly ones

junior high ('nuf said)
boyfriends and breakups

science olympiad--because we were cool like that!
opposing swim teams

tennis and cheerleading...basing together (craziness!)
church camp

college with miles between us
weddings and relationships, both the good and the bad

sushi (even if yours is deep fried...)

thanks for being my friend and loving me through all of it.
i love you, chica! happy birthday :0)  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

what makes a woman?

i've had this topic in my head for quite a while, but it wasn't until just today that it made it's way to my heart.

mother's day may seem like quite a while away still, but it's really just two and a half weeks.

okay, so maybe that is still quite a while, but my plan right now is to spend the next couple of weeks talking about the proverbs 31 woman.

now, those of you who know me (or have read just about any of my posts on here) know that my plans are extremely likely to change... for the time being, though, that's the plan!

confession time: i just decided that this would be the topic for the next few posts, so i really don't have anything worth writing right now.

you know those books or movies that are incredibly annoying because they exist for no other reason than to set up whatever is coming next? well, this is essentially one of those...

so that it's not totally pointless, though, i'm posting the verses i'll be writing about (for the most part, anyways--i'm a bit like my pop and tend to jump around a lot) over the next couple of weeks.

proverbs 31:10-31, niv
a wife of noble character who can find? 
she is worth far more than rubies.
her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
she brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
she selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
she is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
she gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
she considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
she sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
she sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
in her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
she opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
when it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
she makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
she makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
she is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
she speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
she watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Monday, April 23, 2012

before you're still...

i read this blog today that made me stop and think.
we've all heard the verse, "be still, and know that I am God!" (psalm 46:10a)

wouldn't that be great, to be able to just be still for a while?

it makes me think of a lazy day spent at the lake, doing nothing but soaking up the sun and listening to the water lapping on the shore...
of the times i spent laying on the hay bales in pop's hay shed, my dog teddy right beside me...
of curling up on a snowy day with a great book and a cup of coffee (especially with my new addiction, york peppermint patty creamer. yum!)...
of the sunset on my parents' farm...

the thing is, after reading the verses leading up to verse 10, i'm not sure that was the idea the psalmist had:

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
so we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
let the oceans roar and foam.
let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

a river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.
God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
from the very break of day, God will protect it.
the nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble!
God's voice thunders, and the earth melts!
the LORD of Heaven's Armies is here among us;
the God of israel is our fortress.

come, see the glorious works of the LORD:
see how He brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; He burns the shields with fire.
"be still, and know that I AM GOD!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world."
psalm 46:1-10

i don't know about you, but the thought of earthquakes, mountains trembling, kingdoms crumbling, chaos, and war doesn't really make me all warm and fuzzy inside like all those things i mentioned at the beginning (especially that coffee--seriously, you should try it!).

instead, it makes me think of this:

that's my baby girl when she was just a few months old, what is unbelievably around 6 years ago...
she didn't care what was going on around her. she was sleeping because she knew she was in her mommy's arms, and that meant she was safe.

she could be still because she had faith that i would keep her safe.

granted, we were at the zoo and not in the middle of the things going on in this psalm, but i think the idea is the same:

God wants us to be able to be still in the middle of the chaos
while the mountains are falling into the sea
and the ground is shaking under our feet
and the nations are in chaos
--because we know that He is God.

so, maybe, we should start thinking about that verse flipped around a little bit:
"know that I am God, and be still."

Friday, April 20, 2012

a return to something i love

"real writers don't write for recognition.
they don't do it for fame,
or notoriety.

they do it because they cannot not write.

by their gifts
and under the authority
of a higher calling,
they are compelled to create.

to wonder.
to dream.
to express."
~"the writer's manifesto" by jeff goins

i don't usually read self-made ebooks, but this one intrigued me. i've read a couple of his blog posts that i really liked, and the ebook was free (big plus), so i figured i would give it a shot.

it is a 44-page pdf with just a couple of sentences on each page (the quote above takes up 2 pages), and basically it is him challenging writers to return to writing just for the love of writing.

i used to love to write.
everything. anything.

i filled notebooks on a regular basis, and i wasn't worried about what i was writing.

anything was a great excuse to write:
i got distracted easily if i tried to pray silently and it just didn't feel right praying out loud, so i wrote my prayers instead.
i got my work done in class and had nothing else to do, so i wrote.
i had something to tell a friend, so i wrote a note.

i loved writing so much that i even started making stuff up just so i would have an excuse to write (the only "finished" product from that is waiting for me to get over my nerves and try and send it to somebody, but i digress...).

most of the things i wrote never saw the light of day. they stayed safely tucked away in those notebooks where nobody would see or judge them.

lately, though, i've been putting my writing out there for people to see.
while i still feel like writing here is what God wants me to do, i've been focusing on the wrong thing in my writing:
i've been checking stats
wondering how many people are reading my words
worrying about what they think.

somewhere in the process i've lost sight of why i write:
i write because i love it 
because i wouldn't know what to do if i wasn't writing
because--though it's hard for me to say it--i feel like God has given me a gift.

i need to focus on using that gift to the best of my ability instead of worrying about what's going to come out of it.

i need to return to my First Love and the crazy passion for writing that He gave me.

what's your crazy passion, the gift God has given you?
i challenge you, if you aren't already doing it, to return to doing the thing you love simply because you love it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

socks and sandals

this morning when i put raiden's clothes out for school, i laid a pair of socks on top. i could only find one tennis shoe, though (a common problem around our house), so i grabbed her sandals. after she got dressed, she started to put her shoes on. i told here she didn't need the socks since she was going to wear sandals.

her reaction?

bottom lip sticks out. she starts and huffing and pouting, whining that she wants to wear socks.

okay--easy solution.
i grab a different pair of shoes, a pair she can wear with socks.
my easy solution, though, doesn't work for her.
she doesn't want those shoes. she wants the little white sandals.

looking back, this probably should have been one of those "pick your battles" moments. i probably should have just let her wear socks with the strappy white sandals. she is, after all, only in preschool. in the long run, it wouldn't have mattered.

but come on--socks with little white sandals?
(just as an aside, apparently i know nothing about fashion. while searching for a "bad" picture of a girl wearing socks and sandals, i kept finding pictures of what is apparently a "good thing" in the fashion world. whod-a-thunk-it?)

she's pouting, sitting on the couch. we are running through the whole rigmarole (wow, i never knew that was a real, defined learn something new everyday!)--
you have to make a choice, and you have to make it now.
it is time for us to go to school, and you are about to make us late.
either wear the sandals or put on the socks and change your shoes.

that doesn't end the pouting, and now i'm really getting agitated.
i run through her options one last time, and she's still pouting.

i may have then proceeded to take the sandals off her feet and put the socks and other shoes on her.
she may have then proceeded to remove said shoes and socks in the car on the way to school.
we may have had a few words, including but not limited to one of those parent exaggeration statements: "i better not hear about you doing one thing wrong at school today, because you have already pushed too far and you know what will happen..."
            (...for those of you who know our family stories, what comes to mind here is pop famously telling sarah, "i don't care if a meteorite falls on your big toe--i better not hear you whining!")

some days, raiden thinks she knows more than i do. she, for some reason, gets it in her head that her 5 years have taught her so much more than my almost 28 years have taught me.

isn't that annoying? you know what's best, but somebody still challenges it.

it makes me wonder how God puts up with me like He does.
some days, i think i know more than He does. i, for some reason, get it in my head that my almost 28 years have taught me so much more than God's eternity...

at those moments, my favorite passage to read is job 38-42:6
i'm not going to put 4 1/2 chapters on here, but that passage starts like this:

"who is this that darkens My counsel with words without knowledge? brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me." (niv)

i like how it is put in the message. i've taken the liberty to put my own name in place of job's--feel free to do the same.
"why do you confuse the issue? why do you talk without knowing what you're talking about? pull yourself together, mandy! up on your feet! stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers."

sometimes, i need to be reminded that i really don't know anything.

Monday, April 16, 2012

a boy (and a girl) in a storm

one thing i love is thunderstorms. i love the smell, the sound, the view from the front porch.

don't get me wrong, i'm not saying i love huge storms that include lots of hail, massive winds, and damage.

but, a spring storm? one with a few flashes of lightning in the sky and big rumbles?

those are great, and that's the sort of storm that came through our neck of the woods on sunday.

while the kids were napping, nathan and i stepped out onto the front porch to watch the storm (isn't it great that i have a husband who likes all the strange things i do?). we had been standing out there for a little while when conan woke up and came sleepily out of his room. "i want pa!" he whined, so nathan scooped him up and stepped back outside.

conan watched the rain, but then there was a flash of lightning.
conan didn't mind the flash. it was still light outside, so the lightning really didn't seem that intense. it was pretty close, though, so the rumble that followed was one of those that you can feel to your bones.

do you know what causes thunder? basically, lightning is so hot that it causes a sudden increase in pressure and temperature in the air around it. that pressure and energy has to go somewhere, and the air starts expanding at a speed faster than the speed of sound. that creates a sonic shock wave, creating the boom you hear.

so, although thunder is what makes you jump, its really just the loud but realistically harmless effect of the lightning.

the lightning flash didn't bother conan, but the thunder rumble just about made him climb onto nathan's shoulders in an attempt to get away from the sound. his eyes grew to the size of half dollars.
he was terrified of the sound.

nathan reassured him, telling him he was in his pa's arms and nothing was going to happen to him. he held him close and rubbed his back, and conan started to calm down a bit with the knowledge that his pa would protect him.

then, there was another flash and another rumble.
the fear jumped straight to the forefront again, and it was as if conan forgot all about the reassurances he had just been given.
when he listened to the thunder, he forgot all about the promise of protection.
as his parents, nathan and i knew that we wouldn't let anything happen to conan. we were keeping him safe, but that didn't matter to him at the time. 

we could comfort him for a little while, but then he heard the thunder again.

seeing conan's reaction yesterday made me think about my own reactions to the storms in my life.

sometimes, the thing i'm scared of is just the thunder in the storm: the effect of something bad or dangerous, yes, but in the end something generally harmless.

i run to my Father, and He pulls me into His arms.
He sees the fear in my face, but He knows He will keep me safe.
He whispers reassurances: "I will keep you safe. I am your refuge, your protection. you don't have to worry about the rumblings because they can't hurt you when I'm here."

for a little while, i listen. like the psalmist i say, "i trust in You, o LORD; i say, 'You are my God.'" (psalm 31:14) and "because You are my help, i sing in the shadow of Your wings. my soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me." (psalm 63:7&8)
He calms me, but then there's another flash and some more rumblings. somehow, i manage to forget all the reassurances and promises of protection.
as my Father, God knows that He will protect me.
in the storms, though, i don't listen. instead, i focus on the rumble of the thunder (even during those times when i know the thunder is harmless). 

instead of hiding myself in the shadow of His wings where i can sing in the midst of the storm, i scramble to climb up and away from what's scaring me.

then you know the thing that's even crazier?
when the storm is over, i jump down to run off on my own instead of staying in my Father's arms.
He's always there, though, waiting for me to come running back when i get scared with His promise of protection.

i have to wonder, though--how much better off would i be if i stayed there, under His wing? that way, when the storms come, i can sing.

here's hoping we meet up in the shadow...

Friday, April 13, 2012

where is your jerusalem?

i have a note saved on my phone.
"where is my jerusalem?"

i don't remember exactly when i wrote it. i did manage to find the verse i read before i put it in my phone, though: "and now, compelled by the Spirit, i am going to jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there." acts 20:22

i remember reading that verse and feeling like God was talking to me through it. i thought, "aha! that must mean God has some big change in store for me, somewhere He is going to take me where i will be working for Him." at the time, i just knew that meant grad school (which, of course, didn't work out like i had planned).

today, while i was trying to figure out what to write on here, the words of that note ran through my head. it took me quite a while to find that verse in acts--for some reason i kept trying to find it somewhere in the old testament (yeah, reading it now it is obviously from paul. for some reason, though, i kept trying to make it a command from an angel instead).

for right now, i think i know where my jerusalem is.

it's funny. yesterday i got the official letter from utoledo about grad school (including a tuition scholarship--huge, amazing blessing!), so you would think that i would see toledo as my obvious jerusalem.
the thing is, that's not what's happening.

instead, i think God showed me my jerusalem when He somehow managed to convince me to start pouring out my thoughts on this blog.

that's right--you all are my jerusalem.
i felt led to you all, those who take the time to listen to my ramblings here.

what probably made me realize that more, though, is the fact that i have no idea what will happen to me here.
i don't know what, if anything, will come from these ramblings, from me pouring out the stuff i would normally keep to myself.
i've wanted to use my writing for God in some way, though i never would have imagined this would be the way (me, a blogger? come on...).

seems like, for some reason, i never would have imagined most of the things that have happened in my life, so why would this be any different? i guess it's just that crazy desire to have control that i keep clinging to...i'm sure there'll be more about that later.

i do know, though, that right now, no matter what else is going on in my life or where we may be, that this is where i'm supposed to be.

i hope you agree :0)

where is your jerusalem?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

and now, the rest of the story...

*this is the last post in a series i'm writing to introduce myself. if you want to read from the beginning, start here and then make your way forward in time...*

fast forward a few months from when our baby boy was born, and i'm a physics major with 2 kids under the age of 3. i thought i had no study time with one toddler at home...

with 2 babies at home while i was taking upper level physics courses, i was lucky to get out with my sanity intact (though that may be debatable). i can probably count on one hand the number of times my text books were open at home.

i still had no idea what i was going to do with my degree, but i had learned one important fact: a bachelor's degree in physics doesn't really get you anywhere. i had decided against optometry school due in large part to me not wanting to stay in school that long with a family at home. now i was faced with the fact that i would need to go to grad school if i wanted to do anything worthwhile with my degree.

great. grad school? that hadn't been part of the plan, not even the new plan.
i had no idea what i wanted to do; how in the world was i going to find a grad school?

i was doing a general search for careers in physics when i stumbled across a brochure. it said something to this effect: "if you like puzzles, medicine, and physics, try out medical physics!" in my search for grad schools, i found an internship in medical physics. it was a bit past the application date, but i figured there was no harm in trying anyways.

to my surprise, i got accepted. my family packed everything (though we left almost all of it in storage) and moved up to spend 10 weeks in toledo, oh, for the summer of 2010. we didn't move our furniture, so we basically camped out in an apartment for 2 months with a little girl who was 3 and a half and a little boy who turned 1 that summer.

believe it or not, we had a blast!

 *how my babies spent the drive north...*

that summer also showed me that medical physics was where my heart was, and i just knew that i had found what God had planned for me.

i even started to see the good in all the stuff we had gone through. after all, i never would have told you back in 2002 when i graduated from high school that i would end up with a degree in physics. for that matter, there were a few days right up until december 2010 that i still would have said there was no way i would make it through! (i definitely credit nathan with pulling me through, though dr. musser and dr. hemmati at tech both did their share of pushing!)

if nathan hadn't been in the coast guard when his lphs started, there's no way we would have ever been able to afford all the doctor visits required to get him a diagnosis. the lphs itself, as horrible as it is, hasn't done to us what it has to some people. through the magical world of the internet, we've "met" others with lphs. many of them spend a week or two out of every month in the hospital, hooked up to iv pain meds. a lot of them are on disability and can't work. nathan, though, has been able to stay out of the hospital and work through the pain.

if nathan had gone to flight school, he would have probably had to drop out in the middle because of the pain. he wouldn't have been able to pass the flight physical. i don't see how i would have ended up getting a bachelor's in physics, either.

through nathan's time in the coast guard, we've been blessed to be able to keep that insurance. it has paid for both our babies... and numerous doctors' visits for nathan... and monthly pain med prescriptions... so, though we were 2 broke college kids when our own babies were born, we had insurance to cover them.

slowly, i was starting to get over my own anger and disappointment with God. i was learning to see His hand in all the horrible stuff that had happened. i could even see Him working through michael's death.

i graduated in december 2010 and was offered a job teaching physical science labs at arkansas tech. life was great--i taught a couple days a week, so the rest of the time i was home with the kids. nathan worked nights as a security guard in conway so we didn't see each other very much, but it was temporary. we could deal with anything for a short time.

but then, i started getting letters (emails, actually) from grad schools saying i hadn't gotten in.

but...medical physics was what God had chosen for me, right? it had stolen my heart, even if it meant i had to go to school for another 5 years. we had a new plan, one completely foreign to us but completely amazing. though i was deflated a bit by each letter i got, i wasn't totally shut down. after all, i was still waiting on the toledo letter. i had done an internship up there, so surely that one would work out. i even started thinking, "good. this way i don't have to make a choice because it's already been made for me."

then, that letter came in april 2011. i hadn't gotten in.
talk about a punch in the gut.

i wanted to fall apart. the thing was, though, i had these two little faces staring up at me. it didn't matter that my plan hadn't worked out--they were counting on me.

i had to find a job.

to make an already long story a bit shorter, i ended up in the arkansas non-traditional teacher program and started teaching science to 7th, 8th, and 10th graders.

so, we were starting over again. again.
my teaching job was an answer to prayer, though, so after quite a few tears and a lot of stressing out, i started thinking that maybe this was what God had planned for me instead of medical physics. i have to admit, i was really wondering what the point of all those physics classes was, though! teaching was my original college major, so it seemed like all those years had been quite a detour for me to end up on the same path.

it takes a special kind of person to be a teacher. you have to be able to love all the kids without taking all their problems home with you. you need to be able to separate yourself from the job a bit while still showing the kids how much you care about them. you need to be able to think on your feet and change things up when your carefully planned lesson is putting all the kids to sleep. you need to be able to deal with the politics that have unfortunately become a part of education. you have to deal with rules and regulations being made by people working in state offices who never step foot in a classroom. you need to be able to carve out time to grade papers, plan lessons, make dinner, spend time with the family, and still manage to sleep.

the thing is, i found out pretty early on that i'm not that person.
i took everything home with me.
when the kids at school had driven me crazy, my own babies got snapped at.
as soon as the kids were in bed, i would all but pass out.
i was stressed and crying most nights.
to be honest, i really felt like a failure.

and, i was back to the drawing board--what in the world did God want from me? hadn't He led us here? hadn't He opened this door for us after the other one was closed?

i was crushed, i was hurt, and i was mad.
do you ever feel like that? you think you're doing everything you can to follow where God's leading, but for some reason each path seems to end up being a dead end.
i really felt like giving up.

i also realized something. when i had applied for grad school, i had only applied for phD programs. i told myself that that was because i would need those letters after my name to be respected in the field, but that wasn't true.
truthfully, i wanted those letters because i wanted those letters. though my intentions had started out pure, they had gotten tainted.

fast forward to today. i've been told (preliminarily, since i haven't gotten an official letter from the grad school) that i should be in toledo this fall. i'm writing this blog, as crazy as it is, and i feel like it is something God has truly led me to do.

i've also finished (well, that may not ever be the right word since i'll always see things to change) writing my first novel and am starting a second.

i still don't know why we've gone through all we have.
i don't know what exactly God has been teaching us or what He has in store for us in the future.
i do know, though, that i wouldn't be who i am today without everything that has happened up to this point in my life.

don't get me wrong--there's a lot that has happened that i would have happily done without. mixed in with all the bad stuff, though, there's been a lot i wouldn't ever trade.

i'm pretty hard headed and stubborn, so i'm sure there are some lessons i've learned along the way that i wouldn't have learned any other way:
about clinging to God through everything.
about holding family close no matter what.
about being strong when all you want to do is collapse.
about my strengths and weaknesses.
about faith

as crazy as this path has been, i'm starting to see that we have gone right where God has been leading us. despite all the times i've felt like He's been distant, He's been right there. He's given me the strength to get through everything, and when that hasn't been enough He's carried me through.

to wrap this up, i'll leave you with some verses that i recently discovered tell my story...

"i love You, o LORD, my strength. the LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom i take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold
i call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and i am saved from my enemies. 
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. 
as for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him
for who is God besides the LORD? and who is the Rock except our God? 
 it is God 
who arms me with strength 
and makes my way perfect
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; 
He enables me to stand on the heights. 
the LORD lives! 
praise be to my Rock! 
exalted be God my Savior! 
therefore i will praise You among the nations, o LORD; i will sing praises to Your name." 
~psalm 18:1-3, 16, 30-33, 46, & 49

Monday, April 9, 2012

...and it flips again

*this is in a series of posts i'm introducing myself through. if you want to read the beginning of the story, start here then go to this one, this one, and this one.*

in 2005, nathan joined the coast guard. he went to boot camp that summer and then got stationed in astoria, oregon. though i was definitely glad we were around all my family when we found out michael had been killed, we were ready a year later to have a little space and actually start forming our own family, just the two of us.

we were incredibly excited and felt like we were headed the right direction after our plans were thrown of course the year before, and we got to astoria on october 31st. our belongings were about a week behind us for some reason (anybody familiar with the military can understand that one), but even that didn't seem like such a bad thing at the time. we bought a couch, chair, coffee table, buffet, and side table at a second-hand shop for $500, and we slept on the couch until our bed arrived.

the older gentleman who sold us our furniture invited us to stop by his church, so when we started looking for a church family that was where we went--
      and we loved it. it was a nazarene church; nathan went to the methodist church with his grandma when he was growing up and my dad had been a baptist pastor. there were certain points of doctrine we didn't agree on, but they loved us anyways and agreed on the most important point:
Jesus was sent as the Savior, the One who sacrificed His own life so that we could live.
it wasn't very long before we started working with the youth group, which was amazing! we loved those kids and had a blast spending time with all of them.

we really thought we had it figured out. nathan would spend a few years in the coast guard. we would get the chance to work with the youth. i could start classes and get into optometry.

new year's day 2006 found us in the emergency room. nathan was having extreme pain and we had no idea what was going on. the initial diagnosis was a kidney stone, but test after test showed up negative and the pain wouldn't go away. the coast guard would send us to a urologist. he would say, "there's something wrong, but i don't know what it is. you should go to a nephrologist." 

the coast guard would send us to a nephrologist. he would say basically the same thing, but want nathan to go back to the urologist.

we went to all sorts of doctors, to every doctor available in astoria i think. then they started sending us to portland. we went up to seattle. we drove all over the place that year (it was a good thing we liked sight seeing!), whenever the coast guard cutter fir was in port. eventually, they moved him to the air base because he couldn't do ship duty anymore.

when all the tests were coming back negative for just about everything, they started saying that it was all in his head and that nathan was just trying to get out of the coast guard. i can assure you, that was the last thing he had in mind. we thought we were finally headed the right direction--why would he try to get out? they did, however, send him for a psych evaluation. the diagnosis was that he was depressed, but according to the psychologist (i think that's who does those evaluations, right?) that was to be expected. he was in constant pain with people constantly telling him nothing was wrong. who wouldn't be depressed?

you wouldn't believe the meds they had him on. it seemed like every new doctor would add something, but in order to keep it from counteracting one of the older meds they would have to add another...and another...and another. at one point, my 21 year old husband, who had always been athletic and active, was taking around a dozen meds for the pain that would keep him doubled over on a daily basis.

things were getting bad, and i was starting to get scared. they couldn't figure out what was going on and there were times i was afraid i would lose him before they finally made a diagnosis. i didn't know what i would do if i lost him.

i've only recently told nathan this, but the main reason i started talking to him about us starting a family and having a baby was because i was afraid i would lose him--and i wanted to be able to keep some part of him. our little girl was born in december 2006. we traveled home to arkansas so her grandparents could all be there, meaning we drove back across country with a brand new baby. we also had 2 huge dogs at the time, and the story of that trip is one i'll have to share some time as one of our...adventures. the trip from arkansas back to oregon was spent like this:
yes, that is a rottweiler with his head on the edge of the carseat. thor stayed like that for most of the trip, usually staring at raiden. if you look really closely you can see an extra set of furry black hips behind the rottie. those belong to drizzt, our great dane.

i think they both thought raiden was their baby as much as she was ours!

somewhere in there, we finally got a diagnosis. nathan was sent to a nephrologist (kidney doctor) in portland who reviewed his case and told us that earlier that day he had just happened across an article in a medical journal about something called "loin pain hematuria syndrome," or lphs. his symptoms fit: extreme loin pain that can't be explained, sudden onset, and unexplainable blood in the urine. basically, lphs is the diagnosis patients get when everything else has been ruled out. he ordered a kidney biopsy to rule out anything else that might not have shown up on scans, and the results of that biopsy showed that nathan had something called "thin basement membrane disease."

so, now we had a diagnosis (about a year after the symptoms had first appeared).
 the problem was, there isn't really a set way to treat either of those.
nathan was basically just put on high levels of pain killers and more or less told good luck.

he was given a temporary medical retirement from the coast guard, which has since apparently turned into not temporary. i say "apparently" because we've never really been told anything. one day his pay stub (that we get every once in a while--i've never been able to figure out how they decide when they're going to send us one) just said retired. we started getting the retirement newsletter, so i guess that makes it official...yeah, that's the military...

so, we couldn't stay where we were because we were in base housing. i hadn't started classes in astoria because i had chosen to stay home a semester to write, so we didn't really have anything to keep us in oregon. neither of us had a degree, so there really weren't many options in front of us. we moved back to arkansas and moved back into our "barnament," now with 3 of us living in a one bedroom apartment.

it was time for us to start over. again.

neither of us really knew what we would do. with a new baby and the start of our family, i decided against optometry. i couldn't see going to school for another four years after i finished getting my last prerequisites out of the way because i didn't think i would be able to do justice to both school and my family. for nathan, flight school was out of the question--he wouldn't be able to pass the flight physical now. i had no idea what i wanted to do.

we finally decided we would both work for a semester and then head back down to russellville and go back to arkansas tech in january 2008. nathan was going to major in history and political science. for some crazy, unknown reason, i decided to major in engineering physics.

i know.

nathan started taking classes at the local community college and working at the grand country hotel in branson overnight. i subbed for a semester at my alma mater. in january we moved to russellville. we were optimistic, even if we had no idea what we were going to be doing. we both had a couple of years of classes to take, so there was time to work out the rest.

a few weeks in, i had my first test after returning to college. with a one year old at home, study time was non-existent. that may not be the experience others have had, but it was definitely the case for me. most of my college text books were never opened once i got off campus. 
after all, when you have this at home-->
who wants to spend time studying?

so, back to my first test--it was in physics 2 (i hadn't taken physics 1 because of scheduling conflicts) and if i remember right 
i got a 43%.
you read that right: 43%.
i was ready to throw in the towel. why in the world had i ever thought i could get a degree in physics? after lots of tears (on my part) and lots of encouragement (on nathan's part), i decided to keep going. it did get better, much to my surprise, and eventually not only was i passing my physics classes but i was asked to be a teaching assistant. i still had very little confidence in my physics abilities, but for some reason my professors had faith in me. that's something i will always be thankful for, because without knowing they thought i could do it i never would have made it through those classes.

somewhere along the line, though, it occurred to me that i had no idea what i was going to do with my degree. i changed from engineering physics to general physics eventually, not because i had some amazing breakthrough on a career choice, but because in july 2009 we had our second baby (a bit of a surprise)--and i could get out a semester earlier with the major change.

*once again, this is getting pretty wordy. i'll stop here for today and finish the story in the next post.
  i hope you're getting to know me a little bit better through this "introduction" series. it is way longer than i figured it would be. 
but then again, i guess that's how it usually goes when i write...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

when my world started flipping

*this is the 4th in a series of posts, since i realized i had never really introduced myself. if you want to read from the beginning, start here. then this one and this one come next...*

i'll warn you in advance, this post is long and raw. you'll be getting a glimpse into my soul that even some of my closest friends and family members haven't, fair warning.

at 19, as newlyweds, you don't think life is getting ready to knock you around. well, a month into our marriage we felt the first blow when nathan started getting pains he couldn't really pinpoint. he missed a bunch of work, so needless to say when he ended up needing surgery to remove his gallbladder it wasn't covered by tyson insurance.

so we started out with instant medical debt.
debt isn't so unusual for newlyweds these days, but it definitely made us feel like we were getting a rude introduction to the "real world."

it wasn't much later that we were informed that we wouldn't be able to go up to st. louis after all--since we were 19 with no credit we needed a cosigner for the flight school financial plan, and ours backed out on us.

so, instead of planning a move we were looking at living in our "barnament" with me working as a cashier at wal-mart. nathan found work in eureka springs.

the second punch, but we rolled with it. we both enrolled in the local community college, figuring we could take classes the fall semester while we figured out how to make our plans work anyways.

nathan and i both turned 20 in august (i'm a day older than him). since there are a lot of summer birthdays on my dad's side of the family, we usually have one big summer celebration for everybody. that's what we did that year, 2004.
it was a great day. it was gorgeous, one of those ideal summer days in arkansas. we hung out all day, then that evening nathan and i decided to make a trip up to branson, mo, to catch a movie for our birthdays. we went to see alien vs. predator, a movie i've seen a couple of times since then but still couldn't tell you much about. we had a great night out, though, and got home probably around midnight.

when we topped the hill on our dirt road, i glanced over at pop and mom's house.

the yard was filled with cars.

my first thought was that everybody had stayed really late to play cards.
my second thought was that there were way more cars there than had been there when we left.

we pulled into the driveway and my heart started beating a little harder. that's when i realized something had happened, something bad.

my third thought was that one of my grandparents must have died, but that one didn't last long. even in a hometown as close as mine, people wouldn't have turned out en masse for that.

we got out of the car and i saw all our family and friends standing around, but nobody said anything.

pop came out of the crowd of people and started walking toward me.

that was all i said.

that was his answer, then i collapsed against him, sobbing while he held me and cried. my mom and sister joined us, but nathan stood apart a bit to give us that moment.

my brother was dead.

yeah--definitely the knockout punch being thrown that time.

michael was a tank commander, a second lieutenant in the united states army. he was in najaf, iraq, at the time, in a cemetery from what i've been told.
sometimes i'm struck by strange things, and the fact that he was killed in a cemetery was one of those things that has stuck with me.
an iraqi gunman managed, in the chaos of battle, to climb onto the tank (those are supposed to be invincible, right?) and fire into the open hatch.

michael was shot, along with another of his men. they were both killed.

the time after that is pretty hazy, and much of it runs together for me. that night, right after they told me what happened, i had to get away from the crowd for a bit. i've always been a private person, somebody who doesn't like to have my emotions all out there for everybody to see.

yeah, that's still you an idea of what a big leap of faith it was for me to start writing here.

that night i went for a walk out into the pasture. i eventually found a spot to sit on the side of a hill, staring into the darkness of the trees in front of me. i'm not sure how long i sat there, and i couldn't tell you what i thought about. i know i cried, and i know eventually my horse, red cloud, walked up to me and nuzzled my shoulder. i remember standing to bury my face in his neck and cry. eventually my tears dried and i was able to go back to the house.

i think it was the next morning that my parents got "the knock." i heard it, but i couldn't go into the front room where they were sitting. i sat at the bottom of the stairs in the other room where all i could hear were muted voices.

when we were finally able to go say our goodbyes, it took me quite a while to actually go into the room at the funeral home. it was almost as if there was a part of me that thought it wouldn't be true as long as i didn't see him.

that's still one of the hardest things i've ever done, walking in there.

i remember snippets of the funeral, but not very much. i do remember listening to the coats family sing "battle hymn of the republic" and leaning over to tell pop that they were playing a yankee song. that got a bit of an ironic laugh out of him,one of those ugly laughs that forces itself out through tears, the only one i can remember during that time.
       for all those people confused and/or slightly offended by me saying a "yankee song," michael was a civil war buff and had done reenactments as a confederate soldier when he was a teenager. i told you, i'm struck by strange things--that was one of those things.

at the graveside afterward, i remember the salute with the guns firing. i remember the flag being folded. then, i'm a bit blank until the very end when i knelt down beside the end of the casket and held on to the dog tag hanging from the handle. i almost cut it off and took it, but for some reason i didn't.

still wish i had.

so many people came to pop and mom's house to see us, to bring food (since in the south bringing food makes everything easier), to tell us how sorry they were.

to be completely honest, there were times that i wanted to scream! i wanted to tell everybody to just go away, to leave us alone with our grief.

there are things people say when somebody dies:
"he's in a better place"
"God just needed him with Him"
"God works in mysterious ways"
"Sometimes we don't understand God's plan"
"God works everything for good..."
when i heard those things, it got to be all i could do to keep myself from raring back and punching somebody. i'm by no means prone to physical violence, but i came pretty close then.

see, right then, i was mad.
it didn't matter to me that michael was in heaven, that he was home and happy.
what mattered to me was that he was gone.
i didn't care that God's plans were still in place.
i was mad that God hadn't saved my brother.
i was mad that a 23 year old with so much potential was dead.
really, i was just plain mad.

i didn't need people reminding me of God's goodness, i needed people to just sit down with me and say, "this sucks! it's not fair, and i'm sorry it happened."

so, instead of dealing with everything, i built a wall.
if i didn't let people in, i couldn't get hurt anymore, right?

for years after, there were times when i was doing the most mundane things and i would think about michael. the tears would start to fill my eyes and a lump would form in my throat, so i would tell myself, "i can't deal with this now. i'll think about it tomorrow."

very scarlett o'hara of me, don't you think?

i also remember being told many times that i needed to be strong for my parents. at the time, it seemed logical--michael had always been that one.
you know, the one to hold it all together no matter what was going on. with him gone i was the oldest kid, so that had to mean i was supposed to step into his shoes.

just in case you are ever put in a situation like this, please don't tell a 20 year old girl she needs to be strong when her big brother dies. i didn't need to be strong. i needed to grieve, to cry, to have my parents wrap their arms around me and take care of me.

i was still working at wal-mart, and i can't tell you how many people would come through my line and ask about my parents. usually i could give them the right answer: "it's really hard, but they're managing. it definitely helps to have such supportive friends and family. i'll tell them you asked about them."

sometimes, though, i wanted to ask: "what about me? why aren't you asking me how i am instead?"
     they were talking to me, but i felt invisible.
i'm not trying to take anything away from the grief my parents experienced. now that i have kids of my own, i can't even begin to imagine losing one of them.
what i am saying, though, is that it seems like siblings are often left out. it's unintentional, i know, but it happens. people seem to forget about the crazy, unexplainable relationship between a brother and sister.

my world was turned upside down that august. i watched my parents break down, something i had never seen before that. 
i saw people who had relied on God for everything, 
people i had always looked up to as examples of what a christian should be,
people who were everything to me,
    i watched them fall completely apart.

for a while, i didn't know if life would ever get back to anything remotely resembling normal.
nathan and i did start classes that fall. in fact, classes started the same week as the funeral. it was kind of nice, going to class, because although everybody had heard that a soldier with ties to the local community had been killed in iraq, most of them didn't know i was connected to him. for a few hours i got to get away from the sadness and pretend like my life was still normal.

i took calculus that semester, but i'm pretty sure i didn't learn it.

let me take a moment to say that i know this post is all over the place. part of that is due to the fact that i still can't think completely straight about that august. part of it is that i want you to really see me in this, and i know that if i plan out everything i want to say about this i won't be saying what i need to say.
if that makes any sense.

it took a while to learn it, but i think that one of the most important things i learned during all of this mess was that it is okay to be mad at God.
question Him.
yell at Him.
shake your fist and tell Him this sucks.

i know that may go against everything you've ever heard, but i really believe it.
because you know what?
the God i know, the One who got me through that time,
     He's a big God, and He can take it.
He can stand up to my questions, my anger.
He lets me pound my fists and kick and scream, then He puts His arms around me and just holds me. 
He says, "I know this is terrible. I'm sorry you are going through this. I heard his cries, and I hear yours."

this year, nathan and i celebrated our 8th anniversary.
this summer, it will have been 8 years since michael died.
there have been times when i've felt like my wedding day has become bittersweet, something i struggle with because it feels unfair to nathan to think of it that way.
 while it was a beautiful, extraordinary, amazing day, a day i will always think of as one of the happiest of my life, it was also the last day i saw my brother. he shipped out just after that, headed to iraq.

this is the last picture taken of the three of us together. instead of us all having gray hair and wrinkles, we were 14, 19, and 23.

looking at this picture right now breaks my heart a bit as i think ahead to sarah's wedding this summer and know that it will just be the two of us for those.

reading back over this post i am incredibly tempted to do a lot of editing.
if you know me, you know that's probably an understatement.
i've had to come back to this numerous times just to get it finished, though, and i know that if i start trying to make sense out of everything i've poured out here it may never get posted.

so, instead, i'll put this out there and i'll pray that you will see a heart that was broken and laid before you. more than that, though, i hope you'll see the God who was big enough to get me through this...and the punches that life has thrown since. that's a story for another day, though.

Parents, step up

  Like every generation before us, we bemoan the current state of the younger generation. And like every generation before us, it's our ...

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