Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ice cream, anyone?

Will with his two kiddos at a
Peoria Chiefs game
I have been around some pretty awesome dads in my life. My husband, Will, is a wonderful, caring and goofy father. He is in seminary to become a United Methodist Pastor and starts in his first assignment as pastor at a small church in a few days! His faith and his ability to explain things so that everyone, including our children, can understand help make him who he is. He’s also an amazing cook – have you had his homemade pizza??? He enjoys gardening and canning and likes to create things with his hands. He made a loft bed for our son! But as Will likes to remind me, he’s not my father. So I’d like to focus more on the men who have been fathers in my life.

My Dad and his girls
My dad, Jerry, is an amazing man of strength and faith. He lives his faith every day and has had a huge impact on my faith and my commitment to the church. He still farms and plays his trumpet regularly – two of the things I will always associate with him. He is committed to his family – his wife, daughters, grandkids, mother, siblings and aunts and uncles. He and my mom have taught me the importance of community and family. I don’t think he ever missed a game or a concert for any of us girls when we were growing up. He makes every effort to get to his grandkids’ events such as dance recitals, baptisms, ball games. He can fix almost anything. To this day, he is the one that I call if I have questions about my car, or the furnace or some plumbing question because I know that he will know the answer. I am grateful that I still get to see my dad on a regular basis and I’m even more grateful that in about 10 short days, we will live an hour closer to him and my mom.

My Grandpa with Ben 
My Grandpa Stillens with
my mom as a girl
My grandfathers were also both very hard working men who were committed to their families and their faith. Grandpa Stillens was retired from the lumberyard by the time I came along. What I remember was that he was a very hard worker even in retirement. He raised sheep and chickens and cared for beef cattle. He always had one heck of a garden – both at our house and their house. He had a great spirit and a great sense of humor. He suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away when I was 19. My Grandpa Theobald was my dad’s business partner and lived just a couple of miles from our house – just a short bike ride away. He enjoyed bowling and horseshoes and his dog Sally. He passed away a few years ago from prostate cancer. I am blessed to have had so many years with two grandfathers in my life. They are part of the reason that I work with the geriatric population.

My father-in-law Tom
Will’s dad passed away from pancreatic cancer less than two months ago. Tom fought a very courageous battle for two years, and he didn't let it get him down until the very last week. The Sunday before he passed on Saturday, we celebrated our daughter’s 4th birthday at a local restaurant. Tom wanted to go to the party, but we insisted he stay home so it wouldn't wear him out too much. He conceded, and wanted us to bring him a piece of the birthday cookie and some ice cream from Casey’s General Store. I only knew Tom for about 13 years. From the very beginning, he welcomed me into their family with so much love. He too was committed to family, faith and his community. He was in the Lions’ Club and the local democratic committee. He served on many committees at his church, the Walk to Emmaus, and even in the prisons. He was full of it, with a story for everything. He wanted nothing more than for his children, including me, to succeed. Tom had a love for model trains and had an amazing set up in his train room of a whole set, complete with a camera on the engine so that you could see what it would look like if you were actually riding that train. The grandkids loved to play with Papa’s trains with him. Whenever we would go somewhere together, particularly shopping, my husband and his mom would walk much faster than Tom and I. This allowed me to get to stroll along more leisurely with him and enjoy that time with him.

He never did get that last bowl of Casey’s ice cream. We went to the Casey’s and they were out of ice cream that day. By the time we got to their house after the party, he was slipping into unresponsiveness. He would awake for a bit, but it was not for long. So today, on Father’s Day, I think we’ll go have some ice cream at Casey’s for Tom. If you knew Tom, would you consider doing the same? I bet he’d find the Casey’s in Heaven and join us from there.

Happy Father’s Day to these great fathers in my life. I love you all. 


Saturday, April 25, 2015



Have you ever noticed how much we wait?
We wait for the coffee pot to finish brewing in the morning.
We wait for the school bus or a ride to go somewhere.
We wait in line at the store.
We wait in traffic.

We wait for something special to start. The concert or play you've been preparing for. A long awaited movie, or book, or concert, or college.

We wait to hear from a job interview.

We wait to hear the results of a test. A test that is the last chance to pass a class. A test to get into the top college of choice. A test to pass for boards. Or it might be waiting to hear the results of an ultrasound for a suspicious lab test, and then waiting for results of a CT scan, and then the MRI, and finally the biopsy to determine if that thing the doctor saw was in fact cancerous.  

We wait to hear where we're going to next. Our military personnel wait to receive the next orders.Is it near home?Is it across the world?Is it into a war zone? Medical students wait to hear where they will spend the next three years, at least for residency. Pastors in my denomination wait to hear of their next appointment, often not having much say in the town, the schools, the size of the congregation or their new home. And once we parishioners hear of that change, we wait to meet our new pastors while the pastor who is moving on is waiting to change his or her life in such a huge way.

We wait for the pregnancy test to show a plus. We wait to see the first sonogram and hear the heartbeat the first time. And we wait and wait and wait to hold the newborn baby in our arms.  

We wait for death. Some people wait for their own death, even wishing for it. People with terminal illness who are receiving hospice care may not be alert enough to wait for their own death, but the family members of that ill person wait. They wait not knowing exactly what to expect despite the wonderful education provided by hospice staff. They wait for the next visitor. They wait for their loved one to be comfortable before taking even the shortest of naps.  

My husband's family is waiting. His father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about 2 years ago. He fought and fought that cancer. We thought he had won. The scans showed no cancer. Then he began to have other complications and after a long hospital stay, the cancer reappeared on the PET scan. It was all over. His bones. His lymph nodes. All over. Now he has been home for two weeks under wonderful hospice care. He has had so many visitors, some from near and some from across the country. He has tied up his loose ends. He has said goodbye.  

And now we wait. He has been unresponsive for many days now. We don't want him to die, but we know it is inevitable. We don't want to imagine birthdays and holidays and family dinners and weddings and funerals and Sunday afternoons without him. But again, we know that we will experience all of those without him, and without others whom we love, and we have faith the he will be in Heaven. And then we will wait for our chance to see him again. We wait for the call telling us it happened. We hope it doesn't come, but we selfishly want this chapter to be over. And so, we wait.
So how do we wait? How do we find strength while we wait? How do we not give up while waiting?  
For me, it's faith. I truly believe Jeremiah when he says that God has plans for me, and those plans are plans of good, not plans of harm. And I believe the prophet Habakkuk when he said that it will be revealed in the right time. And I believe Isaiah that says that those who wait upon the Lord will be strengthened and fly like eagles. And I believe that He will give us comfort as we wait.

Kari Jobe's "I Am Not Alone" gives me comfort.

So I wait and I pray.

I wait with Him.

How do you wait?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Clue Game

For a couple of years now, my husband has wanted to sponsor a child through an organization like Compassion International or World Vision. Both of these organizations work with children in developing countries to provide an education and additional resources to help end the cycle of poverty. Both organizations are run on Christian principles and the children hear the Gospel. I've always been hesitant to sponsor a child; after all, we have two children at home. But then I was challenged in a book I read to give a donation to an organization of my choice that equals what our family spends on Christmas. In other words, if you spend $200 on Christmas gifts, give $200 to a charitable organization. I felt that sponsoring a child through Compassion International would be a good way to give my husband something he has wanted while making an impact on a child somewhere else in need. 

So now comes the plan. :) Hubby's birthday is two weeks before Christmas. I went online and chose a child with the same birth date as our son. My mother-in-law was nice enough to pay the first payment on her debit card so that my hubs wouldn't see the transaction through our bank. Once I had chosen a child to sponsor, I researched his home country, Ecuador, so that our entire family could learn in the process. Every day between his birthday and Christmas, I gave him a clue for his Christmas gift. 

Here's the clue list (not in the order I gave them, but in the order from the Christmas morning note):

Andes Mints
Amazon Gift Card
Toy Frog
Butterfly puzzle
Swedish Fish
Pig puzzle piece
$1 bill
Soccer ball
Hot Cocoa
Coffee mug
Sugar Babies
Banana Runts candy
Casey’s General Store gift card

And here's the note from me that he got on Christmas Morning: 

Dear Will, 

Over the last 14 days you have gotten a daily clue for your Christmas present. Even though they may seem unrelated and totally random, they are all connected to a young 6 year old boy from Ecuador. But before you meet Aldrin,I want you to learn a little more about his country. 

Ecuador is of course in South America and is home to both the Andes Mountains and the Amazon River. Ecuador is also home to the Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin did much of his research. These Islands are home to many different types of frogs, butterflies and fish. Other parts of the country have animals that we Americans typically see on a farm, like pigs.

The people there primarily speak Spanish as well as a few other native languages. Their currency is the US dollar. They enjoy watching and playing soccer.

Ecuador exports many food products including cocoa, coffeesugar, bananas and potatoes. They also export a lot of oil, refined into gas in our cars.

So now that you've learned about Ecuador, I’d like you to meet Aldrin.

Merry Christmas. I love you. 


Sunday, August 25, 2013

He loves me!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending my first Women of Faith conference. I've wanted to attend for several years, but never have had the opportunity to go. This year's conference featured some great speakers - Lisa Harper, Lysa Terkurst, Jen Hatmaker - to name a few. Mercy Me did a concert on Saturday afternoon. Kari Jobe and the Gateway Worship Band led worship throughout the conference. On Friday night, we had the pleasure of worshipping with Kari Jobe for about an hour. Worship. Not a concert. Not Kari Jobe on stage performing for the thousands of women gathered. She led worship. She led us through music to sing praises to our Creator and to reflect on His love for us. She is a petite little thing, but, man she can sing!

Back in the hotel room that night, I jotted this down before I went to bed as I reflected on God's love for me. The evening was a great reminder to me of something I have been blessed to have known all my life, but it is always a good reminder to hear.

God is King of Kings. He is the all powerful, all knowing creator of everything...the whole earth, you, me, the heavens, the stars...even the yucky bugs and spiders that freak me out! He moves mountains. And he loves me.

Have you ever seen the Rocky Mountains? Here's a picture, but a photograph cannot do it justice.
Can't you just see God in this picture? Or in the waves of the ocean? Or for us Midwesterners who don't get to the ocean very often, the apparent never ending water that is Lake Michigan? God controls those waves that flow in the lake or the oceans. He controls the tide and He created the moon that controls those tides. Or the deep canyon that is the Grand Canyon? Yes, I know they say that the Colorado River flowed through that canyon for millions of years to create that beauty, but I believe that God told the river where to flow and how to flow.
Have you ever felt a baby grow in your belly? Or shared life with someone as they went through pregnancy? We know the biological things that must happen for a baby to develop from two little cells. But the idea that each cell knows what exactly it is supposed to do is truly amazing. So many different types of cells - brain, spinal cord, blood, eyes, muscle, hair, umbilical cord for food, teeth. So many different jobs for each cell, but each cell knows what it is supposed to do. God did that. And because of that, we become moving, breathing, unique and perfect in all our individual ways.
At the end of life as part of the dying process, the human body releases a chemical that acts as a natural painkiller or anesthetic to make dying more comfortable. Our God who loves us, the one who knows us by name before the miracle of conception happens, the one who counts the hairs on our heads, THAT God doesn't want us to suffer as we end our earthly life and transition on to meet Him. What an amazing, thoughtful, caring, compassionate thing for God to include when developing the amazing beings that we are.
That God, that Creator, that Compassionate One, he loves us. It doesn't matter what we have done in the past. He loves us. He cares for us. He has good plans for us. Even when we turn away or do things to hurt him or others, He loves us.
He loves me.
He loves you.
And here's a song that's been running through my head since then: "How He Loves Us" performed by Kari Jobe.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Summertime Part 2

In my last post, I talked about how crazy and difficult the past several summers have been. In contrast, I have truly enjoyed the summer of 2013. Now I know that we technically have about five weeks of summer left,  but my son starts kindergarten next Monday. From now on, our lives will revolve around the school calendar. So here's a rundown of why 2013 has been so great.

Preschool graduation. Little man was only at this preschool for a semester, but graduation was priceless. Just the thought of twenty little five year-olds in caps and gowns walking to Pomp and Circumstance is adorable.  Here's a shot of my little man. Isn't he adorable? Imagine 19 more of them!
Family time. We traveled to Franklin, TN to see my 91 year old grandmother Memorial Day weekend. We were also able to see my aunt and cousins and their children while we were there. We have also spent time with our parents and sisters and their kids who live closer to us. They say that cousins are your first friends. I see that every time Ben gets to seen his cousins he is so excited. It is so fun to watch him play with the other kids. Some we see often, others only every few years. Friendships with cousins are timeless.

We also celebrated some milestones with family. My in-laws had an open house to celebrate their 40th Anniversary and my parents celebrated their 45th. We have some great role models for marriage.

Time with friends. We have had dinner guests, been dinner guests, been house guests, and gotten together with longtime friends. We have started new friendships and worked to maintain others. And just because I don't talk to some friends as often as I would like, I think of them many times throughout my days. When I was little, I learned a song at 4-H camp. "Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold." So simple but so true.

Time as a family. This summer, I have been home most evenings unlike some recent summers. We all have bikes now and we have been able to hop on the bikes to ride to the playground or the library. There's just something calming about riding through town and enjoying the scenery and the kids. Ben played t-ball so many evenings were spent at the ball field. We have also just hung out outside playing ball, swinging, or gardening as a family.

Weather. Oh my goodness, our weather in Central Illinois has been wonderful this summer. We had a terribly mild winter followed by a very wet spring. Summer has been mild and pleasant, if not cool. So far, we have only had a few days of real heat, but nothing like last year when it was in the upper 90s for days on end. As a farmer's daughter, however, I hope that the mild weather does not have a negative impact on the crops. Of course pleasant weather leads to more time outside instead of hiding in air conditioning.
God. Three weeks of VBS on top of regular weekend worship services have strengthened Ben's knowledge and faith. I've been able to do some reading. As I write this, we are at a 3 day
Christian music festival in West Michigan where thousands of other believers have gathered to see concerts and sing praises. We were fortunate tonight to have VIP passes to seats just off stage and a different view of two of the bands. But as we were leaving, we walked the whole circle around the grounds. We left because our oldest was already asleep and the little one needed to be. So as we walked out we were near the back of the crowd. Seeing thousands of people with hands held high in worship and singing along with the band Casting Crowns is an unbelievable sight. It is perhaps even better than the nearly front row seats we had because it helped to remind me that I am among a large family of believers. The picture below is from only about half way back through the crowd. Music brings us together and sticks in your head to remind us of the love of God and his grace.

We still have some great things to look forward to before school,  and that's only a week away! More
time with friends and family. More gardening as there are probably 200 tomatoes at home ready to pick and can. More evenings at home and on bikes. And more time spent with God at regular activities and the Women of Faith event next weekend I'm attending with a sister. Our lives have been busy this summer, but filled with blessings and, well, joy. 2013 certainly fits Gershwin's first line. "Summertime and the living is easy."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Summertime Part I

Summertime. Ah. Here's some song lyrics to stick in your head as you read this post: The links lead you to YouTube videos if you just can't hear these fabulous summer songs in your head without help.

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high" -Summertime by George Gershwin

Or for a bit more modern flair:

"Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind"  -Summertime by Will Smith

YouTube says Kenny Chesney also has a song "Summertime" but that one just hasn't popped in my head and kept playing like the first two.

Now that you have those lyrics in your head, on with the blog!

A few weeks ago, I realized that this summer has been one of the best that I can remember in my adult life. I've enjoyed spending nearly every evening with my kids, the weather has been great, and we've had some good times and memories made with family and friends. I couldn't figure out just why this summer has been so wonderful. Then I got to thinking back over the last several years and realized why. Here's a short list of what my summers since 2004 have looked like:

2004: Newly married, but living 3 hours apart until end of July. Uncertainty with where we would live prevailed.

2005: Moved, bought a house, new jobs for both of us. Most of the summer was spent working on the house.

2006: Ok, so nothing really stands out here. I spent some time in Atlanta at a training. We both did the Walk for Emmaus. Nothing too stressful though.

2007: PREGNANT with our first child, working full time and finishing our basement on our own. Oh, and hubby switched jobs around the beginning of September so there was some uncertainty in the midst of all that.

2008: BABY! Our son is a December baby, so he was getting more fun and mobile by summertime. This was great. I was still working full time and breastfeeding/pumping. And when he was just five months old I started grad school. That summer, I had an in-person class one or two evenings a week and an online class. My free moments were spent reading chapters and articles and writing papers.

2009: No new babies this summer! But I continued working full time and going to grad school. We also took a trip to Colorado for a family reunion. And just like the previous summer, I continued to have every free moment sucked up by papers, reading and classes.

2010: Working full time and completing my internship requirement for grad school dominated this summer. My class schedule let up a little, but I know we were still busy nearly every moment. That December I finished grad school! Yipee!

2011: This summer was rough. I had started a new job shortly after finishing my MSW. I was now working three twelve-hour shifts, usually getting home after 11 pm. Oh, and BABY #2 came in April. Since I only worked 3 days, I was able to spend more days with my kids but less time with my husband or together as a family. Little Girl came out of the womb stubborn (she still is) and went on several nursing strikes which just leads to frustration and self-esteem blows. That will take up a whole blog post on its own. I also had a somewhat stressful environment at work mostly with one coworker. It just all adds up.

2012: That April, I switched jobs again to more regular hours and better coworkers. I was DONE breastfeeding. (whew!) I thought it would be easy. Then just six weeks after I started that job,around Memorial Day, my husband was let go of his job. What a start to the summer. The next two weeks were filled with anger, uncertainty, feelings of betrayal, frustration, hurt, anger, more anger. Did I mention anger? Anyway, he was able to find his current job which is an excellent fit for him (and us, but again, that's for another post). On July 1 he started commuting an hour each day or staying overnight away from us if he had late meetings. There were some weeks where he would leave on Monday morning and not get home until after bedtime Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday. That sure made me respect single moms...A LOT! We were unsure where we were going to live, if we could sell/rent the house, if I could get a job. UGH!

So let's get back to 2013. New house, new town, new job in a new town for both of us. I have regular hours where I'm home by 5 most nights. Hubby has still had meetings, but they haven't dominated our lives like sometimes. We got our bikes fixed and can go for rides as a family around town to the library, the park, the ball fields for T-Ball. But I think that I'll save the good stuff of Summer 2013 for a new post...this one is getting a little long and you'll want to come back to see the good stuff! I promise it will be much more positive.

Meanwhile, keep on enjoying Summer 2013. It's been a great one around here and I hope it has for you as well.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Princess Among Us

In case you haven't heard, William and Kate had a new baby this week. But what does that mean to you and me? Prince George may be royalty, but as Americans it means very little. He will have little power in England and thanks to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 no power over us. But the idea of a prince being born is still exciting to many people. Did you see the amount of media outside that hospital? And how many were anxiously awaiting the announcement of his name? WOW! What attention.

But for what? Why do we throw so much attention to royalty that has no power over us? Prince George is a prince. So what?
It got me thinking. Aren't we all princes and princesses? If God is our king, and he is mine, that means I'm a princess because I am a child of God (1 John 5:1, NLT). And if you also believe that God is your everlasting father, you are also a prince or a princess. Perhaps I should be called Princess Joy! 
Now I'm not a girlie-girl by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, I wear makeup and do my hair (almost) every day. I like to look nice, but not frilly. After all, the body is a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19, NIV) and should be treated with respect. I paint my toenails for the effect, but I've had one manicure in my life - the day before my wedding. So you'd think that I'd probably also have an anti-girlie girl daughter. That's so far from the truth. My two-year old loves to wear her play high heels. She has a purple feather boa, multiple purses and bags, loves getting her toes painted and likes to pretend to put on makeup. I haven't encouraged or discouraged her to be a girlie-girl. She just is. And I've never called her my princess.
But lately, as we've made our regular treks to the library, I've found myself  choosing books for her that are princess-related. Not Disney princesses, but books about princess parties and pretending to be a princess. And I remind myself that she is, in fact, a princess. She is a child of God, just like you and me, so she is a princess. And she deserves to know that and be reminded of it on a daily basis. That doesn't mean that she shouldn't have responsibility or that she should be followed by the paparazzi. But it does mean that she should be treated with respect and love and know just how important she is. It sounds cliche, but God knew her before the hubs and I even started trying (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV). He knew that she would have blond curly hair and beautiful blue eyes. He knew that she would be spunky, intelligent and ornery. And He knew that she would be loving and caring, giving kisses and hugs frequently, and tucking in her babies and animals just like her Daddy and I tuck her in. God knows what her life will look like and how it will all play out. We're just along for the ride and to encourage her.  And we need to remind her that her Heavenly Father, the King of Kings, is alongside her every step of the way too. Because she is not only our little princess. She's His princess, too. We all are His Princes and Princesses.