Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wise Beyond His Years

Good morning, friends!

As we all frantically race around trying to finalize all the last-minute details before the kids are off school and Christmas break officially begins, I wanted to again pause and share something. Lots of "sharing" going on lately, I know. Must be this time of year. :) This doesn't necessarily have anything to do directly with Red Letter Ink, but it's something that's been on my heart lately – both in my own personal life and from my interactions with the families we've met through our local Special Olympics team. And for the record, this isn't meant to sound like, "Oh poor Aimee" – it's just our reality.

Some of you know that my husband and I have a 9-year-old daughter with special needs – our first born. While she's made so much progress over the past several years, she still has a long road ahead of her. There's no "fixing" her neurological processing/planning disorder, so despite the hundreds of hours of therapy she's received, she'll most likely never be neck and neck with her peers academically or socially – unless God chooses to intervene. As parents, that's been a tough pill to swallow. Really tough. But we have seen the incredible work God has done in and through Peyton, and we know He has great plans for her!

This morning as my husband's alarm went off at 6:00am and as I groggily rolled over, I found a {sneaky} warm little snuggle bug there whispering, "Hi mama!". Then he quickly jumped up and ran off. I figured he ran off to go play Transformers or something and didn't think much of it. About 10 minutes later as I was up and getting around, he slipped back into our room with a big smile on his face. He walked in first with the door barely cracked open, then he proudly swung the door open to reveal Peyton standing there fully-dressed as he declared with his arms spread proudly above his head, "SURPRISE! I got her ready for you! I got her socks on, helped her get dressed, and I even brought her hair stuff in so you can help her....cuz I couldn't do that part good. AND I helped her go potty. SURPRISE!!!". I'm not gonna lie - I teared up. Might have to do with the 5.5 hours of sleep I got, but it could very well have been simply because the crazy big heart this little man has blows me away. Every. Single. Day.

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Umm, okay. Sooo...what's the big deal?". Let me put this into perspective for you. How many of you have a child between the ages of 7-10? Great, many of you. How many of you have to do pretty much everything for them when it comes to getting ready in the morning? I'm talkin' putting on shirts, pants, and doing buttons and zippers because the motor planning involved with that is so challenging, and putting on socks, and tying shoes because we're still not there and Peyton's feet are so big now that it's difficult to find slip-on shoes that fit, and brushing/doing hair, and helping with toileting/personal care, and brushing teeth so we can try to avoid more traumatic dental procedures...I'm sure I'm missing some steps, but I think you get it. And in the midst of our daily routine, we try to leave enough time to make sure as we're helping with these tasks, we're able to not just DO the tasks for Peyton, but we are showing her HOW to do them and then we try our best to allow enough time for her to practice each of these skills. And believe me, they are skills...very hard-earned skills. Most parents take the fact that their kids start dressing themselves at about age 3 for granted. Or that their kids are able to independently start doing a LOT of things by about age 3-4...maybe not successfully all the time, but they intuitively and instinctively begin to figure it out.



There are millions of families around the world who have been blessed with a special needs child. And yes, I said blessed because despite all the challenges, these kids teach you so much more about yourself and life in general than we ever could've hoped to learn without them. They're amazing. AMAZING. But in all of the efforts to assist the child who needs the extra assistance, we often times inadvertently overlook the other kids – the siblings. I can't tell you the countless hours Carson has spent in the confining, mind-numbing space called the "waiting room" as Peyton has received therapy services...or the number of times we've had to abort an attempt at an outing because it was too much for Peyton...or the number of times he's been dragged along to a specialist appointment...or the number of times we've had to cancel something he was looking forward to because Peyton needed our attention more...or the number of times he's come home from school crying because someone was mean to his sister. Actually, when I sit and really think about it, it makes my heart ache. He didn't choose to be born into a family with a special needs child. He didn't choose to have to be the "older" sibling looking out for his big sister. But as I watch him interact with Peyton, I am so encouraged to see the sweet young man God is creating him to be. Don't get me wrong, he still has his moments where we have to pull him aside and remind him of our situation when he's frustrated that Peyton has asked the same question 5 times or that she's wanting to watch Elmo again {Caron's arch enemy...so "not cool"} or is pretending that she has a friend over for a playdate. He fights with his sister like every brother does. But when I see him so in-tune with Peyton's needs, helping her like he did this morning, I turn into a big weepy mess as I'm reminded that he's just a 7-year-old baby. His sweet, caring spirit with her is wise beyond his years.

During this crazy time of year, I've been trying to slow down and be more intentional with acknowledging the little things Carson does to encourage and help Peyton each day. I couldn't stop smiling the other day as Carson pulled me into his room and secretly showed me the Christmas presents he'd bought Peyton when him and daddy went on a "man date" last weekend. As annoyed as Carson gets by Peyton's obsession with Hot Wheels cars, he was giddy showing me the two special cars he'd picked out for Peyton. And he was SO excited when we figured out a way to wrap them up so she can't tell what they are simply by looking at them. When I hear the two of them talking and Carson gently correct Peyton's speech sounds, I try to make sure and quietly give Carson a nod and a smile or a quick hug, telling him we'll talk more about it later. Or when he invites Peyton to play Wii with him even though that means he'll have to play a game he doesn't necessarily enjoy and he won't be able to bring his "A-game", I try to make sure to let him know what a nice gesture that was. Or when he sits down with Peyton and helps her read, I try to make sure and let daddy know at dinner time what a big help Carson was. Or when we're looking through homework folders and Carson sees Peyton's sloppily written spelling words and he tells her, "Wow, great job Peyton - your letters are looking so nice!", I try to give him a squeeze. There are so many "little" instances that we often overlook because of the busyness in our day – but my prayer lately has been that I'll be reminded to stop whatever I'm doing and praise Carson for loving Peyton like Jesus loves us. Unconditionally and with no strings attached. He sees us struggle in this life, doing things awkwardly and barely functioning at times – making mistakes along the way, yet He still continues to love us. He comes along side us when we are at our lowest. He picks us up. He dusts us off. He walks with us. He isn't ashamed to be seen with us in all of our flawed awkwardness. Instead, He meets us where we're at. He sees something beautiful in us. And He loves us. Period.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  
- John 13:34-35

As we look ahead to another new year I'd like to leave you with this challenge. If you know of a family who has a special needs child, the next time you see them, take a minute and give some attention and props to the siblings. The road they're walking is also a long and often lonely one. I've been amazed at some of the great "special" siblings I've met through our local Special Olympics team - there are so many wonderfully patient and loving siblings around us who are wise beyond their years, and quite frankly, could use some encouragement themselves as they continue living their lives daily on "high alert" watching out for their special needs sibling(s). I know we can all learn something from them – myself included. They give selflessly and tirelessly. And they love BIG. Let's love BIG in 2014!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

P.S. To my sweet little buddy, I love you and am so thankful for all that you bring to our family – you're one-of-a-kind and Peyton is blessed to have you as a brother! Thank you for showing me how to love BIG, even when it's not easy.


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Friday, December 6, 2013

Caroling for Kali

Good morning everyone! Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I wanted to pause and share a bit about a very special family who has impacted our lives in more ways than they'll ever know. Several years ago I attended a women's ministry Christmas luncheon at our church. Sitting at my table were a bunch of women I knew from church – and one lady had brought her neighbor and introduced her to us all. Her name was Vicky. She's one of those people who, the first time you meet her, you can just feel the warm, infectious joy that is pouring out of her heart. I was instantly impressed and thought, "Wow, I'd like to get to know her". Over the course of the afternoon we each shared a bit about ourselves and our families. Vicky talked about her 3 {grown} daughters and about her wonderful husband, Jeff. It was a lovely afternoon of getting to know each other around the table.

In the months and years ahead, my husband Chad, despite a few years age difference {sorry Jeff!}, became great friends. I can't tell you the number of times Chad has home from work on the phone - I ask him who he's talking to, the answer is always, "Jeff". I've stopped asking because I know the answer. Those of you who know my husband know that he's a relationship guy – and I'm so incredibly grateful for the bond Jeff & Chad have. They've vacationed together {guys baseball roadtrip}, prayed together, served together, laughed together, cried together – their friendship is truly one of those few that you find in a lifetime that is "the real deal". And I love it. One of the many things I love about Jeff is his fantastic hugs and warm smile. Each time we see him at church, there's a big hug waiting! Jeff's also so wonderful interacting with our two kids – especially our daughter who has special needs and can sometimes overwhelm people with her many questions. He answers them all with a smile, which warms both mine and Chad's hearts.

The thing I admire most about Jeff & Vicky is that you'd never know by how they act or live their lives that God has placed some pretty tough circumstances in their lives over the past few years. I remember back in the fall of 2010 when Jeff excitedly told us he was going to be a grandpa as his daughter Kali and her husband Nick were expecting. We were thrilled for them all! Then I remember Chad coming home from work one evening on the phone. Jeff had called to ask us to pray as the doctors had discovered that baby Isaiah most likely wouldn't live long outside the womb. As a family, we began to pray. We prayed that God's will would be done and that He'd give peace and understanding to the family regardless of the outcome. Isaiah was born and went to be with Jesus in January of 2011. And countless people have been touched and positively impacted by the faith, strength, and peace that Jeff, Vicky, Kali and Nick have shown during this difficult time.

In the months ahead, Kali returned to work and I had the privilege of working with her on some custom Red Letter Ink prints for a ministry she was working with – Connected Families. While our interactions were brief, I so desperately wanted to share with her what an impact her & Nick's journey has had on not only myself, but our whole family – but I didn't know if it was appropriate, so I kept quiet. I ran in to Kali at church a couple of times, and again, just exchanged pleasantries without saying much because I just couldn't find the right words.

Fast forward to the spring of 2012, and again, Chad came home – walked in the door and was on the phone. It was Jeff. He'd called again asking for prayer. Kali had just been diagnosed with colon and liver cancer. And again, as a family we began to pray. Trying to explain cancer to our kids has been challenging. But they've been so sweet in their prayers for Kali...and Jeff & Vicky. Our son Carson sometimes will whisper as we're praying at bedtime, "Don't forget Kali!". As the months have progressed, the news came right before Thanksgiving that Kali had decided to stop any further treatment or tests. This news felt like a kick to the stomach for us, and I can't imagine how it felt for their family. But again, they're handling it with faith, strength, peace and grace. The only explanation of how they're able to continue on with a smile on their faces is this – they have the unexplainable peace that can only be found when you put your faith and trust in HIM.

Last night we had the honor of being able to take our family over to join a group of about 100 friends to surprise Kali with some Christmas carols outside her bedroom window at Jeff & Vicky's house where her and Nick are now staying. We bundled up our kids and brought them along – because this was and always has been a "family thing". I tried as best I could to explain to the kids what we were doing and why we were doing it. They still don't quite grasp the concept of cancer, but the one thing they do understand – Jesus knows and He's got it all under control.

As we trudged through the snow in our snow gear, I snapped a few pictures of the evening:
{headed up the driveway to go Christmas caroling}
 {writing a message for Kali}
 {warming up in the garage}
 {our little Christmas caroler – Carson}
 {the sign we were met with as we walked around the back of the house}
 {beautiful, frigid night to sing for a very special lady}
{Miss Peyton was wiped out from the activities of the evening}

Last night as we returned home and were getting the kids ready for bed, there were lots of questions. Carson asked why people get cancer, and as I tried to explain that sometimes even medicine can't cure cancer, he declared, "Well, God can make it go away if we keep praying". We talked for a while about how sometimes God answers our prayers in ways we don't understand, but just because things don't happen how we'd like them to doesn't mean that God didn't answer our prayers or that He didn't hear them. Peyton especially had many questions about the various pieces of equipment she'd seen through the window in Kali's room. She wondered about the special bed Kali was resting in. And the wheelchair she'd seen off to the side. And she wondered why we couldn't go inside and "visit" {Peyton's favorite thing to do}. But her final comment before bed was, "She was smiling!".

Jeff & Vicky – thank you for your friendship and for showing the world what it looks like to fully rely on and trust God to get you through tough times. You've done it with amazing strength and beauty which has not gone unnoticed.

Kali & Nick – thank you for continuing to smile. As our family has prayed for you over the past few years, it's been so encouraging to see you resting in Him to find peace and strength in the promises He's given to us. You are an inspiration to those around you, and we're grateful for the opportunities we've had to talk with our kids about the fact that you're confident that no matter what, God is in control.

And Kali, we may not have a chance here on earth, but I look forward to the day when we can sit down together and get to know each other better. Thank you for being so transparent and open about all that you and your family have encountered over the past few years. You've impacted so many, and watching your faith grow over the past few years has really challenged me to never grow stagnant in my faith. We'll continue to pray that God's will is done and that He is glorified every step of the way!

Merry Christmas everyone! May you experience joy and peace this season as we celebrate the birth of our Savior – the One who gives us strength and hope!
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."   Romans 15:13 •

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Christmas Cards!!!

Well, good thing I created all these designs last summer and am just NOW getting them posted...too much summer-back-to-school-holiday-sick-kids craziness. Oy. At any rate, there are a bunch of new Christmas Card designs now posted in our Etsy shop - as in, our invetory/options have pretty much doubled. Check them out - there's still time to pick one out, email your photo & family details, and you'll have then within a day or two ready to have printed at your favorite photo place! All cards are 5x7 and fit in a standard A7 envelope. Super easy!














 Merry Christmas everyone!



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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Surprises

Everyone loves a good surprise, right?! Well this past week has been filled with surprises. Let me give you a little background information first...so, several weeks back I'd seen a clip on the news as I was getting ready for the day - one of the local news stations did a spot called "Excellent Educator" where they popped into an unsuspecting teacher's class and awarded them the "Excellent Educator" title for that week. Not gonna lie, the segment I saw made me cry - it was about an art teacher who had been nominated by a former student {who's now an adult}. This former student had been significantly impacted by this teacher and he wrote a very touching nomination letter. I quickly dried my tears and headed out the door to accomplish the flurry of activity I had on the agenda for the day. But all day long I kept being reminded of that news segment I'd seen. There was someone I know who has been such an inspiration to our family and has really walked with our family as we've sought to be an advocate for individuals with special needs. Her name is Jenny Hill, and she's the media specialist at our kid's school.

The next morning, I sat down, reflected on the past few years as we've gotten to know Ms. Hill better and I wrote this nomination letter:

Hello,

My name is Aimee Libby and I have two kids who attend St. Michael Elementary (STME) in St. Michael, MN. My oldest child (Peyton) has special needs from an injury at birth, and is in 3rd grade at STME. Peyton struggles with Expressive & Receptive Language Disorder and Global Apraxia (both neurological planning/processing disorders). We have been at STME for three years, and while we have met and interacted with countless amazing staff members there both in the regular ed and SPED classrooms, there's one person in particular who has had a huge impact on our family – and who is making a HUGE impact on our entire community. Her name is Jenny Hill. She is the Media Specialist at STME, and she was born at 29 weeks gestation with Cerebral Palsy. The very first week our daughter, Peyton, was at STME, she came home raving about "Miss Hill". I had no idea who she was, so I looked her up on the school staff directory online. I remember thinking, "Weird, she's just the librarian". When my husband and I asked Peyton why she liked Miss Hill so much, her response was, "She's different. Like me." Little did we know that Ms. Hill was very actively teaching so much more than simply how to check out a book.

Over the past few years, we've gotten to know Miss Hill and have been amazed at what a great asset she is to STME and to our community. She's very open with the kids about her disability. In talking with her, we have been so encouraged to hear her mission as an educator - to make sure every student knows they are loved, appreciated, and respected. I once asked her how she's able to so freely discuss her disability after having such a difficult time growing up, feeling as though she was alone and without any friends. I know for myself, it's often difficult to talk about or explain my daughter's disability to others, but Jenny does it with grace and ease. Her response blew me away, she said, "I have seen that sharing my story has the power to provide hope, inspiration, and encouragement to others who are struggling". Wow.

About a year and a half ago I helped start a Special Olympics team here in St. Michael-Albertville…and Jenny has been one of our biggest fans! She invited my daughter and I to be a part of the daily "morning news" at STME during "Acceptance Week" last April to help inform the kids what Special Olympics is all about, she has helped promote fundraisers for our team, she has also been doing an amazing job encouraging kids to look beyond people's disability (whether physical or cognitive). Through sharing her story and being transparent to both students and staff at her building, she's trailblazing a beautiful path for all current and future students with special needs/disabilities to walk down – one that is filled with cheerleaders along the way and even friends walking ON that path with them, hand-in-hand. Jenny is promoting acceptance, but more importantly, she is working so very hard to teach each student she comes in contact with that "different" is good. Because deep down, we're all "different" in one way or another.

We can't say enough good things about Miss Hill! And we'd love for her to be recognized for all that she's doing (much of which she probably doesn't even realize) simply by being herself and being open with everyone regarding her disability. She is truly one in a million and we're so lucky to have her at STME!

Thanks for your time and consideration!

Sincerely,
Aimee Libby
Honestly, after I sent my nomination letter off, I didn't think much about it...until I got a frantic phone call from our kid's school one afternoon. I answered the phone thinking, "Great, someone's sick", but instead I was met with the Principal's voice as she excitedly screamed, "AIMEE, WCCO IS COMING TOMORROW TO PRESENT JENNY HILL WITH THE AWARD YOU NOMINATED HER FOR!!!". Oh the excitement! The Principal went on to insist that both myself and my husband make plans to be there for the big surprise. We adjusted our schedules and made it happen. One other cool detail – my husband happens to work in the same district as Jenny's mom {who we've also gotten to know a bit}, so he made arrangements for someone to cover her classroom that morning so she could be a part of the fun! The next day we arrived at school, both of our kids were pulled from class, Jenny's mom Christine snuck in the side door so she wasn't seen, and we met up with the news crew in the school office. Then it was time – time to march down the hall to the media center. It was pretty exciting...almost as if we were going to inform someone they'd won the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes {my Grandpa Pete was confident every time a PCH postcard came in the mail that HE was the winner...sadly, never happened}  – only better! :)

Here's what happened next:



What a fun thing to be a part of! After the excitement of the day died down a bit, I got a call from Jenny saying thanks and asking if she could share the letter I wrote about her with some people. I told her oh sure, no problem! It never ceases to amaze me how God uses something you think of as fairly insignificant to impact others. It was just a letter...but Jenny's pastor {Steve Wiens} saw something in it that he felt warranted a spot in his sermon this past Sunday at Church of the Open Door {feel free to skip to about the 20 minute mark if you don't have time to listen to the whole sermon – although I highly recommend listening, it's a GREAT sermon}:

November 10, 2013 An Unlikely Joy from Church of the Open Door on Vimeo.

Yesterday Jenny tagged me on Facebook when she posted her latest blog post...I read it, and again smiled, amazed at how God was using a measly letter to have a ripple effect. Jenny also mentioned that she's passed on "the letter" to be used over at the United Cerebral Palsy of Central Minnesota blog. My prayer is that God continues to use Jenny to spread His hope and love to those she comes in contact with – I know this is just the beginning, and I'm excited to watch how He uses her from here on out!


Jenny, you're an inspiration to SO many, and I'm blessed to call you my friend! Thank you for everything that you are to our family. We so enjoy our Saturdays/Sundays when you're able to join us for a service at our church...and then there's always a meal afterwards if Peyton has anything to say about it! :) Thank you for wrapping your arms around our kids and loving them. Thank you for not missing a beat when Peyton insists that you head upstairs to her bedroom to sit on the floor and play cards {I know that's not the most comfortable spot for you}. Thank you for not being phased by Peyton's often very personal questions about your disability. Thank you for being such an awesome cheerleader for our newly formed Special Olympics team - it means so much to see you involved with each fundraiser we have! Thank you for being you, and being open and honest about your disability so that others can learn the best way to interact with and love on others who struggle with disabilities. We love you, Jenny! And although it may have come as a surprise to you, you are respected and valued by countless others beyond just the Libby family! God really created something special when He created you.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  • Jeremiah 29:11 •

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Every Heart Needs A Home



Hey Friends!

Hope your November is off to a great start! Quick question for you - did you know November is Adoption Awareness month? Super cool. And remember my friends Heidi & Andy? Well, as they wait for baby #3 to arrive via adoption, they're also pursuing a dream to help educate others about the beauty of adoption - in a pretty cool way. They've launched a t-shirt campaign and are selling t-shirts with the hope to spread the word. I have to say, the shirts are pretty cool...but not nearly as cool as the message these shirts are sending to each person who sees them.

Take a peek...

Here's the catch, though - they need to have at least 50 shirts ordered in order for the fundraising company to print them. So, if you'd like to join them in their mission to help spread the word about adoption you can go here to purchase a shirt...only $15, what a steal!!

Thanks in advance for supporting Heidi & Andy - we'll be sure to update you as soon as God is ready for them to bring baby #3 home. We're all anxiously waiting!!

"And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world."  John 11:52
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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dropping the "F" bomb {it's not what you think}

I applaud you if you're still reading after seeing the title of this post. Today, I've decided to drop the "f" bomb ... I hope you're sitting down because I'm gonna say it - forgiveness. *GASP!* For many of us, this "f" word makes us cringe much more than the real "f" word. Forgiveness is such a complex thing, but it's something we'd all like to think we're good at. Everyone has heard the phrase "Forgive and Forget", right? Well clearly whoever coined that phrase had never truly been burned or hurt by someone. If only it were that simple.



What does it even mean to forgive someone? Here's how Merriam-Webster defines it:

for·give

verb \fər-ˈgiv, fr-\ : to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
: to stop feeling anger about (something) : to forgive someone for (something wrong)

transitive verb
1 :  to give up resentment of or claim to requital for <forgive an insult>
2 :  to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)
Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it? Then WHY is it so difficult to do? To REALLY do, I mean. One thing to note is that the definition does not include "forget" anywhere in the definition. Interesting. Often times we claim to have forgiven someone, but the next time something comes up with this person, our white flag is lowered and we quickly dig up the "forgiven" incident. That's what sin nature does and what our enemy wants us to continue doing. Dig it up and throw it in their face. But as a Christ-follower, my heart knows this isn't the right way to respond, no matter how much everything in my being is screaming "DIG. IT. UP!". By forgiving someone we aren’t saying that their choice was right, we are saying, “You've hurt me yet I’m choosing to let go of the anger and resentment I have towards you.”

Personally, when someone has done something to hurt me {whether intentionally or unintentionally}, my first response is to keep my mouth shut and avoid them like the plague. I despise conflict. DESPISE it. If someone has truly hurt me {the deep, damaging, heart-wrenching kind}, I'd rather go to the extra effort of avoiding them for as long as possible than to actually take the time to go through the process of working to forgive them – and I certainly won't give them the satisfaction of seeing me blow up, spewing unkind words back at them in an attempt to make myself feel better. Probably not the best approach, but that's my first reaction – avoidance. Unfortunately, avoiding the conflict doesn't erase the thoughts running crazy in my head. It doesn't wipe out the looping reel in my brain, replaying the incident(s) over and over. And it certainly doesn't erase the wound(s) on my heart. Try to imagine if Jesus had taken this approach. Imagine if He'd avoided all those who had wronged him. All those who made snarky remarks directed at Him. All those who laughed at His "far-fetched" teachings. All those who claimed to be His friend only to turn around and slap Him in the face. All those who laughed at and spit on Him, then hung Him on a cross. I can't even fathom it. Really, I can't.

This picture has caused me to do some real soul searching – specifically in the area of forgiveness. My selfish sin-nature wants to scream from the rooftops that I AM THE ONE who has been wronged, yet my heart knows that I need to prayerfully and humbly fall at the feet of my Savior, begging Him to give me the strength and courage to truly forgive. Just as He has. He's been there. He's experienced the hurt. He's experienced the frustration. He's experienced the feelings of betrayal on a much deeper level than I ever will. Yet He has forgiven. I've come to the realization that the only way to truly forgive someone is by crying out for HIS help. He has the ability to heal wounds and to help us move past things. The scars will always be there just as His are. But with HIM, all things are possible ... even forgiveness. True forgiveness.

"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

Colossians 1:13-14

Forgiving someone doesn't mean that we are condoning their actions. It also doesn't mean that there won't be times that we think about the offense(s) against us. Most times forgiving someone doesn't mean your relationship with them will bounce right back to what it once was – sometimes that relationship needs to be terminated because it's unhealthy {which is okay!}. And quite honestly, forgiving someone doesn't even require that the other person takes part. I'm learning that forgiveness is a gift God has given us that releases us from carrying these burdens any longer. It frees us to move forward, focusing on HIS plan for our lives, rather than being stuck in the vicious cycle of unforgiveness. It also allows us an opportunity to show Christ-like love towards others. Even if, in the world's eyes, they don't deserve it. None of us deserve even a sliver of the love and forgiveness He continually shows us. Yet we're showered with His forgiveness, love and blessings each and every day. Oh to be able to forgive like Jesus. It's possible. If we let Him take control and guide us through the process.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What's my Mission?



Missions trips. Everyone talks about them, and it feels like everywhere you turn you hear about them. I don't know about you, but some times I feel like I'm bombarded with "mission-focused" promptings.

When I walk out to get the mail, there lies a bulk mailer with photos of children living in horrendous conditions on the other side of the world – followed with a plea for help.

When I pull up social media, there are feeds full of various blogs and statuses from ministries around the world updating everyone on the latest and greatest that's taking place within their ministry – followed with a plea for help.

When I go to church, there are multiple missions trip opportunities I hear about, both locally and abroad – followed with a plea for help.

When I turn on the TV, there are commercials about how "Just $1 a day can make a difference..." along with sad imagery of hungry children living in filth – followed with a plea for help.

Let's be honest, it can be overwhelming, thinking about missions trips. And I don't mean in an obnoxious-why-can't-they-stop-asking-for-my-money kind of way. I mean in a deep-yearning-to-help-but-not-knowing-where-to-begin kind of way. That's what I've been struggling with lately.

For years I've had a desire to go on one of the many missions trips our church takes down to Honduras where they've built a relationship with a church there. All the information I've gotten and updates I've heard from teams that've returned has my heart screaming, "I'M SUPPOSED TO BE THERE!". I follow a few different blogs of ministries that are close to my heart and every time I read an update my heart hurts and again, I feel it screaming, "I'M SUPPOSED TO BE THERE!"... then just as suddenly as my heart begins aching and my mind start racing with all the possibilities of ways I could help THERE, I take a quick glance at the clock and remember, "Shoot! That's not REALLY what time it is, is it? I'm supposed to be picking a child up and getting them somewhere, then we have a therapy appointment, and Special Olympics practice, and I need to squeeze in grocery shopping, and...! EEEKK!!!".

Reality hits. How on earth can a self-employed mom {with 2 businesses} who's responsible for getting her daughter with special needs to multiple private therapy appointments each week, plus who helps coordinate and manage the local Special Olympics team's weekly practices, plus who does all the finances, cooking, and house management {including being the one that gets the kids up, ready, and off to school each day — and is the one who arranges my schedule to make sure I'm always home when the kids get home from school} supposed to pick up and make a trip half way around the world for a couple of weeks? I mean, really. How's THAT going to happen? Last time I checked, you couldn't just "rent-a-mom" while you're on a missions trip.

*Sigh* My dreams of traveling to a far, far away country swooping in with the good news and hope of Christ along side weary folks who just need a fresh set of hands to help out and a big fat "AIMEE HUG" have been put on hold...at least for now. And that's been a bit frustrating for me, quite frankly. Growing up, all I ever heard at church and bible camp was, "Just say to God, 'Send me!' and he'll use you for great things - He'll send you where you're supposed to be!". I remember meeting the countless missionaries who came through the doors of the different churches we attended when I was younger, each of them with magnificent stories of how God was doing miraculous things and how they were being used by Him to spread the gospel. Well here I am, enthusiastically jumping up and down with my hand raised like a flamboyant {slightly obnoxious} 6-year-old who knows the answer to the teacher's question at school. But God's not seeing me...or at least that's how I'd felt. Overlooked.

Over the past few months, I've really been praying about where God wants me to focus my time and energy {beyond my day-to-day mama/wife time and energy}. I've stepped back from a few different things {even obligations at church – *gasp!*}, and have really tried to take some time to listen and get a better grasp on what I'm supposed to be doing. This summer was filled with many great weeks/weekends away at our cabin with family and friends. We had many wonderful opportunities to spend time with and talk with our friends and family who came to stay/visit. But more importantly, my husband and I had some time to re-connect and talk through where we are in life. It's amazing how getting away from the busyness of our everyday lives can help reveal things that you may have been overlooking...or were too busy to see in your normal day-to-day craziness.

Through my past couple months of reflection, I've learned something. Actually, I think I have always known it, but was reminded again of this. Serving the Lord doesn't necessarily mean you pack up everything you can fit in a duffle bag and head to a foreign land. For many it does. But for many more, God has a place for you to serve right where you are. He's waiting to use you in so many areas. In your neighborhood. In your kid's schools. In your community. In your workplace. These are ALL mission fields. In fact, if we let HIM lead, each time we step foot outside our homes...we're headed on a missions trip. Think about it.

There's something else I've been reminded of lately. While I inwardly yearn to go on a missions adventure overseas or to another country, there are ways that I can make a difference here...even if I'm not there. God's given us all talents and abilities to do a variety of things. Many people are great with accounting, or event planning, or project managing, or playing an instrument. My gift {the primary one} is creating art. Sounds reeeeeeal holy and "set apart", huh? As I sat and tried to think of how I could use my gifts to make a difference, I began to see areas where I could help. For example, how many non-profit ministries have the funds to hire a graphic designer to design a logo for them so they can look "put together" and professional in their efforts? Or how many have funds to hire a designer to put together t-shirt designs that can be sold as a means to help raise funds? Or to help create thank you cards they can send to people who have supported them financially? Or to create website graphics? Um, I'm guessing not too many. And how many non-profit ministries can afford to purchase wall art for their ministry facilities? Hmmm, probably not too many. But what's that you say? I CAN?!? Oh yeah, that's right. I'm a graphic designer. Looking for ways to help.

So for now, as I wait for that time when life is a little less demanding in the "mommy department", I'll use my gifts on the mission fields here at home...and will help support those in the mission fields far away in whatever way I can, while also looking for opportunities locally to cover others with the contagious love of Christ. With this renewed sense of direction, I'm excited to see where God's going to "send" me. My challenge for you this week is to take a deep breath, reflect on what is truly important in this short life here on earth, and try to see what mission field God wants you to be focusing on – whether it be near or far away. Here I am Lord, send me.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Isaiah 6:8



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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back at it...or somethin' like that

Ahhh, summer. Everyone loves it with all it's glorious weather and memories in the making. It's blissful ... unless you're a freelance graphic designer married to a teacher/administrator with young children AND a husband who are home for an extended period of time. I love summer, yet, I also subconsciously dread it because I know I'll be trying to juggle everything – and let's just be brutally honest, summer is a challenge for me.

BUT, we're almost at the end of it. The hubs is back to work. The kids go back to school in about two weeks. Then all will be right with the world, right? Uh, probably not. However, I'm giddy thinking about being able to get {uninterrupted} work done during normal business hours. Hallelujah.

Well, there have been many things over these summer months that have gotten my creative juices flowing ... haven't necessarily had the time to do anything with my ideas beyond jotting LOTS of things down on my trusty Post-it notes. This all changed, though, when a conversation with my little man about his favorite Newsboys song left me explaining to him what the word "surely" meant. We had a kid-sized conversation and then he said, "But mom, are there any other songs that use that word?". I busted out singing a song from my childhood..."Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days, all the days of my life...". As I sang, it was like one of those "aha" moments where, as I sang this little tune, my wacky-designer brain quickly assembled the typography for a new print.

And here we are – two days later. I've managed to sneak in a few minutes here and there to work on getting what I was seeing in my brain on to the computer ... in between loads of laundry, running kids to therapy appointments, making meals, fielding client phone calls & emails, keeping everyone alive {a.k.a playing referee between the kids}, etc. I've finally gotten the print design on screen how I saw it in my head as I sang those lyrics, a passage from Psalm 23. I'm SUPER excited to share it with you, so here it is!!!



It's all listed in the Etsy shop, so if you like it - share it with your friends!! Tweet it, Pin it, Share it on Facebook & Instagram ... go nuts.

Stay tuned for more prints {hopefully} soon. My brain is exploding with ideas. For real.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

His Plans



Hi friends! Well, the last time I wrote, we'd frantically assembled a last-minute fundraising effort which you all went above and beyond to fulfill. We prayed that God's plan would be revealed as the funds were raised, and that He would do powerful things through the Schneider family with these funds that were raised to help bring home baby #3. Our prayers were answered, but the answer to one of those prayers left us all completely baffled.

Funds were donated just as we prayed they would be {THANK YOU TO ALL WHO DONATED!}. And Heidi and Andy drove to Florida, arriving safely and making it in time to be at the hospital while the baby was born, just as we prayed they would be. They met him. They held him. They even named him. Hudson. He was a perfectly beautiful little boy. But this beautiful little boy wasn't meant to be theirs, even though we'd prayed and prayed. God's answer to our prayers was one no one expected – the birth mom changed her mind and decided to parent this sweet little one. What a whirlwind of emotions were stirred when this decision was revealed. Frustration. Anger. Uncertainty. Disbelief. Heartbroken, Heidi and Andy left the hospital and began their trek home...without Hudson. Now, very few of us have ever experienced anything quite like this, but I can only imagine that the drive home was one filled with raw emotion as they processed everything that had just transpired. None of it made sense. BUT, what did make sense was that we serve a God who can do mind-blowing things through times of hurt and brokenness. He has a plan, a perfect plan.

As I spoke with Heidi a few days after this all took place, I hung up the phone thinking, "God, you may have us all waiting in suspense to see what your plan is in all of this, but I know for a fact that you're going to use this experience to help each person touched by the Schneider's story to grow in some way." And as Heidi and I have discussed in the weeks after these events, she is also confident that through everything that's happened, she knows God is strengthening her and Andy, and she's hopeful that some day she can use their experiences to help and coach other adoptive families navigate this crazy journey of adoption. Frankly, given all that they've gone through, I'm PUMPED to see what God's going to do - because I'm confident He's got BIG THINGS planned for them!

So, what about the funds that were donated, you ask? Well, rest assured, Heidi and Andy are not on a beach somewhere tropical enjoying a nice vacation on your donated dime.  The money donated will still be used for the adoption of baby #3, whenever God is finished preparing the little one meant to join their family. And a portion of the donated funds will also help cover many of the costs that unfortunately will not be reimbursed through this failed adoption (i.e. gas money, flight costs to meet the birth mom, meals while they were gone, etc.). We're anxiously waiting to see what the next step is in God's plan to add to the Schneider family – and we'll be sure to update you as soon as there's any news to report.

In the meantime, please continue to keep the Schneiders in your prayers as they take this all in and try to prepare mentally and emotionally for the new little one who will hopefully {very} soon join their family. Thank you, thank you, thank you once again to all who donated – you have no idea what every penny has meant to this family! Now we're left to wait ... on His Plan.


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Monday, July 8, 2013

10:10:1 Challenge Update: God is SO GOOD!

Oh sweet friends, I have been blown away by how so many of you have shown love and support to my dear friends Heidi and Andy through the 10:10:1 challenge we threw out 10 short days ago! A week and a half ago, I sat with Heidi putting together the blog post in my dining room as my husband and kids were frantically packing to go out of town for some much-needed time away. I'm pretty sure Heidi felt as frazzled as I did while we tried to throw together a last-minute fundraiser idea in the midst of everything else that was going on at the time. An hour after the blog post went live my family and I were on our way to the cabin – well in to our 2 hour drive...and I'd been praying the entire drive. Praying that God would be glorified through all of this. And praying that God would use this experience to build, not only the faith and confidence of the Schneider family, but also of others who may be watching this all go down - especially others who may be feeling the call to adopt but aren't sure if they can afford it.

Over the course of last week, I got a few updates here and there from Heidi {whenever I actually could get a cell signal} - it was fun hearing how God was working and people were so generously giving, many of whom had never even met Heidi & Andy! Well, I wanted to share with you an update quickly. As of this morning {while Heidi & Andy were on their way to Tampa}, the total raised in the past 10 days is $1,903, plus a few "checks in the mail" that have yet to arrive. WOW. God is SO good when we trust HIM! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all who gave!!!

As I mentioned, Heidi and Andy are on their way to Tampa and the birth mom is scheduled to be induced on July 11th. Now we need you all to pray that the next several days will go smoothly for all parties involved. Please pray for peace and comfort for Heidi and Andy as they wait, and for their two boys who are back home spending time with family and friends. But more importantly, please lift up this courageous birth mom who has realized she can't provide for this sweet baby boy the way she'd like to and has chosen Heidi and Andy to be his parents. I can't even fathom having to make that choice, but as with every other aspect of this process, I'm confident that God has His hand in all of this and that He has AMAZING plans for this little man! Pray that God will give the birth mom comfort, peace, and confidence in her decision.

Thank you, friends!


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Friday, June 28, 2013

The 10:10:1 Challenge - Can You Spare $10 for Adoption?

Hi Friends! Summer has kept us crazy busy so far, hence the lack of blogging. But we've got something very important we wanted to share with you today. Remember my friend Heidi? Well, there's a lot that's happened over the past couple of months - and her and her family need our help! But first, let me share a little bit with you.

So, adoption. People hear about it and get warm fuzzies thinking about the idea. But let's be honest, the majority of people "like" the idea of adoption and are completely shocked and scared away when the find out how much it costs to adopt. Most people have no idea what it costs to complete an adoption. It's a lot of money - A LOT. And while there are people who question why someone would pay for a baby - try to look at it this way: think of your own children. Can you put a price tag on them? Regardless of whether they are yours through biological means or through adoptions, there's no price that can be placed on them. They are simply priceless.

Now, let's get you up-to-speed on Heidi and Andy's adoption process. They were recently matched with a birth mom in Florida who is due the beginning of July. About a week and a half ago, Heidi called me in a panic. She'd just received a call from their adoption agency saying that the birth mom wanted to meet her in person prior to placing the baby with them. That meant an extra/unexpected trip down to Florida. Jokingly, Heidi said, "You don't happen to know any friends who live in Florida do ya?". I told her, "Actually, yes, some of our friends relocated to Florida a few years back." Heidi asked where they live and I told her Tampa - to which Heidi replied, "NO WAY!! That's where I'd need to fly in to!". Long story short, I reached out to my awesome friends Adam & Abby and they insisted that Heidi stay with them and even offered to pick her up from the airport and also offered their vehicle for her to get to and from meetings with the agency/birth mom. Craziness! These people had never even met Heidi, and yet they were throwing open their hearts and home to her! They've also offered to let Heidi and Andy stay at their home while they travel down in a few short days to get the baby. Incredible! But wait, it gets better - Heidi told me about how expensive the last-minute plane ticket was going to be, and again, jokingly, Heidi said, "You don't happen to know anyone who works for an airline do ya?". Instantly, I thought of my friend Nancy who is a flight attendant with Delta. I contacted her and within a couple of days, Heidi was all set up with a buddy pass that allowed her to fly stand-by for a fraction of the cost of a regular airline ticket. Watching God work out all of these details was absolutely AMAZING! I love seeing how He brings His children together to make things happen! To top off this chain of events, I was able to help Heidi with a custom print that she took with her and gave to the birth mom when they met. God's hand was ALL OVER THIS!! :) Heidi's trip down to Florida went great and her meeting with the birth mom went very well.

Here's where the story takes a turn - and where Heidi and Andy need our help. As Heidi was boarding her return flight back home, she received a call from the adoption agency saying that they had miscalculated the birth mom expenses and that they would need to come up with another $2,500 that would be due at the time of placement. Ugh. This adoption is already nearing $35,000 (which doesn't include their travel expenses), and Heidi and Andy are feeling maxed out. They've borrowed all they can borrow, and have paid all they are able to pay. Keep in mind this is their third adoption. They feel a calling on their lives to adopt and bring another baby in to their family via adoption - and up until this point, they haven't done any fundraising at all. They've carried the financial burden humbly and quietly...but now they're at a breaking point. A point where WE as the body of Christ have an opportunity to surround them and love on them.

This is where YOU can help - they baby's due date is in 10 days...so we're going to put out a 10:10:1 challenge:




It's super easy to donate - just follow the link below!



The costs for this adoption are already $5,000 over what the initial budget showed, and now they need to come up with another $2,500. Our goal is to help them raise the extra $2,500 that has come up within the last week. Anything raised above and beyond that will help offset the amount already over the initial budget.

We can't thank you all enough for your love and support - we're excited to see how God is going to use the funds donated to impact HIS kingdom and the Schneider family! PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH YOUR FRIENDS & FAMILY!! (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest....everywhere!)

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. "
• Philippians 4:6-7 •

P.S. A HUGE Thank You to Christie over at her blog for this fabulous fundraising idea!!!


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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How blessed you will be {Praying for Oklahoma}

By now, I'm sure you've all seen the news footage of the devastating storms that ripped through Oklahoma Sunday in to Monday. And I'm sure we've all cried a few heartbreaking tears trying to imagine what people there are experiencing. Our minds can't even come close to comprehending devastation like this. Hearts around the country and the world are aching for all those affected.


This morning I saw a news report about a family sifting through what was left of their home and property that was destroyed in Sunday's tornado just outside of Shawnee, OK. There was a photo that someone had snapped from the debris - a photo of a tattered bible opened to Isaiah 32. The news story focused on Isaiah 32:2 which reads, "Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm". After sitting and thinking about this for a bit, I opened up my bible to Isaiah 32 and read the verse for myself. 

Isaiah 32 is about The Kingdom of Righteousness. I kept reading a bit further in the chapter and was overwhelmed with the power of this passage...especially given the circumstances:
"17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
    its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
    in secure homes,
    in undisturbed places of rest.
19 Though hail flattens the forest
    and the city is leveled completely,
20 how blessed you will be"
 As we continue to see the horrendous imagery from the storms and hear the life-altering stories from those who survived and those who lost loved ones, this passage screams out HOPE to all who believe in HIM and have put their trust in Him.

While there are no words that can take away the hurt, and feelings of helplessness and insecurity the victims are experiencing right now, the best thing we can do as a body of believers is pray that each person affected is able to find and know the only source that can provide true peace. That bible wasn't opened up to this passage through sheer coincidence. And while it's easy for those of us from afar to say the people who survived are blessed, this passage reminds us that this is our temporary home – the eternal homes for those who have put their faith in Him will be filled with peace and confidence forever. How blessed we will be.

Praying for Oklahoma.

Want to help? {besides through prayer}
  •  Text FOOD to 32333 to donate $10 to the OKC food bank
  •  Text REDCROSS to 90999 gives $10 to disaster relief
  •  Text “STORM” to 80888 to make $10 donation thru Salvation Army

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Good understanding



The other morning at the bus stop I had a conversation with my friend Kelly after the kids got on the bus. We both have boys that are the same age {who are practically connected at the hip}, and we were talking about how alarming and disheartening it is to see some of the little peers and friends our boys are meeting – specifically their lack of respect and understanding of what is good and appropriate.  Now I'm not going to pretend that I was the perfect child...or that my 7-year-old doesn't have a sassy little mouth just like many of his peers. But what makes my heart sad is that so often today we see kids who aren't really taught any sort of morality. They learn what's "appropriate" by whatever Disney show happens to be on that afternoon. It's becoming more and more evident that many parents aren't taking the time to sit down and teach their kids what is right and wrong – both in the way they use their words and how they treat/interact with others. All you have to do is sit back and watch a group of kids play for a few minutes to see what I'm talking about. I feel like the "accepted" behavior today is completely self-centered – it's all about ME, forget about everyone else. And yes, I know I probably sound like an old-fashioned grandma complaining about how things aren't like they used to be, but it's true.

This morning as I was having my quiet time, I came across a verse in Proverbs that struck me:

"Good understanding wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard."
Proverbs 13:15

I was in this passage after a prompting from one of my daughters Special Ed teachers, and this verse jumped out at me. Just a couple of nights ago, I laid with my son at bedtime talking about everything under the sun. One of the things we talked about was that loving Jesus and living for Him isn't something that some people understand the importance of, and often times you may get teased or made fun of when others find out you do understand the importance. I was trying to stress to my little guy that it really doesn't matter what other people think or say because God knows our hearts and HE will watch over us and take care of us no matter what. As we talked more about this I explained that following Jesus definitely isn't going to be the most popular thing to do at school especially, but other people will see that there's something different about us if we live our lives based on what His word says and if we're good friends to others. It's okay to be different...even if doing your own thing is looked at as being weird by everyone else. After listening for a few minutes, my little guy piped up, "Yeah, but Mom, I already have Jesus in my heart and I tell people that!" I smiled, and we talked a little more about how it's so important for us to be good friends to others and to choose good friends to be around. We talked a bit more about how we need to choose friends who are respectful, who think before they speak, and who are kind to others.

I often feel like I'm a bit of a control freak over what friends my kids spend time with, and I'm becoming even more diligent in making sure I know these kids {and their families}. Part of my motivation stems from wanting to be sure that friends my son plays with are respectful and understanding towards our daughter and her special needs. If there's one thing that instantly turns me off to a friend my son has over to play – it's them mocking or teasing our daughter. I simply won't stand for it. And I'm fairly certain that the verse from Proverbs that I shared is referencing good understanding in a variety of areas – not just good understanding of the bible. This passage can be applied to pretty much every situation we encounter. If we invest the time to learn more, we'll better understand the situation, the person, the circumstances – whatever it may be, then we can appropriately respond.

We've been blessed with several wonderful little boys that my son plays with who also have a tender heart towards Peyton and others with special needs...and that makes my heart swell seeing these friends have a good understanding of the importance of giving everyone a chance. It also tells me a lot about the type of home they're being raised in. My biggest prayer for my children is that they will "get it", that they'll have a good understanding of what matters in this short life as they approach their relationship with Christ, their relationship with parents, and their relationship with friends and others they come in contact with. I hope this scripture passage makes you stop and think like it made me stop and think! Have a blessed day.


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Monday, May 13, 2013

Adoption Announcements

Happy Monday everyone!  This post will be short and sweet, but we're excited to share with you a few of our new adoption announcements!! These have been a while in the making {in other words, they've been stuck in my brain for a while but there hasn't been time to get them into a digital format} and there are plenty more comin'!





Do you know someone who has recently adopted or is in the process of adopting? Be sure to tell them about Red Letter Ink's new adoption announcements...and don't forget, for the month of May a portion of sales are going to support The Sparrow Fund - and adoption support & grant organization that's doing great things!



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Friday, May 10, 2013

A Poem for Mom

Okay, well now that I've shown my true colors declaring I want to spend Mother's Day ALONE, I figured I'd share with you something sweet...that makes celebrating Mother's Day WITH your kids and husband special. But as usual, my storytelling sometimes rambling self has to give you a little background info first.

Let's go back to December of 2004. My hubby and I were scrambling one Sunday morning trying to get our 7 month old daughter ready before we left for the 30 minute drive to church. We were running late...and it was snowing. As we drove out of our driveway, the stress level in the car was ridiculous. There was no way we'd get to church on time...or even close to on time. As we pulled to the stop sign heading out of our neighborhood, we saw a sign that read "NorthRidge Fellowship - Rogers, MN • Sundays @ 9am". Rogers is like 10 minutes from our house. Chad and I both looked at each other and said, "Let's give it a try". We'd been talking for quite some time about finding a church closer to home once we had kids so that they could have friends from church in the neighborhood and so the kids could be a part of the children and youth programs during the week once they were older. But we weren't expecting anything super fantastic this Sunday morning - other than being able to make it to church {somewhere} on time.

As we pulled in to the parking lot, we quickly got Peyton out of the car and went in. We were the first ones in the sanctuary {which we soon learned was normal for NorthRidge :)}. All of the sudden we hear a voice say, "MR. LIBBY?!". We turned around and here was a girl from the 4th grade class Chad had long-term subbed in when he was first out of college prior to getting his first teaching job. As we talked with her, we found out her dad was the pastor. Craziness. The service started and in between the worship time and the sermon there was a quick meet & greet time. A couple about our age who were sitting in front of us turned around and introduced themselves – Shane and Emily...and their 9 month old daughter, Maren. They seemed very nice, but we only had a couple quick minutes to chat. The sermon was incredible, and after church we met a few more people. Then that young couple came back over and talked with us again. We had an instant connection with them...so much so, that as we shared with them that we were looking for a church closer to home and they mentioned they were having small group that evening, we said, "Awesome, we'll be there!". On the FIRST DAY we'd met them. That's right. We went to their house...with strangers. Oddly enough, though, we felt right at home – and after that night, it was clear that God had placed that sign right outside our neighborhood because that's right where He had wanted us...at NorthRidge Fellowship.

Fast forward about a year, we were dropping off our daughter at church for the youth babysitting night and were planning to double-date with Shane and Emily. We'd planned to carpool, so as Shane pulled the carseat out of their back seat to make room for Emily and I, he said, "Pretty soon we'll need TWO of these things". Chad and I looked at each other and said, "No way, us too!". We were both expecting baby #2 within a few weeks of each other. They ended up both being boys...born 8 days apart. Perfect. Our families were so closely-knit, it was wonderful.

Now fast forward to a couple years later, Emily was expecting baby #3 any day {and no, sorry - 2 was good for me!}. I remember the evening very vividly. We were at my inlaws just getting ready to sit down to dinner when Chad's cell phone rang. It was Shane. He was in a panic and asked Chad to come to the hospital IMMEDIATELY. All I got from Chad before he ran out the door was that Emily was in labor and something was wrong. So as he frantically drove to be with Shane, we prayed at the dinner table that God would protect Emily and the baby...then I sat anxiously waiting to hear from Chad. Turned out Emily's water had broken and they ran in to every possible delay on their way to the hospital {traffic lights, TRAINS, you name it - they ran in to it}. By the time they got to the hospital, Shane pulled in to the ER bay, left his truck there and ran in to get someone to help Emily. When they got Em to a room and checked her out they suddenly yanked all of the tubes and cords out of the wall and rushed Emily out of the room, telling Shane, "You probably want to call someone to be with you". And the person he chose to call was Chad. Sweet Jesse was born after an emergency c-section and everyone ended up being ok, but boy, what an entry into the world this little man had!

As you can see, we've got quite the history with Shane, Emily, Maren, Hunter and Jesse! Spending time together as families is so easy...and fun, with lots of laughs. So when Shane contacted me a couple weeks back asking if I'd help him put together a special birthday/Mother's Day gift for Emily I was SUPER excited. He said their daughter Maren had written a poem about moms and he wanted to find a nice way to display it and frame it. What a sweet, sweet poem Maren wrote...heck, I teared up reading it! I put together a print using Maren's poem as the focal point, and I decided that I'd make it more of a "family" print for them. So I put a monogram on it and then incorporated photos of the kids that Shane had provided. When the design was done I was so excited to send it over to show Shane! He loved it and said he was taking the kids frame shopping the next day. I'm sure it was a special moment for their family when Emily opened her present and the kids {and Shane} were able to watch the look on her face! What a privilege to be able to put something together that will now hang prominently on the wall in their home. I hope you enjoyed your gift, Em, and I hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day – you're amazing! Thank you for being a sweet friend, and for not being afraid to invite the strangers in the pew behind you into your home that Sunday morning – love you guys and we're so thankful that God has brought our families together!




Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him.
• Psalm 127:3 •



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