Monday, July 28, 2014

Coincidence...or God?

Have you ever heard someone say, "Well, I guess you were just in the right place at the right time!" or "Wow, what a coincidence!" Over the years I've heard those phrases a lot, and until just the past couple of years never really thought too much about them...other than they seem to be used quite frequently. Lately, though, as I see more and more details line up that seem "coincidental", it just continues to reinforce that God is in the details...ALL of them.

Our lives today are so busy that many times we fail to stop and truly see the significance of circumstances or experiences in our day-to-day comings and goings. Yes, running in to someone at the grocery store as you're frantically trying to grab a few essentials while already running late to pick up the kids from their activities may seem like a huge, untimely inconvenience, but you just never know what taking a couple minutes out of your busy day could lead to. I'm finding the more closely I look, the more intertwined and connected each detail is, regardless of how big or small they are. His planning is ridiculously cool – the trick is to be still long enough to not miss the connection and to make sure you're seeing this experience/detail/incident with the right perspective.

A couple weeks back we were up north at our cabin and there was a guest speaker at our "cabin church" {awesome job, by the way, Fred!}. He spoke on truly knowing the Lord and all that He has for you. He talked about the significance of people in his life and how it related to community, feeling as though he belonged and was loved not only by others, but also by Him. One of his stories was about him visiting his grandmothers as a young child and how each one had their unique way of welcoming him and making him feel as though he was loved and valued beyond measure. Another was about how during the week he was doing his usual day-to-day stuff, out on his route delivering mail, when he looked up and saw the pastor, his dear brother in the Lord drive past – a sweet reminder from above to encourage and brighten his day. Sitting there that Sunday morning, with tears rolling down my cheeks as I listened to his message, I was reminded of how good the Lord is. He can take the most depressing, frustrating, unfair, and even mundane things and turn them into something beautiful for His glory.

Those close to me know that I have a love-hate relationship with summer time. I love the weather and all the fun times we have together with family and friends, but being self-employed, I loathe how bogged down and behind I tend to get with work stuff during the summer months. It feels like an uphill battle. I'm torn between wanting to be a "good mom" and do all the fun summer things with the kids while they're out of school, but then I log in to my email account and our bank account, and the crushing reality of business and finances scream at me, "What on earth are you doing? There's work to be done and invoices to send out, and bills to be paid, and additional work/clients to drum up, and..." Ugh. Some days, it's insanely overwhelming. And usually when I'm already feeling overwhelmed with that stuff, my mind starts to move on to the other areas I need to put some more time and energy into – like scheduling doctor/therapy/specialist appointments for the kids, reviewing and making any changes/adaptations to Peyton's IEP before we sign it and send it back in for this coming school year, pulling together the latest dates/times/locations/coaches/etc. for our next Special Olympics sport, and catching up with girlfriends I haven't seen in way too long. And have I mentioned the state of my house? Oh boy. Time to get that under control, too. The more I think about things, the more overwhelmed I feel.

But it never fails...right as I can physically feel myself starting to deflate, feeling buried by "stuff", God plops something in my path that helps me re-focus and remember I'm not doing this all alone, and it's all temporary here on earth, but ultimately for HIS glory in eternity.

Perfect example, last week we tried a VBS-type day camp with Peyton. It was Monday - Thursday from 9am to 3pm. It was at a local church {our church is under construction, so no VBS this year}, and there were several girls Peyton knew in her group. She was very excited about it and made sure I knew it was "time to leave" when I dropped her off Monday morning.  My heart was bursting with excitement as I walked out to my car. THIS was it. The day I'd dreamed of for so long. Miss Peyton was going to be part of something "normal"...this was right up her alley and I was so, so, SO excited for her. I headed home to get some work done.

As I had just gotten in to "the zone" {all you other creatives know what I mean}, my phone rang. I grabbed my phone and saw the number, and...my heart sank. I answered the call only to find out that day camp wasn't going so well. I quickly headed out to go rescue Peyton. When I arrived she was in tears, embarrassed like any other 10 yr. old girl would've been, trying to hide her face from her friends who were wanting to console her. The staff was so great, worried that they'd done something wrong. After I assured them it was nothing they did {or didn't do}, Peyton and I headed home. On our ride home, through her tears, Peyton told me why she had gotten upset. During game time the instructions were hard for her to follow and she wasn't able to do many of the relay tasks which was overwhelming for her. As we talked more about what had made her upset, the stark reality hit me like a ton of bricks {yet again}...and by the time we got home, we were both in tears.

Over the course of the afternoon, we talked through how she could handle situations like this in the future, and Peyton said she wanted to try going half-days the rest of the week. Sounded like a good plan to me, and I was pretty excited that she wanted to give it another go. The next day we packed up lunches and headed to day camp. As we walked in to find the kid's name tags, Peyton lost it and began sobbing. Carson tried to encourage her to stay and told her, "It'll be fun, Peyton - I'll be here too! I can sit by you for the song time." Peyton thought about it for a minute, then shook her head no. Carson asked her, "But why don't you want to stay?" Peyton's response was like a dagger to my heart, she said angrily, "Because everything is HARD...and God made me that way".

This was the first time Peyton had ever verbalized that she realized things were harder for her than for most others. I bit my quivering lip as we told Carson goodbye, and I did my best not to make eye contact with anyone as we walked through the entryway back out to the car because I knew I was on the verge of losing it, too. We made it out to the car and headed home. I felt like a failure because I could tell Peyton felt like a failure. Over the course of the day we planned out a few things for her and I to do while Carson was at day camp the remainder of the week. One of those things was to go use a gift card Peyton had received as a birthday present.

Shopping has never been something Peyton enjoys or will even partake in...unless it's for Hot Wheels. Well, today she protested just a bit, but finally agreed to go in the store if it was just going to be a short visit. We walked into the store and I was instantly overwhelmed by the glittery-flashy-obnoxious-over-the-top-gaudy tween trinkets and apparel. Whew. But we continued to walk further in to the store. Secretly, in my head I was thinking, "Please God, help this visit not to turn out like the last one"...we had an unfortunate experience the previous time we'd visited this store. It involved a mannequin and Peyton very non-discreetly inspecting to see if said mannequin was wearing important undergarments. It was quite the memorable experience. Thankfully today's visit was different. Peyton surprised me and was very attentive and engaged during our visit, picking out some clothes she liked, asking ME if I liked any of the ones she picked, and then even going so far as wanting to try them on in the store. Whoa. I was shocked. Who is this girl? Certainly not the Peyton I've had to drag in to stores kicking and screaming over the years. It was crazy.

Driving home after our shopping trip, I was re-playing the events of our time together. I couldn't help but smile thinking how I would have completely missed this special time with my girl if day camp hadn't been an epic fail. And I nearly missed seeing this anyway, as I was busy having a pity party for myself, frustrated that for ONCE something couldn't be easy or a "success" {in the eyes of the world} for Peyton. God knew this. And as difficult as it was to see Peyton disappointed and distraught when day camp was a flop, He knew. He had a plan. And He gave her and I some time just the two of us, experiencing a big step forward...so I could be reminded of what a beautiful creation He made when He created Peyton – in His image.

This morning I had another situation come up where I saw Him working in the {seemingly mundane} details. I'd gotten a call from a neighbor asking if she could leave a note for UPS to drop a package by our house since they were going to be gone. I had no plans to go anywhere, so I told her sure, not thinking much of it. A couple hours later, the doorbell rang and as I walked to the front door, I saw through the side window it was the UPS man. I opened the door, stepped out on to the sidewalk, and he mentioned the neighbor had left a note on their door to drop the package off across the street at our place. We briefly talked and he saw Carson in the window. He made the comment, "He looks about the age of one of my little guys". That led to us chatting for a bit about our kids and how busy life is with sports and activities. Through the course of our conversation, he mentioned that 3 of his 4 kids play sports...because there wasn't "much out there for my other daughter". Long story short, as we talked, he began to tell me about his daughter with special needs who is just a few years older than Peyton. The similarities were astounding. He said though that she doesn't really have any friends and she's often left out because things can be overwhelming or difficult for her. The more we talked, the more it became evident that this was an opportunity to reach out and invite this girl and her family into a group where they would be loved on and embraced. I mentioned something about heading up our local Special Olympics team and his face lit up. He said his daughter has done gymnastics, but other than that she hasn't seemed too interested in sports...besides the Twins – she LOVES the Minnesota Twins!

Here's where that whole "What a coincidence" {i.e. God's timing} thing comes in...our Special Olympics team just purchased a block of tickets to go see the Twins play in August when it's Special Olympics night at Target Field. And we've got a few extra tickets left. The UPS man and I talked on our front sidewalk for over 30 minutes, turns out him and his family live just 10 minutes away and have been feeling really discouraged lately with all of their daughter's "stuff". He said it's tough not having other people to talk to who "get it" as they work through the various challenges their daughter faces. As we finished up our conversation, I quickly ran inside, grabbed some paper and a pen to write my name and number down on. He must have sent my contact info off to his wife right away, because within 20 minutes of him driving away, my phone rang and it was his wife calling wanting to find out more about our Special Olympics team and our Twins outing. They're all set to join us for the Twins game with a group of amazing people who I can't wait for them to meet!

Now, c'mon. You can't tell me that was "just a coincidence" or that since I'd decided to wait and go to Target tomorrow, I was "in the right place at the right time".

No way.

After taking some time to reflect on the last few times I've experienced situations like the ones I described above, I'm realizing that when times get tough or when things are unclear or even when things seem pretty average and uneventful – no matter what the circumstance, I need to be asking myself this question:

“God, is there something you want to teach me through this?”

 

 As John 10:27 says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Regardless of the situation, the mood we're in, the circumstances we're up against, or, quite frankly, how "lame", inconvenient, or uneventful something may seem {i.e. getting a neighbor's UPS package for them}, God can work through it...we just have to have our eyes, ears, mind, and heart open to hear Him.

Because there's so much more He wants to show us, to teach us, and to have us experience...if we'd just slow down, take a deep breath, and keep everything in perspective.

He's busy working behind the scenes, aligning interactions and circumstances so that we can experience them and, with His help, make the most of them – all for His glory.

Some call it coincidence, I call it God.

Think about that.


"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love the him, who have been called according to his purpose" 

Romans 8:28


"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those to take refuge in him" 

Psalm 34:8

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28) - See more at: http://www.allaboutgod.com/gods-goodness-faq.htm#sthash.MtO4L3Y7.dpuf




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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Words Needed

As a parent, sometimes there are things we do when our kids are young that we don't realize the true significance of until years later. I'm sure we can all think back to something our mom, dad or grandparent even may have done when we were younger that we can still remember vividly in our minds. Oddly enough, it's often the teeniest tiniest things we do that somehow stick in these little minds we're so anxious and concerned about properly molding.

When Miss Peyton was probably about 15 months old and we started to realize there was more going on than just complications from her shoulder injury at birth, we so desperately wanted to hear her babble and start to talk. As she neared 2 and still had no "real" words, it was clear she was becoming more frustrated with her inability to express her wants and needs. One of the fabulous therapists we worked with suggested we teach Peyton a few signs to help alleviate some of her frustrations until her words came. We started out with many of the basics - more, milk, play, all done, etc. These signs helped some, but they still didn't replace hearing Peyton's voice. Those were very frustrating days for all of us.

At bedtime as I was about to tuck Peyton in one night, I sat with her on my lap as she stared back at me with her big, gorgeous eyes – I told her "I love you!", and as I said each word, I squeezed her hand. From that day on, every time I said those three words, I squeezed her hand in sequence with each word. After about a couple days of doing this with her, Peyton caught on and would give me a big smile when we did our secret little "love squeezes". Sometimes we'd even do it without the words, and each time her eyes would light up.

I remember several years later when Peyton finally had some {very broken} words, and at bedtime she would hold my hand, smile and say "I wa you", squeezing my hand with each word. My heart melted. Ever since, that's been our "thing" we do...not just at bedtime anymore, but whenever we say those three special words to each other. Or even if we're sitting someplace where it's not appropriate to talk - no words are necessary. The three hand squeezes are enough. It still makes her {and me} smile.


This morning Peyton had an important "date" with one of her favorite friends, Vivian. Vivian is a sweet, elderly woman in her 90s who we first met several years ago when Chad's grandpa was living at Clare Bridge, a memory care facility. From the first time Viv met Peyton, her eyes lit up and still do when Peyton walks through those doors. They've got a sweet, sweet friendship that many would give just about anything to have with someone. Even though it's been a few years now since Chad's grandpa passed away, Peyton still insists on going to visit Vivian on a regular basis. As the years have passed, Vivian's ability to carry on a conversation has started to diminish. But that doesn't stop Peyton from continuing to bring her favorite Hot Wheel to show Viv or her latest Special Olympics medals. Each story Peyton has to share makes Vivian's day.

Tonight as I tucked Peyton in, I asked her how her visit with Vivian had gone {grandma had taken her to see Viv this morning}. Peyton thought for a moment, and then said, "She doesn't talk much now". I asked her what all they did during their visit, Peyton responded, "We took Viv Caribou and a chocolate graham cracker. Those are her favorite!" We talked for a bit more about their visit and the plans they made for the next time Peyton goes to visit. Just before I turned the light out, I asked Peyton if she gave Vivian a big hug before she left. Peyton excitedly sat up in bed, grabbed my hand, and said, "No, I did this!" ... she squeezed my hand three times, then smiling Peyton said, 'I-love-you'. Again, my heart melted...and my eyes may have begun to "sweat" a bit. I was humbled and reminded just how blessed I am to have this precious little lady in my life. It blows me away to watch her as she shares love with everyone she meets. God created something unimaginably special when He created her, and I'm so grateful He's entrusted Peyton to Chad and I here on this earth.

I'm eagerly awaiting to see what He has in store for her in the years ahead...surely, it's something GREAT.

Filled with love.


"Be ye imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love..."

Ephesians 5:1-2


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Monday, March 24, 2014

It's time to PARTY!

Well, it's Monday. Again. Here we go, starting another week...but this isn't "just another week" - this week something really special is happening. It's happening on Wednesday, March 26th actually. That's the day that my friend Jenny turns 30 - yay! But the something special is even better than that...Jenny's book that she's been working on for several years {her whole life, really} is being launched {book launch party is private/invite-only} and we're gathering to celebrate, not only her birthday, but her incredible book that's going to touch the hearts and lives of so many people. I am SO excited to see how God is going to use this book to inspire and encourage people – people struggling with disability themselves, as well as parents, siblings and friends of individuals with disabilities!


Some of you may remember the post I wrote back before Christmas about our fun surprise we pulled off for Jenny when a local TV news station honored her with an award for the impact she's making as an "Excellent Educator". I shared a bit about what Jenny has meant to our family then, and I'd love to take some time now to share a bit more about our connection.

About a year ago, I found myself standing in the office at our kid's elementary school signing Peyton out for Horse Therapy one Wednesday morning. There sat Jenny, the school's Media Specialist, doing some work on a computer. We exchanged pleasantries and I quickly asked her how it was going. She told me she was working on her book and was getting so close to being done with it. I told her how excited I was for her, and then I remember saying as I ran out the door, "Well if you need any help laying it out or designing a cover for it, let me know!".

A couple months later, I got an email from Jenny asking, "Were you serious when you said you'd be interested in helping me design and layout my book?". We exchanged a few emails and set a time to meet for coffee to talk through things. As we sat chatting in a Caribou Coffee and Jenny explained more in-depth what her book Walking With Tension was about, I became even more intrigued. When I asked her what she had in mind for a cover design, she didn't have anything too specific in mind other than she wanted to convey something about the journey through life {and her faith} that she'd been walking – something that tied in to the title. Jenny threw out a tentative deadline she had hoped we could meet...her 30th birthday. And I told her, "We'll make it happen!", then we went our separate ways.

After a busy summer and fall adjusting to the school routine again, I finally found time to sit down and work on some cover design ideas. I emailed off a proof of what I thought was "the one", and Jenny agreed wholeheartedly. Then a couple weeks later, I found myself starting to look through the manuscript Jenny had sent over. As I began typesetting the manuscript, I couldn't help but read as I carefully went through line-by-line making sure the formatting, grammar and spelling was correct. The more I read, the more I was drawn in and felt as though I could relate {to a certain degree} on a very personal level. I can't tell you how many times I found myself typesetting through tears as my heart ached reading the difficult times Jenny endured growing up with Cerebral Palsy and the lack of acceptance as a result of her disability. It broke my heart. 

Several times as I was working on this book project, I remember pausing and thinking about Jenny. I remember thinking, "How on earth could someone just dismiss someone because they walk differently?" Through more tears, I had a flashback to kindergarten at the tiny Christian school I attended that year in northwest Wisconsin. I remembered a girl named Tina who had a {repaired} cleft lip/palette. And shamefully, I remembered the day I stood in front of our whole class during our lunch break and made fun of how Tina talked while the teacher briefly left the room. It was a Friday, and Friday's meant we received special Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream treats. We rotated each week which student got to hand them out. It was supposed to be MY day to hand out treats...but Tina stood up and declared it was HER turn. Angrily, I responded back to her, imitating her voice, "No, it's my turn, not yours! You're not the boss!" Oh how vividly I remember that, as if it were yesterday, and not just because I was sent to the principal's office. I remember the sad, hurt look on Tina's face as I mimicked her and talked with slurred speech. I had done the same thing to Tina that kids did to Jenny. And I've been reminded over and over again of this incident as we've experienced similar situations with Peyton and her speech issues. I do remember in that moment instantly being mortified that I'd acted the way I had as I watched Tina sit down, shrink in her chair and begin to cry, but it was too late. The damage had been done. And my heart ached to take back what I'd said. But I couldn't. Ever since that day, I've tried so hard to always THINK before I speak, because never again do I want to spew something out that is hurtful to others. Looking back on this experience, though, I know God was setting me up for where I am today – with a heart for those with disabilities/special needs.

This past January, as Jenny and I sat at my dining room table uploading the final files to the publisher for printing, we were both giddy with excitement! It was finally almost done and ready to be distributed out into the hands of others. For me, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment in this moment, but I also couldn't help but sit and reflect how being a part of this project had changed and impacted me. My perspective on how I view others with disabilities as well as how I talk about and view my own daughter's disability has been altered - in a good way. Walking With Tension has opened my eyes even more to see that everyone has a story...and our stories shape who we are but they don't necessarily define us.

Jenny's book gives such an amazing inside, personal, and honest view into what it's like to grow up with a disability or "being different". My heart ached for her as a peer, and it ached even more as a mom. On several occasions I found myself wishing I'd known Jenny during those years. It absolutely blew my mind that this sweet, funny, spunky, smiley friend who has sat {uncomfortably} on the floor of my daughter's bedroom floor playing cards, and who so energetically embraces everything about Peyton, including dancing the night away for HOURS with Peyton at our last Special Olympics dance, could have been in such a dark, lonely place for all of those years. How could this be?! I look at Jenny today and often think, "Man, I wish I could be like her when I grow up!". Having read Walking With Tension and knowing the very personal background story behind Peyton's hero "Miss Hill" makes me love her even more. And that may sound strange for me to say, but yes, I do love her. I love her boldness, her determination, her quirky sense of humor, her transparency & honesty, and most of all, her ability to smile and show Jesus to others through all of the difficult times. He brought her through those dark times, and I'm confident God is going to do remarkable things as a result of this book. I feel honored and blessed to have been involved in a very minor behind-the-scenes part of this project.

So, on Wednesday, we're going to celebrate. And by celebrate, I mean P-A-R-T-Y! We're going to praise God for the work He has done and continues to do in and through Jenny. We're going to praise God for the fantastic daughter, sister, friend, colleague, teacher/media specialist, author Jenny is. We're going to praise God for the impact her story has had and is going to have on others impacted by disability. And most importantly, we're going to praise God for his faithfulness to carry us through. No matter what. Congratulations, Jenny, on your new book – and thank you for being such a special part of our family. We love you dearly and are blessed to have you in our lives!

P.S. If you'd like to read more about Jenny's book, here are a few articles:
Monticello Times
St. Cloud Times
North Wright County Today

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Uncertain Times

Eight years ago today, I sat 37.5 weeks pregnant in the passenger seat of our minivan as Chad drove us to the hospital. The ride there was pretty much silent, each of us with a million thoughts running through our heads. We'd just driven away from home where Miss Peyton sat staring at us through the front window, waving with Grandma & Grandpa – at just 21 months old, she had no idea what was about to happen. During the car ride to the hospital, my mind was racing with a bazillion questions:

"Were we making the right choice to be induced early?"

"Should we have chosen to wait until 39 weeks and do a c-section?"

"Did we make the right decision, switching doctors just a week earlier as we sought someone who would listen to our concerns that THIS baby would be big, too?"

 "Would this baby end up with a birth injury like his big sister?"

...so many questions.

As we pulled in to the parking lot at the hospital, Chris Tomlin's "How Great Is Our God" came on the radio. Chad parked the car. We both sat there, motionless. Then the tears started rolling down my face as the song reached the chorus:


"How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God"

I couldn't hold it in any longer, all the uncertainty and anxiety after having just had an appointment at Children's Hospital with specialists to try and find out what issues Miss Peyton would struggle with as a result of her birth injury – it all just spilled out. We sat there in the car and melted in to the dreaded "ugly cry". So much to process all at once. And so much uncertainty. I'll never forget that moment.

After we pulled ourselves together, we headed in to the hospital to get checked-in. The rest of the morning was actually quite relaxing...says the woman who, with the first baby, after pushing for nearly 4 hours to deliver a 10lb., 4oz. baby, with nurses running around frantically at the end and jumping up on the bed to help push the baby out, turned to her husband and said, "Huh. That wasn't as bad as I expected". As our doctor came in to visit, he spent plenty of time with us making sure we were comfortable with everything. He popped back in several other times to chat and see how things were going. Finally, about 3:00pm it was time – and Dr. Elias was there with us nearly as excited as we were to meet Baby #2. At 3:22pm Carson James Libby, weighing in at 8lbs. 4 oz. was in my arms, and Chad and I were both marveling at what a completely different experience this delivery had been.




Looking back over the past 8 years, it's truly been incredible to see all that God's done in our family. Carson is growing up to be such a sweet, compassionate boy with a zest for life! We had his conferences at school the other day and his teacher went on and on about what a great kid he is – always willing to help out, always upbeat and smiling, always giving everything his best effort, and always keeping an eye out for classmates who may need "help". This past weekend I sat on the sidelines at the Special Olympics Basketball Tournament and watched as Carson {the "assistant coach"} helped Chad {the "real coach"} coach one of the half-court teams he's been helping at practice each week. I love watching him work with the athletes – he's got such an understanding of how to relate to them...probably because he hasn't known any different since day one living with his sister. But I love it nonetheless.




I'm not gonna lie, I teared up watching him encourage and cheer on the athletes on his team – he ran to center court jumping up and down with excitement as they won their final game, securing first place in their division. He was BEAMING when he got to be in the photo with the team at the awards presentation...and my heart was beaming as I saw this incredible little man standing there on the other side of the camera. I can't imagine life without him, and I'm so thankful God has allowed Chad and I to be his parents! I love being your mommy, sweet Carson!



I've shared with Carson the story about hearing "How Great Is Our God" as we were about to go check-in to the hospital the day he was born, and now when he hears it he smiles and says, "Hey Mom - it's my song!". How great IS our God. Worthy of all our praise. Worthy of all our time and energy. Because He has GREAT things planned for those who love Him, follow Him, and trust Him...even in times of uncertainty. Especially in times of uncertainty.

"No eye has seen, 
no ear has heard, 
and no mind has imagined
the things that God has prepared
for those who love him."
• I Corinthians 2:9 •

Happy birthday, little man! We love you!

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Valentines. Write on. {FREE DOWNLOAD}

Well, it's almost here...the dreaded "V-day". Valentine's Day. This year, rather than complain about how ridiculous and over-commercialized Valentine's Day is, I decided to have some fun with it. Much to my children's dismay, we will not be distributing packets of sugar for their classmates to ingest. Oh no. The paper-junkie-design-nerd-crafty-nutcase-freak in me went hog wild and I came up with a Valentine that's different...and hopefully "mom & teacher-approved"! I'm so in love with these that I might just hand out some of my own {watch out, friends!}.

Okay, so how many of you still have little red heart-shaped suckers in your cupboard from last Valentine's Day? Um. Yeah. That's us {gross, I know}. We've got quart-size ziplock bags of leftover Valentine candy my kids received from classmates last year. Time to toss those...and hope the kids don't notice. I refused to buy something sugary and nasty that would end up in someone's cupboard for a year. So instead, I came up with these:

Dollar store packs of pencils + yarn + custom Valentine designs =


Aren't these FUN!?! Ugh. I can hardly stand it. My kids looked at me like I was asking them to hand out broccoli on Valentine's Day when I showed them. But whatever. They perked up when I told them that THEY would still be getting candy...their friends were the ones who would be receiving these horribly cruel and pathetic Valentine's. The best part about these is that I was able to turn them into an occupational therapy exercise for our daughter as she practiced writing her name on the backside of each tag {first time ever she's been able to!} – and our son also diligently wrote his name on all his tags, too.


So proud of you, Miss Peyton – look at that awesome printing! Years in the making, but TOTALLY worth every second of therapy it's taken to get us to this point – love it! Can't wait to for Peyton to give one of these to each of her therapists, too.

Want to do your own Valentine's this year? Well you're in luck. I'd love to share these with you as a free download if you'd like to do your own "candyless" Valentine's. I've set the tags 12-up on a standard sheet, so all you'll need to do is download the file {see link below}, print these on a standard sheet of cardstock, punch a hole in the corner, have your kids write their names on the back, and *viola!* – tie them on with yarn and you're all set! Enjoy!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - {CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FILE} - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 Please note: These are intended for personal use only and may not be sold or redistributed without permission.




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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Anchored in Love

These last few weeks here in Minnesota have left us all longing for some relief...a thread of hope that spring will eventually come and we can leave our homes without wrapping every inch of skin in a mountain of hats, scarves and parkas. Last night as I drove home from dinner out with my in-laws {who are Florida-bound as I'm writing this - no fair!}, I came upon THIS in the street right by our house:


Well hello, snowdrifts.

Get my drift {pun intended}, it's fairly easy to feel overwhelmed or hopeless in this life at times. Maybe it's the season of life you're in {or the weather season!}, maybe it's the loss of a job, maybe it's struggles in your marriage or with your children or a friendship, or maybe it's accepting the reality of having a child with a disability {in my case}. Whatever it is, it's so easy to feel hopeless, buried {no "blizzard" pun intended} in the circumstances of life. It's so easy to let the evil one sneak in, as he tries to steal our joy and convince us that we have no hope...no relief in sight from the troubles and difficulties of this world.


But we DO have hope. Hope in HIM. Even in the midst of whatever circumstances or struggles we're trying to work through. He is right there with us, serving as our anchor in the storm. Lately, I've been so in love with the lyrics of this song:

 

Anchored In Love
I’ve found a sweet haven of sunshine at last
And Jesus abiding above
His dear arms around me are lovingly cast
And sweetly He tells His love

The tempest is o’er
I’m safe evermore
What gladness what rapture is mine
The danger is past
I’m anchored at last
I’m anchored in love Divine

He saw me endangered and lovingly came
To quiet my storm beaten soul
Sweet words He has spoken and bless His dear name
The billows no longer roll

The tempest is o’er
I’m safe evermore
What gladness what rapture is mine
The danger is past
I’m anchored at last
I’m anchored in love Divine

His love shall control me through life and in death
Completely I’ll trust to the end
I’ll praise Him forever and with my last breath
I’ll sing of my soul’s best friend

The tempest is o’er
I’m safe evermore
What gladness what rapture is mine
The danger is past
I’m anchored at last
I’m anchored in love Divine
Let those lyrics sink in for a minute. They're pretty powerful. I remember hearing this song when I was a kid and at that time I didn't really "get it" – I just loved singing the harmony lines with the old June Carter-Cash version {probably why I love Jenny & Tyler's version so much!}. But as I've mentioned before, music has always been the one thing that speaks to me – it hits me at my core. My favorite part of this song is "His love shall control me through life and in death, Completely I'll trust to the end, I'll praise Him forever and with my last breath, I'll sing of my soul's best friend". He loves us unconditionally. He loves us despite our flaws, failures and messiness. He loves us in life and in death. And He's our soul's best friend. I love that. I really do. My soul's best friend.

He's right there with us through the ups and downs, when we feel like we're floating helplessly and hopelessly in the sea of life – unsure what's next. He's our anchor, keeping our "storm beaten soul" safe and secure.

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."

• Hebrews 6:19 •

I'm thankful today that no matter what storm we're in, we have Hope. A Hope that's firm and secure regardless of what this life may throw at us. Rest in that today.


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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Match Made In Heaven

Hi Friends,

Hard to believe we're almost through our first month in 2014. Life seems to be flying by. I wanted to back up a bit and post about something exciting I was able to be a part of over the course of 2013. But let's rewind a little bit first...so, back in April 2013 I received a message on Etsy from someone named Christie asking if I'd donate a print for an online fundraising auction. Honestly, I get tons of these. TONS. No lie. I've seriously donated more prints to fundraisers for ministries, sick families, adoptions, memorial funds, cancer benefits, you name it - I've donated prints for an auction benefiting "it". My husband doesn't always understand why I'm so giddy to send off prints for free {especially because I've given away more than I've sold}. And that's what I love about Red Letter Ink - how God is using simple 'ol me sitting in my basement with crazy-wild ideas pouring out of this strange brain of mine to touch the lives of other people around the country and really, around the world.

So, back to my message from Christie - I wrote back and said, "Sure, I'd love to!" like I always do. Then I had a few minutes before I was supposed to run out the door to a meeting so I clicked on the blog link she'd sent. As I began to read, I started to cry...then sob...then I was full-out weeping. I had to quick send an email and tell my client something had come up and I wasn't able to meet until later in the day - that's how bad I was. Something about this blog touched me at my core. After reading various posts about the work God was doing in Uganda through Ekubo Ministries, I was completely on-board, wanting to help in whatever way I could. I've asked Christie if it'd be okay for me to share a few of our early messages on Etsy...they're pretty great:


Aimee Libby wrote:
Apr 30, 2013 (after my initial "Sure, I'd love to donate a print" response)
Christie,
I just checked out your blog and I'm bawling my eyes out. Though I may be living a comfortable "suburban" life here in the suburbs of Minneapolis, my heart has ALWAYS been elsewhere. I see the photos and the sweet kids you're caring for and my heart screams "I'M SUPPOSED TO BE THERE!". But then I hear the *ping* of another email coming in from the Special Olympics team that I helped start just over a year ago in our community, and God reminds me that He has me here for a reason. We have a daughter with special needs and I felt so called to reach out to families of special needs kids that we started a Special Olympics team like I said just over a year ago. It's been AMAZING to see how God is giving us opportunities to connect with and come around these families and love on them! But then I find out about ministries like yours and I so desperately would give anything to fly there and stay for as long as I could to help. I strongly believe that one day, God will quench the desires of my heart to serve overseas, but for now - if all I can do is support those who are already there, so be it! :) All that to say, let's go BIG...why don't you show bidders a "Pick your favorite FIVE Red Letter Ink prints". Hopefully that'll help raise funds to cover the many needs that you have...and it'll pacify my aching heart that longs to be there in the meantime as I wait on God's timing! :)


Once again, thank you so much for reaching out to me!!! I love how God connects his children in such amazing ways.

Can't wait to see how much money the Red Letter Ink prints raise for your ministry!!

Talk to you soon,
Aimee


P.S. Not sure if you saw this yet, but my latest blog post was about our May adoption fundraising...check it out! You'll get to see a couple of my newest adopted nephews, too! :)
www.redletterink.blogspot.com/2013/04/may-is-kind-of-big-deal.html

Ekubo Ministries wrote:
Apr 30, 2013
Gaaaaaah! Now you have me crying. Oh, sister. Children with special needs are discarded in Uganda but organizations like ours scoop them right up. They're our hearts. They're HIS heart. Makes me angry how they're treated. Oh, sister! More tears.

We would absolutely LOVE to have you come serve with us. But like you said, He has you here for a reason - FOR NOW - but when the time comes, bring it :)


The more I keep looking at your work and realizing how stinkin' long we've struggled to get our t-shirt ideas from our heads into a design - people offer on FB for all our supporters to see and thank them publicly but then we never hear from them - the more I pray He'd use you to help us somehow. Your work is just amazing. Wow. Let me know if that's something you'd be willing to bless us with as well.



LOVE that He connected us. Oh, I am praising Him <3

Aimee Libby wrote:
Apr 30, 2013
One more thing - the comment you made in your last message - that special needs kids are discarded there, but organizations like yours "scoop them right up". Here come the tears again ... :) Oh, how that makes my heart smile!!! Knowing that there are people over there who see and appreciate these sweet children...and see their worth, I can barely stand it!! God is SO good.


Ekubo Ministries wrote:
Apr 30, 2013
Sister, I'm just a mess. Crying. Listening to our newborn snoring. Crying some more. Thinking about how heavy my heart is for special needs children. Thanking God for His grace. Thanking Him for having met you. You have NO idea how long I've prayed for someone to help us. Without wanting something in return. Just a pure heart. Like ours. We do SO much for people and when we can't anymore, we have to bury them. Children. Babies. Old people. But we give it our all. I have been praying - for you. You are SO excited to help. THAT is not a "yes, I can donate to help you out". Help me? Oh, no. You're not "helping me". You're bringing glory to Him. But YOU, sweet friend, are cheerful. I'm crying again. Thank you for being different. Grabbing your hand and running towards Him together. So thankful. Sooooo thankful.
 
Aimee Libby wrote:
Apr 30, 2013
What a beautiful thing to find a connection like this where we both just "get it". I've run in to a lot of different organizations/people over the years who have requested donations, and I've yet to turn one down. But most of them take whatever donation I send and I never hear from them again. This'll be different, though, I can already tell. Because God meant for the two of us to virtually "brush shoulders". I can't tell you what a relief it is for me to finally have found someone who doesn't think it's absurdly odd that my hearts' real desire is to SERVE. I don't want money. I don't want recognition. I don't want anything but to use what God's blessed me with to bless others. Period.

Here in the States when people hear me say that most of them look at me like I've lost my marbles. And that's probably why I've spent all 13 years of my married life feeling like a loner on an island serving, rarely finding others who have the same mentality/desire who will serve alongside me. Then someone like YOU comes along and restores my hope in what God is doing through all the chaos of this world. He had a plan to connect us. He knew we BOTH needed it. And I am so ridiculously excited and humbled. It's gonna be a GREAT ride, I just know it!! :) SO. EXCITED.

What a ride it has been!! There have been countless times since last April where I'll drop Christie a note via Etsy or Facebook only to get a response, "No way. I was just praying for you!" {like tonight when I messaged her to make sure she was okay with me sharing our private Etsy messages}. I have no doubt that when that day comes where Christie and I are able to meet face-to-face, we'll be instant best friends...and there will be LOTS of hugging involved. And maybe a few tears of joy.

Something Christie had mentioned in one of our conversations was their need for a new/revised logo that could be applied to t-shirts, postcards, brochures, jewelry tags, etc. We put our heads together and after a few rounds of going back and forth, we settled on the new Ekubo Ministries logo...and I LOVE IT!!!

Our next project is t-shirt designs {my favorite!} which will serve as a means to raise additional funds for Ekubo, but in the meantime, if you're looking for an incredible ministry to support - please take a few minutes and consider Ekubo Ministries {check them out on Facebook, too!}. They have hearts of gold and will gladly share with you one of their many stories of how God has continued to provide and bless them even during the most unbearable circumstances. He is good ALL the time. And He connects people for a reason...even those who are worlds apart. The next time you come across a situation that makes you think, "Whoa, that's a little crazy how that hit me straight in the heart", pause and see if God may have purposely led you straight into that situation. Because He has a way of doing that. And it's up to us what we choose to do with opportunities that arise out of nowhere.



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Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's that time again...


That time again, you know, for New Year's Resolutions. The time of year where you start fresh and have great aspirations to live a "Pinterest-perfect" life. THIS is going to be the year, you tell yourself. This is the year to turn that flabby, post-baby body into that ripped fantastic bod that you see on all the commercials and in all the health magazines. And this is the year that running will become something that's so enjoyable you can barely stand to go a day without doing it. And this will be the year where you'll magically start to enjoy eating nothing but carrot sticks and lettuce like a rabbit to achieve the aforementioned teeny tiny magical bod that everyone will be so jealous of. And this is the year we'll suddenly become savvy in the home decor department and our homes will be transformed into an overly organized, type-A museum-like setting that would put Martha Stewart to shame. THIS IS THE YEAR! Time for a fresh start!

Now anyone who knows me knows that:
  • a) I like to be "healthy", but I'm allergic to exercise {either that or it's just lower on my list of priorities - not as important as whatever I'd have to give up in order to make time for it}
  • b) I did all my running in high school & college and am "run out" now {thank you college track & field knee injury}
  • c) While I enjoy a clean, organized house...I tend to fail miserably the majority of the time in the eyes of my type-A personality hubby {love you, dear!}

But with all that said, I still find myself thinking about all the "what ifs" as January 1st rolls around each year. Believe me, I'd give my right arm to have my stretched out baby belly GONE. And who wouldn't love to be a size or two smaller? I mean c'mon, everyone wants to be healthier to some degree, right?!

Over Christmas break we spent a good chunk of time at our cabin in NW Wisconsin {near where I grew up}. I'm not gonna pretend that we haven't taken a lot of heat for the crazy amount of time we've retreated to the woods over the past year, because we have. And to answer the question everyone and their dog asks every time they see us, no, we're not moving up there {not yet anyway}. But the time we've had there as a family and with other family & friends has been priceless as I've mentioned in other posts. And to be perfectly honest, part of what I've enjoyed so much about it is that there it feels like we have a "fresh start". We've been plugged in at a church {NorthRidge Fellowship} here at home for over 9 years now and we absolutely love and adore our church family! And the biblical teaching that happens week after week there has been so instrumental in the spiritual growth of our family. That was one concern we had about being away at the cabin so frequently. But a few months back my dad who works up in the area where our cabin is said, "Hey, I know there's a new church-plant just northeast of you guys - you should check it out". We'd tried another church close by and it was fine, other than the fact that we walked in and people looked at us like we were growing a third eyeball. We had been there several times and no one bothered to say hello other than the sweet elderly man who was handing out bulletins each week. I attempted to drag the kids to Sunday school and ended up sitting in class with them several Sundays. The preaching {when I was able to actually sit in the service} was decent, but overall it didn't feel like a good fit for our family. So one Sunday last fall we headed out to the new church plant. They meet in a small but brand new building that overlooks a gorgeous little lake, and the first time we set foot in the doors of this quaint building we felt like we were home. Instantly we were bombarded {in a good way} by people greeting us and wanting to learn all about our family. The kids enjoyed the Sunday school time and the preaching was engaging, scripture-based, and very solid. We felt so comfortable that first Sunday that we even stayed for the potluck after the service {seems to be a pattern here - at our home church we went to a small group gathering the first Sunday we attended}. We've been back several times, including a beautiful Christmas Eve service there, and we now consider Crossroads Christian Church our "home away from home church". What a stark difference this church is compared to our home church ... the attendance on last week's bulletin said there were 51 people there the previous Sunday. The last time I saw attendance numbers at our home church they were in the 550-600 range for one weekend. Regardless of the size difference, both churches have the same mission & vision: to love God, love each other, and reach the lost/make a difference.

The Sunday before New Year's we headed back to our "cabin church". Our son quickly began looking for his Sunday school teacher and our daughter went to find some of the new special needs friends she'd met at the Christmas Eve service {did I mention this place was an instant good fit?!}. The service started and we sang some worship songs then had some prayer/scripture reading time before their usual "visiting time". Then it was time for the sermon. Now, just to give you a little background, I grew up in the church. I mean literally grew up. I have more memories of being in church than being in our own home. So I've heard a sermon or two in my day. But the sermon this Sunday was one of the most challenging ones I've ever heard. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I wasn't sitting there in my chair thinking about the crazy week ahead with Special Olympics planning and practice, Speech therapy & Occupational therapy appointments for our daughter, basketball practice for our son, projects for clients, etc. Whatever the case, I found myself sitting there completely focused on what Pastor Tryg was sharing with us. And his challenge hit me square in the eyes. He spoke about New Year's Resolutions ... and I loved every second of it, because what he was sharing with us was so opposite of all the messages our world throws at us.

Pastor Tryg talked a bit about common New Year's resolutions - focused on getting in to shape and being healthy. He gave us several great scripture references that talk about "Christ in us, hope of glory" {Colossians 1:24-29} and our spiritual health, and how we're called to become mature in Christ {Ephesians 4:11-15}. Much like physical health, this isn't something that comes quickly or without hard work and dedication. But unlike becoming physically healthy, becoming spiritually healthy will have an eternal impact.

"Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
- I Timothy 4:7-8

Let that one sink in for a minute.

I especially LOVE the last part of that passage, "...holding promise for both the present life and the life to come". Thinking back to the typical New Year's resolutions, how many people truly believe that if they could JUST get in shape and have a near-perfect physically fit body their lives would be much better? Sadly, I think there are a lot of people who think that. Our society is so focused on becoming the best YOU can be! If you're fit, your house is in order, and you appear as though you have it all together your life will be FANTASTIC because we'll finally feel like our life is headed in the right direction, right?! Ummm, sorry to burst your bubble. The bible is very clear that our lives are worthless and wasted without Christ in the center of it. As Pastor Tryg said on Sunday, "We need to live our lives based on God's truth rather than basing how we live our lives on emotions and circumstances in our lives" {I Thessalonians 5:16-18}. For me, that means even though I'm more than likely going to have to walk around for all of 2014 with my flabby post-baby belly and bum knee, that doesn't mean I have to feel like a failure because all my friends are a size 2 and run as many 5Ks and half-marathons as they can {they really aren't/don't}. And it doesn't mean that as I watch other friends' kids who are the same age as our daughter head off to enjoy typical activities like summer camp, I don't need to sit feeling depressed, mourning the fact that Miss Peyton will probably never be able to join them in most of those activities. No, instead, I need to focus on His truth. His truth tells us time and time again that each and every one of us was created for a special purpose. Some may become evangelists who lead hundreds of thousands to Christ like Billy Graham, while others of us may be placed here to simply impact a childhood friend in a positive way which they attribute to directing them towards choosing to follow Christ later in life. And some of us may be placed here with a physically/cognitively flawed body/mind – but we can't even begin to fathom the incredible ways God will use them to spread joy, hope and love to those around us. Whatever the case, if we shift our focus from being "physically" healthy to becoming "spiritually" healthy {which leads to becoming mature in our faith}, then everything else will fall into place. As the sermon Sunday came to a close, I jotted down the list of 3 questions Pastor Tryg challenged us to ask ourselves as believers, thinking about New Year's Resolutions:

1) Are we proclaiming Christ in our words & actions? {I Thessalonians 5:16-18}

2) Are we warning those who are falling away and have dull hearing? {Hebrews 5:11-14}

3) Are we teaching others? {Colossians 1:28-29}

I can't think of a better way to start the new year with the goal of loving BIG and focusing on our spiritual health so that we can impact others for eternity. Living with eternal purpose, standing on HIS truths is the only way to truly find happiness in this life here on earth. I'm excited to see what God is going to do through his children in 2014 if we obediently follow HIS lead and HIS truths, praising him no matter what the circumstances!

Happy New Year everyone! May this be the year we all become healthy ... in the right way.


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