Her Room Looks Empty

Her room looks empty.  Her dresser is bare.  Her bags are packed.

This is happening.  My firstborn is leaving home.  It isn’t her first adventure, but it is her longest so far.  Seeking God and helping others is her mission, taking photos along the way.

                How can I say goodbye to my right arm, the joy of my heart, and my best girlfriend?  I fear I will be overcome with testosterone and daily tasks without her.

  But I know that it is her time to fly. 

God’s timing is perfect, and His grace is sufficient for me.  She graduated two years ago, an amazing student.  She stayed to save money and help me through my hardest pregnancy and recovery yet. 

                She is a second mother to the others.  She diapered them, fed them, washed them, dressed them, educated them, had fun with them, and loved them.  They are the children they are today because of her.  I am a sane and happy mother of 10 because of her. She had a job and was a leader at youth group.  Many have been blessed by her! 

                “What will we ever do without her?”  my heart keeps asking.  “How will I bare the emptiness?”

                The truth is, we are not becoming smaller as a family, we are expanding.

We are not losing Areli, we are going to be seeing a whole new world through her eyes.  Her room won’t be empty!  Two little girls will being filling the space with feminine joy and enthusiasm soon.  And what a good change it will be.  Four year old Annalise is still in a crib in her brother’s room.  10 month old Aria will be a wonderful roommate now that she sleeps like an angel.

All the children will take a step up and grow in maturity. They will learn new skills and take on new jobs.

                Areli will be going to the same missionary school that I attended just a brief 25 years ago.

  25 means double grace, and there is double grace on her life.

To live…to love…to learn…to grow…to embrace each moment!  Our hearts are going with her, and our prayers are surrounding her. 

 One of her walls looked awfully bare. So I pinned up some photos of Areli and the family. Aria will be able to lay on her new changing table and see that beautiful smile everyday. 

We are so proud of you Areli!  It won’t be long until we are all together again.

A Surprise Visit from My Marine, a Family Picnic, and another Eagle Sighting

It was 7pm and dinner was still not ready! I was working in the hot kitchen as the children were running all over the house and yard.

“This just does not work!”  I lamented to Areli, my oldest daughter.  “It is simply too late to be eating supper.”

How did it get so late, and why was I so unprepared today?

“It is alright, Mommy” she said sweetly as she helped.

I was putting the finishing touches on chicken chili (why did I decide to make soup on such a hot day?) when I heard a voice behind me.

“Mom! Mom!”

                I turned around and to see a face I hadn’t seen in four months.  The grown-up, handsome face of my oldest son, Cole.  It took a few seconds to register in my brain.  Then I rushed to hug him, and hugged him, and hugged him, and hugged him some more.

He had just graduated from his Marine MOS training school that morning.  We had all texted him congratulations, and his only reply was that he was off to his next duty station.  He had told us earlier in the month that he didn’t have enough time to come see us, and that it could be quite a while before he did.  Little did we know that he had bought a car and had gotten enough leave to drive home.  Areli knew all about it and had been in communication with him the entire time.  My heart was so happy, so thrilled, so blessed that I couldn’t put my emotions into words. Suddenly I was thankful that dinner was so late and I simply said.

                “Cole, you are just in time for supper!”

 

That Saturday we decided to take the whole family to Little Buffalo for a picnic.  We had many happy memories of day trips and camping trips there, and it was a beautiful day!  As we started the journey in our 12 passenger van, my heart was overflowing.  Our van was full, and I was so thankful that all 12 members of our family were together again.  I sent up a little prayer.

                “I would really love to see an eagle today since we are all together and Cole is here, since Cole is an eagle too.”

About five minutes pasted.  We drove across the Susquehanna River and there it was.  A big black bird.  Flying across the road right in front of us.  It had a white head!

It was a bald eagle!

“There is an eagle!” I screamed 5 times as I pointed frantically.  Most of the children saw it before it flew out of sight.  Cole didn’t spot it, and he started laughing at me.  The other children looked at me strangely and someone said, “Mom, I don’t think I have ever seen you so excited!”

“I was definitely more excited to see Cole when he came home…but you guys don’t understand!  I just prayed and asked God to see an eagle today.  Literally 5 minutes ago I asked Him, and there was an eagle!”

Chris had just been telling me how he had to drive this route many days to deliver packages.  It was a lovely drive.  But he had never seen an eagle before.  The rest of the day I spend in gratitude and wonderment.  Why would God so quickly answer my frivolous little prayer?  What had I done to deserve to be surrounded by such beautiful and handsome faces?

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These people made up my whole world, all my hopes and dreams. They are large portions of my heart walking around outside of my body.

They are all so precious, so special, and so important to me.  They were all here together on this perfect day.  Finally we had to head home, clean up and make supper. The perfect day was fading into twilight, and I wanted to hold on to it.

Cole would be leaving for his first duty station soon.  Would our entire family ever be in our van together again? I began to worry.  It is easy for a mother to worry.  So many details for each child.  So many hurdles stand between them and accomplishing their destinies.  Sometimes one of those hurdles is me!  (Did I check all their school papers?  Did I look that child in the eyes today and see his heart?  Will this one overcome my bad parenting techniques in the past?) A hundred fears began to pop up their ugly heads, and I began to play whack-a-mole with them in my mind.  Not a fun game because they just keep popping back up again.

                Finally I remembered that God had just shown me an eagle.

He had done that twice before, and both times He had used the eagle sighting to tell me something very important.  The first time was in response to a very specific prayer of mine.  He showed me that I do hear His voice, He does hear my voice, and that He created me to be a spiritual eagle.  (Details in “A Hawk, A Vulture,and an Eagle” Part 1 and Part 2.)

The second time I was on a long drive and He told me that I could trust Him with my Children and that He loved me more than I could imagine.  Then I saw the eagle.  Right at that moment this scripture came on the Bible CD I had been listening to.

So don’t lose your confidence. It will bring you a great reward. You need endurance so that after you have done what God wants you to do, you can receive what he has promised.

“Yet, the one who is coming will come soon. He will not delay.

The person who has God’s approval will live by faith. But if he turns back, I will not be pleased with him.”

We don’t belong with those who turn back and are destroyed. Instead, we belong with those who have faith and are saved.

Hebrews 10:35-39 (God’s Word)

                It was clear that these fears had no place in my life.

God loved me, He was holding my husband and my children in His hands, and had given me the faith I needed to stand firm with confidence.  Then I was reminded of something He had been showing me a few weeks ago.  Frankly I had kinda forgotten about it, because it was just too hard to wrap my brain around, so against my normal way of living.  However, this third eagle sighting had convinced me that this was truly a message from God that I had to believe and attempt to live.

It is called, “The Hunted becomes the Hunter.”

To be continued….

Ashlyn Update: One Year after Surgery

Last year Ashlyn had a Posterior Medial Release done on her left foot and a Triple Arthrodesis on her right foot at Hershey Medical Center.  This was to correct a progressive club foot deformity that wasn’t present when she was a baby but by age 13 had taken her ability to walk.  I wrote about all the details in, “Prayer Warriors Needed”.  Thank you to everyone who prayed for her!!!  Dr. Sorenson was happy with the results.

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He had originally said she would be in the hospital for 3 days post-op.  I was prepared to stay with her and somehow position my very pregnant self on a reclining chair for three torturous nights.

Ashlyn was doing so well after the surgery that they allowed her to go home the SAME DAY!  What a relief!  With some strong pain meds, she slept fairly well.  The biggest hassle was that she was supposed to sleep on her back with her feet elevated.  She had never slept on her back in her life, and she was very grumpy about it.  Finally after several days, I called the doctor, and he said it would be fine for her to sleep on her stomach with her knees bent and feet up on pillows.

AHHHH!!  Peaceful nights once again.  She did wonderful during the day resting on the love seat.

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It was a little difficult for her to crawl around the house and use the toilet, but she did it with help from older siblings.  She healed quickly and her pain was not too bad.  We stopped using the medication before the prescription ran out.  The surgery and recovery were much easier than I had anticipated.  Her teachers at school gladly worked around her casts.

Right before school let out she graduated to big black boots.  She still wasn’t weight bearing, but was healing nicely.

Finally in August she was fitted for new orthotic braces that would allow her to walk.  Slowly but surely she began to stand and walk again!  Now she walks at school with a walker all the time, and walks at home on her walking track.

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She grew a lot in the year that she couldn’t walk.  Her scoliosis has increased to a 70% curvature which is very significant.  She is no longer able to totally straighten up, which makes walking hard.  Also her knees buckle inward.

She has also been riding her bike with a little help.  When she first received the bike some 4 or 5 years ago, she was terrified of it and would scream through most of her ride.  Now she loves it and asks to ride often!

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Her feet look much better than they did before.  As you can see, they still do not rest flat on the floor.

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Now she can stand without braces which she could not do before the surgery.

 

At least now she can fit into braces and normal shoes.  Big sister Areli got Ashlyn a pair of Nike wide Fly Ease sneakers that open with a zipper.  The easiest and nicest shoes she has ever had!

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I noticed after the surgery that Ashlyn’s toe next to her pinky toe on each foot was slightly shorter than it was before.  In fact, the toe on her left foot was drastically shorter.  On her follow up appointment I talked to the doctor about it.  Unfortunately, our beloved Dr. Sorenson had moved to Texas.  Another doctor took over for him.  This doctor had never seen Ashlyn before.  When I told him about her toe, he took a glance at it and said, “Oh yes, that it called ‘such-and-such long technical-term’ and she has had that since birth.”

“It is a lot shorter than it used to be,” I tried to explain.

“Oh no it isn’t, you just didn’t notice it before.” he promptly replied.

Well, my trust in this new doctor just plummeted to zero, and I thanked God that we had done this important surgery before Dr. Sorenson had made his move!

A Parris Island Graduation

We had just celebrated New Years.  I was excited to say goodbye to 2018, a year of being pregnant and recovering from being pregnant.  I had spent most of the year feeling my worst, but trying my best to be more active.

And here I was, bright and early on the second day of 2019, starting out on a road trip to Parris Island, South Carolina.  Amazing!

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“This is going to be a great year!” I thought to myself as I watched the scenery go by, as we crossed the border of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and then South Carolina.  I was happy as the temperatures got noticeably warmer.  I remained optimistic even when the southern humidity turned my hair into a frizzy puff ball.

I was with Chris and our oldest daughter, Areli (19 years old) and our youngest daughter Aria (4 months old) driving down to attend the Marine Graduation of our firstborn son, Cole.  We were also traveling with Cole’s girlfriend, Amy and her mom, Valarie.  We were making good time even with nursing Aria every 3-4 hours.  We were close to our rental home, but we had to stop for supper.  We found a local diner with southern comfort food.  No bright and fresh vegetables, but plenty of the fried variety.  It felt almost too stereotypical to be true: the friendly waitress with the charming southern drawl giving directions to the toothless gentleman, “Turn at the big tree, past the single-wide, to the double-wide where my mama lives.”

The next morning we awoke early, but we could hardly sleep anyway.  It was the day that we would see our Marine for the first time in three months.  I had to rise at 4:30 to get myself ready and feed the baby. Even though we got on the base at 6:30, we realized that we were a bit late, and the parking lot was almost full.  We hurried out to try and find a good spot along the street.  At 7:00am the Motivational Run would start, and we wanted to catch a glimpse of Cole as he ran past.

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We could see the famous sign over the Blvd de France that said, “WE MAKE MARINES” and our excitement mounted!  Soon we heard something but couldn’t see anything.  Was it recruits doing PT?  Or was it our Marines getting closer?  First to come marching down the street was a small band that Areli nicknamed, “The Side Band.” A lively and talented group of brass musician and drummers danced and marched and interacted with the crowd.

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I learned later that they were all master musicians who joined the Marines just to be in their band.  Soon we heard a military cadence being called out by hundreds of young Marines.

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We could hardly contain our excitement at this point.  Camera and phones were out.  We watched the guidons carefully.  First the lead platoons would pass…1000…1001…

There was 1002!  Cole’s Platoon.  I strained my eyes.  Then in the middle of all the green and shaved heads…I think….I see…

“There’s Cole!  Cole!!!!  Yeah!!!!  I see him!” I yelled like a crazy person.  I saw Cole’s head perk up ever so slightly and in his eyes was a look of recognition.  He was not allowed to break formation in any way, but he had seen us!

The others couldn’t spot him, so we waited until they all ran past again.  This time everyone could see him, strong and proud, running like it was no big deal.  When “The Side Band” passed us again we realized something.  We didn’t know where to go or what to do next.  By the time we followed the crowds of people who were congregating across the street, we were at the back of the line.  We found out that it was the line to get into the All-Weather Training Facility were the Liberty Ceremony would be held…in two hours!

The security was very strict so it took a long time to get into the building.  We couldn’t all find seats.  Areli, Amy, and I squeezed into the tight bleachers.  Chris just stood in the back with the baby. I had to exit to use the restrooms (which we soon realized, were not one of the top priorities of the Parris Island hospitality committee).  When I returned, the doors were being closed because all the seats were full, still an hour before the ceremony.

I knew that Family Day and was a big deal, but I didn’t realize how BIG it was!

Family and friends had traveled to be here. Whether alone or in groups of up to 30, they came from all over the world to see their beloved receive one of the highest honors; the title of United States Marine.

Time ticked on as we watched Marine promotional videos.  Finally a Marine in charge told Chris he could take Aria and sit in the front row, in a handicap spot that hadn’t been filled.  I joined him.  It was amazing that God worked that out for us!  Next to us was sitting the wife and three young children of one of Cole’s DIs.  Again, I was amazed.  DIs have wives?  They have adorable little children?! I prayed that Aria would be a good little baby and not go into one of her crying fits during the ceremony.

Right on time one of the large doors was opened.  A single Marine sang out a Cadence as the DIs and Platoons marched in perfect formation.  Platoon 1002 stopped right in front of us, but I couldn’t see Cole.

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The talking seemed to last forever.  Finally Liberty was announced and the room erupted into chaos.  It took a while for Cole to find us.  He looked so good, confident and strong.  I hugged him and couldn’t speak for the lump in my throat.

We spent the next 4 hours and 45 minutes walking around the base, talking, asking questions, eating, shopping, and taking in the museum.  There was so much we wanted to know and so little time.  Cole seemed relaxed and happy to answer our questions.

He told us stories that made us laugh and stories that made us wonder in amazement.

He had made it through!  He was still alive and still human, but now more mature, wiser.  He could joke about his suffering and smile and greet other new Marines.

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Marines are always early, so Cole made sure he was back at the Parade Deck well before Liberty was over.  I nursed the baby in the van while the others watched the Graduation Practice.  We spent the rest of our day relaxing at our rental home.  We enjoyed the porch and the beautiful view.  South Carolina really is lovely, if you don’t mind all the frizzy hair.

We decided that we absolutely HAD to get on the base earlier for Graduation Day.  When Aria woke me up at 3:30 am the next morning, there was no point in going back to sleep.  But it was worth it!  We got on the base by 5:30 and Areli and Amy began to wait in line.  The rest of us waited in the van with the sleeping baby.  After a while Valarie and Chris got out to wait in line as well.  At 7:30 they were finally opening the security check points and allowing people into the bleachers.  Still, the ceremony didn’t start until 9, so I thought I would let the baby sleep.  I nursed her in the van around 8 and Chris called me saying, “Get in here as soon as you can.  We are trying to save you a seat but they keep telling us to move closer together to make more room. It is filling up fast.”

I grabbed the diaper bag, my purse, and the baby and walked to the closest metal detector.  By this time the line was very short, and Aria and I got to our seats in no time.  Wow, there were a lot of people!  And packed in so close together, you felt like you were sitting in your neighbor’s lap.  It was a friendly crowd, and I began to talk with the ladies in front of me.  One had come from New York to see her nephew graduate.  Another had come with 20 other family members from Georgia to see her grandson.  We talked about boot camp, our hopes and our fears, and the goodness of God. Tears were coming already and the ceremony hadn’t even started yet! The overflow bleachers were filling up and people who didn’t get a seat were standing.

 I looked out at the crowd and was struck by the amount of love it represented.

I thought about the mother originally from South Africa who traveled with her daughter and grandson.  I remembered the woman in front of me in line explaining how she didn’t sleep a wink during the crucible.  She had stayed up with her candles lit, praying for her great-grandson.  I recalled the sweet young girlfriend from Michigan, alive with giddy excitement at the Liberty Ceremony.  Brothers and sisters holding banners at the Motto Run, women running and embracing their Marines at Liberty, and family members decked out in matching shirts filled my mind.  Now I was surveying the thousands lining the Parade Deck who had taken time off of work and gladly paid the expense to be here.  What love!

I was so glad that I was here!

Part of the thousands,

part of the love,

part of this little piece of Parris Island history,

part of this huge piece of MY SON’S history.

The ceremony was very impressive, full of military marching and orders.  (I don’t have a military background so please forgive my rudimentary and perhaps inaccurate descriptions.) First came the “Main Band” we called it, not to be confused with the “Side Band.”  To watch them march with their instruments was rather like watching close order drills done with slide trombones rather than rifles.  There was the parade master, a woman with an incredible voice that could be heard from one end of the Parade Deck to the other.  There were many commanding officers and two generals.  The mascot of the Marines, a cute bulldog, made an appearance.  When the platoons came marching in, their skill was amazing!  We caught a glimpse of Cole!

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                There were orders called out, awards given, accolades received, and cannons fired!  I had two favorite moments of the ceremony.

First was when I watched my son’s platoon all take a stance in perfect unison, bringing their heels together with one thunderous clap.  Second was when a commanding officer said, “Good Morning!” and over 600 Marines answered him with one voice that seemed to shake the earth.

Finally each platoon was given the order to go on leave and Cole was free!  Free for 10 days!  We gave hugs and congratulations.  We took pictures.  We were bursting with pride!

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We met some of Cole’s friends.  We picked up the last of his bags and saw his squad bay. Cole was anxious to get off of the base and start his leave.  We all had so much to talk about, so many things to do with him, and so many favorite foods to prepare!  But for the moment, we seemed a bit dazed.  It felt like a dream; the culmination of over a year of praying, preparing, and training.

Our son had truly earned the title:

United States Marine!

I Can Trust God with My Children

My oldest son, Cole, is in Marine boot camp right now.  Actually he is in the middle of the Crucible, and my mind is going crazy.  I am trying to remember him in prayer at all hours of the day and night without letting my thoughts lead to worry…

and the worry lead to impatience…

and the impatience lead to “what ifs”…

and the “what ifs” lead to panic.

I thought back to October of last year when he first told me that he wanted to join the Marines.  He didn’t talk about the benefits or the pay.  He said he wanted the brotherhood, the character development, the challenge.  At first I wasn’t sure I wanted my son in the military, so I asked God about it.  He gave me peace and the impression that this would be the very best thing for Cole.  Pretty soon I was feeling that joining the Marines would be the most important step for him to take after High School.  I had been praying for a long time that Cole would find a positive focus for all of his teenage energy.  Finally he had found it!

As a mom, I can worry about absolutely anything!  So my son had made the very wise choice to pursue a career in the Marines.  But what if his enthusiasm waned?  What if he got in trouble and became disqualified?  Boot camp was a year away.  What if he didn’t make it there?!

On October 28, 2017 the worries were getting the better of me. It was the Saturday morning of his very first Marine work-out.  One of the stipulations of the delayed entry program was that Cole had go to the recruiting office once a week to prepare physically and mentally.  A recruiter was going to pick him up early that morning to take him to the work-out.  I had to leave even earlier to make a trip to the farm. There was dew on all the blades of grass and all the colorful leaves.  The sunlight peaking over the horizon was like white gold glittering on every water droplet.

I wanted to enjoy the beautiful drive and the peaceful time alone…but I was feeling guilty and worried.  Cole was NOT a morning person. What if he didn’t get up in time for the workout?  I should have stayed at home to make sure that he did! What if he wasn’t serious about this Marine thing? What if all God’s plans for his future got derailed?

A song on the radio washed over my mind with the power of the Holy Spirit.

                “Death could not hold you, the veil tore before you.

                You silenced the boast of sin and grave.

                The heavens are roaring, the praise of your glory.

                Yours is the name above all names.”

The worries were replace by a picture of Jesus on the cross, conquering death and sin, then rising again victorious, becoming the Savior of the world.  I saw the Good Father allowing His beloved son to come into this world that did not love or receive Him.  All of hell was working against Jesus and much of the earth and mankind as well.  A million different things could have gone wrong. Countless roadblocks stood in the path for Jesus to become all He was destined to be, to accomplish all He was meant to accomplish.

Yet the Good Father was able to keep Jesus and guide Him perfectly.  He could do the same with my children.

“You mean I really don’t have to feel responsible for making sure my children achieve their purpose here on the earth?  That I could really just trust you to do it?” I asked God, trying to let go of years of ingrained thought patterns that always led to worry.

                “You know that you never could, no matter how hard you tried. That is why you worry. That burden is not for you to carry. Just trust me,” came the whispered answer.

When I arrived back home, Cole had already left for his workout.  I didn’t need to worry!

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Cole and I a year ago after he swore in to the Marine delayed entry program.

Now he is almost done with boot camp, just hours away from becoming a Marine.  I didn’t need to worry. But I still did.  About EVERY little thing over the past year. I decided that I had to remind myself of all God had spoken to me.

When I went back and read my journal entry for October 28, 2017, this is what I had written.

                “You are the Good Father who puts his children in this world and then brings them through the crucible victorious.”

I had written that before I knew anything about the Marines.  Long before I understood that they had the toughest and longest boot camp out there.  Before I had any idea that the culminating event of Marine boot camp was called The Crucible; 54 hours packed with missions to accomplish, obstacles to overcome, 45 miles to be hiked, and very little sleep or food to be had.

                I had been prophesying and I didn’t even know it!

So as I am imagining every possible thing that could go wrong with Cole out there in the rain and the cold and dark of The Crucible, I chose to remember;

I can trust the Good Father with Cole and his destiny.

God will bring him through The Crucible Victorious!

 

 

Candy Wrappers and Fuzzy Tongues: the Influence of an Older Brother

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Having six boys, we have quite a culture of testosterone in our home.  Wrestle first, ask questions later.  As my older boys grow into men, I hope that they will be a good influence on the younger ones.  Teach them to respect their mom, stand up for their brothers, and protect their sisters…stuff like that!

However I have noticed a different type of influence that is not always good.  The oldest boy would relentlessly pick on the second to youngest one.  I would explain to the Oldest that I understand that the Second Youngest can be very annoying at times, BUT the truth of the matter is, “You were very much like him at his age.  You looked very similar and had very similar behaviors.  Your Dad and I didn’t call you mean names or criticize you did we?” I ask.

“No,” the Oldest answers.

“So give him the same courtesy,” I say.

My logical explanation seems to have little effect on his behavior as the bullying continues.  I begin to notice that the Third and Fourth Oldest are learning the fine art of bullying.  I am distressed.

Other behaviors trickle down the line such as writing on clothing or sneaking candy and stashing the empty wrappers behind the washing machine.  A love for fishing, violent video games, and BB guns flourish.  When the Oldest joins the delayed entry program of the Marines, the other boys pick a branch of the military that they will join someday.  Even the Youngest is being encouraged to follow his dream of being a paratrooper.

“I don’t want ALL my sons to be in the military,” I yell out. What is a mother to do?

As the Oldest spends more and more time with his Marine recruiters, training physically and mentally for boot camp, I notice a change in him.  He is maturing.  He is becoming more honorable and more truthful.  He is becoming more respectful…most of the time.

Dental Health has never been very important to the Oldest Brother.  Dental Health is very important to me.  I used to brush each child’s teeth after each meal.  As they get older, they must brush their teeth themselves of course, but I still remind them quite often.

“Have you brushed your teeth?” I call out to the Second Youngest who is rushing out the door for school.

“Yeah, Yeah,” he answers.

I suspect that he didn’t.  I suspect that he hasn’t brushed at all in the past week.  I need to pry open his mouth and check for myself but there he goes…halfway to school already.

One day I witnessed firsthand the power of the influence of the Oldest Brother.  We were all sitting at the dining room table eating a meal.  When we are done I try again to preserve the teeth of my children.

“Everyone, brush your teeth!” I call out.

No effect.  No indication that anyone has heard me speak.

Then a new voice declares, “You should really brush your teeth, you know.”

It is the knowable voice of the Oldest Brother.

“I didn’t used to brush my teeth at all,” he continues, “but then I saw this picture of what happens to your tongue when you never brush. I almost puked right there!  The back of the tongue was growing mold, fuzzy mold!”

“Really?” the younger brothers are very interested, “Show us!  Show us!” they beg.

He whips out his phone, finds the picture and shows them all.

The younger boys do not walk, they RUN to the bathroom to brush their teeth.  In all my years of mothering, I don’t think I have ever elicited such immediate and wholehearted compliance to one of my instructions.

The cool Oldest Brother has a power that even he doesn’t totally understand. May it always be a force for good!  Now that the Oldest Brother is in boot camp, may the core values of the Marines be the driving force behind his awesome power of influence.

HONOR

COURAGE

COMMITMENT

And just a little bit of good housekeeping and proper dental hygiene.

 

 

The Naming of Aria Iolani

It was an early Sunday morning in July.  Most of the family was still in bed.  I was on the computer Googling “names meaning eagle” and hoping no one would come down the stairs and see what I was doing.

I felt rather silly, looking up baby names.  I was 41.  I already had 9 beautiful children.  I had no reason to think that I would ever be blessed with another one.  I would say from time to time, “I think I would like to have a baby in my 40s.”  My husband would always respond, “You’re crazy.”

I felt a little crazy just then, but I felt compelled to do it.  I just had to know what names were out there that meant “eagle.”  Over the past few years God had used many amazing encounters to convince me that I was meant to be an eagle.  I was beginning to let go of who I thought I was (a quiet girl who was deathly afraid of heights) and believe who God made me to be.

I found many names that fit the bill.  However, I needed an “A” name for a girl and a “C” name for a boy to follow the pattern of all our other children.  I could find no suitable boy name, try as I might!  A girl’s name struck me as though it were jumping off the computer screen .

Aria Iolani

 Aria:

Hebrew from Ariel – lion or lioness of God

Italian – air, melody

Sanskrit and Persian – noble, honorable

Teutonic – intelligence of an eagle

Iolani (ee-oh-lahn-ee):

Hawaiian – hawk of royalty, bird of heaven, to soar like an eagle

How perfect!  How beautiful!  A dream had been planted in my heart; a tiny seed carrying the perfect name. A dream that I would one day have a daughter who would bear this name.  A daughter who would have the vision and intelligence of an eagle.  A daughter who would know her identity from the womb. She would not have to live 40 years on the ground before it began to dawn on her…she was meant to FLY!

A few months later, in December, I found that I was pregnant.  The revelation came at a time I didn’t expect.  It didn’t seem like the right time for another baby.  But …perhaps this dream in my heart had been a dream in God’s heart all along.  Perhaps now was THE TIME!

My oldest daughter, Areli, loved the girl’s name I had found!  The boys did not like it, mostly because they wanted the baby to be a boy.  Chris liked the named “Aria” but wasn’t sure about “Iolani.”  It was too hard for him to remember and pronounce correctly, and he thought it would difficult for others as well.

I checked out a bunch of books from the library about Hawaii since Areli was planning on going there for school in the next year or so.  I discovered that there is an Iolani Palace in Hawaii, the only royal palace in the United States.  That settled it.  “Iolani” was THE middle name!

I was excited but told myself that this baby could easily be a boy.  Soon sickness and other pregnancy discomforts (that I had never experienced before) came upon me.  The dream of “Aria Iolani” was still a lovely thought, but it was overpowered by the thoughts of a victim pleading for release from her prison.  I understood that all that was going on in my spirit was being experienced by my baby’s spirit as well.  I tried to be thankful and upbeat.  I tried to speak over my baby love and peace and truth.  Half the time I doubted the truth myself.  That God really loved me and that someday I would feel good again.

Many fears started to plague my mind.  What if there was something wrong with this baby?  What if there was something wrong with my body?  And the worst fear of all, what if this child had a chromosomal abnormality like Ashlyn had?  I love Ashlyn and I am still amazed that God would trust us with such a special child.  Still, I always thought that having two special children would be absolutely too much to handle, and I would break under the strain of it.  With each pregnancy there has been a small chance, and each time this fear rears its ugly head.  This pregnancy the fear was worse than usual, almost suffocating me at times.

I didn’t go to church for two months.  Finally I was feeling well enough to go to a Sunday morning service.  As I entered the balcony of the sanctuary, I heard the Helsers leading worship.  I felt the sweet presence of God, and I longed to linger there forever!  They were singing, “Mt. Zion.”

We have come to Mount Zion

City of the living God

Heavenly Jerusalem

By his blood we have come

I felt God’s presence.  I felt peace and joy.  I felt safety and security.  The fears dissipated.  Hope started rising.  This is where I should have been living this whole time.  This is where I wanted my baby to live, even in the womb.  I felt sad that I had been such a bad mother so far.  I had tried to abide in the presence of God in my own home.  But most of the time I just felt sick and discouraged.

Here at church I could feel His presence, as though Mount Zion was a reality I was dwelling in. The song continued:

Thousands of angels dance around his throne

Thousands more sing out new songs

And elders throw their crowns down

As all of heaven sings out

 

“Baby, this is where you are to live all the time,” I told the precious little one.

                “I know, mama.”

I heard a sweet little girl’s voice say these words.  At least I thought it sounded like a girl. I knew it was my baby.  This was very unexpected and unusual.  It wasn’t said in a sassy voice as if to imply that I was being dumb for thinking my baby didn’t already know this.

It was said in a comforting voice as if to say, “Mama, you worry too much.  I am just fine.  I just recently came to you from heaven.  I could see those angels in person, and I can see them still.  I am still surrounded by His presence.”

I felt more at peace than I had in a long time.  My baby was more aware of spiritual realities than I was.  She was most definitely an amazing child.  I began to remember all the fears I had confronted during previous pregnancies.  One by one those fears had fallen by the wayside, replace by peace.  Almost across board just the opposite had proven to be true.

I didn’t need to worry about this baby’s health, well-being, or intelligence.  She (or possibly he, I had to remind myself) was extraordinary…a super baby!  She (or he) had just spoken to me from the womb for goodness sake!

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On March 30th we had an ultrasound that revealed a perfect and beautiful baby girl!  My dream was growing inside me.

Aria Iolani

About four weeks before my due date, Aria dropped.  She was sitting low and I was uncomfortable.

“At least she is head down and in the right position.  She is getting ready to be born, and it won’t be long now,” I thought.

Each week she dropped a little lower.  Each week I was more uncomfortable.  I kept having signs that labor was near, but no real labor would come.  The last week, each day felt exponentially worse than the day before.  My due date, August 16th came and went, and Aria became my first baby that was actually late.

Finally my water broke the night of August 17th.  The next day labor still had not started, but my homebirth midwife came over to check on me.  I was already dilated to 5 cm and Aria was at +3 station.  The midwife said that babies normally are not that low unless the mom was already in labor.  We both thought that once labor started, Aria would be born quickly.  We were wrong.

Labor finally began around 3pm on August 18th but it progressed very slowly.  I was listening to worship music, scriptures, and birth affirmations.  I was enjoying God’s presence.  He was speaking to me and showing me visions of Himself.   Before I knew it, it was evening.  I didn’t feel like I was in transition even though I was dilated to 10.

Then it got difficult.  I never really had a difficult labor, so it was a new experience.  Aria was so close to being born, yet she wasn’t being born!  I am sure it was difficult for her too, but her heart-rate remained steady.  Finally after an ambulance ride, an epidural, Pitocin, and some sleep; Aria supernaturally came into the outside world at 2:33 am on August 19, 2018.  I felt no pain and consciously did nothing at all.

I simply slept and prayed, “Jesus, you do this because I can’t.”

I woke up to the slightest bit of pressure.  My midwife looked under my covers to see that Aria’s head was crowning!

She was born quickly and placed in my arms.  The rest of the room faded away.  There was only my baby.

Aria Iolani

She was beautiful and peaceful.  I noticed her eyes first.  They were open wide and moving slowly back and forth, scanning and taking it all in.  To me they looked like the eyes of an eagle.

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She is now six weeks old.  Aria had not been as sleepy as my other newborns.  She is more alert and her eyes are always looking.

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The midwife saw her at three weeks and said, “She seems more like a 6 week old that a 3 week old.”  At 3 ½ weeks she began to really look at our faces and smile! The most adorable smile.

Not all is prefect of course.  My recovery had been much slower this time.  Aria finds it hard to just fall asleep, and she spends a good amount of time crying when she is tired.  She also had the worst case of thrush I have ever seen.  Then came the baby acne.

But when I nurse her and look at her baby face, I am so thankful for the chance to have her as a daughter, my 10th child.

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What a rare and precious jewel.  When I prayed for her during my difficult pregnancy, God showed me so clearly that Aria is vitally important – to this family, to this world, and to eternity.  She was not an extra baby or an optional baby.  She NEEDED to be here.  Just like every single baby ever to be conceived.

Of course to me Aria is amazing!  Brilliant, observant, and born to fly.

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Aria Iolani

A dream come true.

My Son Just Graduated from High School! But what do the Marines have to do with this Rite of Passage?

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Cole graduated with his class from Dauphin County Technical School at the Forum in Harrisburg last night.  His father graduated at the very same place 25 years ago.  Excitement was in the air as all the students were decked out in their sashes and cords, representing their accomplishments.

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Cole was the most proud of his black and red United States Marine Corps sash.  We as his family thought that it was by far the finest piece of his outfit, representing months of hard work, representing his future.

 

                As the students got ready for the ceremony, the woman in charge told Cole and two other students that they could NOT wear their Marine sashes during the ceremony under any circumstance.

If they did, they would be denied their diplomas.  The reason?  The students who had enlisted in the other branches of the military did not have similar sashes.  Their red, white, and blue cords would be decoration enough.

Cole was quite angry with this decision.  We as his family were pretty upset as well, wishing there was a way this decision could be overturned.  However, as the seniors marched into the auditorium, no red and black sashes were visible.

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The time came for each cord to be identified and each group of students to rise to receive recognition for the corresponding achievement.  So many fine students!  So many accolades for certifications, test scores, and memberships in honor societies!  Cole rose for many of them, including most outstanding Senior in his technical area.  Finally the students wearing the red, white, and blue cords were asked to stand for their commitment to the armed forces.  Applause and clapping erupted!  Many people stood to their feet!  Our family was up, cheering our hearts out.

Soon almost the entire auditorium rose to honor these courageous young people with thunderous applause. The cheering seemed to last forever.

Although the roaring applause did last four times as long as the applause for any of the other cords, it did not last forever.  Still it was a moment in time that will live in my heart for eternity. A defining moment.

Patriotism is not dead!

Commitment and sacrifice for your country means something! Something that our lives and freedoms depend on.  We feel that gratitude in our very bones.

My son was the recipient of that gratitude in that moment.  I hope he remembers that moment when it feels as if the entire world is against him.  I hope he remembers that his choice means something that I can barely express, but feel so deeply.

I hope he always remembers that we are so, so proud!

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Prayer Warriors Needed for Ashlyn’s Foot Surgery

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Ashlyn is our special 14 year old.  She was a happy and healthy baby.  We didn’t know until she was 6 weeks old that she had a chromosomal abnormality.  We couldn’t get into a pediatric geneticist until she was 3 months old.  It was then that we learned that a piece of her 6th chromosome was missing.  This was very rare with less than 25 cases in the world similar to hers and none on record just like her.  I felt amazed that God would trust me with such a special little girl.  This also meant that no one knew what the outcomes would be for her.

“Wait and see,” is what they said.  Chris and I were sure that she would be almost normal.

We were wrong.

With each passing month, each passing year it became more and more clear how wrong we were.  I asked God for wisdom.  I read What to do with Your Brain Injured Child by Glenn Doman and it became my guide.

I let Ashlyn lay on her belly all the time.  It seemed like forever until she lifted her head, but she did it!  I made a crawling track for her and eventually she started to scoot!  That is, after many excruciating months in a brace to fix a right dislocated hip.  Still, that right side didn’t seem quite right.  She would drag that leg behind her while using the left leg to move forward across the floor.

300717_240310076004371_2823406_n  It took many years and a trip to the Family Hope Center to get Ashlyn to start the cross-pattern crawling.  Learning to climb up the stairs is what did it for her.  I was overjoyed!  I was ecstatic!  I didn’t care how long she crawled.  I knew she would get up and walk eventually.

                Again, I was wrong.

She didn’t get up and bear weight on her feet.  Slowly, ever so slowly, a mysterious and invisible force inside of her body began to pull her feet inward, the right more than the left.  The legs began to become internally rotated on the hip sockets, the right more that the left.  I didn’t notice and neither did all the doctors and specialists that she went to.

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Finally we recognized a progressive club foot deformity. We employed many different types of therapies and braces which allowed her to stand independently for the first time when she was almost 9 years old and take 11 steps by herself by age 10.

We built her a walking track and she worked up to over a hundred trips a day!  She could walk independently around the house.

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However, that invisible force kept on pulling, robbing her of all the progress she had made.  Now the only option left is surgery.  I hate the thought of surgery.  The pain.  The 8-12 weeks of recovery and non-weight being.  The bulky and difficult casts.  The unknown outcome.  The scar tissue and possible pain and arthritis later in life.  I asked God for wisdom and I figured that we had to give Ashlyn the chance to walk.

No surgery would mean no walking.

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I decided to get two opinions on Ashlyn’s case.  The first with Dr. Sorenson at Hershey Bone and Joint Institute and the second with Dr. Herzenberg at the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics in Maryland.  We saw Dr. Sorensen first.  I like him so much!  He recommended a Posterior Medial Release for the left foot and a Talectomy for the right foot (removing of the talus bone.)  He had gotten a medial release when he was 12 years old and it has been great for him.  He thought that Ashlyn would be able to walk just fine!  I was so encouraged and left his office with hope.

I don’t ever remember leaving a doctor’s office with so much hope!

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I researched the two doctors online and my heart sank.  Dr. Herzenber had around 30 years more experience that Dr. Sorenson.  I didn’t want to travel all the way to Maryland to see him, but I felt like I would be a horrible mother if I didn’t.

Thankfully Chris came with me on the day of the appointment.  The drive was long.  The wait in the office was even longer – 2 ½ hours in the room!  Dr. Herzenberg sure knew his stuff!  He said he had done many talecomies over the years but came to realize that a triple arthrodesis produced better results.  A telectomy didn’t leave a joint at all, just scar tissue between two bones that didn’t fit together.  This was not good for a major weight bearing part of the body.  A triple arthrodesis would fuse three smaller joints but reform the talus bone into a working joint.

                I left that visit feeling like this surgery would be totally impossible!

I had to give Ashlyn the best surgeon and the best option, but I could never drive back and forth to Baltimore time and time again for pre and post-op visits.  I could never stay away from my family for the days that she would be in the hospital.

I decided to talk all of this over with Dr. Sorenson.  I didn’t know how he would react.  Some doctors bristle when you question their authority and opinion.  I prayed and prayed.  When I told him that I had taken Ashlyn to see Dr. Herzenberg for a second opinion he said, “Oh really!  He is wonderful.  I actually went to see him for a second opinion when I needed knee surgery.”

I showed him the report of Ashlyn’s appointment and Dr. Herzenberg’s recommendations.  He sat down and read the entire report, WORD FOR WORD!  I never expected that!  It was clear that he admired this other doctor greatly.

When he had finished, he said, “I see his point with the triple arthrodesis.”  He examined Ashlyn’s feet again and declared, “Yes, I think that would really work!  Yes, I agree.  I could do the surgery here for you or you could go see Dr. Herzenberg.  I wouldn’t be offended at all.”

I told him that I would much rather do the procedure here in Hershey with him as the doctor.  We talked about all the details; four weeks of casting prior to surgery to stretch the muscles as much as possible, three days in the hospital, 4-6 weeks in castes, 4-6 weeks in special boots.

“I am so glad you went for a second opinion,” he said at the end of the appointment.

                I was overjoyed!  I liked this doctor and the office much more than the Baltimore option, but I never dreamed that it would work out so well!  I thanked God over and over for this humble and wonderful Dr. Sorenson.  I prayed that God would make him brilliant beyond his own abilities!

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As I thought about writing this article in hopes of raising a prayer army for Ashlyn, I realized something.  I wasn’t really expecting this surgery to work, to actually give Ashlyn the ability to walk.  I was doing it because to not do it would seem like neglect.  But my expectations were of pain and suffering for Ashlyn, myself, and the entire family; not of a breakthrough. There were two reasons for my dismal outlook.

  1. There were other issues that made walking difficult, her hips and the 50% curvature of her spine that would not be addressed in this surgery.
  2. Everytime we had followed instructions that were supposed to help Ashlyn’s feet, it failed to do so. Doctors, therapist, and The Family Hope Center had prescribed 8 different therapies or equipement to use and here Ashlyn is…a 14 year old who can’t walk.

God has been coaxing me away from my expectations rooted in the past.  He is bringing me into faith.

Faith that the future could hold more healing and more promise than I can see right now.

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I am also asking Him for miraculous healing since I know that He is the great Physician and that He would do a perfect job with no pain or scar tissue!  I am taking Ashlyn to a healing room this Saturday and hope to take her To Randy Clark’s healing service on Good Friday.

Ashlyn goes for her first casting on March 21st.  Her second casting is April 4th.  Her surgery will be on April 19th at Hershey Med Center.  Could you please pray for God’s amazing healing to be displayed and for peace and comfort for Ashlyn and the rest of the family as well!  I am not sure how I am going to deal with showers and potty-time with Ashlyn in two casts, unable to stand or walk at all.  Pray for God’s wisdom and grace!  Thank you for standing with us and expecting wonderful things!

The Wonder of a Little Girl

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My Annalise is quite a special little girl.  She has bright blue eyes that sparkle with life.  She has cute little dimples in the corners of her mouth when she smiles and one on her right cheek as well.

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She loves to run around the house in bouncy, toddler circles.  She loves to run on the sidewalk outside our home, her small arms pumping with the joy of childhood.

I am certain that she must be one of the most beautiful creatures in the universe.  There is no sound more beautiful than her high-pitched voice exclaiming, “Mama!”  when she sees me.  There is no feeling more wonderful than when she puts her chubby, little arms around my neck and rubs her soft cheek against my cheek, slowly and lovingly.  I can feel her long, dark eyelashes brush my skin.  She snuggles in and expresses her joy by sighing, “Ohhhh, ohhhh,” like we do when we hug her.

Throughout the day, I will call out to her for fun, “Lisie, Lisie!” which is her nickname.  She responds, “Mommy, Ahmmy!”  I can’t hide my absolute delight in her.  I smile wide and my eyes tell her that she is the light of my life.  She smiles back with those dimples and a look that says, “I really am something, aren’t I?”

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Recently I gathered some pictures to decorate my mother’s new room.  She just moved to an assisted living home in March.  Now when I visit my mom, my attention is always drawn to a particular picture on her bookshelf.  It is an old photo of me.  I look to be about three, just a little older than Annalise.  I have noticed that I have the same bright blue eyes.  I have those cute mouth dimples.  And there it is, the smile that says, “I really am something, aren’t I?”

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My mom had told me many times that Annalise looks very much like I did at her age.  Mom also says that she acts a lot like me, sweet and kind but also feisty.  I wanted to believe it, but it wasn’t until I saw that picture did I begin to think, “I was just as precious and marvelous as Annalise.  I was loved and cherished just as Annalise is.”

I don’t know why I had forgotten that.  Somehow the years and my life experiences had told me a different story; that I wasn’t that special, that I had to work really hard to get people to like me, and that I had to worry about losing that approval.

God is taking me back to that little girl.  The one who was the most beautiful creature in the universe.  The one who captured her Father’s heart with one glance of her eyes.

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The one who already had the perfect love that could never be earned, the love that could never be diminished, the love that could never be lost.  That little girl is me… and I really AM something, aren’t I?