Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's a Beautiful Day

I am thankful, very thankful.  A few weeks ago, Steve and I discussed "getting through" the holidays, but it has truly been much more than that.  We have been blessed, especially this year, with answered prayers and opportunities to grow closer to God, we've been challenged and tested, our hearts have been broken, and I feel as if we are beginning to come out the other side still seeing so much love, joy, and hope.  I cannot deny the grace and love that I've experienced this year.  Here are some things that I feel especially grateful for:
Steve and I have prayed diligently for a few years now for God to lead us to a church family, and He has done that in such a significant way through Harvest.  We have never felt so welcomed and loved before in a church setting.  I adore this family, and I am honored to call them my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I know they are refining me and helping grow closer to the Lord.  I'm thrilled to be a part of this exciting church and ministry.
I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to spend a weekend with old friends from O-town this summer.  Holly, Nancy, Shantel, MC, and I had so much fun on Diamond Lake just being goofy and almost burning down the boat house with our mad grilling skills.  We had long talks, swam the lake, drank coffee, and sang songs on the piano.  I love these women so much.  Ya ya!
This year Steve, Alex, and I took a family vacation, and it was awesome.  Bald Head Island was the kind of vacation that we always wanted to take.  There were no cars on the island, we drove around a golf cart, sat our butts on the beach, made some new friends, and just CHILLED!  I even loved the two day drive through the mountains.  It was wonderful and memorable.
Although we have faced deep grief this past month, I have never been surrounded with such love and comfort from our friends, family, and community.  I feel as if I've learned so much through TJ's passing. I've learned what it means to be there for someone, and how wonderful all those beautiful prayers, gestures, phone calls, messages, and hugs truly feel to a hurting soul.  I feel as if Steve, Alex, and I have been lifted up to God in such a significant way.  Unfortunately, through this human experience I know that someone else will experience pain like this, and I hope that I can be there for someone else as significantly as our friends and family have been there for us.  It has given an added dimension to how I see this world.  Even today, I shed tears over our little boy, but I couldn't do it without remembering the love that we have been given during this time.  I understand on a much more significant level how it is that among our Lord's greatest suffering, we can experience His greatest joy and triumph.  I'm beginning to feel that this is TJ's greatest legacy.
My daughter amazes me on a daily basis. She's funny, and she's so her own little person.  I'm grateful for her tender heart and her new passion for telling me EVERYTHING she may have done wrong since her very existence.  Although she has been driving me crazy from time to time telling me things that may be questionable in judgement, I can see the Holy Spirit working in her heart; she wants to bring EVERYTHING to the cross and ask for forgiveness and guidance with these things that are weighing on her conscience.  She has a more acute awareness than most adults I know for what God wants for her life; she's feeling that and dealing with that.  It's so huge right now, and to have this opportunity to see her grow closer to God is so amazing.  I'm thankful, and I wish I had her sensitivity, awareness, and willingness to acknowledge and repent for things that I think we often blow off as adults.  This little force is teaching me every day.  I love her so much.
How I got blessed with Mr. Stephen Craig is beyond my comprehension.  The devotion, passion, and love that he brings to this family every day is beyond words.  He loves me, and there are times that I don't know why.  I'm a pain in the butt.  He still thinks I'm funny.  He would do ANYTHING for us.  He feels our pain and joy greater than we feel it ourselves.  He is an amazing man.
I get to go to a job that I love every day.  I get to laugh with kids and help them be the people they want to be in this world.  It's hands down, the best job ever.  I work with talented and passionate people who get goofy and ridiculous along side of me.  It's amazing to have this.
I still have questions and confusions in this life, but how can I not see the blessings that are here before my very eyes?  I'm grateful to be able to see this a month from TJ's passing.  I know that in and of itself is a gift.
So thank You, Lord.  Thank You for being in my life in these significant ways.  Help me to care for these beautiful blessings as they have cared for me.  I am honored to be Your child.  It is an experience that I wouldn't want anyone, friend or stranger, to be without.
In Jesus' name I pray.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Great Books of 2010

Many of you know I'm a book junky.  I read all the time; it's how I unwind, entertain myself, and escape!  I didn't grow up loving books.  I actually tell my students that I was the kid who went through school not really reading anything cover to cover, and fumbling my way through.  I was definitely a late bloomer.  It wasn't until the fateful day when I stumbled into 12th grade and something just clicked.  I was in a gothic literature course, and suddenly I really wanted to read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Frankenstein.  I remember sitting in that class in a circle and discussing the books, like a book club.  The students' voice mattered more than the teachers and that really inspired me; it absolutely motivated me to want to go home and carve out the time to read what we were discussing.  The other fateful event that happened to me was Mrs. Schnepp's writing class.  To say that I LOVED being in that class is an understatement.  I found myself in that class.  I discovered my voice and for the first time in a very long time, it wasn't about dancing (which thankfully earned me admittance into a wonderful college, but I was becoming very disillusioned with the industry as a whole), it was about my story.  Through this life changing year, I found a passion for reading and writing and reaching people through teaching.
I tell that story because there are a lot of kids out there who haven't fallen in love with reading or found the motivation to do well in school and because of my personal experience, I believe in the late bloomer.  So, here are some of my favorite books that I've read in 2010.  Feel free to share any books that you loved this year too!

The Help 
For anyone who has a strong sense of justice, you'll love this book.  It takes place during the Civil Rights Movement and takes you on the journey of a privileged southern belle who goes against the tide and uses her voice to help others who have helped her be the person she is.  I LOVED it!

The Hunger Games Trilogy
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a realistic fiction reader all the way, but I couldn't put these books down, and I totally jumped in my car on the day that each book came out and made it my mission to get my copy.  Katniss Everdeen is fierce.  There were so many layers of themes that keeps your mind cranking as it takes you through an intense plot.  You'll love it.

I watched Jonathon Franzen's interview on Oprah a few weeks ago.  I was glued because I wanted to see how they would both handle the awkardness of how he didn't want to be a part of her book club a few years ago with The Corrections.  I thought both Oprah and Jonathon Franzen did a fantastic job of addressing it and acknowledging its uncomfortable situation, but they didn't dwell too long on it.  Jonathon Franzen described his writing process of being very alone and cold, where he puts himself into a place where he can work out all of the things that his mind processes about life on paper.  I felt his conflict of living in this modern day world and connected to it too.  I think many will find themselves somewhere in the characters of this book...thought provoking.

Three Little Words
Once in awhile I pick up a biography/memoir.  This book written by a young writer was poignant about her childhood in the foster care system.  Her story has a happy ending, but she is very passionate about using her voice to express what many in the foster care system go through.  It's very real, and I sincerely appreciated what she had to say.  If you like The Glass Castle, you'll appreciate this one too.

Growing up in New York and spending a year at NYU certainly gave me some grounding to connect to what the main character goes through in this historical fiction meets realistic fiction.  Her grief was gripping and the connection to the French Revolution was awesome.  I learned a lot to say the least.

You can see that I have YA fiction as well as adult fiction on my memorable list.  I LOVE reading books that my kiddos are reading.  I love to buy them and put them in my classroom library and talk about and share them with my kiddos.  So much fun!  

Here are a few more titles that I enjoyed:
Will Grayson, Will Grayson
I am Number Four
Little Bee
Songs for a Teenage Nomad

Happy reading, dear friends!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Distractions from the Lily Pads

I want to tell you that we have been doing absolutely fine, but that's not really the truth.  We are definitely jumping on different lily pads of our grief.  The Sunday night we were supposed to leave for Ethiopia, Alex had a really good cry.  The realization that our plans were not going to happen came into full reality for her.  I'm just glad that Steve and I were there to be with her and comfort one another as a family.  
We still have TJ's picture around the house and by my desk at school, and I can't imagine taking them down right now.  With Steve's permission, I have posted our referral pictures of our little boy.  I know most of you have seen these, but I sometimes can't help just looking at that face, those hands, those eyes.  I wanted so much to be his mom, and I have to tell you that the realization that he's not here on this earth leaves a heavy pain on my heart.  I literally feel this weight on my chest and in my stomach.  This is where I am emotionally right now. 
I told Steve last night that I feel like David in the Bible, crying out, lamenting.  I don't want to be over dramatic, but I think this is the reality of grief and being human on this earth.  It won't be until we're with our heavenly father that we will feel the full peace of his love and understanding.  Before I woke up this morning, I was dreaming of being in Jesus' arms and experiencing the healing that can only come from Him.  I woke up and didn't feel that healing, the pain was back in my chest, but I know that's where He will bring me eventually.  
In the meantime, I wanted to show you how beautiful our little boy was.  Sometimes I try to imagine how much more beautiful he is in heaven.  I know that, "What you talkin' about, Willis?" expression is a joy for all up there; it especially brought joy to our family seeing his little personality in those pictures.  We felt connected to him immediately.  So, I love him.  I wish he were here.  I wish all of our plans were in action to bring him home.  I wish I had held him, but I didn't.  But I do feel like the pain in my chest is his soul finding that special place in my heart, so that when I go to heaven one day, I will know him without even opening my eyes.  
In the meantime, I find distractions to get me through.  I'm fine at school because I'm busy.  But I've found being home is especially when I feel all these things.  During those times I pray and look at scripture, but there are moments when I need to flipping escape.  I finished reading Jonathon Franzen's new, massive novel Freedom on Tuesday, which was an effective distraction for a good 10 days.   Yesterday, I was thankful to have to go to Target to get some Christmas gifts before the vacation.  As usual, I wandered down the book aisle and ended up picking up Amy Sedaris' new coffee table book Crafts for Poor People.  I found myself literally crying with laughter in the middle of Target.  Needless to say, I'm finding every excuse to buy multiple copies, so don't be surprised if I show up at your house with a gift wrapped rectangle; just humor me.  On the way home, I cozied up with some wonderful gangster rap in my Honda minivan.  Obviously I'll take any distraction I can get right now...
The juxtapositions of my life are certainly apparent.  I'm doing all that I can in the moment to process through this holiday season.  
So amidst all this craziness, I want to reiterate that God is sovereign.  Although the lily pads of this particular journey may look a little insane, God will win because love always conquers.  I am thankful for the scattered distractions, but really that's all they are; I think it's ok to entertain them and see life's madness, but for me, it's not really the guiding truth in my life.  Reverend Run from Run DMC always closes on his show saying, "God is love," and that is indeed true.  Yes, I can find God in a lot of different stuff, even in the Jay Z song blasting from my Odyssey's speakers last night.  The truth is that God was with my little boy while he was here on earth, and God is with him now in such a more apparent way.  
We love you, TJ.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Each Day

Steve and I are one of those "crazy" couples who will go to counseling to process through anything significant in our lives.  Naturally, we scheduled a counseling appointment this week to talk about TJ and to see if there's anything we should/could be doing to help Alex through it all.  I learned some things, like I usually do when I go to counseling.  So, I thought I would share...
My counselor described grief like jumping on different Lily pads of different emotions.  I explained that although Thanksgiving weekend was incredible difficult, we were doing much better since then and that I didn't know if that was ok or what.  I don't want people to think I'm an unemotional robot, but by Monday, I didn't have any more tears to shed at that point.  I just wanted to focus on getting back to work and doing, doing whatever I needed to do.  Also, we have been surrounded and lifted by so much love and support that I truly feel God's great strength behind me.  Our counselor said that grief isn't a one way tunnel, but it will be ok when I jump to another Lily pad of emotions.  I felt comforted by that.
I also explained that I'm afraid.  I'm afraid of moving on too soon to the next referral without properly honoring TJ's life.  I'm afraid that I'm going to fear when we accept the new referral when we're ready.  I'm afraid of not giving the same abandoned joy to the preparation of our next baby that we had with TJ.  Again, my counselor told me that it would be unnatural if I didn't feel fear, and that is ok to feel all those things.  This next process will be a different process for us.  I don't want to be gripped by fear, but I don't to be afraid of being afraid if you know what I mean.  This helped me know that it's ok to feel this.
I think the gravity of bringing children into our lives really touched us significantly when we received the news about TJ.  We never even held him, and we felt/feel so much love for him.  I think about how much God loves us, and I still don't think I can wrap my mind around how much and how deep that is.  I can't imagine how much love TJ feels in heaven right now.  I sincerely can't imagine it!