Monday, December 29, 2008


I guess you've noticed by now that I succumbed to blog overload =). I have never attempted day-to-day posting before, and in the end I found I didn't have what it took... I suppose I'm not a true blogger at heart, and by the time Christmas week arrived, I couldn't tie myself down to the computer any longer.

The past week was truly wonderful. The girls and I, along with some other members of our family, got the chance to go out and do a few more things we really wanted to do out in the community, and then Christmas Eve and forward we reveled in family time. It couldn't have been any sweeter, the perfect way to wind up this season that has meant so much to my heart.

On Christmas night we got the chance to do some reflecting with our family about last year, the mind-boggling things that have happened since, and the dramatic way we have been carried from last December to this one. Last year I was immersed in living through a holiday season with the fresh grief and loss of Poppy pressing in, constantly reminding me of what had been given and so shortly after taken away. We celebrated, completely void of the light-hearted bouyancy usually associated with the season, but with a deeper understanding of the amazing gift God gave by letting go of His only son.

Then fast forward one year later, and the changes from last season to this are striking. Unbelievable even. I really have a hard time fathoming it, but I know we got here, one day at a time, until we reached the point that we were able to give out of the overflow of our hearts; so in contrast to that place we were last year, gratefully accepting the prayers and love and gifts being poured into us by others.

Nothing could have been more meaningful to me this year than getting to meet the incredible people we came across as we looked for ways to give to others, just as so many had given to us. I look back at each thing we got to do with so much thankfulness! Not one thing was done without a huge blessing to our own lives, and nothing can replace the joy in being able to see my girls get to experience the other side of Christmas. I could not have asked for a better 25 days.

So many of you wrote or commented throughout the season, and the things you shared made everything all the richer. I am so blessed by you! Like I said before, I'm really not the blogging type, but you have inspired me to keep sharing this journey, and you have made it so worth it! I pray this Christmas was full of meaning and joy for you, despite the particular spot you find yourself, whether in the valley, on the mountain, or somewhere in between. May God's rich blessings be with you as we look forward to the New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Elf from Christmas Past

...and one from Christmas Present

Same outfit, almost same poundage, and a six month age difference =)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 20-the recipient

Saturday I was delivered from a potentially nightmarish holiday encounter by an angel in disguise. This angel came in the unlikely form of a Sam's tire department employee, but he appeared on the spot at the exact minute I prayed for help. I'm not kidding... No, the situation wasn't dire, but that didn't stop me from lifting up a little prayer for help in the face of what looked like 45 minutes worth of lines between us and the exit. The short version of the mini-crisis we found ourselves in is this: We went to Sam's for four items on the Saturday before Christmas. One of those four items was an iPod shuffle that I was getting for a Christmas present, but it came with the down side that it required standing in an additional line to pick up the item after we paid for it in the normal check out queue. Nathan and I realized the full impact of this as Adrienne began to cry from hunger at the same time we saw the carts backed up into the store, each looking like it was piled high with quite a few more than four items. It looked very grim.

And it was into this dark scene that the tire department employee appeared by our sides and said in hushed tones "follow me, there's no line at tires." He whisked us right over to the almost deserted department and had us checked out in less than a minute. But it didn't stop there. He instructed us to follow him over to customer service where we were supposed to wait in another long line to receive the shuffle we had just purchased. He had us wait over to the side while he went directly to the employee who was unlocking the electronic merchandise behind the counter. He handed her the receipt, and within a minute had ascertained the info that there were no more shuffles in stock at our Sam's location. Sure it was bad news, but when I thought of how long we would have waited in lines to find that out if not for our wonderful helper, I couldn't help but break into a big smile. I left Sam's feeling like I had witnessed a mini-miracle, but in reality I believe I was just a recipient of someone who was doing his best to take Christmas back in his own way. He didn't have to do any of the things he did for us, but his going over and beyond the call of duty absolutely made my day. It helped drive home the point, it's really the little things that make Christmas special--things that everyone one of us is capable of doing in our own way!

Day 19-visiting vivi

On Friday we got the chance to go up to St. Jude again as an entire family to visit Vivi again. Nathan hadn't gotten to meet her the first time we went to the hospital, so he had been looking forward to his chance. Last week when we had seen her, Vivi was outpatient, meaning she was free to go back to her apartment with her parents after her daily regimen of appointments was complete. But for the past several days, Vivi has been moved back to inpatient as a result of her low counts.

St. Jude is a huge place, and we didn't arrive at Vivi's room before first taking an unintentional tour of much of the hospital - leaving me once again blown away at the attention to detail that has gone in to making it a place that is warm and welcoming instead of sterile and cold. Vivi was asleep through all of our visit this time, but she looked so beautiful and peaceful, I loved just getting to see her sleep. Adrienne played to her little heart's content with all of Vivi's wonderful toys while Marianna discovered something she and Vivi have in common-a love for the Disney movie Ratatouille. It was playing when we walked in, and Marianna had no problem making herself comfortable in the recliner and settling in for the movie.

We enjoyed a wonderful visit while both girls played, and once again I left with a heart full of prayers and love for this family. If you haven't gotten a chance to read her story yet, please go visit Vivi's blog and prepare to have your heart snatched by this beautiful baby girl.

I want to share one more thing. I have continued reading A Family Christmas Treasury each day, and I have been especially struck by the days talking about Jesus the Lamb of God. The rich symbolism surrounding Jesus' birth is lost on me so much of the time, but reading through this book has helped illuminate some of it for me. I read about how Bethlehem, a small, seemingly unimportant little place, was actually an area where shepherds raised the spotless, unblemished lambs to be used for sacrifice in Jerusalem. It was no accident that Jesus, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God was born into this place, knowing that He would one day be the ultimate sacrificial lamb. What a beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us. Nothing was accidental, nothing was happenstance. It was all planned from the beginning of time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 18-Patience

A month or two ago we were driving along when I saw something (a wreck I think) that made me exclaim "Whoa!" Marianna immediately responded by shouting, "Hey Buddy, are you going to let us in?!" It was at that moment that I realized a) I talk out loud in the car more than I thought, and b) I'm not the virtue of patience on the road.

It seems like pre-Christmas shopping and traffic are synonymous with lost tempers and thin patience, so I made an early commitment in November not to lose it! And then what do you know, I haven't had the opportunity to make good on the commitment once. I've been surrounded by the most genial shoppers, courteous drivers, and the like that it's been shocking. Definitely a commitment I've been happy not to have to keep because of such happy circumstances. But then finally, last night I had my chance. I was driving around our busy mall area when I found myself behind a guy who didn't understand the fundamentals of traffic flow in a crowded situation. I was about to pass him by and mutter something about his under par driving capabilities when I caught myself and realized how quickly that patience had evaporated. I slowed down, realized how minor a situation it really was, and sat back to enjoy the slower pace.

Yet another one of the little things I suppose it wouldn't hurt to take home for good from this Christmas adventure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 17-Really Woolly

I was in Lifeway bookstore on Monday when I saw a DVD called Really Woolly, The Gift of Christmas. It was on special for $5.00, and after a quick look I decided to grab it for a present from Adrienne to Marianna. The back cover said it was about discovering the true meaning of Christmas, so I decided we better do an early Christmas present so she could start watching it now as we head into the last week leading up to the 25th.

Marianna tore into it last night, and we weren't disappointed. It's about a little lamb named Jacob who works up to save money to buy himself a nice toy for Christmas. He ends up not having enough money left over to buy presents for his family, so on Christmas Eve he shows up empty handed and embarrassed. His wise and loving grandmother sheep tells him that it's okay because she already has her Christmas present. She then goes into the Christmas story, explaining how Jesus is the best Christmas gift of all time. By the end Jacob learns that the toys he wants aren't the most important thing after all.

A perfect message, wrapped up in a cute little movie that Marianna has definitely enjoyed. It also has some kind of little on-line feature similar to Webkins that we haven't tried out yet. Anyway, I know there's not enough time to order it and get it before Christmas, but if you have a Lifeway in the area, it was certainly worth the $5.00!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Singing

Day 15-Children's Home Party

I wrote a few days ago about a party a friend and I were helping to throw for the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, and yesterday was the big day. We woke up to a forecast predicting freezing rain and a possible ice storm, throwing our party plans into some minor upheaval and demanding we do some last minute plan changing. I don't know what the deal is with the weather lately, but we're not getting a lot of that crisp, dry Christmas weather in this neck of the woods. We never get snow, so any kind of precipitation is likely going to be something nasty - certainly not fluffy and white! But after some phone calls and weather checks, we decided to move the party up to late afternoon instead of evening to avoid the possible icy conditions.

I hated it that some people who really wanted to be a part weren't able to come because of the time change and the weather, but we had enough people to be able to have a really nice party, and all of the guests of honor were there, so all that considered, it was a great success! There were five children, ages 10-14, who were part of the cottage. I know it had to be a bit overwhelming walking into the gym and seeing a whole lot of adults waiting for them, but they were amazing. They came in, very willing to talk and let us get to know them, and two hours later when the party was over, everyone felt comfortable and relaxed.

All of them were fun, friendly, normal kids, and it was so cool to be able to hang out with them, eat a lot of Christmas cookies and cake, play some games, and give them presents. I don't know who had the most fun between the children we were throwing the party for, our kids, and the adults, but I guess I can safely say that everyone involved had a GREAT time. I hope that in the future we can continue to visit and hang out and help where we can. It certainly is something I think everyone would like to do again. What a privilege to be able to be involved with these kids, getting to reach out and be a part of their Christmas and understanding a little bit more what Christmas is all about.

We could not have done this without the generosity of so many who donated toys, money, gift cards, food, art supplies, and time to make this party such a happy time. A huge thank you to everyone who helped!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 13 & 14-Advent Calendar

Over the weekend we spent some time reflecting. I know that everything going on hasn't totally sunk in with Marianna, and that's okay. The reason I am doing the types of things I am is so that I can do them with the girls, even before they totally understand what's going on (certainly the case with Adrienne) in hopes that as they grow up, giving at Christmas will be as natural as getting. Jesus will take center stage and Santa will be a fun side game. I expected that some things would go right over their heads, but I'm a firm believer that kids pick up on more than you think they will, so I want to go ahead and lay it all out there and leave it up to God how much they can actually absorb (which again, in Adrienne's case is little more than love, but I hope she is getting that in big doses!). So, over the weekend we tried to spend a lot of time thinking about the kids we've had the chance to meet, and the things we have the opportunity to do so far. I have been praying for all of them myself, but I really tried to incorporate that with Marianna when the opportunity presented itself, helping her to remember that when God places people in our lives, we need to pray for them often.

I also was able to find an advent calendar that we can make just by printing it off and coloring or painting the ornaments to go on the tree. I know we're already half way through the month, but I'm still going to give it a try and hopefully get them all on there by doing two or three a day. I got the idea from the advent calendar my in-laws have at their house. Each time Marianna goes over she gets to hang all of the ornaments on the tree up through that day, and each ornament represents something about Jesus. For example, a crown ornament represents that Jesus is the King. A candle represents Jesus is the light of the world. I want to try and do something similar with our paper tree by having a verse that corresponds with each ornament. Hopefully by Christmas I'll be able to show you a picture of a very decorated Advent Tree, with each ornament representing some time we spent each day learning about how Jesus is the center of Christmas. If you have small kids and want to try this out, download the pictures below and blow them up in a word document, then print them out!

Here is today's verse from John 1:9-14 that talks about Jesus being the LIGHT in Christmas.

"That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world...He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:.. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

Everyone may not "get" Christmas, but for those who do, God gives the ability to behold Jesus in all of His glory. I pray that is the case for each of us this Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meet Vivi

I already wrote about the St. Jude experience, but now I want to tell you about something even better, the reason behind the visit. I want all of you to meet Vivienne, the beautiful, vibrant and fantastically courageous little girl that we've gotten to know first via her blog and then in person at our visit Thursday. Vivienne's mom Mary can do more justice to her story than I will begin to be able to, so please go read about it there, but I'll try and give you the Cliff's Notes version.

Vivienne is the first born daughter to her wonderful mom and dad. Her arrival was much celebrated, as any baby's always should be, and Vivi, mom and dad lived in happy new born bliss for the first two months. There were no questions as to her health or worries about her future. All of this changed after going in for Vivi's routine two month check up, when it was discovered that her head circumference was out of proportion with the rest of her size. This sparked enough concern in the doctor to suggest a head scan, and it was this scan that discovered an egg size tumor in Vivi's brain. A little while later, after the tumor showed up in her kidney as well, it was diagnosed as AT/RT, a particularly dangerous type of brain cancer when diagnosed under the age of three.

Mary and Justin took Vivi to the children's hospital located Pennsylvania, were they were told there was nothing to be done and they should enjoy the time they had left with her, which at that time was estimated to be no more than 3 months. But after researching and writing many doctors, Mary found a way to get Vivi to Memphis, where her tumor was operated on at Lebonheur and following recovery she was admitted to St. Jude as a patient.

Vivi and her family have now been in Memphis for almost 5 months, and with the help of her mom and dad, Vivi is living her life to the fullest. Seeing the living, breathing, smiling, content Vivi with my own eyes was such a beautiful thing. She and Adrienne, just weeks apart, were instant friends, and there was something so sweet about seeing the two of them interact together. Even though much of her life has been spent in a hospital, enduring chemo, recovering from surgery, and the like, none of that has taken away Vivi's sparkle. She is incredible. It's my hope that you will add her to your heart and your prayers!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day 11- St. Jude

Today I had the great privilege of visiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for the very first time, both girls in tow, to meet a beautiful, wonderfully sweet baby girl and her mama. Baby V and her mom invited us to go to two of her appointments to get a taste of what her daily routine often is like, and in between we were able to walk around and soak in the atmosphere and attitude of this amazing hospital. I can tell you that I was totally blown away by the experience, with two things in particular standing out to me during our time there.

To begin with, it was haven to the families receiving care. The walls, the art, the waiting rooms-all of it was geared toward making those children feel comfortable and at home. In fact, we hadn't been there three minutes before Marianna was asked to join in with a group of kids painting snow on construction paper in one of the waiting areas. I can't do justice to the atmosphere, but suffice it to say it was welcoming and warm and in stark contrast to every other hospital environment I've ever been in.

The second thing I couldn't help but pick up on was the hope of the people who were there. In a situation where it seems like fear would be the most palpable emotion present, hope was everywhere. I could see that even in the very serious situations all around me, people had not despaired. I know that doesn't mean that there's not real anxiety and fear involved. Quite the contrary, I know that's a reality that many have to face every single day. But even so, hope was present and I felt it.

The entire visit melted my heart and gave me a HUGE appreciation for St. Jude and what it strives to do for the children who come, from literally every corner of the world, to receive the best care available. I'm thrilled that such a place is here in my city. Something we Memphians can be very proud of indeed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

day 10-adrienne goes to school

Today was a milestone day for the Little Bit . Not only did she turn 7 months old, she also went to school with me and her sister to read books to some wonderful little kids - and it's no exaggeration to say she was the hit of the party! This was probably the best thing we've gotten to do this December, and I'm so glad to have been able to be a part. We attended an event called Rock Around the Christmas Tree at one of the local schools. Everyone who came as a reader brought a book to read and then give to a child. The party was for the 4 and 5K students, and I would say it was a total success. Me (and Adrienne) read two books to two precious little girls, and my mother-in-law and Marianna read to two others. I don't know if Adrienne has ever been soaked with so much sweet lovin in such a short time before, but she enjoyed every second. I'm thrilled that the girls I had are going to get to take home a book to add to their collection, but even more than that, I'm so glad that I was able to go with my girls and spend an hour with these sweet kids. What a gift to me this Christmas to be able to see the faces of these kids as they sang, read their books and played with the girls.

Here are a few shots of Adrienne with her new found friends!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day 9-a smorgasbord of Christmas activity

It is a soaking wet day here in Memphis! Last night the local weather man reported a 100% chance of rain, and now I can see the reason for his confidence. But even though it's terribly wet, we're trying not to let it dampen the fun. At the moment the power is out and the girls are sleeping, giving me the perfect time to give you a quick taste of what we've got cooking over here.

I braved the rain this morning for a trip to Target, and a quick stop at the dollar spot did not disappoint. Several days ago I mentioned an organization called Make a Child Smile that focused on having people send cards to sick children, and I found something perfect for just such an activity!

This little pack came with two cards, a sheet of Christmas stickers, several stick on decorations and some ribbon. It is exactly what I was looking for to write another card to a little girl that one of the readers let me know about. I don't know if all dollar spots carry similar items, but if you're looking for something like this, you can't beat it for price and Christmas cuteness.

While I was out, a friend and I began preparations for a party that we're planning to have for the Tennessee Baptist Children's home on Monday. It's something that I'm super excited about. This particular organization is just a few minutes from my house, but I have not known anything about it until we called to see if there was anything we could do to help out this Christmas. They suggested we throw a party for one of the cottages, so we checked to see if there was any interest among our friends and church groups with helping out, and we were thrilled with the overwhelming feedback we got back. This Sunday I told my class at church the needs for the party, and I was blown over by the generosity of people who wrote a check, offered to bake, or volunteered to come to the party and help out. It has been so wonderful to see how so many people have come together for this to help make it something really special. I am praying it will be! Anyway, more to come as the party gets closer, but suffice it to say, Target is a one-stop shop for party planning needs, so we took care of quite a bit of business today!

And finally, let me dedicate a little space to Christmas baking. I am no Emeril, but I do love to make some homemade Christmas candy. Yesterday my mom, mother-in-law, sister, Marianna, and I went at with full force. It didn't dawn on me until we were almost done that we were a little top heavy on the peanut butter items, but for peanut butter fans, I guess there's no such thing as too much. Here is a run down of what we made; Chocolate covered peanut butter balls, peanut butter blossoms, reindeer pretzel candies (mom thought they looked more Darth Vaderish than reindeer-esque), chocolate bark candy, peanut butter fudge, and chocolate crackles.

Yes, it is very possible we bit off more than we could (should have) chewed, but five hours later, I headed home loaded with goodies. Of everything we made, I've got to give one very high recommendation for the chocolate bark. In fact, I dare you to give me a recipe easier than this. You take one bag of chocolate morsels (milk, white, dark, semi-sweet, you name it!), and melt it in the microwave with two teaspoons of oil. Let it cool for five minutes and then add your favorite additive. For us, we added pretzels to the milk chocolate and mini m&ms to the white chocolate. Pour onto wax paper and cool in the fridge. Break up into "bark" chips and you're done! Those are the kind of Christmas candy recipes I'm talking about, and if you have any similar, please share. Also, I'm looking for something with coconut, so pass along ideas if you have them!

And this brings me back to the very wet day. I have mounds and mounds of candy sitting in my house, and today we were hoping to go and see some neighbors and give it away. I'm pretty much the pits when it comes to neighborly hospitality, so I thought this was finally going to give me a chance to get out there and visit with the wonderful people we live next to. But, Marianna and I did live on the wild side for a few seconds to dash out and bring a plate of goodies and a few verse books to the poor trash guys who have been out in this mess all day. I guess they probably needed it more than anyone, so it all worked out for the best.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Day 8-It's all about love

I've been looking around my house for a little book my grandfather wrote called A Family Christmas Treasury, but after several fruitless searches I resorted to borrowing a copy of my mom's last night. The book was written several years back, probably when I was in high school, and I really couldn't remember a single thing that was in it before opening it up this morning. But even without remembering, I just sorta knew that it was going to have something I needed to hear. I wasn't disappointed.

I've written about Papa before, but for those who haven't been following that far back, I'll just sum it all up by saying he is my all-time hero. I still miss him all the time, but it's moments like these today when I'm so grateful for everything he left in books or sermons or videos. It's not the same as having him here, but it sure beats nothing!

So this morning I pulled out the Christmas Treasury book, and tried to pour through several sections before the girls woke up. Immediately, I knew that the book put into words exactly what is in my heart this Christmas. The first line of the first page says this, "Did you know that the true message of Christmas is found in John 3:16? Jesus said, 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.' This is the heart of Christmas."

That's really it, all summed up, without the extra words and additives. Jesus came to earth as a baby, spurred on by a love that is greater than anything I'll ever be able to grasp. He knew the whole plan, even the part including the cross, and still He came. Philippians 2:8-10 says "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow on heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." That's every bit as essential to the Christmas story as the manger and the shepherds and the wise men.

Jesus came as a baby to ultimately save us through His death. It was love from start to finish.

That's why the greatest gift any of us can give this season is love- the kind that isn't looking for praise or acknowledgement; the kind that doesn't expect anything in return. It doesn't matter if it's my kids, my husband, my family, my friends, my neighbors, or the people I meet who I don't really know - without love as the motivation, nothing I do for any of them is going to amount to anything special. I can fill my days with "good deeds" until I'm exhausted , but it really boils down to meaninglessness if it doesn't come out of the overflow of love that I have in my life because of Jesus.

As the season gets into full swing, I want to go through everything, the fun and frivolous, the meaningful and sacred, with the love and hope I have because of Christmas.

Wishing you all the best as you go through the season, looking for ways to Take Christmas Back!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

TCB-Dough Ornaments

Making dough ornaments has been a Christmas favorite in our house since I was a little girl. They are fun to make, but even more than that, it is so nostalgic to look at them on the Christmas tree, year after year. The ornaments can be as simple or involved as you want to make them, ranging from cookie cutter molds to hand-crafted masterpieces. They are perfect for kids, and they make great presents for grandparents, teachers, neighbors- you name it!

Here's how to do it

First make the dough. There are tons of recipes out there just like this one:

2 C. flour
1 C. salt
1 C. water

Mix salt and flour. Add in half the water, then gradually add the remaining water. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, make your ornaments! You can mold with your hands or with cookie cutters. Make sure to insert a paper clip in the top of each ornament to serve as a hanger for the tree.

Place ornaments on cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees. After they cool, paint the ornaments with acrylic paint. For an extra nice touch, you can buy a shiny finishing spray at a store like Hobby Lobby.

I'd share pictures of the ones we've already made this year, but unfortunately all but one were eaten by Marlee (the dog), so I'll put some nice pictures of some I found on the internet.

We'll be making a new batch soon, this time keeping them out of Marlee's reach! I hope some of you enjoy this crafty adventure into ornament making!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Day 6-7- Family Time!!

My favorite part of Christmas is family, and it just so happens that this weekend our calendar is free, meaning we are going to revel in some uninterrupted family time! I hope you get a chance to do the same.

I'll leave you this weekend with a little something I just read. I've heard the quote, "Yes, Virginia, there Is a Santa Claus" but until this morning I had never read the editorial that made that line famous. I thought it was fun and whimsical and maybe even a little profound. Enjoy!

In 1897, a young girl wrote to the New York Sun asking whether Santa Claus truly existed.The paper's response, written by Francis P. Church, appeared in The Sun on Sept. 21, 1897.

Dear Editor: I am eight yars old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says 'if yousee it in The Sun it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? Virginia O' Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Day 5 - Easy as Cookies

I am so excited about all of the song suggestions!! Thank you, thank you! Someone gave me an iTunes gift card awhile back, and I believe I will keep buying the songs suggested until I use it up. Someone mentioned the Hippopotamus song, and ironically, Marianna heard it for the first time last night. Magically it climbed to the number one spot on her chart before the song had ended,leading me to believe (somewhat regrettably) that it will become a staple this Christmas =).

On to the adventures from day 5 of TCB. Today was bake-cookies-for-inmates day. Yes, you read it right. Our church has a fantastic ministry to the local prison, and several weeks back an announcement was made that they would love home baked goodies to take to the ministry's Christmas party. The dinner is catered, but the men evidently love to have something homemade since it's not something they get on a daily basis.

So, the chocolate oatmeal cookie baking day started early this morning. Marianna is a self-proclaimed, "good cooker" and she went at her flour-pouring and egg-cracking with corresponding gusto. We had one scare when Marianna took charge of the baking soda while I wasn't looking, but a taste test proved there wasn't any serious damage done.

Marianna presiding over the blender.

Caught in the act of polishing off the remaining chocolate chips.

Now to my big eye-opener moment for the first 5 days of my challenge: I don't have to look very far or search very hard to find a way to reach out to someone in need or make somebody's day a little brighter. As I think about the things we've done so far, I realize that these things have always been around in some form or another, and I just haven't taken the time to stop and do anything. In the past, if I heard of a prison ministry need, I imagine my response would have been something along the lines of "what a great idea!" and that would have been the end of it. Why? Because I haven't made it a priority, so it hasn't happened. And now that I look back, I see that all those missed opportunities are such a waste! I'm not going to dwell on it, but I do hope that over the course of this month, I undergo a little re-programming...

I wish each of you the best as you look for ways to make your own Christmas a little brighter by helping make someone else's a little happier.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 4- The Music

I've got to admit that I'm one of those people who likes to start listening to Christmas music the first day of December all the way through the 25th. I know some can't take more than a day or two, but for me the music is so intrinsically connected to the season, I can't have one without the other. I could do without ever hearing another rendition of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" for the rest of my life, but there are others that seem to make everything a little bit richer.

So today's task is to create a playlist. I plan on going to iTunes tonight and downloading enough songs to make a good CD from that we can listen to in lieu of the radio. I know there are thousands of CDs already available, but I get tired of the same artist, even a good one, for a whole set of Christmas songs... There's just something about the variety that I like at Christmas. That being said, here are few that are for sures:

1. O Little Town of Bethlehem --my all time favorite! Does anyone have a favorite artist who sings this one? I'm still looking!
2. O Holy Night--I think I'm going to go with Martina on this one.
3. Jesus, King of Angels--this is a song by Fernando Ortega that is BEAUTIFUL. If you haven't heard it, you need to!
4. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer--this is Marianna's ultimate Christmas song, one we sing together just about every hour =)
5. Let it Snow!
6. Away in a Manger
7. Jingle Bells
8. Welcome to Our World--this is the song sung when Marianna played baby Jesus in our church's Christmas program just weeks after she was born. I love the Chris Rice version.

Those are the non-negotiables, but I'm looking for others. Do you have any must haves for the season? Do you have a particular artist that has a great version of one of the songs above? I'd love to hear your input!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 3-Make a Child Smile

Thank you to my blog friend Amanda for this terrific idea! Earlier today Amanda sent me an email with a link to this website called Make a Child Smile. You can read all about it there, but basically this non-profit site features three children with life threatening illnesses every month. Each child has a short bio describing what she has been through medically and what she is currently facing. The purpose behind the site is to encourage people to send cards or gifts to one of the featured kids to let them know other people are thinking of them.

I think this is a beautiful idea! Having faced more than most adults ever will, these children bravely fight and withstand a grueling medical regimen without many people on the outside world ever knowing about it. How lonely and forgotten must they feel sometimes? But I can imagine what a boost it would be to suddenly start getting 10, 20, maybe a 100 cards a day from complete strangers, telling you that they are thinking about you! I know that won't make the illness better or the cares of life suddenly disappear, but at least it can help lift spirits and bring some joy.

One thing I love about this site is that it provides the child's picture along with her story! Marianna and I chose Emerson since she was closest to Marianna's age, and I was able to explain her story and show Emerson's picture so that Marianna could know who she was making her card for.

Emerson and Marianna have a shared penchant for all things princess, so the card has a decidedly Christmas Princess theme-something I hope will server its purpose and help little Emerson smile!

What a great idea to turn craft time into something a little more meaningful. Thanks Amanda for filling me in! Click here to check it out, and consider writing Emerson or one of the other two girls featured this month!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Day 2

I didn't write about it, but we did officially kick off TCB yesterday as planned. We gave our first Christmas verse book to the Chancellor who finalized the adoption. And I didn't mention it yesterday, but I am thrilled that December is here. I feel that for our family this season is going to be special-- I don't know how things will play out and I definitely don't know what God has planned for us, but I do feel an anticipation of what He's going to show me and what He will do in my heart.

Something that I'm a little worried about is that this will come across to some as a time for me to see how much good I can do during the Christmas season. I can see how that conclusion could be drawn, but I'm going to go on anyway in hopes that most people get it - that it's not about seeing how much I can do, or donate, or participate in. Rather, it's about being available to be used this year so that we can experience the fullness of the season, instead of living in the superficial, commercialized version that is everywhere.

I'm afraid that some years I have missed it. I've walked away from December having had a lot of fun, played a lot of games, opened a lot of presents, but somehow missed the deeper, much more meaningful side of what was available if I had been open to it. I don't want to miss out again!

With that in mind, I want to try and post most days in December, as an encouragement to try and make this Christmas meaningful for you and your family. I also want everyone to feel free to post anything that they were able to do to take Christmas back to the roots that it sprung from. So, no matter what the topic, know that I would love to hear from you, and hopefully we can all encourage each other and those around us to do something a little beyond ourselves.

Today me and the girls participated in a toy drive for the first time ever. Our local radio station has a toy drive every year to raise money and gifts for the children of Porter Leath, and we drove out there today to drop off our gift and help try to fill up the truck. I tried to explain it to Marianna since she was confused about who was getting the toy she had picked out. She wanted to know a person's name, so I tried to explain that we didn't know the person, but a little girl who really needed a toy was going to get it. I told her there were lots of little boys and girls who didn't have many presents, so this was our way of helping make sure they had gifts this year. That seemed to make sense to her, but when we pulled up in front of the truck, she immediately said, "Mom, do they keep all the boys and girls in that truck?" I guess it is a tough concept to get at three =). But even though that didn't totally translate, I think she did get the bigger idea because when I asked her today if we did something for someone else, she told me that we had taken a toy to a little girl who needed it. That leaves me very happy...I think, on a very basic level, she is getting it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Birthday, Happy Adoption Day

One year ago, this is where we were.

One year later, how could I have dreamed what God had in store for us today.

Here we are standing with the Chancellor moments after finalizing Adrienne's adoption

Our parents and my grandmother all came out to the court house to be with us for the big moment.

I am so full today. Full of joy, full of the bittersweet memories of Poppy, full of praise to God for the plan He worked out in our lives. I believe I can see the fulfillment of Romans 8:28 in my life more clearly than ever before. That verse says, "And we know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him, those who have been called according to His purpose." Trisomy 18 was not in God's plan for a perfect Earth - sin is what ushered in disease and pain. But what this verse promises is that God will redeem even the situations that are dark and hopeless. He will bring life out of death, giving meaning and purpose to the hardships we face.

In my life, I can see this in a very tangible way every time I look at my girls.

I won't get to see Poppy until heaven, but God has given us Adrienne, a gift we never would have had if not for Poppy. Today we celebrate them both.

I wanted to share this with you today on Poppy's birthday. It is the chapter of my book describing the events that took place one year ago.

December 1, 2007
I never saw December 1st dawn. By the time the sun broke the darkness, I had already been lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a monitor for several hours. Poppy had decided to come early.

The day that held the possibility of being the darkest of my life was here. There was no turning back, asking for more time, or running out the door to escape it. But thank God I didn’t want to. I had a peace that was truly beyond understanding permeating my spirit, letting me know without any doubt that I was ready for this day. Jesus had already smoothed the path ahead of me, and I knew He was there, right by me, waiting to take my hand and walk me through the unknown that was about to be unveiled.

Nathan and I used those early morning hours, in a hospital room so typical and plain, to prepare our hearts for the hours to come. Without a whole lot of words, but with our hearts bared and open, we prayed to God, asking Him one last time to hear us. Flowery sentiments or impressive sounding thoughts would have fallen flat in that moment where nothing but authenticity seemed appropriate. There was no pretending, to myself or to God. This was real.

What we asked for in many ways didn’t seem like much, but to us, it was everything. We asked that Poppy be born alive. We asked that she have enough time for us to be able to share her with all of the many, many people who loved her and had faithfully walked this path along side us. We asked for protection from the attacks Satan would be sending our way, and we asked for a consuming, palpable peace to cover us and everyone involved.

The hour came, and time stood still. Two years earlier, when Marianna was born, the adrenaline that flowed through my veins at the magnitude of such a moment had left me shaking; excited to my core, and swept away by the emotions coursing through me. Now, I feared what my body would involuntarily do when this moment came, with the stakes so much higher and the emotions so much more complex. I was about to find out.

The nurses wheeled me down to the operating room and placed me on the table. From the moment the operation commenced, what I experienced can hardly be described with words. God’s presence and love was tangible, like a warm blanket all around me. Never have I felt so protected; never have I been so safe. I didn’t physically hear anything, but I knew that a host of angels were in that room, above the operating lamp, surrounding the bed, and beside the doctors, singing over us and protecting us with their presence.

It was into this extraordinary setting, with the spirit of God flowing through the sterile operating room, that Poppy Joy Luce was born. As they lifted her out, I heard a small squeak, and then I heard nothing. I couldn’t see what was happening, so I sent Nathan away from the head of the table where he had been holding my hand to see what was going on. While I waited, not knowing whether she would ever breathe, I spoke four words aloud. “Jesus, let her breathe.” It was my heart’s cry contained in that one, breathless statement, but it was enough. The very next moment, she began to cry, and I knew I had just witnessed a miracle.

Nathan returned to my side and told me she was alive. We didn’t know for how long, but she was with us for now. My heart soared and tears of joy and thankfulness flowed down my face. I would get to meet my girl on this side of heaven.
As they stitched me up, Nathan held Poppy in his arms, just inches from my face, and we talked to her. I explained that she was loved beyond what she could imagine and that she was God’s miracle sent to us to remind us of Him. We breathed her in, and we realized, without much surprise, that she was perfect.

I was so happy. As Poppy was placed in my arms for the first time, I held her close, realizing that I was experiencing two miracles: my baby was alive and all semblance of fear was completely gone. The awareness that each minute of our time was being cemented into my heart flowed over me. Every potential scenario that had played through my mind over the previous months was discarded and replaced with a reality that was better.

This is what I saw as I looked at Poppy. Dark, steady eyes that hardly blinked, but gazed softly ahead. A nose that was more perfect than any other that had ever existed. A tiny body that didn’t fit her head, which was enlarged because of the extra fluid her brain had been accumulating as long as she had been growing inside of me. Flawless, unclenched hands, and two small, bent feet. To a fault, she fit the physical description the ultrasound had given us, but what I saw in front of me was not a list of trisomy characteristics. I was looking at my daughter, lovely and beautiful, just like every baby a mother has ever laid her first glance on.

I was a proud mom in every sense of the word, and what a terrific feeling that was! I had never planned on getting to have these moments because I knew that none were promised, so living them was more than I could have asked for.
The first order of business once the surgery was complete was to get our family in to see Poppy, so as soon as we were returned to our normal room, we asked the nurses to bring everyone back. What an unforgettable moment as Nathan and I got the chance to watch as our parents, our brothers and sisters, and my grandmother see God’s miracle for the first time. Each member of our family had sustained us over the past months with their prayers, encouragement and love, and we never forgot for a second that she was not just God’s gift to us. She was His gift to everyone.

It was important to me that the first person who got to hold Poppy be her big sister. And, oh boy, was she proud! Marianna sat in her daddy’s lap with arms stretched out, palms up, and announced “I want to hold Poppy.” I watched my two daughters together, and as Marianna took Poppy’s tiny hand into her own and kissed her head, all I could do was smile. There was no hesitation or fear in the way she approached her sister; the size of her head and the abnormalities in her features didn’t matter. All Marianna saw when she looked at Poppy was the sister she had been kissing through my tummy for more weeks than she could remember. All she had for her was the purest love a two year old heart can hold. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

The next hours passed like a dream. The friends and family who had loved us and Poppy over the past months swirled around the room, sharing with us in our joy, and making the time we were spending with her all the richer. She was passed from arm to arm, cameras flashing the whole time, as people laughed, prayed, and sang with us. At one point Marianna sang “Happy Birthday” to Poppy; at another we had a mini-dedication service with our pastor, lifting our little baby up to Jesus and giving her to Him to do what He would in her life; in another, the entire room joined together in the best version of “Jesus Loves Me” I’ve ever heard. I have never spent such perfect, lovely hours in my life.

As it became time to move us into another room, the flood of people who had come to visit trickled out and Poppy was placed back into my arms. No one said goodbye because the transition was only expected to take a few minutes. But it was then, right when the last of our friends walked out the door, that I realized that she was gone. My baby had breathed her last.
Immediately the nurses were called, and after a quick assessment, they confirmed what I already knew. A beautiful young doctor’s assistant took my hand and told me that Poppy’s heart was still beating, but that it would begin to slow down until it finally beat its last. She told us she would come back and check every fifteen minutes until her heart had completely ceased to beat.

Nathan and I spent time with her, holding her as her heartbeat slowly but gradually faded away. I knew her spirit was gone, yet we treasured the final minutes with her. It was while our tears were falling down on her head and hands that I realized God had given us exactly what we asked for. Our prayer had been that Poppy would be born alive and that God would allow her to spend time with those who loved her. And that’s exactly what happened.

Looking back, I see that Poppy was never meant to draw breath at all. Her body, so frail and sick, was not created for this world. But God loved us so much that He gave us a gift. He breathed for her, filling her lungs with His breath, for three amazing hours. I had often wondered in the months leading up to her birth how any amount of time would ever be enough, but as we held Poppy and said goodbye to her, I knew without any doubts that I had indeed been given exactly what I needed.
That Saturday afternoon, I had the privilege to experience what very few mothers can—I was able to know that my baby went straight from my arms to the arms of Jesus.

Thank you to every single one of you who have shared with us in our joys and sorrows over the past year. So many of you I have never met, yet I have felt your prayers. I will never be able to express what that has meant to me and my family.

Much, much love,