When the Aunts and Uncles Come to Town

Before we even left for our vacation, we had a fun weekend with all of my family coming into town to see us.  Because we all live apart from one another, we don't get these weekends very often when we're all in one place, especially in Minnesota.  Travis and I love having everyone here, although it's always a little bittersweet that we just don't have enough room for everyone to stay with us comfortably.  Someday, I hope...

The kids were THRILLED to wake up on Saturday morning to see Aunt Stacie and Uncle Jesse in their jammies.  They wasted no time at all to make themselves comfortable in their laps and arms! 
Carter's favorite book
 Lovin those snuggles with her favorite South Carolina residents :)
In all of 20 minutes, Travis and I were old news!
Later in the day, Aunt Jennie and Uncle Dave came to town too!
We waited for my parents to arrive then did a little shopping and eating out together.
Reunited and it feels so good!!
We went to one of our favorite restaurants and ate outside on their patio in *perfect* weather!!  God really blessed us from beginning to end with amazing weather.  Sunny, hot days and cool nights.  Just how I prefer summer to be!
This little guy was eating up all the extra attention.  This was one of our first times together when Carter has really been able to recognize everyone and understand what is happening.  That is a mixed bag of blessings, ha ha!!
We stopped by Travis' fave fro-yo spot...
Stacie and I felt the need to photograph our bowls of goodness!
We capped off our first night together at a park by one of our many beautiful lakes.
Carter played at the park with his aunts and uncles...
....while Ava stayed on the dock with Daddy and my Dad, watching some people catch fish.
We had lots of errands to run before we left town and Carter felt he really should be the one to drive us all around :) We've totally reached the "driving" stage with him.  It's his favorite thing to do whenever we go somewhere and if we don't let him get a few minutes behind the wheel (without the keys and while it's in park) he has a massive meltdown.  And when I say massive, I mean epic.  Screaming, shouting "no" and taking swings at us.  You know, lots of fun!  So, as we work through that stage, we usually give him 5 minutes to pretend and it's working for all of us :)  
Ava sure loves her Grammy and Grampy!! 
Just for the record's sake,  I prefer to do all the driving, while my children are safely buckled in their seats.  Too bad that's not what they prefer!!
 We got to spend Sunday at Church with everyone, but since we didn't take any pictures that day, these are all I have.  The tooth-brushing twins :)
They're getting pretty good at all of those daily routines and they had quite an audience to show off their skills to! 

I think the best part of going on vacation is the arrival of family and all the prep work that goes into it.  The anticipation of the week ahead and all the fun you'll have is one of the best feelings ever.  It's like the week before Christmas!  I love having my family at my house and I wish I had the opportunity to host them more.  Considering all the heartache we were feeling over my Grandpa, this time together was a gift.  And it was only just beginning...


Missing This...

It's never easy to come home from a week of vacation.  Especially when it's been a good one!  We've had a wonderful week away with my family, nestled in the Wisconsin hills at our Church's retreat center.  The Lord gave us amazing weather every single day and we truly had such a relaxing time together.  It's been a week of roller-coaster emotions however.  When we left last weekend, we were heading out on frazzled nerves and the expectation of hard news.  Our Grandpa's health took a nose dive right before we left and within hours we were saying goodbye, having much needed conversations, and reconciling some hard things from the last 10 years.  I can't even begin to process all that transpired and how the Lord has been working in and through all of it.  He has been very, very gracious to us and in his kindness, He gave us some incredibly timely conversations with our Grandpa.  Right now, his health has gotten a little better but he is still teetering on life and death.  For now, we've been given more time with him and we are very, very grateful. 

So, to say this vacation was needed, is an understatement.  The normal grind of life and work and school and church left all of us hungry to get away, but with the added emotions of my Grandpa's failing health, it was a gift from the Lord that we were able to spend the week together, off the grid, so to speak.  We had 5 days in Wisconsin and a couple days in Minnesota together, but today we've all gone our separate ways and are slowly integrating back to reality.  And that part stinks.  It's hard to leave the fun and sun behind, hard to say good-bye to family and hard to go back to being hundreds of miles apart.  I was telling my friend yesterday that this is when I start waxing philosophically about Heaven and how I long for it more and more as I get older and as I grasp a better understanding of what awaits us.  But today, I'm praising God for the memories we made this week and the glimpses of His glory and Sovereignty we experienced. He is the author of life and death the true source of our joy and peace.
And He is good...
All the time.
 We are missing the pool today!!  And all of our undivided family time together.  Today is really the start of our wild, jam packed summer.  Life gets very, very busy for Travis now so I'm taking this day to ask the Lord to help me transition to our summer schedule with JOY and excitement, having just experienced a week of rest and time together. 
 Our kids were in 7th Heaven this week!  They got so much play time and had the attention of their aunts, uncles and grandparents all day, every day so you can imagine that they LOVED it!!
 We marveled at how big they seemed this year and at how much they were able to do with us.  I adore them in their little sun hats and suits.  I love summer and I'm so glad it's here!!  As is no surprise, we have over 1,000 pictures between all of us, isn't that crazy???  I've looked at every single one today and I'm so happy we have them. 
I've got lots of posts to do this week, so get ready for an onslaught of photos :)
We had a great vacation and enjoyed the break from "life" it afforded us.  Today is a bittersweet day, but all part of the process of being gone and returning home again.  The kids and I stayed home from Church this morning as we are nursing some sore throats, runny noses and a need for more sleep!  I've got laundry to keep me busy, a house to put back together again, grad parties to go to and Trav has a meeting for summer camp tonight.  Ready or not, here we go!! 

Wishing you a blessed start to your summer and a day to "be still and know that He is God."  I'm sipping my second cup of coffee and enjoying the sounds of worship music filling our home.  Tomorrow I think I'll be ready to say that it's good to be home again, but today, I'm still missing what was a very fun week away. 

Happy Summer, friends!!


A Post in Which I Link Potty Training, Worship and Jeremiah.

Fair warning, the above mentioned things may not make any sense in the same blog post. 
But it's Friday. 
And I'm trying it anyway.  You've been warned :)

You may recall this picture from a couple of weeks ago.  We had a sad and sick little girlie on our hands and for several days, this is what she did.
I'm no fan of being sick myself, but it as painful to watch your children be sick.  I just hate to see their sad little faces, and to watch them toss and turn in discomfort.  Perhaps the worst part of the whole thing however, is trying to explain to them why they can't eat or drink anything for awhile, when you know they can't possibly understand and they look at you with such confusion thinking, "Why would you withhold food from me, Mommy??"  It's horrible.

And yet, if there is a silver lining in the whole "being sick" thing, it is a little bit nice to get those extra naps out of them and a string of days where they want to cuddle.  I didn't mind slowing down the pace of our week or just being home with no plans.  That actually felt like a little gift.  But as I did one load of laundry after another for 4 days (mostly sheets, towels and clothes that bore the evidence of sickness) I was one happy Mommy to see that chapter close for Miss Ava! 
But then a few days later, when I thought we were through it, this little monkey threw up and soon he was relegated to the couch in it's "covered with an old sheet to prevent stains" glory :)
Gratefully, his sickness appeared to be an isolated incident and it wasn't long before he was off the sheet and back in action. 
(insert the Hallelujuah chorus here)
So a few days later, when Memorial Day weekend rolled around, you can imagine our extra motivation to do a little "spring cleaning" (aka:disinfecting) around here.  My sweet, sweet husband agreed and embraced the joy of steam cleaning all of our carpets.  I typically hire someone to do this twice a year, but we gave it a shot ourselves this time and it was not too bad. 
After these last few months of potty training and their recent bouts of throwing up, we were practically giddy to give those carpets a once over with some steam and a deep cleaner.  It was, dare I say, "fun" to see those carpets stain free and to sleep at night knowing that they had been deep cleaned. 
 For three days our house looked like this, everything stacked on beds, chairs and couches so that we could clean and let everything dry.  It was not our most "exciting" holiday weekend, but it was deeply satisfying.
 And considering that these carpets are:
a. cheap
b. very light in color
c. 9 years old
d. on their last legs having survived a golden retriever and two juice wielding toddlers...
I'd say they look pretty good!  Travis did a great job and all the hours we spent to do our entire condo were definitely worth it. 

So, you must know where I'm going with this, right???

I will preface this portion of the story by saying, I hate potty training. 
Hate. It.
I am not looking for sympathy or tales of how easy it was for your children or that you did it in a day.  For one thing, I don't believe you and furthermore, I'm convinced older moms have forgotten what this stage was like.  Sort of like childbirth.  You know you did it, but in hindsight you've forgotten some of the pain.  Because this is not a sprint that happens overnight.  This is more of a marathon that goes on and on.  We've got the basics down pat.  For months in fact.  It's just the random accidents and regressions that are killing me, slowly and painfully.  I'm hear to tell you that I will be dancing in the streets when this stage is over.  I will also be paying top dollar to anyone who wants to take Carter for as long as it takes and deliver him back to our doorstep when he is ready to go.  Ok, I'm joking about that part, but not about the dancing.  Or the paying. I will pay BIG money to anyone who is game and when I no longer have to keep track of who is doing what with their bowel movements and when or where they are doing it, I will be dancing.  Dancing!!  And then moving from one set of headaches to another, right?? 

Ok, speaking of regressing...back to my story. 
I do remember having a conversation with myself while we were cleaning the carpets that went something like this:
"Self, you know these carpets can't stay spotless like this forever.  There will be a day soon, when one of your beloved children, or your darling husband or worse yet, YOU, spills something on them.  How are you going to handle that self??  Don't freak out.  If they cleaned up once, they'll clean up again.  So enjoy their stain-free state now but don't get too attached."

So yes, I tried to mentally prepare.  I really did. 
But then Wednesday happened.  It was early in the morning and I was awakened from my perfectly good, deep sleep to this conversation: "Ava, what are you doing up?  Have you been in our room for awhile?  What are doing?  Are you dry?  Did you go potty?  In the toilet?  ON OUR FLOOR???" 

Oh, Heaven help me.  Who wants to wake up from a wonderfully unrealistic dream sequence, to that??  It was just an accident.  It was one of many.  It could have been worse.  She knew she didn't move fast enough. I was on top of it quickly.  But sadly, it didn't stop me from spitting and sputtering, sighing obnoxiously loudly, and lecturing a little 3 year old about where we go to the bathroom and where we do NOT go.  It wasn't my best morning to put it delicately. 

As I scrubbed and huffed and puffed, my 3 year old blessing from the Lord came over to me and bent down beside me.  She tilted her head to catch my eye and in a soft, little voice she said...
"Mama, do you always love me so, so much?"

Yes. She. Did.
To which I swallowed hard and thought...
"Ouch. With a capitol O."

After I let that sink in and did some quick assessing of my poor parenting, I scooped her up and assured her that yes, I do always love her, even when she disobeys or has an accident.  I always love her because Jesus has always loved me, when I'm "good" and when I'm "bad."  It doesn't matter how I perform, I'm never "good enough" and He's already paid the price to redeem me.  While all of that is true, it did make me realize again that try as hard as I might to always love my daughter, there are times when I fail.  Because I'm human, there are limits to my human ability to love and I will never be able to love her in truly un-conditional way. 
But thankfully, God can and does.  Where I am weak, He is strong.  His power is made perfect in my weakness and in that moment, my weakness was very apparent. 
In a perfectly ordained way, I got some much needed time in the Word and worship that day.  We had a scheduled worship night at our Church, with our student worship team and I had already hired a babysitter so I could go and participate.  It was just the night my soul needed.  The whole thing was wonderful, I was blown away by our students and the team that led us, buy mostly in awe of the Lord.  I chose this picture from a photographer friend who was there, because this song (One Thing Remains) was the song that stood out in my mind all night and reminded me of how incomplete my love is compared to God's.  These three lyrics have run through my head a thousand times since Wednesday and have given me extra doses of patience and long suffering this week as I've recognized the Gospel driven love of my Savior that motivates me and empowers me to extend it to those I love most.  His love never fails, it never gives us, it never runs out on me.
It doesn't fail me when I fail Him.  It doesn't give up on me when I've blown it again.  It doesn't run out when I've used up my second, third, fourth and fifth chance. 
 So yesterday, when another chance for me to display patience and love came up, I embraced it and together we reached a HUGE potty training goal we've been working towards for months.  It's been our last big hold-out, so to speak.  And just like that, with me cheering her along and patiently serving her, she did it!  And if she did it, I promised her the farm as a reward, because let's face it, I am no longer capable of rational thoughts when it comes to potty training.  I've reached the bribery stage and I'm A-ok with that.  So, I told her we'd go to Target, pick out anything she wanted, and have a party!  I was banking on the fact that she is only 3 and she had no idea how much power I just lobbed in her court.  I mean what could she really choose that I couldn't creatively talk her out of???  Just as I expected she picked (another) princess dress-up dress to bring home.
 A "bootifull" dress just like "Tangled" wears. Sweet girl. 
 So we brought that dress home and she's been wearing it every minute since!  Sometimes with her crown on upside down even. 
I've learned another lesson this week in parenting (and potty training)...
I can't love them like they need to be loved, but with God's love flowing through me, He can. 
Accidents will always be part of our lives.  Today it's potty training, someday it will be breaking something I love, watching something we forbid, etc., etc.  If I'm not intentional to remember the cross, remember what He forgave me, then I'll never be able to forgive them. 
I love these little people God has allowed us to love and train up.  My carpets look nice, but in the grand scheme of life, what are clean carpets if I've done damage to impressionable hearts? 
I was reading in Jeremiah this week and today in chapter 3:
"Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord,
I will frown on you no longer,
for I am merciful, declares the Lord,
I will not be angry forever...
Return faithless people, declares the Lord, for I am your husband...
How glady would I treat you like sons and give you desireable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.  I thought you would call me Father and not turn away from following me...
Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding...

If you've had an accident this week and ruined something that once was clean, or if being clean is your problem and it doesn't seem possible...
Know this today;
His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me and you. 
No where did He demostrate this more than at the cross, when He laid down His life, to make His enemies His children, sacrificing His perfect life to cleanse us from our deadly sin and to spare us from His Holy wrath.  Exchanging our sin for His righteousness and paying a debt we never could.  And all because of His love and mercy and grace, for us.  There is no greater love than that. 
And in case you're wondering, yes, we had a party.  With cupcakes. 
And this Mommy made sure a certain 3 year old knew we will always love her, no matter what she does. 
Happy Friday, Friends!  Have a blessed weekend!

Here is the song I was referencing.  "One Thing Remains" by Jesus Culture