Michigan Summers: camping in Petoskey

Just days before I left my Ontarionian (read: "of Ontario, Canada") home for college I took an early morning walk in a park on the shores of Lake Ontario. The walk wasn't a purposed leisurely stroll but a by-way I took to from my car to a destination up ahead where I had an appointment. Nevertheless I enjoyed the short journey beside the big lake turned pinkish under the rising sun. I remember thinking why have I not enjoyed this park, this view, this lake more? I had grown up just minutes from its vast beauty but only truly enjoyed it maybe a dozen times. I was about to say goodbye and I was just realizing that in eighteen years I had barely noticed where I lived.

There is something about leaving that wakes a person up to the pleasures of place and presence.

John and I are not leaving our state of Michigan any time soon, but as a ministry family we know the day will come. In our denomination it is common for a pastor to move to a new church within a 5-10 year window. While we have no plans to leave, the knowledge that we won't always live here has given the two of us a special sense of purpose when it comes to enjoying our place and being present in it.

Sometimes it's hard. And by "sometimes" I mean in February and March. In February it just feels like the winter will never, ever, ever end. And then in March it feels like spring should be arriving, but instead you just get more snow.

In those times John often jokes with me that God will call us next to a church in a very warm and sunny state where cold and snow is just a concept people hardly think about. I'm kidding he says... kind of. 

But then just when we think the winter is truly going to drive us crazy (or maybe juuuust shortly after) the winter breaks, spring arrives, and we find ourselves falling into another Michigan summer.

Michigan summers.

They're a thing.

They're a really, really good thing.

Michigan summers are lush in a particularly Michigan way. For me that word lush conjures up a jungle or a tropical scene, but truly it applies to Michigan summers as well. Our greens are thick forests of maple, cedar, and oak trees, our blues are both the vast Great Lakes and the thousand smaller water bodies littered over the state, and our white-golds are the miles and miles of breathtaking coastline.

We live close to the shores of Lake Michigan. I'm surprised by how frequently John and I will hear someone who was born-and-raised (and will probably die) here say, "I don't really get to the beach too much."

I mean not to judge but... you're crazy and we can't be friends.

(Really though, I can't judge. See my opening paragraph.)

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to meet the Michigan shoreline from a new place when we went camping in Petoskey.  John had been hoping to run the Chicago Marathon in the fall (I know. He's crazy and awesome.) but alas entrance into the Marathon is by lottery and his name wasn't drawn. The Charlevoix Marathon was his back-up Marathon so he picked up his training speed and by late June we found ourselves camping in what is likely one of the most beautiful parts of our state.

I'm not a camper by nature but I am a camper by financial necessity because it truly is the cheapest way to vacation. You will see me blow drying my hair in the van via extension cord and car mirrors, but besides that I think I'm actually okay at it. And you know, camping is pretty fun!

No one judges you on your outfit even if you wear stripes and bright orange and a cool-dad sweatshirt all at once...

AND you can take a five minute walk from your campsite to this:

I'll blow-dry my hair in the van for that.

We enjoyed afternoons at the beach, evenings by the campfire, and early mornings being awoken by the birds. (Truthfully being awoken by the birds is kind of magical on the first day, but after that I had a few fantasies involving shot guns. They start singing really early.)

John ran his Marathon like the champion that he is and finished in under four hours at 3:52:17. So proud of this guy!
Can you find John?

Arie and I got up with the early birds at 5am to watch him run. Arie was slightly grumpy from lack of sleep. He wanted to yell, "YOU'RE MY SUPER HERO!" to John as John ran by. He "practiced" on a dozen runners who came before, but then froze when he saw his dad. Ha! Hopefully it was at least encouraging to those dozen strangers!
Even grouchy he's cute. :-)
We enjoyed some beautiful views as we cheered our superhero on.

Michigan is truly an incredible state to enjoy.

Have you ever been to Michigan? Do you like camping? What do you love about your place?



Living in a pit with a heavenly view

One year ago yesterday John and I met our embryo donors. I remember because it's Vacation Bible School week at our church and last year I taught VBS the morning before we met them.

We were blessed by our donors who gave us four embryos to transfer. Their gift filled us with hope and expectation. I felt as though our next child was so close. Like I could almost reach out and touch her, my fingers just barely grazing her skin.

Nine months- how ironic- after that warm June day all four embryos were gone. Dead. All four beat the odds to survive the IVF thawing process, at least one implanted in my womb.... but none survived. We never got to meet our baby.

It's been three months now since I miscarried that one who implanted inside me. When people ask me how I'm doing I like to use an analogy. Maybe it will help someone else name something they're going through so I'll share it here. (If I've learned one thing through infertility it's that none of my experiences are unique. They are shared. They are common. They're so common they'd be boring if they weren't so painful.)

Living with infertility feels like living in a pit.


Every cycle is like the sun rising and setting over the pit and with it my hopes. When it's daylight I think, "Maybe I can climb out of here!" or "Maybe someone will walk by and throw me a rope!" or "Maybe if I cry upwards loud enough, someone will hear me and rescue me!"

But every month, the sun sets on my pit. I have not found a way out. I am left in darkness. I sit down in the pit to weep and gather my strength to try again.

When I finally, FINALLY! found out I was pregnant last winter I climbed out of the pit into the glorious sun! I felt the warmth on my face, I lifted my hands to the heavens, I cried in victory and sheer relief!

Even as I stood in the sun, though, I knew I was just one small step away from the gaping mouth of the pit. Even in my joy, I could feel the greedy darkness lurking behind me. My biggest fear was that I would fall back inside.

The moment I lay on the ultrasound table as my doctor searched for a baby and then said, "I don't see anything" it was like someone pushed me, hard, right back into the pit.

I fell with a tremendous THUD. Initially it was all I could do to breathe. The wind was knocked right out of me. I lay gasping on the floor.  Then the shock wore off and the pain of my broken body set in. I writhed. I agonized.

It's been three months now and the agony has faded to a dull and constant ache. I broke a few bones in that fall; they're healing, but I don't think they all set exactly right. And... I'm still in the pit.

I've gone through all the stages of grief in this pit (and am still going through them). I've been angry, weepy, denial-y...

Something I've learned in the pit is how little there is to say about something like this and how good it is to be still before the LORD. At first I didn't really have anything to say because I was just so crushed. There were no words to express it. Then I didn't want to say anything because it would have just been a long string of angry expletives. I thought about bargaining with God to somehow coerce him into giving me a child, but I've been a Christian long enough to know that I'll never hold up any end of any deal I could ever make with him. Plus, what could I ever offer that he doesn't already have? And also: God doesn't work that way.

There is really so little to say about loss. It's not fair but what's fair? It's not right but it's happening. Let's just all say, "This is a nightmare. I hate everything. I'm going to go hide in the garage." (Anne Lamott, Stitches.)

Realizing how little there is to say about loss is quite difficult when you're a blogger and a talker and a general word-er. I kind of felt like I was shushed by God.

Thank God my faith starts with love. I know that shushing wasn't a sharp, "SHHH!" like a librarian scolding noisy kids between the book aisles. It was more like the way a mother scoops up and "shhhhhh"s her little child after a big tumble on the sidewalk and a skinned knee.

I'm still in the pit. I don't know when or how I'll ever climb out of it. But what I am learning is how to live here better than I have been. How to not be so angry about being here, how to accept sadness, how to embrace the idea that somehow living in the pit for however long is preparing me for something I can't see yet.

Truly, what can a person see from a pit? The sun. Clouds. Sometimes a patch of blue. Tiny stars in the night sky. The heavens. All you can see in the pit are the heavens.

Here I am. In the pit. All I can see are the heavens. All I can do is trust that my heavenly view is enough to sustain me for now.

"Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens;
Who created these?
He brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."
- Isaiah 40:26-31



Cupcake chaos and Arie turns five!

Arie had two requests for his fifth birthday party: 1) a lion theme and 2) decorate your own cupcakes.

How cute! I thought. The lion theme was probably inspired by Arie's Halloween costume from the fall: something he was able to wear again in the spring at a friend's costume party.

This choice of theme was much more my style than the pirate one he chose last year! Pirates come with so much evidence of violence: peg legs, missing eyes, swords strapped to their bodies. I'm too much of a softy for stuff like that. Lion are tamer. I can easily turn a blind eye to all the hunting and killing of zebras and eating of raw bloody meat lions do in the wild. With just a little chosen ignorance I can make lions all about furry manes, majestic roars, and lots of orange and yellow. Think circus over Serengeti (not that I support animals for entertainment! I know they're happier in the wild. This line of thought is for birthday party planning purposes only.)

The "decorate your own cupcakes" thing.... well, I pictured that getting kind of sticky so I tried to talk Arie out of it, but he wouldn't budge. And you know: the birthday boy gets what the birthday boy wants!

So Arie and I put our heads together and our hands to use to make this lion/decorate-your-own-cupcake thing happen! We spend the weeks leading up to his party baking & freezing cupcakes, taste-testing potato salad recipes, and decorating treat bags. The cupcake making was met with great joy and licking of beaters! The treat bag decorating was at first met with excitement and later (about halfway through gluing 20 lion heads on 20 treat bags) with an exasperated exclamation: "I wish I didn't have so many friends!"

You'll be singing another tune when they all show up to celebrate! 

(And he did.)

We hoped to grill out for the party and host it in our backyard. After a week of nail-biting weather forecast checks the day arrived and it.was.perfect.

We started the celebrations bright and early at 7:30am by surprising Arie with the gift John and I bought him: a geo dome! John and my dad (who, with my mom, had arrived from Ontario the day prior) spent hours the evening before racing against the setting sun to get it assembled. They called the task a great "team building exercise"... but they said it without smiling, so I don't think it was fun, exactly. We'll just say it was a labor of love.

Anyway, we had to "give it" to Arie right away so he wouldn't see it without us and ruin the surprise. Out to the backyard in our pajamas we went, covering Arie's eyes with a blindfold.

"On the count of three!" John and I counted as Arie poised to uncover his eyes "One...."


Womp womp. Arie furrowed his brow at the structure before him and questioned slowly, "It just a... bunch of... sticks?"

Knowing our boy, we had anticipated a confused reaction like this and were ready to show him just how AWESOME and FUN this new geo dome would be! In my flip flops and fluffy white robe, I called to my inner 5 year-old-self and climbed right up on that thing! The act that finally got Arie excited out it was when I pretended to be stuck inside it, like a jail. He thought that was hilarious. Of course. (No there are no pictures of that! On purpose.)

After some geo-dome fun we got a busy day started: party-prepping, cooking, and taking an afternoon trip to the beach: one of Arie's favorite activities. By late afternoon we were home and waiting for guests to arrive.

The party was fantastic. Kids swarmed our new play structure, climbing and swinging, calling out for the closest adult to "LOOK! Watch me!!" Burgers and hot dogs were eaten, juice-boxes drank, salads left untouched on many little kids' plates. 

Arie must have been spreading the word around the party about the cupcakes because while I was eating I had no fewer than five sets of pleading little eyes come before me wondering whhheeeeeeeennnnnn it would be time for cupcakes. "After we open presents!" I cheerfully replied. The little one would run off reporting the news to his or her friends, "She said after presents!!"

(Seconds later I had more kids coming back to ask, "Um... when are we opening presents??" Ha!)

Arie was spoiled with a mountain of gifts: side-walk chalk paint, outdoor toys, lots of craft supplies (he's becoming a budding artist!), and his most cherished surprise: a giant cookie. (When Arie was three John once took him to a coffee shop and had Arie place his own order. "Tell them what kind of cookie you want!" he prompted. Without hesitation Arie replied, "The biggest cookie in the whole wide world!" We've gotten many laughs from that story! His wish finally came true.)

At long, long last it was time for the most anticipated part of the party: time to decorate your own cupcake!

I knew this would be a messy ordeal and I came prepared with wet wipes. Other than a little stickiness, I anticipated this being something of a whimsical moment at the party: children standing shoulder-to-shoulder, giggling together, spreading frosting, squeezing out smiley faces or other designs, excitedly turning to mom or dad to show of their creations before enjoying that first sugary bite... In my mind, I thought this would take about 20 minutes.

It took approximately 3.

I still laugh as I replay the scene in my mind: 

We started by singing the Happy Birthday song while Arie blew out a candle on one of the pre-frosted cupcakes I had decorated for the adults. 

In this picture I am laughing because as I lowered the cupcake down to let Arie blow out the candle I heard a tiny voice calling, "I blow it! I blow it!" and saw the cutest little two year old body bolting her way toward us with her mom in hot pursuit calling, "Wait! Stop! NO!" Mom swooped her up just in the nick of time! It was probably my favorite memory from the whole event and still makes me laugh!

After Arie blew out the candle I went inside to get the undressed cupcakes. The words "stampede" and "swarm" come to mind as I remember a dozen small bodies throttling toward the decorating station when I came outside.

I had the cupcakes divided in a few ziplock containers so it took me a minute to get them opened for handing out. The children who had to wait for their cupcakes nearly died. They really did. I made over 4 dozen cupcakes for this party and there was no way I would run out, but the kids did not know that. All they knew was their neighbor had a cupcake and they did not. Most of those three minutes are a total blur to me now, but I do distinctly remember hearing at least 30 kids calling, "I NEED ONE!" in panic. Which is weird because there weren't more than 15 kids there.

I had put out two bowls of frosting with handful of plastic knives in each one. At first the spreading went well: scoop a blob of frosting, spread it on the cupcake, repeat.... right? Well the kids added a step. Their version was: scoop a blob of frosting, spread it on the cupcake, LICK THE KNIFE, and repeat.

Suddenly the communal bowls of frosting did not seem like my best idea. Hopefully that one little party guest did not spread his mouth fungus to the rest.

I kid.

I also bought these accordion frosting tubes which I thought were GENIUS on my part because they eliminated that open back end you get with a frosting bag. What I did not anticipate was that young children cannot wrap their minds around the accordion style of squeezing. Poor child after child risked brain aneurism level of concentration on those tubes, squeezing with all their might from the sides. "Squeeze from the top.... squeeze from the top!.... squeeze from the.... you know that? Never mind. Just eat your cupcake."

I don't know if any kids showed their cupcakes to their parents. Some probably did. I didn't even see Arie take one bite of his. He just handed me the wrapper when he was done.

The adults also enjoyed cupcakes (pre-frosted) and after we were done we let our kids climb off the sugar high on the geo dome while we stood around the bowls of mostly-frosting-but-partially-saliva laughing and dipping vanilla wafers like a more delicious version of dunk-a-roos. Every once and a while a stray kid would run up to ask for another cupcake which was mostly obliged because well, what are birthdays for?

Standing before the remnants of that obliterated cupcake station, licking frosting off my fingers, I thought how this totally chaotic part of Arie's birthday will always be one of my favorite memories. It was nothing like how I planned it yet so much better. Funnier. Happier. Truer.

And the children loved it!

 One final memory I want to share with you from Arie's birthday weekend happened the day before his party when my parents arrived with his birthday gift.

Short back story to his gift: earlier this spring Arie participated in a "wheel-a-thon" fundraiser at his preschool. Each student brought a set of wheels (roller blades, bike, scooter, etc) and "wheeled" for 20 minutes. Arie brought his tricycle and had a blast! He was adorable out on the chalked parking lot "track," crawling along at his own speed, smiling and trying to make conversation with kids who whizzed by. We were so proud of him for completing the whole 20 minutes! That's probably the longest he's biked (triked) for one continuous period of time. (Here's a little clip from the event.)

John and I noticed, though, that he was the only kid on a tricycle at the event! Even the kids from the three-year-old class were using balance bikes or bikes with training wheels. With Arie being both our oldest and our only, we have a tendency to think of him as younger than he is. Which, considering the rough start he had in life, is probably a good thing! But John did decide at that event that it would be time to introduce Arie to a big boy bike! When we got home we called my mom- a yard sale master- and asked her to keep an eye out for a bike with training wheels in Arie's size.

Which brings us back to last weekend! Here's Arie unveiling his new gift:

His reaction was comparable to the "sticks" reaction, which we also expected. We all encouraged him to give the bike a try, cheering him on as he inched the pedals forward. I ran ahead down the sidewalk to snap a picture when suddenly I felt as though I was looking into the past. Two years earlier my parents had gifted him his beloved trike for his third birthday. The scences were nearly identical; the setting, the characters, the little feet on new pedals, the smile on my boy's face as he sort-of got the hang of it... it was all the same. Except the boy who sat on the bike seat was so much bigger, taller, more mature, with more defined personality traits, and more comfort in his own skin.

The years have gone by impossibly fast but they have been so good to him! His birthdays will always be bittersweet (as I'm sure they are for most moms) since I want him to stay my baby forever, but I cannot be sad about the boy he is becoming. He is sensitive, smart, creative (especially with arts and crafts!), smiley, an easy-laugher, and a jokester. 

Reflecting on the growth I've seen on my boy, watching him climb and play and eat at his party, celebrating his life with some of our dearest friends... it was a weekend to "taste and see that the LORD is good"!- (Psalm 34:8). I'm so thankful for Arie and his presence in our lives!

Arie finished his year of preschool back in May and will be headed to school in the fall. He'll be doing a young kinders program, 5 full days each week (eep!). Since I won't have a baby to be taking care of this fall when he's in school I've decided to pour myself into another "heart project" that I've long thought about: writing a book! It'll be a memoir of sorts, chronicling some major experiences in my life (my mom's coma and illness in 2007, our adoption, and infertility struggle) and the spiritual impact those events have had on me. I'll continue to post biweeklyish on the blog while I pour the rest of my writing energies into the book. I appreciate any prayers and encouragement you can offer!

Sending lots of love and gratitude to you, my readers. You mean so much to me! 



Update after miscarriage

It has been almost a month since our loss. We are still processing. The past few weeks have been very painful. Those of you who have been here know how excruciating it is, how impossible to describe.

Over Easter weekend we took this family picture. I look upon it with so much gratitude. Here are my greatest blessings: my husband and my son. I praise the Giver of all good things for them. Nothing can diminish the joy I feel when I look upon them.

Yet I also look at this picture with sadness. How many times have we posed together as three, wishing to be more? How many years will continue to pass before my son becomes a brother? Before my husband gives his name to another child? Before I feel for myself the blessed joy of life inside? Having lost four precious embryos, I pose for these pictures haunted by the children who should be there.

I follow an infertility support organization called Resolve on facebook and they posted this chilling quote:

"The best way I can describe infertility is to ask a parent to imagine a world in which their child did not exist. I live that reality every day." 
- Anonymous. 

I read that quote and sighed deeply while nodding my head. Yes. That's what it feels like. Then I read this comment from another facebook user: 

"As someone who has gone through infertility and been fortunate enough to have a child, I have to say that simply imagining she didn't exist does not even begin to describe the torture that is infertility." - Emily Marx 


Prolonged infertility and loss bores holes into your heart where your children should be and fills them with such grief, you cannot "even begin to describe."

In the face of such pain I have turned to the only place I know to go: to the arms of my Savior. I have asked him to show me his love, his mercy, his favor. I continue to ask him for the gift of a child by birth. For the deep desire of my heart. 

Over the past month as I have continued to bring my long unanswered prayer before the Lord, I have felt a growing desire to be quiet before him. While blogging has been nothing but a gift to me over the past few years, it requires me me to be in constant interpretation of my life. To be constantly looking for God's hand upon me. To testify to his presence and purpose in my life. 

Here's the honest truth: I can't see it right now. I have faith that it is there- his presence and purpose- that is will be revealed, that I will be able to testify to God's goodness during this season in my life...  someday. But right now, I can't. Right now I am in too much pain to do it. 

So I am going to quiet myself before the Lord and wait on him. Hear me: we are moving forward with more treatment: I'm having another surgery, we're looking for more embryos, we're trying a new transfer technique. We are not giving up. But I need to quiet myself even in our trying; to take time to let the truth of his love settle deep into my heart and to get a little farther along in this journey before I try to interpret it. 

Someday I trust will have reason to testify to what the Lord has done in this season of my life.  For now, I am surrendering to the mystery and simply waiting for that day. 

"The LORD will fight for you. You need only be still." Exodus 14:14

"Be still in the presence of the LORD and wait patiently for him to act." - Psalm 37:7

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10 

"Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to mutter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." - Ecclesiastes 5:2

"Humble yourselves before the LORD and he will lift you up." James 4:10 

Until that day, you can keep up with my on facebook and instagram where I will continue to post. I also have twitter which I use... sometimes. ;-)  

Thank you so much for your readership over the past few years. I look forward to the day when I can write again and say with the Psalmist, "Come and see what God has done! What awesome miracles he performs for his people!" - Psalm 66:5. 

Please join me in waiting quietly, but with expectation because we know in all things he is good. 

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