Friday, December 26, 2008

A Savior Is Born

When I was younger, and honestly, not even that long ago I would find myself disappointed and sad when Christmas day was over. For a long time I couldn't figure out why I was feeling that way. Finally, maturity revealed that I was searching for fulfillment which I believed would come with the gifts that I would receive. But even though I received many great gifts, that sense of fulfillment was always just out of my grasp.

I finally discovered, after several sad Christmases, that fulfilment does not come with getting "stuff".

This year, the day after Christmas, I find myself feeling sad and disappointed all over again. But for completely different reasons. Or are they?

This year, more than most years, I wanted to create a season of traditions and festivities for my family. Since we are a fairly new family and since this is Andy's first Christmas, I wanted to make it memorable. I tried really hard to come up with and actually follow through with activities that could possibly become traditions for my family.

Soon into Christmas morning my high expectations were dashed to the ground and I found myself in tears for reasons that aren't worth rehashing. Then later that day when faced with what I feel to be a major rift in my extended family, I just became inconsolable. The usual issues began even when I have made all efforts to change things. The problem is when other people let their pride get in the way and the rift continues. This has never been how my family operates and I am beside myself to think that some people who are supposed to be close choose to keep their distance and not follow forgiveness with grace.

Needless to say, when spending time with my family is among my most favorite things, I felt purposely left out and like a fifth wheel. I am very grateful for my mother who was happy to play with Andy and talk with me.

As I have been attempting to break out of the sadness and to heal some of the hurt I realized that I was looking for fulfilment from people and acceptance but the only One I can count on is Jesus. How must He feel when I purposely disclude Him when what He wants most from me is my time? He wants to show me His heart. He accepts me just as I am. He wants to reveal His purpose for my life. Yet I continue the "rift" between us because I don't have time for Him.

Let me correct that.

I don't make time for Him like I should. All the reasons why are truly a jumble in my head and at this very moment are being sorted in my heart. But I certainly have a long list of reasons which will be addressed as soon as I can get even a portion dealt with.

What I do know is that even when I choose to leave God out He is always there. He is ready to meet me where I am at and loves me despite my "issues." He sent His son Jesus to show me just how much He loves me. A Savior is born to heal the "rift" I have placed between God and myself. God always follows forgiveness with grace. His acceptance is blessedly overwhelming.

Do not grieve, for the JOY of the Lord is your strength.
Nehemiah 8:10

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let The Whirlwind Begin

My in-laws will soon be driving over from Oconomowoc, WI for an early Christmas together since my mother-in-law has to work on Christmas day. If they brave the snowstorm socking the Midwest and throughout the country really, they should be here this evening sometime. If they decide to wait a day they will be here tomorrow. Well, that was profound! Anyway, they will be staying through Monday when Chris will be conducting his students in the Park High School Christmas concert.

Christmas Eve will dawn with a day of cleaning and preparing for the next round of family. Then it's off to celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior at a Christmas Eve service at church where we reflect on the reason for this season. 

By Christmas Day Andy should be a pro at opening gifts since he will have some practice before hand. Josh will be positively giddy with excitement at finally having a little brother to run to the stockings with. OK,  Andy won't be running but he will be crawling at a mad dash. After our own little family time, we will head to my mom's to celebrate with my brothers and their families.

On Christmas day and the day after I will have my mom's side of the family from Illinois, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Indiana making their way here to Minnesota for the entire weekend. That is what I call our "big family Christmas!" Very original and creative, I know. Maybe I should rename it "Wonderful chaos". 

My favorite thing about Christmas is spending time with my family but the cookies, cakes, pies, bars, fudge and all things sweet are a close second!

So, let the wonderful chaos begin...

Just as a side note, Andy cut his first tooth yesterday morning. Whew, finally after four months of drooling rivers. I know it's not over but it sure helps the ol' crabby mood when that tooth finally breaks through.

Another side note: I am fairly certain that Andy would much prefer to be running to the stockings with Josh since now he is pulling himself up on the furniture. He so wants to walk!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Josh's Birthday Parties

Yep. Parties. He had two parties this year.

One with friends...

and one with family.

Josh was very excited about his new iPod touch!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Josh!

Today is Josh's 9th birthday! My, how the time flies. It seems like just yesterday he was born...

Saturday, December 4th, 1999

I was 38 weeks pregnant and I had just worked an 8 hour shift at TCF and was anxious to meet my grandparents and aunt and uncle, who were in town visiting, for dinner with other family at Cracker Barrel. After dinner, we went to another aunt and uncle's home to visit with each other even more. There was so much laughter and joy. One of the biggest laughs was the explanation of a neighborhood Christmas light display. We stayed really late and on our way home we passed by the ridiculous light display and laughed all over again. That night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I said to God, "OK God. I'm ready when you are."

Sunday, December 5th, 1999

5am I was wakened by pain. "Gas pain" I thought and went back to sleep. 5:15am I was wakened again by the very same pain but went back to sleep. 5:30am, same pain, sleep. 5:45am, one more time then back to sleep.

6:00am the pain finally catches my attention. Did I mention that I went to bed really late and that I was 38 weeks pregnant so I was very tired! Anyway, I walked upstairs since I was living with my parents and told my mom that I thought I was having contractions. She told me to try to get more sleep and time them as they were waking me up. Of course I couldn't sleep so I got up, showered and got my hospital bag ready. The contractions were still light and fairly far apart so I decided to watch one of my favorite movies, White Christmas, which was fitting since it was the Christmas season. My parents and grandparents, who were staying with us, were soon up and getting ready to go to church. I opted to stay home since I was technically in labor. After church, My family was meeting the other family members for lunch and I didn't want to miss out so I went to lunch timing my contractions as they were getting stronger and closer. When one would come I would lay my head on my mom's shoulder until it passed. My aunt gave me one amazing little tip about childbirth: "When you bear down to push, let out a small breath. That will help you control the push a little better." That one amazing little tip would soon come in very handy.

After a delightful though painful lunch my mom and I decided to go to Target and get a little more Christmas shopping done. With each contraction I would have to stop and lean over the cart handle as they were getting even stronger and closer. What a crazy shopping trip!

Back at home my mom and I started to really time the contractions to get an idea of how far along in labor I was. I called the hospital and they told me I could come in but since this was my first baby and they typically take longer, they may send me back home. That was the last thing I wanted so I decide to stay home a little longer.

That little bit longer was just a little bit too long. Suddenly the contractions became very strong and very close. It was time to go. I called Josh's father to have him come meet me at the hospital and my mom and I were on our way. Not very far down the road my mom realized that she would have to drop me off at the hospital while she went to park and that was not a good idea to her. She called a family friend of ours, Cheryl, and asked if she could take us. As I was waiting for her husband, Dave, to pull their van out of the garage, I had a terrible contraction that brought me to my knees. As soon as it was over I stepped into the van and, lo and behold, my water broke. In their van. How utterly embarrassing. I was so concerned about their seats that I asked Cheryl to get some towels. She told me it would be OK but I basically growled at her, again, to get me some towels. She graciously, and very quickly, honored my request.

We were on our way at lightning speed and possibly, no, actually, breaking a few more laws. I know this because when I looked at the speedometer it read 90mph. Also, when we stopped at red lights and then immediately proceeded the light was still red.

I was admitted to the hospital, checked immediately, and was very surprised to find that I was dilated to a 9 already. I soon had the desire to push but was told to wait since they weren't ready. It is impossible to fight that urge. Insanely impossible.

Josh was born at 6:02pm weighing in at 7lb 3oz, 19 in long. I looked at this incredible new baby and wasn't sure what to do. I just held my hands close to him but not touching him and saying over and over "Oh my gosh."

That day I was changed forever. My identity, my place in the world became clearly defined. I finally knew what it was to love. I was humbled by that precious gift cradled in my arms. I am still humbled by this gift I can no longer cradle in my arms but will always be cradled in my heart.

Lord, bless Josh today and everyday with Your peace and Your JOY. Protect his heart, his mind, his body, and his soul. I thank You for the multitude of blessings You have given and have yet to give Josh. I pray that he will be receptive to Your will and will always be seeking You. Let me, as his mother, be an example of a faithful seeker. Lord, thank You for giving me such a sweet gift in Josh.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Favorite New Toy

At least that's what Andy thinks.

After many many no's and chasing Andy away from the Christmas tree I finally decide to let him explore this new shiny thing laden with toys, I mean ornaments, in our living room.

Andy decided he needed a closer view so he decided to go under the tree. He wasn't sure what to do since it was so prickly on his face and all the "toys" were on the outside. (Unless, of course, you count the tree skirt which was a source of happiness.)

Soon he had enough and it was time to crawl back out from underneath this wonderful toy that will bring joy for the next month because, little does he know, it's not here to stay.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Belated Thansgiving!

First of all, the initials for names thing is quickly getting old so I will be using real names from now on. Chris is the very loving and very intelligent husband, Josh is the smart and goofy soon-to-be nine year old, and Andy is the rapidly growing and very determined six-and-a-half month old.

OK. About Thanksgiving. This was my post on my Myspace blog page last year:

Since writing is not one of my strengths I don't usually blog, but I was thinking of a few things that I am thankful for on this day, Thanksgiving.
-a God who loves me beyond measure!!!

-my family(there are too many to list)
-great friends
-a warm home to live in
-my overflowing closet and dresser
-good food(anyone say TURKEY!)
-a nice soft bed and pillow
-snow and a hot summer sun
-the miracle of a new life
I too often take these things and more for granted. I just wanted to take some time to reflect on the many blessings in my life. Last night I did a little shopping with my husband and son. It was sooo cold and snowing. I usually end up complaining about the cold, which I did, but I also thought about the men and women and children that are stuck in the cold either homeless or unable to afford to heat whatever it is they call home. I got into a warm car then came home and turned up the heat in the house. I am so incredibly blessed! I need to take lots more time everyday to be grateful for all these blessings. Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving! I know I will!

This year I actually acted upon what has been my hearts desire for many years. My heart has been heavy and my eyes fill with tears anew for those who struggle to make ends meet and really have nothing. I have had a life filled with blessings and abundance and therefore have felt overwhelmingly convicted to "give back." I have also desired to instill compassion and generosity in the hearts and minds of my children. So that being said, my family and I decided to attend the Walk To End Hunger Event at the Mall of America. Well, I decided for us but Chris and Josh (and even Andy), without complaint, joined in. I created our team page on the website and sent out emails to several people asking for donations and pledges. Little to my knowledge, most of the emails didn't make it to their destination. As soon as I discovered this problem, Chris sent out a Facebook plea for support. Our initial goal was $250 and we ended up raising $160. Not bad at all! Next year I will do things a little different knowing what I know now as far as gathering pledges but my plan is to make it a tradition. Nevertheless, it was a great experience for us and not only did it do our bodies good but also our hearts.
The really fun part of the morning for me is kinda selfish.

I was on the news!


And I didn't sound like a blubbering idiot!

Andy doesn't like to hang out in his stroller for long periods of time (or short ones for that matter) so we took turns carrying him. At one point my arms got really tired so I put him on the floor, grabbed his hands, and began walking veerrryy slloowwllyy. First, one cameraman with a large camera began filming us, then Andy, walking. Then, another cameraman with another large camera began filming Andy. He got his shot and we continued to walk. That same cameraman approached us a few minutes later asking if I would do an interview. By this time Andy was in my arms again. I said "Sure" and so he asked me several questions. He said the first question was going to be really hard. I could tell that he was being facetious but I braced myself anyway.

"What is your name and how do you spell it?"
What is my name? What is my name? (It's really hard to concentrate when you have a large camera facing you and a bright light shining on your face.)
"Liz, L-I-Z, Russell, R-U-S-S-E-L-L."
"Where are you from?"
Where am I from? Where am I from?
"Cottage Grove."
And the rest I only vaguely remember.
What was shown on the news?
"To raise funds for the hungry and to teach my children to give back"

So only about three seconds of fame but..


The rest of the day was glorious. We spent time with family and friends chatting, laughing, and eating and I got to make turkey and stuffing in the oven for the first time. It turned out very well and I stuffed myself silly pretty much the entire day.

I am so thankful for many things but a blog that I read sent out this challenge. The Bible tells us to not only be thankful in the midst of everything but for everything also. That is incredibly hard as we face unbelievable tragedies and sad circumstances. My difficult thing to be thankful for truly is what I went through with Josh's father. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to face but God began shaping me and molding me through the tough times. He continues to do so when I allow Him. How can I be ungrateful for what God has given me even when I've had to go through the fire to obtain His blessings? That is something I must continually keep in my mind and heart.

What are you thankful for during this season of giving thanks? What feels completely unnatural to be thankful for?

JOY and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
Isaiah 51:3b

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Raw Feelings

I belong to a moms group, MOPS. I take AJ a couple times a month, put him in the nursery (nice break) and go discuss relevant topics for mothers of young children with other mothers. Oh, and we get to pig out on some really good food! We meet a couple times a month and every meeting has a "guest" speaker. We may have a Q & A time with the entire group but we always have time at the end for a discussion with our smaller group. Last week the topic was on schooling choices and the pros and cons to public, private, and home schooling.

Some background on me.

I spent Kindergarten through 7th grade in the public school system then attended a private school from 8th to 12th grade. It was a very small, unique K-12 school. At the time of my graduation there were about 45-50 students enrolled. At this time, 15 years later, I believe 75-80 students are enrolled.
I have often explained the atmosphere to be like a family or a small town feeling. Everyone is so close and knows each others business. I've also described it as a one-room-school-house. When I was attending, we all sat in the same room in divided desks and basically learned all the different subjects on our own at our own pace.
It definitely has its upsides (I try to impress people by telling them that I graduated second in my class, Salutatorian, but the truth of the matter is that I graduated last in my class since there were only two students) and drawbacks (again, everyone knows your business). I could publish blog after blog describing the private school I went to but I will spare everyone the details. Unless you really want to know, then I will tell you how it works.

JD is in 3rd grade and has been in the public school system since the beginning. I chose public school for various reasons. One being that his father requested that JD not attend a "religious school. Another reason is based on my own experiences with private schooling. CJ and I will most likely keep our children in the public school system since he is a teacher in a public high school.

So back to the MOPS meeting. There was a panel of three women with school-agers. Each has chosen a different way to school their children. As the session wore on I found myself getting very upset and wanting to leave. Apparently I still harbor anger and bitterness about my private school experience.

Don't get me wrong. I have many wonderful memories. Like singing and acting in programs that I probably would not have done in a public high school because of my excruciatingly shy nature. Also the close relationships that I was able to develop with other believers in my peer group.

I also have the not so good memories. I wish I could really nail down what I mean but I can't even explain it to myself. There was some serious dysfunction going on. Yeah we were taught about God and basic Christian values and morals that I still uphold to be true and right, ("where Christian principles are taught and caught") but some of the examples were less then exemplary and lots of the teaching was "cram it down your throat and agree to my every idea or pay" style. I guess my slightly rebellious nature was having a hard time with all the legalism and lack of humility on the part of some of those who were supposed to be my "mentors" and leaders.

I think I still feel so strongly because I have close friends and family still involved with the school. Also, within the last few years there was a HUGE dispute between the school and my former church in which it inhabited and associated with. The school has since moved to a different location and the church has since cut off any support and association.

The wound is still raw.

I will be working on letting go of the bitterness and sadness and allowing God to heal my heart. I will definitely be revisiting this topic and exploring my healing because I want to heal.

When we broke up into our smaller groups, I was beckoned via pager to gather my very unhappy, screaming infant. I breathed a sigh of relief because I didn't want to discuss the schooling topic. I was afraid of losing my temper and quite possibly breaking into tears. Not that I can't in that environment, I just want to know the ladies better before I get all psycho. It is sort of a hot topic with us women so we'll probably be discussing it again. I won't be taken by surprise next time and I will be ready to face my feelings.

I will give them comfort and JOY instead of sorrow.
Jeremiah 31:13b

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On The Move

It's official.

AJ is now crawling. For a couple of weeks now he has been getting up on his hands and knees and rocking, then he went up onto his feet and would sort of step forward and then fall on his belly making him that much closer to his desired destination which is usually the pile of cords to various things near the couch. (He hasn't learned the meaning of "no" yet.) He wasn't sure what to do with his hands but he has figured it out now. Last night he started plodding along putting one hand in front of the other and his knees (or feet) followed.

And he is only going to get faster.

I am so proud!

I am so scared.

If I thought looking after AJ was tough before, I will constantly be on my toes. Literally. He is an incredibly busy boy. In fact, I jokingly diagnosed him with ADHD in utero because of his constant busyness. Yeah, I know, ignorant. I mean no offense to those who actually suffer with ADHD. That is what crossed my mind, though ,as he was growing into a budding gymnast inside of me.

So maybe I will sleep better now since I will be spending most of my days chasing after "the road runner." Beep beep.

I have no greater JOY than to hear that my children are walking (or crawling) in the truth.
3 John 1:4

Monday, November 10, 2008

Birthday Boy

One week ago, November 3, was CJ's 36th birthday. This year was the fourth year we have celebrated his birthday together. The first year landed us at the doctor's office...

It was officially our second date even though we had seen each other at church choir practice and hung out other times. CJ asked me to keep the night open for him so that we could go on date. He wanted it to be a surprise so he didn't tell me what we were doing. That evening he picked me up at my house and drove me back to his. As we walked in the door I could smell the lovely aroma of dinner cooking. I was really hungry! He gave me a tour of his home as the food finished cooking. After CJ dished up the delicious looking chicken, peas, and rolls we sat down to eat. He held out his hand for mine and prayed for our meal.

Just as I was picking up the knife to cut into my roll, CJ commented on the superb quality of the knives and how sharp they were. I found out just how insanely sharp they were! Not only did the knife cleanly cut the bread but it also cut right into my pinkie finger. I dropped the roll and calmly said to CJ, "Look what I just did." It took a moment for CJ to process the fact that blood was pouring out of my hand and completely covering the dinner he had just made that I hadn't even touched yet. Did I mention I was hungry?!

In what seemed like hours but were actually just seconds, CJ jumped out of his chair, raced to the hallway linen closet and grabbed his Boy Scout approved first aid kit. I was instructed to come to the kitchen sink to wash out my wound. With my head resting on his shoulder as I watched him clean and bandage my finger, I said in sick voice," I am going to need stitches." He seemed to agree so we promptly left for the doctor's office with our lovely dinner still on the table.

I was very glad and surprised to see my doctor since she was the one who happened to be on call that night. Dr. L assesed my wound and the nurse began preparing for sutures as I relayed the events that unfolded in the past half hour. Dr.L was very impressed with the wrapping that my Eagle Scout date had done. CJ held my good hand while Dr. L sewed up my finger. I need to mention that I was even more hungry at this point and very woozy with all blood and procedures. Dr. L had to tilt the head of the bed down to get blood flow to my head because she was concerned I was going to pass out. Finally it was time to go.

CJ was intending to take me home right away but I insisted that I was fine and that we had dinner to finish. We went back to his house and dished me up a new plate of food. Of course we had to use the microwave to reheat our food since the chicken and peas had cooled while we were at the doctor' office. CJ graciuosly cut my chicken for me after watching me struggle to hold the knife that I was now very afraid of. What a wonderful man. What an awkward situation.

I gave CJ his birthday gift which was a compilation of C.S. Lewis books. Needless to say, I was very surprised when he handed me a gift bag containing a DVD of The Notebook. I had mentioned how much I love that movie so CJ bought it so we could watch it together that evening. It ended up being a wonderful night where tragedy drew us together. OK, that might be overly dramatic but I will never forget how thoughtful and generous CJ was on his own birthday not to mention the care and concern when things went awry. That's when I began to fall in love with him.

I am sorry to say that I have forgotten how we spent years two and three but this year I made him dinner with no mishaps whatsoever. His gift was a long-obsessively-awaited iPhone 3G. We also visited the Twin City Model Railroad Museum in honor of his love of trains big and small.

I don't know what we will do next year or the next but I pray for many more birthdays with my wonderful husband.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and JOYful.
Psalm 68:3

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Lately I have been trying to cook more at home so that we don't go out so often. It is usually healthier and more affordable. I happen to stumble across recipes online or from others blogs. This one I found from a blog called Fordy Days And Nights and I believe the recipe was adapted from another blog. It doesn't sound very appetizing but it is so good! I made it for my family last night and it was a hit. Even JD liked it. He wasn't so sure about the pumpkin but it wasn't recognizable at all. Give it a try!

Pumpkin Turkey Chili
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground turkey
2 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
1 can whole kernel corn, drained (14.5 oz)
1 can cannellini beans, drained (14.5)
2 cups pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin)
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Toppings: shredded cheddar and sour cream
  1. In dutch oven or similar pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook until tender, about five minutes.
  2. Add turkey and break up with spatula as it browns. Once it is evenly browned, mix in tomatoes, corn, beans, and pumpkin.
  3. Season with the next six ingredients.
  4. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about one hour.

This makes a thick chili. To make it soupier, add chicken broth until of desired thickness.

Top chili with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. EnJOY!

I think I will make this for my extended family at our weekend Christmas Party. We have started a tradition of a chili feed and this will be a new addition. We make the same kind every year in a huge pot but I will bring some of this for the more adventurous palettes. There are definitely some of those in my family.

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a JOYful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Ecclesiastes 9:7

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Here Goes

This is my first post and, quite frankly, I have no idea what I am doing. I will start with an explanation of my blog name. The first letters stand for the first names of my two boys. The oldest is JD and the youngest is AJ. Of course my husband, CJ, and I don't really call anyone in our household by their initials but for the sake of simplicity and possibly anonymity I will refer to them as such. No offense at all to those who go by their initials. JD is 8 years old and the one who changed my life forever just by his birth. If you are a mom then chances are you know exactly what I mean. More on that later. AJ is 6 months old and one of the biggest joys and challenges in my life. Again, more on that later. CJ and I were married in October of 2006, one of the best days of my life.
As I have been following several blogs over the last few months, I thought that my life was too boring to have a blog of my own. I don't suffer from infertility or have a terminal illness or know someone who does. I haven't lost a living child or had to plan a funeral for a baby who hasn't even been born yet. I do, however, want to have a place to go to archive funny things my kids do and say, the memories that my husband and I make with each other and with our family, and my feelings about what is going on in and around me.
I can't promise that all posts will be happy and pleasant but I want to strive for pure joy in all circumstances. The kind of joy that only God can give.
So welcome to my new blog! I hope and pray for joy to all!

Bring JOY to your servant, for to you, oh Lord, I lift up my soul. Psalm 86:4