Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Time to Weep

Its been over two weeks since I've had a good night's sleep. My new normal consists of waking about 2:00am, laying awake for an hour or two, then reaching out to my mom or a sister via text, knowing someone is awake for the same reason.

We said goodbye to Campbell this week. We knew it was coming, but even preparing your heart for it doesn't make it any easier. I've cried every day for the past 14 days. Hell. I've cried more times in the past five and a half weeks, than in the past year.

On the day of the surgery, almost six weeks ago, I was hopeful and optimistic. I knew there were dangers, but we had so many people praying and my God is bigger than statistics and worst case scenarios. But when the story took a turn for the worse, my faith began to crack.

That Sunday morning, when we told Devyn that Hastings had passed, she fell in my arms, sobbing and asked, "But why??? I don't understand!! I prayed so hard!" Jon and I exchanged looks over our heartbroken daughter's head and had no way of answering her question. How do you explain that sometimes God's answers don't make sense?

Five and a half weeks. I didn't know it was possible to age years in such a short amount of time. I didn't know it was possible to experience such highs and lows in the space of a day. It was a never ending roller-coaster. I can't tell you how many times I begged to be let off the ride. And oh, how my heart hurts knowing that my emotional fatigue pales in comparison to that of my baby sister's pain.

Within 24 hours of a particularly bad appointment, where the doctors told her she needed to be with her husband, Courtney finally reunited with Jeremy. She now lives in another state, approximately 1,721 miles away, which translates to a 26-hour car ride or a $400 plane ticket. I know her place is there, but it doesn't make it any easier to be this far away from her.

For the past five months, I've felt God asking me, "Do you trust Courtney with me? I know you love her, but my love for her exceeds yours." It was the obligatory, quick response, "Of course, God. Of course I trust you with her." But as this journey has taken one bad turn after another, I felt the foundation of that trust start to crumble.

The day before Courtney flew to Philadelphia on a one-way ticket, I felt him ask again. "Do you trust Courtney to me?" And I realized in that moment, no, I didn't. You're supposed to be a faithful God, I screamed at Him, I don't see your faithfulness here. You're supposed to be good, but this doesn't feel good. My faith is on shaky ground here, God, and no, right now, I don't trust you with her. It was a hard moment to swallow, showing me that my faith is only good so long as the answer is yes.

A few days ago, Jon shooed Devyn and I out of the house. He always knows exactly what I need before I do, and I needed that time with her. I remember asking her if she had any questions or doubts about God in the midst of this story. She shook her head and resolutely said no. I confessed that I was struggling, that I didn't understand. "It just feels like He hasn't heard any of our prayers," I explained. I watched as my 10-year-old daughter tilt her head, slight confusion wrinkling her forehead. "Yes, He did," she exclaimed. "She got pregnant, didn't she?"

It was in that moment that I got my first glimpse of peace. I started looking for the small mercies in this story. Yes, it didn't turn out the way we wanted, the way we prayed and hoped it would, but there are small mercies sprinkled throughout our time with Hastings and Campbell. I'm going to focus on those smaller mercies while I start to claw my way back to faith.

I don't expect the pain to subside any time soon. There's the side of me that mourns the loss of my nephews. And then there's the side that hurts for my sister's loss and pain, and my deep desire to take it all away for her. I know the journey ahead is a long one. And I wonder if the beauty we find will make this all seem worth it. It feels unlikely, but only time will tell, I guess.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

They stole a piece of my heart.

“Wait. What?” I made her repeat the words again.  My heart was caught in my throat and my skin grew clammy.  Shock was an understatement, but there was no other way to describe the emotion.  I hung up the phone with Mom.  It wasn’t the call I was expecting, and my head refused to accept the news she’d shared.  It couldn’t end like this…

For three years they tried to have a baby.  Three years.  Sure, there were short two or three month breaks sprinkled throughout those three years, but it was a long time.  A time where I watched my youngest sister battle the emotions that come with infertility.  And when she and her husband finally announced their pregnancy, just a few days into the new year, it was met with excitement and cheers and celebration.  Even knowing that a move was in their imminent future, even knowing that it would likely be a move across the country, even knowing the idea that this child would be born away from our family, we celebrated this new life.

When they called me after the first ultrasound to announce that it was identical twins, I laughed, both in joy and in irony.  Because of all the sisters to have a multiples birth, the last sister I’d pick would be Courtney.  She’s a planner, through and through; Type A to a fault.  And in having two infants at once, two toddlers at the same time, she was going to have to let go of a lot of that control.  "It was perfect," I crowed to Jon, "exactly what she needs."

We fell in love with those twins from the moment they announced it.  We talked about plans and ways we could help while living across the country.  We talked about schedules and visits, all of us would take turns to fly out and help her with the babies.  We envisioned matching outfits and brainstormed names.  We held this little secret close to our hearts, respecting their wishes to wait.  It took everything in us to not shout it from the rooftops: not only had God answered their prayers for a baby, He’d doubled the blessing.

Though it was a while before we found out that it was boys, we eventually learned that it was Campbell James and Hastings Christopher growing in her womb.  We anxiously awaited their ultrasounds, anxious to hear how they were growing and what they were doing.  We laughed when we heard Hastings had kicked Campbell throughout the ultrasound.  We smiled when we heard Campbell kept sucking his thumb.  We chuckled as we heard how active and feisty Hastings was, and how calm and collected Campbell was in comparison.  Personalities shone through each ultrasound and we relished these stories, loving them already.

Throughout the ultrasounds, it became apparent that something was wrong.  Hastings was falling further and further behind Campbell.  First it was just a few days, then it was six days, and then a week.  The doctors started talking about TTTS, also known as Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome.  Christine and I dreaded that acronym, because as soon as we’d heard the words "identical twins", she and I Googled.  And identical twins seemed to be synonymous with TTTS.  The syndrome is scary, the outlook bleak, but we knew science and medicine had made great strides in recent years.  And even though it was daunting, we hoped for the best.

This last week has been a blur.  I’m not even sure what day it is, or how many days have passed since the nightmare started.  I suppose high emotions and lack of sleep will do that to a person.  But when I look back to where we were a week ago, it exhausts me.  I’d give anything to turn back the clock and have a different outcome.

It started with their weekly ultrasound.  There was nothing unusual about it, she’d had so many.  But unlike the week before, the news wasn’t good and it looked as though the TTTS was starting to take over. Still the doctor didn’t sound that worried, just concerned.  However, the call from Children’s Hospital two hours later had a different tone and it sounded like things were more serious than any of us had cared to admit.  A few days later, Courtney and Jeremy had a five hour consultation that involved ultrasounds and tests and it was decided that it was time to have a surgery that would divide the placenta and close off the blood vessels that the twins were sharing.  It was the only way to give both twins a chance to survive.

It was a nerve-racking hour and a half.  We gathered, all of us, sisters, brothers-in-law, moms, and dads.  We paced the waiting room, stared off into space, stared at our phones, refusing to voice the deepest doubts and fears that pervaded our thoughts.  We fought to be strong for Jeremy, for Courtney.  We willed those twins through that surgery, praying with every heartbeat that they would make it through.  And when the surgeon came to give us a report, he sounded optimistic.  We all breathed a sigh of relief, I remember telling the surgeon I wanted to hug his neck.  The news still wasn’t great.  Hastings was small, way too small and he’d only received 30% of the placenta, but there was hope.

We spent the rest of the afternoon, talking and laughing.  We alternated between distracting Courtney and Jeremy from the what-ifs, and then talking through the doubts.  There was laughter and tears, companionship and the sharing of fears.  There was unity throughout the day, the only goal was to support, encourage, lift up, and stand in the gap for the couple we loved so dearly.  And when we left that night, it was with the promise that we’d know more in the morning.

I’ll never understand the timing or the whys.  And I’ll never forget the utter despair I felt when I’d heard our worst fears were realized… Hastings had passed and Campbell was in danger of going into preterm labor.  It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  This wasn’t the ending we envisioned.  And I couldn’t bear to think that the heartache I was feeling in that moment was exponentially worse for my little sister.  I cried for the loss of the little boy we wanted so bad, I cried for loss of the dreams we had for these two boys, going through life side-by-side.  I mourned for my sister and brother-in-law, wondering if they’ll get to have even one child to raise.  “You are faithful, you are faithful, you are faithful,” I whispered to God.  “But I still don’t understand.”

And I’m not sure I ever will…

To the boys who stole a piece of my heart.

Hastings - I can’t begin to express how much we wanted you.  I dreamed of my sister’s smile on the day she would hold you in her arms.  I dreamed of two little boys, identical in looks, opposite in personality, tugging on a parent’s arm to get to the playground a little faster.  I dreamed of milky, coma-like smiles, of burping one little boy while your mama nursed the other.  I dreamed of watching your fierce personality make up for your tinier body and watching you annoy your calmer, older brother.  But child, it appears that God had other plans for you.  I pray you knew how much you were loved, how much you were wanted. You will not soon be forgotten, little one, and am so thankful that we had time with you.  No matter how short that time was, you became a part of us.

Campbell - You’ve been the calm, reserved child. Growing as you should, content to suck on your thumb and finding comfort in keeping your hands near your face.  I see you as the older, protective brother who has indulgently allowed the smaller one to rest his head on your belly or play kickball with your home.  And now, little one, I ask you to hold on.  Hold on for your mama, who has already lost so much and wants nothing more than to bring you home.  Hold on for your daddy, so that he can breathe in your newborn scent and find some healing and closure in that maybe, just maybe, it was all worth it.  You have cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents who are anxious to meet you.  Hold on with everything you have.  Grow strong, child, and I pray we get to meet you on this side of heaven.

We love your mommy and daddy, so much.  You’d be proud of them.  They have always loved each other, always been each other’s best friend, but you two have made them stronger than ever.  Their love for you and their fears for your health have brought them together in a way that has cemented their relationship.  They are more firmly connected in a way that only trials can do.  Their concern is always for the other, always wanting to make sure that the other is ok.  The way they watch each other move across the room brings me to tears. And some day, they will be ok.  It might take months or years, but some day, they will be ok.  I hope that in time, we can look back at this and see the bigger picture that is currently evading us.  But in the meantime, we will take care of them, they will take care of each other, and some day it WILL be ok.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Disconnect Breeds Discontent

We’re going on seven weeks of Jon being on-call.  SEVEN WEEKS.  In the eleven years Jon has worked for the state, we have never dealt with such a lengthy on-call schedule.  This has been hard.  Harder than the time he worked 78 hours in one week, harder than the fires that ravaged our state

DISCONNECT2

On-call requires Jon to be within 20 minutes of his office, which means that I go to many things alone.  If there’s a fatal car accident on any state highway, Jon is the foremen that responds to conduct an investigation, to shut down the road, and assist the first responders in any way.  It means being at the beck and call of the state, at any time of day or night.  We have received calls at midnight, at 2:00am, at 4:00am, ten minutes before we have to be somewhere, or even on our way to church. 

It means that I’m ON twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and the partner that I’m used to sharing the parenting load with is missing.  It means I attend weddings, birthdays, family gatherings, church, bible studies, and parties alone.  It means I rarely get to see my best friend, let alone have any deep, meaningful connection with him.  It means that I’m without a break or time to myself.

It means that I start to believe the lie that I can do this on my own, that perhaps I don’t really need Jon after all and maybe I can even do a better job without him.

This one caught me by surprise.

In our twelve years of marriage, I have always been strong in the face of difficult working circumstances.  “We’re in this together,” I told Jon as he got ready for a twelve-hour snow shift, a toddler hanging on my knee and an infant against my shoulder.  “We’ve got this,” I promised him.

But this time, it was different…

In the little time we DID have together, when he was between snow shifts, answering calls, and sleeping, I wasn’t able to have down time and really connect with him.  I didn’t have a little one who needed to nurse, thus forcing me to stop and connect with Jon.  This time, I was racing around like a crazy person, trying to get the Littles to school or a play date, I was preparing for birthday parties or Christmas, I was too busy to stop.  And instead of being grateful for Jon and the hard work he was putting in, I started nitpicking.

He threw his socks on the floor again… He’s undermining the punishment I’d given a Little… He hasn’t noticed that I cut my hair or have lost a couple of pounds… He hasn’t thanked me for running the house while he’s been absent…  He didn’t do A, B, or C the way I wanted it done… Has he even noticed that we got the closets organized? 

In turn, he responded the only way one can respond in the face of not being able to do anything right, he returned the favor. It became a vicious cycle of complaining and whispering unkind words to each other through clenched teeth.  It meant assuring an upset Little who overheard one of our fights that “No, Mommy and Daddy aren’t getting divorced.  We’re just fighting, married people fight.  Marriage is hard work, my Love, and Mommy and Daddy aren’t always going to agree.  You know how you fight with your brother and sisters because they annoy you, well, Mommy and Daddy annoy each other.  But don’t worry, we’re ok!”

Except that we weren’t and it was time to get to the root of the problem.  That night was a late night, our conversation lasted long after we were usually asleep.  We were both humbled, admitting to hurts and asking forgiveness for the hurts we’d inflicted.  We came away with a renewed decision to fight for each other and for our marriage.  We promised to make real, meaningful conversation a priority because it was in the disconnect that we found discontent.

FierceMarriage

Social media can often be misleading.  Social media tends to show only the highlights of our life… the things we’re proud of, the very best moments of our lives.  I’ve written before about sharing the highlight reel of my life, and I’m sure, however unintentionally, that I do just that more often than not.  But let me be real for a moment, marriage is hard, hard work.  We never do it perfectly, and often mess-up more than we don’t. 

I was reminded that every morning, Jon and I have a choice.  We can choose to believe the lies that life would be easier on our own, or we can choose to love.  I’m choosing the latter.  There’s not a question in my mind that currently we’re in a valley of our marriage.  This is real life.  But the mountain top is coming, and I’ll hold on to that promise with everything I have.  And I’m especially thankful that Jon’s on-call will be over in a week.  Eight weeks is entirely too long for me to be without my best friend and partner.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Our Christmas Surprise

This was it, the year we caved and finally became a video game console family.  Let me rewind a bit…

It wasn’t that we were against video games per se, but it wasn’t high on our priority list of things we wanted in the house.  However, as Jon and I were discussing Christmas ideas for the Littles, I blurted out that perhaps we should buy them a video game system.  We just stared at each other for about ten minutes before we both started grinning widely.  It was the perfect gift, and we knew the Littles would flip out on Christmas morning.

So we did our research, we asked for opinions and feedback, and bit the bullet, purchasing our very first video game system.

We threw around a few ideas of how to wrap the gift and present it to them, and finally we decided on doing a scavenger hunt.  I had the best time coming up with and creating clues that would lead the Littles around the house, in search of their big gift.  In fact, I think I had more fun with the scavenger hunt than they did…

ChristmasScavengerHunt

The reaction was exactly what I hoped for, and they’ve absolutely loved their new toy.  Its been such a great motivator with getting ready for school, chores, homework, etc. and Jon and I often wonder why we haven’t done this sooner.  We’re also hyper-vigilant about the time they spend on there, and thankfully there’s been only a few protests when we tell them its time to turn it off.

All in all, a fun Christmas morning., and definitely one for the memory book, er, blog.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Faith Like a Child

Jesus & Children

I often wonder how much a child comprehends and understands about salvation.  There’s so much I want my littles to really GET before they take that step to ask Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of their lives, and yet much of it won’t come until later.  As an adult who was raised in a Christian home and saved at the young age of five, I’m STILL learning…  But in spite of the head knowledge that I want them to possess, I also know we’re called to have the faith of a child.  And no amount of wisdom or knowledge can take the place of pure, unadulterated faith.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… Ephesians 2:8

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Luke 18:17

And so it is without qualms and with celebration that I get to share Ashlynn’s salvation story.  I have had the privilege of sharing Devyn, Hudson, and Reagan’s stories, and I’m so thrilled to add the latest installment of our family’s story…

Hudson has a heart for the lost.  He desperately wants everyone to be saved and to believe in God.  It’s a character trait that I deeply admire in my son. 

About two months ago, he started sharing the gospel with Ashlynn.  Its an amazing thing to sit in your children’s room and listen to siblings talk about God, Jesus, and the cross.  I smiled as Hudson would explain how Jesus came to this earth to die on the cross for our sins.  So simple and yet, the truth.  Wise words from a seven-year-old’s perspective.  Every night that I prayed with them and tucked them into bed, I could count on Hudson asking Ashlynn if she was ready to become a Christian yet.  And every time, she shyly shook her head no.

But a mother’s heart knows when the seed has been planted and when its taken root.  The questions from Ashlynn increased as she sought answers and reconciled them in her four-year-old heart.  And it was on the second night of the new year, as I tucked the blankets around Ashlynn’s chin, that she began one of the most important conversations of her young life. 

“Mama?  I’m not a Christian yet,” she stated, matter-of-factly.  I nodded my head in agreement.  “And I need to ask Jesus to live in my heart,” she continued.

Again, I nodded.  “Are you ready, Ashlynn Rose?” I asked.  “Do you want to pray and ask Jesus to become your Savior?”  She smiled and wiggled her arm free of the blanket.  She threw it in the air, as though offering a fist pump, “Yes!”

And so there we sat, Ashlynn and I praying together, thanking God for loving her, for giving us His son, and asked Jesus to become the Lord and Savior of her life.  After our prayer, I held her close and whispered how much I loved her, how much her God loved her, and how thrilled I was at her decision.

It was in the middle of our prayer that Hudson caught on to what was happening and he called to his sisters in the other room, “Ashlynn’s becoming a Christian!  Ashlynn’s becoming a Christian!”  His excitement was palpable, and Reagan and Devyn offered their own cheers from their room down the hall.  And when I finished the bedtime routine with Hudson, it was his prayer that brought me to tears for the second time that night.

“God, thank you for Ashlynn becoming a Christian.  I pray that you and her become closer and closer.  And tell the angels to have a fun time celebrating tonight.  Amen.”  That kid… I tell ya… He has the most amazing relationship with God.  There are no pretenses, no right words; just a real, authentic, and personable relationship his Lord. 

But I digress.

Ashlynn is thrilled to be a Christian and has run to her Nana, Papa, aunties, and cousins, exclaiming, “I’m a Christian now!”  And my favorite, is when she comes up to me, squeezes my side, and looks up into my face, “I’m a Christian now, by the way.”  Its as though she’s sharing a special secret with me and the rest of the world, and I pray she’s always this excited to share her news. 

Ashlynn Rose, we are so thrilled for you and your decision to follow God.  Your earthly family celebrates with you, as does your heavenly Father and the angels.  My prayer is that as you grow, your relationship with God will deepen, that the truth and His words will take root in your life.  He loves you, so much more than your father and I could ever dream of loving.  His plans for your life are good, and I promise that you can trust Him with everything and anything.  Rest in His hands, my love.  There is no safer place for you to stay.  There’s an exciting journey ahead of you, and I can’t wait to see where He takes you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Two Little Words

It never fails.  The minute that the costumes are put away and the candy from trick or treating is hidden, the case of the “I Wants” begin.

Its an incessant mantra, “I want, I want, I want” and with each utterance of the words, I take a deep breath and do my best to quiet the lecture that threatens to burst forth from my mouth.  Those words are like nails on a chalkboard for me, and most times, I give a visible shudder when those words come out of my babies’ mouths.

“I want…”

For me, there’s such a sense of entitlement in those words.  I want, therefore give me.  I want, therefore I deserve to have it.  No.  Just no.

Please don’t hear me wrong.  We do the present giving thing at Christmas time.  I love watching my little ones open a present that I know they’ve longed for and will treasure.  It’s part of the joy of being a parent, getting to share in that special moment with them.  And yes, as their mother, I have a fairly good idea of what will bring a smile to their face.  I look forward to Christmas morning as much as they do.

But its when they’re looking through the big toy catalogue or when we’re walking through a store, and the “I wants” become more about the gimmies than the actual desire for, or love of, a hobby or collection.  Its when they lay their eyes on something that they’ve never seen before, have no idea what it is or what it does, but because its shiny, they want.  It’s the coveting that I dread, and an attitude I want to nip in the bud.

And then today it dawned on me.  What if, instead of focusing on what we think is missing in our life, we start focusing on what’s already there?  And so I started a new game with our LIttles.  The “I Have…” game.

It started out with just Reagan, Ashlynn, and I on our way home from running a few Christmas errands.  The “I Wants” began with a whimper and by the end of our errands, it was a full blown shout.  Enough to give me a headache.  And heartache, if truth be told.

“Hey Reagan, what if we played the “I Have” game?” I countered against a wish for another type of doll.

It made her pause, and I watched as she tilted her head in thoughtfulness.  “What’s that?” she asked.

“Here, how about I go first?” I offered.  I waited for her smile and gave the first answer.  “I have… a warm bed and soft pillow where I can sleep.”

I watched her as the concept of the game sank in and I recognized the glint in her eyes when she caught on.  “I have… crayons and markers to color with,” she offered.  I smiled in the rearview mirror and nodded in encouragement.  “You’re right, Baby!  You do have a ton of crayons and markers and you make beautiful pictures!”  I turned to Ashlynn, “Do you want a turn, Love?”

She wiggled in her car seat and said, “I have… Barbies!”  And I laughed.

The three of us round-robined the rest of the way home, and the suggestions were as silly as being thankful for socks or candy, to the more serious thanks for a roof over our heads and food in our fridge.  It was such a breath of fresh air, and I sighed in relief. 

Perspective.  Its one of the biggest gifts I can give my Littles.  There will always be someone who has more than us, and there will always be someone with less.  Its so easy to get caught up in the things that we don’t have, that we forget about the things that others envy us for having.  Perspective, its something that even I lose sight of more times than I care to admit.

We played the “I Have…” game twice more today.  Once after we picked up Devyn and Hudson from school, and the second as the Littles tried explaining the rules to their daddy.  So far the game is still new and fun and its a novelty, but I pray that it’ll help us remember just how very rich we are without all the “I Wants” that cloud our vision.

Two little words.  Both “I want…” and “I have…” have incredible power to shape our attitudes, but I want our family to focus on the blessings we already have. 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~Melody Beattie

Monday, December 8, 2014

For One Moment, It Did

It’s Monday morning, and the usual list of things to do is running through my mind…
  • Run a load of dishes
  • Transfer the load from the washing machine to the dryer
  • Make sure the card has a stamp on it before I mail it
I had another list for the afternoon when Reagan goes to school and Ashlynn is down for a nap…
  • Finish my homework for Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe study
  • Fold the dry clothes and start a new load
  • Start dinner in the crockpot

Normally these daily chores are done to the background noise of a television show or two sisters fighting over the green crayon, usually in combination with each other. My mind has grown accustomed to the clatter, fading to white noise so that I only register high and low tones. Or shrieks that indicate the fighting has reached the point that I must intervene. But this morning, I put on Pandora and we listened to Christmas music instead. I finished the dishes and was about to run downstairs to change the loads, when I heard a soft whisper.

Stop.

So there, at the top of the stairs, I stopped. I took in the scene sitting before me. The living room was littered with open packages from birthday gifts. There were boots strewn across the floor, and there were random pieces of Legos and dolls and crafts spilling out of boxes. I saw socks I needed to fold and books that needed to be put away.

Then I looked beyond the mess and, in the midst of it all, sat two little girls, side by side, playing contently with new paper dolls. There was no screaming or fighting or demanding that the other share. Instead, by the glow of the Christmas tree and with ‘Where Are You Christmas?’ playing in the background, they were quietly playing make believe. It was serene and peaceful. The moment was rich with emotion and thankfulness.

I felt the familiar lump rise in my throat. Every day I’m growing more aware that this time in my life is coming to an end. I’ve been mourning the fact that next year Reagan will be in school all day, and I’ll no longer have two little girls as my morning companions. And in two short years, Ashlynn will be in school too. The days of little ones being underfoot are drifting away and I find myself wishing that I could make time stop moving.

And for one moment today. It did.

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