Dashing Dreams and Building Faith

Life can feel like a roller coaster sometimes, can’t it?

Our family has been on one the past month or so.  Almost a month ago, we found out we are having a BOY and we were overjoyed… at the top of the level that our happiness usually goes. The very next day, we found out that the same ultrasound that gave us such great news also revealed a troubling area called Echogenic Bowel, which basically means that there are some areas in the little guy’s colon that come through on the scan as dense as bone (so they appear bright) and they shouldn’t be there. They should be grey like the other organs.  This shows up in only 1 or 2% of 2nd trimester scans and there are a number of reasons this could happen, 25% of which are very concerning.

Through a follow-up ultrasound, blood work and genetic testing, we were able to fairly quickly (within a couple of weeks) rule out some main causes for this finding: infection, Cystic Fibrosis, and Trisomy 13 and 18.  What remained was the possibility of Down’s Syndrome.

Now, Nate and I know and love a couple of great kids with Down’s Syndrome. It is not a death sentence. But, a diagnosis like this would mean the death of many of the dreams we already have for our son, and adds a number of potential health complications.  The first day after hearing the news that our son could have a chromosomal disorder was definitely a low point in this pregnancy.

The Lord Makes It Increase

Sometimes you feel a special connection to a song each time you hear it. That’s how I feel about Erik Bledsoe’s “Unless The Lord.” I actually felt compelled to blog about it, so I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read on.

Erik and his wife are good friends of mine and Nate’s, and when we got a copy of his CD Love several months ago, our daughter fell in love with it and would calm down instantly in the car if we played it for her when she was cranky. So, we haven’t removed it since.  :)  Because of that, I’ve played it over and over, and I always start with Track 6.

The song is about how unless the Lord builds our house, it’s only a matter of time before it will fail. All of our efforts and striving is futile without the Lord’s hand of provision and protection over our families and activities. The bridge that truly spoke to me became special during the time between November 2011 and February 2012, while Nate and I were trying to get pregnant with a second child. These are the lyrics:

We sweat and we bleed
Time and again
To painfully care for the seed.

We do what we can
To water and plan
But it’s the Lord who makes it increase.

He can give to His beloved…. while we sleep.

Why I’m Not Making “New” Year’s Resolutions

Who doesn’t love a fresh start?  I know that I do!  I revel in throwing clutter out, simplifying my life, and the hope that comes from knowing a solid goal has been made is incredibly empowering.

So, why do most people only make fresh starts on January 1st, or after a traumatic event such as a divorce or death?  If fresh starts are so wonderful, why don’t we decide to make them every month or even every 90 days?  For that matter, we could even revisit the same resolutions at regular intervals so that we can succeed this year.

January Calendar

Or, November 1st, March 27th, August 8th?

I’m writing this because I ate a ridiculous amount of sweets and other foods devoid of nutritional value this past week.  Anyone with me?  The truth is, my holiday gluttony was just the natural next step to my gradual shift from eating what I know to be good for me. A little sweet here, a little white flour there.  I used to be a health nut!  Now I’m more like an empty walnut shell with a brown sugar and cinnamon glaze.

So the day after Christmas, I decided I was done: I’m focusing on fruits and veggies for a solid week, and thinking through every food choice before I make it.  I’m not trying to conquer all of 2012 at one time.  Let’s be realistic, y’all.  But this week?  I’m going to WIN, and not like Charlie Sheen “wins.”  😉 To wait until January 1st to make a decision that needs to be made now seems a little crazy.

So, do you have decisions you’re waiting to make for 5 more days?  Why not make them now?  Besides, if your goal is to get fit or lose weight, then you’ll get a few extra days of enjoying a deserted gym before the January 1 rolls around.

Our Own Secret Millionaire Experience!

I cry when I see an episode of Secret Millionaire. Maybe you do, too.  Something about selfless generosity for worthy causes is inspiring and beautiful. That is why I’m so excited to write about something that happened this past week!

Jesse the Lawn Care Guy!

Jesse Hayes, Business Owner!

Meet Jesse. For the past year, my sister Shannon has seen him on the corner of the street near her office at Vanderbilt, and she’s built a friendship with him.  He’s kind and polite, well-spoken, and always has a smile for her.  Apparently, he used to work for Vanderbilt, and then again as a phlebotomist for the Red Cross. He ultimately wants to be a missionary. We don’t know why he has been out of work for some time, but we are sure it’s not for lack of desire! He currently sells copies of The Contributor for a small profit. The Contributor is a local newspaper written by homeless or formerly homeless people.

Jesse is out EVERY morning, rain, sleet, snow or hail.  During the crazy storms we had this past month, my sister asked if he could take a day off because it was lightening and there were tornado sirens blaring.  He said, “I will as soon as I earn $18 to rent my room tonight.”  (He and a friend rent a room in a small home in East Nashville as often as they can afford it).  Shannon, feeling compassion for him, pulled out a $20 and told him to have a great day. He was floored by her generosity and care for him, and it turns out, he would have had a really rough night if he hadn’t had shelter.

Remembering Indonesia in the wake of Japan’s Tsunami

We all woke up Friday morning to devastating news that an 8.9 earthquake and massive tsunami in Japan had caused massive destruction.  My thoughts instantly went back to the tsunami of 2004 that affected Indonesia and surrounding countries and how long it’s taken that area to heal. Below is a summary from my relief trip to Banda Aceh, Indonesia 6 years ago. I hope that it will help those of you reading it to realize the extent to which the events in Japan will affect the country and the lives of those who were spared. My prayer is that we’ll all pitch in however we can to help them heal.  Warning: what I’ve written is shocking, heartbreaking, and not for the faint of heart.

Banda Aceh, Indonesia – February, 2005

I am finally at the point where I can somewhat formulate my thoughts and feelings about my recent trip to Indonesia.  It was one of the most trying emotional times of my life.

I will try to paint a little picture, however blurry, of what we initially saw and experienced in Sumatra:

Indonesian Tsunami

This coastal area lost 95% of its inhabitants.

Quitting Christmas

I’m quitting Christmas. I see your eyebrows going up and your blood pressure rising, so let me explain: I’m quitting the commercialism of Christmas: The rushing around for a month to make sure that all of the people I love have the PERFECT gifts under their tree from me, that I spend not too little or not too much, that my husband knows by my gift(s) how much I love him… The list goes on, literally!  I challenge you to take a moment and try to think of the gifts you gave and received last year.  Can you remember any of them? If you can’t, how much do they really matter?

The real joy and meaning behind the holiday (Christ’s birth) can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle, and many of us don’t seem to mind. After all, there are things to do! Gifts to buy! Stores begin selling us on the giving season before Halloween has even passed. People rush out on Black Friday and become these crazed, shopping shells of who they were just a day before on Thanksgiving.

I’ve had it.

This year will be different, and I have my amazing family to thank for it. I recently had the chance to be involved with a stop-motion video production that my church produced with this simple message: Less under our trees… More for the world. The premise is that by asking for (or buying) fewer gifts for people in our lives who already have more than enough, it frees us to give in life-changing, kingdom-building ways both locally and around the world! What an amazing concept: to give to those who really need it, and to side-step the mad shopping rush and stress that comes along with it at the same time.

Becoming artwork when I expire…

Last night, my husband and I had a much-needed “Veg Fest.” If you know us well, you know we work hard and play hard, but rarely just veg! So we caught some of a new TV series called “Three Rivers.” It’s on CBS, and it focuses on a medical team that harvests organs from gracious donors who have passed, and find “homes” for them in very sick and needy patients, some of whom have been waiting for a long time. I enjoyed it, and it sparked some discussion between Nate and I.

I’ve had the organ donor box checked on my driver’s license since I was 16, and I’ve always thought I wanted everything possible to be donated except for my skin and eyes. Many people don’t even know that these can be donated, and I’ve kind of thought of it as “icky.” However, donating these organs would make a world of difference in the lives of a blind person or burn victim, so I’ve given it some more thought. Now, if you’re on top of things, you’re realizing that this extensive donation could make for an unsightly open casket. Enter my next preference: cremation.

Now, before you start thinking this will be a morbid blog post, be assured that you’re probably going to laugh very soon :).

Cremation… the alternative to slowly becoming worm food over the course of many years. I’m rather fond of it. But, what do your loved ones DO with your remains? There’s the sprinkling into the ocean, off of a mountainside, and resting in the somewhat typical urn on the mantle which could be creepy for your home’s visitors or housekeeper.

I want something different. I am an artist. When I die and become ashes, I’d like to become art. (What?)

Getting Stuck in Your Shirt…

“Help!” uttered a small voice from the backseat on my cousin’s family vacation. Holly’s motherly instinct kicked in and she quickly turned to see what was going on with her youngest son. The little guy had apparently gotten hot and tried to take off his shirt while strapped into his car seat. Now he was stuck! I received an email with this photo attached. (Holly’s motherly instinct was superseded at least temporarily by her desire to catch the humorous situation on camera first) :)

What strikes me as great about this photo is his expression. Here’s a kid, completely stuck, can’t see, probably feeling confined and helpless, yet he’s SMILING. He knew it was all going to be alright and wasn’t stressing out. I immediately decided I could learn from this little guy.

I occasionally find myself feeling a bit “stuck.” How great would it be to just realize that something is out of my control, laugh, and find help? Do you ever spend too much time trying to do something on your own, only to finally get frustrated, cranky, and then ask for help? (Guilty as charged). Next time, I’m going to remember Cooper. Will you?

In the words of Beth Moore, “We are wise to force ourselves to keep differentiating between simple inconveniences and authentic tribulations.”

Making it in a Recession-Crazed World

Admit it. All of the press and hype about this awful recession has started to get to you a little, hasn’t it? Even if you haven’t lost your job, you probably know someone who has, or you are concerned about your own.

The fact is, that yes… people have lost some jobs. They are being forced to get a bit creative and seek out possibly a whole new career path. Is this necessarily a bad thing? I stand that it is not.

I am a freelance artist. You can believe that I’ve been getting a lot of questions and concerns about how I’m doing in these uncertain times. And a couple of months ago, I might have told you that I was concerned. In my little corner of the world, people weren’t spending the usual big bucks on custom portraits for Christmas gifts. Portrait commissions accounted for the majority of my income, so I realized that I had to make some changes in how I do business.

The recession caused me to change my plan of action.

I started learning more, researching some creative ways to further my business. It so happens that I have a very marketable set of skills in the area of graphic design! The wheels started turning, and it went something like this: “People are spending less on ‘unnecessary’ items right now (portraits). But businesses need more help than ever, and many new businesses are starting up as a result of this recession… Maybe, just maybe I need to find ways to connect with these people for awhile.” And so I did.

Painting Outside of the Box

Last weekend, I was at a family’s home and one of their girls, Ravin, came to show me her latest creations in her portfolio. At not even 10 years old yet, she’s always impressed me with her creativity, but one of her paintings stood out to me:

What’s so great about this particular painting is how she created it. She laid down a quarter to mask the area where the sun was going to be, and splattered paint around it. I asked her how she did the splatters of color, and she gave me a big smile and said “with a toothbrush!” Her reply almost had a “silly girl, what else would I use?” tone to it, but I’m pretty sure it was my own artistic convictions coloring my reaction.

You see, I used to paint with toothbrushes. I painted with leaves, string, my fingers, and a host of other non-conventional tools. My paintings didn’t always stay on the paper, and they were rarely centered. When did I stop thinking that this was an acceptable way to paint?

Ravin’s painting was a kind reminder that we artistic types should never lose the wonder of getting a little messy.

~ Here’s to painting outside of the box from time to time. Thanks Ravin! ~

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