What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do ~ Dana

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A good friend of mine texted me last week to me know that her father passed away. He had been sick for a long time and over the course of his illness, she and I had many conversations about this process of losing a parent to cancer. When I told another friend the news, she said to me, “Oh, she’s lucky to have you. You must have known just what to say.” But the truth is, I didn’t. I don’t.

Having lost my father just over a year ago, I definitely know what NOT to say. I’ll give you the top three: 1. “Don’t worry. It gets better with time.” Here’s the thing: no it doesn’t. I’ll never have a daddy again. There is nothing better about that. Ever. It felt so dismissive when people told me this, as if in just 6 months I would just be over it all. 2. “I know exactly how you feel.” I understand the sentiment behind this one, but truthfully, no one knows exactly how you feel. Everyone’s relationship with their father is very different. Some people are close with their father, some aren’t. Some carry around anger and resentment. Some have tremendous guilt or regrets. I know how I feel, but that doesn’t mean that any one else feels the same way. 3. “Just be happy that you have your daughters.” This one bugs me because it ignores the gray areas in life. The happiness that I have in my daughters is unrelated to the sadness that I still feel about losing my dad. Absolute joy and gut-wrenching grief CAN actually exist together, thank goodness.

But what TO say, then? I don’t know what to say to my sweet friend because I know that there was nothing that anyone could have said to comfort me. Every sentence I thought of saying to her seemed so empty and superficial compared to the hurt that I could hear in her voice. So I hugged her, and told her how sorry I was. And I meant it.

Then I did for her what so many did for me and my family when we were in the midst of hospice and funeral planning: I brought food. During those horrible days, I cannot even remember who brought what, but our friends descended on my parents’ house, bringing homemade cookies, BBQ’ed chicken and hamburgers, chicken salad from Costco, croissants… it was a cornucopia of goodness that made our lives so much easier. There was so much to be done, especially when we brought my dad home, that we absolutely did not have time to cook, and there were only so many meals that we could stomach from the local fast food joint. I remember just crying after one of my mom’s friends from church literally brought us boxes of food. Their gifts of food nourished our bodies and our souls. It was just one less thing that we had to worry about.

The recipe I made for her is a simple, but delicious pasta dish that travels well and can just be microwaved or heated on the stove. I threw in a green salad, some Italian bread from a local bakery, and a bottle of wine, packed it all up in a Trader Joe’s bag, and sat with her in her father’s house. I’m including the recipe here. It’s a staple in our home, especially in the fall and winter. Try it for your family, and try it for a friend in need. Win-win.

Pasta e Fagioli

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, quartered, then halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
3 ½ cups chicken stock – 2 14 oz cans or homemade (click here for our recipe)
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 ½ tsp dried basil
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 15 oz can cannelloni beans (or white beans)
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish)
½ lb ditalini pasta (or elbow macaroni, cellentani, or other curved pasta)

Directions:

1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until translucent. Stir in garlic and cook until tender. Reduce heat, and stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, water, broth, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, beans, and Parmesan. Simmer 40 minutes.

2. Add pasta and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Serve with extra Parmesan for garnish.

Above It All

There’s this song on the radio by For King and Country called “Fix My Eyes”. It’s been around for bit, but you know when you’re driving along and you hear a familiar song in a new way?

That’s what happened here. I finally tuned in to the words of the chorus:

Love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You

Can someone make a cool wooden sign out of these words? They pretty much sum up the life of a Christian, and I’d like to hang it over my kids’ beds so they can internalize it, especially that second line.

The words have been kicking around in my head for a few weeks, mostly in relation to current events, an election season heating up and some things that have appeared on my Facebook feed.

Listen, this whole public social media thing is dangerous, and about to get more so as we head into election season. Come October 1, I will make a Facebook announcement that my feed has been designated a “conscientious objector”: Purposefully inflammatory and disrespectful posts discouraged for the duration.

Not because I don’t respect everyone’s right to think what they want, but because I don’t want to feel baited, angry, bullied. I don’t want to respond in kind, with snark and sarcasm. I don’t want us all to be wondering why we’re friends in the first place.

In our current political system, there is no blameless vote. Especially if we are Christians, when we cast a vote—either red or blue—then we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater somewhere along the line.

That’s a truth that requires humility. Not anger, accusations, bullying, hatred.

So how can we live the next few months in a way that preserves our faith, our rights and our relationships?

I think the boys from For King and Country have it right. Be brave. Compromise. Connect. Stand tall above it all.

It’s a fun song. Play it loud.

 

90 Days and Counting!

My friend Paula is pregnant for the first time. Paula and I have been friends for 20 years. We played volleyball together in high school, then taught and lived together for ten years until I married Shea.
This Spring, her husband Jimmy, who is a National Park Service Ranger, got transferred far away. They moved in her first trimester. New place, new home, no job for Paula. The baby was a surprise in the fact that she thought that ship had sailed, and she worried about being able to get a teaching job with a November due date.
When I talked to her in May, she didn’t sound great. She was lonely, stressed about the job search and trying to process all these tremendous life changes. Who can blame her? So the Committee decided someone needed to go see her.
Because that’s how we do.
It was a toss up for Lisa and me: we both wanted to see Paula pregnant, and we both wanted to meet sweet baby girl when she gets here. In the end, I came now, and she will go later. We pinkie-promised to take lots of pictures.
And off I went to see my pregnant friend.
In Maui.
Did I forget to mention they moved to Maui?
Maui is one of my favorite places in the whole world. Paula and I went to Maui in the summer of 2002 to reward ourselves for making the jump to public school. We had a blast. When I met Shea a year later, and found out he grew up on Maui, it felt like a sign from God that he was for me.
But this trip was not about Maui. If Paula and Jimmy had moved to South Dakota, I’d still be going to visit her, even though I have no real desire to see South Dakota. She’s my friend and she’s having a baby! So the Maui part is neither here nor there, beyond the fact that we got a beachfront condo for the weekend.
The point was to get things ready. There’s no Babies R Us on Maui. Or Target. There’s a Walmart, but Paula feels the same way I do about Walmart, so that’s out. And Paula and Jimmy are super low-key folks. A lot of people don’t even know she’s pregnant. If she was closer, she might have let us throw a baby shower. Maybe. Probably not. She is just not a big fuss kind of gal.
But a baby requires equipment. And equipment requires shopping, which is not Paula’s favorite thing. And help wading through the crap that the baby industry tells new mamas that they need.
Like a wipes warmer. I could have just set $30 on fire for the good that thing did anyone.
The first thing we did was throw a wi-fi baby shower. I came armed with love and gifts cards, and we bought a mattress, swing, bath and the two cutest towels you ever did see.
Then we rolled through the baby section and reloaded her registry, which shocked her into silence when it reminded her that she has 90 days to go! I am happy to report that while there is plenty of pink out there for baby girls, there’s also a ton of fun blue, green and melon. And car mirrors have come a long way. The one she picked has flashing lights, plays music and even comes with a remote control so mom can reset while driving.
Paula is feeling better and looks great. She got a teaching job where she is facing down the challenges of being a haole. She and Jimmy are super excited to meet their baby. And you heard it here first: Jimmy doesn’t stand a chance when Miss Thing gets here. He loves himself some Paula, and when Mini-Paula shows up, he’s going over the edge. No doubt.
In other news, Paula took me to see Oprah’s Maui estate, which is right down the road from them. It looked kinda nice:
This is the main house on the Winfrey compound. There were at least five smaller (and by smaller, I mean normal) houses too. #itsgoodtobeoprah

This is the main house on the Winfrey compound. There were at least five smaller (and by smaller, I mean normal) houses too. #itsgoodtobeoprah

And Maui? Maui’s doing all right. Not that I noticed:
These flowers smell heavenly.

These flowers smell heavenly.

The view from our beach.

The view from our beach.

 

Towards Kihei.

Towards Kihei.

 

Honu!

Honu!

Heart Warrior ~ Guest Post by Shalimar Niles

You know when you meet someone and they radiate calm kindness and patience? The kind that actually calms your own heart just from being in their presence?

Meet our new friend Shalimar. She is one of Kate’s Girl Scout troop leaders and I was amazed by her before I heard the story she’s about to tell. We invited her here because this woman’s life is full of grace–grace given by God and then distributed outward in total love. She knows that God is not here to test us, but to see us through.

She was born on a Friday morning. 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a head full of hair. Her daddy followed her to the nursery, and I went to recovery and waited for someone to bring my baby in to me. No one came. For more than an hour I waited, when finally, my husband came in, empty-handed, to tell me.

Our daughter was 1 in 100. That’s the likelihood of having a baby born with a congenital heart defect, or CHD. The ultrasounds showed us a healthy baby girl, but she was born with a severe CHD called Pulmonary Atresia. We had no indication that anything was wrong, and yet, our newborn daughter was now in a race against time to fix her heart before she started running out of oxygenated blood.

Emma at one day old

Shalimar with Emma at two days old

Hours after she was born, she was transferred to a hospital that could give her the care she needed. My husband went with her, and so it happened, hours after giving birth, I was alone in my hospital room, in shock and recovering from a c-section.

I held her for the first time when she was two days old. At four days old we walked her to the operating room doors for her first catheter procedure, which was unsuccessful. At one week old, her due date, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary, she had another procedure, also ultimately unsuccessful. From that point on, she was intubated and sedated, her right leg was purple and had almost no pulse because of damage to the artery during her procedures. We were broken-hearted for our girl, anxious to get her well and terrified of how bleak things looked for her at the moment.

Prayers and support came pouring in from friends and strangers alike. Her story was shared and thousands of people were praying for her around the world. I, however, was not one of my daughter’s prayer warriors. I told a friend that I felt like a hypocrite for allowing, and even encouraging others to pray for her when I could barely speak to God. “This is the time to let us lift you up,” she said.

We call June 7th our daughter’s Happy Heart Day, because that’s the day that things started improving for her. She had open heart surgery, which was terrifying, but we had the hope that things would be better on the other side. The texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages were incredible, and did give us strength through those awful hours. All those people kept me close to God when I couldn’t do it myself, and they all have been able to witness the miracle that is our daughter.

Emma after her surgery

Emma after her surgery

She came home just a week after her surgery. On medications, and 24 hour oxygen, but she was home. And the medical miracles kept coming. Just a couple weeks after surgery, I started nursing her (which for being on a feeding tube for most of her life was amazing) and she began to thrive. She gained weight, she went on to oxygen just for sleeping and by the time she was three months old she was off all meds and supplemental oxygen. At 10 months old, she had a hole between the chambers of her heart closed, which improved her health even more. By looking at her, you would never know the challenges she has had to face in her young life.

I think the real miracles have been the intangibles. After being sedated and lacking oxygen her first month of life, she opened her eyes for the first time after her surgery and she was there. In the sense that I knew our worries about any brain damage were answered. She was delayed in rolling, crawling, and walking, and you could see the determination and grit in her face as she struggled in physical therapy to meet those goals. She is quite simply, a force of nature. Our daily reminder that miracles do happen, that God is with us even through the storm, and that hope we have in Him is real.

I live in a constant state of gratitude. I quite literally thank God daily that He saw fit to let us keep that sweet baby girl, who just turned two years old. A CHD is never truly cured, she does have more surgeries and challenges to face, and that is not what I dreamed of for my child. But as she healed, so did we, and I am certain that our strong family foundation, built of love and strength and faith will carry us through whatever may come.

Emma turns 2!

Emma turns 2!

 

 Tomorrow, Emma’s family and friends will wear pink to celebrate the anniversary of her surgery.

Happy Heart Day to Emma from all of us at Full of Graces!

 

Mouthy Women

This morning, Dana and I made it to yoga for the first time in two weeks. My kids have been sick, her kids have been sick, and the dang time changed. You know what I’m saying right? One of those weeks.

So what to write about?

We just passed the one year anniversary of Full of Graces….Almost 500 honest to goodness readers…we just had our first comment criticism and throw down, which made us very excited because you must be doing something right if you can’t keep everyone happy…it’s women’s history month, you know we have things to say about that…and it’s Lent, a very holy and sacred time of the year.

Too many choices, too many choices! So today we’re going to punt, to ourselves and a post that originally appeared on Hallelujah Highway in 2012.

Do you know Glennon, from Momastery?

She’s been talking lately about a woman named Brene Brown, a research professor from Texas who has spent ten years researching shame and courage. She posted a pic of a page of Brown’s new book Daring Greatly. This page talked about the social rules women are expected to follow, summed up here: “Basically, we are expected to stay as small, sweet and quiet as possible”.

Glennon was almost smothered by these rules. So many women can relate to that feeling. Trying to stuff themselves into some mold and feeling inadequate when they don’t quite make it.

But her post made me think about other women, the ones who never followed the rules, or at least knew the rules were crap from the beginning. They never stayed small, sweet and quiet. They opened their mouths and said what they felt, thought and meant. Or, they looked small and sweet, but opened their mouths and roared like lions.

I have always been a mouthy woman.

Maybe because I was six feet tall since I was twelve, I did not feel constrained by the rules. The small and quiet ship sailed fairly early in my life, and I was not on it.

It could also be that in my family, children were seen and heard. We were encouraged to talk and the adults listened to us. I knew my opinion was important very early in my life. I saw my dad honor my mom’s opinion, and my grandfathers honor my grandmothers’. Not once in my life have I ever struggled to voice my opinion. More often, my struggle is to discern when my opinion should be voiced, or how to express it appropriately.

Maybe it was sports. My success was not tied to how I looked or dressed, but how hard I played. And I controlled that. In college, boys flocked to us, drawn by our strength, health, intelligence.  They were the men who didn’t need us to be quiet or small. Most of us married men like this—men who are delighted at our “take on the world” approach to life.

But they are the exception. Most people are extremely uncomfortable with the Mouthy Woman. Some men don’t like her because she seems threatening, like she’s reaching out of her province and into theirs. See how male politicians expressed Cave Man opinions in this last election. See women at the highest levels of politics in this country and how they are treated. See that we have not had a female president. Yet.

More distressing to me, though, is how women turn on the Mouthy Woman. Why is that? Why do women eat their own? Why do we poke those who do the very thing we all say we wish we were strong enough to do?

Just recently, a friend of mine told me that my very presence demands honesty. It took me a minute to see the whole truth of this statement: it’s a compliment for sure; but also a question, a “How can you be so sure that you are right?”; and a request to go easy—honesty seems like a hard standard to meet.

I do hold myself to a standard of truth. I believe in truth. Lies are unpredictable and messy. Truth is simple. Truth is a survival skill.

Glennon would agree. She is with those of you who are still struggling to find your truth, to silence your shame, to open your mouths. I know you can do it. You can find and live your truth. I don’t know any secrets. I just made a choice. You can make it, too. Start by telling yourself the truth. Then tell others the truth. Make a commitment to never lie. This doesn’t mean you have to speak all your truths all the time. Sometimes it’s enough that you know the truth. But never speak a lie. Not to yourself, not to your partner, not to your kids, not to your friends. Make truth a habit.

To my mouthy sisters, to the ones who were never concerned with being small and quiet in the first place, or have learned to speak the truth: Keep talking. Talk for your daughters and grand-daughters, so they will know that truth is safe. Talk for your sons, so they will know the value of an honest woman. Talk for those less fortunate, talk for those who cannot talk.

And listen to them all. Show them the respect of being heard. Grow a future that believes in itself and the honesty of what it knows. Grow a future built on a mighty mountain of truth.

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It’s Not a Competition ~ Dana

I’ll admit, with great pride, that I love Facebook. I love status updates. I love check-ins. I love pictures and videos. And I really love hashtags.

But in the past year or so, I’ve read different blogs and even heard some friends talk about how much they hate Facebook. The complaint is usually the same, that all of their friends’ Facebook lives are fake, that they only show the good, beautiful, staged moments, and that it makes them feel badly or even guilty about their own messy, imperfect lives.

To those people, those who feel inferior because their living room isn’t as clean as their friend’s, or because their Christmas tree didn’t look as pretty, or because their football-shaped Super Bowl cake came out looking like a big brown blob, I have one thing to say: Stop. Just stop.

It’s time for life to stop being a competition. And those of you who know anything about me, you know that I am a fierce competitor. If you and I play Yahtzee, you’re going down. I mean it. But our everyday lives need to stop being a competition.

When we look at our friends on Facebook with jealousy we are doing two harmful things:

1. We are devaluing our own wonderful experiences. If you can’t see the beauty in your children and proudly post their chocolaty smiles and whacked-out hair, if you haven’t noticed the stunning sunset on your drive home and revved up the colors with an Instagram filter, if you haven’t taken a selfie while you’re out somewhere fun on a date or at home with your cat, you’re missing out, friend. You’re missing out on the glorious beauty that your life has to offer.

2. We are neglecting to find joy in others’ happiness and accomplishments. I don’t know when it happened that we stopped celebrating each other. But I don’t like it. I don’t know when it became more fashionable to say, “You’re going to have the perfect wedding, aren’t you? I hate you.” (Yes, someone actually said that to me at my bridal shower.) I don’t know when friends stopped being friends and loving each other, but if you find yourself feeling that way or saying those things, I don’t think that I have room in my life for you anymore. Harsh? Yes. But so is the word hate.

I guess, too, that I am fortunate that my friends on Facebook post their fails as well as their wins. I’m part of a great group of people that has the ability to laugh at ourselves and our misguided attempts at cooking, family pictures, or bath time.

Try it sometime. It’s liberating, really, to post a picture of yourself in your volleyball camp t-shirt from the summer of 1990 and no make-up because you can’t believe how much your 9-month-old daughter just peed on you:

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It’s rad to brag about your swollen feet at 33 weeks pregnant. Because it really is amazing how freaking big they are:

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You’ll get a lot of good recipes if you post a picture of your failed attempt at making your own pizza dough from scratch:

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And when you post a picture of your infant crying her head off at her daddy’s tenure presentation at the college…

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…your friends will cheer you even more when you finally get a magical picture like this:

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Oops, I mean like this:

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#winnerwinnerchickendinner #boombaby #youshouldseetheother12picturesitooktogetonegoodone

Determined to Get Aaron a Dog ~ Jen

I prayed this week for God to help me find ways to not think of food so often. In typical God fashion, He came large.

One of the distractions I can’t talk about yet, because it’s not a done deal and I am still not sure how it will all shake out. The next 48 hours are huge, so if you have prayer space to spare, maybe you could ask the Lord to guide our choices.

The other distraction has my heart full, full, full of love. Remember this post from last year? My good and beautiful friend Lisa wrote that post. Her son Aaron is the apple cheeked bubba in the pictures.

Aaron has autism, but that’s not the thing you need to know about him. He’s smart as a whip and has been since he was born. His eyes are soulful, deep and knowing. He’s careful too, and he knows when enough is enough, which is a lesson most adults are still struggling to learn.

When enough is enough, Aaron does two things: he stays put where he feels safe, or he runs.

If he stays put, even with determination, Lisa and her husband Steve can work with that. The therapists can work with that. The extended family and friends have learned what to do to make experiences less threatening. And we all know that coming to where Aaron feels safe is best for him right now.

But the running is a whole other thing. Aaron is tall and strong for his age, and he’s only going to grow. He can get out, over and through, just like any other boy his age. It scares the heck out of Lisa and Steve what could happen one day if he got away. Away into the street, or across a parking lot, or some place where he couldn’t tell people who he is.

So, because Lisa and Steve are very determined folks, an idea took shape. What if Aaron had a companion dog?

Lisa and Steve already have a dog, Mia. She is one of Aaron’s best friends. But Mia can’t be the companion Aaron needs because even though she loves her some Aaron, she’s the size of a sandwich.

Aaron needs a big dog. And these are the things Lisa dreams a dog could be to Aaron:

A highly trained and calm Autism service dog won’t be placing demands on Aaron the way that people in his life do. The dog can help convey the message to Aaron that he is good enough as he is, Autism or no Autism. A dog doesn’t judge behaviors. He doesn’t mind if you flap your hands, spin in circles, repeat lines from movies or spell the same words over and over again. He will probably wag his tail when you eat peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He won’t mind that you refuse to wear your scratchy school uniform and cry every time you have to take a bath. He might even distract you by being silly so that you can do the things you need to do. And, when you lay on the floor in public, because you’re overwhelmed, he won’t care about disapproving looks from strangers. In fact, he might just lick your face, nudge you to get up, and remind you that there is nothing to fear.

Last week she found out that they have been approved to get a dog from the good folks at Good Dog! Autism Companions, probably a golden retriever or yellow Labrador.

It takes…are you ready…$12,000 to train a dog like this. Well, we can’t expect a special dog for a special boy to come cheap. It’s just what it is. And as Lisa told me “Aaron WILL get a dog. We WILL make this happen.”

Lisa launched the fundraising page for Aaron on Monday at about 12:30. You know what happened next? Within 24 hours, over $3000 were donated. As of yesterday, it was $6600. It’s been blowing our minds. It’s a lot of love and determination.

Lisa and Steve are determined to provide the best environment for their son to be who he is meant to be.

Their family, friends and complete strangers are determined to make this happen for them.

We want to invite you to join in. Like the Church says, we can use our Time, Talent or Treasure, whatever we have to give.

Lisa, Steve and Aaron could use a prayer.

They could use all of us spreading the word on our social media sites.

And of course, they could use some of the money we set aside for just this type of thing.

Aaron 2

Aaron needs an Angel. Can you help?

http://www.gooddogautismdonations.org/participant/68067

I am still doing the Made to Crave bible study online and “Determination” was our word of the week. It became clear as the week went on that the word was not for my diet or my Bible study. It was for this effort. I apologize to the MTC community for being a bit off-topic, but this is where God took me this week: away from my pantry and scale and towards all the good in the world!

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