Surely Goodness and Mercy

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In the first few weeks after we found out we are expecting Baby Two, I had to wrestle through the fears of having another preemie. There’s nothing like having a baby born early to make you realize how little control you have over when a baby arrives. The biggest fear, then, is that Baby will come too soon, too soon to survive, that is.

I spent quite a few nights laying awake and praying for Baby, that she would make it to term, and that I would not be anxious all pregnancy long. After a while, Psalm 23 would start to come to mind every time I prayed for Baby, specifically the part in verse six that says “surely goodness and mercy will follow me”. I began to feel like God was confirming that “surely goodness and mercy” were going to follow Baby.

This wasn’t a guarantee. I had no assurance that Baby would even stay put long enough to reach an age when she could survive if I suddenly went into labor. However, I began to trust that she was safe in God’s hands. Maybe she would make it to term. Maybe God would take her home. Either way, God’s goodness and mercy would surely follow her.

Then one night I woke up with some pain. I immediately thought I was having contractions, Baby was coming, and it was too soon. There was nothing I could do but drink water and lie down and pray. As I did that, different verses from the same chapter sprung to mind: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. The valley of the shadow of death: that place where the fear of death lingers uncomfortably and inescapably close. We made it through the valley that night, and I finally fell asleep with some peace; God’s rod and staff were comforting me.

As the pregnancy continued, and I would often pray for Baby, a picture started to fill my mind: a happy scene with rolling green hills, a sunny sky, and a safe and happy little lamb. In my mind, the picture took more and more form until I realized it would be a beautiful quilt, and I began to pray for the chance to make this quilt for Baby.

I’m not a very experienced quilter. I have made one quilt for my nephew, and it was a rag quilt, pretty simple. The only other projects I’ve ever even sewn were an apron for Lydia’s birthday (using an online tutorial), a dress for Lydia that sort of turned out, and a cover for her diaper changing pad (which needs some repairs). But soon I had my sights set on this quilt for Baby, if only God would provide money for the materials.

Well, thanks to some kind gifts from my husband, my Mom, and another family member, along with some of my own savings, I now have enough money to make Baby’s quilt! So here is the grand introduction and also a request for some input from my readers. This picture is the computer generated version of what the quilt will look like:

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I’d like to keep the design unchanged, but I’m having a little trouble working out the colors. We’re having a baby girl (according to our ultrasound), but Dan and I think this quilt looks a little too boy-ish and certainly is dominated by greens. I’ve tried changing the color of the writing around the border and the background, but nothing seems to fit well with the rest of the picture. I’ve also considered using a patterned fabric for the dark green border and binding, but haven’t found a fabric that would match the inside picture and bring in more girly colors. Thoughts? Suggestions? Specific fabric recommendations? I appreciate any comments, and I look forward to keeping you updated on the quilt’s status and the months go on.

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10 Things I’ve Learned in 3 Years of Marriage

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Today Dan and I are celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary. So, in celebration mode, I thought I’d share 10 things I’ve learned in 3 years of marriage. (photo credit: Dan Carlson)

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1. Respect is love

During our first months of marriage, Dan and I read a book together called Love and Respect. Through that book and our premarital counseling, I learned that the best way I can love Dan is by respecting him. What does that look like for us? (I’m all about the practical application) Well, Dan’s a visionary sort of fellow. So that means when he comes home and tells me his latest brilliant idea (that I may or may not think is brilliant), I don’t squash him like a bug! I listen and support his ideas, because I know I have a trustworthy husband who won’t put us into bankruptcy following some crazy idea he had during his lunch hour.

I can’t imagine any feeling better than the feeling of being loved, but for Dan, it’s the feeling of being respected. So, I can’t say I completely understand, but it really does work.

2. Physical exercise is to Dan what sleep is to a pregnant Justine

This is one I just figured out in recent months. For most of my pregnancy I’ve required a nap-a-day. Ok, so I can go one day without a nap and be alright. But give me two days in a row and I turn into a basket case. I just need the rest.

I used to get annoyed at how much Dan enjoyed exercise. Every single day he wanted to go lift weights or run or play a sport. When he started working full time, I realized that he starts to go crazy if he doesn’t get his exercise. So, I finally figured out that it’s not something to resent. I need my sleep and Dan graciously guards my naptimes. In turn, I’m learning to guard his exercise time.

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3. Efficiency makes us a happy couple

Because Dan and I have one car, we usually do all of our grocery shopping on the weekends. For one semester, we had an arrangement where Dan was able to work out while Lydia and I did the shopping. In fact, Dan was so busy that semester that we had to do it that way. When the semester was over, I was thrilled to be able to have that shopping time with Dan once again. However, much to my disappointment, we seemed to get frustrated with each other during every single shopping trip. I figured out that Dan just felt like shopping was taking way longer than it should (even though it always took me that long). So, I decided to change things.

I started organizing my list in the order of the store aisles. We have a very particular route we take through each store now, every single time. On top of that, I planned far enough ahead so that we weren’t shopping at three stores in one weekend. I rotated every other week for two of the stores and bought things ahead of time.

Then Dan developed Super Shopper. It’s a simple, yet wonderful invention. I have an excel sheet where I keep a database of everything we’ve bought from three different stores. In the excel file, I list the items in order of our in-store route. When I make my grocery list (in totally random order), I run the program, and it automatically sorts my list by store and puts the items in the correct order for each store. This ingenious program took my grocery planning from over an hour to just minutes a week.

Efficiency saves me time during the week doing a chore I don’t enjoy much, it saves us time on the weekends so we can get in and out of stores crazy-fast, and it saves unnecessary tension and frustration between the two of us.

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4. Love is doing what Dan loves

When we were first married, I would always try to make Thursday nights (our “date nights”) special by cooking some elaborate meal. Finally I figured out that Dan wasn’t big on elaborate meals. He much rather would have tacos or meat and potatoes than anything gourmet, and those things were easier for me to cook! Likewise, for my birthday a couple years ago I planned an elaborate surprise date night where we dressed up and ate a fancy meal in our apartment which I had decorated to look like a fancy private restaurant. It was fun, but afterwards I talked to Dan and found out his dream date with me would be to go to a Tigers game.

So I have learned and am learning, to love Dan by doing what he loves, not just what I love.

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5. Love is loving what Dan loves

Like my last point, I have learned to love what Dan loves, even if it’s not necessarily my “cup of tea”. This is another recent lesson that I remember journaling about last anniversary. Dan was on a kick where he read the news every day and would come home and talk to me about it. I thought it was boring. Finally I realized we would both enjoy our dinners together much more if I actually made an effort to care about what he was telling me. Later the conversations switched from news to business ideas and more recently it’s been a lot of talk about Dan’s career. It’s not annoying anymore. I’m thankful that I have a husband who trusts me enough to tell me what’s on his mind, and I don’t ever want to risk shutting that out because the topic isn’t one I would have chosen on my own.

6. Research is in the job description

After Dan and I were married, I had one semester of college left. Once that semester ended, I became a full-time homemaker. Through some well suggested reading from ladies at church, I learned that being a homemaker is a real job and should be treated like one. Dan and I always joke that stay-at-home-moms sit at home all day eating bon bons. Then Dan tells me that I’m the best stay-at-home-mom because I don’t just eat the bon bons, I make them!

Joking aside, there is plenty to do around the home to stay busy and part of that job (a big part in my case) has been research: nutrition, pregnancy, parenting, budgeting, cleaning…the list could go on! Since I am a steward of my home, I want to make sure I’m doing my job well, not just going with the flow.

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7. It’s ok to take a nap

That last point being said, I was a pretty driven homemaker and new mommy after Lydia was born. I felt like it would be lazy for me to take a break. After all, Dan doesn’t take a nap in the middle his work day. However, Dan also isn’t on call 24/7!

I’ve learned to take time out of the day to nap, rest, or at least relax. It makes for a happy wife when Dan gets home, which makes him a happier husband.

8. Having a preemie is more stressful than taking 19 credits at UofM any day

Dan and I don’t really fight. Our “fights” involve my being super sad and Dan being kind of distant until we can reconcile. But we had never had any of even these fights until Lydia was born. Through friendship, dating, engagement, wedding planning, and being married and in school full time we didn’t fight. When we got married, I had to take a bus every day to get to campus and stay until evening. We were super busy, super poor, and super happy.

The most stressful period of my life was my 19 credit semester at the University of Michigan, in engineering mind you! I would go home in tears regularly because I was so overworked and sleep-deprived.

But none of that comes even close to comparing with Lydia’s birth. For six weeks we dealt with postpartum emotions, going home every night without our baby, not getting enough food or rest, and to top it off, we had moved the weekend Lydia was born and hadn’t had a chance to unpack. That is when we had our first “fights”. (The best gift anyone ever gave me was when Dan’s parents and grandparents came home and completely moved us in about a week after Lydia was born)

Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t handle stress well, I would advise you to never have a preemie. That being said, God helped us through that hard time and we made it and are stronger for it. And, I’m extra grateful to have a wonderful husband who did go through all of that with me, and who stayed with me and even tells me that he still likes me in spite of it all!

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9. I will always love to hold his hand

When we were dating, Dan and I decided not to touch each other at all until we were engaged. Sure enough, when Dan proposed, I said yes, and he asked if he could put the ring on my hand. Many nights just before we fall asleep, Dan reaches over for my hand. Or while we are riding in the car, he’ll put his hand out to hold mine. Maybe I’m just a hand-holding sort of person, or maybe because of our history, it still always makes me grin.

10. It’s just better together

Each year I sit back and think to myself, “What is my favorite part of being married?” The answer has always been, “No more goodbyes!”. I just love being together every single day. Three years in and I still tell Dan I’ll miss him when he goes away to work, I still want to sit and watch when he plays sports, and I still look forward to Friday nights when Dan comes home and I get him for the whole weekend. Things just go better when we can be together.

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Happy Anniversary, Love!  It’s been three wonderful years, and I’m looking forward to many, many more.

The Roller Coaster of Life

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When I was a young teenager, I decided that life is like a roller coaster. Any time things seem to be going great, that’s the top of a hill and it’s only a matter of time before everything is going to go down. While that might not be the most Biblical view of things, as a teenager, that seemed to fit life just about right.

Well, lately life has been that roller coaster once again. This time it’s not due to being a teenager, it’s due to a very emotional pregnancy. I know it’s not right to blame a pregnancy for my behavior, but I can make a fair assessment that those pregnancy hormones are making life’s roller coaster a lot more hilly these days. And even if you sit me down and explain all the logical reasons why I’m overreacting, that I’m just being emotional and will feel better after a few hours or a good night’s sleep, those drops on the coaster still feel like the end of the world. And they happen much more frequently than they did back in those teenager years!

This weekend was very hilly.

Dan and I had been planning a big anniversary date this weekend, and at the last minute our plans suddenly changed. I was devastated. Two nights in a row I felt like my life was over. Saturday Dan was supposed to spend his entire morning, and early afternoon, at a church event without me or Lydia, and then our afternoon suddenly was plan-less. I could paint quite the word picture trying to describe how sad I was. In fact, as I lay in bed Friday night I had a pretty good blog post planned in my head all about suffering and disappointment. Then on Saturday, I realized I was overreacting. Again.

God is so gracious, though. I felt like I should tag along with Dan to the church event, where he was scheduled to be a judge. He couldn’t figure out what I was going to do the whole time, and I couldn’t really either. But I refused to be any farther apart from him than necessary, and I was determined to make the most of that day. Well, one of the judges wasn’t able to come do her judging and, as it turned out, I got to be Dan’s partner. So we spent the morning co-judging and then took off when the function ended.

As we left, Dan declared Saturday to be, not an anniversary date, but Taylor Family Fun Day. We started off with some errands, and got lots of free stuff. First we had to return a couple of items to Whole Foods, where we made the rounds through the store to try every free sample available. On the way in, we were informed about a Grand Opening across the street, so afterwards we headed over to the new North Face Store where we were given free carabineer key chains and water bottles. Then it was off to the library, where Lydia got a free set of gardening toys, three stickers, and a book. (These were prizes for the Summer Reading Game. We read her 10 books and she got the prizes)

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On our way back to the car, we passed a store that was having a big sale on skirts and Dan bought me one as a Taylor Family Fun Day treat. For lunch, we broke all of our healthy eating habits and enjoyed some Cottage Inn pizza and loaded waffle fries. Yes, waffle fries. Even Lydia got to eat them. (Side note: Lydia is very small for her age, but you couldn’t tell by watching her eat. She can pack a ton of food into that little belly. But, maybe because of the pizza and fries, or maybe just because, in this picture she actually looks like she’s gaining a little weight!)

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And then the roller coaster hit another drop as we made a “quick” stop at a store where I was looking for some maternity clothing. After far longer than anyone intended, we walked out empty-handed with a tired Daddy, grumpy toddler, and disappointed, emotional Mom.

For a while, it looked like Dan’s Taylor Family Fun Day had come to an abrupt halt. Still, we drove over to Ypsilanti for a free Ben Hoppe concert. We arrived late and I took a while to compose myself before we found some awesome seats. (Our seats wouldn’t have been too bad if we had brought chairs, but we were sitting on a blanket on the ground)

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However, it was during the opening song that hit my why I was feeling so absolutely devastated. It’s those crazy pregnancy hormones. Maybe I’m not as ridiculously hopeless as I thought…or at lease I have an excuse. This made the whole day better. I apologized to Dan and told him my sudden realization, something which he had known all along, and then we enjoyed the concert (except for Lydia, who had had far too much fun and far too little sleep for one day).

The concert ended and there was free ice cream. In the end, everyone went away happy. photo JustineandDan_zpsec5858cd.jpg