On death, living and the in-between places…

She’s gone. Just like that, my mom went from having breast cancer to gone. January 2015 will forever be a season to remember. A season of mourning. In the blink of an eye it happened. Before I could catch my breath I went from trying to remember it was now 2015 and actually writing the correct year to flying to Mississippi to then planning a funeral. Oh the tears. The heartache. The disbelief. The shock. It was overwhelming.

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I’ve pondered over and over how to write things down about this season. To capture how I felt. How I feel now. I’ve lamented this seemingly forgotten blog of mine that seems lost in the shuffle; almost like something I did a lifetime ago before there was death and dying screaming at me….before my sister and I were thrown into the world of making terminal care decisions for our mom. Before life seemed to stop.
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This chalkboard canvas was newish to our home last year. I decided to put this verse on it at the time because I wanted my 7 & 5 year olds to memorize a good but easy Scripture. I was about to embark on a journey of homeschooling and wanted something visual to help us along.

These words are the theme of this year….they were constantly ringing in my head as I plowed along on that lonely road of grief at the beginning of the year. God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that I would need this truth embedded in my heart…woven into the fibers of my being. I am so thankful for this truth, both then and now.

There are things I want to write down. A bearing of the soul, of sorts. Memories I never want to forget. People who shared things with me at very perfect times that really lifted my soul and encouraged my heart. God moved in some amazing ways. Ever present no matter what I do, I felt Him there. He used his people to reach into my broken places and keep my eyes on His truth.

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And as the last 7 months have soared by, I have missed my mom, but I have embraced the ways God has grown me through the heartache and through the grief. It’s reforged my sister and my friendship and our own silly, quirky sisterhood. I am so unbelievably thankful for her and our time of crying, laughing and almost starting a chimney fire!

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I think of my sweet memories along the way as moments in which God breathed new life into me. The community I have is beautiful. Really. It’s remarkable. People (some of whom are reading this) shared things with me or had conversations with me that were filled with truth and love and empathy. Past clients, friends I’ve lost touch with, current friends, college friends, high school friends, parents of my high school friends, my amazing church family, mom friends from my now-Pennsylvania homestead, family from across the miles…

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The pastor/friend who texted me days after my mom passed away (as he was about to say goodbye to his)

May Christ be real to you this day, sister….He binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted.

The 40+ private message I received and probably just as many text message and phone calls from friends letting me know they were praying for me and my family and sharing scripture with me.

My sweet cousin who called me when she heard and then traveled hundreds of miles to say goodbye to mom and the laughs and hugs and tears and space we shared over several days.
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No picture of this one but me, out of my mind with grief and fatigue and having back pains, doing push-ups and planks in the hallway of the hospital halls and my sweet friend and high school Young Life leader who called and saved me from my embarrassing planking to tell me she’s thinking of me and praying for me and my sister.

My sister and I waltzing into the small town Mississippi hospital with bags upon bags of groceries and toiletries from Walmart as if we had moved right in….laughing in hysterics about how ridiculous we were…
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The friend who wrote a song about grief and God’s total goodness…who sends you the lyrics because she thought of you and the dying and the tears you were enduring…and she thought it would encourage your heart….and it did as the tears streamed down your face…

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That day of errand running after everyone had gone back home and I’m still 1,000 miles away from my husband and children….and my to-do list is long and distinguished….and I stop to get Chick-Fil-A and that amazing song came on the radio and I find myself sitting in the car with tears listening….

When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul

Coming home in the middle of winter after 3 weeks of being far, far away finding these 2 amazing kids ready with love notes, and hugs, and kisses. And somehow life resumes and everything is how it was…yet it’s forever different…image

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Surviving the great purge of everything your mom owned in the world by snapping photos like this with your sister, who is just as devastated as you are that you are actually dividing things up and packing everything into a moving truck…

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Attending a women’s conference with a dear friend a few months later and realizing….”these people don’t know that my mom just died….” And hearing stories about loss and God’s redemption in the midst of tragedy and heartache and realizing this was the perfect place for me to be with my tears and my aching heart. And receiving a necklace as part of our welcome package for the overnight conference with I Corinthians 15:19 etched on the back that says “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” and what an encouragement that was for you. Thanks Sarah Mae!

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Saying goodbye to your mom over a span of 6 days. Making the difficult decision to start hospice care and wondering if you have just made the biggest mistake ever…

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Sharing a twin air mattress in a hospital room closet (which was our home for 6 days) with your amazing and thankfully skinny sister…

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That moment when you have just been told that your mom has days left on this earth and your dad and step-mom call and tell you they are getting on a plane and coming to you….and then that moment at 2AM when they walk through the door of the hospital room and you are BEYOND relieved to see familiar faces who love you no matter what and can hug you and cry with you as long as you needed it….image

Those family members and friends who traveled a crazy distance to be with you and help you say goodbye….and this special friend who my mom LOVED and who loved my mom….she came 1,000 miles and stayed with mom’s neighbors and made herself available to help with whatever and the fun we had driving around and crying together…

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That moment in the hospital room that you just had to get out and run and the friends and family told you to step away for as long as you needed it….and when you came back you sat downstairs in the lobby area trying to figure out if this was real or a dream…

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Your amazing husband who not only picked up the slack at home (which included homeschooling a 2nd grader) but also called and texted and encouraged from afar. And then he made the long trek from Pennsylvania to Miississippi with 2 squirrely kids (ages 5 and 7)….Who helped you proofread your obituary, write your eulogy, and single-handedly designed the program for the funeral among many, many other tasks.

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Your awesome friends and neighbors who made meals for your family back home in Pennsylvania while you were away…Who also watched your kids for hours, who carpooled and picked up and helped in countless ways….My memory there is that my husband and kids were fed and cared for!

The drive back from Mississippi to Virginia in your mom’s car with your sister who is just as nutty as you….

image image imageThat first day back to work feeling weird that life has resumed again…
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That trip back to Mississippi to settle on mom’s house and waking up to this view and staying with these awesome friends. Friends you didn’t know 6 months ago and who have now become so dear and so close to you…

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The man of the hour….mom’s good friend who helped coordinate EVERYTHING while you were grieving. The man with the connections without whom I think we’d still be tying up loose ends!

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Going to the grave site and seeing the tombstone for the first time and realizing (for the 1000th time) she really is gone from this earth…
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Remembering how much she loved the man you chose as your husband and how awesome that was….Remembering how she would call him about all kinds of DIY projects. She respected him and she loved him.

imageRemembering the silly moments in the midst of the sadness…like when your sister tried to coach your daughter on the best way to give a leg massage…

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The last photo I ever took with my mom. We were in New Orleans together having fun and laughing….

imageAnd here I have been in these broken places. Some days trying to get by without the tears ruining my make-up and other days embracing that God’s timing of taking us away from this earth is perfect and it happens as it should.

These days I hug my kids more. I spend more time with them and less time fixing and cleaning. I hug my husband more. I have NO idea when my time will be up but my mom’s passing sure has brought the reality of my frailty and my sinfulness and my humanity to the light. I am a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. May my life bring glory and honor to the One who made me and who called me and has provided everything for me. May the resources He’s given me be offered back to Him as fragrant offerings, however small they feel, from grateful hearts who deserve not one bit of it. Thankful for my friends and my family that He uses to keep my heart focused on heavenly things….

This is what it’s been like to dwell in the in-between places…

How We Approach Christmas {Attempts at Intentionalism}

Christmas 2014 coverIt’s officially Christmas time here (if you didn’t know that, then cue the Christmas music playlist on Spotify and start drinking egg nog…or peppermint hot chocolate..or both) and here in our home we like Christmas. We do decorations. We do a fresh wreath on the front door. We do nativities. We do sparkles. We do natural (I am really into using branches or “sticks” as my man calls them!}. We do gifts. We celebrate. We bake cookies. We laugh. We skimp on homework. We do crafts. We make things. We talk about Jesus. We talk about why he is our best gift. We do advent calendars. The girls get dressed up sometimes just because. We do music…sometimes loud music. We drive to our local sparkletown (our term for the neighborhoods with lots of Christmas lights and decorations…everyone calls it that, right?).

Those things we do on purpose. They don’t just happen.

There are some things we don’t do….not because they are evil or terrible or any of that. We simply choose to approach Christmas in a way that helps us all get better acquainted with the One who made us. So, there are things we say no to. Or if not “no”, we just don’t focus on them.

In no particular order…

  1. We read the Jesus Storybook Bible because it truly whispers His name on every page.
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    We try to follow along with Adriel Booker’s advent reading plan found here. We want God’s presence with us – all 4 of us. Our kids need something on their level – something that speaks to their hearts and his book has been beautifully written in a story format that really captures their attention. Adriel’s Reading Plan will take you all the way through the advent season. She even has a free printable!
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  2. We do gifts. We have been in a transition period between last year and this year moving towards three gifts for each child. Like many of you, it’s easy for us (me, really) to get carried away for Christmas and spend, spend, spend. Much like my friend Kelly over at My Overthinking (you can read about her blog post on the 3 gifts here) we want our children to know they have two parents who love them very much and who sacrifice a lot for them, including gifts for Christmas. The gifts aren’t from Santa. They are from us. While technically this year we have purchased more than 3 gifts, the point for us is that they do not get from us a mess of gifts under the tree. Gifts are fun and awesome and exciting. But the stuff is just that. It’s stuff. And we want them to enjoy it and be excited but also not covet more and more.
  3. We do music. We sing. We play the piano and guitar and stream music that leads our hearts to Jesus.
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  4. We talk about giving and how much better that is than getting. We make gifts for our friends and talk about how it doesn’t matter if they don’t return the gesture. Giving is better. It’s always better. Always choose to give, is what we tell them. Best of all, give God’s love away in bucket fulls.
  5. We do decorations that mean something. Not all of them, but we try to sprinkle in bits and pieces that warm our hearts. That encourage us. That cause our gaze to look heavenward. That are from this awesome world in which we get to live! We still do stockings even though we chose not to incorporate Santa into our Christmas world. It’s fun for the kids to get surprises in there Christmas morning. Little trinkets. We also have a whole snow scene with lit ceramic houses. We let the kids play with the figures as long as they are careful. They LOVE it. And I love that they can have fun with that – especially when it’s snowy and too cold to be outside for long periods of time!
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Another thing we do is this awesome kid advent craft called Truth In The Tinsel but I’m doing a separate post about that. Eeek….can’t wait!

I intentionally filled this with things we do rather than things we don’t do. But if you are wondering…here it is…the moment of truth. From the beginning we have communicated to our kids that Christmas is about the gift of Jesus to us. It’s not about Santa. We tell them about Saint Nick and talk about who he was a little. We talk about how there are families who talk about Santa and him giving some gifts to their families. We tell them the adults are pretending with the kids and that they are in no way, shape or form to discuss that with their friends. We tell them that Santa is not real. Likewise, we do not participate in the Elf on the Shelf. We know many families who do and it’s cool and they do it really well. So there we have it.

That is a little piece of our lives during the Christmas season. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed getting to know us a little.

Cheers,

Stephanie
IntentionalGirl

A Homemade Christmas

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So, this Christmas I’m gonna give it a try. Make…most….gifts…. I know, I know. Crazy, right? Well, someone has to be crazy so it might as well be me!

The above photo is going to hold some of our Christmas cards this year. Hooray! I used a wooden round box top, corks and a glue gun. That’s it. Like really. Super easy.

I even have extra corks and plan to do some Pinteresty craft.

Other things I’m considering are lotion bars, mason jars full of cookies and treats, scarf wreaths, tent making kits, and jewelry.

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And then there’s that candlemaking kit my husband got me like 10 years ago. Yep. Getting it out and doing it!

In my efforts to be intentional with gift-giving, I’m turning to the obvious, neglected things I have in my house. But things that people make are just special. I want my loved ones to feel special…unique…well-loved.

Leave a comment. Are you planning to make anything? What and why?

Happy crafting!
Steph
Intentionalgirl

Surprised By Homeschooling

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There are few things in this life that surprise me. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. Maybe it’s that I rarely admit that I’m surprised. Maybe that’s it. But one thing that has taken me by surprise as of lately is homeschooling.

I’m at the point in my journey (a serious veteran of 3 whole months – woot, woot!) here where I am turning a corner. A good corner. I’m completely floored that it’s working. I’m completely floored that my 7-year-old and I get along and that she listens to my instruction. I know, you don’t take me for one of those “my kids don’t listen to me” parents. Or maybe you do and you are just glad I’m finally coming around {we can internet high-five now} to this realization.

But it’s deeper than that. {Isn’t it always?}

I’m not surprised that my daughter is learning and – I think – thriving.

Somehow in the midst of the chaos of life, the math worksheets, the bouncing around places, the reading and kid writing…she and I have grown closer. We’ve bonded. I feel like she gets me more. And I get her.

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When I go places now without her, she’s sad to see me go. She comes up and gives me hugs randomly throughout our day. Out of nowhere she’ll wrap her arms around me and hug me and tell me how much she loves me. Maybe if I’m particularly lucky, a kiss on the cheek.

I totally didn’t expect this. I kind of thought things could get ugly. Not fist fight ugly, but tense. She and I are both really stubborn. She has opinions that are different from mine. {How dare she!} I thought for sure by November there was a serious possibility that it might be clear that next year she’d go back to public school. But I’m not thinking like that at all.

We are in a totally different place than I envisioned. I’m so surprised.

Another thing….I kind of like teaching her. I know. It’s preposterous, right?

The Lord in his great kindness has steadied my heart on more than one occasion and given me patience when I have called out, “Help!!! I’m losing it!” And those moments when I have to calm myself and maybe even apologize (I’ve done a lot of that the last few months, mind you), I find such joy and such closeness with my sweet girl. We hug. We smile. We work it out and it’s so…. beautiful.

Having her precious presence with me causes me to slow down.

We are part of a co-op school that is WONDERFUL. You can find out more about them here. Lily goes there all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We are home doing “school” Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. The break is good for us and she LOVES her friends and classes there. She’s learning a lot. She’s also learning that she has to be responsible for her things. Teachers don’t hover over her to make sure every little thing is remembered. It’s like she’s been shoved out of the nest a little yet still very much remaining in the nest. I find myself missing her but loving that she gets instructions with other students in a great atmosphere.

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{This is Lily and her co-op class called Character Counts – and her brother who was visiting that day}

As I come and go into the building, I’m surprised by how normal everyone is. Like me normal. Okay, maybe that’s not right. They are like real people normal. All different but still really down to earth and cool. I had this idea that other than the very few homeschool families I knew in my college years (who were UH-MAZING), families that homeschooled were off. You know, strange. Made their own clothing. Drank soy milk. Had introverted children who were wicked smart. Grew their own veggies from seed and the moms had their entire attention on all things in the home.

You’re thinking I just described our family, right? Hehe, that’s funny. We are sooo far from that reality, it’s comical.

May I present you with Exhibit numero uno below. Does this look like a normal family to you? I rest my case.

Exhibit A Numero Uno

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Exhibit B

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Exhibit C

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Oh and lest we forget that other thing that’s been on my mind. It seems to be working for me to teach her AND still work.

Weird…right? I know!

So that’s me right now totally surprised by homeschooling. I don’t know what will happen next year. Will little brother come home or stay in public school? Will she stay home with me or go back?

One day at a time.

But for now, I like being surprised. Surprised to know that my daughter and I have figured out how to learn together. Honestly, I thinks she teaches me more than I teach her.

And that is totally not surprising.

Cheers,

Steph
aka IntentionalGirl

The Town We Love

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I have a love for my town. We live on the east coast in a little steel town in southeastern PA. We love it here. My husband and I chose this town way back in 2002 because it was cheap. That was pretty much the criteria. And now 14 years later (gulp!) it’s the town we LOVE.
We love it so much that if we ever think about moving, we think about how we could somehow muster up most of our wish list into a house in our town. Our town has sidewalks. We walk everywhere. Living in what this area calls the “borough” means that we can pretty much walk anywhere we need and not use our car. The grocery store (it’s far but feasible). Restaurants. The bank. Small boutiques. The park. The library. The hospital. Dunkin Donuts (come on, it’s fun to be so close!). Coffee shops. Bike trails.

Recently we took a walk – which was my husband’s smart idea – down to an area our town is renovating. Turns out there’s a path down there now. The kids took their bikes and binoculars and we had a really nice time as a family just getting outside.

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We need to do this more. Enjoy the beauty around us. What a reminder to me (since, if I’m honest, I wanted to stay home and get some projects done) to spend intentional  time with my sweet family. They will remember these moments (hopefully…) for the rest of their lives. And so will I. 
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I have a slew of other posts planned as I try to make my comeback to this much-neglected blog of mine. Stay tuned…

My Life: Home Renovations, School Decisions and Church Changes

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I am always amazed at how time flies. Like fast. Real fast. All the time.

This has been a particularly busy summer for us. The Outer Banks for a week. Georgia for a big family reunion. The lake house with family. Lots of travels.

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And here we are. It’s back to school time. We’ve wandered into the amazing and daunting world of homeschooling this year. Yes, your eyes aren’t failing you. Yes, this was another intentional decision by our family. It’s been in the works since January when our 1st grader started coming home complaining about school and using words like “boring” and “hate” to describe her day.

After many months of asking friends who homeschool about this world, stalking other bloggers on the topic, praying and asking the Lord for direction on this topic…we landed at trying this for at least a year. My job allows me the flexibility to do this (yes even with Real Estate!) and we’re forging forward determined to have a great year. Little brother started kindergarten at our local public charter school and while we miss him we are acclamating to our schedule so it’s helpful to only have 1 child at home right now. We are participating in a wonderful co-op on Tuesdays and Thursdays which I’m also excited about.

First day of kindergarten…

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So why, right? Well, our Lily is sweet and smart, albeit slightly distractable in social settings, and it’s a shame for her not to like learning. We want her to thrive, not just muddle through eyes rolled in the back of her head. As of this very moment, it’s just for a year. But who knows. Maybe it’s gonna last longer.

And as a result, we have room changes. Ben moves to a new room so his can be the office/homeschool room. His new room lacked some things like a heat source (important in PA?) so we are in the midst of changes.

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And since the carpet was dirty and ugly…well, we ripped it out.

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Soon to be homeschool room…

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And since we clearly don’t have enough projects my wonderful and ever-so-talented husband is making Benjamin a new loft bed.

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(It was assembled outside just to make sure it all fit – this is not going to be a tree house though a very cool idea!)

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Here I am. The professional painter getting to work.

And lastly, as if we didn’t have enough change, our church closed in the spring and as of tonight we are members of a new church, which we love (if you are interested here’s info about it – http://www.ironworkschurch.org). We are so loving the fellowship with this new body of folks and the joy it has brought to our family. {Psst…they sing songs like this from our new favorite group, Rend Collective}.

Thanks for reading. Happy Labor Day weekend y’all!

More Bathroom Renovation Stories: Light Fixtures

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Today’s theme: less words, more photos.

We are at it again. Slowly.

I took the kiddos with me to work Saturday and my amazing husband managed to take down the Hollywood lights so stylishly donning our bathroom wall and replace them with these sconce fixtures.

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So without further ado…

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Wonder how long it’ll take us to patch the hole in the middle?

Next on the agenda? The long awaited, dreaded decision on wall color. Now that we have the mirrors in there with the lights we feel we can make a decision. Or at least that’s the thinking.
Cheers,
Steph

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