Friday, October 31, 2014

to caroline, on your first birthday, with love

Caroline Anna,

I stood there with my palms open in pure disbelief. A little girl? Really? I was in shock. Caroline, I never thought your mother and I would have a chance at loving a little girl. And then... it happened.  "It's a girl!" the doctor said.

Well, seconds after and now, a year later, I am so happy you are our little girl. Oh, and what a beautiful little girl you are.  Everyone thought you looked like me at first.  Everyone but your daddy that is.  I knew the moment I laid eyes on you that you had your mommy in you. I don't know if it is the little twinkle in your eye or your soft olive skin, but there was something that said, "I'm your little lady; your other girl to love," the very first time I held you.  Funny how a year later I can still think back and remember very, very vividly how it felt that first time I held you in my arms.

One year has passed and what a year it has been.  You are a lovely little lady but, a lovely little lady who knows what she wants when she wants it. Most of the time that want is your mommy. For the longest time, you didn't really want a whole lot to do with me. You knew who I was and you knew I was important. Now though, you love to have my attention. You play this little bashful peek-a-boo game right now that is very sweet. You look away and then look back and when we meet eyes, you giggle and giggle. :)

Caroline, you have a smile that makes me absolutely melt, while also saying to myself, "Oh boy, I'm in trouble." You are absolutely beautiful, not surprising, knowing who your mother is. I am the daddy of a little baby girl who can steal my heart with just one look or giggle. I can't say that I know what I am doing with you like I did and do with your brother.  As you will know someday, I come from a long line of boys: dump trucks, dirt & superheroes. However, I will say this... this journey of raising a girl is not one that I would trade for any other in the world.  I am excited and eager to see where this little lady takes me. Whether it's tea parties, dollies, ponies or even cars, football and trucks, I promise to support you and love you every step of the way.

My hope and whole hearted wish for you on your first birthday is that you learn to know The Lord and trust Him with all your heart, follow His ways and take refuge in Him always. My second wish is that you and I would grow a strong, trusting, loving relationship where you ALWAYS feel supported. You will always be my little lady. Even when someday you think I am the worst dad ever, (which you will at some point), or even when I walk you down the aisle on your wedding day.. I will always be your daddy and you will always by my little lady.

I love you and can't wait to see where this journey takes us. I can't wait to teach you and also learn from you. We've got a lot of memories to make.

I love you, Little Lady,

Caroline Anna,

Hello, Sweet Girl. My heart is so full of love for you and also love for your Creator. When I reflect on what this first year of your life has been for me, one word stands out: surrender.

This year, I have learned to surrender.  See, I wanted you. I planned for you, I prayed for you and I was never nervous or scared throughout my pregnancy with you because I knew being a mommy was hard work with beautiful reward, and I knew that watching your daddy become a parent only made me love and admire him more, and I knew that your big brother needed a sibling and a lifelong friend. And I thought I had it all together. I thought I had this mommy thing down.

But doubt and fear entered my mind within seconds of hearing you cry for the first time.  Twenty seven minutes earlier I was breathing through contractions in our living room and now you were in my arms... and after nine months of thinking you were for sure a boy, I was holding a baby girl in a pink hat. It had all happened so fast and it was all so unexpected. And I questioned.

I questioned why I didn't even know my own baby in my heart.  I questioned how I was going to fare as the mom to a little girl and if I would be able to teach you what it means to be a woman. And I stared at a dear friend who was struggling with the hurt of losing a baby girl just months earlier and was now watching me welcome one into the world. I questioned God's timing. It seemed cruel and confusing and messy. It took months for the truth that we had a baby girl to soak in... to realize that the hair boys and tutus weren't just make believe. And in the quiet moments, I stared at you and allowed your beauty to captivate me.  God doesn't make mistakes and He formed something beautiful in you, and He entrusted you to me. And I was thankful.

But there weren't many quiet moments over the past year. Between your crying and your brother's rambunctious two-year-old ways, I was overwhelmed a lot. I was tired. I had long, imaginary 'to do' lists with all sorts of stuff I thought was important and necessary but no longer had time for. I tried to cram it all in but failed time and time again. And I believed the lie that I was failing.

Many days, I didn't have the energy to read my bible or hardly utter a prayer. But still, God was teaching me. He would meet me in the dark of your room, as I laid on the floor feeling helpless and listening to you cry.  He would say, "Don't you see that it's the same with you, My Daughter? I've met your needs: you are safe, well fed, with clean, dry clothes... and still, so often, you cry. But know that whether you are actually in pain or in need, or whether you're crying for no good reason at all, I'm here. Just as you lie on the floor of your daughter's room, even when you can't see me, I'm here." And slowly, very slowly, He taught me these little lessons, begged me to trust Him, and called me to surrender more fully. 

"Just stop," I would whisper to you as you cried, and I would wish that I had time to sew or blog or even just take a shower. "Just stop," He would whisper to me. "Stop crying and striving and wanting more than Me.  I am enough."  I was humbled over and over again as I was forced to surrender, to die to myself and my own desires. And it hurt. But every single time I take a leap of faith and chose Him and the good work He had for me right here, of being His daughter first, then a wife and a mommy, and relinquishing the stuff that I no longer had room for, such as self-interest, a perfectly kept home and a desire to grow my small business--or really, just caring what people think more than what He thinks and chasing after the shiny things of this world-- It was scary to let go of those things, but every time I let go of something, He filled that space with peace. 

His ways are so much greater than the ways of this world. This world's standards leave us just short, never quite right and always striving. His ways give us refuge. This is what I hope to teach you as you grow.  

Because I often didn't have the energy to pray eloquent words over you, every night before bed, I simply read you the scripture that hangs above your crib. "The Lord Your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will calm you with His love.  He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

Thank you, My Dear Child, for forcing me to learn the truth of that verse and causing me to surrender. It was all worth it.

I love you,

Thursday, October 30, 2014

caroline's 1st birthday party

I dreamed up Caroline's first birthday party long before she ever existed.
Back when I was planning Henry's first birthday party, I came across an adorable old fashioned ice cream parlor party and I told Christian, "If we ever have a girl, this is happening!"
I owe a huge thank you to everyone who helped me make this vision a reality, especially to Caroline's Grammy and Grampy, since the party was at their house!

I didn't want Caroline's party to be as expensive or time consuming to prepare for as Henry's was.
I have learned that the desire to create beautiful things for my children to enjoy is, in fact, in line with the image of God (He created a perfect and beautiful home for us in the beginning, after all) but I also want to be a responsible steward of my time and resources, so in order to make sure that we didn't go completely overboard, I starting working on it a few months before and challenged myself to keep it fairly simple.
In the end, I failed.
In His image, he created me to be creative.
But so easily, it turns to sin as I get snippy with people I love under stress and think I "need" everything at Target.
Hi, my name is Heather and I am a perfectionist and a craftaholic.

Here are some things I did right: I kept the guest list much smaller this time, though that is a laughable statement when just family includes 17 people... so we kept it to family and our small group.
In some ways, my time seems more valuable than my money in this season of life, so I resisted the urge to make her invitations myself, even though it killed me.
I ordered them from here and forced myself to email the digital file instead of
 of printing them, addressing the envelopes with cutesy envelope wraps, sealing them with washy tape and paying for stamps like I really wanted to.
We had three special out of town guests so I let myself splurge on them.
That took an hour so, phew, I'm very glad that I had already forced myself to email the others.

Also, I didn't reinvent much.
Many of the ideas I used are taken straight from here.
Again, this was hard for me.
But instead of trying to out-do it or start from scratch, I saw, I loved, I copied.

I also delegated.
My very talented friend Erin loves hand lettering and made all of the signs!
I got a lot of teasing about the "schedule" that hung on the front door but really all I was trying to do (besides use the phrase "Here's the scoop" because it's adorable) was let the parents of little ones know the plan because it can be stressful to know when it's okay to leave or to be able to tell your child "We will have ice cream after we sing 'Happy Birthday'".
It was also supposed to help me remember to keep the party moving right along since dinner and bedtime can sneak up so fast.
Of course, we got behind schedule because I'm never on time for anything.
Oh well!

Caroline's Grammy made the smash cake and the ice cream cone cupcakes (LOVE!) and her Mia and Papa can take credit for the lovely "cafe" food display.
So thankful for their help that morning!

Christian used the banners I made for her room and clothespins to hang all of her monthly pictures.
I totally squealed when I saw what he had done.
He knows the way to my heart.

We ordered this "Make of your life something beautiful for God" print from here and used it as inspiration to create a "Wishes for Sweet Caroline" station.

The party was just getting underway and I was beginning to relax and enjoy because friends were arriving and it all looked even better than I had imagined thanks to everyone's help.
I was trying to snap the perfect picture of the birthday girl when someone walked up to her and started to pick her up.

With the camera still to my face, I was thinking, 'RUDE! I'm obviously trying to take her picture...' 
(Very bratty of me, yes.)
Then I heard a familiar but very unexpected voice ask her, "Do you remember me?"
I didn't even have to look.
I knew.

(That's what I screamed out loud).

It was my lifelong best friend, Caroline's Aunty Leesha, who flew in from Bozeman, Montana to surprise me!
Oh my goodness... crying just thinking about it!
What a great moment.
So thankful she was there to share in the fun and watch Liney smash... er, gingerly pick at... her cake.

The kids each got to make their own ice cream using this super easy recipe and method.

For favors, we made pink cloud dough to look like strawberry ice cream and found play ice cream scoopers and ice cream cone bubbles at Party City.

{Photo Booth Fun}

Our small group, minus Corey, Jourdan and their daughter Reese.
Since they couldn't make it, Caroline was the only little girl at her very girly pink and white birthday party.
It was great.

So thankful for our family and friends who shared that special day with us.

Just cracking up that these are the shots we got of our little family.
Looks about right.
This is the first picture we have together since Caroline's newborn pictures.
Like, not even on our phones.

(A huge thank you to Christian's dad for making my dreams come true on that cute awning hanging over her high chair!)

She was in heaven with her new toys.
Considering that two of her first five words were "roar" and "vroom", it was time for a couple girly toys in our house.

Happy birthday, Lulu Girl!
I hope someday you can look at these pictures and know how dearly loved you were at one and that you always will be.

Friday, September 5, 2014

to henry, on your third birthday, with love

I was recently telling a friend about our tradition of writing Henry letters on his birthday and she said, "Oh, I might have to steal that idea."
My response was, "You HAVE to!"
Seriously, I recommend it to anyone.
What a great gift for your child someday.


Three.  THREE!  The baby days came and then went so fast.  All you prepare for when you're expecting is a baby, and then, very quickly, that's over and you've got a toddler.  Toddlers are fun. Toddlers are hard too. You can't reason much with a toddler. In the past year, you've grown from a toddler into a preschooler.  You've changed dramatically, though I have to admit, I hardly noticed while it was happening.  This year has been a big one for all of us.  You turned two and just a few weeks later, Caroline was born.  In my memory, you were the same then, but when I look at pictures, you were so much younger!

It was a tough adjustment for you.  As your third birthday approached, I looked back at this year with a lot of guilt and heaviness.  For you, this was the year of "Hold on," "Not right now," "Be gentle," and "Shhh."  That had to be hard. I was completely unprepared for how hard it would be and how much she would cry, and how many times I would have to disappoint you when you wanted to play and I just COULDN'T.

So I sat in that guilt for a while, and I felt terrible that I couldn't go back and change this past year; to be more patient, to work up more energy when I was running on empty, to just stop more often and look into your eyes and listen to you, and to just notice that you were changing.  But I can't go back.  And that's ok.  The grace of God swept over me in my guilt and reminded me of a few things:

1. I'm always going to fall short as your mother.  I'm human.  There is only One who can meet your every need and my job is to point you to Him.

2. Having a sibling means I can't give you as much of myself, but you now have a live-in playmate and a friend for life.  Cherish her. It truly is a gift worth the sacrifice.

3. I have not ruined you, (not yet!).  I am so proud of you, My Son, and of the person you are becoming.  At three, you are compassionate, kind, respectful, polite, obedient, tender-hearted, curious, funny and smart.  You have been forced to learn patience and how to play by yourself, but those are skills you need.  So really, how can I look back and wish to change a thing? I LOVE who you are at three. I love who The Lord is shaping you to be.  He made you, He loves you dearly and with Him, we can't mess this up.

"And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

He takes our messes and he makes them good! Therefore, I will continue to point you toward Him and His grace.

I love you, Henry.
I am proud of you.


Henry James!

3 years old! Wow! How did this happen?  Well, I love you more today than I did yesterday; this is how I know you're special. You are the most impressive, funny, caring, giggly, joyful three year old I have ever seen.  Your originality surprises me everyday.  You are so polite too. Always saying please and thank you. And most recently, you have been saying "I love you, Daddy!" a lot.

You make every day special and we are so blessed to have you in this world.  You have so much love in your heart and you love to share that love.  In fact, you don't understand what it would be like to not share that love.

This year, for your birthday, you said you wanted the theme "to be about Jesus...and baseball." What kind of three year old says that! You are so full of joy. You even decided, (with a little help from your mommy), that you wanted to help sick kids, so we donated money to the Make a Wish Foundation in your honor.  Henry, you make me so proud.

Every day you are learning more and more.  Your curiosity for life is amazing.  This last year has been a little different for you with the birth of your sister but you are always proud to be the big brother.  Your sister adores you.  You can bring a smile to her face sometimes when no one else can. Please always love her and take care of her.  You're her big brother, after all... To go along with this, every day when I leave for work, I say "Take care of your..." and you respond, "Take care of my mommy and be good to my sister." You make me so proud.

The best part of my day is still when I get home and you greet me with a big hug and say, "Daddy's home!" You have a very special way of being just you and you are full of "Henryisms".  My favorite right now is when you say, "It's not a big deal." or "May I have just a little bit of milk?" as you fold your hands and make a sweet little 'pretty please' face. Also, you like to say, "I'll just play for two more minutes" whenever it is time to stop something or move on to the next, especially bed time.

Henry, you inspire me to find the good in the world and always look at life as the glass being half full.  You have a great way of reminding me that joy is really what matters in life and that "it's not a big deal" no matter how big or small.  You bring great pride to our family and I am more than blessed and grateful to call you my son.  I promise to always be here for you, support you and love you every day of your life. Happy birthday Henry. Here's to many more to come!



I wasn't planning to do a party for Henry's third birthday.
I am sort of working under a "one and done" philosophy.
We went overboard on his first birthday because something about the miracle of life coming into the world and then changing in just one year from a tiny bundle of dependency into a small, walking, "talking" person is just... well, worth celebrating, in our eyes.

We don't necessarily want our kids growing up thinking that birthdays equal a crazy amount of presents or over the top parties.
Still, we have learned that our dearest friends and family really want to see Henry and celebrate with him on his birthday and we treasure that.
It's such an honor to know that he is so loved.

Our house is small so we can only host outside, which means it's weather dependent, and there's not much parking and blah blah...
Last year, Christian's parents hosted a sweet party for family.

This year, I was explaining the predicament to my friend Jess, (people want to see Henry on his birthday but we aren't really up for hosting a big party in our little house...) and she suggested I ask him what he wants to do on his birthday and then invite people.
So I did.
I think my exact words were, "Hey Henry, who do you want to see on your birthday and what do you want to do?...Like what do you want your birthday to be about?"
I would have put money on race cars, pirates, or going to the park... or that he wouldn't understand the question or just say "I don't know".
Instead, he listed every member of our families and his best buddy, Quinn, and after that long list I was sure he had forgotten the rest of the question...
But no.
He said, "...and I want my birthday to be about Jesus. And Baseball."

I was a little caught off guard, shocked by his ability to answer the question and also deeply touched.
I screamed to Christian, "I think you just reached the peek of your proud parenting moments. How could you ask for anything more? Your son wants his birthday to be about Jesus and baseball!"

I thought he may change his mind seconds later but he never did.
I immediately wondered if we could all go to an Indianapolis Indians game (fun for the adults too!), though I wasn't totally sure how to work Jesus in as a "theme".
There was a game the night before his birthday.

Peanuts, Cracker Jacks...and popcorn. 
The boy is popcorn obsessed.
I recently asked him "What do you like better, ice cream or popsicles?" and he said, "popcorn."

So, how to make Jesus a "theme" at a baseball birthday party... after some thought, we told Henry that Jesus says the most important thing in life is to love God and love others, and not just our friends and family.
The Indianapolis Indians accept donations to the Make a Wish foundation, so that seemed like a perfect way to teach Henry about sharing love with others.
You never know how a kid is going to react to something like this, but we gently suggested that he has a lot of toys and asked if he wanted to give money to help sick kids instead of getting more toys for his birthday and he was genuinely excited.
I would never want to push a kid on that against their wishes.

I promised myself I wouldn't spend too much time or energy since I wasn't planning to have a party to begin with.
I emailed invitations from paperless post and the only "big" project I was thinking of taking on was to make baseball sugar cookies (which would have taken forever), and when we went to the store for ingredients, Henry happened to see this cake and shouted "I want that cake!"
It was $15.
I printed the bunting banner from here.

So, I threw some drinks in a cooler, bought the popcorn in bags, I already had the popcorn containers, used a store bought cake, and made some sandwiches which I put in the (Cleveland) Indians bags that Christian's brother bought him for Christmas.
The snacks were easy.
Putting them in the wagon made it easy and cute!
The pictures make it look way more over the top than it was.

The National Anthem...

Caroline was passed around to all the grandparents.

We sang and had cake between innings.

Henry and his best buddy Quinn ran around in the grass and all of the adults just lounged on blankets.
It was so fun!
Oh, and Quinn got Henry race cars.
He just loves the movie Cars right now.

The next morning, (his actual birthday), he woke up to all of his existing cars and three new ones wrapped from us.

We made him pancakes (his favorite breakfast) with "pink sauce" (Kefir yogurt), sprinkles and candles, then his grammy and grampy picked him up and took him on the train to the state fair.

This is Henry at three...
All of his friends go running off together and he stops to "tell me a story" about a tree.
Probably this one: "Mom, when I grow up, I'm going to climb a tree!"
Then, I point out that all of his friends ran that way and he sort of skips/walks to follow them.

He is not necessarily worried about "keeping up" with his friends (and I'm fine with that as long as he is) but he does adore them.
He talks about them with pride, asks to pray for them, and often puts his arms around them and tells them, "You're a good friend".

Of course, at three, his friends are our friends' kids.
Here is our small groups' growing bunch in age order (5 families, 10 kids, 8 boys, 2 girls):

Oh, and he just had his first day of Jr. Preschool.

Still don't know how we got here.
The days are long but the years are short.

And one last thing about Henry at three...
He doesn't always love sharing the attention with his sister, but he does love her a lot.
(And smothers her with hugs that look more like head locks).