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A Lesson on Sovereignty

In November 2008, Dan and I learned we were expecting twins. Once we got past the shock (and I was very shocked!), we were really excited. All things considered, the pregnancy went quite smoothly. It’s truly amazing how a little life can grow inside you. But it’s an amazing amount of work too, and can really be a challenge for the body systems. In general, those pregnancy related side-effects tend to be even more common, and extreme, with multiples. However, other than fatigue and some discomfort and constant hunger (almost from day one) I felt pretty good throughout my pregnancy.

In May of 2009, our beautiful twin daughters were born unexpectedly at only 32 weeks – fully 8 weeks early. They weighed in at only 4 lbs each and spent 6 weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Walnut Creek before they were able to come home.

Over the years, I have known a number of other families who have experienced an extended NICU stay following the premature birth of a child. Because of my own experiences, these stories touch me deeply. They never fail to remind me of the weeks we spent traveling to Walnut Creek each day, praying for our girls to get stronger. I rejoice with those families over each step of progress, share their disappointment over each set back, and grieve with the families who don’t get to bring their baby home.

These stories touch me partly because I understand more than most some of what those families are going through. But also because it recalls to me a lesson that I learned during my own experience – God is Sovereign!

Those first few weeks after the girls were born were hard! But I know now that in a lot of ways we had it easy. While our girls weren’t fully developed, for premies they were pretty big and healthy. So while the needed some extra round-the-clock attention and help from the NICU staff in those early weeks, barring some unexpected development there was never much question that they would come home, they would “catch-up,” and they would be healthy.

Those first six weeks we were traveling back and forth to the hospital to visit our daughters each day; I was pumping breastmilk for them day and night so I was only sleeping a few hours at a stretch; and I was wildly emotional thanks to pregnancy hormones, lack of sleep, and the added stress of having to go to the hospital each day to visit my amazing daughters. I tend to be pretty stable and even-keeled. I could tell that my emotions were a roller coaster, but I was powerless – and I do like being in control. Not sure how Dan felt about my wild emotions. Either it didn’t bother him, or he had the good sense to keep it to himself.

By the time the girls were a couple weeks old, I was emotionally drained and physically exhausted. And I felt guilty. You see, I thought it was somehow my fault that that the girls had been born early. By every logical standard, this was completely ridiculous. I had experienced a delightfully simple pregnancy almost devoid of the typical difficulties women experience during pregnancy. Everything was going smoothly. The babies were healthy and growing well. Other than some discomfort from pressure on my lowest rib, I felt pretty good. In fact, the day before they were born, I had a routine appointment with my OB followed by a routine “non-stress test”. At that time, there was absolutely no indication of any problem. But just 12 hours after leaving the doctor’s office I was in labor, and another 12 hours later I was in a recovery room – the mother of twin girls born at 32 weeks plus 1 day. One evening I burst into tears and confessed to Dan that it was “my fault”. He reminded me of God’s sovereignty; that God was not surprised by the early arrival of our girls. He reminded me that even if I had made bad choices – God would still be sovereign. And it clicked for me in a way that it never had before; in a way that I still remember.  And I remember even more strongly when I walk that same path again with someone else.

God is Sovereign. He is in control. He is never surprised or caught off guard. Medically, there was no explanation for our premature delivery. But I do know I gained a deeper understanding of God. And I’ve shared my story, my testimony, with others.

The whole family

This is one of my favorite family photos.  I like it because it’s our FIRST family photo – taken when the girls were three weeks old.

Snapshots from 2016

Somehow we neglected to make any posts here during 2016! In lieu of the many thousands of words it would take to describe it all, here are a few of my favorite pictures.

Geocaching hike in Morgan Territory

Elizabeth

Big Trees!

Hiking in Las Trampas

Beautiful Girls!

Showing off their flowery birthday dresses

While on a summer vacation to the midwest, we hiked on some beautifully green forest trails!

This was a nice fountain in front of a Bed & Breakfast we stayed at in Carmi, IL.

Our other summer vacation in July was visiting the Oregon coast.

Twins at the park

Rainy day puddle jumping!

Pumpkin Patch Portrait

Carolyn and Elizabeth’s Christmas portrait

Christmas morning

Freebie

A week or two ago I was at home with the girls after school, and they got involved working on a craft together at our dining table while I zoned out playing a video game for a while. I didn’t know exactly what they were doing, but they had paper, scissors, crayons and markers, and they were getting along extremely well. In fact, they were cooperating so nicely that I called out to them a couple times to praise them for how well they were playing together. Frankly, I was slightly (and very pleasantly) surprised at how smoothly things were going with just a minimal amount of supervision from me. It was just what I needed that afternoon, and as I blasted aliens (or whatever) I was feeling very blessed.

So later, when the family gathered together at the table to have dinner, Janet and I were aghast to find literally hundreds of dark green ink marks deeply staining the wood surface of the table, covering roughly a quarter of the surface area. There is absolutely no way imaginable that they didn’t realize at some point what was happening to the table.

Just one of literally hundreds of marks covering the table...

Just one of the most glaring offenses… But seriously, there are hundreds!

They know the rules about working at the table, because we’ve had these rules for years, ever since they’ve been able to hold a crayon. They have special placemats that they are required to use anytime they are writing or coloring at the table. We remind them often, but for the most part they’ve been pretty good about it. So if there were just one or two or even five or ten ink marks on the table, I could chalk it up to youthful forgetfulness that they quickly corrected as soon as they noticed what was happening. But no… There are so many marks covering such a large portion of the table… They had to move around to different chairs at the table, and it must have taken at least 30-40 minutes to make them all. It’s just not possible that they didn’t notice that they were writing all over the table. So, in other words, they did notice, but they just didn’t care and continued damaging the table on purpose. And the whole time this was happening, I was blithely unaware and complimenting them from just 20 feet away. I should add that this table is kinda special because it was passed down to me from my Grandma. I guess maybe it’s not a particularly nice or expensive table, but it’s special to me because it came from her. This fact has also been explained to the girls in the past many times as we have encouraged them to always use the placemats.

Needless to say, Janet and I were angry and very disappointed. In fact, I felt betrayed. At some point, probably right away, they had to recognize they damage they were doing, and they just didn’t care. I had thought they were playing contentedly, and even complimented them on it, and they simply continued. My trust was badly broken. I packed up all of their craft stuff — crayons, pencils, pens, coloring pages, paper, scissors — and I put it all in a box in the hall closet, which is the place where confiscated items go when the girls lose privileges. We had a short, sullen meal together, and then pretty much immediately after that we sent them straight to bed. No stories or bedtime songs, but they each still got a hug.

The next day I was still feeling kinda pissed off, and frankly I wanted them to know it. I wanted them to understand that they had blown it big time, and this one wasn’t going to just blow over and be forgotten so easily. So as soon as they got home from school I sent them straight back to their room, with the stern admonition they had better not make a mess in there as well. I suppose partly I just didn’t want to deal with them, but I also needed to get some reading done and I wanted some peace and quiet.

The reading was for a Christian Apologetics Book Club that I’ve been doing for the past 13 years with some good friends, in which I’ve read some very interesting books (as well as a few lame ones). That day, I was just starting a new book, titled Three Free Sins. My initial thought is that it’s a stupidly provocative title, because of course sins are never free. You might not be the one who pays for them, but they certainly aren’t free. I think the author probably believes that as well, but he wants to make a point about God’s boundless grace, and I suppose the publisher thought that a stupidly provocative title would sell more books.

So anyway, there I am, sitting on my sofa 20 feet away from my green ink stained dining table, still feeling angry and hurt and maybe even a little bitter towards my darling daughters, and I’m reading the introduction and first chapter of a book about grace called Three Free Sins… The irony is totally obvious, right? But the truth is that it didn’t even occur to me, at least not right away. I was nodding in agreement at what I read, but it was sort of abstract, totally compartmentalized from the reality of the situation in my home. But some time later, just as I was about to finish the chapter, Elizabeth calls from her room, asking if she can come out to use the restroom. Yes of course, I say, the last thing I want is another mess to clean up.

Then, instead of heading straight back to her room a few minutes later when she’s done, she wanders out to the sofa where I’m reading and gently asks me, “What are you doing?”

What a ridiculous question. Why can’t she just go back to her room and leave me alone? But politely I say, “Do you see this book I’m holding? What does it look like I’m doing?”

“You’re reading.”

“Yep… And you should be getting back to your room.” She hesitates.

“What is your book called?”

BAM. The irony hits me. In the face, like a brick. “Well…  Uhhh, it’s called Three Free Sins.”

She sits on the sofa next to me and snuggles up close, like there’s nothing in the world wrong between us. “What is it about?” She sounds genuinely curious.

I can tell God has a sense of humor, and he’s laughing at me. Sigh… “Well, it’s hard to explain. I guess you could say it’s about grace…” I trail off helplessly, because I know exactly what’s coming next.

“I don’t really understand what that means.” This, coming from my daughter whose middle name is Grace. How can I explain this to her and keep feeling the angry-hurt-bitter feeling that I feel? I cannot. And when I really think about it, why would I want to?!

OK, I give up! Thank you, God, for reminding me to keep it real.

I can’t remember exactly what I said to her as I tried to explain the concepts of grace and forgiveness. I don’t know if they were golden words of wisdom or just some mumbled nonsense, but in any case I have a feeling that the whole incident was really more about teaching me than teaching her. She’ll learn about grace in time — if I model it — but I figure she’s not likely to retain much from a two minute conversation. She’s barely 6 years old, and obviously I still struggle. I just keep thinking about the way she snuggled right back into my lap… I hope that never changes. At any rate, fortunately after much scrubbing Janet was able to reduce the worst stains to faint green smudges. Whatever. This whole incident can be a freebie for the girls, and if the cost to me for an object lesson about grace is merely an ink-stained dining table, so be it.

Mommy Things I Wish I Had Known Earlier

Scissors are NOT suitable for left and right-handed use.

Somewhere between two and three, it became obvious that one of our daughters is right-handed, while the other is left-handed. When it came time for their first pair of scissors, I remember specifically looking for ones indicating they were for lefties. But all the ones I saw in the stores specifically stated they were “suitable for left and right-handed use.” I thought “that’s convenient”, got a couple of pairs, and thought no more about it. Around age five, Dan got her a pair of left handed scissors. It was then that I finally understood that it’s not just about how the grip is shaped; the blades themselves are reversed for left-handed scissors. Since our lefty had been cutting with right-handed scissors, she was rotating her hand 90 degrees towards her in order to see what she was cutting (so her hand was turned sideways, rather than straight up and down). After we got her the correct scissors, it took many weeks of reminding her not to tilt her had before she became consistent. But once she got that down, her cutting skills dramatically improved. She really just needed the right tool. I’ve already started looking for left-handed decorative cut scissors. I don’t think they’ll be easy to find…

[In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that Dan insists he told me repeatedly that left handed scissors are made differently. He was the one who actually tracked them down and ordered them. I feel like I’m usually a reasonable listener, so not sure where the breakdown occurred there.  At any rate, we finally got her set up with something she can use. I just wish it had been before she learned bad habits to cope with the wrong tool so she wouldn’t have had to unlearn those to use the right tool.]

Playdough is easy to make.

The girls love playdough. They can play quietly together for an hour or more. It’s a frequent “go to” thing when I needed to focus on something for a while. But it dries out. And I don’t like the smell. I had heard that people made their own and always thought I would try that someday. I finally did. It was easy. And doesn’t smell bad like the ones you buy.

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We must rescue the princesses from the cage!

Crayons

Don’t even think of trying to put those crayons back in the box. Once I finally gave up on the box, I started using plastic bags. That worked fine for storage, but we would end up with all the crayons on the table and the floor each time they used them. One day it occurred to me to put the crayons into a glass pie pan. The edges keep the crayons from rolling all over (like onto the floor) and it’s heavy enough it will stay put. When they’re done, we just put the whole pan onto the shelf. I don’t make pies often, so I don’t miss my pie pan and if I did I would buy another pan.

Paper Cutting

The girls love cutting! For a long time they would just snip away, literally making confetti — which got everywhere! And our dining area is carpeted so I can’t just sweep it up, it has to be picked up or vacuumed. But then I discovered that if I gave them a baking pan it would help contain the confetti and significantly reduce all that clean up.

Dyeing Easter Eggs

We always used the packaged Easter egg dyes when I was a kid. I didn’t even know there were other ways to color eggs. I used those the first time we dyed eggs with the girls. But then I discovered that you can use food coloring. I liked that better. A cooling rack in a baking pan is a great place to put them to dry. And we have better luck using tongs to remove the eggs from the dye, instead of that tiny little metal hook thing that comes with the dye kits.

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Look at the pretty colors!

Jack-O-Lanterns

The girls were 5½ before I was ready to consider carving jack-o-lanterns with them. But all those little fingers with those great big kitchen knives made me about ready to pass again. I decided to try some of those little plastic jack-o-lantern carving tools. They carved the pumpkin much better than I expected and seemed much safer for little hands than real knives. They’re inexpensive, so they’re not well made, but they worked for our purposes.

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Pumpkin carving.

Learning to write

Sometimes smaller is better. From a young age, the girls have enjoyed drawing. As they got older, they started making attempts at writing letters. One of the girls had an awkward grip and would hold the pencil or crayon in her fist. She would get frustrated when we tried to show her another way to hold it. When they started school, the teacher told us at open house that they use very small pieces of chalk to practice their writing. Smaller is lighter. It also helps force a more proper grip. You can’t hold a ½ inch piece of chalk in your fist.

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Early drawings.

 They’ll like it better if they get to help.

For their 5th birthday party, we went did a Dr. Seuss/Thing 1 & Thing 2 themed party.  I had visions of a cake with Thing 1 drawn on it in icing and Thing 2 on the other cake.  The girls wanted to help and it was their birthday, after all. So I did some rethinking and came up with a design they could do. I think the icing layer was thicker than the cake layer. They were so proud of themselves! And it was way easier on me.

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We made a birthday cake.

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Little helpers (yes, she’s wearing a princess dress).

Little Readers

The girls are nearing completion of kindergarten — their first year of formal education. When the school year started, they knew their letters and the sound each letter makes. They were just barely beginning to put those sounds together to sound out a few three letter words. In school, they began by learning “sight words” as well as significantly increasing their competency to figure out words — by sounding them out as well as context from pictures or illustrations. Now, they can pick up a book they’ve never seen before and begin reading it. It has been amazing to see how much they are absorbing. They’ve been able to figure out much more than I would have expected and I’m learning to be patient while they try. If I give them enough time before giving a hint, they can usually figure it out for themselves.

I enjoy reading and read voraciously as a child. We’ve been reading to the girls since they were infants. And even as infants they had some books that were on the low shelves in their room, available to them whenever they wanted. We had some books that had to be mended with tape, and some board books that got enough chewing they had to be discarded. But they’ve learned to be gentle. And they LOVE story time!  Honestly, I do too. Like I said, I like reading. But I also like the snuggles. And (I’ll admit it) the quiet time.

Carolyn & Elizabeth

The girls were three. It was one of those moments when I realized the girls were playing VERY quietly in their room. I went in to see what sort of trouble they were getting into and found them “reading” to each other.

In recent months, we have frequently told the girls that reading is one of the most important skills they can learn — because when they can read, they can learn about anything! They’re off to a great start and we’re very proud of them.

And just because, here’s a list of some of our favorite first books:

• Where is Baby’s Belly Button? (lift the flap book) – Karen Katz
• Good Morning, Good Night! – Teresa Imperato
• God Gave Us You – Lisa Tawn Bergren & Laura J Bryant
• Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram
• Goodnight Little One – Margaret Brown Wise
• Fisher Price My Little People Farm (lift the flap book) – Doris Tomaselli
• The Going to Bed Book – Sandra Boynton
• The Foot Book – Dr. Seuss
• Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? – Dr. Seuss
• The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name – Sally Lloyd-Jones

Elizabeth & Carolyn

There are all sorts of ways to play with books. (Age 3.5)

Carolyn & Elizabeth

Reading with Grandpa

Carolyn & Elizabeth

Easter reading with Mommy

Carolyn & Elizabeth

Story time with Nana

Carolyn & Elizabeth

Read me a story Daddy!

Elizabeth & Carolyn

Reading with GGma.

Elizabeth & Carolyn

Independent reading