Sunday, August 13, 2017

beyond this land of parting...

This life is hard.  Plain and simple fact; difficult and confusing circumstances.

Losing someone in this life is never an easy thing to experience.  But when the circumstances are grim and the life still had so much more to live...that is simply heartbreaking.

Anyone who has known me for longer than about 2.5 minutes knows that I have a strong love for teenagers.  I'm the weird one who seriously loves the snark and the sass, the crazy range of emotions, the strong desire for independence forged with the strong desire to be taken care of; the awkwardness, the silliness, the whole shebang.  I love them.  

I always thought I would like the younger kids the most--both of my sisters are exceptional with young kids, and I always just figured I followed suit (nope...I would take 20 teenagers over 5 five year olds any day of the week).  But when I student taught, they assigned me to 8th grade (much to my uncertainty)...and I loved it!  I taught 8th grade for three years and loved {almost} every minute of it.  I went back the next two years and taught remediation at the high school for 9th and 10th grade, and I loved it.  But the work that has stirred my passion the most has been my role as "youth minister" to our teens for the past 8-9 years.

I counted last night, and I think we've had around 25 kids in our youth group during those years.  And still to this day and for every day after, they will be my kids.  We go through so much together--we've walked through celebrations and losses; laughed together more than I can measure, and cried together any time we've needed; we've prayed and learned and grown immensely; we've become family.  

And this week that family suffered a huge hit.  

Our sweet and precious JJ was lost this week.  And it has been so, so hard.

JJ was always one of our quieter kids who took a little while to open up.  But once he got comfortable, he fit right in with our crazy, quirky bunch and we welcomed him with open arms.  One of my favorite memories to share with him was our communion during Encounter, a practice of eucharisteo, gratefulness.  As we broke bread together, we went around the circle speaking aloud what we were grateful for in that moment.  And JJ's response about burst my heart open...he was grateful for our group, for a place he fit in and felt loved...  That dear ones is the meat of what the church is and my biggest hope for all of our kids who come our way.  

I also got to stand beside his mama as we watched the beautiful transformation of his baptism.  I got to hear the stories about his friends and provide encouragement about his struggles on rides home.  I got to see this once shy boy bloom into the star of the camp skit, jumping around singing "JJ's a cow! JJ's a cow!" (an inside joke that will always stay close to my heart and make me smile).  I got to laugh until I cried as I watched/made the teens play beanboozled--JJ ate every single one like a champ! (and then blew nasty skunk breath in my face and ran away giggling, haha).  I got to see him grow up into an incredibly handsome young man with such a tender spirit and kind heart.

About two years ago, his family began to attend church somewhere else, so we didn't get to see each other as often as we had before.  But just last month as I was visiting our group at Camp Red Oak Springs, I glanced around and a familiar face caught my eye.  My JJ was there and I was SO excited to get to see him and hug his neck!  He was so happy and talked to me about school and his plans to come back to Encounter next summer.  He laughed when his friend asked if I was his mom (I used to be confused for a teenager...somehow very quickly, now I'm confused as the mom of a teenager!  Gracious).  We hugged and promised to keep in touch.

And this week, he's gone.

This world and this life are so very broken.  We see evidence of that every single day in a myriad of ways.  Some pain is visible and public and seen; and some pain are kept in the deepest parts of people's souls.  You absolutely never know the weight every person you meet is carrying.  And sadly, so many people carry their burdens alone.

In the middle of the heartbreak though, I am able to find the tiniest bit of hope...a feeling of trust.  Because in the middle of this heartbreak and brokenness and suffering, my Jesus holds true.  And in the midst of all of the brokenness, he is making all things new.  All of creation is being redeemed.  Restored to the glorious perfection of its Creator's intent.  And when that work is completed, the heartbreak will be no more.  The pain will be gone.  The brokenness will be mended.  And all will be made new.

So while this week has been terrible and I have cried multiple times, often without warning...  While all I want to do is hold to my kids and never let go (my own kids and my youth group kids)...  While my spirit wants to be afraid...  I will still cling to hope.

Because our hope doesn't end with death.  Jesus walked out of that tomb and he brought with him freedom, hope, grace, and life.  He left death behind--the fear of it, the sting of it, the finality of it.  And that is such a beautiful truth to dwell on, especially in times like these.

JJ, you will always hold a dear and special place in my heart and in my memories.  I am beyond grateful for the time we were able to share, and I hope with all of my heart that you saw Jesus during your times with us.  I will always have so many questions and so many what ifs and so many wishes...but I will also have the solid belief that we will reunite again in a renewed creation.  I look forward to that day.  You are so, so loved and incredibly missed.

love, angie

"Beyond this land of parting, losing, and leaving...
Far beyond the losses, darkening this...
And far beyond the taking and the bereaving...
Lies a summer land of bliss..."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dear Arabella,

You, beautiful one, are FIVE years old!

I cannot even handle that number.  FIVE.  That means you're a full blown kid more baby or toddler or preschooler.  Holy Moly.  

You are such a curious little girl, and your daddy and I love that.  This past year, you have really started solving problems and finding other solutions if one doesn't work.  Your vocabulary is crazy, and the words and sayings you spout off just blow us away!  If we ask you how you know something, you usually respond with, "I don't know, I just know it!" (which is something Mimi and Papa heard a lot from me too...)

You also still love to be daddy's helper.  Y'alls favorite thing to do is go fishing of course.  Daddy got a new boat at the beginning of the year, and you two are always itching to take it out for the day!  You've gotten to go "to the ocean" (the jetties) and catch some bigger fish--even a shark!  You also help him build and work on the cars and fix anything that needs it.  Not only do you help him, but he explains all the whats and whys and hows--you ask questions and soak every bit of it in.  You love to learn!

You will sit at our desk and draw/color/write almost all day long.  You love to make people cards and write notes.  You know all of your letters and how to write them; and you're learning their sounds and  how to spell and sound out some simple words!  You've also started figuring out some simple addition and subtraction problems.  Your little brain just never stops!

This year has been one for the books for you with cool trips!  You got to go to your first concert (TobyMac--Air1 Tour) and were a pretty big fan!  It overwhelmed you at first, but by the time he came out and sang, you were up singing along and loving ever minute.  Then you also got to go to a For King and Country (your favorite) concert!  You sang every single song at the top of your much fun.  We also got to go see Frozen on Ice!  Then, Mimi and Papa took you and your cousins to Great Wolf Lodge on a "no parents allowed" trip--you felt so big and had the time of your life.  And we also went to DisneyLand as a little family which was just amazing!  Quite a big year for you and your memory bank, little one :)

You are still just kind-hearted and sweet.  You are so tender when the moments warrant it, and will do just about anything you can to help anybody.  You are grateful and you share and are amazingly unselfish for a wee one.  You love people well, and I hope you never lose that.

Hearing you sing and pray is still one of my absolute favorites.  You know just about every song that comes on Air1 and we sing to the radio every time we're in the car!  Your favorites right now are anything by TobyMac (specifically "Til the Day I Die") and For King and Country (specifically "Fix My Eyes"), "The River", "Don't Leave Me Alone",  "Eye of the Storm", and "God is on the Move".

You are also so brave. You've tried so many new things this year, including a zip line and roller coasters, water slides and gymnastics tricks (you take gymnastics twice a week and are in the advanced class!).  You also love to catch and hold animals like frogs and lizards and butterflies and fish...  It's always really neat to see you work through the process of being afraid and choosing to be brave and try something anyway--and the majority of the time, you end up loving whatever it was!

Costumes.  We are still in the costume phase, hot and heavy!  There aren't many days at all that go by without you spending some quality time in one of your costumes.  You have almost all of the princesses as well as some Disney characters--and most of them have quite a few holes because of so much play time!

You and Kaplan are best friends.  Now, in true older sibling fashion, you drive him absolutely crazy on purpose, and you boss him around like nobody else.  But you adore each other.  He follows you everywhere and copies everything you do--he looks up to you so much!  I have loved watching your imaginations grow together and get to play.

I also know that you are going to be such a great big sister to Landry as well.  It's been so fun with you through this pregnancy since you actually understand what's going on.  

I am so excited and anxious to see how much more you grow and learn and change this next year.  Your daddy and I are whole-heartedly obsessed with who you are and always will be.  Keep enjoying life and finding giggles every single day.  Arabella, you are our treasured gift, and I promise that we will always love you more than you will ever know.

Happy birthday, my love!

xoxo, mama

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dear Kaplan,

You, my handsome little hunk, are TWO years old!

I cannot believe how quickly time has gone by since you joined our little family.  They say time flies when you're having fun--and you sir, have definitely increased our levels of fun!

You are still a pretty laid back kid, and you really only get super cranky when you're hungry.  The struggle is real for you and those hungry grumps, dude.

My Kaplan, you are still our snuggle bug of a kid, and your daddy and I absolutely love it.  You love to be held and snuggled and hugged.  You are also quite attached to your blanket and love to cuddle up just about anywhere if you have it.

You're still a major mama's boy (which makes me a little nervous with your little brother coming next month...).  However, you are also daddy's little buddy and Arabella is your best friend.  You love to fish and ride in the Bronco and play ball and wrestle around with daddy.  And you copy just about anything your big sister does or says (which isn't always a good thing!).  Watching you two play together and seeing your imaginations in action is just the coolest.  At random times, you'll run up to one of us and hug our legs and say "I luv chew"--just so sweet and melts all of us!

It has really amazed us how much you are talking!  I call you my little mockingbird because you repeat just about everything you hear.  For the past two months, you've been speaking in sentences and holding conversations.  You're also very well mannered (please, thank you, excuse me, I'm sorry...just precious).  You constantly surprise us with new words and phrases and just how well you communicate.  You also know more animals and sounds than I can count anymore, are working on your colors (some days you get them all right, some days everything is blue), and know what a triangle is!

One of your favorite things to do is sing--which seems to be a family trait!  You know Jesus Loves Me, You Are My Sunshine, Amazing Grace, and Father God (a few of our bed time songs); you also sing along to the radio, especially on Fix My Eyes, The River, Backseat Driver, Thy Will, and God is on the Move.  It makes me SO happy to hear you and Arabella sing--especially all those Jesus songs!

You've also been going down front with Mr. Craig (for children's church) by yourself on Sunday mornings.  You sit up there and pay attention and then come running back to mama and daddy when the bigger kids go to class (you usually run up and tell us, "I did good!" and give me a big it).  This year, you get to start going to Bible Hour with Bella and the other kids.  I know you'll love it!  You also have a great time with your friends in your Bible classes.

You really like Barney and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse--you'll sit and watch them (and sing and dance to them) as long as I'll let you.  Speaking of Mickey Mouse, you even got to go to DisneyLand this year!  It was our first real family vacation and we had SO much fun!  You loved the plane and the rides and seeing the characters (until they got too close).  I know you won't remember the trip, but you were definitely old enough to have a great time--and I promise mama will remember for you :)

If you could stay outside all day every day, you would.  You are "such a boy" in that you love to play in the dirt, make a mess, and run around like a crazy person.  The problem with all of that is that while you love to get dirty, you still hate taking a bath...  You're good to play in the tub, but when it's time to actually bathe, you scream the whole time, every single time.  Still haven't figured out what that's all about...

Your giggle is so contagious and a sound I don't ever want to forget!  You love to be silly and make funny faces; or for somebody to "get you" or tickle you; or if you sister starts laughing with you, you two can hardly stop and then we're all laughing for a long time!  It's just great.  

I'm so excited to see you become a big brother next month.  I have no doubt, you and Arabella will teach Landry all of your tricks in no time.  And I have no doubt that that little boy will be so loved and protected and cared for (and picked on and pushed around, of course--but only by you...)  

You're just such a cool kid, and we are so grateful to have you as ours.  You've added so much love and fun and weirdness and giggles and tenderness to our family.  We hope you never lose your laid back way of handling life and loving people. 

Your daddy and I will fight for you, protect you, teach you, and love you every single day of our lives.  You will always be our precious, perfect son; our second baby; our beautiful, blessed gift.

Happy birthday, sweet boy!  I love you more than you will ever know.

xoxo, mama