2014-12-18

Why The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey Is a Must Read


I do love a good book. And I especially love a good picture book. I'd say it's because I love to share them with my children, which I do, but the truth is that I can often be found curled up in a comfy chair indulging in a delightful children's picture book all by myself.  As C.S. Lewis aptly said: "A children's story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children's story."

And so, with the support of a man like C.S. Lewis, I wholeheartedly recommend one of the best Christmas stories no matter your age. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is a tale that should not be missed.

What is Christmas about most of all? A broken world, hurting and dark, longing for rescue and hope and light. A light dawning with the most unexpected of gifts: a wee newborn's cries emanating from the strangest of places--a holding place for lowly animals. The cries echoing into the chilly streets of a humble village with the promise of redemption that has come.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey encapsulates this grander story with it's own tale of redemption. The darkness is seen in the humble woodcarver, Jonathan, who has attempted to run as far away from his loss and pain as possible. Finding that he can't outrun it, he allows his pain to consume him as he becomes the village caricature of grumpiness--"Gloomy Toomey". You feel the heartrending sorrow in P.J. Lynch's illustrations--hear the crackle of the fire he is staring into with an empty gaze, and taste the salty tear that travels down his cheek as he remembers the two precious ones lost to him.

The promise of something new being born is seen with the arrival of a sweet widow and her son on his doorstep asking him to carve a replica of an heirloom nativity set lost in their own move to the tiny village. The hope builds as you follow this woodworker slowly carving out each piece of the creche under the watchful, hopeful eyes of the little boy who has asked permission to watch the process. The widow's knitting needles slowly click as she quietly draws up a chair in a corner of the cabin while he creates. The healing in the hardened man's heart is palpable with each piece carved, the cheerful guidance of the boy who wants his new nativity set to match the memory in his heart, and the kind widow's quiet gifts of cups of tea, warm cornbread, and gentle words.

The redemption nears completion as the woodcarver finds himself at a loss in his attempt to carve the final pieces--the Babe and his sweet mother. Crumpled paper after crumpled paper of sketches finds its way onto the floor of his cottage as his attempts at creating a plan for a baby who "was smiling and reaching up to his mother and Mary look[ing] like she loved him very much" fall short. In a moment that always makes my own tears well, he slowly uncovers treasures from a drawer to reveal a charcoal sketch of his own long gone wife and baby boy. Tears flow in longing and missing and pain as he holds the frame close to his heart. Finally, he reaches for his carving knife to complete the precious figures--modeled after the love between mother and child he remembers best.

You realize his healing has begun in earnest as you turn the page and find him Christmas morning delivering the new set with quiet joy to his new friends. You see the wonder on the mother and boy's face as they examine the completed nativity, so perfectly and patiently carved. The book closes by sharing that Mr. Toomey joined the widow and her boy at the Christmas service that day, and that for the first time ever, the village children witness a joyful "Gloomy Toomey" throw back his head in laughter--no longer worthy of the name.

I love this story! Oh, how I love it. As the broken woodcarver holds the pieces of wood in his hands and thoughtfully forms each part of the story of grace and hope and redemption, it is born in his own heart as well. And that is what Christmas is for--to enable us to hold within our own hearts and hands a God previously hidden to us. A God made man. A God made humble and small for our own rescue. Emmanuel, God with us. As we take the time to study the story, to slowly turn over the love of a God who would do such a thing for us, we are changed. We cannot help but be filled with hope, with joy, with love as we hold Christmas in our hearts and hands as the pieces of a nativity set may be held and pondered. Christmas came to heal the broken, bring light to the darkness, bring hope for the lost.

By all means, add this wonderful book to your own shelf or add it to the shelf of a child you love. I hope that you will find as much delight and joy in this beautiful tale as I do, as you contemplate what God wants to carve out in your own heart this Christmas season. He comes to bring you life, light, and joy as well.


2014-11-18

Hey, Tired and Hurting Mama--I'm One of Your Biggest Fans

Time has quickly rocked on since the inception of this little space. In the budding days of early motherhood I was in possession of more time to write, a plethora of ideals about the sort of mother I would, could, and should be, and slanted-eyed judgments for those who weren't doing it the "right" way. After nearly a decade of mothering, I'm wise enough to know now I'm still getting my feet wet. I'd like to think after a few more years, a few more babies, and a few more gray hairs, my ideals have been reshaped. Like a baker kneading a stiff ball of dough until it becomes elastic and is able to rise into a glorious golden loaf, God has steadily and patiently worked my heart. He's taken my stiff focus on the external (of myself, my children, and my fellow mothers), and gently pulled and stretched it till my eyes fell upon my own attitudes, the hurting heart behind the behavior of a child, and the frazzled and worn woman behind the cranky mom in the checkout line at Walmart.

This metamorphosis of thought and attitude has given me compassion for these women in the trenches alongside me. For you. You, Mom, whose life may look so very different from my own in every way, but who shares this one commonality: your love for Jesus and your desire to pass that on to your kids. Whether you have one or many, whether you parent granola style or mainstream style, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, whether your kids are in a public school, private school, or are homeschooled, whether your husband loves Jesus, too, or he doesn't...we're both on the same team. And I'm absolutely cheering you on.

I want you to know that I know it's hard. No matter the circumstances, being a mom is challenging--especially if you're seeking to do it with intention, cultivate relationships, and lead your child to the Heavenly Father. You might feel like you're "fresh out of amazing", but God isn't. He's not done with you, he's not done with your husband, and he's absolutely not done with your child. He's not letting anything into your life without his permission, and even the hard, dark things can bring glory and beauty and joy.

I want you to know that things might get harder, but I also want you to know that you will find God will give you the strength to do this mom thing even when it gets harder, more complicated, or even darker. He's using these hard times--even if they make absolutely no sense--for his good purposes.

I want you to know that not only is he using the hard times for your good and his glory, but he's using them in the life of your child as well. I know you worry about how the difficulties you face are screwing up your kid. Yep. Screwing them up beyond repair. Oh, the therapy bills are going to be steep. But God is using even the darkest of times in your family for their good, too. Trust him with their story, their past, their future.

I want you to know that you should fight hard for joy and beauty. Even if your life isn't particularly dark right now, it might feel mundane or rushed and frantic. Don't miss your life because you're focused on the stuff that doesn't matter. Slow down, and take time to notice all the tiny things that fill your life every single day. God is bringing you beauty right, left, and center! It's in the curl around your daughter's ear, the infectious laughter of your son, the warm cup of coffee in the mug that says "I might rise, but I refuse to shine." You can fight by taking the time to notice, thanking God for these gifts, and allowing yourself to remember what it's like to indulge in some childlike wonder at the incredible world around you. You fight by putting things into perspective, refusing to let your heart and mind dwell on things that are untrue and unlovely, and speaking the truth of Scripture when the Enemy whispers nasty lies. You fight by taking the time to bring a little beauty into your life or the life of another--a few supermarket flowers to put into a vase on the table, china pulled out for the pizza that came from Domino's, music that lifts your soul, a dance with the preschooler on the kitchen tile.

I want you to know that what you're doing as a mom matters. Your choices to be intentional, to nurture the heart of your child, to live in the truth of God's Word, to bring beauty in increasing measure into your life, may go largely unseen by the world in general. But I promise you that the smallest of faithful steps can make a lasting difference for eternity. By setting your eyes on your Heavenly Father, choosing to obey him faithfully in whatever he asks of you, and loving your family well, you are doing something truly revolutionary.

I want you to know that you are seen. So much of your "mom stuff" is invisible to the world. There's no paycheck, no positive evaluations, and the people you're working for and serving usually don't say thank you--at least not during the years they're leaving their socks on the floor and squirting Capri Suns all over their car seats. I want you to know that your faithful service to your family is seen, cherished, and delighted in by the One Person Who Really Matters. He delights in you! He sings over you. Sure, he knows all of your faults, secret sins, and failures. He's right there to change you and challenge you and help you up each time you stumble. He's calling you to holiness. But he also knows your frame and loves you just as you are right this minute. He won't love you more when you become more holy. How's that for making a girl slack-jawed? True story.

So. You keep stepping. Keep mothering. Keep loving your husband if you have one. Keep drawing close to the heart of your God who is bigger than your mistakes. Remember that motherhood is a marathon and not a sprint. You and I, our muscles are burning. Our lungs are aching. Our feet are blistered. But there is a cloud of witnesses cheering us on, and with God's help, we're both going to cross that finish line. Go you. Even though I'm running right there with you, I'm cheering, too. And I'm one of your biggest fans.

"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."  Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

2014-01-30

Elijah--Three Months!



Oh, baby. You are so sweet. You're cute, but you're absolutely enough to make me squeal when you're dressed for SNOW! Yep, snow in middle Georgia. You didn't do much in it but look around from your daddy's arms, but, hey, it's a memory for us. :)

You are totally belly laughing these days. That's the biggest development of this past month, and it's so great that we want to make you laugh every chance we get. But we don't. Because it gives you the hiccups. Every.Single.Time. Just like Anna Hazel! Ha! Love it.

Baby laughter is a gift from a good God. It makes everyone smile no matter what they're going through or how badly they're currently feeling. We thank God for you, our laughing, smiling boy!

2013-12-28

Elijah--Two Months!



Elijah, I love this picture! Alec is completely enthralled with you, and he spends all of your waking hours pretty much in your face. It's pretty cute, though I'm also pretty sure that you don't always appreciate his love--and who can blame you? We call Alec the Baby Whisperer--he loves you to bits.

You do reward him with coos and smiles, though. And the rest of us can get in on it, too, if we but take the trouble to simply glance your way. Yep, you're free with the happiness, and you're about the most chilled out baby I have ever seen.

You're growing like a weed, and you're so deliciously plump and nursing like a pro. I love your sweet widow's peak--so much like Levi's. And your blue eyes--so much like your other siblings. Your hair is darker than your brothers', but maybe like Anna Hazel's was.

I spend a lot of time just looking at you and wanting to bite you. That sounds bad, but it actually means I think you're beautiful, and cute, and wondrous. You're a charmer, you are!

You got to meet Marmie and HatDaddy for the first time (they came for Christmas), and you put your lovely spell on them as well. Nannie loves you, and so do your aunts, uncles, and cousins. You're surrounded by so many people who think you're just beautiful and wonderful, but our Heavenly Father loves you most of all, little boy. ♥

2013-11-28

Elijah--One Month!



I can't believe it's already been an entire month! I suppose because we spent so much of the beginning of this month away from home, that it has sped by more quickly than ever. You spent your first ten days charming NICU nurses and fighting a serious infection while you were at it. Now that's impressive! After a few days on antibiotic treatment, you really started to do well, and were able to spend much of your time nursing, sleeping, and cuddling up with me, Daddy, or a lovely and caring nurse.

Now that you're a month old, you're home where you should be (and, oh, we are so grateful!). Your brothers and sister were SO excited to greet you at home, and dote on you daily. Alec especially adores you. That doesn't surprise us, since he is such a baby lover! You have an army of people to care for you when you fuss, and we've quite spoiled you with attention.

We just celebrated Thanksgiving...and, oh Elijah. We have so much to be thankful for, sweet boy. We are so, so, so thankful that you are here, that you are healthy, that you are so happy. You bless us every single day.

2013-11-21

A Birth Story--or a Grace Story



I usually record a birth story for my sweet babes. They are usually recorded in the sweet babymoon days in the peace of my home, with a cup of tea at hand, and a baby asleep on my knees. But Elijah's birth was so different. His birth happened amidst a swirl of fear and worry--a torrent that didn't let up for several days. As a result, his "birth story" was actually recorded in a Facebook update--the only way this very exhausted and frightened mama could communicate with so many people all at once. This is from November 2, 2013--when baby Elijah was only four days old:

UPDATE ON ELIJAH

We had been planning a homebirth just like our others had been. I had had some prelabor symptoms and had been paying close attention to his kick counts. The night before he was born, he took just a little bit longer to get his kicks in (maybe 15 or 20 minutes versus the 10 I'd been measuring), and they were a little weaker. I just chalked it up to imminent labor. The morning he was born when I got up I noticed I was leaking fluid and that it was stained with meconium. After quickly consulting with our midwife, Keith made the decision to head to the hospital when I realized I couldn't feel Elijah moving.

Huge relief washed over me when we heard his precious heartbeat on the monitor at the hospital. But even I could hear the decelerations in his heartones. I knew things weren't looking good when I heard that, and then when I was given some oxygen. My backup OB, Dr. Chism quickly arrived, and gently informed me that our baby was in serious distress and a c-section was needed ASAP. I cried, we talked for a few minutes, and moved forward. As soon as we said our "yes", it was an overwhelming flurry of activity to get me prepped for surgery. I have had so many people tell me that I am "brave" for delivering babies without pain medication--but, no. C-sections--especially those unexpected--are for the brave.

It was long till he was delivered, we could hear a cry, and doctors confirmed that he had been in thick meconium. They took a good bit out of his stomach and lungs. I got to kiss him--he was breathing funny--and they whisked him away to be cared for in the nursery.

At first, it just seemed that he was going to need a wee bit more time to recover because of the meconium. As more time passed, it became evident that he was not getting better, that perhaps something else was wrong. He couldn't tolerate any stimulation at all, so I couldn't feed him or nurse him. He couldn't eat at all, actually, because he was working so hard to breathe that eating wasn't an option.

We had incredible doctors and nurses who kept us informed and were gentle and compassionate. We are so grateful for their care, wisdom, and initiative.

One of our pediatric doctors came and informed us the day after he was born that he was "really, really sick" and definitely needed to be transferred to the NICU in Macon. That was so scary and troubling. He was transferred quickly, more tests were run, and within another little while, we learned that he did indeed have a septic infection. So scary! We didn't know what the source of it was, but our doctors had been on top of things and he had been on antibiotics since shortly after his birth. We now had to wait to hear what we were dealing with.

We learned yesterday that Elijah was infected with something called Haemophilus Influenzae or Hib. Apparently, this is a very common bacterium, but it is very, very uncommon for a neonate to contract it in the womb. It's also incredibly dangerous for one so young to contract it. It can often be fatal for a baby so small, or lead to pneumonia, septic infection, or spinal meningitis. Serious yikes for this mama's heart. The concern was that it does easily pass into the spinal column, and if that were the case, we learned that it was going to need a 21 day long treatment of antibiotics.

After consulting with pediatric infectious diseases specialists at the CDC in Atlanta, our neonatologist pursued a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to draw fluid to evaluate it. She was looking for some kind of clinical clues to let her know (I think) if the spinal fluid had ever been contaminated and how agressively they would need to treat Elijah. We received the most wonderful news today, that they believe a ten day course of antibiotics will be sufficient to completely eradicate this bacterium and keep it from growing back. I *think* that means that they felt the signs showed it had not reached the spinal column, though I'm not sure.

The nurses have been very kind, but very straightforward in telling us that NICU babies are notorious for shocking and surprising you (in both good and bad ways), and that there are never any guarantees. But they assure us that right now Elijah is doing beautifully, he is eating well, his jaundice is slowly going away, and he is happy and calm and alert.

We are so grateful. We believe that God is good even in the difficulties and the darkness, and that even if he did not allow us to keep Elijah he would still be the God of love and grace who carries us. But we are so grateful that he has mercifully placed his hand on him, rescued him, and is keeping him well right now.

Thank you so much for your prayers and concerns! Please keep praying for our family.

2013-07-12

Alec is FOUR!


Oh, Alec. My sweet, sweet boy. So full of life and fun and gladness. You have one of the most amazing smiles I have ever seen. I love that tiny chip in your front tooth that bespeaks your adventurous heart. It's summer time, and I love to look at your golden hair and golden skin and blue eyes shining so brightly out of your joyful face.

You love to make us laugh. You love to be made to laugh. "Remember this?", you'll say as you quote the funniest line you remember from your favorite movie of late. Or, "Mama, watch this!" as you make the funniest face you can muster.

You are the most wonderful big brother to your Sissy. She thinks you are her best buddy, and if you're ever gone, she wanders about looking for her "Ayec". You and Anna Hazel will likely take this newest little fellow under your wings quickly and care for him well. You both love babies so!

You have a tender heart, and if I have been too rash with my words or raised my voice, it's not unusual to hear your sobbing voice say, "Mama, you breaked my heart!" Oh, dear boy, I certainly never want to break that sweet heart God has given to you.

You are my biggest helper in the kitchen. I can always hear that chair dragging across the floor when I get out the pots and pans to cook. You love to dump, and pour, and stir. Oh, and lick the bowl if it's anything sweet. That might actually be the biggest reason you want to join me--the hope that there is something delicious to put into your mouth along the way.

You fill our home with so much laughter--we are so glad that you are part of our family! Happy 4th Birthday, little man!