Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Family That Prays Together...

Yesterday my oldest daughter and myself attended a People of Praise women's retreat. The theme of the day was Joy.

I was asked to give a sharing about "Family Life in A Complex World". I chose to relate two stories from the past year as the substance of my talk.

This is the first:

The first topic related to family life that I would like to share with you explains how our family got started with praying more together. Secondly, I'd like to share one initiative that has enriched our meal times together. Both of these stories are from this last year and still “works in progress.” I find that embracing the complexity of family life is first and foremost accepting the evolving process of learning and growing together; it involves some trial and error and tweaking our methods as we enter new “phases” of life. We are now 15 years into family life and have three girls between the ages of 8 and 14.

First, our prayer life: It was a Tuesday evening in September and Ben, his head Tom, and myself were sitting in our back porch having a difficult, but good conversation – sorting through some issues, expressing hurts and the need for reconciliation - all good things.

One of the areas of family life that we brought up was praying together. Praying together as a family has always been a desire of mine and over the years we have experienced it in one form or another, but it never developed into a habit. I've admired the families who wake up the household early, gather everyone around and sing, pray, intercede, share, etc. The picture I have in mind always involved a guitar, boisterous praise, sincere intercession, and a joyful send off to face the day.

This picture never seemed quite attainable for us. I am a morning person. Ben is not. We don't have instrument talent in our family. Fitting in personal prayer was challenging enough, family prayer? That seemed like adding one more thing that would take a great amount of effort.

As we talked with Tom that evening we kicked around some ideas for prayer. What format should we use? How long should we pray? On which days? At which time? Etc. We seemed to be at a crossroads, no clear plan in sight when it occurred to me to say, “Well, why don't we just start with something that is really important to us now? I'm pregnant. I'm sick. Let's just gather to pray over me and the baby and see what comes of that. Let's keep it simple. I think we can handle that.”

I was 16 weeks along and spending most of my time on the couch since moving around made me nauseous. We all agreed that my approach would work and chose to pray on Monday mornings just before the kids headed off to school and Ben to work.

It was a simple plan, but one that seemed doable and more importantly, one we thought we could be faithful to because it started with something that really mattered to us. It was relevant to our family.

I told Tom that it would probably be a good idea if he periodically checked in with us to see how it was going. Building accountability into our life helps. A lot. Knowing we had Tom to support us was helpful in moving forward with our plan.

So, Monday morning rolls around, but sitting together praying as a family was the last thing I wanted to do. Two days before, on Saturday, at about 9 in the morning, Ben and I found ourselves in the ER and heard the doctor say (for the third time in our marriage and the second time in nine months), “All your levels look good. But your baby does not have a heartbeat and there is no fetal movement.”

Now I had lost my dad to cancer two months before this. Losing a parent was really hard to live through. I am still sad that my dad is gone, I miss him a lot. But I had 14 years to adjust to the fact that he probably wouldn't live to be an old man. And I have 39 years of great memories of him.

But this news on this day was devastating. My world came crashing down around me. The grief that comes with hopes and dreams unfulfilled is really hard to bear. My heart hurt deeply for my loss, but I also had to watch a husband grieve for the son he would never raise and to comfort and pastor three daughters who had prayed for years for another sibling and were now experiencing the pain of losing that again in an instant.

So here we were. On Monday morning. Our intention to pray over me and for the baby was completely flipped upside down. How could we possibly proceed now with our reality being what it was? This was a nightmare for me. I felt abandoned by the Lord and his promises to me. I was struggling to face Ben and the girls, much less wanting to face the Lord.

But, we said we would pray and we did. We had made a commitment to each other and to the Lord. Somehow Ben called us together and we sat around our coffee table. Only by the grace of God, I believe, did he have the strength to lead us in prayer. He picked up the devotional he uses for personal
prayer and the psalm for the day was 126. Admitting this was going to be hard to read, Ben started,

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.'
The Lord has done great things for us, And we are glad.

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing...”

While there are many things that I can look back to as the Lord caring for us through that time: Amy Root coming over one morning just to do my dishes; I needed someone to just feel the freedom to pop over and do something; Beth Bulger reaching out to me and tenderly saying, “I just love how you loved your little boy”; I needed someone to affirm my motherhood of that child; Jeanne Stauble dropping off a meal immediately after she heard our news; the Trinity faculty donating a generous amount of money so we could have a nice meal together and the girls could attend a Cirque du Soliel performance.....the list goes on.

But, I also needed Ben to lead us through the next days and weeks and it started with that morning prayer.

I believe that the truth of the Scripture Ben read was also the Lord gently reminding us that this is not the end for us. When the ugliness of Satan's whispers, doubts and despair entered my mind and pain and loss gripped my heart, I needed the Truth of Scripture to cling to. We all needed the word of God to ring throughout our home. And I believe it was important that it come from us. Ben's leadership that morning, sitting us down, reading from the Bible, then saying a simple prayer for all of us set us on a path of healing that continues today.

Since that first Monday morning family prayer together, we have continued to pray. As December approached, we again asked ourselves, “What is important to us? Well, the season of Advent is.” So, we used the book of Advent reflections provided by our church as the framework for prayer that month. In fact, we prayed almost daily those few weeks rather than just once a week. I can honestly say that the effort has become a habit. This season of Lent has been much the same. Recently we even prayed together over Google Hangouts while Ben was on a business trip. It was funny to watch Izzy try to “hold Ben's hand” virtually as we closed our prayer with the “Our Father”.

I can't say we have a perfect record. We're human. Occasionally we have forgotten or there just wasn't time to sit together as a family, but for the most part, we've done it. Following through with our initial intention to pray for a specific need, the baby, and having that need drastically change, but staying faithful, was life changing for us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Never heard of this group before.Don't know where they are from or who they are, but this medley is fun!

Wish they would have spent more time in the previous centuries - those went by too fast with some of my favorites getting a few nano seconds on center stage.

Will have to investigate this group some more. Love the acapella sound and the harmony!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Very White World

"The cold, however, was severe;
 and by the time the second carriage was in motion, 
a few flakes of snow were finding their way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time."
-Jane Austen

A few weeks ago I came across this line and paused. I was reading aloud to my daughter from Emma and smiled at Austen's description of the weather. Made sense at the time I was reading - we were in the "dead of Winter". How fun to come across a passage so easily understood. Our experience with snowfalls is sometimes just as she describes. The ground can be brown, bare, ugly and in a couple hours blanketed - pretty, clean, soft, peaceful.

On the day we were snuggled up together in the living room sipping tea and reading Austen, we only had to look out the window to see it in reality.

Today, March 18, against all our wills and all that is normal and all that is reasonable, our world is again very white.

Some say, "Enough already. Spring, two days away? C'mon. This is just insane."

But, even though this has been a loooooooooooong winter, there is still something magical about the very white world that begins with a few flakes "finding their way down."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Top O' The Mornin' to Ya

Been up since 2am. I've already had two cups of coffee, written a sharing for a retreat and folded laundry. 

No, I am not crazy. Just a weird early early early morning person on this particular day. 

And this particular day is one of my favorites - The day of the Irish! It's a wonderful day and the whole mood was set on Saturday night.

While many of my O'Reilly relatives are celebrating good ol St. Paddy's day in Montana complete with my cousins, the bagpipers...

....we gathered at the Druffner home/hobby farm in Hudson for an evening complete with poetry recitations, dancing, singing, Irish trivia, laughter, food and drink and meeting more Trinity families.

This is the type of party I love.There was good company, the biggest container of Irish stew I had ever seen, and incredible hosts who greeted us warmly and invited us in to share our talents and enthusiasm for this day,

Their Great Room was grand - large, open, huge fireplace, looked like a room from the Austen era where you would dine and dance. And we did. Dined and danced and listened as guest after guest shared his/her talents during an open mic time.

I nearly swooned as one guy played an Irish jig and then a farewell song on his fiddle. And it wasn't the Bailey's Irish cream I was sipping. I just love the fiddle. Could have listened to that all night.

But I was treated to more:

One couple's acapella duet was tender and moving. Thigpen's Wedding song moves me every time I hear it. (You can hear it below. Although I don't particularly like the video, the music and words are beautiful.)

A husband read and dedicated Seamus Heaney's The Skylight to his wife and hostess Molly. (Poem is included below)

A mother sang an Irish farewell song to her son who was returning to college the next day.

A father beamed as his young daughter recited "Ooey Gooey" with perfect poise and confidence.

Corny jokes followed - "The cornier, the better", Molly says, "It's the Irish way."

The Irish way was indeed alive and well on this evening - one that I will never forget.

Erin go Bragh!

That's "Ireland Forever!" as I learned during our trivia game. Which our team lost by the way.

But I am not bitter. The memory of the rest of the evening makes me smile and not care about not winning.

The Bailey's helped too.

The Skylight
You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.
But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Nothing Box and the Nail

Our hub dinner last night included some special entertainment.

Ben took us through a slide show of his Winter Camping trip (which I will post pictures of soon).

But first, we were treated to a viewing of these two youtube videos.

The context here is that during our dinner Shellee began telling us about a class she is taking at UST as part of her pursuit to attain a Master's degree in Pastoral Ministry. The subject of her course got us to talking about our understanding of the differences between men and women. Two videos captured some of the inherent distinctions.

This one, a snippet of a longer lecture, is titled A Tale of Two Brains.

Now watch this one - it highlights insights shared in the first.

I had seen this one before, but appreciate it much more in light of having watched the first.

I recommend watching with your significant other.

Much laughter and "Aha" moments occurred as we all watched together.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Blessings of the Day

Although yesterday was tough emotionally, it was not without it small blessings to lift my spirits.

Blessing #1. My chat with the Target clerk who rang up my items this morning. Turns out we both lost our fathers in the last year. I listened as she shared about her experience and the anonymous gift of an airline ticket she got so she could visit him after his series of strokes and say goodbye. I was blessed she shared so freely and walked out the store happy to have shared such a moment with a stranger.

Blessing #2. My husband's advice for improving my resume. I am applying for a part-time position and needed a second pair of eyes on my writing. I am blessed he shared his wisdom between conference calls and while his back pain flared. I delivered the resume with confidence.

Blessing #3. My bathroom/laundry room floor. Just enough tiles were installed this morning to confirm that my instinct for the black and white checker pattern was a good one. I am glad I asked for this - my one and only idea for the floor.

Blessing #4. Flowers delivered by Nana and Pops. Always lovely to receive a bouquet from them and have their cheerful presence in our home.

Blessing #5. An ice cream delivery from Amy. Special treat this Friday in Lent: Ice cream for dinner!

Blessing #6. A spontaneous game of 500 to end the day. Aided by handfuls of popcorn and nibbles of incredible date bars, Beka and I came out on top. Won two games!

Blessings abound. I am grateful.

Friday, March 7, 2014

David John

We would have met him by now. We would have had a little boy in our family by today.

But, we don't.

We learned on September 21 that his heart was not beating.

That news stuns me every time. This time, the third, I could again feel the choking sobs starting and only composed myself long enough to exit the ER door of the hospital and get to my van.

In the van I somehow felt secure and free to let it all out. Strange, but that's where I continue to have the most "real" moments of grief still today.

I love this picture of the next day, September 22.

I needed some air and just sat in our yard. The girls played and Kate took to combing my hair. Her tender touch was so soothing and comforting.

Izzy's playfulness was a gift to watch.

Can't help but smile a little even though I had a child within that I couldn't smile at or cuddle or feed or sing to. To be able to do all these things again was fixed in my mind and heart as real possibilities. All I had to do was wait till March. It was going to be a long, but best wait of my life. The hope, the dreams, the future were well formed in my head and we started talking about all the good changes that we would be allowed to experience as a family. What a surprise gift for us!

Every day I die a little more to those dreams.

Grief is so powerful. It has touched every part of my being. No part of my life (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational) is the same as before that excruciatingly painful time. Sleep, dreams, mood, energy, appetite, ability to think and communicate clearly, basic functioning - are all effected. And only time passing, choosing to trust the Lord who loves me deeply, and the constant active love of people around me has helped me move through the pain.

So here we are. We are a changed family.

In the last few years we have experienced a lot of hurt and grief. Grief piled on top of grief on top of grief.

But that's not the whole story. We love each other. A lot. We are open to what these circumstances and experiences are calling forth from us. More love. More compassion. More empathy. More calling on God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to help see us through.

I love the five of us and I love those children we conceived whom we never met.

I know that they are somehow enfolded in the Father's arms and hanging out with this guy.

I would say there are in good company.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dishes with Jerry

One of the blessings about not having a dishwasher.....

Who am I kidding? The ONLY blessing about not having a dishwasher is that we have built-in quality time with each other every day of the week right after dinner. We have a rotating schedule of chores and one lucky girl gets to spend some time with dad each night as they wash, dry, and put away the dishes by hand.

In order to make the time go by easily and to distract from the actual chore part of the chore, we've taken to listening to comedy routines via our "Jerry Seinfeld" Pandora station.

Here's a favorite one from Mr. Seinfeld. I know the Olympics are already a distant memory, but I think we can all get a chuckle out of this.

Let me tell you - some of our funniest family moments are generated by these sketches. Laughter over dishes works wonders.

And what's more, Kate seems to have a knack for memorizing this stuff and just pulls it out of her brain at the right moments to lighten the mood around her.

Maybe that's the Second Blessing of not having a dishwasher.

It will take me a looooooong time to think of a third. So I won't.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The "M" Word

I came across the video below while scrolling through facebook posts.

It's about the evolution of the bikini. And it's about Modesty.

I was immediately intrigued. Modesty in swimwear is a phrase that I am very conscious of as a mother of three girls, but I don't have much to reference in society that upholds and supports it as a value for girls and women. Just taking a walk through Target after Christmas was eye-opening with the displays of swimwear prominently positioned for all to see.  Buying a magazine at the airport last week was tricky. Do I really need to see three behinds staring me in the face as I am trying to choose good reading material for my flight? That SI swimsuit issue is terrible. And yet, its right there for all to see. What's worse is three women thought it was ok to pose that way, in those "suits".

I wonder how mothers and fathers of sons handle this topic.

Anyway, I appreciate the message that Jessica Rey offers - I mean, this is pretty counter-cultural. The fact that it is even brought up and shared across the country is amazing, I think.

The Godly Truth About Bikinis - FINALLY Someone Gets It! from sharethemessage on GodTube.

I plan to show it to my daughters and know for sure that one will light up when Jessica references Ms. Hepburn as the design inspiration for her line of swimwear.

Here's some more food for thought.

Swimsuit weather is still a ways off in my neck of the woods, but it's never too early to start (or continue, in my case) the conversation about modesty.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Last Week, Her Version

This was my home for the week.

I vacationed with friends and sisters in the People of Praise in beautiful laid back Marco Island, Florida.

I had my morning prayer times here. Somehow this space was more inspirational than my deck back home.

On one of our excursions, I enjoyed this view of the Gulf as we meandered up to Naples.

I marveled at the size of the homes once we were in sight of Naples.

 I mean, these are worth multi-millions of dollars.We're talking 47.5 million. Numbers like that.

They are sprawling mansions. They seem to go on forever

Who lives here? No idea. I saw only one person who looked like a resident in our whole tour of the waterways. Kind of sad, if you ask me.

Coming in to Naples, I briefly thought we made a wrong turn and were in Europe.

We ate lunch at a burger joint and headed back home.

This is the tiki hut at the Marriott that provided the necessary shade for my pasty white skin for our day on the beach.

The friendly server cruising around in her beverage cart provided a cool mojito while I relaxed under the shade to protect my purplish whitish freckled blotchy Irish skin.

This is the beach where I found a few shells to bring home as evidence I was really there. Only one broke en-route to Minnesota.

This is where my husband would have spent his entire week, morning, noon and night, if he were with me. He could live on a boat or be content to watch the waves roll in for hours.

These are the Burrowing Owls that live 1/2 block from our rented house. Mom and Pop Owl kept a close eye on passersby and photographers like me who tried to get a close up view.

These are the kids who reminded me of home when I toured the Botanical Gardens in Naples.

Does anything beat a tree-house for fun?

These are the butterflies I managed to capture in the Butterfly House.

This is the mini-garden that reminded me of mine back home. One that is covered under feet of snow and, at this rate, am likely to not see til August.

This is the planter that reminded me of  our toilet back home. It's also blue. Some may say "vintage". I just say "old and needs to be replaced." And you wouldn't catch me dead placing it in the yard sprouting elephant ear plants for all to see.

These are just some funky flowers I liked.

This one is called "Blue Tango." Cool name.

These trees have prickly personalities.They scream, "Don't mess with me!"

These giant lily pads are made of legos. Kind of random.

This is the flower that reminded my girls of koosh balls. Remember the 90's and koosh balls?

This path is a popular aisle for weddings. I was reminded of my lilacs back home. Which I won't see for ages.

This sign didn't scare me at all.

I mean, don't I look right at home cozying up to this little guy?

Really. Despite all appearances, I have never been more calm.

See? I am happy to be holding this guy. I could do this all day long. I could bring him home. For a pet.

No, that wouldn't go over well. I had a pet salamander once and he met with a dreadful end. 

This is a baby alligator's ear.

He also has two sets of eyelids. Reminded me of the creature from Men In Black that blinks two ways at Will Smith.  Creepy.

This is the air boat we took to spot more alligators. My seat was up front, on the edge. I felt adventurous and totally vulnerable.

This is the captain who manned the boat and told corny jokes to keep us entertained. For a minute there I thought I was in an episode of Duck Dynasty.

This is the big mama we stopped to observe. She looks happy and relaxed. She is also protecting her 23 babies tucked away somewhere in those trees.

This is the part of the tour where the captain said, "Are you all okay about snakes? If we see a kingfisher, then there are no snakes in these trees."

Please, Lord, make a kingfisher just appear. Please. I can't tell you how hard I prayed to see a kingfisher. Never in my life would I expect to do that. But I did. It worked. One kingfisher in sight. No snakes. 

This is the alligator that the captain beckoned to come and say Hi to us.

Just a little guy. You know. 12 or 13 feet long. No big deal.

Yes, please Mr. Alligator. Come closer so I can get a better look. (My feet were tucked way into the boat at this point.)

That's a marshmallow the captain tossed to lure this guy closer. Yes, please, Mr. Captain, drop them as close to the boat as you can. On my side. So I can get a real close look at those teeth.

Ok. You are just crazy.

 Really? Petting his nose?

At this point I went to my happy place in my mind.

Yes, that's much better.

Next day was the travel day.

My final hours in Florida included an extra long wait at the airport.

This is the last item of luxury I enjoyed before heading to the Frozen Tundra.

This is what I left. Lush. Green. Water. Sun. Mojitos. Delicious seafood. Dolphins. Wonderful fellowship with friends. Alligators.

This is what I woke to a couple hours later. No need to explain the difference.


Yep, I am really home.

Thank You, Lord, for a relaxing, fun, adventurous, blessed trip!