Friday, June 23, 2017

teen and toddler

I have a boy who makes me nervous when he runs down steep hills because his wee, little, still chubby legs get going so fast that his body can hardly keep up and I feel a tremor of fear that he'll wipe out big time.

I have a boy who puts in his own contact lenses and leaves for the weekend with a friend and his family to go watch baseball in a beautiful resort town in Colorado.

I have a boy who gets so tired from his days at day camp, aka VBS, that he needs to be in bed by 7 pm and requires lots of mama snuggles and books to get him from 2:30 to bedtime.

I have a boy who goes from day camp to a job mowing lawn, pulling weeds, and weed whacking to a weekend away with friends with plenty of energy.

I have a boy who requests the same book over and over and needs to go in a stroller on long walks and requires my help in the bathroom.

I have a boy who emails me updates on his weekend away and takes a trip to Mexico with me to build a home with Casas por Cristo.

I have a boy whose biggest concern is what's for breakfast and how many books he can read before bed.

I have a boy who is finding his place in the world and navigating friendships and internet usage and the beginning baby steps of making his own big decisions.

I am parenting these two very different stages, plus two more in the middle, and it is beautiful and tiring, challenging and fabulous, all wrapped into one. They share a special bond, my teen and toddler, my oldest and youngest. They have a special handshake and elbow bumps and hugs before bed, books read cuddled on couches and beds and baseball in the front yard, a tackle game that no one else understands and a love of bopping the balloon. Seeing them together for the first time almost 4 years ago sent me right over the edge of love and amazement, and seeing them now only confirms that God gave us just what we needed when our cuatro joined the family.

There are times that both of them are crabby. At the same time, you guys. Toddler and teen crabbies at the same time are not cool. Hormones and toddler-iness are more than a person should have to handle in the same 30 second period. I mean, the audacity of these boys! Those are the times I want to hide in the bathroom until things calm down out in the wild habitat of my living room, but that really isn't a long-term solution. So I wade in and do my best to handle the situations without joining them in crazy town. Sometimes I succeed and other times I take the short and well-worn highway to crazy town until one of us finds our footing and sets us on the path back to the land of chill.

We're all learning. We're all finding our way. These boys of mine will be men someday. I take that responsibility tremendously seriously. For one of them, that day is fast approaching, which makes me so proud and also so prone to vomiting. For the other, I'm thinking solo bathroom trips will precede the transition to manhood, so we have a few more years. Thank goodness.

At any rate, being mama to these boys is one of life's greatest honors. My teen and my toddler. My oldest and youngest. Two pieces of my heart and soul walking around on earth for all the world to love and wound. What a gift.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Two adventurers and a photo bomber

On Saturday, we dropped Audrey off with my mom so they could fly north to South Dakota to spend four days with my grandparents. My mom, who had her trip planned for a few months, called Wednesday to see if Audrey could join her, so it was a very last minute decision for our family. Audrey is in her own little version of heaven on earth with projects galore to do to help Grandma and Grandpa, s'mores to roast over the bonfire with the lake in the background, and uninterrupted time with three grown-ups and no other children. It's seriously so many of her favorite things.

Hence the name of the blog post!
We miss her. There is no one here to reign us in, help us toe the line, create silly games, and set the table at lunchtime. She is our voice of reason, our silly sister, our great helper, our grandiose communicator, and our feeler of all the feels. 
And they're off! How cute are they!?

I am so thankful that she has this time with my mom and my grandparents, who are truly more like a bonus set of parents to me. How fortunate I am to be loved so well by so many. Audrey is doing many of the things I did while growing up close to my grandparents, so I know these memories will mean the world to all of them.

We're holding down the fort with all things baseball, Isaac starting his summer jobs, and the start of swim lessons. It is a break from the regular school year, but we still do math every day and we continue to read fiction and non-fiction because we are hardcore book people. To illustrate the point, our library has a summer reading program and the summer long goal is 8 hours of reading per person. The program runs from June 1-July 31. Isaac is a teen volunteer at the library, so his goal was to sign up for a volunteer shift on June 2 so that he could read the entire 8 hours before his shift and get all of the prizes on the second day of summer. Mission accomplished for Isaac.

Our Sunday was spent with church, baseball pictures and practice, soft toss and nerf gun in the front yard, grilling, dinner on the deck, bedtime stories, and a little NBA finals.

With public schools out in our state, summer is in full effect here. What's your favorite summertime activity? Happy summer!

Thursday, June 1, 2017


I have this sweet side gig that pays me lots of money to write. Hahahahaha!! Good one, DeNae. Rather, I relish the opportunity to write for our church's daily devotions that get sent out by email every Monday through Friday. The devotion writers are told which verses they are to write on, but that's pretty much the only criteria. It is a wonderful opportunity to write and dig a little deeper into some bible verses. I love to read what others write, and I really appreciate the chance to write periodically. I figured I would share my devotions on the blog, too.

Without further ado, today's devotion.

Thursday, June 1, 2017
DeNae vanWestrienen, Sugar and Spice Sister in Christ
OPENING: An appropriate beginning to each day is to remember your baptism by making the sign of the cross on your forehead.  Dip your finger into a bowl of water, make the sign of the cross on your forehead and say the words "In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen."
BIBLE VERSE FOR TODAY: 1 Peter 3:8-11 (from The Message)
Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless-that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing. Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, Here's what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you're worth.
A BRIEF THOUGHT ABOUT THE LESSON:   There are plenty of bible verses that I pore over 20 times, and they still leave me scratching my head as to what they really mean and how to apply them to my life. Then there are verses like 1 Peter 3:8-11. The apostle Peter laid it out plainly here in a letter to persecuted Christians throughout the ancient world, and I actually find myself wishing for a little uncertainty. But, but. . . all of us? No exceptions? No sharp-tongued sarcasm? No retaliation? Like ever? Impossible! Bless? Only bless? No holding grudges or mumbling sarcastic jokes? How can God really expect that of us?
If I'm honest with myself, I'm a generally loving, optimistic, and generous person with a bitingly sarcastic streak and a penchant to hold a grudge. Therefore, these verses are speaking to both the "sugar" and "spice" aspects of my personality. And, continuing with the honesty theme, when my days are spent retaliating, using sarcasm as an insult, and speaking hurtful words, I do not leave space in my day to welcome love and peace and joy. I'm too busy focusing on anger and hurt and difficulties. On the other hand, when I look for love, peace, and joy, when I "run after peace for all (I'm) worth," I find it. In fact, I find it right in front of me, where God had it all along.
After reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, I purchased a sign for our living room wall that reads, "eucharisteo always, always precedes the miracle." In plain English, that means thankfulness always comes before the blessing. The blessings are waiting for us, but we can only see and receive them when our eyes are open to them. As believers of Christ, we are called to be different from the world. We are set apart because of the love and grace of our Savior. All of us. No exceptions. Even when we're having a bad day. Even when the baseball game starts in 30 minutes and the uniform is soaking wet in the washing machine. Even when we get a flat tire on the way to that doctor's appointment it took 4 months to get. Even when the world crashes around us and leaves us gasping for air and grasping for hope.
We bless and we are blessed. We let go of our anger and sarcasm and evil and run toward peace and redemption and love. We don't do it once and consider it done. We do it again and again, day in and day out, dying to our flesh and leaning on our perfect God. All of us. No exceptions.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER: How can you make more space in your day to receive and make note of the blessings in your life? What are the "sugar and spice" parts of your personality that these verses speak to?
PRAYER: Glorious and ascended Lord, give us your Holy Spirit so that we can be your faithful witnesses in all the world. Lead us to be observant to all of the beautiful blessings around us so we can more eagerly serve as blessings to others. Amen.
MEALTIME PRAYER: Lord God, thank you for loving us, feeding us, and caring for us. Your praises we shout, and your name we bless. Amen.
A BLESSING TO GIVE: May God make you complete, steady, strong, and firm as you witness to Christ in the world. (1 Peter 5:10)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Play Outside!!!!!!!!! Turning a mistake into a time to learn aka the time I didn't lose my cool

On Thursday, I was hauling our big tomato plants from the family room out to the deck for their time in the above 50 degree sunshine, since we live in a place that requires we baby our tomato plants more than our toddlers. I'm kind of joking, but with the incredibly short growing season and the hail, the elk and the rocky soil, I'm also kind of serious. Anyway, I was dealing with tomato plants when I heard, "uhhh. I just wrote on our dry erase board with Sharpie."

Background: Each day in the summer I make a list of the things the kids need to do before they can play outside. It's stuff like chores, math, instrument practice, and writing. Elliot asked if he could add play outside to the end of the list, and I happily obliged because more handwriting practice is A-OK in my book.

I replied, while holding my big tub o' tomato plants, "you're kidding, right?" As you can guess, he wasn't kidding. I headed toward our dining room/school room expecting to see Play Outside written in nice normal-sized letters. That did not happen.

Play Outside!!!!!!!! was written in bright pink sharpie on our gigantic dry erase board that a friend sold to me for $20 and we love to use for our homeschooling.

We immediately thought it was ruined, which seriously bummed all of us out. Elliot felt terrible. We tried wet paper towel and a magic eraser while Audrey asked Monsieur Google for ideas. As our attempts failed, Elliot felt worse. To get him giggling, I complimented him on his nice penmanship, on the proper use of a capital letter to begin the sentence, and on his very excitable use of many exclamation points. We talked about sentence type, exclamatory and imperative with the implied you as the subject, to get him thinking about things he'll study in Essentials next year.

By this time, Google had advised that we take a dry erase marker and go over the sharpie in thick strokes, erasing while still wet. We gave it a whirl. All hands were on deck to copy over the letters. This was great fine motor practice for my littlest guy and the original sharpie use.

Each pass of the dry erase marker and eraser improved the board slightly, so we were actually hopeful this thing was salvageable. About 30 minutes later, and all that was left was a slight pink tinge covering most of the board, but it definitely lived to see another homeschool lesson.

This was an honest mistake. In the hustle and bustle of the day, I know that I roll my eyes too often or breathe deep, annoyed, huffing breaths too often. It was probably my first inclination on this day, too. But I didn't, and I'm so thankful for that. Some nights, after the kids are tucked in and I'm reading a book in bed, I look back on the day and realize I expected perfection in situations where kids were just being kids. How irrational is that?! I'm sitting here racking my brain for a single day in my many years of life where I have lived perfectly, and I'm coming up empty. Mistakes happen. People mess up. We hurt each other. We act in ways we shouldn't. We are impulsive. In short, we are humans. As parents, we expect our kids to do their best, but we also tend to forget that they are little humans traversing a big world with lots of rules and expectations and that they will falter just as we do.

I'm reading a book called Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus. How about this quote? "Pure, unadulterated, consistent love for God and pure, unadulterated, consistent love for others is the summation of all the law God has given us in both the Old and New Testaments. Of course, the problem is that we never obey these simple commands. . . .Even though our children cannot and will not obey God's law, we need to teach it to them again and again. And when they tell us that they can't love God or others in this way, we are not to argue with them. We are to agree with them and tell them of their need for a Savior."

I often point to my child's behavior instead of pointing to our (our meaning the kids AND the grown ups in the family!) need for a Savior. It's a huge distinction. And maybe it's a bit of a stretch to go from sharpie on the dry erase board to forgiveness of sins, but seeing that slightly pink dry erase board serves as a nice little reminder of the day I kept my cool, saw a mistake for a mistake, and loved my kid through it. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

this kid

I have never felt so unprepared for something in all of my nearly 40 years. I have spent 13 years parenting small humans, and the oldest one is now almost as tall as me, and the youngest one still needs help getting on the toilet, and I am so out of my league. When pregnant with Isaac, I read parenting books and went to all of the classes and obsessed about accidentally riding a roller coaster at the McLeod County Fair while about 4 weeks pregnant.

Then they put Isaac on my chest and, while I was in no way an expert, I could just love and snuggle and instinctually feel my way through motherhood. More kids and older kids meant new challenges, but we worked through them. Please don't read that we worked through them seamlessly. I cried and ranted and raised my voice and questioned my ability to do pretty much every single thing. But, we kept on chugging along.

Now I'm looking at this one teenager and this girl about to be 11 and this boy about to be 9 and this youngest one who still needs help on the toilet, and I really see how short a time I have with them and how fast they will be grown up and how tender their hearts are and how brave their souls are and how easily tender and brave souls can be busted open for the world and by the world. For the world and by the world. One small word changed, but that one small word changes everything.

I tucked a kid in tonight. Prayer. Song. Chat. Then, all of a sudden, tears. I gently asked what was wrong. "I'm just so sad for all of the people who don't have people who love them." This particular kid has a heart of gold, a heart for loving others and more empathy than a little person really knows how to handle.

We talked about adoption, homelessness, thieves, family, murderers, church, kidnappers, Christ, foster care, hunger, lack of drinkable water, alcoholism. We talked about loving others, saying goodbye to people we love, serving others and being served so we are well enough to keep serving, having fun so life isn't all about fear and worry and sadness. We talked about God and Satan and shining God's light and courage and fear. Other kids came into the room to see what was taking so long and we sent them away. This was important. This was deep soul work and deep soul work requires time, hugs, and Kleenex to wipe away the many tears. But mostly time.

This kid has so much to offer and is so quietly, unassumingly strong. Bending with the wind and wilting in a storm, this kid comes back stronger, roots stretching deeper, back a little straighter. How did I get chosen for this grand honor of watching this kid grow? I want so much for this kid. This kid has so much to offer to this hurting, beautiful world. Please, world, don't bust this kid up. I know you're rough around the edges, but be gentle enough that this tender and brave soul can be busted open FOR you, not BY you. You need this kid. We all do.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Finding my way from disappointment to joy

A few years ago, I ran a marathon that I wasn't proud of. The training was a train wreck, I wasn't physically or mentally healthy, and my end time reflected both of those realities, but still left me completely bummed out and doubting myself as a runner. Ever heard that running is 90% mental? Yeah. True story. Except maybe it's 99% mental. Since then I've struggled to find my happy place while running. Since then I've also felt like I needed a "redemption marathon." I guess I thought I needed to prove something to myself. To that end, I signed up for the Colfax marathon for May 21, 2017. Yesterday.

I started training for it and things were going well enough. I was getting my long runs in, but not being as consistent with mid-week, shorter runs due to parenting duties, Jim's travel schedule, homeschooling four kids, and generally being a grown up with responsibilities. I assume almost all of you reading this know what I'm talking about. Being a grown up is just so much less exciting and freeing than I imagined it at age 7! At any rate, I was still feeling good about training. Then I went to Mexico with my oldest son to build a home with friends from church with the organization Casas por Cristo. That meant I missed two big runs, an 18 and 19 mile run. I was sorry to miss the long runs at a key point in training, but would also do it a million times in a row for the experience I got to share with my son, people from church, and a truly amazing and deserving family from Mexico.

I tweaked my training schedule and set out for my 18 mile run on the Saturday I got back from Mexico. I had my route planned, but was dreading the run from the very start. I drove to Flying J ranch to get the show on the road, started running, and just stopped. It was a gorgeous morning, the temperatures were perfect, I was healthy, but I just didn't want to run 18 miles by myself. I just didn't want to. So I decided not to.

There are plenty of things in life that we have to do. DMV. Laundry. Wash the dishes. Gynecological exams. Here I was dreading running, which, by the way, is something I choose to do for fun and for release and relaxation. If I am dreading it, it has fully lost its joy and just becomes another thing I *have* to do instead of something I *get* to do because I love it and it clears my mind and helps me feel strong and capable.

So I just didn't run 18 miles that day. Instead, I hiked for about 2 hours on the beautiful trails I intended to run and assessed my goals. How important was this marathon to me? Why did I even think I needed a redemption marathon in the first place? Would training for this marathon add to my joy or detract from it?

After a few weeks of soul searching, I decided the marathon wasn't that important to me, I didn't need a redemption marathon because my first (and only, so far) marathon was the very best marathon I could have run that day, and continuing to train would only detract from my joy and love of running. These decisions didn't come easy because I psychoanalyze myself to a fault and took just enough psychology classes to be a danger to myself. Annoying. Plus, I felt like a loser for dropping this race. Also annoying.

I finally started telling some friends that I wasn't doing the marathon, and a few of them were kind enough to inform me that I could drop to the half. (I should also note that none of them taunted me and called me a loser for not running the full. We really are stupidly hard on ourselves!) Well, I can run a half any day, which is both a blessing and a curse, since a person really should train for 13.1 miles, but since having a fourth child, I just never do anymore. So, instead of running a full 26.2, I dropped down to the 13.1.
Race day. Downtown Denver with the Rocky Mountains in the background
That happened yesterday. I'd love to say that I trained well and consistently for it, but that would be a big, juicy lie. Instead, I showed up with no goals or expectations other than to finish. Thankfully I wasn't shooting for a great time because I forgot my watch at home. Whoops! Therefore, I just got into my corral and ran a pace that felt good. I figured that if it started to feel hard, I'd slow down, and if it started to feel easy, I'd speed up. Novel idea, huh? Listen to my body and do what feels good.
It's go time. My corral inches closer to the start line.
I ran my slowest half marathon (2:18), ran a negative split (second 6.5 miles was faster than the first by a hair), didn't run with a single person I knew, had no family of friends to cheer for me or meet me at the finish line, and loved it. It felt good, comfortable, fun, and easy. I shouted thanks most of the volunteers. I looked at all of the animals during the mile that took us through the Denver zoo. I gave high fives to all of the kids. I smiled my biggest smile for all of the race photographers in hopes I'll have a nice race photo. I had fun. That little word, fun, has been missing from running lately. I hope yesterday's race serves as a long term reminder that run and fun belong together.
Happy runner earns cool medal.

Friday, March 17, 2017

the beauty of possibility

Moving to a new state with four young children, moving 1,000+ miles away from most of our family and all of our friends to a state where we knew literally three people, was difficult. When I say difficult, I am under-exaggerating to the thousandth degree. There were many times I questioned not only our decision, but our actual sanity. The most difficult part by far, as in like 84,539 miles, was seeing how it affected our daughter. At the time, I kind of hated myself for doing that to her.

Today my spectacularly awesome and sometimes sassy daughter got picked up by a friend's mom to go to a homeschool day at the roller skating rink. When I told her about the invitation, her face transformed into joy. It was so beautiful. She went with two friends from our homeschool group and I imagine giggling and jokes in the car. I imagine more giggling and silliness at the rink. I imagine her coming home tired and happy.

I really couldn't have imagined that smile and friendship and sense of community two years ago when we were living in a rental house and not sure about a homeschool group and searching for a church and not sure if anyone would accept one of our nine offers on eight houses and clueless about where we would live. It was a mess. An absolute mess. We were off the charts stressed. We also believed we were in the right place for our family. On paper, that makes no sense. In our hearts, we believed we were in the right place, even when it was messy and painful and downright awful. Yet here we are two years later and we are making our way. We still miss many of our favorite people in Minnesota and miss being closer to family in Michigan, but Colorado is our home. We have started to create community here. We have friends here. We have new jobs here. So much has changed in a little over two years.

None of the positive or negative changes take away from the love and friendship we miss in MN. Instead it adds to our life experiences, it enriches us, it challenges us, and we grow. In fits and starts, sometimes drowning in rain and sometimes scorching in sunshine, we grow.

Am I recommending a cross-country move to the great unknown for everyone? Ummmmmm. NOPE! I'm recommending we all stretch ourselves a bit now and again. I'm recommending we think about why we're here, what we're made for, and what makes us giddy. I'm recommending that we're open to the possibility of good in the unknown. Because down the road, new friends are waiting. New opportunities are calling your name. There might even be roller skating. And it's scary and beautiful and bonkers and good.

Are you a creature of habit or do you routinely stretch yourself? Have you tried something new lately?