...with a husband and 5 sons, I am truly outnumbered....stories and thoughts on life from a mom in a houseful of little men!

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Story About a Dog

This has been more than just the death of a pet.

Just a few weeks after setting foot on Alaska soil, I pulled up to the old Knik-Goosebay Post Office. It was still "old Wasilla" in "old Alaska" back then.  The post office was a glorified shack with rotting, wooden, ramshackle steps leading up to the front door.  Inside, there was only one tiny room with worn carpeting.  Behind the counter was a space about the size of a walk-in closet, and that was where the post mistress worked.  She always wore jeans and an old (the same one?) plaid shirt and had a wad of keys hanging from her pants' loop.  There was an enormous old poster of Jesus with his arms outstretched, hanging on the back wall.  

I was feeling melancholy and without direction that day.  The job I'd secured before moving to Alaska had not turned out as I hoped, and I had quit.  It was an ugly separation.  I wondered what we were doing.  Why were we here?  Getting out of my car, I saw some wriggling under the front steps.  What a sweet, little ray of sunshine it was to see two tiny puppies on that day.

She was the brave one.  Libby cautiously stretched out a gangly puppy paw, and then another, and pulled herself out awkwardly from the dust and weeds.  She kept her eyes on mine the entire while, with an expression of relief that there was someone there to help her.  I looked around.  There was no one but me.  I scooped her up, and coaxed her litter mate to come out as well.  Inquiring of the post mistress inside, who seemed only mildly concerned and nearly nonchalant, as if it was normal for people to dump puppies under the steps.  I put those puppies that I was already smitten with, into the backseat of my car, and drove down to Settler's Bay to ask more questions.  As I drove, the pups proceeded to climb under the seat into the front with me.  They emptied my purse, and got into the mischief that only two wiggly puppies can muster.  The nearest homes were at least a mile away.  I met some kind people, but nobody had a clue about two Alaskan Husky puppies.   Most looked at me with a sympathetic expression reserved for cheechakos which said, "In Alaska, Honey, dogs get dumped."  I took them home.

We already had two dogs.  They had traveled 3,000 miles with us up the Al-Can, just a few weeks prior.  They finally were settled in their freshly-built pen, and we were freshly-settled into our rental.  We rented from some dear and wonderful elderly folks.  They were kind to us, and treated us like family, but they did not want more dogs on their property.  I had made the decision I was not parting with those puppies.  My amazing husband was willing to pull up the stakes and move across the Valley, to another rental that was ok with us having four dogs.

Because we had moved across the Valley, we found All Creatures Vet Clinic nearby.  I began working there shortly after our move.  It was comprised of some amazing people, that original group whom remain loved by us to this day.  These people took us into their hearts, as we learned that what we'd read about Alaskan hospitality is true.  We did life together, with all our imperfections.  Eventually, we pulled up stakes once again, literally moving into All Creatures' upstairs apartment.  We rebuilt our dog kennel in the horse pasture there at the clinic.  

sweet Libby on the far right, with her pals, in the days she got along with everyone!

The rest is history.  Our dogs were our kids during those days, and they were. spoiled. rotten.  We spent hours with them--petting and playing and feeding and grooming and even brushing their teeth!  We took them out for walks, and set ourselves up with skijoring gear.  We stuffed them in the back of our truck and took them running on trails, all over the Valley.  Good days.

Libby was the happiest in a harness, pulling me on skis.  Tiny as she was, the girl had energy, strength, and stamina.  That was what she was bred to do, and she was good at it, though the musher that had culled her from his dog lot obviously hadn't thought much of her potential.

After all that time of treating our dogs like children, we learned we were going to be the parents of a REAL BABY soon.  At the birth of our first-born son, we moved out of All Creatures, into our newly-built home down Knik Goose-bay.  It was just a half mile from our original rental.  Our family continued to grow, and the dogs became more of what dogs probably should be--our dogs, rather than our babies.  We have loved them and cared for them and introduced our sons to them.  Dogs have been a constant in our lives.

Time has yielded growth in so many ways.  The community has grown exponentially over the 15 1/2 years since we first found those sweet Post Office puppies.  The old ramshackle Post Office is now four times the original size, with new everything, several employees (but not the original,) and all the official raiment.  Our family has continued to grow in size and number.  Our dogs, however, have lived their prime, then aged, and have passed one by one until just the post office puppies have remained.

Libby lived out her prime running and being loved by us.  She was not a model dog.  She was actually quite a bad dog in many ways.  For several years between puppyhood and her elderly days, she had to be housed in a separate pen, or she would pick fights and injure our other dogs, including her own litter mate.  She had her faults, but when we brought her home, we promised to take care of her and see her through.  We have learned and grown so much from being pet owners, especially being owners of a "bad dog".  A bad dog teaches a person loyalty.  We loved our sweet little bad dog.

As her health has faded in the last couple years, Libby has been able to be penned with her litter mate again.  They've lived their days, two old codgers, with arthritis, blindness, and deafness.  Our other three dogs all passed on their own here at home when it was time.  These two "puppies" have kept going and going....and we've found ourselves wondering how long to let them go on.

When it was time, the answer was clear.  Libby was suffering.  She could no longer get up on her own, and was in constant pain.  I confess I prayed and asked God to help her die in her sleep.  I didn't want to make that decision.  I didn't want to take her away from her home to end her life with an injection.  But ultimately, that is what we had to do.  Except, it was much different than I had imagined.

On Saturday, after making a bed for her in the back of our van, Tony scooped her up, let Chuggie lick her face, and then carried her out across the yard to the vehicle.  I will not soon forget that scene.  Her legs hung limp like they had hung when she was a puppy and Tony had carried her just that way.  She had a look of relief and trust on her face.  I recognized that look, and realized it was the look she had when she first crawled out from under those rickety post office steps.

Despite the fact she's always loved car rides, as we drove off she struggled a bit in the back.  We talked her through it, she calmed down, and rested peacefully.  We arrived at All Creatures early, so I went out and sat on the trunk with Libby while we waited.  She looked at me and shivered.  I covered her up, breathed in deep, and exhaled with many tears.  As I sat in that parking lot, so many memories flooded in.  It was quiet.  We were mostly alone.  I looked around at all the familiar things--the trees, the fence, the kids playing in the yard next door.  I heard the familiar sounds, and breathed the familiar air.  Libby did too.  Then I realized, this was home to her as much as our house down on Knik.  Almost exactly fourteen years earlier, we took her inside this same building.  She scrambled up the steps along with our other four dogs, and we celebrated Christmas.  So much has happened since then.  So much change.  So much growth.

Our name was called.  Tony came out and carefully scooped up Libby in her blankets.   Our dear, then-boss-now-friend came in and gave me one of the hugs that only she can give.  For the first time in her life, Libby would not take a treat.  She would not lift her head.  She just peacefully laid on the table and trusted us to do what was best for her. 

When a pet dies, it is sad because you loved that pet. It is equally bittersweet though how your eyes are opened to how that pet weaved into a certain time & season of your life. When you say "good-bye" to your pet, you are also letting go a certain chapter of you life. 

 It's been a good chapter.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Peace For the Moment

A stray sunbeam glinted off his little blonde moppet this morning, his eyes squinting and facing the heavens, as gold whirled all around him.  There was pure wonder and admiration in his face--soaking it all in--this miracle of the seasons changing was not lost to him.  I looked at him through the upper-story window, fuller-than-full with the beauty of it all.  I wanted to capture it on film, but to try would mean to miss the moment entirely.  So I just stood and soaked it in.  Sometimes, we just need to be still.

We need to seize moments like these.  Amidst the whirling and twirling and never-ceasing of life demands, these times can easily go unnoticed.  How many moments do I miss?  While I'm staring down at the vacuum I'm running, or on my knees scrubbing misses around the toilet?  When my eyes are pasted to a page or a computer screen, and a little voice (or 3 or 5) beckons, will I look up?  If the house becomes quiet because the smallest occupants seized the moment and ran out into the rain, will I run out and join them?  Will I choose to do this, or will I just be held captive by the noise and worry in my own mind, missing moments all the while?

I never knew life would be like this.  I never knew it would be so beautiful and yet so messy and so, so unrelenting.  There are so many people and things to love and yet life is also full of constant demands, full of noise.  I never knew the noise would surround me but also clamor in my own mind, from the moment I wake until the moment my eyelids close again at day's end.  I never knew I would need to be intentional about finding moments of solace--to breathe, to pray, to think straight.   Furthermore, I never knew that "solace" would come to mean something so different as I went through various stages in life.  What once required a solo trek to a mountain top, now must be accomplished surrounded by a din that threatens to level the place.  I do not wish for things to be different.  I do long for me to be different.  I long to be molded and changed so that peace will come easily no matter my surroundings. 

Thoughts tumble around in my mind like those whirling, golden leaves.  Not all the thoughts are quite so beautiful.  Some need be snatched up, like my sons jumping and reaching up to catch the leaves before they hit the ground.  They need to be snatched up and held captive and made obedient to the One who stands like a solid, immoveable rock at the center of my whirling, chaotic life.  Sometimes there's so much floating around that I can barely see Him, but He never moves, and He never changes.

Everything else changes.  There's a change in the air in my life, in my family.  I feel it stirring, though I don't understand what it will look like, where it will lead.

"From where I'm standing
Lord it's so hard for me to see
Where this is going
And where You're leading me
I wish I knew how
All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out"
-Casting Crowns

When the leaves cascade all around and down, they seem to just land wherever.  I don't just want to land wherever.  Just as I need to be intentional about seizing moments or taking thoughts captive, I want to be intentional about where I'm going.  As I wait for the winds of change to happen, I also need to be intentional about living fully here now.

I need to trust that what ought to be, will be.  I need to trust that what's supposed to be now, is.  I need to soak it all in, be still, and yet be ready to move when He says, "Go."

"If there's a road I should walk
Help me find it
If I need to be still
Give me peace for the moment
Whatever Your will
Whatever Your will
Can You help me find it"
-Sidewalk Prophets

Friday, August 23, 2013

Little Things

There is a little country, far, far away from our home here in the wilds of Alaska.

photo Tara Elrod                                                                    

 Like our home, it is full of beauty, and full of beautiful people.
photo Tara Elrod                                          
 It has captured our hearts ever since that day in 2010, when devastating waves rippled under its foundation, demolishing buildings, families, and lives.

Our hearts were tendered toward this little country we knew so little about, and after praying for peace, for salvation, for hope, for healing, for restoration, and for so many other things, my little boys and I tried to think of how else we could help.  We started a little project to begin giving to these unknown, yet loved people.

First project completed, and it seemed like so little, and yet we trusted in the One who can multiply the fishes--that He takes our little offerings and miraculously uses them to fill unimaginable needs.

Over two years have gone by, and Haiti has not left our hearts.  The boys bring it up every so often.  It enters my mind every so often, too.  Most recently, this happened as I prayed my heart out this past April, for acquaintances of mine.
photo Tara Elrod                                                                      
This local couple traveled to Haiti for three weeks, in order to volunteer their time and skills for Midwives for Haiti.  Essentially, this organization teaches "Haitian men and women the skills that make them skilled birth attendants."

You see, the things we take so for granted here in our country, such as sound perinatal care in clean, comfortable, safe environments, with access to advanced medical equipment if necessary, is not so easy to come by in Haiti.
photo Tara Elrod                                            
photo Tara Elrod                                           
This is not exactly where I would want to birth my baby.  And yet, women are thankful to have access to facilities such as this.  If safe, sanitary conditions are lacking, there is also a great need for trained persons who can safely, competently, and compassionately care for and aid women throughout pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.  In 2010, the World Health Organization estimated a 1 in 28 chance of dying in childbirth in Haiti.  Enter Midwives for Haiti:
photo Tara Elrod                                                                    
Our acquaintances shed blood, sweat, and tears in April as they worked to serve families and to train midwifery professionals. They realized, first-hand and daily, the extent of the need for midwifery training.  Tara writes, "There is a continuous need for professionally trained midwives to give their time and money to help precept Haitian women in midwifery skills. They need our support and for us to share our knowledge and skill. Global health is our responsibility as human beings, and right here, right now, women and babies are dying unnecessarily.
I was told that here in Haiti you learn as much as you teach, and your life is never the same.
True words."

photo Tara Elrod                                         
 The Elrod's were able assist and to share in many incredible births, with healthy outcomes.

photo Tara Elrod                                           
They were also part of many which ended in only pain.
photo Tara Elrod                                            
"I was sad that fetal death is obviously so common here that no one as much as sheds a tear about a lost baby.  That really makes me sad.  I know they could do better," says Tara.  She goes on to say, "So sad for the situation here. But with the anger and the sadness, I also know that as bad as things are here, change and improvement has been made, exponentially. I have to hang on to that and not lose sight of that. Great things have been done. We have been told that 6 years ago people came to this hospital TO DIE. There were NO midwives, and the hospital cleaning ladies would do the deliveries. There was NO hope. And now, just a few years later, midwives have been trained and hired and there are at least SOME skilled attendants. There is SO much room for improvement, so many things that could be done better. But we cannot forget that strong and permanent change comes slow. We need to remember that regardless of how horrible some things may seem, care for mothers and babies in Haiti has improved and will slowly continue to improve."

And so she plans to return next month.  Because it can be better, and there's good to be done.  There's good to be done, and we all can be a part of that, if we choose!
photo Tara Elrod                                             
This little guy is sporting a cozy li'l hat, all the way from Alaska.
photo Tara Elrod                                                                    
Many items were sent along with Elrod's in April.  The needs are great, and the items were all given out pretty much immediately.

Our family has begun a new project to assist Tara as she returns to serve in September.  We've been working on purchasing items to put together similar baby gift bags.

The day we decided to do this, 10-year-old Eaglet had a number of completed gift bags in mind that we should shoot for.  We prayed and asked God to provide.  He's doing awesome things, cuz He's just like that.

Would you like to be part of this project?  It may seem a little thing.  But our God is awesome, and He cares about little things...especially little people....  He takes our little offerings and multiplies the goodness that can be done.  Maybe you've been looking for just this type of opportunity.  Should you decide to join with us in this not-so-little, little thing, we would happily, thankfully receive any amount of donation you feel led to give.  All monies will be used to purchase items for baby gift bags, to be sent next month.  Just think--your donations would be worn by a beloved Haitian baby within the next month.  Please leave a comment, personal message me, or call us.  God will use our little offerings to send hope to Haiti.
photo Tara Elrod                                                                       

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How Can This Be?

Thirteen years.

Thirteen years ago, this son of ours made us parents.

I was completely clueless as to the immense joy and pain that accompanied the little bundle in my arms.  I had felt the changes beginning as his heart beat away so beautifully in that secret place...before he was born.  But the day he was born...the moment he was born...something new was born in me too.  And something else began to die.

As I carried him in my womb, life was overwhelmingly, nearly completely about me.

How I was feeling.  
How my body was changing.  
The things I wanted to obtain for my dream of having this new baby. 

Of course I thought about him, and dreamed about him, and loved him desperately.  I wrote him letters, talked to him, and played him songs.  I changed my diet to better nourish him, exercised, slept more, and made all my prenatal visits.  I also loved his daddy, my husband.  But to be truly honest, I must see and say that my life revolved mostly around myself.

"Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."           1 Timothy 2:15

Miraculously, marvelously, with thanksgiving, I am saved from eternal death by faith in Jesus.  So what is up with this verse in 1 Timothy?  While I think this verse points to a couple of things, I believe one of these truths is that through mothering, we are saved from ourselves.  Please don't stop reading if you've never experienced childbirth...

Mothering is amazing and full of unspeakable joy.  It is also hard.  Crazy hard.  It requires every last bit of strength you have, along with the realization that no matter how strong you are, it is not enough.  Supernatural strength required here.  This is what I mean when I say that when my son was born, I began to die.  I had to admit to failure.  I could not do this on my own.  I couldn't even do it with the help of other people, even though that help is welcome and necessary.  Bottom line: I had to begin to let go of the self-preserving hindrances that keep me from desiring to give of my life for others' good. 

In His wisdom and mercy, God has used motherhood to gradually give me desire to live for the good of others.  So, in His wisdom and mercy, He has also used motherhood to kill my selfishness.  This paradox of dying to live is a repeating theme, isn't it?  I may as well disclose right now, that my selfishness is not yet dead.  Oh it's dead spiritually...as far as the east is from the west...ever since the day that is emblazoned on my heart and mind...when I realized God wanted me....and I said "yes."   But those sinful habits, they run deep, and this dying process is slow. Yet I see victories, and I love Him so much for working those in me.   

I am so grateful that He gave me this little-guy-turned-young-man for helping to teach me these things.  Unknowingly, by his very presence and needs, my son works alongside His Creator to teach me that life and death are so intricately related.  Indeed we must die...to live.  This is true in so many ways.  This is the truth that creation is screaming over and over and over.  I want to hear this.  I need to hear this, over and over and over.  

All of our children work with the Creator to teach this to us all.  All of our children--whether born of our own body, or from another.  Whether living in our homes under our care, or in our lives by some other means.  Biological child, adopted child, grandchild, niece or nephew, neighbor child, Sunday School student child....they are all screaming this over and over and over.  We must die a little, bend a knee, and bend an ear to hear it.  Not all screaming is loud, you know.  But if we are women we were made to mother, in one way or another.  We must hear this message, so that we may live.  


 Happy 13th Birthday, "Wise Bobcat."  We couldn't be more proud of the young man you've become.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Several people have been asking, so here's the latest on the adoption train.  We've reached the point in our adoption process where there is very little update to give.  Paperwork has been completed and approved and sitting with our representatives overseas for several months now.  It's been a year and a couple months since we sent out that first packet of papers which set it all into motion. 

Of course our hearts had already been set into motion for quite some time.  Still, it was a big deal to take those first "real" steps.  I remember taking these photos for posterity...thinking how appropriate it was that the flower bulbs were just beginning to stretch up through the dirt.  We were just beginning that process ourselves, in a sense.
It was exhilarating...and also so very frightening to be stepping out of our safe, warm earth-of-sorts.  

Throughout this past year or so, we've continued to take a lesson from those plant bulbs.  We just slowly, methodically, patiently keep pushing through.  At times this is easy.  At other times, it is difficult.  In either case we just enjoy this beautiful, messy, blessed life we're privileged to live.  

Daily we look into five sets of breathtaking, summer sky-blue eyes...

...and daily we dream of the breathtaking, chocolate brown eyes that we haven't yet had the honor of looking into.

Eyes of a child who was thought of and planned for and loved before the existence of time.  Just as I was thought of...and planned for...and loved.  Just as you were thought of...and planned for...and loved.  (Do you know that?)

What amazing love is this.  

And so, we wait and pray...continue to build up funds, and all the while we live this blessed life with all it's goodness and challenges.  We celebrate this week especially, but every day of every year, the sacrifice that was made to show us what true love really is.  

Friday, March 08, 2013

Chubba-Bubba Zachy Zu

Our little man has been fighting ear infections this week, and takes some serious power naps.

 Makes my heart sad that he's not feeling well...but I surely cherish him sleeping so soundly that I can watch him rest so peacefully...

Friday, March 01, 2013

Art Therapy

The last couple of months in Boyland have been less than typical, but then what is typical for us, anyway?!  Still dealing with, and frustrated over health issues and illness in a few of us...but also resting in the fact that we're doing what we can and trusting God to give wisdom and healing in His good time.  With friends struggling with cancer in husband and cancer in children, I really cannot complain.

I.   really.  cannot. complain.

This is true, and we count our many blessing, yet we still find ourselves in a bit of a funk lately.  Our schedule has been turned somewhat upside-down, with needing to run for several appointments per week.  The dandy schedule I was so in love with of (sing along with me...) ...morning routines, breakfast, morning chores, lessons, lunch, tot naps, afternoon lessons....has fallen apart, and we all find ourselves with a hefty case of spring fever on the side.  The Picky Monster has also crept in a bit.  Do you know him?  He manifests in brothers picking on brothers, and brothers being reluctant to show grace toward brothers, and mother playing Army Sergeant to said brothers, and subsequently, brothers AND mother in picky, malcontent.  I've been fighting against this Monster all week, praying all throughout the day, and singing this song at the top of my lungs at times to keep my mouth from saying anything less...umm...holy.


This morning as I dragged myself bounced out of bed and began to pray and prepare for the day, I decided we needed to ditch the other lesson plans and roll out some art supplies. We've been reading Holling C. Holling's Pagoo (LOVE Holling!!) and so I thought a hermit crab project was in order.  Luddite that I tend to be, I do love the internet when it comes to needing a quick project idea.  I found a great blog for art projects, and chose a modified version of this project.

My boys dig art.  They really do, even though Spunky Cub doesn't look like it in this photo!  And, as we happily waded through paper, paper plates, sponges, poster paints, chalk, and watercolors, I was asking myself WHY have I not done this more with my boys this year?!  Per the boys' delightful, pleasant conversation, you can see we had some serious Art Therapy goin' on:

"Oh look!  He's using all dots!  That's like Monet!  
"Oh no....not Monet, he used watercolors...you're thinking Niebrugge."  
"Ohhhh yes...Niebrugge. 

"You guys?  When I grow up I'm gonna have a whole room just for ALL my art stuff."
"You mean like an art studio?"
"YES!  I'm gonna have an art studio."

"HEY GUYS!  We should see if Mommy & Daddy would take us clamming this spring!"
(insert chorus of YES!!!)

"I just LOVE doing this.  I just want to learn as much as I can about sea creatures.  I mean, I just always spend my time studying about all sorts of historical figures..but I really should also spend some of my time learning  about sea creatures."

I do believe I saw the Picky Monster, bags packed, heading out the back door.

The coolest thing about doing projects, is that while we're all using the same materials, and following the same instructions, we get such wonderfully different results.  LOVE THAT.

So as you can see, my wonderful husband was right when he responded to one of my recent please- help-me-gain-my-sanity-e-mails: "Remember Scarlet Jessica, tomorrow is another day.  The sun will be shining, the snow melting…."