January 10, 2016

August Birthday Boys

Whew...still catching up on 2015...I hope in heaven we get to review all our precious memories from life here on earth, because time is speeding by WAY too fast down here!

We have two birthdays in August. Seanin turned 2 (on the 14th) and Zaden turned 4 (on the 24th). We had a simple family party for Seanin. Our cousins from Omaha had homemade pizza and cake with us. (Charis made the cake!)

Then on Zaden's actual birthday, which coincided with the first day of public schools in our area, we decided to go to the Omaha Zoo! We got a military membership, and it is a fantastic deal! We had his birthday party the next day, since on Tuesdays there was a discount at a local bounce house play place. We spent about an hour and a half letting the kids bounce off the walls there (ha!) and then came to our house for lunch and cake. Charis made this cake as well--from scratch, and it was amazing!

Simple & Sweet Summer Memories

Charis learned to drive! So strange to see our (then) 14yo daughter in the driver's seat! She started in her Grandma J's Subaru and graduated to our big beast of a van. We figure if she can drive that, she can probably drive anything! We live in a state that allows 14-year-olds to drive, but she can't get her license until she turns 16. Lots more opportunities to practice!

Adding to her skills, Charis received instruction from the Pie Crust Master (aka my mom!) and made us a number of delicious pies. Every now and then she comes to the kitchen and says, "I think I'll make a pie." I LOVE this girl!

My friend Erin and her three daughters came to visit us! We met this family while we were in Ohio. As Erin is originally from Iowa, she asked if she could pop over for a visit when she was out this way visiting family. We were thrilled to get to share lots of time and conversation with her and her girls, who were great friends of Charis. They have all grown up so much!

My  mom's cousin Pat had some health issues and ended up spending some time in a nursing home very close to us even though she lives in a different city. It was fun to walk over and surprise her with flowers and a card for her birthday!

What a joy to live closer to family! All my first cousins on my mom's side live in Omaha, and we've been able to get together a number of times. Ben and Reema's girls, Maelin and Joyella, have come to spend the night with Kenna several times. On one such occasion we taught the girls to make our homemade pizza recipe. They were quick learners and have apparently made it a number of times for their family!

OK, I confess I still have not learned to tell the girls apart...and now that it's been some months since this picture was taken, I can't remember which of the girls told me she just LOVED to chop vegetables, but I do remember telling her that I would hire her!! That would make my job in the kitchen so much easier, lol.

Our church hosted an Amazing Family Race at the local park in August, and event our kids had looked forward to all summer!

There were a variety of stations with different tasks for the teams to perform.

Lo and behold...our clan came in first! Our prize was a Ladder Ball game for the backyard!

Soon after winning the Amazing Family Race, we had a backyard picnic and put our new game to use!

Zaden decided he didn't need naps...

And then there was the time Seanin found baby Rhema's little pink pants and put them on, apparently thinking they'd be perfect shorts for a chunky toddler...

...and then lay down on the floor to cry when I insisted he must take them off!

We received a precious care package...this beautiful bowl from dear friends of ours we met during our time in Napoli. It has a prominent place on our counter and reminds us of the sweet fellowship we experienced during our overseas tour.

Family Photo Shoot

On a lovely August evening we had another photography session with the talented Melissa Pennington, who captured our sweet baby girl before she left that precious newborn phase!

Isn't she sweet, our little Rhema Riyel? :-)

I was thrilled that we got some nice shots of the whole family, too! Considering how many of us there are, I am especially impressed with our new photographer friend! She is a mama to 7 kids herself, so I suppose she has had a lot of practice getting multiple people to look toward the camera, lol.

And these precious, intimate photos...I love the delight reflected in the faces of the older kids! I framed these shots to give to Tobin, Charis, and Arden for Christmas. And I know I'm biased, but there's pretty much nothing else that can warm my heart like seeing my handsome man love on his children.

My heart is full. I never thought I'd be a mama of many, but I'm so thankful that I am.

January 02, 2016

Bible Bee 2015

For the fourth year (not consecutive) our family participated in the Bible Bee program over the summer. The studies have varied from year to year, from 10 weeks to 12 weeks to, this most recent year, 6 weeks from start to finish (which happened to work beautifully with our overseas-move-and-new-baby kind of a summer!). The older 4 kids did independent work on their Bible studies, working their way through the first 6 chapters of the gospel of John and memorizing 12 passages of Scripture (roughly 50 verses total). I would have liked for our family to have done more study time together, but I was just not able to manage it with the tail end of an exhausting pregnancy, trying to finish unpacking and settling in, and then of course having a newborn to care for.

Still...it was a wonderful opportunity to dig into God's Word more, and though 8-year-old Kenna especially could have benefited greatly from some more specific guidance, it was still a growing experience even for her. This year all the contestants tested online--NO local testing centers or oral recitations to be judged. So we were able to set up our laptops in different parts of the kitchen and test our four kids here at home.

We did invite some folks from church and the neighborhood to come over the evening before so that the kids could recite 6 of the 12 passages before an audience, an on-your-honor requirement in order to qualify for Nationals. It was fun to share with others some of the hard work the kids had invested throughout the summer.

A week after the testing date, folks met at their "local host" location for some Bible Bee activities and to learn who had qualified to compete in the National competition, which was to be held in San Antonio in November. When we registered to participate in the Bible Bee, the "local" host we were assigned was from Kansas City!! It was hard to believe that no one closer to us had volunteered to host! (We plan to be hosts ourselves next year!)

But joining with the group in Kansas City for their local celebration event actually worked out really well for us:

1. Our Suburban, which we had shipped in APRIL, finally arrived in the States (delay due to the ship catching fire and having to return to the original port for inspections, etc.--thankfully our vehicle was not affected by the catastrophe).  The pick-up location happened to be in St. Louis.

2. We have very dear friends, Craig & Mimi H, who live in the Kansas City area!

So, due to the timing of retrieving the Suburban, plus the fact that we could stay with the H family, we planned a little road trip and enjoyed visiting with our friends plus being part of the local Bible Bee celebration, where we learned that Charis had qualified for Nationals for the second year in a row!

It was a fun trip, despite Rhema being pretty high maintenance at that time...due to her stalled out weight at the two-week check-up, I had had to focus almost exclusively on feeding the baby and helping her learn to nurse efficiently, a process that took several weeks and had me on an emotional roller coaster as my milk supply went up and down. But we were still able to travel, and it was neat to see the kids get to participate and meet some other Bible Bee folks.

Kenna recites a passage during the primary optional oral round.

Tobin and Arden with the other juniors.

Charis and the seniors.
The event in Kansas City was August 8. Nationals were the week before Thanksgiving. Qualifiers had additional memory passages plus the next 6 chapters in the book of John to study on their own. Since Charis had also qualified last year--when we were still living in Italy--this was her second year to be able to attend. (She and I flew together and met Ted's mom Rhonda in Orlando, where the event was held last year, and it was an amazing experience! Not only did we three "girls" have a blast spending time together, but we also got to meet up with two different sets of missionary friends!) We really wanted our whole family to be able to attend and worked hard on our budgeting and planning to make it happen. I'll write about that in a separate post...

December 28, 2015

The Story of Rhema, Part 3: The Arrival!

As with our 3 previous babies, we had at least a couple of occurrences during which we thought we might be heading to the hospital only to have the contractions wane. But July 15 we suspected we were finally getting close! I had awakened several times during the night with painful contractions but was able to fall asleep and get a fair amount of rest, considering. Ted chose to stay home from work just in case, and it's a good thing he did! While the morning was quite slow, starting around 11:30am I had a few breathtakingly painful contractions that had us scurrying to grab our bags and head to the hospital.

Rhonda was already with us, having arrived the evening of the 4th of July to be available in case of an early delivery. My mom was planning to drive out closer to the due date but had agreed to come before that weekend of the 18th, as Rhonda had planned to go to Montana for a family wedding. The timing was such that we were able to take Charis to the hospital with us, leaving Grandma in charge of the other kids. It was a blessing that she had been with us long enough to know the kids' routine, so they spent a pretty normal day at home!

Meanwhile, Ted was speeding down the highway to get us to the hospital, as my contractions were about 3 minutes apart and pretty intense. I think it was somewhere around 12:30 or 12:45pm when we arrived and took this picture:

Shortly after this we were ushered into the first L&D room (my status as being-pregnant-with-number-eight undoubtedly had something to do with this, lol), where I was somewhat dismayed to hear that I was only 5 cm dilated. Ah, well. Enough time to visit the restroom another time, anyway. The nurse who did my IV line set-up was close at hand when I tried to settle back onto the bed only to be overcome with a huge contraction. I tried to stand up to deal with the pain, and as I leaned on her arm, I gasped, "Is it possible that it's time to push already?!" Because that's what my body wanted to do!

Things happened in a flurry after that. Rhema was about ready to make her entrance, and the only thing that slowed her down was the fact that she was face up like her big brother Lucan had been! However, unlike during my labor with Lucan, I was not numb from the waist down, so I was actually able to more effectively push our little girl right out into the delivery room. It did take a fair amount of pushing, probably about 50 minutes or so. Definitely longer than I would have hoped, but when all was said and done, the natural delivery was a success, having hurt less than I remember it hurting with Kenna or Zaden. Whereas the doctor had had to use a vacuum with Lucan, we needed no other intervention with Rhema's delivery. But like her big brother, she arrived with some distinguished markings on her forehead indicating her sunny-side up arrival! (Even now at 5.5 months she has a pronounced red mark on her forehead, although we assume it will eventually fade.)

I had a minimal number of stitches, and the recovery from her face-up delivery was so much better than it had been with Lucan. I can't help but wonder if perhaps that labor and delivery would not have been so difficult and traumatic (25+ hours total with 4.5 hours of pushing) if I had not gotten the epidural with him? Ah, well, it's in the past...

Rhema and I got to enjoy some beautiful bonding time immediately after she came out. I was so thankful the staff weren't in a hurry to whisk her away and clean her up. In fact, they didn't even weigh or measure her until after she had nursed for awhile.

Welcome, Rhema Riyel!
Born July 15, 2015, 1:55pm
7 pounds, 9 ounces, 21 inches
Rhema (Greek, pronounced RAY-ma): the specific word of the Lord
Riyel (from the Hebrew Ariel, pronounced Rye-YELL): lioness of God

Because of having tested positive for Group B strep, I had to stay in the hospital 48 hours, which was honestly fine with me! It allowed us to get Rhema's lip tie taken care of, and while I didn't rest terribly well, it was at least nice to have that extra time to recover enough so that I would have the stamina to face the welcome-home herd, lol! Rhema has lots of adoring fans, that's for sure!

Big sister Charis was so thrilled to be able to witness Rhema's birth!

Proud big brothers Tobin and Arden

Grandma J...this is the first time Rhonda has been able to hold one of our babies in the hospital! The soonest she has seen any of our babies was after Lucan was born and she drove from CO to Las Vegas and saw him at about 2-3 days old.

Lucan and Zaden are pretty smitten!

Ted attended an ALS graduation dinner the night after Rhema was born. He stopped in at the hospital on his way home so he could see his girls!

My mom drove from Wisconsin right after she got the news and was able to spend a morning with us at the hospital right before we were discharged to go home.

At home there was a warm welcome for our new wee one! Kenna's words right before I took this photo, when I asked the kids to look at the camera and smile: "I'm looking adoringly down at her." Indeed, lol!

The Story of Rhema, Part 2: Some Specific Answers to Prayers

As I mentioned in the previous post, Rhema's due date of July 20 actually turned out to be pretty good timing after all. Instead of being in the middle of an overseas move, we were already more or less settled into our new home by the time July rolled around. I had even been able to get an additional ultrasound to ensure the placenta had moved (it was quite low initially) and see a new OBGYN a few times before the expected delivery date.

All in all the pregnancy had gone about as well as can be expected, considering I was a 40-year-old! I had experienced quite a bit of nausea in the first 14 weeks or so, but nothing too terrible, and while the varicose veins that appeared all over my right foot and ankle were (and still are, sigh) rather unsightly, the discomfort was minimal when I wore a compression sock.

As we got things in order in our new home, we finally began to feel somewhat "ready" for the arrival of a new wee one. (Do you ever feel completely ready?!)

You'd think we'd have this down "pat" by now, but I freely confess that I always battle anxiety and fear in the days leading up to the birth. God is always faithful, and His mercies flow unceasingly. Here are a few of the precious little ways He showed Himself in the arrival of our sweet girl...perhaps some of them seem insignificant to others, but they are to me an outpouring of my Lord's RHEMA words straight into my heart--numerous specific ways Jesus ministered to my heart and drew me even closer to Himself through His tender care and attention to details that mattered to me.

1. After having an overseas baby, I desired for our parents to have the opportunity to be part of this new little one's arrival. Both grandmas were able to spend time with Rhema and me in the hospital.

2. Since Charis had attended the births of Zaden and Seanin, I desired for her to be present for the birth of her baby sister as well. I will forever hold dear the memory of her bouncing with excitement on the left side of me, bringing me water when I needed a drink and cheering me on. "Oh, Mama! I can see her head! She's almost here!"

3. As always, I felt completely uncomfortable and awkward in those final days. I did NOT want to go past my due date; the previous 4 babies had been anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks earlier than their due date. Rhema arrived on July 15, five days before due.

4. Related to the above note, the OBGYN had discussed inducing me if Rhema was at all late because of my "advanced age." I am SOOO thankful that was not even an option. God be praised, I have never had an induction!

5. At my 36-week check-up, the swab showed that I was Group Strep-B positive, which meant the "preferred protocol" involved giving me IV antibiotics to "decrease" the chance of infection in the baby. This had happened with Seanin also, but I declined the antibiotics. I planned to do the same thing this time around, despite the AF doctor's stern warnings (she was nice about it but rather stubborn!). Well...even if I had WANTED the antibiotics, the labor and delivery was way too fast for me to have gotten them anyway! Four or more hours of labor while antibiotics drip into my system?! No, thank you!

6. Ted and I often talked about how our babies seemed to choose the dark of night to either arrive or else begin the labor process, resulting in a very tired papa falling asleep by the bed during mom's laboring. We joked, couldn't we just once wake up after a decent night of sleep, have our quiet time and breakfast, and then decide, "Hey, maybe we should head to the hospital" and have a baby in the afternoon! Guess what?! We had a decent night of sleep, had our morning quiet time and breakfast, headed to the hospital just after noon, and Rhema was born before 2:00pm!

7. While I desired a drug-free delivery, I was nervous...Seanin had been 9 pounds and was not at all a quick delivery. It was nighttime before we arrived at the hospital with him, and I had already been contracting for a number of hours, so I was exhausted. Having an epidural with him felt like a necessity to me. But Rhema came quickly, so the decision of whether or not to get an epidural was out of my hands!

8. After having nursing issues with the previous two babies, and learning that lip ties had played a significant role, I wanted to have Rhema checked immediately after birth. Though we couldn't tell initially, after about 24 hours of nursing her and having pain, the lactation consultant agreed with me that Rhema's frenulum was thick enough that it was causing a poor latch. The doctor was able to do a quick little clip about 40 hours after birth, and there was immediate relief. Though we had some nursing issues later on, they were not related to the lip tie, and I really didn't have any nursing pain after this.

9. Related to her nursing problems...again, God's timing was so incredibly perfect. Rhema arrived in the middle of the summer, so we had quite a bit of time before we "needed" to begin our school schedule. This was a blessing, as I had to help Rhema learn to suck properly to get the nutrition she needed to gain weight. The whole process took about 6-7 weeks, and if Rhema had been born at a different time I may have been trying to juggle the full-time job of feeding the baby PLUS trying to keep kids engaged in school...which would not have lasted very long, I'm sure.

10. Rhema's middle name...we went for quite awhile without knowing what to call our sweet girl. I'm not sure exactly when I thought about pairing "Rhema" with "Riyel," but once I did think about it and mentioned it to Ted, it just seemed to fit. Shortly before Rhema was born, I messaged my friend Christine Duncan to ask her about using her singer name Riyel. Her response to me, as well as her joy in responding, confirmed that we should use Riyel as Rhema's middle name. Her words to me were: "Beverly, how incredible! It is actually a misspelling (which for me, when I realized what I had done, was beautifully symbolic to me) the actual word is aRiyel or Ariyel - yes, like Ariel from Little Mermaid. It is Hebrew for "Lioness of God" which is a title for Jerusalem in Scripture."

The Story of Rhema, Part 1: The Back Story

It was the fall of 2011. Zaden was a needy infant (if you don't know our backstory with Zaden's weight loss and feeding issues, you can check my blog archives from Sept and Oct 2011), and I was an exhausted mother of 6 trying to keep things together at the front end of a year-long deployment. It was not a season of life that allowed for ease in picking up and leaving the house for a Bible study, so I eagerly and gratefully accepted the opportunity to do an independent study of Priscilla Shirer's Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted study at home, watching the DVD sessions on my laptop and doing the daily studies in my own workbook. The topic seemed especially pertinent to my life at the time!

During one of the video sessions, Priscilla talked about the Greek word rhema, meaning a specific word from the Lord. I had learned about this word a few years prior, during a ladies' Bible study of Beth Moore's, John, the Beloved Disciple, and I actually remembered being struck by the subject matter to the point of making notes in my own Bible as I listened to the instruction.

Anyway, there I was...sitting in my kitchen, nursing baby Zaden, taking notes and listening to Priscilla talk about how Jonah had received a rhema word from the Lord, a specific message from God. And suddenly I knew God was putting a rhema word in my own heart. I "heard" the message, clear as day: There will be a girl, and her name will be Rhema. It was so clear I actually stopped the video and sat with my heart pounding for awhile. What?! I was so overwhelmed just trying to keep up with the day-to-day needs of the 6 children we had...I couldn't even imagine having another baby then or ever.

I journaled about the experience in my private prayer journal, recording my thoughts and reactions, and I prayed much over it, but I didn't tell anyone until Ted was home a few months later for his two-week R&R time. We prayed together about God's plans for our family but held this close to our hearts.

Life moved on. We made it through the rest of our year-long separation, welcoming Ted home in May of 2012. We eagerly embraced our new adventure: moving overseas to Naples, Italy, for our next assignment. Amidst the flurry of life in a different country, we learned another child would join our family. I assumed this was our little girl Rhema, about whom I felt God had told me more than a year previously.

But...ha, ha! The ultrasound revealed we were having a BOY! And I knew God had given us Rhema as a girl's name! So, as we welcomed to the family our chunky little boy, Seanin Gabriel, I filed away the thoughts, questions, and perplexity I was feeling at the time. After reading and teaching Richard Stearns' book The Hole in Our Gospel, I wondered if perhaps God would lead us to adopt a little girl someday, and perhaps HER name would be Rhema.

But as you probably already know, God knit Rhema together in my own womb in His own perfect timing. A week after I had completed the Athens Marathon in 2014, I took a pregnancy test and wasn't terribly surprised to see that it was positive. The due date of July 20 seemed rather puzzling to me--we were scheduled to move in August 2015, and moving overseas with a newborn did not sound appealing. With that thought putting a bit of a damper on things, Ted and I kept the news to ourselves for awhile, waiting to surprise the kids and Grandma J with an announcement on Christmas morning.

As always, God's timing proves to be ever so perfect...what we didn't know when we saw those two pink lines was that God had already chosen for Ted to be assigned to a squadron command job that would begin at the end of May, causing us to have to make the overseas move nearly 3 months ahead of schedule! And not only that, but the Lord gave us an assignment in Nebraska, smack in the middle of the country with our families located about the same distance away from us in either direction!

Honestly, we know by now that we can trust our good and gracious Father God. Sometimes we may wonder while we wait, but we KNOW His ways are perfect!

A couple of months after we started sharing the news, an ultrasound confirmed what I suspected to be true: this baby was a GIRL! And I felt peace that she was indeed our little Rhema whom God had planned all along to be a part of our family, just as He knows each and every one of us from ages past, before the foundations of the earth were laid. What an amazing God we have!

June Highlights

June 2015...

...receiving the rest of our household goods from Italy and storage...

...unpacking, organizing, settling into our beautiful, Victorian rental home...

...finalizing the purchase of a custom, 11-seat van to accommodate our growing family...

...meeting new friends, joining a new church, adapting (somewhat) to a new locale...

...attempting to create some structure to our days by staying mentally sharp with math lessons and Bible Bee activities...

Library with bay window looking toward the front yard. Isn't the stained glass lovely? And those built-in shelves!! Love them!

Gas fireplace in the library...looking toward the front entryway and main staircase.

Family room with sun room behind the large window.

Formal dining room

View from the front door

Back yard

Inside our new (to us) van! Twelve-seat customized to 11-seat (two captain chairs instead of a front row bench). Lots more room for growing legs!