A letter to Baby #2

Dear Baby,

Your mommy, daddy, and big sister are so excited to meet you. We love you tremendously already. You, sweet little one, are an answer to prayer. (Many, many prayers!) We can’t wait to add you to our little family.

Well, I take that back. We CAN wait. You see, Baby, God is already teaching us and sanctifying us through you! And one of the things He’s teaching us is to wait. We waited months for the news that you were on your way, and it was hard. Every time I realized we had to wait another month, I grieved. I grieved for a potential baby that was lost. I grieved for the time that was lost. I grieved (more selfishly) because I wanted something and I didn’t get my way. I know many families wait and grieve like this for months and years, but I’ve learned that it’s hard whether it’s a month or a decade. God had a plan for our family, and His timing was specific. While we were waiting, He was teaching us to trust Him and rely on His plan. God didn’t want to just give us a baby; He had a specific baby for us. This specific baby required specific genetic material, and any different timing would have resulted in a totally different baby! God had us waiting for you, Baby, and you’re absolutely worth the wait.

The waiting wasn’t over, however, with a positive pregnancy test. Oh no, the waiting had just begun! We had to wait for the first doctor’s visit, the first ultrasound, hearing the heartbeat for the fist time, and finally feeling you move. We’re still waiting to find out whether you’re a boy or a girl, and we have months to wait before we can meet you. But I’m learning to enjoy the waiting. Instead of being impatient and looking forward to the next milestone, I’m trying to enjoy the here and now. I’ve loved every minute of being pregnant, and I want to enjoy it without rushing through to the end. I know now, as a second-time mom, that it all goes WAY TOO FAST! If I rushed impatiently through this pregnancy, I would also be rushing through your sister’s toddler phase. While I may be anxious to have you in my arms, I am in no hurry for her to grow up. So we’re taking things slowly, enjoying milestones as they come, and focusing on the present instead of keeping our sights set on a due date.

Waiting patiently is a valuable lesson, but it’s not the only thing God has taught me in the last few months. I’ve been learning to trust His sovereignty more and worry less. I’m not a worrier by nature, but motherhood has changed that! I never spent too much time meditating on Jesus’ teachings about worry, because I needed His help with other sins more. But lately He’s shown me that I do harbor worry in my heart instead of trusting Him. When I was expecting your sister, I didn’t have as many concerns and anxieties as I do now. Now, several years later, I know much more about miscarriage and infertility. I have close friends who have experienced loss. I’ve read more about pregnancy and potential complications. And this increased knowledge has increased my worry. It doesn’t help that my children (I’m talking to you, baby!) like to scare me senseless. At twelve weeks, both you and your sister hid from the doctor so she couldn’t find your heartbeat. Do you know how long the walk to the ultrasound room is when you’re not sure if your baby’s heart is still beating? Do you know how long it seems to take for the ultrasound tech to get everything ready? Do you know what a relief it is to finally hear that heartbeat? No, I guess you don’t, or you wouldn’t have put your mother through that! At least those long minutes leave plenty of time for prayer. It’s not easy to choose trust over worry, Baby, but God is teaching and I’m learning. And you’re helping with that process, for which I’m grateful to you.

Baby, we are praying for you. We’re praying that you will grow strong and healthy. We’re praying for your character, and that you will value honesty, kindness, integrity, patience, diligence, and perseverance. But, Baby, most of all we’re praying for your heart. You see, in our family, Jesus is most important. We’re praying that you would grow up knowing and loving Jesus, and that you would trust Him as your Savior at an early age. Baby, we want you to have a heart that above all else loves and treasures Jesus. We pray that you would grow up to care about God’s kingdom and His mission. We want you to live your life for Jesus, and not only for yourself. Baby, God has you in his hands and He has an amazing purpose for your life. Follow Him. Love Him. Serve Him.

Your parents are so thankful for you, and the blessing you have been to our family already. We love you and we’re so excited that God chose us to be your parents. In only a few short months your mommy and daddy (and sister, and grandparents, and aunts, etc!) will get to hold you in our arms and kiss your cheeks. Until then, grow strong; and thank you for teaching us and drawing us closer to our Father.

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A Prayer for a New Year

O Lord,

Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,

that I may not be one moment apart from thee, but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought, speak every word, direct every step, prosper every work, build up every mote of faith,

and give me a desire to show forth thy praise; testify thy love, advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year, with thee, O Father, as my harbour, thee, O Son, at my helm, thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt, my lamp burning, my ear open to thy calls, my heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me thy grace to sanctify me, thy comforts to cheer, thy wisdom to teach, thy right hand to guide, thy counsel to instruct, thy law to judge, thy presence to stabilize.

May thy fear be my awe, thy triumphs my joy.

(from The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Emphasis mine.)

A Prayer for Year’s End

O Love beyond compare,

Thou art good when thou givest, when thou takest away, when the sun shines upon me, when night gathers over me.

Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world, and in love didst redeem my soul; Thou dost love me still, in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.

Thy goodness has been with me during another year, leading me through a twisting wilderness, in retreat helping me to advance, when beaten back making sure headway.

Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead; I hoist sail and draw up anchor, with Thee as the blessed Pilot of my future as of my past.

I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.

If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation, thou wilt be with me in them;

If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation, I shall not drown;

If I am to die, I shall see thy face the sooner;

If a painful end is to be my lot, grant me grace that my faith fail not;

If I am to be cast aside from the service I love, I can make no stipulation;

Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial, as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.

(From The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Emphasis mine.)

Christmas Cookies (Part Two)

IMG_2890My freshman year of college was a really great year. I loved my school and my friends, and I had the world’s best roommate. When Christmas season rolled around, my roommate and I decided to do some holiday baking. We bought magazines and collected recipes, and one Saturday we took over my parents’ kitchen. Our recipe selections were very ambitious for our cooking skills, and several of them were total disasters. Sweet “carnival” cornbread that baked over the sides of the pan and made a gigantic mess in the bottom of the oven? Check. Braided egg bread with a cream cheese filling that didn’t rise and was hard as a rock? Check. Mint layered bars with real (gross) mint jelly that no one wanted to eat? Check. Despite our failures, we had a great time and somehow ended up with enough edible treats to share with our friends in the dorm. And one of the new recipes we tried was an absolute winner. I’ve made this recipe every Christmas since, and often at other times of year, too. It’s always a hit, because seriously, what decent Southerner doesn’t love red velvet? And who can pass up the flavor of red velvet cake in the convenience of a cookie?

IMG_2889The best thing about this recipe is that it’s so easy – it uses a cake mix!

Red Velvet Cookies

  • 1 box red velvet cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil

Mix ingredients together until smooth. (A stand mixer with a paddle attachment works much better than a hand mixer with beaters. Trust me.)

IMG_2892Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (Don’t skip the parchment paper – it’s really worth the effort! And from my experience, cookie sheets with air pockets inside just don’t get the job done with these cookies.)

IMG_2893This next step is very important! I forgot and skipped it once and the results were disastrous. (I take ruined cookies very seriously.) Using the bottom of a glass (or the palm of your hand) flatten the dough slightly.

IMG_2894 Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes until the tops crackle. These cookies are easy to burn, so watch them closely.

IMG_2896Doesn’t that look yummy? But wait – it gets even better! While the cookies are cooling, mix up the cream cheese frosting. That’s right. We’re going to ice them.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 stick butter, softened
  • 2 tsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar

Combine cream cheese, butter, milk, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until mixture is creamy. Gradually add confectioners sugar, beating until smooth.

Once the cookies are cool, frost away!

IMG_2898They don’t look perfect, but they taste wonderful. Christmas cookies don’t get much easier than this!

 

 

 

 

Christmas Cookies (Part One)

 Today, I felt like making cookies. Not just any cookies – oatmeal toffee cookies. I made these several times a few years ago, and they were amazing. I don’t know why I waited so long to make them again, but today I wanted them. The only problem was that I had lost the recipe! I thought it was in a family cookbook that my mom had compiled and given me, but nope, not there. I looked for it in the stack of recipes I’ve printed from various websites over the years – not there either. I couldn’t find it in any of my cookbooks. Where, oh where, did I get that recipe? And if I loved it so much, why didn’t I save it? What’s a girl to do?

Well, google it of course! After reading through several online recipes, I came up with what I thought was a close match to my beloved oatmeal toffee cookie recipe. I baked up a batch, and yes, they were as good as (or maybe better than) I remember!

IMG_2882Oatmeal Toffee Cookies

  • 3/4 cup (softened, unsalted) butter
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (one 8 oz. package) toffee bits (I use Heath Bits ‘O Brickle, not the chocolate coated Heath bits)

IMG_2881

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cream together butter and brown sugar, then stir in the egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then stir in the oats and toffee bits. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cookies have crisp, golden-brown edges.

This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies. Today, I just baked a dozen and wrapped the remaining dough in plastic wrap and placed it in the freezer. I’ll have cookie dough ready to bake when my Sunday School class begs for a treat or when I need a dessert to take to a Christmas party. Besides, if I baked all of the cookies today, all three of us would eat more than we should!

IMG_2884These cookies are so good! JD informed me after I started baking that today is National Cookie Day. Maybe my subconscious knew that and triggered my craving? Either way, I’m always happy to celebrate made-up holidays and eat cookies!

IMG_2887Oatmeal Toffee cookies are Piper approved!

 

Planning to be a Stay-at-Home Mom

When I was five and someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them about my plans to be a missionary/movie star/artist. (I wanted to travel to distant places to film movies, where I would paint the sets and tell people about Jesus while I worked.) When I was in sixth grade, I thought that maybe I should look into becoming a courtroom artist. (I still laugh about that one!) In high school, I wanted to be a doctor. By the time I got to college, I was smart enough to realize that I had no idea what I wanted to be. I considered international relations, nursing, and law before I finally settled into the education department and began preparing for a teaching career.

But all along, from the time I was young, there was a tension and a conflict that kept me from deciding on a future career. You see, what I really wanted was to be a mom. A stay-at-home mom. And I knew that my desire to stay home with my children was in conflict with all of those careers I was considering. But high school teachers and college professors don’t think much of a girl’s desire to prioritize a family over a career, especially if that girl is an honors student with a bright future ahead of her. I was told that I needed a high-paying job and a prestigious career to fulfill myself. I needed to be able to support myself. I needed to “do something meaningful” with my brains. I needed to make something of myself.

When I was a freshman in college, my dad, my sister, and I drove to Macon, Georgia to meet with a scholarship counselor. She was supposed to help us find other sources for scholarship money, but instead it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience. (A different blog post for a different day.) However, as we talked with her, she asked me what I wanted to do after college. When I told her that I was leaning toward teaching, she asked me why. In that moment I had a quick internal debate – should I tell her what she wants to hear, or should I be completely honest? Against my better judgment, I decided to be honest. I said that I wanted to be a teacher because I really just wanted to be a mom, and teaching was the career that seemed least in conflict with that desire. Well, boy was that the wrong answer! She went off on a tirade against my reasoning, told me I could do better than teaching, and mocked me for wanting to be a stay-at-home mom. I just sat there and tried to hold back my tears.

Her attitude, however offensive, was not abnormal – I encountered it everywhere. No one seemed to think that motherhood was a “career” to plan for. Everyone tried to push me toward a career that entailed years and years of school and long hours of work. At the time I didn’t realize that the battle I was fighting was actually against our post-modern culture. Feminism has spread so far and so deep, and it has greatly devalued the role of wife and mother. Few modern mothers prioritize their children over their careers. Call me old-fashioned, but I didn’t want to compromise in this area.

So, I kept my ultimate goal of being a stay-at-home mom in mind as I made decisions in college. When faced with the option of taking on a lot of debt or transferring to a different college, I transferred. I continued with my plan to become a teacher. JD and I got married, I graduated, and I wanted to go to graduate school. But grad school meant debt, so I put it off. I taught for a few years in two different schools – one job I LOVED and the other I HATED. And when we were ready to start a family, nothing was standing in our way. We didn’t have any debt. No student loan payments, no credit card debt, nothing. We were able to live on JD’s salary. And I was able to stay at home with Piper, which I wouldn’t give up for all the money or prestige in the world.

My best friend, Chrystal, has taken a different path but is still working and planning to be a stay-at-home mom when the time comes. When she finished college, she wasn’t dating anyone and honestly thought she’d never get married. So she started pharmacy school, but before long was dating a great guy and making plans for the future. They got married a few years later, and Chrystal graduated from pharmacy school in May. Most young couples with two (very good) incomes would be living it up – vacationing, buying cars and a house, enjoying the fruits of their labor. But Chrystal really wants to be a stay-at-home mom as soon as possible. She and her husband are living modestly off of his income and throwing all of her salary and any extra money they have toward her student loan debt. In a few years they’ll be debt free, accustomed to living on one salary, and prepared for Chrystal to stay at home with their children.

I write all of this as a reflection on my journey to becoming a stay-at-home mom, but also to encourage other young women. If you desire to be a stay-at-home mom, plan for it. Keep yourself out of debt. Make college and grad school decisions with your end goal in mind. Don’t listen to anyone who thinks motherhood is not a good career choice. Ignore the pressure to find success and prestige in a degree or a salary. Our culture says motherhood has little value, but don’t listen to that. It’s the most important job, and the most rewarding. I promise you, if being a stay-at-home mom is your desire, you won’t find fulfillment in any other career.

Only in Alabama: The Coondog Cemetery

Remember the scene in the movie Sweet Home Alabama where they sit in the coon dog graveyard and mourn the death of their dog and the loss of their relationship? Did you think that was just another made-up, stereotypical insult to Alabamians? Well, friends, I have news for you. It’s real. It exists. And I’ve been there. Twice.

My first adventure at the Coon Dog Cemetery was on Christmas Day, 2008. JD and I went to eat lunch with his grandparents, and we found ourselves driving them around northwest Alabama, visiting their favorite places. We saw where Grandad was born, the house Grandmom grew up in, the cemetery where Grandad’s sister was buried, and the schools they had attended. And then, without warning, it happened. I found myself (on Christmas Day, in a dress and high heels) stepping out of the car and into the Coon Dog Cemetery.

We read the grave markers, and JD’s grandparents knew stories about some of the dogs. Grandad told us about family gatherings at the Cemetery when he was younger – where the men would “sand the creek” to catch fish and the women would bring large “wash pots” to cook them in. Apparently, in this family, the Coon Dog Cemetery was a sacred spot. As if to prove it, JD took me to see the tree where he and his cousins had carved their initials when they were kids.

Y’all, I’m not making this up.

When my parents, Piper, and I went to the Rattlesnake Saloon a few weeks ago, we realized that we were only a few miles from the Cemetery. How could we go home without stopping by and paying our respects? How could I let my parents miss out on this unique spot of Alabama history? How could I not introduce Piper to a place so dear to her family?

So, I found myself once again stepping out of the car (this time in jeans and Toms, thankfully) and into the Cemetery. I didn’t have JD’s grandparents with me to tell the stories, but I was fortunate enough to find a brochure. Let me share a few of the more interesting quotes and excerpts with you.

“In a small, grassy clearing, deep in the rich, thick wilderness of Freedom Hills, Key Underwood sadly buried his faithful coon dog, Troop. They had hunted together for more than 15 years. They had been close friends.”

Good old Troop’s grave is surrounded with flowers and other tokens of remembrance. He was the first dog buried at this site, and the most beloved.

” ‘When I buried Troop, I had no intention of establishing a coon dog cemetery,’ said Underwood. ‘I merely wanted to do something special for a special coon dog.’ “

More than 200 coon dogs from all over the United States are buried in the Cemetery now, and there are strict requirements to qualify for burial. The dog must be an authentic coon-hound with witnesses to verify its lineage and an inspection by a local coon hunter’s organization.

“A spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunter’s Association summed it up this way: ‘A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.'”

Key Underwood, Troop’s owner and the Cemetery’s founder, when asked about allowing other breeds to be buried there, responded: “‘You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs, if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs.'”

The graves of these authentic coon hounds are well-marked. Some with homemade markers:

And some with fancy headstones:

If you think you’re up for a visit to the Coon Dog Cemetery, might I recommend going on Labor Day? Every year the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunter’s Association hosts a Labor Day celebration honoring the deceased dogs. You can celebrate by listening to music, eating barbecue, dancing, and witnessing the legendary ‘liar’s contest.”  You might even see JD’s grandmom and grandad there — they’re regulars!

www.coondogcemetery.com

Coondog Cemetery on Facebook