Monday, July 30, 2012

Worth the Sacrifice

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3:1a). 

My stomach gets huge when I’m pregnant.  I’m sure you’re thinking, “Duh, whose doesn’t?”  But mine gets unusually large compared to the size of my body.  In fact, by the end of my pregnancies, my stomach can’t expand any farther so it has nowhere else to go but out... to a point.  It’s quite comical. 
After 15 hours of labor with Ben--emergency C-Section after 27 hours of labor 7/21/08

In fact at only 6 months pregnant, strangers would say things to me like “due any day?”  I even had one couple at Wal-Mart staring at me and ask “Are we going to need to call an ambulance for you any minute?”  You should have seen the shocked look on their faces when I told them that I still had 3 more months to go.  And if their horrified expressions weren’t enough, they also said, “How is that even possible?”

Right before Abby's C-Section 8/1/11

Yep, you’ve got to love people who have no social boundaries.  Let me take a minute to share some advice:  The polite thing to ask a pregnant woman, if anything, is “When are you due?”  And that’s only if you are absolutely 100% sure that the woman is even pregnant.  I laughed out loud at a Jimmy John’s when I read a plaque on the wall that listed some 50 year old guy’s list of 16 things he had learned about life.  Number 10 stated:  “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”  I think those are wise words for us all.
Let's face it, we women sacrifice our bodies for our kids.  Why?  Because we love them.  The love that I had for both of my kids the minute I found out I was pregnant was so much bigger than the morning sickness…the constant hunger…the throwing up…the constant nausea…the “I have to have foods with flavor”…the “I have to have foods with no flavor”…the “I’m going to vomit if I go down the sauce isle at the grocery store”…the “I’m going to vomit if I even think about sauce, say ‘sauce’ or even type the word ‘sauce’”…the “I’m going to run to the bathroom because I’m going to throw up but nope, it’s just a giant sneeze” (did anyone else have that?)…the “I’m so big that I can’t bend down to pick anything up so is it worth the energy even trying?...the “I’ll just pick it up with my toes then”…the “I have to go to the bathroom every three seconds”…the “I can’t roll over in bed without some unusual grunting noises”…the “I can’t even peel my body off the floor at 5pm to make my family dinner because I’m so tired and don’t want to make anything with sauce so maybe they wouldn’t mind having potato soup again”…the puffiness…the swollenness…the varicose veins…the incredibly slow walking, I mean waddling…the “I have to pull my maternity pants down when I sit because even those are too tight on my stomach”.  But, none of these things mattered.  Uncomfortable?...yes....annoying sometimes?...yes, but worth it?...yes!!!
Both of my pregnancies were an amazing answer to prayer.  And despite all of the uncomfortableness that went along with each one,  it was all worth having the privilege of having a human being growing inside of me…moving…kicking…hiccupping…rolling…twisting…turning.  It was awesome.  And even more amazing was getting to meet my son, my first baby, Benjamin Alan Leeb (8lbs. 8oz. 20.5in. long), on July 21st, 2008. 

And then a little over three years later, (almost a year ago), I got to meet my daughter, my little “Boopy”, Abigail Elizabeth Leeb, (7lbs. 8oz. 19in. long), on August 1st, 2011.

Both of my kids are incredible gifts from God and I love them so much.  My love for them is bigger than anything else in the world.  If you can even imagine this, God’s love for us is even bigger than the love that we have for our own children.  Did you get that?  It’s even BIGGER!  We are His children and He loves more than we can imagine. 
How do we know that God truly loves us that much?  Sacrifice.  Yes, we have made and will continue to make sacrifices for our children, but every sacrifice we make is worth it because we do them out of pure love.  So did God.  God is our Father, and He made the ultimate sacrifice for us.  He gave His life for us through Jesus because He loves us!  He loves us.  He loves us so much that He wanted us to be free from our sins.  But the question is, will we make His sacrifice worth it?  The answer is entirely up to us!
This week, I pray that we will make the sacrifice of Jesus worth it.  How?  We can live in the freedom that His sacrifice brings.  Live our lives knowing that God loves us no matter what we've done!  No bad day, no bad attitude, no amount of anger or frustration or worry or doubt or shame or fear, no struggle or addiction, no sin can stop God from loving us.  Only satan's lies will make us believe that His sacrifice meant nothing.  So let's choose to let our Father's sacrifice for us be worth it to Him by letting go of our past, letting go of who we used to be and accepting our Father's unconditional love.  Believe it.  Live it.  Today!

Dedicated to my baby girl who turns one on Wednesday.  Happy 1st Birthday, Abigail!  Mommy and daddy are so thankful for you!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Apples of Forgiveness

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.”  -Ephesians 4:32

~I reached over to grab a few more animal crackers, and all I felt was fur!  I was playing with my six month old, Ben, who wasn’t yet crawling.  We were just sitting on the floor with some toys.  I was snacking on some animal crackers that I had in a tub next to me.  When I went to grab some more, I realized that our dog’s entire head was stuffed into the container.  I yelled at him.  “Rugby, NO!”  Rugby was an eleven year old miniature schnauzer we had adopted only a year before.  He was so sweet and sensitive, and he normally didn’t give me any reason to be upset at him, but those animal crackers were organic and from Trader Joe’s which was two hours away! I could tell he felt terrible.  His head, tail and ears were down, and he came over to me in a very apologetic way.  I pet him and forgave him, but he seemed to still be sad that he had made me angry.   I didn’t realize how badly he felt until later that night.   My husband, Brad, let Rugby outside for the last time before bed.  When Rugby came back inside, he dropped something on the floor in the family room.  It was an apple.  He brought me an apple from the apple tree outside--obviously one that had fallen to the ground, but how precious? Perhaps he had noticed that I ate an apple with my lunch nearly every day.    He had never brought in an apple before that moment and he didn’t bring one in after that either.
~What a thoughtful gesture for Rugby to do to apologize for taking my animal crackers.  That seems to be the only logical explanation for why he brought me that apple.  He wanted to make peace with me, and he asked for forgiveness the only way he knew how.  Is there someone in your life right now that you might need to bring an apple to?   Is there someone you need to ask for their forgiveness?  This week, I pray that you will go out in the yard and pick up an apple and offer an apology to someone you may have hurt.  You don’t actually have to do that, but, just like Rugby, I pray that you will find your own way to say I’m sorry. 


Monday, July 16, 2012

Ugly Birthday Cake

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118:24


~ It was the ugliest birthday cake I had ever seen.  It was not at all what I had envisioned for my son’s first birthday cake, especially after all that I went through to get him.  I struggled with infertility for four years (that full story will come in a future blog), and when I finally was blessed with my son, Benjamin, it was a miracle!  Everything about being pregnant with him was special.  From the time he was born, every moment with him was special.  I treasured everything he did; everything he said; every smile he gave me, so I naturally wanted his first birthday to be so incredibly special too.  The theme for his party was easy---basketballs.  He loved all balls—especially basketballs, so we got him some basketball plates with matching napkins and cups.  We even got him a basketball balloon.  Obviously, we wanted the cake to match the basketball theme as well, so when we ordered it, we told the lady that it was for a one year old birthday party and that the birthday theme was basketballs.  We figured that was all we needed to explain and didn’t give it another thought.
 Getting everything ready for Ben’s party was so emotional.  First of all, I couldn’t believe that my boy was already turning one.  Plus, my husband and I kept getting teary-eyed recapping all that we had gone through to get him, and we were excited to celebrate this amazing day with our family.  On the day of the party, and with my checklist in hand, I wanted to make sure that we had everything ready.  We couldn’t wait to have our family over; we couldn’t wait to sing “Happy Birthday” to our boy; we couldn’t wait to see his face when he got to blow out a candle; we couldn’t wait for him to eat cake for the first time; we couldn’t wait for him to open presents.  So, here we go…food…check…drinks…check…basketball plates…check…basketball napkins…check…basketball balloon…check…presents…check…party favors…check…#1 candle…check…all we needed now was to go pick up the cake.  My husband walked in the door with the cake and I couldn’t wait to see it!  In my mind, I had pictured it with baby blue icing and a big basketball on it, but when I opened up the cake box and saw it, I thought it was a joke.  My husband rarely plays jokes on me because he knows how much I hate them, but this HAD to be a joke!  It wasn’t!  This was the cake.  It was hideous!  I was crushed.  I was angry.  I was so frustrated.  I couldn’t believe that this was my boy’s special birthday cake.  I couldn’t believe that we paid for this thing!  Brad tried to cheer me up by telling me that we got another cake for free.  It was the smash cake just for Ben that was actually kind of cute, but it wasn’t cute enough to take away the fact that they made us the ugliest cake I had ever seen!!!  Seriously, who makes a birthday cake for a one year old with red and yellow icing?  From what year were those plastic basketball players—the 70s?  Why was the basketball court so crooked?  Why was some of the icing missing?  (Seriously, take a minute to examine this cake in the picture. Really look at it.)  I was furious!  At that point, we didn’t have time to get another cake nor did we want to spend the money.
The ugliest cake in the world!
~I had 2 choices:  I could have let that stupid, ugly cake ruin my entire day.  I could have called the lady who made the cake and yelled at her.  I could have been so upset by it or I could have just laughed about it (like I'm still laughing now), and realize that it was just a cake. Why would I choose to let flour, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla have control over me?  Even though it was disappointing not to have a cute little boy birthday cake, it didn’t really matter.  In the grand scheme of life, that cake was trying to take away the main point of the day: being grateful!  Being grateful for my boy turning one; being grateful that I was a mom; being grateful that we were so blessed to have family who loved us and wanted to be a part of Ben’s day.  When I looked at the day with an attitude of gratefulness, the cake didn’t matter at all.  In fact, as ugly as it was, that cake actually turned out to be quite delicious! 
Ben's Smash Cake--the other cake didn't even matter.

~In life, nothing ever seems to go exactly as we plan.  We can make lists.  We can prepare all we want, but when it comes right down to it, we have to realize that not everything will go perfectly.  And that’s ok.  We cannot control every circumstance; we cannot control everything that comes our way; and we definitely cannot control how ugly someone can make a cake look, but what we can control is our attitude.  I am so thankful that God changed my attitude that day.  Thank you, God, for giving me laughter instead of anger.  I am so thankful that God opened my eyes and helped me to see what my focus needed to be.  As we prepare for Ben’s 4th birthday this weekend, we still laugh about that ugly cake.  It became a funny memory for us, and because we didn’t let it ruin our day, it actually made his 1st birthday even more memorable!
~This week, I pray over all of our attitudes.  I pray that no matter what happens, we can all have the “attitude of gratitude”.  I pray that no matter how many ugly cakes come our way, that we can find humor in each of them and that we may also find that those ugly cakes may not taste so bad.
Happy 4th Birthday, Benjamin (on Saturday, 7/21)!  Mommy and daddy love you so much.  We are so thankful for you.  Mommy will be making you cupcakes again this year as I've done every year since.  :-)


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Never Give Up...Keep Trying!

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

July 8, 2000


Our family motto is:  “Never Give Up…Keep Trying!”  It’s great to have a family motto.  My 4 year old even knows it and says it back to us!  In fact, I was getting his seatbelt on the other day which is sometimes impossible, but he tells me in the midst of my frustration, “Mommy, remember our family motto:  ‘Never give up.  Keep trying!’”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I truly believe that that’s God’s motto as well.  He never gives up on us and He keeps trying to pursue us and help us and love us and change us and grow us and mold us.  Today, Brad and I celebrate our 12th Anniversary.  Throughout that 12 years, we've experienced many ups and many downs.  Today, I am so thankful for my best love.  I am so thankful for the family that God has blessed us with.  I am so thankful for our marriage.  I am so thankful to share our story about how God never gave up on us.
The word I would use to describe our marriage just a few years ago would be…Hopeless—so hopeless that I truly believed that there would be NO WAY that we would make it through.  Now, my husband and I are better, stronger and closer than we’ve ever been, but it didn’t happen without a fight! 
In fact, anyone who knew my husband and I when we first started would have voted us “The Couple Most Likely to be Divorced”.  I’m sure that some of our friends that knew us are shocked that we are still together today, and frankly, so am I.  I say this, not out of disrespect for marriage, but because we didn’t do anything right from the beginning.  Even as a dating couple, we were a disaster.  The enemy had a plan to destroy us.  The enemy has a plan to destroy every marriage.  We were almost defeated!  Again, I’m thankful to God that He never gives up.  He keeps trying!
Our journey together began at EIU in the fall of 1996.  He was the Graduate Assistant for the marching band and I was on the dance team.  The first time I saw him, I thought he was the cutest guy I had ever seen.  It didn’t matter that he was wearing a Huckleberry Hound t-shirt, khaki shorts with white socks and sandles, he had the most amazing blue eyes.   I was instantly smitten.
Our relationship was not pretty.  Don’t get me wrong.  We had some amazing moments.  We made some great memories together. We had so much in common.  We had so much love for each other, but there were also so many issues on both of our parts which turned out to be a recipe for disaster.  Our dating life was really rocky---a lot of breaking up, a lot of fighting and finally after 4 years of dating and an ultimatum later, he finally proposed.  Ultimatums are not a good way to start out a marriage.  Regardless, less than 6 months later, on July 8, 2000, we were married. 

Marriage for us was not easy.  In fact, a book describing our marriage for the first 8-9 years would be called What Not To Do For A Successful Marriage with a subtitle--Whatever Brad and Christine are doing, do the opposite!  This was difficult for us because my parents had been married for 30some years and Brad’s parents had been married for over 40some years at the time. So why couldn’t we do it?  No one ever told us how hard marriage was.  It was frustrating.
There was definitely love there.  There was definitely friendship.  There was definitely common ground.  And when things were good, they were really good.  When things were bad, they were really bad.  It got so bad that a few years ago, our marriage completely fell apart.  It all happened right after a 4 year struggle with infertility.  Right after we miraculously got pregnant with our beautiful boy, Ben. It seemed as though he came at the worst time in our marriage.  Or was it?  But God knew that it was the perfect time.  He always does, right?  God knew that if He blessed us with a child at the exact same time that our marriage was about to end, we would fight to save it.  I’m sad to admit that if it weren’t for Ben, Brad and I would most likely not be together today.  Don’t ever doubt Him!  Brad and I get teary-eyed just thinking about the fact that had we not fought to save our marriage, our daughter, Abigail, wouldn’t be here today.  Thank you, God for not giving up on us!

And, so, we went to marriage counseling.  I remember feeling embarrassed that we had to go.  I didn’t even want to tell my parents.  When I did, though, my dad says (in his Mattoon southern accent) “Well, I’m sure you’re mother and I needed marriage counseling, we just never went to marriage counseling.” 
I will never forget the first 2,3 maybe even 4 of our sessions were just Brad and I talking and yelling at each other while the counselor just sat there with his mouth open.  For over a year we continued to go to counseling, and we made progress, but trust me, it got worse before it got better.  It seemed that for every step forward that we’d take, we would take 10 steps back.
At this point either one of us could have left.  Either one of us could have given up, but we didn’t.  We never gave up on us!  We kept trying to make it work!  It was tough.  It was not fun to hold the mirror up to our faces and to really take a good at ourselves and see how much we had hurt each other.  But we both faced our demons head on, and we were ready to get it all out!  Look out!!!
So much came out during these sessions.  We realized that we lived over 8 years with a marriage that was not God-centered.  It was a marriage that was not protected.  Because of that, the enemy attacked our marriage in every way.  We had so much brokenness that we didn’t even realize it.  We struggled with jealousy, selfishness, lack of trust, disrespect, lack of communication, lack of time together, lack of making our marriage a priority, depression, oh—and, don’t forget the 4 years of infertility thrown into the mix, and the list goes on.  All of this mess built up into 8 years of resentment, unforgiveness and anger towards one another.  It was ugly!
I will never forget the turning point for us:  I got so angry at him one night that I screamed and screamed at the top of my lungs about how mad at him that I was.  After that, I’m convinced that God shut my mouth because we didn’t talk to each other for 8 days!  Instead we wrote letters.  We wrote and wrote---page after page.  We got out everything!  Thousands of words.  Miles of hurt.  Eight years of questions.  Eight years of pain.  Eight years of destruction.  Out!  FINALLY----We were free!  Praise the Lord! 
Not to say that things were perfect from then on, but it was a start---a fresh start!  A start to freedom.  A start to a healthier communication.  A start to an amazing NEW friendship and love.  A start to rebuilding a marriage with a foundation of trust.  A start of a new marriage with God in the center just the way He intended marriage to be! 
In June of 2010, Brad and I celebrated our 10th anniversary.  After a year and a half of literally starting our marriage over and building it from the ground up, we chose to celebrate our FRESH START in a big way.  We traveled out to Napa California.  We wore our wedding attire and we renewed our wedding vows on a hot air balloon ride over the valley.  It was beautiful!  It was amazing!  It was heavenly.  I could feel God smiling.

We are still working on our marriage.  Marriage is always a work in progress.  WE, as individuals, are always a work in progress.  Brad and I thank God for pursuing us, changing us, and loving us so much that He used our past to help us build a better future.  He helped us to grow closer to each other and to Him.  And we are now able to set an example to our children as to what a healthy marriage should be.  We are so thankful that He never gave up on us.  He kept trying!  But that’s not all there is---we have to never give up too!  We have to keep trying too!  No matter what it is!  Obviously for me, it was my marriage.  For you, it might be something else.  No matter what your challenge is, just know that God will never give up on you and He will always keep trying to find new ways to pursue you! 
In honor of our 12th Anniversary, Brad and I came up with a list of 12 tips that have helped us to have a healthier marriage.  
1. Put God at the center of your marriage.  Pray together.  Pray for each other.  Pray!  Pray!  Pray!
2. Grow together.  Be willing to learn from each other.
3. Communicate.  Find out how you both communicate best.  And Listen!
4.  It is not your job to make each other happy.  We are in charge of our own happiness.  Instead, show each other unconditional love, encouragement, respect and support.
5.  Laugh together.  Find the humor in little things.
6.  Be honest—even if it’s not what the other person wants to hear.
7.  Don’t let the little things turn into big things.
8.  Always be on each other’s side.
9.  Admit when you’re wrong.  More importantly, tell your spouse when he’s/she’s right (even though it doesn’t happen that he’s right very often lol! J )
10.  Sometimes some things just don’t need to be said.
11.  Don’t let solvable problems be the robber of your time, energy, thoughts and joy.
12.  Find something you both enjoy doing together.  Be willing to try new things together and get involved in each other’s interests.  Be silly and have fun together!

THIS BLOG IS ENDING...If you'd still like to be encouraged and find a place where you can BE REAL about motherhood, marriage, and life, you can follow my at my new blog with 4Real Moms, BLESSED IN THE MESS. 


Monday, July 2, 2012

Rugby Part 2: Velcro

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart

and with all your soul and with all your mind." 

Matthew 22:3

Rugby, 14.  AKA--Velcro
~ Rugby's name should have been Velcro!  From the day we adopted him until the day he died four years later, Rugby followed me wherever I would go.  I knew that after we took him home from the animal shelter that day, his life would never be the same.  I knew that he would no longer be the scared, lonely and abandoned dog we first met, and he wasn't.  My husband and I saw him instantly transform into this loving, sweet, confident, joyful, playful dog.  Maybe it was all the love he received.  Maybe it was all the kisses and hugs we gave him (this seemed to be new to him and he was a little uncomfortable with it at first, but soon he got used to it.) Maybe it was the comfortable spot he had in our bed at night.  Maybe it was the walks and the treats and the belly-rubs and the snuggles on the couch.  Regardless, Rugby's life was different and even though he spent 10 years of it with another family, he quickly embraced his new life as a member of our family.  With our kind of love, I expected to see those changes in Rugby, but I didn't expect that he would take his "job" so seriously.  I didn't expect to see such devotion from a dog who I hadn't known for very long, but Rugby became the most devoted dog I had ever met.
I would practically trip on him because he was always at my feet.  I would go upstairs, to get something, he would come with me.  I forgot what I needed upstairs so I would go back downstairs, he would follow me.  Of course, then I would remember what I needed and go back upstairs to get it, and he'd go right back upstairs with me each and every time.  Even at the end when he was fighting a serious heart condition and had fluid in his lungs, he would faithfully follow me everywhere.  Even when following me meant that he would pass out from climbing the stairs, he would still follow me.  

Sometimes while Rugby was sleeping in his bed (which was strategically placed in a spot in the house where he could watch over me), I would try to give him a "break".  Quickly, I would hurry and run upstairs and run back downstairs before he knew I was gone.  Sometimes it worked, but most of the time, he would jump right up and chase after me even when he appeared to be sound asleep. As Rugby aged, he started to lose his hearing, so sometimes he wouldn't hear me leave the room.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, I would hear his toenails tapping around the house as he was searching everywhere until he found me.  Once he found me, he would have this panicked look on his face as if he was saying, “I’m so sorry!  I was sleeping!  I will never let you down again!” 
It was the most precious thing to see him come in from outside.  His number one goal?  To find me!  He would put his nose to the ground and immediately start tracking me.  He would search every corner of the house until he found me.  Is that devotion or what?
~Imagine what our lives would be like if we followed God so faithfully.  What if no matter what- we would track Him down and seek Him out?  The bible tells us in Psalm 16 verse 8:  "I keep my eyes always on the Lord.  With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken." 
This week, I challenge you to trust that promise and to keep your eyes on Him no matter what life sends your way.  It's so easy to get off track, but stay focused and follow Him everywhere He goes!  Put your nose to the ground and search every corner of your heart until you find your true devotion to God.