Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Adventures in the Life of Brenda #13: A Trip to Aldi's

I noticed I had this post drafted but never published. So I finished it for your reading enjoyment. So, yeah...enjoy :)

After 3 days of scraping by without milk, bread, fruit, eggs, noodles, meat, or (most devastating) MAC N CHEESE, I finally wrote up a grocery list and committed myself to getting groceries no matter the cost. We were in Chanhassen for the morning & early afternoon visiting with family so I decided that when Abigail woke from her nap we'd leave and I'd pick up groceries on the way home. Thus begins my tale of woe.

It can be a long 20 minute drive back to Minneapolis from Chanhassen, especially if your baby decides to serenade you with her rendition of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (which is what I might assume a cat on a hot tin roof would sound like). It is excruciatingly slow if your baby is screaming as you creep along the Crosstown at a snail's pace in the midst of an endless snake of brake lights. As I inched through Edina passing exit after exit, I began to plan out alternate routes to Cub - anything to get off the highway. I got off on Penn and while waiting at the stop light, I had an epiphany. I looked to my right and there, in stately majesty, was a Lund's. I sighed. I knew I would probably spend ten to twenty bucks more by stopping here than at Cub, but Lund's was HERE and Cub was not. So I turned toward the overpriced (but at least they bag your groceries for you) grocery store. As I was driving toward it, I saw that just south of it was an Aldi's. Hmm, I thought, I've been meaning to check out an Aldi's and see what all the fuss is about. And by fuss, I mean my Aunt Marie lecturing me in her kitchen while she waved a green pepper and a paring knife around in my face. It was also the store we were told to recommend to the refugees when I volunteered with World Relief. So I pulled into the Aldi's parking lot and took in my first impression of the place. It looked smaller than I was expecting, and didn't look very organized. But that makes sense; organization and flashy signs cost money. This is one way to keep the costs down. So I unbuckled Abi and lifted Lucie's carseat out of the carrier and we walked to the store.

Oh, the carts are outside. I'm going to have to wear gloves to push this thing! It's freezing out here! I thought to myself as I plopped Lucie's bucket seat into the front basket. I pulled on the handle only to rattle and disturb my entire row of carts. It was then that I realized that the carts were locked together, and the only way to unlock your cart was to pay 25 cents. This might not seem like a big deal, but for someone who pays for every purchase with plastic (yes, even to buy stamps!) it's hard to find actual money in my wallet. In fact I could find no moneys in my wallet.

I unlatched Lucie from the basket and herded Abi back to the car. Thoughts ran through my mind of just packing them up and leaving, but I was here, I should at least dig through the car for a quarter. Lo and behold we found one under the driver's seat. Who's judging my messy car now?! I inserted my quarter, unlocked my cart, and took my brood inside where we were at least flooded with a wave of warmth.

Now whenever a person visits a new grocery store, they must allow time for the search. Because you're not going to know where anything is. But at least you usually know what you're watching for. Noodles = green Creamette boxes, Mac N Cheese = blue Kraft boxes, etc, or if you're into the generics, you'll at least know your Market Pantry box of spaghetti will be next to the green Creamette box. However, I was unaware that Aldi's brands were ALL ALDI'S BRANDS. There were no green or blue boxes to guide me. I had to read every. Single. Label. And there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the layout of the store. Let's see, I'm looking for pork n beans. This aisle has mops, tortillas, hula hoops, canned soups, dish towels, and fruit juice in it. I guess it could be in this aisle...

Then it turned out that they didn't even have everything I needed! You mean I'm still going to have to go to Cub so I can get taco seasoning?! I was starting to get at tad peeved. I stood there in line, my peevishness in its infancy stages as I waited to check out. Then I noticed something. That lady just put all her food back in the cart after checking out. She's going to have a tough time getting all that food in and out of her car! I puzzled to myself. Then it hit me: there were no bags for the groceries.


Peevishness maturing...into adolescent stage...I searched for a logical explanation. Of course, well, it cut cost a company should charge the consumer for ones bags...but it seems

Then it was my turn to check out. I lowered my pride and paid for 6 bags for my groceries. I have failed to mention that aiding in the escalation of my emotions was my infant who was probably cooked to medium-rare in her car seat (mostly red with anger) and my toddler who closed up shop on obedience for the day somewhere in the hand soap and cookie aisle. Who could blame them?! I had just spent an hour in the grocery store moving at a snail's pace at their cranky "I WANT DINNER!" hour.

But Aldi's wasn't done. There was one last surprise that they were holding out on. One final straw for this camel's back.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the man said as he handed me back my Visa. "We don't take credit cards."

I stared at the man blankly. In a moment, my mind screamed, "You don't take credit cards? Where are we?! The Turkish Bazaar? Even booths at the State Fair let me use a credit card! Heck! I paid for Girl Scout cookies with plastic! You mean to tell me that a chain grocery store in the 21st Century does NOT take credit cards?!?!?!" But the moment passed and my face remained blank as my little heart surrendered, waving a tiny white flag before the cashier. Of course they wouldn't accept credit cards. Of course they wouldn't.

I almost dragged my children dejectedly out of the grocery store sans groceries after an hour of shopping, but then - AHA! I remembered. By a miracle of God and because of his supreme mercy (no joke, I would have melted into a pile of goo if God had not shown His mercy on me in that moment) I reached into my diaper bag and what should I find but a dust-covered, cobweb-filled check book. Do I ever carry my checkbook with me? Never. How did it get in my diaper bag? I'll never know. But it was there nonetheless, almost glowing with an aura of victory.

"What's the date today?" I asked the cashier with a look that said who has the upper hand now?!

I rolled my bought & paid for groceries out to my car, stuffed my little screamers into their car seats, returned the cart, got my quarter back and promptly stuffed it under my seat where it belonged. I looked up at the glowing sign and made a solemn oath: I will never shop at Aldi's again. Shaking my angry fist, I added just for emphasis: NEVAH!

Monday, December 7, 2009

An Innocent Prayer

Abi prays before every meal and before bed. And she will often just stop playing and pray sometimes. One of those times occurred this evening as we were eating. She put her spoon down and folded her hands and said, "Mama, pray?" So I followed suit and she began. I'll just put a list of all the things and people she prayed for:

* dinner. plus the fact that she wanted more cranberries.
* Mama
* Daddy
* Lucie
* Abi's house
* Daddy's work and Daddy's school
* Uncle Tristan
* Aunt Michelle
* Uncle Brian
* Grandma
* Grandpa
* Uncle Jay
* Uncle Matt
* Aunt Julie
* Nana
* Papa
* Aryn
* Anna Joy
* Goat and
* Elmo Puppet (I think she prayed that no one would take Elmo Puppet)

Sorry if you didn't make the list!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Navitity Tradition

My first Christmas at the Gill's, I noticed that my mother-in-law's nativity set had a few more participants than the usual baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men, and angels. As I looked I noticed that there were little figures from all over the world gathered around the manger. (Anyone who knows my in-laws knows that they are not the stay at home types, and they've been to countless countries.) Wooden figures from Russia, little dolls from Germany, a Maltese knight, a dainty Chinese girl, and I think even Bart Simpson showed up in the nativity that year.

Cynthia commented that every knee would one day bow to the King of Kings. I saw her nativity not as an event that transpired 2000 years ago, but as an event that is happening in the present and will happen again someday in the future. People from all over the world bring their honor to Christ as the shepherds did. People from all over the world bring gifts to Jesus as the wise men did. Like the "Little Drummer Boy" who had nothing to give but playing his drum for Jesus, I have nothing to give but my few talents and my life in service.

So now we collect little figurines from the corners of the earth to represent the peoples who honor and WILL honor our Lord Jesus Christ with us. I can't wait to show Abigail all the countries represented in our Nativity and explain how people all over the world love Jesus!

(As a side note, I wanted this particular image in my post. I remembered it was called "Adoration of the Magi" by Fabriano. I'm pretty pumped that I was able to recall something from my Art History major...)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Abigail: The Two Year Old!

So I realize with much weeping that I neglected to post anything on or about Abigail's second birthday 3 months ago. She turned 2 on August 11! To say I was a little distracted would be an understatement; afterall, Lucie was born 2 weeks later. But without further ado, I give you Abi: The Two Year Old! She was 27 lbs 9 oz (59th percentile) and 35 inches (75th percentile and nearly 3 feet!) at her birthday.We celebrated her birthday barbecue at Lake Ann in Chanhassen :) We went swimming down at the lake to begin with, but we don't have any pictures of that. Mostly because I was 38 weeks pregnant and wearing a swim suit.
Abi had a delicious ice cream cake (which I had the pleasure of polishing off during the following week. I'm still paying for it...)

Nana & Papa Gill, Grandpa & Grandma Westerbur, Uncle Brian, and Great-Grandpa (Papapa) and Great-Grandma Miller were all there, as well as Mom & Dad.

Abi was so blessed by her family who gave her so many clothes and toys! She LOVED opening her presents. When the evening was over, she hugged each family member and told them "Thank you." (I don't know what we're doing in this picture, but boy, I was GREAT with child!)

Abi is so bright! She can name all her colors, count to 12 (after that she names 15, 16, 17, 19, 12), recognizes and names all her letters A - Z, and knows a few shapes (including the octagon. Thanks Sesame Street!)
Some of her favorite activities include having tea parties (with real tea - she's kind of a tea snob!), doing puzzles, coloring, going for walks in her stroller, jumping in leaf piles and puddles, going to the library and reading books (she probably "reads" at least 10 books a day), watching Veggietales and Sesame Street, cutting shapes out of Play-Doh, playing dress-up, putting mommy and daddy "to bed," and treating her stuffed animals and doll like babies.
She isn't very good at cleaning up her toys, but we're working on that. It's hard to properly teach something that the parents aren't very good at either! But she can open and close doors for us, put on her own shoes and socks (usually on the correct feet even!), turn the lights on and off, wash her own hands, climb & descend 3 flights of stairs by herself daily without ever complaining, put groceries in the cart, put her milk in the fridge after a meal, place her dirty dishes in the sink, and properly work her CD/cassette player (including flipping the cassette tape over when it's finished with a side).
She loves to sing songs! She can sing the Winnie the Pooh song from start to finish without any prompts. We sing lots of other songs together. She can retell many of her books almost word for word. She's kind of an introvert; when she's in a big group of people, she tends to find a quiet corner and plays by herself. Of course this could also just be her getting through her stranger anxiety and only child syndrome. She still sucks her thumb and carries around her favorite lovey, the billy goat. And she's generally pretty calm, polite, and pleasant!
I could just go on and on about my dear Abigail! She is just the sunny part of my day. She is learning so many new things so quickly, I can't believe it. She's even starting to make some jokes! It's so amazing to see her personality beginning to take shape! She is so administrative and also a perfectionist. I love her dearly and can't wait to see what God has in store for her!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

To My Daughters: How I Met Your Father, A Novella

To My Daughters: How I Met Your Father

On this the 6th anniversary of the day I met your father, I decided it would be a good idea to write down the details of the weekend that God used to introduce us to each other. I hope you are encouraged by how God rewards those who choose Him above all else, and that you will choose to keep your standards high when you start looking for love.

Our story starts a few months prior. It has to start here because I had to go through a heart change before I was ready to meet your dad. I had been living in rebellion against God. Now, anyone who was looking at me on the outside would scoff at these words. I was in college, but I didn't take up smoking or drinking or partying or sleeping around. In fact, I was an honor student, double-major, going to Bible study and church (almost) every Sunday, and doing my best to live as a Christian should live. But children, let me make something clear: rebellion is a condition of the heart. It might not always be proven by actions, although the motivations behind the actions are usually corrupt if you have a rebellious heart. Which I had. In college you're forced to start thinking about your future, what you want, and who you want to be. When you belong to Jesus, He doesn't want His to be just another opinion to consider. He knows what is best for us; He knows what we need. The plans He has for us will not only give us ultimate joy, but they will also bring glory and honor to His name. At any rate, I was not really seeking to know what His will for my life was. I was “following my heart.” This may sound noble, but following your heart more often than not leads to dissatisfaction, disappointment, and heartache because we are all easily distracted. I had decided I wanted to pursue the kind of lives my friends were all pursuing: a career that utilizes my vast array of talent, a husband who'll love me, kids who'll adore me, a house in the 'burbs – the American Dream. This life is not a bad thing, but it was also not for me. I didn't know that because I didn't ask. I tried going after it starting with dating a guy who would be a great partner for that life. We dated for 2 years, which means I spent 2 years pursuing my own goals while looking away from God. But God didn't look away from me. He wanted me completely, not just the little crumbs of me I was giving him. In fact, whenever I would try to pray and “be real” with God, He would always interrupt me and ask if we could talk about this guy and the choices I was making. And every time He'd say that I would sigh impatiently, and ask God if we could just get over that and move on. Then there'd be silence. He would remove his presence. Girls, there is little in this world more chilling than feeling the presence of God move away from you because you blew him off. Those were my loneliest years. Finally in the spring of 2003, I knew in my heart that I had to “choose that day whom I would serve:” myself or God. God, I'm unhappy and lonely. I miss the closeness we used to share. Forgive my rebellion; I choose you. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I wanted His plans to rule my life and give me purpose, I wanted His hands to mold my character, and I wanted Him to be my matchmaker. It was pretty obvious to me that the guy I had chosen wasn't a good fit (for me or for him). We broke up; and it tore me up inside because despite everything, I had fallen in love with him. I had a lot of pain that needed healing. But I wasn't alone anymore. It was as if a veil had been lifted! God was there with me as I cried, like he was sitting right beside me giving me comfort. He had been waiting to draw me close, and now I was ready to run the race He had set before me!

Now that I've set the stage and given you a glimpse into the state of my heart, I can get into the good stuff! I don't think God can give us our partner until we've come to that place in our lives where we totally and completely surrender our plans to Him. And even then, your spouse might not be ready yet. This story is about how God blessed your father and me by making us ready at the same time, at the same moment, essentially.

After repenting of my rebellion and submitting myself to God, I was on fire. There was nothing He could say that I wouldn't do, nothing He could teach that I wouldn't drink up. That fall began my final year at Gustavus and I was involved with a campus Bible study called Prepare Ministries. They were affiliated with a program called Niko, a five-day wilderness experience that challenges you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was able to work it out in my schedule to go; I was pretty excited. My friends all had great things to say about it. Now, I had made a pact with myself that I wasn't going to flirt that weekend. Too many times in the past I had used Christian retreats as an excuse to chum up with a cute guy. Guys were the last thing on my mind. I was totally geared up to hear what the Lord wanted to say to me.

I arrived at City Hill Fellowship with all my gear: sleeping bag, warm weather clothes, hiking boots, Nalgene bottle, etc, and I loaded it onto the bus. I didn't really know anyone, so I started off introducing myself to a few people. I won't say where we arrived or what we did once we arrived (the inner workings of Niko, though on hiatus, is kept somewhat secret so you don't know what to expect) but I will say I loved soaking in the presence of the Lord during worship and the “mini sermons.”

That first night was long and cold, I didn't get much sleep, and we were up early the next morning to do a run. I ran my fastest and hardest; I was determined to make the most out of every opportunity on this weekend and to be the best I could be. It turned out I was the second girl to finish (behind my friend Jessica I think...). I wanted to wait around at the finish line for some other girls to walk back to the campfire with, but there were none in sight, so I decided to walk back with the group that had finished before me. There was one guy in the group whom I found attractive, but I instantly checked myself. No flirting, Brenda! Besides, guys that good looking are for sure already taken. He was talking to Kevin, a friend of mine, about returning from Iraq not too long ago. That caught my attention. A veteran? Dad is a veteran. I wonder how he feels about the war as a Christian... I caught up to him and introduced myself. During the walk back to the campfire I learned his name was Jon, he was a Marine and a recent veteran, he was in a Ska band back during the Ska craze, he juggled, sang, played the guitar & trumpet, wrote poetry and he loved camping and the outdoors. By the time we reached the campfire I had this weird feeling in my stomach. We had a lot in common, but I chose to ignore it. I was going to focus on God this weekend, and I wasn't going to let my emotions get in the way.

When everyone arrived back at the fire, we were asked to be seated for the next talk. I sat where I could see the speaker clearly. She spoke of surrendering everything in life to God: your future, your career, your relationships, your desires, your everything. She challenged us to take a few minutes and really seek God. “Ask Him to reveal something in your life that you need to surrender to Him. Then come back to the fire with something to symbolize what you're surrendering. Then we'll throw those things in the fire.” We all dispersed to find lonely spots where we could think and pray. As I sat down in a patch of tall grass, I was almost smiling. I couldn't think of a thing that I needed to surrender! “God, I've given up my future to you and I gave up this relationship that meant so much to me because I knew I wasn't surrendered to you. Is there ANYthing that I am holding back?” I asked, fully expecting God's answer to be, “No, Brenda, you are holding nothing back from me, you're doing AWESOME!” But instead, the Lord lowered the boom. “Brenda, since you broke up with that guy, you've been expecting to be blessed for that sacrifice. You're expecting me to bless you with a great husband and family. Well, what would you say if I didn't give you a husband? Would you still choose me if it were just you and me for the rest of your life?” I'm not joking. Those were the very words God spoke to my heart that day in October. It was like the wind was knocked out of me. But even as I felt those words spoken to me, I knew my answer. There was no doubt in me as I answered, “Of course, God. I remember what it was like to not have you near me. And I can't ever live like that again. I need you more than anything.” So that was it. God wanted me to surrender my desire to be a wife and a mother to Him. “God you are in control. I trust you to do what's best for me.” I opened up my Bible and the page it opened to held half a dozen rose petals. Petals from roses given to me from my ex-boyfriend. As I walked back to the campfire, I held the petals in my hand. The speaker asked if anyone wanted to share what they were surrendering to God. I knew I had to share, and I told the group what had just transpired in my heart. I was surrendering my desire to be a wife and mom. “These petals are from the only flowers I ever received from a guy. They're my symbol of what I'm surrendering.” I let them flitter into the fire. As the group applauded my decision, I sat down. The man sitting next to me nudged my arm. He had tears in his eyes as he said, “I just surrendered the same thing,” and showed me a stick with the words “I DO” carved on it, his written promise to God. That man turned out to be Jon.

It turns out he was one of the staff members assigned to my team. We had lots of opportunities to talk and get to know each other as the days rolled by. It was rapidly becoming apparent that we were going to be fast friends; we just seemed to click! It was also becoming apparent that I was falling for him. This greatly confused me because it seemed I had taken great pains to avoid this kind of situation. The more I learned about him, the stranger I felt. It was as if someone had taken my “list” of dream qualities in a man and put them all together into one amazing guy, and then thought of a few extras that I forgot to include. God what is this? I JUST surrendered to you my desire to be in love. Now you introduce me to Jon, who apparently is the man of my dreams. What am I supposed to do? I didn't get a definitive answer, but I could almost feel God smiling at me.

I dared not read too much into what was happening. Who knew if I would even see him again after this weekend? But as Niko was wrapping up Jon asked if he could sit with me on the bus on the way back to civilization. Sure, I agreed. I remember feeling really nervous all of a sudden. Like I was back in elementary school and the boy I had a crush on chose to sit by me on the way to the field trip. Okay, so that NEVER happened. Maybe that's why I was so nervous! “Smile!” my friend Jessica pops up from behind a seat and snapped a picture of us. At least now when I go home, I'll have proof that this guy truly existed, I thought to myself. “What are you involved in at Gustavus?” Jon asked at one point on the drive home. “I'm really getting into a Bible study there called Prepare. They meet on Thursday nights. Have you heard of it? I think they meet at the U of M, too,” I answered. “Yeah! Actually, I've been meaning to get involved with them, but they meet on Wednesdays and I have church Wednesday nights. Maybe I can meet with your group at Gustavus on Thursdays,” he mused. Butterflies in my stomach!! We were beginning to get close to the Cities; Jon asked if I had some paper. I handed him a little notebook and he began writing. Just before we reached the church he handed me a note. It read:

Brenda, I am truly blessed and amazed at what a beautiful spirit you have. I find plenty of people that have gone through relationships in much the same way that I have struggled through mine, but rarely do I find a truly kindred spirit. I must tell you that a heart for the Lord, a passion for worship, and a reckless abandon for His will are the absolute most attractive qualities in a woman to a true man of God. Settle for nothing less than those things and you will (if it is the Lord's will) be rewarded with nothing less than a true man of God. I love your fragrance, and the odor of God's magnificence about you! Put it on every day. Your sweetness (and your spice) was put there first for God's pleasure. He just lets some of us enjoy it at times, too. And I'm glad he does. I hope that we can continue to encourage each other in our spirits and souls! The last time I met someone as much like me as you are, we were best friends for four years (but we'll let God figure that future out). It is a privilege to be your brother in our marvelous Lord Jesus. Agape, Jon

As I read that note, I fought to hold back tears. He understands me. He really, really understands what makes me tick. I knew I'd never be the same. And just like that, I was in love.

Epilogue: A few weeks later my friend Jessica handed me the picture she took of Jon and I sitting together on the bus. It was rather cute: I had a nervous, cheesy grin and Jon was making a goofy face. Jess smiled as I took the picture and said to me, “You know Brenda, as I took that picture, I got a little vision of you two. You were kissing at the altar.”

Like Jon said in his note, “We'll let God figure this future out.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Our Other Adorable Daughter

We've been going on and on about Lucie and how amazing she is; we have another adorable daughter! And she's still doing adorable things :) Here's a couple stories for your daily Abi-fix!

* Abi was looking out the window one morning and told me, "Moon has jammies on." Wha...? The moon is wearing pajamas? "Sun is awake, moon sleeeeeeeping," she continued. OOOOH! No wonder he has his jammies on! I guess I have an abstract thinker on my hands :)

* Abi was reading her book of numbers. When she got to 10 she stopped. "Is that ten?" Jon coaxed her. "No! Is one-oh!" she said. "Look Daddy!" She turned the book around so he could see. "See, is one-ooooh! Silly daddy!"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Baby of Mine

No matter how I prepare myself, the scene in Dumbo where the baby elephant goes to visit his mommy in the cage and she swings him on her trunk makes me sob! Especially with the lullaby she sings to him. Here it is for all you softies...

Baby mine, don't you cry
Baby mine, dry your eyes
Rest your head close to my heart
Never to part, baby of mine

Little one when you play
Don't you mind what you say
Let those eyes sparkle and shine
Never a tear, baby of mine

If they knew sweet little you
They'd end up loving you too
All those same people who scold you
What they'd give just for
The right to hold you

From your head to your toes
You're not much, goodness knows
But you're so precious to me
Cute as can be, baby of mine

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Grace is Sufficient for You

Jon and I were talking after church one day about grace. He was thinking about the semester to come: working at the restaurant 20-25 hours a week, teaching 20 hours a week, class 20 hours a week, plus homework. He knew this would be challenging. His credit load would be more than any other semester of grad school and he would have a newborn wailing, I mean waiting for him when he got home. (I'm tired just thinking of it!) And that's the point: Jon can't do it in his own strength. When times like this come along, we SHOULD lift our heads and boast in our own weakness as Paul tells us to do in 2 Corinthians, "But [the Lord] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." God refines us during these times, and he increases His grace to us. Merriam-Webster calls grace "unmerited divine assistance" and also compares it with approval, favor, & mercy. For Jon, grace might come as a shot of renewed focus and creativity while he's doing homework in the wee hours of the morning. It might come as supernatural rest during the few hours of sleep he gets each night. Grace might come in the form of a well-timed hug from his daughter, a delicious supper from his wife, an encouraging coo from his baby, or a pat on the back by his boss. Or maybe grace will be present in just enough strength to make it through another day.

We both found it strange how we usually look at challenges or "hard times" with sorrow, dread, or worry. We go through these times with the face of a martyr telling our peers, "well, God knows what he's doing, and we'll get through it...somehow..." Maybe we should rend our garments and pour ashes on our heads, too! If we know the furnace is for our refinement, we should meet it with rejoicing - we are being made more like Christ!

CONSIDER IT PURE JOY MY BROTHERS WHEN YOU FACE TRIALS OF MANY KINDS, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be MATURE AND COMPLETE, not lacking anything. ~James 1:2-4

My challenge has come in the form of a tiny little baby :-) I was certainly excited for her to come, but as we all tend to do, I was dreading the furnace, the fire, the challenge of change. What does the furnace do? It burns us. Specifically it burns away our fleshly desires and selfishness. It hurts and it's no fun. When Lucie decides she doesn't want to sleep at 2:30 in the morning, I have to battle my fleshly desire to sleep and use this time to train and teach her how to sleep. Why was I dreading this? Yes it sucks to not sleep, but I know in my heart that perseverance must finish its work! And finish it will, since God promises that He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6). God's grace is abounding in me at this time. Shouldn't I rejoice? I think I'm beginning to get it. Consider it pure Joy...for His grace is sufficient for me! Praise God!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Meet Lucie Ferghana Gill!!

Here's our little Lulu princess! Her name is Lucie Ferghana Gill. Lucie means "light" and Ferghana is the ancient name of the valley in Central Asia where we feel called to live and work. The two names are related; Lucie is a light in the darkness and Ferghana is a fertile oasis in the desert. Both bring life. Let me tell you the story of how she came to join the Gill family (already in progress).

I was really, REALLY hoping she would be born sometime last week; I was sore and tired of being pregnant. But I didn't have reason to complain, because my due date wasn't even until Sunday, August 23. But I was having trouble with my attitude. I kept praying that God would give me patience and endurance. I looked up every verse in the Bible about those two attributes and closed my heart around one that everyone is familiar with: Love is Patient. I went to church Saturday night and we sang a song that both Jon and I knew God had sent for us. One of the verses talked about "light in the darkness" (Lucie!) and "the coming dawn." The chorus proclaimed that "Joy comes in the morning." I was trying not to get my hopes up, but both Jon and I knew independantly that our little girl was coming in the morning :) We got home and went to bed. As I was laying there I decided to use the time I had left being pregnant to focus on Abi and have special mommy/daughter time. It's okay God, I said in my heart. I'm finally at peace. Bring the baby in your time.

Fifteen minutes later, my water broke!

The contractions didn't start right away, but I called the after-hours nurseline anyway, to let them know that I'd be coming in later. I was all excited - this is the day I'll meet my little girl! But after going through 2 1/2 days of labor with Abigail, I knew I needed all the rest I could get. So I stuffed my excitement into my toes and tried to get some sleep. Around 1 am I woke up; the contractions had started. They were close together, but short and not very strong. The midwife on the phone advised me to wait until I had gone through about an hour of longer contractions that "you really have to breathe through." Those started around 2:45. Jon woke up around 3 when he realized that I wasn't snoring, but having really strong contractions. (haha) I advised him to get the rest of the bag packed, the list is on the fridge. He pulled on some shorts. "Where's the list with the rest of the stuff that needs to be packed?" He asked me as if I hadn't said anything just five seconds ago. "On the fridge," I answered in the midst of a contraction. He came back with the list and some of the items on it. "Camera," he muttered looking at the list and leaving the room. "Jon," I call him back and point to the camera hanging on the door. "Oh, right," he responded. Afterall, it is only 3 am and he hasn't had coffee :)

Things began moving along more quickly after that. I called the midwife again and told her we were on our way. Jon navigated the construction on 35W through the dewy morning fog like an expert even while I was breathing and fogging up the inside of the windows :) After we meandered through the construction of our hospital (taking two elevators and following the "yellow tape" for a quarter of a mile) we finally arrived on the labor and delivery floor! I was so happy to see the nurse greet me by name and show me into a room where everything was set up and ready for me! I almost cried when I saw the baby warmer all set up with blankets and little diapers - SHE'S COMING SOON!!!!

The midwife, Michelle, checked me out and informed me I was 6-7 cm dilated and 100 % effaced. Oooh, I thought. I have a ways to go, and the contractions were already pretty intense. After one of my contractions I informed Michelle that "they hurt like the dickens." She gave me liberty to use stronger language. I thought "the dickens" was stronger language. I was hoping to go through this naturally like I did with Abi, but now I wasn't so sure. But Michelle started the tub and I thought, okay, we'll try the tub first. IT FELT SO GOOD. I stayed in there for an hour while Jon sprayed my belly :) When I got out I informed Karen the nurse that I was ready for an epidural (since I was starting to claw at the tub like a cat). But then the midwife informed me it was too late, I was at 9 1/2 cm. A couple more contractions and I'd be ready to push! I prayed outloud, "God I need you! Jesus please help me!!!" And He did! Eleven minutes of pushing later, my 'little' girl corkscrewed her way out and wailed with the rising sun. She was born at 6:06 am, weighed 9 lbs 8 oz and was 21 1/2 inches long. My joy had come in the morning :)

Anyway, we're both doing great; she's got lots and lots of cute rolly chubs and curly dark hair. She has Jon's thighs and crooked toes. She looks very different from Abi, except her mouth. We thought she looked a lot like my dad. Lots of Westerbur. Westerburs have big cheeks and squinty eyes, but so do all newborns ;) We'll see if that sticks around.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Transforming Mommy-saurus

2:30 a.m.

I am reminded that I am 38 weeks pregnant when I try to turn over in bed and can't. Parched, I force myself onto all fours, slither off the bed, and clumsily make my way through the dark into the bathroom to get a drink.

4:15 a.m.

I am reminded that I am 38 weeks pregnant when I bolt out of bed with sudden urgency for the bathroom, then double over in pain as my ligaments protest against said "bolt." All the adrenaline must have scared LuLu who gets a case of the hiccups. Hiccups persist until after 5 a.m. Mommy doesn't sleep.

7:00 a.m.

Alarm goes off. Decision time. Abigail will be awake in a half hour. Do I wake up and have my quiet time and breakfast in peace or snag an extra half hour of sleep that I missed during the night? I turn the alarm off and close my eyes. Apparently I've made my decision.

7:21 a.m.

My dream of praying with the apostle Peter is interrupted by my mommy senses kicking into gear. Someone is watching me. I open my eyes to see Baby Einstein hair floating above a large armload of stuffed animals and blue eyes peering just above the edge of my bed. "Mommy wake!" Abi squeals with glee and throws her animals to the ground. She reaches for my hand dangling over the edge of the bed and lifts it up, her way of helping me to get into a sitting position.

I'm so.......t...i.......r..............e....................d.

Am I in a good mood? I ask myself. I can be, I guess. I waddle out of the bedroom and stop short as we enter the living room. TOYS EVERYWHERE. I glance at the kitchen. DISHES EVERYWHERE. I didn't clean before I went to bed last night. Suddenly, I am NOT in a good mood. I need a good 15 minutes to regroup. Some mommy alone time. But Abi is hungry. I attempt to think quickly. If I give Abi a waffle she will finish it in 5 minutes. If I give her cereal, she'll pick at it for ages, giving me more time.
"Abi, do you want Kix or Cheerios?" I ask her.
"No cereo. Waffa bwekass!" Hmm. Waffle breakfast.
"No Abi, Kix or Cheerios."
"NO CEREO!" she screws up her face in protest. I don't blame her. I know I'm being unreasonable. She ambles to a pile of books and begins picking through them. Maybe we'll just forego breakfast for a while. Maybe she'll read to herself. I bend over to pick up some toys and am reminded I am 38 weeks pregnant when I can't reach the floor. I'm starting to get sick of being pregnant. I pick up the toy I was reaching for with my toes and transfer it to my hand. Abi brings me a book. "Book? Book?" she asks sweetly.
"No book. Mommy isn't going to read this morning." What kind of meanie am I?
"Mama, book! Book! BOOOOOOOOOK!"
"No Abi." I take the book she's handing me and put it on the shelf. Of course she starts stamping her feet and whining. With my eyes only half-opened I take her hand and lead her to her bedroom. I just can't deal right now. I know I have to put her somewhere safe before Mommy-saurus eats her for breakfast. I put her on her bed and shut the door. I silently thank God that I had trained her to stay in her bed when she's put there. I begin a rampage through the apartment like a giant mama ape, picking everything up off the floor with my feet and flinging them into their respective homes. I start crying, feeling crappy, knowing I'm "exasperating my children" and finding it hard to change my attitude about the day. Just as I am about to go wake up Jon and ask for help, I hear him fumbling down the hallway. He finds me and hugs me. Oh that is sooooooooooooooooo what I need. I cry and cry. The past few days have been building up to this moment. I just need a break, but I can't seem to get one. I'm merely at the end of my rope.

I make my breakfast and sit down. At least the toys are picked up now. I read a bit from Philippians: "he who began a good work in you WILL CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST." I'm just a work in progress, no need to get flustered that I'm not perfect. I go retrieve Abi from her room and she finds another book and brings it to me: Dr. Seuss's "I Am NOT Going to Get up Today!" Jon laughs hysterically. I can't help but crack a grin. This is God being ironic and trying to cheer me up. "I sincerely need you today, God," I pray.

I come to the realization that a half hour of sleep is not more important than sanity and a chance to connect with God in the morning. I need that time of peace in order to fill up on the Prince of Peace and reflect that peace the rest of the day. Sleep is seriously overrated. In order to avoid mommy-saurus in the future, I need determine my attitude and not let it be swayed by circumstance. Even if in the future I don't get my half hour of peace, God's graces are new every morning, specific for each day. I just have to choose to take it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Twin Cities Ice Cream Delights!

So I found a kind of outdated list of some of the best ice cream shoppes in the twin cities in the Best of Minnesota magazine. It was a list of 11, and of those I had been to 4. Maybe some of you can tell me how the others are and I'll decide which to visit next! Also, feel free to add one to the list! These are in no particular order...

1. Luxury Sweets Gelatoria - Apple Valley
This one we tried to visit after the zoo yesterday, but we found out it must have succumbed to the economic crisis, as it had shut its doors. This greatly vexes us, because we fell in love with gelato while we were in Italy (we spent almost all of our souvenir money on gelato!) and haven't found it in the TC yet. Any tips???

2. Licks Unlimited - Excelsior
This is a fun, small-town ice cream parlor located right on the water front. Lots of homemade flavors to choose from. Plus it has a big mural of a mouth with a giant tongue on the side of the building! I've only been there a few times, but I liked it!

3. Sebastian Joe's - Minneapolis
This one sounds familiar, like I know people who have been there. Recommendations?

4. Crema Cafe - Minneapolis
Haven't taste-tested this one myself, but I'm always willing to try new ice creams :)

5. Adele's - Excelsior
Here's another one on the waterfront of Lake Minnetonka. I like the atmosphere of this one better than Lick's - you have lots of pretty scenery and lots of delicious flavors to choose from!

6. Edina Creamery - Edina, Minnetonka
I know one of these is on 50th and France. Not too far from me. Maybe I'll have to go visit!

7. Grand Ole Creamery - Minneapolis
This was pretty yummy! As the name suggests, it's very creamy! Plus it's right on Minnehaha Pkwy so you can enjoy a scenic drive as you lick your cone!

8. Glacier's Custard - Wayzata
If it's in Wayzata, it has to be a very "rich" custard, right? Oh hahahaha! I'm so funny!

9. Izzy's Ice Cream - Saint Paul
Never heard of this one. Anyone been there?

10. Pumphouse Creamery - Minneapolis
Another one I haven't heard of. Sounds good though!

11. Liberty Custard - Minneapolis
Ok. So I live right across the street from this one and it's my favorite. They remodeled an old garage 50s-style and their custard is super good! I eat there way too often!

There's the list! Feel free to add your own! (Chain ice cream doesn't count, by the way, i.e. Dairy Queen or Culver's)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Englebert Shahoof Gill

Here's a look at our second little girl :) After 3 ultrasounds (a fourth tomorrow before we leave on our trip) we've determined that everything is finally normal and that she is, most certainly, a girl! I didn't post the very telling picture, but you can see it on Facebook if you want. In the first picture you can see the profile of her head, her little nose, and her little lips! So perfect! In the second "4-D" picture, her arms are crossed in front of her face, but you can see her little nose and mouth sticking out from under her hands.

I obtained a copy of my prenatal records to take with us on our trip to Central Asia. Reading through them was a riot! Apparently her lung parenchyma has normal echogenicity! Who knew?! My favorite was reading about my own physical exam at the beginning of pregnancy. When commenting on the shape of my pelvis, they said, "Tested to 8 lbs 11 oz." That's right. That was Abi's birth weight. I like how it was "tested" for that weight, like a bridge might be tested up to 10 tons. haha! But the best line of the physical exam was under the General portion: "Pleasant pregnant female, alert, cooperative and well-groomed."

WELL GROOMED! Indeed, I am.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Elmo and Jesus: A Morning of Learning

A couple weeks ago I needed to get some chores done so I flipped on Sesame Street and for the first time, Abi sat and watched the whole thing. Little did I know this would begin her strange love affair with Elmo the little red monster. I want to take this opportunity to say that I didn't push Elmo on her or try to entice her into liking Elmo in any way. It was of her own initiative. As my friend Danielle says, "Elmo is like crack for toddlers." Ever since then we watch Sesame Street most mornings. This past Thursday (besides watching NBC's Brian Williams wear a clip-on tie and eat Oscar the Grouch's anchovy icecream sundae) we watched the number of the day be introduced: the number 20. This particular day they had these little dancing masked-figures slowly wiggle across the screen, each one wearing and saying a number. Jon and I looked at each other. Were they going to go ALL the way to 20? This would take a while.
"ONE!" wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle
"TWO!" wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle
"THREE!" "TREE!" yelled Abi. I laughed! She copied them!
"FOUR!" "FOE!" this time Abi started wiggling with them. And she repeated most of the numbers after them! The teens were the funnest.
"SIXTEEN!" "SIS-TEE!" wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle (Abi twirls and wiggles in circles)

At this point I started to tear up. She was learning! As a woman with a teacher's heart, this was just a miracle to watch. My own child learning to count! I was so proud! But this would be nothing compared to what would happen next.

Elmo's World came on near the end of Sesame Street and Abi was pretty much entertained, so I sat in my "praying chair" to pray. I started praying quietly to myself and Abi looked over at me and immediately toddled over with her hands clasped and asked me, "May-men?" which is Abi's word for "Amen." She was asking me if I was praying. I said, "Yes, mommy is praying." She reached her arms up at me and said, "Up? Up?" So I lifted her up on my lap and she turned away from the TV, folded her hands and bowed her head. I continued praying - I just happened to be praying for Abi. She sat quietly until I finished and then she repeated my Amen, "May-men" and slid off my lap to continue to watch Elmo. Then I started to pray for Jon. As I began to pray for him quietly, Abi once again toddled her way over and asked me again, "May-men?"
"Yes, mommy is praying again."
"Up? Mama, up?"
So I lifted her up and she once again folded her hands and bowed her head. But this time as I started to pray quietly, she started to speak softly along with me, her hands folded. And though I never told her I was praying for her daddy, I could tell she was nonetheless. Her prayer sounded something like this:

"bah-bee-zho-nay-lee Daddy mah-tay-oh bah-bah see-mamoh Daddy tay-wah."

My tears were streaming down my cheeks as she prayed in my arms. She didn't notice when Elmo started waving bye-bye from the TV. When I finished and I said, "Amen," she repeated "May-men," and slid off my lap. I cried as I realized the most important lessons she could ever learn in life she was learning right along with her ABC's and 123's.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

NEW Adventures in the Life of Brenda #12: Realizing My Dream

I was driving home from church last week and we were stopped at a stop light. I looked in the rear-view mirror and this is what I saw:

My beautiful daughter sleeping in her carseat. My heart swelled. I could hardly hold in all the love! I realized I was living my dream - I'm a mother! Happy Mother's Day to me!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Greatest Place on Earth...


We took a trip as a family during Jon's spring break to the Children's Museum in Saint Paul. We had a GREAT time! Next year, we might invest in a membership. We left early in the morning with very detailed directions of how to get to the parking ramp near the CM. We had also printed off directions of how to get back onto I-94. We always get hopelessly lost in Saint Paul.

We started in the "World Works" section of the building, where kids can put on light shows, play with water, and manipulate kid-friendly machinery like pulleys and conveyor belts. It was like a basic introduction to physics. Abigail was most fascinated with the water. Maybe it was because we started with it and she was getting tired by the time we got to the later exhibits, but she loved splashing in the water! She's always loved baths, and her newest thing is staking out the bathroom waiting for someone to walk by so she can pester them until they lift her up to "wash her hands." Jon loved to show Abi how things worked and he gave her confidence to try new things on her own. (It takes a little prompting to get Abi to be independent.)

Next we visited the "Our World" exhibit which featured a mini city bus, a restaurant, a grocery store, a post office, and other places in our community for the kids to role play in. This area was a little too old for Abigail, but she did enjoy putting things in her grocery cart! She pushed it around and around until she got stuck in a corner and couldn't figure out where to go from there :)

From there we went to "Habitot" which was like a big indoor toddler-sized activity gym! There were two levels and several areas that were broken into different animal habitats. A woodsy area that included a swinging bridge (which scared Abi at first, but she got the "swing" of it!), a cave area which included crawl spaces and a cave with fossils in it to touch, a frozen tundra area where you could stand on a frozen pond and look at the fish under your feet and build with igloo blocks (Abi mostly liked looking out the window), a prairie section with rolling hills to try to walk up and down, and a lake area (where babies lay around and look at the fuzzy cat tails!) It was here that Abi started to get a little tired. But we helped her out the best we could, and she did enjoy the slides and she even climbed a rope ladder!

The last exhibit we visited was "Earth World." We will probably start here next time, because I think she will really enjoy this! There's a little creek with pretend amphibians to play with as well as an aquarium. There's a big ant hill maze that Jon went through with her and a tree house area where some of the workers will have real animals on display for the kids to see and touch. Abi got to touch a snake! Don't worry, we put some of the anti-bacterial goo on her afterwards!! We didn't get to stay at this exhibit long before Abi started to get cranky, so we made our way out the door for lunch.

We went across the street to Mickey's Diner (a historical landmark in Saint Paul, and if it's not it should be! It's a 50's diner/grille located in an old dining car.) Since it was Saint Patrick's Day, we got to watch a bunch of people walk by wearing funny clothes - including a very old man in a green suit & top hat and orange socks! They were making their way to the parade which we didn't get to see. We'd pressed Abi enough for one day...time for a nap!

Adventures in the Life of Abigail #2: I Discover Bubbles!

Hi! It's Abi again! This year for Easter I wore a pretty dress and a bow and lacy socks and little white shoes that went klopp-klopp-klopp when I walked around. I was sooooo pretty! Nana Gill gave me an Easter basket with presents inside! Chocolate and Bubbles!! I really really really really like bubbles! Especially when they land on my face! Especially when they land in my mouth! Nana and Mommy took turns blowing the bubbles!

I just loved the bubbles so much!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Love Blossoms in the Snow

Here's an update on our built-in love days in the winter! My birthday and Valentine's Day!

For my birthday, Jon took me out to Famous Dave's: my favorite restaurant. I love BBQ sauce!

This was our favorite sign. We will have one hanging in our home.

I ordered ribs - my favorite food!!

Stop looking at me, swan!!

Then we went ice skating at Centennial Lakes in Edina. Best ice skating ever! Cheap rentals and you skate on the lake with all the beautiful lights AND you're outside! The warming house has delicious cocoa and wood burning fire places, too!

Here's a view of only part of the lake. It's actually about 3 or 4 lakes all connected by canals, so you can skate all of them! And they're super smooth!

Jon shows me his amazing skills.

I pretend I'm awesome.

I'm coming to get you!!

Valentine's Day found us at a Persian restaurant called Shiraz just down the block from us on Nicollet Ave. We found their food to be very authentic and very affordable! AND VERY DELICIOUS!!!

Jon cuts into his kabob. Mmm...meat!! EAT MEAT! (In the foreground you can see a little bowl of Oliviya salad which I had eaten many times in Uzbekistan. It brought me right back!)

The decor was fabulous. Over our table hung a Persian rug, but each table and booth had a different Persian centerpiece to admire.

A belly dancer weaved through the tables all night. She was very graceful and talented.

Here's our dessert: Jon ordered icecream flavored with rose water, pistachio, and saffron. I had the bakhlava, a persian/turkish pastry with honey.

At some point during the night, a big group (like 30 or more!) of Iranians came in speaking Farsi. It was so neat to be eating amongst them as they sipped their tea and yogurt drink, embraced, and cheered on the belly dancer. Jon and I felt like we were in another country without the hassel of visas and expensive plane tickets! It was a wonderful Valentine's Day experience and we highly recommend the restaurant!