Thursday, September 15, 2016

Losing Teagan~ A story of tragedy, forgiveness and Hope by Patty Thompson

The photograph said it all: it had been a great Fourth of July. The picture was snapped as John "Chip" and Jody Ferlaak of Gaylord, Mich., and their kids waited for the fireworks to begin. Wyndham, six months, was nestled in her mother's arms, two-year-old Brock proudly wore a U.S. flag on his shirt, and big sister Teagan, age four, sat on Daddy's lap. Teagan, a charmer with tousled blonde hair and a winsome smile, impishly points at the person behind the camera. The family looks healthy. Happy. Carefree.

On that July day in 2001, life was looking good for the Ferlaaks. Chip, then 33, enjoyed success as an assistant golf pro and sports referee, and Jody (Hackett), 28, a 1994 Bethel graduate, stayed at home to devote herself to their growing family. Just months before, they had moved into a comfortable home in a quiet neighborhood. The couple especially liked the fenced-in backyard that offered their children a safe place to play. When it came to their kids, Chip and Jody worked to do everything right: tucking them in at night with a favorite story, taking them to Caribou Coffee for a frothy caramel cooler, or sitting on a grassy hill to look at God's handiwork.
The photograph taken that July day is now a Ferlaak treasure. Mere weeks later, a devastating accident brought about the realization that fenced-in backyards, bedtime stories, and good intentions wouldn't be enough to protect their family from irrevocable harm.
The crash
July 29 seemed like a perfect day for Sunday brunch. After church, Chip suggested that the family visit the Old Depot, a popular spot for lunch in Johannesburg, 10 miles from their home in Gaylord. At the restaurant, the family ordered their meals, unaware that in minutes, their lives would change forever. As Teagan and Brock dug into their pancakes, Jody tried to soothe Wyndham, strapped in her infant seat. But before Jody could pick up the baby, a car came barelling through the front door and wall of the restaurant. In an instant, unimaginable devastation surrounded them. 
The Gaylord Herald Times called the incident "a mass casualty that set in motion a massive multi-county emergency response that filled the air with sirens for much of the afternoon. Ambulances rushed 11 injured victims—including six children—from the scene of a one-vehicle crash into the landmark Johannesburg restaurant to the hospital and then to Otsego County Regional Airport where waiting medivac helicopters whisked the critically injured people to downstate trauma centers." The crash prompted Otsego Memorial Hospital to institute its "Code White" mass casualty plan, summoning all available medical staff to the hospital.
The entire Ferlaak family was wounded. Chip, who was knocked unconscious, suffered eight broken ribs and injuries that required 80 stitches in his head; later, fluid in his lungs would become infected, requiring a chest tube and a three-week stint in the intensive care unit. Brock had three skull fractures. Published reports revealed that for a time, Wyndham was pinned between the wall and the grill of the car. The force of this impact produced brain injuries that required a permanent shunt from the baby's head to her stomach.
Jody was struck from behind and thrown into the air, hitting a counter and tables before she landed. Despite extensive nerve, tissue, and muscle damage to her legs and heels, injuries that would require a month in a wheelchair and heavy medication, she was able to reach Teagan's side.
Horrifying images are etched in the young mother's mind. "I picked Teagan up at the scene. She was lying where her chair should've been at the end of the table with a big gash in the back of her head. Based on what the doctors have told us, most likely she was killed instantly. As a mother, when I picked her up, I could just tell by her face and the blueness of her lips that there was no hope for her."
Although the emergency workers performed CPR and brought Teagan's heartbeat back, she never regained consciousness, a fact that brings her parents a measure of comfort. "Basically, in our minds," Chip said, "she's eating chocolate chip pancakes and then boom! The next minute, she's in heaven. So she never knew anything in between that." Teagan was taken off life support the next day.
A criminal investigation after the accident revealed that the 38-year-old woman driving the car had plunged into the building in an alleged suicide attempt. Although the driver walked away from the scene, many of her victims were denied that opportunity. Besides the Ferlaaks' injuries, a 29-year-old mother of two lost her life, and members of her family and a restaurant worker were also hurt. Final toll: two killed, nine injured.
Picking up the pieces
Teagan on a beach
The Ferlaaks' pastor and family members quickly arrived at the hospital to offer support. From the start, the couple trusted that the Lord was in control of the situation. "From the moment it happened, we knew that Christ was in control, and we accepted whatever His will for us was at the time," said Chip. "I think that gave us such a sense of peace right away. There have been plenty of days where we've struggled, but right off the bat, we had such a peace that God was in control of our lives. What was going to happen would happen, but it was for God's reason. We may not understand it now, but somewhere down the line, we're going to have our answers to why all this had to happen." However, circumstances at the hospital offered extreme challenges. Teagan was gone, and their other children were listed in critical condition and flown to another facility. Furthermore, Chip's condition had deteriorated from serious to critical. "At one point I thought that I was going to lose everyone," recalled Jody.
Amidst all of this, there was a need to hold things together. Plans were made for a private family service after Teagan's body was released from life support and her organs transplanted. Chip had to listen to the service in his hospital room via phone due to his condition. "It was tough not being there for that. But you know, at that point, my whole train of thought was to get through this because my family needed me," Chip recalls.
Chip and Jody found immense comfort in the fact that, on the day before she was killed, Teagan put her trust in Christ. In a memorial service held three weeks after the crash, which was attended by more than 350 people (400 people attended a second service in Minnesota), Jody remembered the simple prayers of her child: "It was just the day before Teagan died—I served her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with the crust cut off, of course, for lunch. She started to say her usual prayer. This is what she said, `God is great. God is good. Let's thank Him for our food, and I ask Jesus in my heart and into Brockie's.' As I turned back to where Teagan was sitting, she had a big grin on her face and she exclaimed, `Mommy—I just asked Jesus into my heart and into Brockie's too!' So in my heart, I know for a fact that Teagan is in heaven, and that makes my heartache bearable."
A quiet homecoming
Days later, an eerie quietness greeted the parents when they returned home from the hospital. "Teagan was a spitfire, very energetic," said Jody. "Being the first child, she kind of ran the household. So it was a big empty feeling when we came home after spending all that time in the hospital." Chip agrees. "The house was just so silent. I just wanted something to come crashing down. I wanted to rub some Cheerios into the carpet, just crush 'em in there." What would life be like without Teagan, their firstborn, the little girl with the remarkable memory, the child who loved Barbie dolls, the color purple, and singing and dancing to her favorite CDs? How would they cope without the child who exclaimed, after noting the changing leaves of autumn, "God must have gotten new paints last night!"?
Jody explains: "What I missed were the things like washing her days of the week underwear. And I would I'd end up in a puddle of tears just trying to work through those daily routines. There was such a void in my life."
Losing Teagan has been difficult for the other children, too. The statement that his sister was an angel who currently resides in heaven became an issue for Brock. During bedtime prayers, he angrily pointed out that God took his sister away and insisted that God bring her back. Jody says that her son kept asking, "How can I get her down?"
While Brock talks about his sister and demands to hear stories about her, the accident has touched Wyndham in much more physical ways. "Wyndham's prognosis was that she'll never walk or talk," Jody reports. "We're really working with her in therapy. She's made a lot of progress, and we're very hopeful that she may end up leading a fairly normal life."
As a couple, Chip and Jody realize that the death of a child often puts strain on a relationship. "There are statistics about people who lose Focus Spring 2003 children and how marriages fail. Although this [tragedy] has been horrible, we realize that it is not driving us apart. We're keeping our marriage solid," Jody declares.
"Although there have been moments," Chip adds with a chuckle. Jody joins his laughter. "There have been moments. It's given us new eyes, and you realize why [marriages end]. Because some days, he's having a good day and I'm having a bad day, or he's having a bad day. You don't always feel the same. Or you just want to be angry, and the other person feels differently about it. We just look at it and say God's been with us every step of the way." For a couple who has been through so much, the Ferlaaks are remarkably upbeat.
Coming to terms with why
The couple's faith in Christ has provided them with comfort and hope. Jody, who graduated from Bethel with a degree in media communications, was a believer when she met Chip. Early in their relationship, she invited Chip to attend services at Woodland Hills Church, where one of Jody's professors, Greg Boyd, serves as pastor. "I just knew that they might have a lot in common because Greg also came from a Catholic background. And for Chip,Letters from a Skeptic [Boyd's best selling apologetic] helped answer a lot of questions he was kicking around at the time. Three weeks later, he was serving coffee and doughnuts with me. We kind of went from there."
The couple's spiritual growth has been evident as they've dealt with the tragedy. Jody observed, "As a mother, if Teagan would have run out in the front yard and been hit by a car, I would be feeling guilty or wondering what I could have done differently. But just the randomness of it and the fact that we had never eaten there [the Old Depot] was almost too coincidental. Why did we happen to be there at that moment? You think God has to use it somehow…that He has a big plan that we can't see yet. But something good is going to come out of it. We're just looking at it on the flip side of that coin."
In the months since the accident, Chip andphoto by Tara C. Patty Jody have discovered that their story has touched others. "Over the last year and a half, many people have said that we're an encouragement or an inspiration even when we feel like we're falling apart," said Jody. Chip gives an example: a close friend and his wife were considering divorce, but Teagan's death made them reconsider their plans. "We look at things like that and [wonder] how many people will come to the Lord because Teagan died. It's hard now, but a hundred years from now when we're in heaven, we'll probably say it was worth it because families and people were saved. Sometimes, that isn't a comfort in the here and now, but I think in the future, that [thought] will bring some comfort."
The trial
angelGod Sent to Us an Angel

by Jody Ferlaak

We hope to dwell on memories, How His angel blessed our lives With the way she smiled, The way she laughed, The blueness of her eyes.

We'll fondly think of nightly prayers And be glad we were a part Of all the times she asked her God To come into her heart.

We know she rests with God today And oh, what joy that brings. Yes, God sent to us an Angel— We just never saw her wings.

In celebration of the life of Teagan Mackenzie Ferlaak. Born on March 18, 1997. Went to Heaven to be with Jesus on July 30, 2001.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."—Matthew 19:14
The Ferlaaks continued to lean upon their faith in the days that followed. The woman who had been behind the wheel on that fateful day faced criminal prosecution for her actions. Although she had not contacted the Ferlaaks or expressed remorse for the accident (aside from comments made by her attorney), Chip and Jody wanted to make a statement to the woman whose actions claimed their little girl's life.
"Obviously, there is anger, but both of us came to the realization fairly early on that there's a greater cause out there," explained Chip. "One of the basic tenets of the Christian faith is that we're all sinners. This woman didn't have Christ in her life and perhaps because of that, this event happened. I felt we needed to send a message of Christ's forgiveness to her, some kind of hope."
As believers, the Ferlaaks knew that medications and doctors could not prescribe the peace that only the Lord can give. Chip and Jody wanted to tell the driver that in 10 years, upon her release from prison, they wanted to help her avoid repeating what happened. "We wanted her to get better, to not be a miserable person for the rest of her life. To us, that would be justice for Teagan," said Chip.
However, reaching such a conclusion did not come easily. Jody remembers the emotional turbulence. "In the weeks and months leading up to that [day in court] I spent a lot of nights awake, or awakened from nightmares. As the sentencing came closer, I had a lot of dreams. I felt like Jonah, like God was saying go to that city and tell this woman to repent," said Jody. "I kept seeing her face in those dreams."
The inner conflict brought more pain. "Because I felt so cheated out of Teagan's life, there was a part of me that wanted to see this woman get what she deserved," Jody continued. "But it was almost like God said, `I can't and won't let you do it. I want you to give her a different message.' I couldn't shake the feeling that He wanted me to pray for her instead."
The Ferlaaks had occasions to see the woman at preliminary hearings and court dates before the sentencing. Jody's changed attitude prompted her to view the woman differently. "Every time I've seen her I've felt sorry for her. And I feel like I've been the fortunate one. I was raised in a Christian family. I grew up with a dad who was a pastor and have known the love of Jesus my whole life. I could have been her, raised in a family where there's abuse and alcohol, [a place] where you know no love or hope."
Court officials gave the Ferlaaks the opportunity to stand behind the microphone and have their say at the court sentencing. Their remarks caught many in the court room off-guard. "When we were speaking, her [the driver's] family looked surprised," recalled Jody. "We laid out how she had affected our family—what we went through physically, what we've dealt with, and what we will deal with—to paint a picture for her. And then we left her with the sentiments that we hoped she would come out of this a better person. She had ruined a lot of lives already, but she shouldn't ruin her own. She still had a chance at life." The Ferlaaks made it clear, however, that they were pushing for maximum civil penalties.
The driver's family members weren't the only ones astonished by the Ferlaaks' words and offer of forgiveness. "A lot of family and friends couldn't believe it," said Chip. "Many said that they couldn't have done that. In some ways, that [reaction] has been good because it gives you a good avenue to share your faith."
The Oprah Winfrey Show
A few months later, on April 22, 2002, the Ferlaaks told their story on national television. The Oprah Winfrey Show planned to do a segment dealing with forgiveness and was seeking viewers who had forgiven someone of a horrible crime. With the statements made in court fresh in her mind from just weeks before, Jody e-mailed details of their story. Three hours later, the Ferlaaks received a call from one of the show's producers.
Since the program aired in two days, Oprah staff members were on the Ferlaaks' doorstep the next day. "They filmed two hours of interviews in our home," said Jody. "They work with really tight time frames, so that night, we flew with the producers to Chicago and did the show the next morning. They wanted us to recap our stories, talk about what happened, and how we're moving on with our lives."
Revisiting their story on television has helped in the healing process. "You live the experience over and over," said Jody. "It's just constant. Every day is defined by what happened that day. In my prayer life, I've asked God to give us opportunities. It was a horrible thing that happened, but we've asked God to help something good to come out of it. I constantly pray for the opportunity to speak, to share our story or to bump into the right person."
The Oprah program (rebroadcast on April 10, 2003) featured the Ferlaaks and four others who responded with forgiveness in the face of great pain at the hands of others. To fit within the Oprah format, the Ferlaaks' piece was tailored a bit. According to Chip, the two were asked to avoid Christian terms or words that would cause people of different faiths to tune out the essential message of forgiveness. The couple would have liked to have shared more about their Christian faith on camera, but are grateful that at least the show's producers and staff members were exposed to the unmistakable message: it was Christ's love and forgiveness that allowed the Ferlaaks to in turn forgive the driver.
For the Ferlaaks, appearing on the Oprah Show was a tangible answer to prayer. That prayer has been answered in unexpected ways. For example, the Oprah segment included the Ferlaaks' e-mail address so viewers could contact the couple. "A lot of people e-mailed us," said Jody. "Chip would sit down with the Bible next to the computer. We'd give biblical responses back and had many opportunities to tell the heart of our message. It really opened up a lot of doors."
Reaching out to others
Answering e-mail messages is just a part of the outreach that has occurred as a result of the accident. The couple has had opportunities to speak in their area, to appear on both Christian and secular radio stations, and to address audiences from college students to church congregations.
Auto insurance covered the family's expenses, but after the accident, many well-wishers sent generous gifts in Teagan's memory. Such generosity has allowed the Ferlaaks to establish a foundation in Teagan's name. They have raised additional funds through several golf tournaments as well, enabling their foundation to award college scholarships to four Gaylord-area high school students each year. In the future, the couple would like the foundation to help families in their area that are dealing with tragedy. "Down the road, we'd like to help families who have situations like this and who don't have the [insurance] coverage like we had," said Chip.
The gift of life
Life for the Ferlaaks has changed in many ways since the accident. They've welcomed a new baby, Isabella, born four days before the one-year anniversary of the accident. "We were surprised when we actually plugged in the due date and it was the day that Teagan died. We were kind of like, `OK, God, what is this all about?' And then Isabella nearly died during her delivery," said Jody. "We realize that if God wants any of our kids at any time, they're His. We've always felt that our kids are truly gifts from God."
Although every parent tries to protect his or her child, the Ferlaaks know firsthand that shielding youngsters from every danger is not possible. "The kids still have to be kids, and they still have a lot of living to do. We can't really shelter them or protect them so much that they don't have a normal life," Chip reflects.
"And we certainly aren't guaranteed a life free of pain now," adds Jody. "If something is going to happen, it's going to happen. No matter where you are or what you are doing, life is fragile and can be taken from you at any moment."
The accident has given Chip and Jody unique motivation to tell others about Christ. Jody explains, "It's been easier to talk about faith to family members. You just say, `Look. You don't know when you could go. It could be tomorrow. We were sitting there having lunch and it happened. Are you sure about your faith?'"
The Ferlaaks are sure about their faith. Christ is their strength, their solace, and most of all, their hope. Concludes Jody: "Often what gets me through the day is to wake up and say, `I'm one day closer to heaven. I'm one day closer to seeing Teagan again.'"
The Ferlaaks reside in Gaylord, Michigan and welcome your prayers for their family. They can be contacted by e-mail Portions of the program that featured the Ferlaaks can be accessed at the Oprah Winfrey Show archive

Hope for the Journey

Traumatic life events take us on a long journey into a new dimension of growth and maturity. We know we can embrace the grief that comes with this journey because of the words of Christ, echoing to us from the Galilean hillside: "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4, TNIV). While it is not always obvious where we are in the grieving process, many researchers and authors have attempted to help us understand it. Initially, as we engage the reality of a trauma, many feel a range of emotions from anger to numbness. Our responses may vary from weeping to withdrawal. The good news is that God, having created us, knows us completely. He fully understands our feelings and respects them. Certainly Jesus modeled this as He confronted the anger and anguish of His good friend, Martha, when her brother, Lazarus, died (John 11:21).
Because trauma forces us into a new situation, former coping strategies may be inadequate. For the Ferlaaks, being excellent parents to a healthy and happy family was lost and a new perspective was needed to deal with new challenges. This may seem overwhelming. Letting go of dreams, habits, and hopes can be crushing. It is in this part of the journey that friends and family play a critical support role, providing consistency in a time when our world is shaken. Familiar scripture is also of great comfort, reminding us of God's faithfulness and unchanging promises.
Families in grief also need to develop a new framework that adjusts to the traumatic event and allows it to exist within their lives. The Ferlaaks embraced a framework that utilized forgiveness but did not neglect accountability. Forgiveness frees the grieving person to deal with difficult issues, while faith actively builds the new construct and provides strength to implement it.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

P.S. "I didn't even know I liked poached eggs until I met you."

Sometimes it's quite a struggle for me to balance the things I "have to do" and the "things I enjoy doing" from day to day. It's not that I don't like being a mom and staying home to care for my family. It is quite a blessing and privilege in my life to be able to do so. But I do struggle with days in a row where the routine-ness of it adds up and it can make me weary. Making meals, cleaning up, starting laundry, folding laundry and keeping tabs on kids' homework isn't always a thrill day in and day out. Especially so in the long winter months here in Michigan.
So I find myself very thankful to have my hobby and outlet in scrapbooking. I am on two different design teams {both Maya Road and Cocoa Daisy} and it is truly the creativity that I crave that keeps my spirits up at times. I wonder if my kids or anyone will care to look back on some of the photos, stories and things I've made years from now, but even if they don't I know that it has been fun for me. Just as some people sit and watch sports on tv or paint or do crossword puzzles or work out. Whatever it is that fills a certain point of happiness inside of you I think is an important part of life.
Even if it means you document things like how much you appreciate breakfast with your husband on occasion. =)
I am actually getting excited to do lots of picture-taking and memory-making when I get to join Chip for a weekend in Palm Springs, next week. He will be out there for some golf adventures, and I am meeting up with him to round out his week. The warmth and sunshine are high on my list of "things I think I will love about Palm Springs"! I know there will be some relaxation, good food, fun memories and hopefully some great scrap pages when I get home from the trip too!
I'll be sure to post some pictures of our trip- both on FB and Instagram too. So if you don't already connect with me in those places, feel free to send me a request!
I hope my phone has room for all the photos I plan to take!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Love notes.

Hello February and fresh starts! I love new beginnings and today is what I have termed it a "grace day" at my house because it's Monday and school was cancelled due to weather conditions here in Michigan. Instead of snowing, blowing and sub-zero temps, we instead have blue skies and sunshine! So it is simply a good day to relax, kick back, stay in pj's {we do that a lot in the winter around here!} and just enjoy this unexpected break in life.
To that end, I have decided that it was the perfect time to jump back on to my laptop and share a tiny bit of my heart. Okay. Maybe a bit more than just my heart, as I am feeling mixed emotions about sharing these photos and thoughts behind them. I think this month of February is a wonderful backdrop for me to post "love notes" to my kids and this blog has always been a spot for me to get things down and out and saved in a spot for future reference.
As much as I want to express my thought and heart toward my kids {my girls especially} I sort of believe that this is a message that others might need to hear too. If you can see past the images- which I didn't realize had so much to 'say' when I ordered prints of these photos, then maybe the true message can start to settle in.
I have been self-conscious about my body, shape, size and flaws since as long as I can recall, and yet even so I think there is such worthwhile lessons in embracing ourselves- just as we are and as God created us to be. He never makes mistakes or messes up- certainly not on people whom He loves so much! That is the heart of this scrap layout and if my kids realize I love them just as they are...then how much more must God love them too!
I am so humbled and blessed to be able to stand in front of a camera, snap a few photos and then be brave in sharing the struggle and beauty that comes from learning to love it all. He loves us in spite of all we will never be- none of us can measure up to perfection- and yet we are loved in spite of our failures, flaws, insecurities, pride, and His grace covers it all so that in His eyes we ARE perfectly whole because of who He is! His love never ceases to amaze me. His grace has changed me from inside-out and I hope that His love will be the one thing my kids seek more than anything else this world has to offer. There is nothing greater than knowing God's love firsthand. It is the greatest love of all!
The world tells us that things or being a certain size of having financial security or a job or spouse or house or degree or adventure or happiness or any other number of things will fill us up. But the truth is only God's love and grace can be enough to fill us with true peace, contentment, and assurance of Hope. To that end I pray that I will be a tool for Him to shine that message to my kids and anyone else who has ears and open heart to receive that message. He is Love and all we ever need!

Friday, November 07, 2014

Nine years later.

Today is the day. Nine years of blogging later, and a whole lot has changed since then. As one would expect life to change in close to a decade. I am one of the most resistant-to-change-persons that I know of, but looking back on some of the blogposts and the stories and photos that I shared makes me grateful for change though too.
Nine years ago blogging was not all that popular. I had found a few blogs online that I liked to read as often as they were updated- mainly crafting, inspiration type blogs. With an occasional stop over to Dooce's blog, because honestly I liked her sarcasm and funny stories about her Avon-selling mom. But one day I decided to hit "create blog" and Nitty.Gritty. was born.
I knew I was going to write and post pictures about my family. That was a natural thing for me to do after keeping a journal for many years, and then after our loss of Teagan and Wyndham's ongoing healing and special needs I had come to write frequent emails and updates which I would send to family and friends. I figured blogging would be an easy way for those people to pop in and see what was going on in our lives and find out what needs we might have that they could add to their prayer list.
But not long after I started sharing pictures and stories I started receiving emails and comments from people I had never met. It was a neat thing to be connecting to people in cyberworld, and at times your stories and emails had me in tears at my laptop. There felt like something bigger going on. Something bigger than a blog.
I have never regretted sharing so much of our lives- the ups and downs and everything in between. In fact as I re-read some of the posts last week, I found myself so thankful that I had these things written down. I never would have remembered even half of the stuff posted on here! But the details are important and one day I am sure my kids will enjoy looking back and reading first-hand accounts of some of their childhood antics. I feel bad that in this season of my life I don't write or keep record of our day-to-day stories in more detail- although I am thankful for Facebook to post where I post way too many photos and snippets of our lives. It is a cool record of everything under the sun- including what we eat for dinner. Which basically documents how many times we eat waffles in a week. =)
When Nitty.Gritty. was started, I had two fewer kids. I wasn't on any design teams, nor did I own any 12x12 paper or Thickers. {My craft friends know what that means!} =) I didn't have any kids in theater productions or on swim or debate teams. I basically had more time in my life to write.
I appreciate that some people have stopped in here daily for years, and I wish I could have a cup of coffee and zucchini bread with each of you! You have made me want to be a better writer. One day that might happen yet!

Friday, September 12, 2014

This is the stuff we will want to look back on...

This guy.
Four years old.
Attending preschool 3 mornings a week.
Still not always using the potty when he is supposed to.
Wakes up totally grumpy.
Totally sweet.
But the sweet wears off usually by the time he has to go to the potty.
He sings when he plays games.
He plays games when he eats.
He eats like a puppy most of the time.
And he whines like a puppy when it's time for bed.
He loves playing tricks, and bugging his siblings and can't have Daddy leave for work without giving him a high-5, exploding knuckles, hug, kiss, pinky promise and arm bump.
His idiosyncrasies are almost too much to deal with in a given day.
Yet our days wouldn't be the same without them.
He can drive us all crazy, and then melt us all in the same two-minute time span.
He must have some hidden super power or something. Because with a single tight squeeze around your neck, you forgive him for all the little crazy and big things he's done and all he makes you feel is Love.
Oh, Teague.
What a guy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A life interrupted.

All of a sudden six months have passed and really, if anyone is still stopping by at all that is a small miracle in and of itself for this blog. First of all, my apologies for NOT posting and sharing or at least putting up a graphic that says, "Nitty.Gritty.Out.To.Lunch." or something to indicate that I was still here. Just not "here".
I can tell you in the past several months there has been a lot of living going on in our life and family. So much so that I don't find or make time to blog like I want to or should. There has been a couple of birthdays. And preschool graduation. There was a new puppy...and a lot of fun and cute pictures with our sweet goldendoodle, Hazel. And then there was the tough decision to find her a new home after a week of Wyndham having such high anxiety over a puppy that she literally wouldn't eat. So Hazel got a new home. There were tears and life lessons and I could practically write a whole book on just that week in our life alone! Maybe one day I'll write that story.
In addition to puppy days there were days at the beach. And riding the one cent pony at the grocery store. There was a week of camp. And grandparents here from Michigan. There was Coke Float Day and maybe you got in on that with is- even if it was a virtual celebration. I could probably write a book about how Coke Float Day has evolved and become almost a summer holiday all its own. There have been parades and pool days and more days spent by the pool. There have been a couple of day trips to Chicago and days recovering from those days- which means catching up on laundry and sleeping in as late as we can.
Our summer has been full in so many ways. From fresh local produce- our favorites are the jumbo blueberries, cherries and peaches to gourmet cupcakes and walks to the park. There have been lots of days that felt like fall and only a handful that we needed to turn the A/C on- which is rare for where we live. There have been new friendships formed and new experiences- including Brock finishing driving school and getting his permit. There has been so much and yet really we have just so enjoyed "doing nothing" for nearly three full months. It has been a wonderful summer and we have one week left to enjoy it to the fullest.
So with all of that going on behind the scenes of Nitty.Gritty. it's no wonder there has been a quiet lull on this blog. But something else has happened. Something that stirred in me and brings me back to my laptop to click away and put my thoughts down in this place.
It's a book called, "Interrupted" by Jen Hatmaker. Maybe you have heard of her and/or her book. It is in easy to spot places like Barnes & Noble and you can pick up a copy right here online at Amazon too. I don't know Jen. I have heard her speak briefly at a weekend conference via satellite. But after reading this book I feel like I know a big part of her heart. She writes this book so authentically and candidly. I actually laughed outloud at times and that's not normally how I read books. I cruised through this book in a matter of two days- which also speaks to the readability of it. The way and they why she wrote this book so resonated with me and that is what made me want to dust off this blog and write again.
If you have followed Nitty.Gritty. for any length of time then you know full well that Chip and I have lived a life that was interrupted one Sunday during brunch. We recently marked thirteen years since that day happened and we are still learning lessons and living in light of so much of the events of that tragedy. I can't help but shake the feeling all these years later that there must be a big purpose or point to the pain and hurt behind our interruption. Knowing just how much God loves and cares and acts out of goodness and justice simply doesn't add up to the amount of pain and hurt we have endured. But we KNOW He is in it and over it all. So we have hung on and clung to His promise of faithfulness to us- even when we can't see or understand His ways in all the twists and turns at times.
Some of what Jen writes in this book touched on the parts of me where I still sense such a deep longing or where I just want to see the senseless parts of life make sense. She reminded me in sharing her own life journey that God CAN be trusted in all of it- to the point where we can literally pick up and start new again if we are putting all our trust in Him for what comes next.
We have been in places like that- even with our last two moves when we didn't know where we were going or what we were doing next. But God knew. And sometimes I think He leaves us hanging without a clue as to the next step to test us and see if we are willing to get out of the boat and follow Him. Not just with our words and rhetoric. But with our whole hearts and selves. It's easy to give money, or to raise a hand or nod approvingly to the sermon being preached in church. It's a whole other thing to get up and actually respond and do something. Especially something radical.
I have wrestled and prayed a lot since reading "Interrupted". It's one thing to read the book, but another thing to be moved. It's one thing to read the Bible, to know it, to study it, to love it, to lean on it, to believe in it, to turn to it, to memorize it and study it and share it. It's another thing to let it so penetrate your heart and mind that you are different each and every day because of the truth in its pages.
I have wondered and questioned why things have happened in our lives the way that they have- especially in regards to the move to Minnesota and back. It hasn't made sense in my practical and structure-loving mind. I have asked God to show me how or why or what to do as a result of this. I have opened my heart and soul for Him to use me- use our whole family here in any way that He feels led to do so. Sometimes I have felt like I missed the calling when I was single and more able to pack up and serve Him in Africa. Being a SAHM {stuck-at-home-mom as I refer to myself many times =) }in a mostly middle-class white America feels like a box- a very blessed and wonderful box, but a box just the same. I have wondered how God could use me or why He would need me here. This part of Jen's book made sense to me and makes me realize that no matter where we live or who we are or what we have to offer, God can use it all and He wants too. As long as we are willing to say 'yes' when our life gets interrupted.
"We have the privilege of serving Jesus Himself every time we feed a hungry belly, each moment we give dignity to someone who has none left, when we acknowledge the value of a convict because he [or she] (I added that pronoun) is a human being, when we share our extreme excess with those who have nothing, when we love the forsaken and remember the forgotten. Jesus is there."
                                                                        *     *     *     *
I still can't say that I fully understand or ever will fully understand how God wills, moves or works. But I am willing to open my heart to His ways and be moved as a result in every little or big way that I sense His call in my life. I am willing to be interrupted, inconvenienced, embarrassed, put on the spot, broken, and uncomfortable for the sake of His glory and kingdom. Not because I am worthy or great. But because of what He did for me on the cross. It's the least I can offer back to Him.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Ready for spring...

Hello March 1st! I would like to think that it signals the onset of spring, but we are getting more snow even now as I write this blog post. We had a couple of inches over night last night, so between the accumulation of new snow and the cold temperature {today was right around 20 degrees here in west Michigan} it doesn't seem all that hopeful for an early spring. But they do say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so we are perfectly on course to do that!
March 1st also brings the opportunity for anyone who wants to get a Cocoa Daisy kit, add-ons or Day In The Life kit the chance to do so. This month's Grey Street kit has been a big hit with the subscribers and we as a design team all loved it too! The greens, gray and splashes of other colors make it fun and definitely get you wanting spring even more so!
I loved scrapping the page about Teagan's rainboots and the sweet memories they bring to my mind- even all these years later. March is Teagan's birthday month and so those memories are even more vivid as we prepare to mark another birthday without her here on earth with us- but never far from our hearts and minds! She will always be such a colorful, cherished part of my memories and I am glad that her stories can still find their way onto my scrap pages.
I loved scrapping Teague's newborn baby picture too. There is something so amazing wrapped up in the hopes and dreams of a new baby. Teague is quite a handful now, than he was all tiny and sleeping in that photo, but I still have huge dreams and hopes for all of my kids! I am sure that never changes- even as they grow and change themselves. Here's to a bright future, a new beginning with the onset of spring...and hopefully sunshine to start melting all the snow!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Memories...old and new.

I love getting to re-live memories as I scrapbook and create pages and mini books each month. This month Cocoa Daisy's reveal night is earlier than usual- it's happening tomorrow, the 26th due to the short month of February. So here are a couple of sneak peeks of Grey Street to tide you over until the full reveal tomorrow. This kit has some fun pops of green and yellow and of course, gray. I have enjoyed documenting moments and stories that still impact me years after they have happened. Small details, but so big in the scheme of stories I don't want to soon forget. And even better to capture on page and pass along as the years go by.
They fly by so fast!
Proof of that is Brock's 15th birthday last week. He ended up getting a snow day and school cancelled last Tuesday. But the weather turned sunny and nice and so our whole family went out to a Japanese steakhouse and to the Lego Movie to celebrate such a big day. It was fun to have an unexpected "family day" to mark the occasion. There was a morning homemade latte to kick off Brock turning 15 and homemade vanilla bean cheesecake to round out the day. We all feel so blessed to be a part of Brock's life. He has been a great kid and a truly nice-guy as a teen too! The best of both worlds for our family and I am pretty sure he is turning into a pretty great young man right before our eyes as well. We are glad for all the moments and years we have had with him, and I hope to scrapbook more of them as the years go on. Yay for living the memories and capturing them on page too. =)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Beyond the fluff of Valentine's...

What I would love to write in this space today is how dreamy and sappy it is to be celebrating Valentine's Day with my true love. Who doesn't want the perfect love story at some point in their life?! Especially on Valentine's Day. But the truth and reality in this great big world of ours- even on Valentine's Day- or maybe especially so on Valentine's Day!- is that true love isn't as pretty and sweet as the cards, flowers, dark chocolates and fairytales that consume this holiday would like us all to believe. Those things are great. They are awesome and special even! They do say, "I love you" and they can certainly communicate what is in one's heart. I am not writing off dark chocolate sea-salt caramels wrapped up with a bow ever! But I am sharing my own heart and thoughts about what I have learned love to be. And I can tell you, it's not all rosy and chocolates.
In fact the deepest, most pure love that I have ever experienced in my 41 years of life most often has been shown to me not in the form of a tangible gift at all. It hasn't been showered on me when life has been it's prettiest. It has been in some of the deepest, darkest pits of life that I have felt loved, supported, cherished and comforted. The times when I look back in my life and know that love was holding me are times when flowers and chocolates would have failed, and even felt offensive as a gift of love. It strikes me as interesting that when I have needed love and care the most in my life that the most thoughtful, most meaningful gesture of love has been simply having someone sit next to me and weep with me, or hold me close and cry with me.
Love has shown itself faithful and true to me in an embrace at the airport in Chicago standing next to baggage claim.
It has stood by me as we sang, "It is well with my soul" as we said good-bye to Teagan at her memorial services.
Love has lifted me when I felt I couldn't bring myself to say, "I forgive you". Love was wrapped around me when I claimed that truth and it helped set my heart free.
Love was there when I cried out and wept over a load of fresh, warm whites to fold and found myself unable to breathe. It whispered to my heart, "look to the Heavens and trust me for your very breath".
Love has wrapped its tiny newborn finger around mine and made me believe in joy and Hope in this world again.
It has gotten up with me in the middle of the night, too many times to count, and helped give a shower or start a load of laundry and held a sick child.
Love has walked in the door and placed take-out on the counter. Too many times to count that as well. =)
It has scrapped the snow off the windshield and started the vehicle so that the inside was warm for travel.
Love tells me to "text him a grocery list" and says "no problem" when I say thank you for doing that errand/chore for our family again. And again. And again.
True love has shown me that it's not a tiny box wrapped with a big bow at precisely the right moment in time that reveals the heart, but the way it grins and smiles and says, "you look beautiful" even after a sleepless night or a ruthless day spent just trying to keep my head above water. Love looks at me when I am at my worst and says, "There is nobody in the whole world I would rather be next to at this moment in time, except you."
Love has dared to say that it would be easier for us to be apart, but it is far better to hang on and trudge forward together. Love has believed in the future of us even when the present has looked dim, and the questions outnumber the answers in life.
Love has said, "I'm sorry...I messed up...and I'm trying." It has allowed me to say the very same things.
Love has seen the ugly side of me. More than once. And yet it stands by my side to this very day.
Love has taught me so many things about God, others and myself.
It has been poured out to me in unexpected people, places and things. It has been undeserved, unmerited, and unleashed to me since as far back as I can remember.
Love has changed me, saved me, redeemed me, and it makes me want to be a better me. Not just today. Not because of flowers. Or chocolate or any other thing that can be bought or sold.
True love comes from the heart, comes from Above, and comes in such subtle ways that I sometimes miss seeing just how beautiful it is.
Today- this Valentine's Day- seems as fitting a day as ever for me to pause and look back and say thanks. To all the Love I have been given in this life. I am humbled, grateful, and my heart is overflowing with gratitude for such love. I only hope I can shower some of my love and gratitude back to God, to Chip who has showered me with so much and still gives me all these years, and to my family, friends and strangers too. One of my favorite things about true love is that it never runs out, gets old, dries up or falls short. It can be given and shared and it only grows from there!

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Color Swatch...

I have been having a blast scrapping and making things with Cocoa Daisy's Color Swatch kit. It is available for purchase now! If you are a new 6-month subscriber, you can get 40% off your first kit...such a great deal! This kit is bold and colorful, but there is so much in it and on the reverse sides that you can tone it down and go for some subdued projects if you like those too. So many options and loads of fun! Now that is a winning kit for sure!
I am also making some Valentine cards with my scraps right now, so if you leave me a comment and tell me one thing that you are loving in or about your life right now, I will choose someone to mail a card to. Just leave an email in your comment so that I can send you a note and get your mailing address in return if you're the lucky winner of some happy mail! Here's to lots of love, color and happiness all month long! Happy February, everyone!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Letting your light shine.

I may have shared this story in years past here on Nitty.Gritty. But it's a good one, and this photo recently showed up in my FaceBook feed and so it just seemed fitting to share it and the story that came to my mind right away when I saw it. This picture is of Teagan and her friend, Jess, taken on a  day that they had a playdate at our house. Now, you can probably tell just by looking at this picture that these two little girls loved to play, be loud, laugh and enjoy just being little girls! We knew Jess from our local church. It was one of the places that we made some lifelong friends when we lived in Gaylord. Church was one of the places that practically "felt like home" for us- in part because of the great friendships we did for with so many people there, but also because we spent a lot of time there- besides the usual Sunday morning church services.
Jess and Teagan didn't just love to play and laugh and have fun when they had playdates at home. But they loved to be loud and have fun at church together too. Sometimes that felt appropriate- like during game time in the gym, or while singing and learning funny songs during Vacation Bible School. I loved and appreciated the good times these girls, and lots of other young friends of theirs shared in church.
But one Sunday morning stands out in my mind when I see this picture of Teagan and Jess. The new auditorium had recently been built and was the new worship sanctuary for Sunday mornings and other large events/gatherings. It seats about 1,100 people and let's just say that there was a lot of time and money invested in that big, new auditorium.
This particular Sunday morning the girls had connected at church during Sunday School, and they were still happily hanging out as the morning services ended and the parents gathered their children or just talked and fellowshipped together before it was time to part. The girls chose this Sunday morning to go running up and down the large aisles of the new worship center. But they didn't stop there. They ventured up on stage and were running and laughing and playing behind the big curtain and by the podium as well. When I realized that Teagan was a part of the noise and rambunctious behavior in the auditorium I gave Chip "the look" to go get her immediately and put a stop to her wild antics. I watched the girls run and laugh even more for a minute or two as they realized they were 'caught' and were being called to bring their fun and games to a halt.
Their response to Chip when he ushered them down from the stage was that "they were just playing and having fun!" Of course they were! But I could feel the 'eyes' of other church goers on them and on us as parents that made it feel anything but "fun".
On the ride home from church that day Teagan got a little lecture on "how to act in church". We reminded her that the sanctuary was "God's house" and that she should be careful of how loud and wild she was in that place from now on. She seemed to understand, and yet she was still grinning and told us how much she loved playing with Jess and her others friends at church too.
I could never have imagined on the ride home from church that day that it would only be a matter of months later that I would be standing in that very auditorium honoring and remembering Teagan's life at her memorial service. I remember that day so clearly as well. How my heart was so shattered and how my mind was still trying to come to grips with the reality that I would never see her laugh or run or dance and twirl on this earth ever again. I could hardly believe that we were sharing stories and pictures of her life in remembrance of her- because to me she was still so full of life and joy and I wasn't prepared to let any of that go!
And yet Chip and I stood hand-in-hand with our hearts broken and wounded and clueless as to how it all happened and more so, how God was going to mend the brokenness that we felt to the very core of our hearts. I pictured Teagan running and laughing in the very place that hundreds of flowers now served as a reminder that she was gone. Her smiling picture on the memorial alter made my heart ache more. I wanted to turn back time to the day she ran and laughed so loudly that I sent Chip rushing down the aisle to scoop her up and halt her fun. I wanted to turn back time and do it all over again.
Only this time I would have wanted to hug her and tell her how happy I was that she was simply being who God made her to be. I wanted to turn back the days and watch her twinkle and shine on that stage with her friend, Jess, as only two little girls can in the midst of their play. I wanted to look on their joy and grasp how it was one of the purest forms of worship in that space that day. Their actions may not have been perfectly in line with what other church-goers or Chip or I had in mind for them in that new auditorium. But in retrospect, and certainly in light of the reality we faced at Teagan's service, their actions were in perfect accord to how God wants us to come to Him with our hearts and lives. He wants us to come as little children. Not caring about what others think or even how we see ourselves. He wants us to come to Him in worship, recognizing who He is, and putting all of our self aside. True worship is singing, dancing, praying, sacrificing, embracing all of who GOD is, and truly being humble in spirit and simply being who God created us to be. There is nothing we can bring to His alter that He doesn't already 'own' or have access too...except our hearts. He wants our hearts to be poured out to Him as our love offering. We can come "too loud, too wild, too clueless" as to who He is, and yet He accepts us as we are simply because we come. He just wants our hearts. Plain and simple.
I am so glad to know that Teagan invited Jesus into her heart and life just the day before she died. She knew that Jesus died on the cross for her sin, and truly the most important thing that anyone can do, who understands who God is, is to give their heart to Him by asking forgiveness of their sin and inviting Him into their life. God does the rest. I miss the mark far too often when it comes to living the simple way that God wants us to live. He wants us to shine for Him, lean on Him, shout for Him, share our joys and sorrows and everything in between for Him, and just be who He created us to be. Nothing more. Nothing less. It seems so simple. And it is. Even a child can get it and live out their days letting their life shine for Him. I am so glad I had a front row seat to Teagan's life. Especially on the day she ran through the auditorium in response to just being who God made her to be.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Snowed in. Again!

This has been quite a winter all over the nation and world, I believe. We are in the midst of another 'arctic blast' here in Michigan and on our 3rd consecutive snow day...with a weekend in between. So the days all sort of blur together, but we are cozy, warm and we love staying in jammies all day long. Last week's days off were added fun since Grandma Genie {my  mom} was in town staying with the kids and I while Chip was in Orlando for the PGA merchandise show. The unexpected time the kids got to spend with her and the low-key schedule compared to getting ready and doing school drop-offs and pick-ups was nice for all of us! We played games, had Ava's room painted {pale pink}, baked and ate good food, sang songs and hymns, watched funny DIY shows and a couple of movies, ate popcorn and just all-around had a great time enjoying Grandma at our house. We were sad to see her go, but happy for my dad, since we know how much he was missing having her around too!
I didn't get much scrapping time in, and had actually planned to do quite a bit while she was here. But the time spent doing other stuff just filled up my craft free time. Still, I am so excited to share peeks of the layouts I made with the next Cocoa Daisy kit for February...called Color Swatch! It is one of my favorites! I received the paper add-on as well as the Paint Chip add-on kit and it is a wonderful mix of items for crafting. I have plans to make some Valentine's a am hoping to make a couple of other little projects too. The pinks and fun watercolor/paint patterns and designs add some charm and whimsy to each project. Tomorrow night is the big reveal for this kit, so join us over at the message board and see for yourself! If you sign up for a subscription there is a special 40% discount for your first kit right now. And trust me, when you get snowed in with a box of Cocoa Daisy goodies, it's a wonderful thing! Stay warm and safe everyone, and have fun crafting!