Kirsten Grace, Letters to My Kids, Parenting

Kirsten Grace – Month 6

Happy Half Year Birthday, Little Girl!Kirsten Grace Month 6

6 months already?! What the heck?! I’ve taken to saying, “She’ll be 19 years old tomorrow,” as a way of bracing myself for how quickly time will go. You are a such a gift; I’m treasuring every moment. I find myself stopping and just being present with you even while I’m in the middle of working or cooking or being busy with one thing or another. You’re becoming so great at being a part of our daily, working, traveling lives that it would be easy to miss the gift in the little mundane moments. But then I look at your and respond with this gigantic, eager grin from ear to ear and I can practically hear you saying, “I love you, momma” with those big blue eyes.

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I love you, sweet girl. I love you.

This past month has been tremendously developmental for you and subsequently tons of fun for your dad and me. Just this past week you started your first foods and loved it. You started grabbing the spoon and pulling it to your own mouth on the second round! I had planned to feed you pureed versions of the foods we love and so far it’s been a big hit. We did butternut squash mixed with breast milk for a week and then yesterday afternoon you had avocado mashed with a little breast milk. You did great with both!

I was surprised to discover – both from your cues and then from the info I looked up for some guidance – that you would still want to nurse just as much once starting purees. Apparently your calorie intake goes up and nursing stays the same. One book put it a way I really loved: Baby will continue nursing for the calories and start eating foods for the fun of it. Eventually, she’ll be eating foods for the health and calories and nursing for the joy of it. And then stop nursing altogether. Sounds like a nice progression for me.

I’m so proud of both of us for making it to 6 months exclusively breastfeeding. We did it, little one. I had read that “they” say breastfeeding through 6 months is ideal, but I just discovered this official scholarly article by the American Academy of Pediatrics that states in its abstract: The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.

This month you’ve kicked up your laughter a notch (and we love it):

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You’ve been sitting up unassisted like an old pro for a couple weeks now and have really improved your standing ability, being up to stay upright for a few moments while holding on to something. (Not pulling yourself up yet and you’ve decided to not deal with rolling over…you just don’t care…)

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Kirsten & her friend Violet at church on June 26

You’ve been to a family wedding & sported a cute pinafore dress that I wore as a baby…

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…gone strawberry picking at Whittaker’s Strawberry Patch…

…hung out with Landon Loomis for mom & dad’s date night (we’re swapping date nights/babysitting with our Loomis friends!)…

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…improved your falsetto…

…spent an afternoon making a new friend – Selah May – and hanging out with friends of ours we hadn’t seen since their wedding in 2008…

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You have made tremendous strides in the church nursery, no longer crying the entire hour that you’re separated from momma. I love knowing you’re happy and just fine, and that you’re surrounded by a whole slew of people who love you to pieces (even if you do cry the entire time).

You’re developing more diverse facial expressions and experimenting with your vocal chords.

You really love mirrors and give me the biggest grin when you see my reflection next to yours.

You love being outside, you mostly love taking naps. You still love baths and being outdoors.

You went to your first Detroit Tigers baseball game in honor of our new Mother’s & Father’s Day tradition…

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and that same evening went to your weekly worship practice just like you’ve done since you were 5 days old…

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We’ve become more and more crazy about you with each passing day, Kirsten. You are gorgeous. You are smart. You are strong. You’re our girl. And we love you.

Happy Half Birthday! 

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Confessions, Ministry

Pastor

I have been living my calling for as long as I can remember, but I’m only now saying ‘YES’ to that call.

It was those words I began to share my call to pastoral ministry with the Annual Conference.* I have been a leader in church ministries from the time I was a young girl. Heading off to college, I knew I would continue to be involved in ministry, but I didn’t know in what capacity. I didn’t think I wanted to be a “professional” or a “working woman” (so why in the world was I going to college anyways?), nor did I believe that woman should serve as pastors. I was so strong in this stance, in fact, that I once wrote a paper against the idea of women in lead pastoral ministry. My professor, also a mentor of mine, wrote a page long rebuttal and continued to prod me into my calling with every course and conversation. Many other men and women have joined in the efforts of gently and lovingly calling out my gifts and graces for ministry, some of them so subtly that I found myself agreeing without realizing it.

Exhibit A:

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I became the youth pastor at Monroe Free Methodist Church in 2008, but preferred to ignore the “pastor” part of the job title for fear of its implications. I continued in volunteer ministries during our time in Albion (NY), stepping up as a worship leader and youth leader. I have served as a youth camp speaker on multiple occasions and have taught and prayed and led from behind the microphone countless times.

But I was afraid. Not of addressing the crowd or holding a microphone in my hand or praying in front of people. No, I’m thankful that those tasks come naturally to me. I was afraid of the implications of “preaching” and “pastor.” If I said “yes” to either of those calls it would be stepping out of safety, making the decision to “paint with bold colors” rather than the pastels I’d been using, sticking out in ways I’d rather not. I’ve preferred to stay behind my husband, the pastor, rather than beside him. He’s the pastor, I’m just the worship leader. Sure, some Sundays I get to preaching in my worship leading and I sit down as he stands up and mouth the words, “Sorry, I took all of your sermon time.” But nooo, I’m not called to preach. I’m not supposed to pastor. I’ll just stand over here in the shadows not making any waves, thankyouverymuch. 

God has had different plans for me all along. And I’m saying “yes” in a big and bold and all-in sort of way. My gifts and passions are finally making sense to me, coalescing in the context of Pastor. I’m starting to “get it.” (Sorry, Lord, I’m a little slow.)

By God’s grace I went to a Free Methodist College and completed a Philosophy/Religion degree (which is only really “good” for graduate work or…you guessed…the ministry). I have become a member of a denomination that advocates for women in ministry. I have a husband who not only sees my gifts and identifies my calling (long before I do…), but he insists I step out, sometimes even in front of him. He won’t settle for me shirking into the shadows and being _______(insert specific ministry here) pastor. He waited for me to say it, to believe it, and then he said, “Yes, I want you to pastor with me. Co-pastors.”

So I took the FM History and Polity course. I loved it, loved studying the Book of Discipline and learning the reasons behind why we operate as we do. It solidified my love of the Free Methodist denomination. I completed a year and a half as a Local Ministerial Candidate, having been confirmed by my local church as gifted for pastoral ministry. (Note that this was about a year before I confirmed my call to be a pastor.) The MEG board (Ministerial Education and Guidance Board) “vetted” me and voted on my acceptance as a Conference Ministerial Candidate and then last Thursday the Annual Conference voted to receive the MEG board’s recommendation that I be admitted as a CMC.

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The MAC (Ministerial Appointments Committee) also voted to appoint me to Monroe Free Methodist Church, meaning I am now actually and officially a pastorProcess-wise, I will serve three years in full time ministry and complete any education requirements the MEG deems necessary, and prayerfully in 2019, I will become an ordained Elder, which is the final step in ordination in the Free Methodist Church. 

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This Sunday I will be preaching my first “official” sermon as Associate Pastor of Monroe FMC. Not much else will change in the ways Kevin and I function; like I said, I was doing the work of a pastor before I said “yes” to being a pastor. But I feel different. I feel more alive. I feel appointed and called and in the center of God’s will for my life. 

And so with the wise guidance of a pastoral mentor of mine, I enter into this preparation prayerful and with the words of Paul at the forefront:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

I Corinthians 2:1-5

For more information on the Free Methodist Church’s stance on Women in Ministry click HERE

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Letters to My Kids, Parenting

Stuff that works

In my six months of mothering, these are the items and the systems that work for me. It’s so hard (read “impossible”) to know what you actually need for your baby when you’re a new parent. There’s so many products; it’s overwhelming. This post is my effort to help whittle down that list.

My favorite things

Baby K’tan is a wonderful soft sided baby carrier which has all the benefits of a “wrap” style (like the boba or Moby) without the steep learning curve of learning to wrap. It’s super portable and super fast and easy to use. Kirsten and I both love it. She’s taken many, many many  naps in it. She’s been to almost every worship practice in it (since she was 5 days old). She likes to go shopping in it and to work in it. She plays video games with Daddy in it. These are sized – small, medium, large, etc – so Kevin has a medium and I have a small. They are easily washable.

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Sleepsuits (0-9 months) are our favorite for a cozy bedtime. She’s worn one just like this one from Carter’s since she was a few weeks old and she’s still wearing it at 6 months. It’s easy and warm and soft. We also like the sleeper gowns that have an elastic opening at the bottom. This made multiple middle-of-the-night diaper changes in those early weeks super easy. And they’re adorable.

Burp rags – finding the right burp clothes is super important, especially if you have a baby who spits up like it’s her full-time job. The old fashioned tri fold diapers or green sprout muslin absorb and absorb well. Other clothes are cute, but not as absorbent and practical.

Socks – We adore these “Noodle Brand” Mary Janes that Kirsten wears almost every day. They’re long enough that they don’t ever fall off and they’re just plain adorable.

Bumbo – This little seat is genius. Kirsten sat it for the first time when she was just about 6 weeks old. She was still months away from sitting independently, but this seat does a great job of supporting an unstable infant and gives them an opportunity to learn head support. We sit it on the counter while we’re cooking dinner and she gets to watch and participate in the family process. Ours has a detachable food tray which is great for keeping her pacifier or toys from falling. It’s super easy clean up – no nooks or crannies. And it’s a perfect booster seat as kids get older.

Swaddle Blankets (muslin) – These have so many wonderful uses. They are a lightweight, soft cotton fabric in a large 40×40 inch square. We used them constantly the first two months to tightly swaddle our little girl when she was fussy or needing a nap or basically all of the time. Nowadays, they’re useful to block the sun on stroller rides or lay on the ground in the church to play. Kirsten likes to use them to snuggle with at naptime and covers her face with them to sleep. Aden + Anais sells a four pack for around $35. Four to eight of these blankets would be sufficient.

Baby Bath Towels  – We received multiple lightweight hooded towels which were great for the first couple months of her tininess. But I’m super thankful for the few people who created homemade hooded towels for our girl – out of a full-sized adult towel and some sort of attached washcloth as a hood. What I’m saying is, the bigger the better. I think the hood will be nice once she’s a toddler and walking around after her bath, but for now, a large towel is my preference for her bathtime.

Rock ‘n Play Sleeper – This bed option is wonderful. The Rock ‘n Play is lightweight and easy to transport and inexpensive. It’s what Kirsten slept in at my bedside for her first 2 months. It’s been back and forth to the church for naps and in hotels for overnights. Between this and a pack ‘n play, you’re pretty set.

Swing – This is the exact swing we received from our registry. I researched swings for hours one day, trying to figure out what was important and what wasn’t and what a good price was. This was literally the first thing Kirsten napped in when she came home from the hospital. Most days for the first 5 months she spent at least one nap in her swing. I love that this has a wall adaptor and doesn’t need batteries. I like the way the seat is more bed-like and reclined and cradling, rather than upright. I love how it swings left to right or front to back. Kirsten loves the music and the nature sounds and the way the lights bounce off the soft draping.


Cloth diaper system

I have 18 diapers (Bum Genius Freetime All in One Diapers) and it seems like the perfect amount. I do a load of diaper laundry about every day-and-a-half. I use cloth wipes as well. Thanks to the brilliance of a friend, this is so easy: use dampened baby washcloths as your wipes. She recommended a diaper warmer just so you can store the washcloths and keep them wet (and warm is a bonus).

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We use a Diaper Sprayer attached to the toilet and then store the soiled diapers and cloth wipes in a large Planet Wise bag (which then gets washed with each load). I use homemade laundry detergent and do a cycle of cold then a shortened cycle on hot, then hang to dry on a drying rack.

[homemade detergent = 1 bar ivory soap, grated + 1 cup borax + 1 cup washing soda. I normally make up a giant batch with an entire box of borax and washing soda and seven bars of soap. 2 Tbsp per load.]

The Diaper Dekor is a fantastic diaper pail for disposables (which we use very rarely) or just as a trash can. It does have special bags (one long tube that you cut to size each time) but I think the cool thing is it can be used with regular trash bags and as a “regular” garbage can when you’re done with diapers. I don’t know how the smell is contained if you use regular bags, but it works wonderful. I haven’t changed it in a month and I don’t smell a thing. It can be used for cloth diapers too, but we opted for the Planet Wise Bags.


Breastfeeding System

I have had countless conversations with women who have or are breastfeeding and every one of us has a unique story with specific problems and frustrations and different favorite solutions. These are what work for me. I was blessed with an overwhelmingly strong supply of milk from the get-go. I have a freezer full of pumped milk simply because I struggled with painful engorgement until about 4-1/2 months in and I had a forceful let down that would choke my little one if I didn’t relieve some of the pressure first.
Nursing bras – A couple weeks before my due date I went to Motherhood Maternity/Destination Maternity and got sized for nursing bras. Prior to pregnancy I was a 34B and I was sized for a 38C. I believe I was mis-sized and should have gotten a 38B. I purchased two soft sided bras (that were sized as “large” – wish I had gotten the “medium”) and two more shaped bras, with no underwire, but a bit of a side wire. I liked them at first, but honestly it’s so much easier to wear a sports bra or a non-underwire bra and just lift it up to nurse. It’s simpler because I don’t have to put my hand down my shirt to re-snap it. I was a tangled mess when I was trying to be discreet. I also fought plugged ducts in my armpits and the side wires did not help the problem.
So my recommendation is to go get a regular soft-sided bra in your new size. (I got two for $18 at TJ Maxx). Using Lanisoh disposable breast pads are super simple with this system because they stay in place as you lift and then replace your bra. (They have two sticky spots which work better than Medela one’s with just one sticky spot).
The first month or so I used washable breast pads exclusively. I really liked them because I had so much leakage. I went through at least 5 or 6 sets a day, constantly washing them in the sink and hanging them to dry (hoping they’d dry fast enough.) I love using washable products, but they don’t absorb as much as the disposables. I would constantly wake up during the night with my bra and everything soaked through. Bottom line: I liked having both options of breast pads.
If you have painful engorgement, I highly recommend splurging on the Lanisoh Breast Therapy. I could talk a long time about the pain I had early on, plugged ducts, cracked nipples, etc. Use them from day one for relief.

I would love to talk with you more about any products you have questions on or need some suggestions. The market changes quickly, but this is a good starting point.

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About Me, Confessions, Friends, Ministry

Freshman Year of College

I’m in many “sandwiched” friendships. I’m close friends with women in their 40s who are getting ready to send their kids off to college for the first time. I’m also friends with those 16-20 year old kids of theirs. It’s a really fun dynamic.

Many of our conversations are centered around the topic of college and I’ve been feeling rather sentimental about my own experience.


Let it be known that when I left for college in 2004, I was equipped with exactly zero computers.  I may have stashed my TI-83 calculator in my bookbag for good luck, but basically I had a pile of ruled notebooks. Oh, and I had a stack of floppy discs for saving my work on the library computers. (No flash drives, no google drive or dropbox, not even re-writable cds. Kevin would tell you I was completely behind the times, and I was a tiny bit, but this was how my high school had taught me.) A few months into school, I bought Kevin’s old laptop off of him so he could buy the iBook4 (which had 60 gbs of memory).

My school email address was my first ever and it was a doozy:  mf230298@arbor.edu. Kevin taught me how to AIM instant messenger and I chatted online with my college friends as “arborfish19.” (My maiden name was “Fish.”) I had a Xanga blog (which I tried to find just now and it has been archived because it hasn’t been used in 5 years …or 10).

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please note: these photos were scanned onto my computer. They were taken with film cameras. I didn’t get a digital camera until junior year. 

I didn’t get a cell phone until the end of my sophomore year and it was a Motorola flip phone with…get this…an antenna you had to pull out to make a call. There was no text messaging.  Each dorm room had a land line phone with an extension and you could call for free from across campus. To make phone calls home, I was loaded with a 1000 minute calling card. You’d better believe I had those 16 digits and a pin memorized.

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Facebook was just getting started my freshman year, and I boycotted this up-and-coming internet-thingy for one and a half school years until I succumbed to the madness. There were no games or chats or even pokes on FB. It was just faces and short statuses that all began with the prompt: “Melanie is…”

I say all this as a way of confessing that I am a bit behind the times, but also to tell you that while technology changes, the disciplines with which you choose to live your life do not need to change. 


To you, sweet girl, going off to college,

What you are about to do is most definitely a big deal. It’s a big deal for you and a big deal for your family. I remember thinking to myself, “Everything is about to change. Nothing will ever be the way it was before.” And while that’s a bit overly dramatic, it’s basically true.

But here’s the bigger truth – You are at a most exciting precipice of life, getting to step more fully into the you God created you to be.

You are going to be met with many new influences – friends, professors, employers, books, theologies, pastors – and you’re going to be forming your own individual worldview. You will take what you’ve been taught by your family, your teachers, your childhood friends, and your church and you’ll add to that foundation a broader view of life.

It’ll be a bit scary at first. You might feel like you’re questioning everything you’ve ever known. (Your parents might freak out a bit too.) But it’s good to question. Questions lead to well-developed answers, answers that you’ve researched and debated and talked to death with your friends in the wee hours of the night. And those answers will transform you. You will come out the other side stronger and more confident, firmer in your faith in Christ. Don’t fear the questions; God isn’t afraid of your questionsBecause in all that searching the Truth will come out and the Truth always sets you free.

You’re going to do a lot of growing up in the next four years. It’s a beautiful time of transition, a gracious movement into adulthood. Why? Well, you’re getting a taste of independence while still having the backing (perhaps even financial backing) of your family back home. Win-Win. But here’s the thing with independence – it must be used wisely. You can survive college on energy drinks and all-nighters and last-minute study sessions and leftover pizza; tons of people do that and do “just fine.” But the thing of it is, God has called you to live a full life, a life honoring to him. I challenge you to make each of your decisions – big and small – with this mindset (Colossians 3:23)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

With that foundation, here are my bullet-pointed list of goals for you:

  1. Go to bed. For the love of all that is holy go to bed at a decent hour. Like 10 or 11pm. You can stay up ridiculously late on Friday night if you want, but you’re in college for a reason and you have a job to do. Getting a decent night’s sleep is absolutely essential to living with excellence.
  2. Eat Well. The “freshman 15” is real and is sometimes more like the “freshman 30.” This phenomenon occurs because you have an unlimited buffet at every meal and no one to tell you to stop eating. So try the soft serve ice cream, but decide to limit yourself. Eat the fancy-pants, sugary cereal that your mom never bought you, but limit yourself. Indulge in the delicious French fries and the fountain pop, but limit yourself. Go ahead and buy a pizza or a burger at ten o’clock at night, but only every once in a while. (The fourth-meal syndrome is a big problem and is often solved by going to bed at a decent hour forthelove.) Choose to try vegetables you used to despise and get to know that salad bar. Maybe even have a salad for one meal a day (not with tons of ranch or caesar dressing… that kind of defeats the purpose). Eat whole fruit once or twice a day. Go out to Denny’s at 1am with your friends, but not every week.
  3. Exercise.  This one is really tough for even the best students. Getting up early to work out or run sounds like cruel torture, but it is totally worth it. Waking up an hour early is not too difficult if you’re going to bed at a decent hour and the time alone with your thoughts (often before everyone else gets up) is priceless. You’ll be energized for your day and fight off those extra pounds with ease.
  4. Create a daily routine for yourself. All of the above kind of work into this one. You may not have class until 12:30pm, but perhaps the wise thing to do with your independence is to get up around 7am, go workout, shower, eat breakfast (I know, I’m asking a lot here), and have time in quiet with the Lord.
  5. Set aside at least 30 minutes a day for private devotion with Jesus. This may be in a corner of your dorm room before your roommate wakes up or while she’s at class. It may be in a prayer chapel or under a certain tree you love or on the quiet floor of the library. But get alone with God. Pray. Listen. Journal. Read. Study. I’ll list a bunch of my favorite spiritual discipline resources at the bottom. (And I’d love to have a conversation with you about this topic if you need some guidance.)
  6. Friends. Make lots of friends. Be brave. Go up to that girl and introduce yourself. She feels just as awkward and uncomfortable as you do. Every one of you is leaving the home you’ve always known and having to live with people you’ve never met. It’s going to be hard and your going to feel out of place sometimes. But know you’re not alone. And you’re probably about to make some the greatest friendships. Living with people will do that. :)
  7. Roommates. I highly recommend leaving your freshman-year-roommates up to fate. I’ve known too many people who choose their roommate based on a high school friendship or meeting someone at registration day and then it goes horribly wrong and you lose a friend. Just let Admissions do their job the first time around. And live in a community dorm at least your freshman year. It forces you to share space with others with whom you might successfully ignore if you have a private suite-style room. It’ll be good for you, I swear.
  8. Boys. This could easily be another series of posts. I don’t have succinct advice on this one. But I will say that I made some of my best guy-friends during college and I found my husband during college. So pray a lot. Don’t give in to the pressure to get  “ring by spring.” And enjoy your friendships with guys. If you want to talk more, I’m listening.
  9. Your major. It’s ok to switch your major a million times. I don’t know how anyone expects an 18 year old to know what they’re going to be doing for the rest of your life. I’m 30 years old and only now figuring out what I’m going to be when I grow up. While you have the space in your academic schedule take a class or two that interest you, just for fun. But be sure to have that 4 year academic plan nailed down as soon as you can so you don’t have to tack on a 5th year (especially if you’re going into education.)
  10. Classes. Go to them. Get to class on time, be prepared. Take that syllabus (the whole semester’s plan) on day one and write down all assignments in a planner of some sort. By doing this for all of your classes you’ll know when your weeks are going to be heavy and when they’ll be light. Maybe, just maybe, you can plan to work ahead in one class when you have a ton of stuff due for another class on the same week. Just an idea. For the most part, no professor is going to tell you what’s due and when it’s due. The syllabus was created for that reason and you’re expected to follow it on your own …or get left behind. Sometimes readings are assigned and you’ll never hear them mentioned or even referenced in class…but then there’s stuff on the exams from that material. So follow the plan.

Ok, well, it’s past my grown-up bedtime, so I think I’ll close with this:

I love you. I believe in you. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and challenge you and help you become more fully the person God intended you to be.

 

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