• How Hand, Foot, and Mouth Made Us Closer.

    We had a wonderful family filled adventure planned for Labor Day. My family is all at a distance, so when we get together it's an exciting treat. We were going to head to my brother's cattle ranch and hang out for the weekend. We were excited to go. I had food in the freezer ready to pack in a cooler, 2 pack-n-plays in the back of the car, a tank full of gas, and our bags packed. 

    Two nights before we were supposed to leave, Marylane was up all night. Total fluke, right? She'll be fine in the morning. The next morning came and she was a BEAR...crying and crabby. That evening during dinner she was shivering and feverish. Maybe she could be fine by morning and we could still go? Nope. The next morning brought an 102 fever and misery. More sleepless nights. More crabbiness. And now with blisters on her little hands and legs we know she has Hand, Foot, and Mouth. 

    I was looking forward to time with my family where they could enjoy my babies and I could watch for a second instead of being so IN it every minute. I was expecting life giving conversations and the comfort of my parents. I was expecting home cooked meals instead of thrown together ones that I usually put on the table [or eat from the kitchen counter, if I'm honest.] I spent Friday crying. I know, sick kids just come with parenting but I was tired, I was disappointed, and my expectations were not met. The weekend was hard and I had a hard time regaining perspective.

    And then we realized something.

    In all the disappointment and unmet expectations, Jason and I solidified something super valuable. We are in this TOGETHER. When you get married, that is what you are signing up for, right? Yes!- but it doesn't happen without hard stuff making it true of you. After many nights not sleeping, a sad wife and crabby kids our only option was to depend on each other and do it together. We took shifts in the night so we could each get a couple hours of sleep. We met the needs of our kids and of each other. Between tantrums and crying we were able to eek out some important conversations. We encouraged each other as we figured out what comforted our uncomfortable daughter. [Mostly Daddy's arms.] We figured out what refreshes each other. We spent an entire long weekend just as the 4 of us. Usually there's activities with friends, church to go to, a lot of in and out and running around. But we slowed down and the 4 of us just took time for each other.

    In all my disappointment I needed the power of the Spirit. Jason and I took moments to pray for His limitless, immeasurable power to sustain us. And He did. Last night after we put the kids to bed, we were crawling our tired bodies into bed, the disappointment had subsided, and we realized that we felt closer to each other.

    Stuff doesn't happen without other things also happening and in our case, Hand, Foot, and Mouth led to a closer family. I wouldn't choose to have it again, [and we are PRAYING Roux doesn't get it] but I'm grateful for what it gave us.

  • Two Extremes

    I'm going to be speaking here from a Mom's point of view, because currently that is the view I have everyday, but I think this could apply elsewhere also. 

    I feel inundated with 2 extremes when I think about perfecting my parenting. I see both of these extremes in social media, blogs, and magazines.

    One extreme says, I'm going to be my very best and that means:

    -making the best, most beautiful and nutritious meals

    -having my kids dressed perfectly adorably, no stains on anything

    -my house is perfectly picked up

    -I'm involved in something all the time

    -I Pinterest everything, perfectly, all the time

    -I can take a cart through the bicycle aisle in Target with my kids without knocking down all the bikes

    - all of this is accomplished with washed hair, clean clothes, and a smile

    The other extreme says, I'm mediocre and happy in my mediocrity. You have seen this too, right? Parents say things like...

    -my house is a mess

    -my kids are a mess

    -my clothes are a mess

    -I'm late to everything

    -but we're happy in our mediocrity

    I GET this! Truly, I do. It's too much pressure to be perfect. WAY too much pressure. This is rooted in a desire to do a job well but knowing perfection is impossible.

    But can't I strive to be the best I can possibly be AND do it without all the pressure of perfection? Or maybe can we rewrite what "the best" looks like?

    I'm not sure completely how it's done but I have to believe it's possible, because I'm not content with mediocrity but I also can't be the list of perfect above. 

    If you've spent any time with me at all since bringing our second child home you'll see it's hard for me to go into public and look graceful. My house IS a mess. My meals are thrown together. My priority for laundry is having clean diapers. And sometimes I forget when I last bathed my children. I believe God has given me a job to do, and I don't want to do it with less than my whole self. But maybe the list of what makes for exceptional parents needs some reworking. Maybe we need to give ourselves a little more credit than calling "less than perfection" mediocrity. And maybe we all could use a little more grace for ourselves and for those around us all doing the best we can to be the best parents we can be. 

  • Roux's Birth Story

    A year ago I got to share the story of Marylane's entrance into our family. We continue to be amazed at God's faithfulness to us through her life and His perfect timing in making us parents for the first time. We had started the adoption process in 2016 and then I got pregnant with Marylane. Through many experiences we knew that it was still God's heart for us that we adopt, and the deep desire to do so didn't leave us. In fact, it increased. 

    When Marylane was 6 months old our adoption agency allowed us to begin the adoption process again. It again took a while to get us to the point of approval, mostly because of background check delays. But after several months, on January 30, 2018 we were officially approved to be considered for placement. 

    Since 2016 we've been consistently praying for God's perfect timing in adding exactly the child to our home that God would have for us. We had NO idea it would move so very quickly. On March 20th we were asked if we wanted to be shown to a Mom who was due to have her baby in just a few weeks. We agreed. We figured that we might as well agree to be shown as often as possible, because we knew God would be orchestrating the events that would lead us to the child He dreamed of for our family.

    We heard nothing for 2 weeks and figured someone else must have been chosen. Then, the Friday before Easter the agency called and asked if we would be willing to chat with the Mom as a sort of interview. We agreed and gave times for the following week. They opted to chat with us the next day. We were on the phone maybe 5 minutes when she informed us that she had chosen us for her son. We had an awesome conversation getting to know each other a little and sharing about our dreams for the process and in one hour, our lives changed. She told us she would be delivering on April 5, just 5 days away. Easter Sunday we sat in church and I couldn't help but cry the entire morning. It was such a mix of excitement, fear, and a deep knowledge that God was in every single moment of the process. 

    We quickly booked flights to Utah, got an Airbnb, booked flights for my parents so they could come help us with Marylane in Utah, and systematically checked one thing after another off our list of things to do. 

    Wednesday rolled around very quickly and we got up at 3 AM to head to the airport so we could meet the biological mother of our son before she was set to deliver the next day. 

    We were all a ball of nerves and excitement. She walked in the door and immediately made her way to us. Her easy conversation, fun personality, and confidence struck us. We tried to soak in every moment, remember every word, and cherish every second of that dinner. 

    Roux was born the next evening. He was rushed to a special care unit because of some severe breathing complications, but was never transferred all the way to NICU and within 24 hours he was stable and doing well enough to be held. It was a long 24 hours of not being able to hold Roux. We would just stand by his bed staring at his beautiful taped up face, praying for him, and praying for his biological Mom's incredible decision ahead of her. She spent the majority of Friday with him, the day after his birth. It was a long day of waiting to see him, and waiting to know what would happen. His biological Mom signed consents Friday night, exactly 24 hours after his birth, and when Utah's revocation period had ended. She never waivered in her decision, she just wanted to soak up every precious moment she could. The first 24 hours felt full of waiting, waiting, waiting, but at the same time, we also felt at peace. I look back at that time and am amazed that I wasn't pacing the floors, nervous out of my mind. Nope, instead, we took a nap.

    After consents were signed, we shared time together with his biological Mom, marveling over the wonder of this sweet boy. We mutually agreed that he was basically the most beautiful boy ever born and we are the luckiest parents who ever were. We cried, we listened, and we rejoiced over an incredible amount of love that we newly shared for people who were strangers made family.

    Saturday morning, his biological Mom took off for home. She came into his room one more time and held his tiny self. We took some pictures together and then she lovingly placed Roux in my arms. She told him "see ya later." We are excited at the prospect of seeing her again. 

    We remained at the hospital another 24 hours until he could be discharged. It all felt like a miracle after he was so sick after his birth. We never imagined he would be healthy enough to leave the hospital just 3 days later.

    The next 2 days we got to spend with my parents, loving on the two littles. It was a rich blessing to have their help, encouragement and love through that time. 

    We stayed in Utah 13 days in total, until ICPC passed, giving us approval to leave the state with our new son.

    We learned a ton in that short time and continue a steep learning curve of getting to know Roux, juggling life with a 14 month old and a newborn, living on less sleep, and configuring our lives to our new normal. Thank heavens the snow is gone and we can go on walks and be outside.

    Those are the facts. The feelings come in waves. I'm more emotional now than I have been probably in 15 years. I'm completely overwhelmed with the goodness and generosity of God. I look at my family that 5 years ago I couldn't begin to fathom, and I cannot believe I get to live this story. Roux is the sweetest baby that ever could be. He laughs in his sleep, and is incredibly content. The only time he gets really worked up is diaper changes. Those are not so fun. He handles all of Marylane's kisses and love pats like a champ, and he regularly turns me to mush with his beautiful brown eyes.

    In my wildest imagining, I could have never dreamed this. 

    Welcome to the world, Roux Gabriel Lempola! We love you more than we know how to express.

  • What's Not Worth Mentioning

    Have you ever found yourself mid-conversation and thought, "Gross! I don't even want to be talking about this anymore." 

    I have found myself in the middle of these conversations all too frequently as of late. Whether I am complaining about a person, picking apart another's decisions, or picking apart myself. Maybe it's caring too much about stuff I can't control. Or possibly talking about stuff that just simply doesn't matter very much. I am the instigator and perpetuator of conversations that I quite simply don't need to have. 

    Some things are better left unsaid, but I so easily justify myself by saying that I am being vulnerable about what I feel, or it's just where I am right now, that these are the things I'm thinking about. Sure, I want to have grace for myself as I navigate a new stage of life. But what I do NOT want to do, is refuse to push myself to something better. If my what my day looks like leads me only to be comparing myself to others, I need to change what my day looks like. If my relationships are such that I am constantly feeling less than or that I don't measure up, then most likely, I need to change the conversations we are having. 

    I don't know why, but it seems these things are worse around the holidays. Maybe I am more prone to comparison this time of year, or maybe the expectations of the season get me thinking that things should be a certain way instead of the way they are, but excuses aside, in this time of spending more time with people than usual, I want my conversations to be worth having. I want my words to be positive. I want to be honest, yet to hold back the things that are better left unsaid. 

  • Two Words to String Together

    Windows open
    Outside drizzles
    Sleeping baby
    Lazy dog
    Curtains swaying
    Pretty words
    Grateful heart
    Apple Oreos
    Falling leaves
    Phone calls
    Clean laundry
    Fresh sheets
    Sweatshirt weather
    Blessing God
    Rocking chair
    Hot coffee
    Writing letters
    Love notes
    Generous community

    With few minutes to string more than two words together, I'm grateful for what I have and who I have to do it with. This is the beauty that is today.

  • Everything I know about 15 minutes

    I find myself with little 15-20 minute increments of time. I give myself a little longer than I used to in order to get out the door on time, but it usually means either right before or right after I've gotten myself and my Little One all ready to go, I have a little time to spare.

    I wish I could be pious and say that I've mastered using those 15 minutes, but honestly just today I found myself with 3 of these chunks of time and I began to feel this nagging sense that I ought to make something of the time. It wasn't guilt as much as the feeling that I'm not being a good steward of my main resource right now, which just so happens to be these little pockets of time.

    Most often I whip out my phone and check out what you all might be doing on Facebook or Instagram today. Or I loiter in my own home, wandering from room to room making a mental checklist of what I COULD be doing "when I have the time."

    -I could pick up my bedroom [how do I always have a pile of something somewhere?]
    -I could load/unload the dishwasher. 
    -I could go through Marylane's clothes AGAIN, because who KNEW a little baby could grow out of and into so many darling clothes so freaking fast?!
    -I could clean off the dining room table or the kitchen counter, because heaven KNOWS how long those piles have been sitting there.
    -I could read a few pages in the latest book I've picked up.
    -I could spend time with God.
    -I could play the piano.
    -I could "Miracle-Gro" my wilting plants.
    -I could decide what to make for dinner.
    -I could write a note to someone.

    I could do any number of things that would keep me from doing nothing at all with my time, but I mostly choose to waste the precious resource I have. Let me tell you, it's easy for me to justify doing nothing with that time: I'm tired, I just want a little break, it's only a few minutes anyway...

    But I don't want to get used to wasting little bits of time, because before I know it, I'll be wasting big bits of time. For me, it comes down to being faithful with little and perhaps later on having the privilege and opportunity to be faithful with much.

    What resource do you most have at your disposal? How do you choose to spend it?

  • A Baby Story

    I've been painfully inconsistent with writing this year so far. And I'm guessing I'll continue to be as I put into practice some new ways of living life. The miracle of the life strapped to me currently has been made evident in many ways. At every turn starting before she was even conceived we've been asked to entrust her to the Lord, and it's been our great privilege to do so. 

    We prayed and asked God to give us a child. We prayed consistently and hard and after nearly a year we began the adoption process believing that perhaps this would be how God would choose to expand our family. We started and finished the process in a few months. Our anticipation was through the roof. We knew of a set of twins who needed a family and the only thing holding us back was my background check approval from the state of Georgia.

    We waited for months and I filled and re-filled out the same paperwork multiple times. We were confused by the process and didn't understand what was going on in Georgia, yet trusted the Lord. We waited as long as we could and then the twins were born and our opportunity was lost. In the meantime I found out God answered our prayer in a different way. I was pregnant.

    At 8 weeks of pregnancy I started bleeding. It was my 35th birthday. We anxiously contacted our doctor and waited all day long before we could be seen. When we got there they did a few checks but wouldn't do an ultrasound until the following day. It was a tearful 24 hours. When we finally got to have our ultrasound we saw her heart beating strong and the Lord chose to preserve her. 

    Our agency would still allow us to adopt a newborn up through the first trimester of pregnancy so we continued to wait and pray and see what God might do. When our window was closed, and I was 12 weeks and 1 day I contacted our agency to let them know we'd need to pause the adoption process due to pregnancy. I kid you not, the very next day we received confirmation that my background check was approved and our homestudy complete. God made His plans completely clear. We would not be adopting a newborn at this time.

    Throughout the pregnancy we received word of 2 other children, both 10 months old who at different points needed loving homes to come into. We were able to have our profiles shown because they weren't newborns, and they'd be over a year by the time our little would be born. We bathed both situations in prayer anxiously hoping that God would bring into our home exactly who He wanted us to raise. In both instances the birth family chose other families to love their children. 

    At 22-ish weeks Jason and I were driving to watch the Nebraska-Minnesota football game at a restaurant and a woman rammed us from behind. Our car was totaled. Her car was too. We'd found out just 2 weeks before that we would be having a girl. We stood on the chilly sidewalk praying, very anxious about the life of our girl. The ambulance came and said we'd need to go to the ER to have the baby monitored. We sat in the labor and delivery room listening to her heart beating and the cloudy sounds of her movements, and they were some of the sweetest sounds we'd every heard. We also watched the Cornhuskers beat the Gophers. :) 

    At 32 weeks at our weekly dr. visit our doctor felt my belly and let us know our baby girl was breech. We'd been through a bit already so nothing much came as a surprise. We headed home and tried pretty much everything you could find on the internet to get your baby to turn. All to no avail. We scheduled a c-section for March 16th. There was an end in sight! We couldn't wait to meet her. The week before at another regular check up her heart rate was dipping. After 40 minutes of monitoring they let us leave, but told us to come in if anything changed. Well, things seemed fine so a week later we woke up early and headed to the hospital for our scheduled c-section. By then I was contracting every 12 minutes and with every contraction her heartrate would drop in the 50's. We had about every staff member in our room at one point or another. Our doctor wasn't responding to pages so another doctor came in to sign consents and prepared to do the surgery. Jason and I relived this memory later and shared with each other that he kept praying, "God, You are my rock. You are my rock. You are my rock" While I prayed from my hospital bed, "Lord, I trust You. I trust You. I trust You."

    Our doctor arrived at about that time and we headed to the ER. I'll save the gory surgery details, but 40-ish minutes later we came face to face with our beautiful daughter. She screamed her pretty little face off and with tears streaming down my face I finally got to see this tiny miracle.

    Throughout our hospital stay we dealt with loss of more than 10% of her birth weight and some jaundice and finally we were ready to be discharged. On the final checks our nurse spent a little longer than usual listening to her heart. She pulled away from Marylane and told us she had found a heart murmur. She called our pediatrician immediately. They then ordered an echo cardiogram to happen in the next hour. Again, we were waiting to see what God might be doing in the life of Marylane Raleigh Lempola. It felt like she'd already overcome so much to make her way into our family. We bawled waiting for the technician to arrive.

    Jason stood over her holding her tiny hands the entire time the echo was happening. It was supposed to be 20 minutes, and an hour later he still was bent over her tiny self talking to her. Finally the technician finished but said a cardiologist would have to tell us the results. A few minutes later our angel of a nurse slipped in to tell us that they hadn't expedited the results, which meant it wasn't as serious as it could be. After another couple hours of waiting a doctor called into our room to let us know it is a VSD murmur and would most likely heal within the first year of her life. We will be meeting with a cardiologist in May to go over the results and have her checked again to confirm what the technician found. 

    Every morning Jason and I pray together thanking God for Marylane's life and asking direction for our future and family. Once she's 6 months old we can have our homestudy updated and we can again pursue adoption, which we intend to do. We're certain that it will require the same trust that Marylane's life has required. But we're excited to see how God grows our family and us through this process. 

    Thanks for bearing with my LONG and drawn out story. It's lovely to have it down all in one place. It reminds me just how present God has been with us. 

  • Everything I Know about Changing Identities

    Single, Married. Without kids, With kids. Meloncholy, Sanguin. Employed, Unemployed. Southern, Midwestern. Dog hater, Dog lover. Christian. Daughter. Niece. Aunt. Neighbor. Friend. Coworker. Writer. Crochet-er. Musician. Reader. Introvert. Cook. 

    Written on my business card of life could be 100 descriptions of who it is that I am and what it is that I do. I'm kind of all over the place. Who I was at one point in life no longer describes who I am now. In fact, it looks the direct opposite in many instances. The time I spent in the situation before this one shapes the decisions I make now, even though my circumstances are completely different. 

    I am married, yes, but much of the time I find myself in scenarios thinking 70% as a single person. I could say this about everyone one of the other "befores and afters" as well. I haven't fully come out of or into my own with these new life situations. 

    When I look up in Webster for the definition of "Identity" this is one of the definitions I am given: "the distinguishing character or personality of an individual."

    As I examine what "distinguishes" me I see a compilation of experiences and circumstances that make up who I am. My mind and heart haven't seemed to caught up with all the experiences as of yet. 

    I'm still working on piecing everything together for myself. I have a feeling I might not be alone in working through these seemingly opposite parts of myself that all make up who I am. What parts make up who you are that you feel compete with one another?

    When I look at all of these experiences who make up the whole of who I am I can flounder in the question marks they create. Or I have another option.  I can choose to make it much more simpler. I am Gisele. I'm a mix of good and bad, strengths and weaknesses, who I've been and who it is I'm becoming.  This will be the whole of life: taking one experience after another and building upon it until on my deathbed I can come close to naming who it is I have become. 

    In the meantime, I have a lot of becoming still to become. So I might as well be about the business of becoming her with intentionality.

  • We’ve Reached The End

    James 5:13-18

    We've been together for 38 weeks now, studying the lives of John the Baptist and Elijah. Thanks so much for reading along in studying their dramatic lives. Hopefully their courage and faith has been as encouraging to you as it has been to me. 

    This is our last experience with Elijah. He’s lived a life that left a legacy of faithfulness for us to follow. His intimate walk with God has become a guide for us of what to do when God asks the nearly impossible of us. We are to turn to God and let His strength accomplish the work through us.

    James found encouragement in Elijah’s story as well. James is calling his readers to be prayer warriors. He himself has seen his prayers answered and wants to encourage his followers to also live lives of prayer and intimacy with God.

    It’s the answer to all that ails you…

    You’re suffering? Pray.

    You’re happy? Praise.

    You’re sick? Call others to prayer over you.

    You’re sinful? Pray for forgiveness.

    God’s promise through James is that the effective prayer of the righteous can accomplish more than we can imagine.

    And here is where James recalls Elijah’s prayer life. Remember a while back when we studied Elijah on the mountain begging God for rain? He has just finished with the Baal worshippers begging their god to answer them. Elijah prays and God answers immediately. He knows His God is listening. He is begging God to break the drought that has come. Deep in prayer, he sent his servant to look to the sky and after several attempts, he finally sees a cloud the size of a man’s hand. Not much to go on, yet Elijah believed God was answering his prayer. He had seen God do it before, he was confident God would show Himself now.

    And He did. The rain came. Elijah’s prayer was answered.  When I was reading James, I thought sure he would have some nice wrap up about prayer in his passage, but I found no such thing.  He did not need to. His point to make was that prayer is worth it because God is listening. What great point did he need to make outside of a story where a man of great faith prayed and God was listening?!

    God is listening to you. He is hearing your prayers. He is delighted in every step you take in the direction towards Him. We have covered a lot of ground in our study of John the Baptist and Elijah.  We looked at their history and their legacy. We have talked about how their faithfulness becomes an example for our own faithfulness. We have seen God answer prayers, love them well, give them courage, and perform miracles.

    The question now becomes, how are you going to let the stories of God through these two men transform your life?

    Take some time to look back through our notes together and recall the stories that inspired, challenged, and touched you. Now ask the Spirit to transform your heart through His power. Not your power, the Spirit’s.

    Thanks for joining me on this journey. I’ve enjoyed every second.

  • God’s Preservation

    Romans 11:1-11

    We’re going to dive in a little more deeply and theologically into the story of Elijah. Just when we think we’ve seen the last of Elijah, we find his story immersed in other’s theology. So is the case with Paul. Here Paul uses Elijah’s story as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people.

    Throughout Romans and specifically this passage, Paul shares the Gospel over and over again. If we meander up to the end of Romans 10, Paul has been explaining that belief in Jesus is what brings us Salvation. He talks about Israel’s obstinacy against God, and their lack of understanding of God. Paul is working hard to show that there’s nothing new. The same disbelief in Elijah’s time still existed in Paul’s, and it exists in ours too. We also struggle to believe.

    But the same God who was in the time of Elijah, is the God of Paul and God of you and I. He remembers His promises and will make good on them. Paul reminds his readers of Elijah’s discouragement over Baal worshipping. He was fed up. He wanted God to give up on them too. Perhaps you can relate. You’re frustrated with a situation, your community, maybe even your church and you beg for God’s justice. All the while forgetting that if God is unwilling to show them mercy, He just might also be unwilling to show my filthy heart mercy too.

    Paul shows his readers the words of God back to Elijah. Elijah begs God to discipline the Baal worshiping idolaters and God assures Elijah that he’s not alone. He’s NOT the only one who hasn’t bowed down. There are others who too have remained faithful to God. 7000 of them, in fact.  Paul assures the people of his time, that if God kept and protected those 7000 that He would certainly do so again. God would preserve His people. And he would choose to do so by grafting in other nations and tribes. The message is not only for Jews, it’s for Gentiles as well. Do you remember Andrew’s experience with being an advocate for Gentiles to come to Jesus? He and Paul believed the same message. It’s for you and me too. We are the remnant God promised. We are the people of God who will carry out His work and in our obedience, be used by God to do great things for His glory.

    None of this is about us. God’s preservation and work has not ONE thing to do with our goodness. It had nothing to do with Paul’s or Elijah’s either. God did all He needed to do through His son, and once we genuinely believe in Him, God forever sees us through the perfection of Jesus. There’s nothing the devil can do, or that we can do to change that fact.

    God is outside of time. He doesn’t see time in a line as we do. He sees lives covered by the blood of Jesus. Once we genuinely believe, forever and always after, God sees us covered by the blood of Jesus. There’s nothing we can say or do to remove that fact. Once God’s, we’re protected. And once God’s, He’s given us a purpose. Our purpose is to reflect the gift of Jesus in every way we can. It is not about earning God’s favor, it’s about reflecting God’s nature so the remnant can grow.

    We could go a lot of directions with this, but I want us to sit with and think through one thing.  What is the good work God has for you to do?

    Will you do it knowing 100% it’s not about you and your good work, but about God and His gift to you?