One of the things I loathe is checking the mailbox. More often than not, there is nothing great awaiting me in that little dark and cold bin. Except this time of year. One of my least favorite things becomes one of my most adored as I eagerly open it to find Christmas cards! I love receiving these little treasures with family pictures that I know took too long to capture, too long to print and cost too much to mail. So when I get the joy of receiving one of these pieces of mail, I don’t take for granted that someone chose to share a little piece of their love with us. And you know what is like the cherry on top of the Christmas card cake? The handful of people who write annual letters. You know the ones–neatly outlining all the highlights for everyone, including the dog. I’m always so impressed by the organizational commitment this takes and truly enjoy reading these insights to find out what’s gone on in their lives.
When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I knew I too would write those annual letters–but after several valiant attempts, I realized I could not adequately summarize our year into a few sentences. It’s the same reason I don’t scrapbook. I get overwhelmed at the thought of how I can truly structure it to where nothing is left out. So, I journal. I keep a journal for each of my kids and write them notes so they know when they grow how much they meant to me. Words matter and I want to pour into their hearts with mine. But back to the Christmas cards…this year, I finally got clever and put a note on our cards that said “if you’d like to stay up to date with our family throughout the year, please visit http://www.gabbienolen.com or email us–we would love to know how we can best pray for your family this year!” Now, why didn’t I think of this simple solution sooner? Probably because you all know how fabulous I am at actually posting on a regular basis. HA! But, now that I’ve sent this little nugget out, I figured it would be a good time to actually follow through and post some updates here for anyone who may actually come to read. And with that here goes…our year in (brief) review.
+Last January, Husband and I celebrated SIX years of marriage. Which means, in four weeks we will officially hit the SEVEN year mark. Oy vey! We’ve managed to give each other plenty of gray hairs over the years, but since gray is said to be a symbol of wisdom, we have really grown and are apparently incredibly wise beyond our years–at least, that’s what those silver strands resting atop my head say. In all seriousness, marriage is work and we have worked hard at ours but are all the better for it. We’ve seen each other through a great deal and have stayed the course. We are running a marathon, not a sprint and only wish we could go back to the beaches of Jamaica and say “I do” again. That day was incredible and every milestone we’ve reached since then we have reached together.
+Two days after our anniversary, we celebrate the birth of our second born! Last year we had a small party at our home and did a builder theme. This guy loves his tools–so much so that he requested a chainsaw theme for his upcoming birthday. While that request went in the pile of parental denials, we are so excited that our little guy is turning THREE!!! He is getting so tall and is incredibly smart (and ever so slightly OCD–I have no idea where he gets that from;). He is a perfectionist who does everything as detailed as possible and it drives him batty when things aren’t just “right”. He is a phenomenal swimmer and was even tapped to be in a commercial for a well known swim school (we declined out of the desire to protect our children’s privacy). But, he’s brilliant, athletic, a chef in the making and a true lover of music who dances like nobody’s business. Our youngest guy adores his older brother and baby sister–holding sister’s hand, giving her hugs and stating emphatically that his brother “is my very best friend”. He is incredibly affectionate, but also incredibly strong willed and will let you know with earth shattering screams when he is upset–which is roughly 10-thousand times per day (give or take). He picks up after himself, prays passionately and adds extra sugar and spice to our lives. I refuse to call him “the middle child”. He is simply our child and we are abundantly grateful for his life. I love you deeply, sweetheart.
+Last February our big rescue dog, Clyde, made his way to the next phase of the journey. We didn’t have Clyde long, but the time we had him left a huge mark on our hearts. He was a gentle giant–a yellow lab who had survived massive neglect and had been nursed back to health by a sweet woman named Sue. Clyde wore a Batman collar and protected, played and poured out affection on our children and family. He had overcome numerous health problems before we got him, but one day we took him to the vet and found his health had taken a nose dive and had advanced cancer. Our oldest son formed a massive bond with Clyde and his heart is still broken over this loss. If you think of him, we would love for you to pray for his sweet spirit. I’m so thankful he has a tender heart and his love for animals is like none I’ve ever seen. He has a room full of stuffed animals he treats as though they were living creatures–he treasures them and focuses on them more than any game or hobby. He can also tell you incredible facts about animals that would blow your mind. When he’s not playing with his animals, or pretending to be an animal, you can find him soaking up the animal encyclopedia we gave him for his birthday last year. At night, he prays for Clyde and asks when we can see him again. He understands all about heaven, hell, Jesus making the way for us to go to heaven, and his mommy tells him we will see Clyde again. Now, if you’d like to have a theological discussion about this, keep it to yourself–it’s just not worth it to me. I simply say “God says He is able to do more than we can ask or imagine and there are animals in Revelation–so, I bet we see him again.” I guess technically I’m not promising that, but I’m not breaking his heart further with details I don’t have any way of knowing. No–animals don’t have souls so they can’t be “saved”, but they are beautiful creatures who are treasured by God and given to us to care for. And with that, if you’ve lost an animal and are desperate for comfort, I highly recommend the book “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. I read it years ago when my companion, a maltese named Snickers, passed away, and it helped me immensely. It’s not a quick read by any means, but is excellent.
+This brings us to March. At the very end of March, over a week past my EDD (estimated for a reason due date), I gave birth to our third baby–a sweet girl who exudes JOY to everyone. Our youngest is like a living doll. I don’t remember life before her and can’t picture us before. Each of our babies is a jewel in my crown–absolutely priceless. Miss H was my second VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), and again unmedicated. You may recall I had my first VBAC in January ’14. You can read more about that HERE. Miss H is following suit with her brothers. She rolled both ways by two months, was up on all fours full crawling by 5 months and by 6 months was well versed in pulling to stand and is moments away from her first unassisted steps as we speak. I guess it’s all that breastmilk because these babies are little but mighty! Miss H and our birth story was actually covered by Texas Health in one of their online magazines. I felt incredibly honored to be asked out of hundreds of patients to do this interview. If you’d like to read more about the Nurse Midwives at Texas Health Harris Methodist, you’re more than welcome to check out this piece “A Mother’s Dream“. I am so ticked God blessed me with a daughter, but I would have been elated with another boy. I actually get seriously irritated when strangers ignorantly comment “you finally got your girl”…as though I wasn’t complete before or another boy would have been a disappointment. Society needs to get a grip and flip the switch on what it means to be a family and that men are just as valuable as women. That’s another story for another day. But, I firmly believe it’s precisely because I didn’t care that God surprised me with her. She’s sweet, calm, has the BEST laugh in the entire world and her brothers treat her with complete gentleness. I love you dearly, Miss H and will forever be your confidante and friend.
+April had no showers because my firstborn, my partner in crime, my “knight” turned FOUR! Mr. B has been nothing but the greatest older brother to his siblings. He has grown so much–physically, mentally and emotionally. His 4T pants have to be cinched as tight as possible because his waist is so slim, but he’s grown a ton in the past few months because his new pants are now cropped. I want my little man to slow down because time is going too fast! B is in his last year of preschool and can count to 50 on his own, colors according to patterns and numbers, has excellent penmanship, is still a passionate lover of books, all things firefighter (now with some police officer thrown in), is incredibly athletic and excelling at gymnastics. He played soccer last Spring and Husband coached the team. He liked it, but as he said “those other kids are huge and almost trampled me!” It’s true. While our guy is “fast like Dash”, he is a solid 20 pounds lighter than most kids his age. I wouldn’t want to be in a huddle with those guys, either. So, gymnastics it remains! Though, we will be trying basketball this Spring because he has expressed interest in that and Mommy loves her some basketball! This year our oldest child is processing so many things and is no longer a baby. He has a memory that shocks me, recalling things from before he could speak. He also has a firm grip on the Gospel and knows more Scripture by heart at the age of 4 than I did at the age of 24. I pray daily he and his brother continue “growing in wisdom and stature before God and man.” I don’t know what this coming year holds, but I am excited for us to explore it together as we begin Kindergarten in the Fall and officially launch our Classical education. I am thankful to have a little boy who wants to “never get married” unless he can marry his sister or “stay with Mommy forever”. At the same time, he wants to be a Daddy when he grows up, so we will just keep working on the details as time goes on. I love you, sweet boy. I am so grateful God made you. And just like we repeat: “you are brave, you are kind, you are strong, you are smart and you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!”
+May is bittersweet. May will forever mark the first time my sweet Miss H met my Great Aunt Hazel and the last time I saw her in person before she met Jesus face to face. We had a wonderful visit and while we spoke by phone every week, I wasn’t able to make the I-35 trek as often as I would have liked. I am so thankful, however, that we had a strong relationship and there are no regrets over not saying “I love you” as often as possible. She was so proud to meet all my babies and I’m glad I got to spend time in her home while she was still there. The weekend I last visited, Aunt Hazel wanted me to take anything I could because the rest would be sold as she was going to move into an apartment connected to the nursing home where “Grandaddy” (my Uncle Leonard) lived so she could see him daily. I took only a few things, but they included some of her mother’s (my great grandmother) china, a painting of an old church that hung in their study, a small stand that always sat nestled in the corner of “my room” in the back of their home, and a few pots and pans. I must say, I used her green pot last week and made the best roast anyone has ever eaten. And, I don’t like roast! But, that pot, and her having cooked in it for so many years, worked a mini miracle when dinner was served. I will forever cherish the many years of memories I have with her, my Uncle Leonard, their home, and I’m thankful God allowed them enough years to meet all of my children. They are forever going to be missed and my heart longs to hold her hand and hug his neck one more time. For now, I treasure the pictures and the memories.
+July. Well, July is my birthday so I blew out a few more candles on the cake (which was actually a dairy free pie all my boy’s whipped up) and my mom, little Miss H and I went to dinner at Trulucks where I pretended I was transported to another country by ordering South African Lobster Tail. I will forever dream of visiting every country in this small world, but until that day happens, I will continue getting as close as I can by partaking in other cultures through means of food and fellowship. I praise God for giving me every day. They aren’t all pretty and I long to be a better reflection of His grace and love, so I praise Him that His mercies are new EVERY morning and I don’t take one breath for granted. Should He choose to make this year my last, I hope my children will know more than anything how much God loves them and how much I love them. There would be no greater legacy and joy than to know my children are walking in the truth. I would love for you to pray for me to be a better woman of God, a better mother to them and a better witness to the world in which we live. +August marked Husband’s birthday (which happens to be the same day as my brother). One turned 36 and one turned 33. Husband received what is a “God” job this year. He did not go out looking, but God’s plans are always better than ours and He made it so a headhunter found him, interviewed him and then submitted him (along with a handful of other candidates) for the Director of Resource Planning position with a Catholic hospital system. Not only did Husband get the position, but the position is 15 miles from our home and is the first time in the nearly six years we’ve lived in our home that he has worked within spitting distance and been able to make it home for dinner most nights. Our plans had been to move North and closer to our church home and his former job this year, but after the shift, we knew we were not only to stay in this area, but stay in our home. Some would call our home “tiny” at 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, but we call it just right! I don’t want a big, cookie cutter box, in the metroplex. If I can’t have land and animals, then I want to remain in our modest home with its wonderful neighbors, big trees and raise our children, while having the luxury of giving generously to others and living within our means. When I look around the world, our “tiny” home would be considered a mansion by most. It’s only in the area in which we live in that things are backwards. So, we are pressing on and making it more livable/functional for our family. We pulled out every stitch of carpet and put beautiful wood flooring throughout. We also have plans to enclose our back porch and make it an actual living space for a school room. We are blessed and praise the Lord for perfectly orchestrating every detail that we had no way of seeing and certainly didn’t plan.
+October was the passing of my Great Aunt Hazel and Uncle Leonard. I took the kids on a road trip to visit my Dad and Stepmom (and what a fun trip to the pumpkin patch it was!) so Husband could rip up the aforementioned carpet and on the way back I was to stop in and see my Aunt and Uncle. Well, as it went, I could not stop as my 93-year-old whipper snapper of a sub-grandma, because she was rushed to the Emergency Room. Everything happened quickly, but the most amazing thing happened: my aunt, who had been in great health, wound up getting to meet her Savior before my Great Uncle, whose health had been failing for a couple of years. It was a shock in some ways, but I was so happy for her to not have to live through the loss of her life long love. I posted a quick tribute on Facebook and didn’t have time to shed tears because I was taking in all that God had ordained (He knows every one of our days before one comes to be), when just a few hours later, on the exact same day, my precious, most godly of a man, sub-grandfather, also met the Lord Jesus! That’s right, at 93 and 95 years old, they left this life separately only to continue being together. Their story went “viral” and was picked up by People, Time and numerous television outlets around the globe. For two people who didn’t think anything special of themselves, they would have been confused as to why their story was a “story”. But, they were of a character that you simply don’t see much anymore. Their word was their bond and while people kept remarking that it was like “The Notebook”, they were real. They only ever loved each other. They committed to loving the Lord above all else and they did what they said they would do. In writing this now, I can feel my heart about to burst and my eyes pour forth tears because I miss them so. They weren’t a news story to me, they were the only “grandparents” I had since my Mema (Aunt Hazel’s sister) died when I was young. They lived out Jesus in front of me and were the real deal. I will carry their wealth of wisdom and simplicity all the days of my life and take great peace in knowing where they are because I know whose they are. You can read a bit about them in PEOPLE or watch this CNN video. I did sing at their Celebration of Life, which was beautiful and the words I wrote on Facebook were actually what their son used as the words on their programs at the service. It’s no surprise the room was overflowing with people whose lives they touched and it was no surprise that the pastor who spoke showed one of their many Bibles as a testament to who they truly were. Not one line was left unmarked. Their walk matched their talk and I can’t wait to see them again one day.
+November and December are here and we are thankful! I’m thankful for all of you who take the time to read about what’s taking place with others. I’m thankful for the growth that takes place in the thickness of fog and most of all I’m thankful that during this season of Advent, I know the Light in the Darkness and He not only came to earth as a babe, but died a death He didn’t deserve and He is coming again! Knowing that, there is nothing in this world that can ever steal joy. While things are not always easy and certainly aren’t always “happy”, JOY abounds because JOY is found in Jesus. He made a way and He’s making one still. For you, for me, for everyone who wants to welcome Him. There’s no sin so great that His grace isn’t greater still. If you don’t believe me, I will pray you come to believe Him. He loves you.
Wishing you much peace as you look to Him as your fulfillment.
Merry Christmas from my little slice of Texas to you!!!