To read the story of our precious Harlynn Renae, start here and follow the "next" links at the end of each post. Thank you for coming and sharing with us in this journey.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Donna Carol

When I was fresh out of high school, I had the world at my fingertips. I entered a dark depression, however, upon starting college, and had a really hard time finding my way out. When I stopped caring about school, aside from flunking out and losing my scholarship, I started throwing myself into church activities. I ended up organizing the young adult fellowship, chaperoning the youth, and teaching middle school Bible class. I was able to mostly keep my schooling failure a secret. I escaped by "doing as much good as I could do". It was about that time, a group from Tennessee came up to help us put on a youth rally.

They were from Freed-Hardeman University in little Henderson, TN. There was a good mix of college students and staff (and parents, can't forget Poppa George), and along with their accents, I fell in love with their senses of humor, their love for fun, and their a cappella singing skills. With them was the Dean of Student Life of the university, Donna White. Donna was a riot. A regular comedienne, she had me in stitches their entire visit. From her cat-coughing-up-a-hairball impersonation, to her off-the-wall remarks, I wanted to adopt her. I wanted to adopt all of them. The next year, some returned and brought new faces along. It was such a fun time for me, and I wanted to hide in their luggage and go back to Tennessee with them.

In the end, I kind of did. I got a phone call a few months after they left, offering me a tuition scholarship and a chance to start my schooling over. With familiar faces and a cappella singing, I started off my campus life on FHU's grounds an older, "non-traditional" freshman, surrounded by youngsters who were better at this schooling thing than I had been. My long-lost-sister, Jenni, took me under her wing and guided me around campus those first couple of weeks. With her and Donna keeping watch over me, I had a pretty sweet deal. 

I walked in to Donna's office one day that first week and she brought up the term she had coined on that second trip to Wyoming. "I see you've got the Val Vibe working for you...."  I blushed. Donna thought - insisted, rather - I had this irresistible quality that made people, especially those of the male persuasion, flock to me like flies on sticky tape. I was confident, I was independent, and I could tell a story or two. I had a trim figure and a wide smile, and nothing was going to stand in the way this time around of me conquering the world. Apparently, that was just the kind of gal some poor, confused souls were looking for. Every time we were together, Donna would bring up examples of "The Val Vibe", and usually embarrass me to some extent. She heckled in love, though, and I had no doubt of that. Donna was someone incredibly special to me, and I meant a lot to her as well.

She had been a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and walked away with $250,000.  She was smart with her winnings, but she was also incredibly generous. She treated me, Jenni, and Jennifer (no, I'm not repeating myself) to a weekend in Nashville. It was just the girls, and it was one of the most special get-aways I've ever had. To this day, that trip remains one I hold dear to my heart. We stopped in the Hard Rock Cafe to have milkshakes, and when we walked out I uttered, "You know what would be cool? If we did a Dixie Chicks thing, and we all got tattoos." As soon as I said it, I realized I was out of my ever loving mind, and there was no way I would get these gals on board. Donna stopped, looked at us, and said, "If you're serious, and we all get one, I'll pay for it."

In a matter of seconds we walked across the street to the tattoo parlor and were picking out our inks. I, being the ever-responsible ditz that I was, had lost my driver's license weeks prior. The parlor was not going to give me a tattoo, since I couldn't prove I was over 18. I was 21, but looking younger wasn't necessarily flattering in this instance. Donna reached for a business card and said, "I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm the Dean at the university she attends. I can not only vouch for her age, but I can fax you her documents when we get back to campus." The owner of the parlor was so tickled by that, she pointed to me and said, "You were never here."  We all four walked out of there with tattoos. Donna and I had the same one - a heart with a flower through it. Her flower was yellow, mine blue. Same shoulder. Same tattoo. 

You need to understand FHU is a very conservative university. We, as students, could have been dismissed  (read: suspended) for having tattoos. She, as an employee, certainly would have been fired for paying for us to receive them. It's been nearly 13 years since that weekend, and I'm still a little scared to let that secret out. 

Donna took me with her to her sister's house for Thanksgiving when I didn't have money to get home, or anywhere else to go. She always had me over, looked out for me, and razzed me about "The Val Vibe". When I went home after that first year of schooling, Mr. Brent proposed to me and I didn't return to Freed. I  finished school in the place I originally failed in, and stayed in touch with several Freedies, including Donna. 

Three years ago today, Donna passed away. She was very sick, and had been battling various immune disorders. When she got an infection in her blood stream, she couldn't fight it, and she died. I remember the day Jenni told me she was in the hospital. I remember the moment I found out she had died, and I just sat and said, "" as I fought off the tears. I remember trying to find any way I could to get out there for her funeral, but I didn't have the financial availability to get there and back.

Mostly, though, I remember Donna for who she was. She was a bright light in this dark world. She loved her God and she loved His people. She loved to laugh, and she wasn't happy unless those around her were happy. She was one of a kind.

I hope you've met my precious Harlynn, Donna. And I hope you've shown her your impersonation of a cat coughing up a hairball. You don't have to tell her about "The Val Vibe" though. I think you made it up, anyway.

Donna Carol ~ Love you, lady.

Jennifer, Jenni, & Val ~ Pretty sure we were Donna's Favorites. :)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


nounly adjective
1. describing a situation, feeling, or day of extremely poor quality.

It's my made-up word. But it fits today.  Just yesterday, one of the blogs I contribute to posted my tips on taking care of one's self. Naturally, then, after giving advice on how to improve your quality of life, mine would take a turn for the toilet the very next day.

I don't know what happened, really. <~ That phrase right there is one I utter frequently, I know. Apparently I'm clueless as to how my life and how I respond to it, happens. I must forget to take notes, or fail to learn lessons, or something similar. Regardless, though, it's okay to have a craptastic day. I sometimes hesitate to share my struggles or frustrations because I know a well-meaning, loving, lovable, adorable, sweet, considerate person is going to say something "encouraging" at the wrong time in the wrong hormonal orbit, and I'm going to have to bite my tongue until it bleeds so I don't tell them to stuff it. No, I don't like having a craptastic day. No, I can't stand feeling craptastic. But it happens. And when it does, it's okay. Life isn't always a bowl of cherries (remember?). 

One of my new friends, and a fellow loss mom posted this link today and while I most definitely agree with the concept and point, it really made me stop and think. The Bible doesn't say, "Blessed are the rich in smiles, for they will have only good days." No. The Bible says, and we adopted this life-verse after losing Harlynn, "In this world you will have trouble." (John 16:33, emphasis mine.)

So when I couldn't get a break or any privacy, or a single shred of alone time today, I nearly lost my sanity. When I stubbed my toes for the eight-bazillionth time while trying to make the bed and having to climb on a pile of my husband's clothes to do it, I wanted to cuss out loud. When I looked around my kitchen and saw mess after mess after mess, I wanted to pull out my hair. When trying to make plans for Little Miss' birthday next month, and nothing was going the way I wanted, I couldn't understand why. When I realized our internet filter was no longer working and up popped a most disturbing image, I wanted to curse all the evil in the world for being so readily accessible. When I looked around my home and saw the chaos and disorder I was trying to muddle through, I started crying. Then I ate part of a tub of frosting. Then I felt like a sea cow. My day continued to be craptastic.

And ya know what? I didn't even follow my own advice. I was tired and crabby when I woke up this morning, so I didn't pray about my day. When one thing went wrong, I just got pissy and expected everything else to go wrong as well. I pouted and cried. And while it's okay to do that sometimes (and I have license to), I realized it wasn't the day I could have had. I missed one vital step, a piece of my own advice, and my whole day went down the dumper. Just like that.

I started being okay with small victories instead of big successes in my day. I cleaned up the clutter in my home. I did laundry. I cleaned the kitchen. I got hugs and snuggles from Little Miss, who was the same one who wouldn't let me have a moment alone earlier. I hugged her tighter. I split a chocolate milkshake with her. I single-handedly fixed our internet filter problem. Then I praised God for getting this sulking, upset, hormonal, grieving, pile of mess through another day. 

Now it's time to end on a good note. Tomorrow's another day. And there's still time for a dance party tonight. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Whole New World

...A dazzling place I never knew - but when I'm way up here, it's crystal clear, that now I'm in a whole new world

It's been a crazy, different last couple of weeks. I've been at the new job for a month now, and it has been an adjustment going from daily routines, meetings, and structured tasks to each day being different, meetings having children, animals, and nap time run right through the middle of them, and structuring my own tasks to be what I know I can do well, and kicking butt at it. An adjustment for sure, but a good one.

There is something to be said for waking up each morning and not having to rush around to get Little Miss ready to drop her off somewhere so I can run and punch in on time....or close enough to it. Instead we get up together, snuggle, and I make her breakfast, complete with a gummy vitamin. Most of the time she wants to sit in my lap, or crawl on my shoulders, or get in my face, or some sort of physical toddler harassment, while I try to get work done on the laptop. Some mornings she pretends to be a kitten, some mornings a puppy, and lately she pretends to be a baby cheetah. They all make the same noises, coincidentally, and they all like a good snuggle from their farmer/owner, played by yours truly. Until recently, I didn't even know baby cheetahs lived on a farm. Apparently they do, though, and they chase away foxes and wolves. I know, because this baby cheetah told me so. I digress.

Instead of sitting in on lunch meetings at a cozy restaurant in town, chiming in on business conversation, I now slice hot dogs and apples and provide plenty of dipping ketchup. My lunch conversation material consists of reminding my business partner to chew her food, keep her hands out of her hair, and count how many bites she has left before nap time. Oh.....and glorious nap time. Yes, Little Miss gets to take a nice afternoon nap, but so do I. I get to nap. In the middle of the day. In my bed. Right after lunch. Why is this not mandatory for everybody, every day?

I never know what each day will bring. I've learned I have to "let each day happen" rather than being disappointed when things don't go how I envisioned. The other day I had a three hour prenatal appointment, followed by a trip to the grocery store. I was completely wiped out when I got home, and it wasn't at all how I had planned spending my day. But it happened. And everything turned out rosy in the end. I was exhausted, but I was blessed. 

There are some days it's impossible to get anything done. There are some days where running at full speed is the only way to not get lost in the chaos of everything that needs attention. There are some days where I can pace between work and play and absorb the best of both worlds. No matter what my day holds for me though, when I can sip my decaf in the morning from my favorite mug, and listen to the coos of my farm cheetah as she nuzzles up against me after running off those darn wolves, it gives me pause enough to know that even though we have less money, we have far more worth in blessings. Far more worth in trusting God. Far more worth in the riches of time as a functioning family. 

I'm able to cook for my family every day. I've gone one day in the last month without making the bed. Previously, we were lucky to find our bed at the end of the day.  I stay caught up on laundry (mostly). I run the dishwasher every stinking day, rather than taking out the trash from the week's piling up of take-out containers. My home is blessed. 

At work, I get to connect on a daily basis with dear friends, who happen to be my bosses. I flounder around trying to figure out the best way for me to do my job, and they give me nothing but lenience and praise. I haven't really done much in this last month, but I feel like I've been a part of their company for years. I go to their home-office, and I share table space with six kids, (seven when mine is along), three dogs, and three cats.  It's nothing if not chaotic, but I love it. I feel at home there just as much as in my own home. I get to do things that are nerdy and completely fun for me. Like career fairs. And home shows. And ordering brochures, bookkeeping, setting out to find new ways to do old things, and having lunches with my sidekick every single day.

It's been different. Definitely different. But it's a good different. I'm looking forward to what the next few crazy weeks have in store for us. Hopefully lots of chocolate milkshakes. Mama's gotta have her milkshakes. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Viral Valentine

The Early Years
The very first Valentine's Day Brent and I ever spent together, was just a couple of months before our wedding. We met the month after Valentine's day, and the following year, I was away at school. So here we were, engaged, and finally able to spend the romantic holiday together as husband-and-wife-to-be. I had planned to cook him steak and crab legs at his apartment for dinner, and I'm sure follow up with some amazing chocolate concoction, though I don't remember. Whatever I had planned, it was going to be the best daggum meal of his life.

Then I got strep throat.

When I was a kid, you could say "strep throat" and I would come down with it. I got it four, sometimes five, times a year. Every year. I always missed every single day of the allowed days missed from school, from being sick. When I was 20 years old, the ENT doctor said I could have my tonsils removed. Finally. After years of torture from strep throat, I was going to be freed!  I had my tonsils out, and it was my first ever surgery. It was a brutal recovery. I couldn't speak for nearly two weeks, and the pain - oh my goodness, the pain!  People kept telling me about how quickly their kids healed, and how it was no big deal. People who had their tonsils removed as adults would only say, "It'll be fine." My mother had her tonsils out when she was 19 and she told me it HURT. When I said that to someone else who had theirs removed as an adult he said, "Well I wasn't going to say that, but yes, it hurts A LOT."  Indeed, I was in a lot of pain. The antibiotic they gave me after surgery upset my stomach. As I recovered at my parents' house, I ran to the kitchen to vomit in the sink and I kicked the cabinets and pounded the counter trying to get someone's attention (since I had no voice). Dad came running in only to say, "Sandra! Your daughter needs you!" (Dad does a lot of things really well, but vomit is not one of them.) Mom got me a cold glass of water and a cool washcloth and had to tell me several times to stop crying. Oh my lands, that hurt so bad. I still remember it vividly. Along with swallowing pieces of my newly cauterized throat. That was fun. All of that grossness to say two things: 1) the sooner you have your tonsils removed, the better, and 2) having had them removed means I only get strep once or twice a year instead of four or five times. 

That Valentine's Day in 2003 was one of those times that year. (Right before our wedding was another.) 

Laden with strep throat, I couldn't cook for Brent, as I could hardly move or speak. He called and asked "What would Cupid bring you for dinner if he could?" so he bought me Chinese food (and a teddy bear) and drove over to take care of me while I was grossly sick. Is that sweet, or what? Anyway, almost every single year after that, it's safe to gamble I end up sick on Valentine's Day. The one day when I really want to put my best foot forward for my man, I end up hardly able to move at all, best foot or otherwise. This year is apparently no exception.

Today I had plans to cook a special dinner again. This morning, however, I woke up not feeling great. Scratchy throat and general feeling of not-really-all-that-great, mixed with a little of totally-out-of-it. I took Little Miss with me to take some pictures of a project my new boss had completed and muddled through it. When we got home I started to feel even worse, and just couldn't shake it. Even after a glorious afternoon nap, my head hurts, my throat hurts, and my pride hurts. I don't think I have strep throat - because I've had it so much, I usually know right away when I have it. I start off feeling like I have the flu, then by the end of day 2 and start of day 3, my throat is on fire. This isn't like that. This is like winter-blues-cold kind of sick. But having a scratchy throat, headache, and general feeling of not-so-great, will mean another Valentine's Day Brent has to play cupid. 

Regardless of my ailments, I just want to take a moment to say, Brent....after nearly 13 years of being together, you are the prize of my heart. Not just on Valentine's Day, but every day. Whether you're taking care of me, taking care of Haley, taking care of pretend army battles on the Xbox, or taking care of stuff only husbands can do, you are a rare find. A treasure. My diamond in the rough. And as you can see, Little Miss and Little Man are pretty fond of you, too.

Happy Valentine's Day, babe. xoxo

Little Miss' heart belongs to Daddy!
Little Miss signs "I Love You"
Little Man signs "I Love You" too!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Double Digits

It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that ten months ago, I was in the hospital across town, holding our baby who would never come home with us. Ten months. Double digits now. It doesn't seem possible that much time has gone by. It doesn't seem possible that the world couldn't have slowed down at all. I haven't kept up with it in pace for sure, but nonetheless, we're here ten months later. I remember the look on Brent's face in that delivery room as he held his precious baby girl, longing for her to be okay. To be alive. How can ten months have passed, when those moments are still so fresh? So clear?

It's old hat news to tell you I'm sad, or that I miss my daughter, or that I think about her every single day. I love her every moment, even still. To others, my saying those things is like hearing the same song over and over again. For me, however, it's one song that has no end. It's not on repeat - it's just one continual, long song. I have trouble relating to people I was once close with. It's hard for that relationship to be the same now. I can't put it to sensible words, but they remind me of what once was. Or maybe, rather, of what isn't. So I back away. I put up barriers. And while it sounds to them as if the tune has changed, the song merely continues, verse, after verse, after verse.

Today, though, since I'm not often able to do it on these milestone anniversaries, I'm going to focus on some blessings. I need to remember even in the face and midst of our grief, we have been blessed. 

Yesterday while in church, I thought about what today would be for us. I thought about the anniversary, how I would feel, what my day would be like. Yesterday was communion at church, and I can't rightly express it, but as we were sitting there, I looked up to the front of the church. I remembered the flowers that were spread across the stage for Harlynn's funeral. I remembered the songs that were sung. I remembered one face - the face of a friend turned around in the pew as our family entered the auditorium to be seated - and the look of empathy and love on her face is one of the few things I remember from that day. My eyes went from the stage to the ceiling and as I saw the glow from the lights overhead, I heard, "She's communing with you." I suddenly got warm all over, and could feel something - I don't know if it was a weight? A presence? - I just felt a blanket of whatever this was, covering me. Harlynn was a part of our communion service yesterday. I may be the only one who knows it, but I was keenly aware of her to be sure. Mommy loves you, sweetie. Thank you for being with us.

During a conversation with my parents yesterday, I was reminded we had some checks from Christmas (whoops) we still needed to deposit. I started going through some piles of papers and miscellaneous items, and not only did I find checks, but I found gift cards that hadn't been used as well. I kept digging, as I totaled up what had been set aside "for a time of need", I found several hundred dollars worth of checks or gift cards. I told Brent, "We need to get together right now and have a thank-you-Jesus prayer." He has provided for us time and time again, and I really don't know why I worry about finances so much. I want to be fiscally responsible, and good stewards with what we have, so maybe my worry stems from pressure I put on myself in that regard. However, the blessing of stumbling upon all of those last night was overwhelming. I might have cried. A little.

That's not all. Last week as I was getting Haley dressed one morning, I realized she had suddenly - like, overnight - outgrown most all of her clothes. "Oh Lord," I prayed in my head, "I've just taken a big pay cut. Please help us find a way to get Haley clothes she needs without putting us in a bind financially." Little did I know, at the very moment I was praying that prayer, Brent was getting a Facebook message from a friend of his, asking if we could use clothes for Haley. A few giant bags of clothes later, she has plenty to get her through this next year, if not longer. And wow...was she ever excited to try on every. single. piece. Last night we had to wait for her to come to her room because she just wanted to "hug my bathing suit a little bit."

Haley's pile of answered prayer
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"  ~ Matthew 6:25 - 27

And here we are today, at ten months. This afternoon I was able to give a voice to my baby girl, as I presented at a lunch meeting for a local chapter of Kiwanis. I choked through it, but I got to tell her story. Our story. I got to talk about Michelle's vision and how Harlynn's Heart came to be. It was a blessing to be able to remember the purpose of her life, despite the fact it ended all too soon, and to share that purpose with others.

All of this has shown me, once again, that Brent, Haley, Little Man, and myself - we're not forgotten. God has not forgotten us. He has not abandoned us. Yes, our Harlynn died, and yes we were and are still devastated by that fact. No matter our broken hearts, though, He has not stopped taking care of us, or walking us through this. We're now ten months closer to seeing her again. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.... is the song ringing through your head yet? I've been doing some thinking, and while my thoughts are random, chaotic, and incomprehensible by anyone other than myself, one thing I was able to pick out of them was to share some things that I like. So...I'm your Midwestern Oprah here to give away........wait for it............suggestions!  Free! For everybody! Yes indeed - these are my favorite things, and maybe they'll be yours too. 

It's been a long winter. By all accounts, we should be halfway through March with warmer temperatures, but instead we're battling wind-chill advisories, flurries, and dry, bitter cold. This pictures says it best:

Today I had a little flurry of my own - actual desire to clean. I call it a flurry, because it didn't last long and wasn't entirely effective, but it made enough of a difference to lift my spirits. I have said before I'm a self-proclaimed hippie. By that, I mean I take measures to make sure my family is safe from unnecessary chemicals, hormones, raunchy entertainment, or items that are otherwise illicit within my frame of mind. I like simple, I like clean, and I like safe. This brings me to favorite thing #1: New Cleaning Supplies.

That's right. I love new cleaning stuff because it motivates me to keep cleaning. And when I find something I can get behind, that cleans my home, and doesn't make me sick from fumes, I'm going to share it as a favorite thing. First, check out my friend Tracy's post about February's awesome Shaklee deal. Then go ahead and subscribe to and follow her updates on tricks and tips to be a Shaklee queen.

You can also check out my friend Jennifer's Norwex stash if you're a Norwex believer (or even if you don't know if you are yet).We have several of their cloths - I take my makeup off every day with the face cloth, and Brent has hijacked one to clean his glasses with. That habit of his is not one of my favorite things, just to be clear.

I remember when I was single, and a ridiculous neat-freak. I would use diluted ammonia to clean my floors. And it would make me nearly sick every. single. time. Now, I can clean, be confident my home and everything in it is germ-free, and have the assurance I won't be inhaling toxic fumes, nor will my precious little people. 

On to favorite thing #2: reading. I am a reader, when I can be. I've read many good books, and many not-so-good books. I've been trying to read books specific to where I am on my grief journey after losing Harlynn, and this one I couldn't put down. Have you read it yet? It didn't speak to me like I expected it to. I was expecting more of a description of where Harlynn is, and what she's experiencing. Instead I was opened to a world of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and grace. It was overwhelming, but incredible. It's not for the faint-of-heart. If you're looking for an intense look into the real-life story of someone who's willing to share it, this is the book for you. It's called Waking Up In Heaven.

Next...who doesn't love to save money? I can tell you, our budget isn't what it used to be, and therefore we're very grateful and appreciative for tools and resources that help us manage our monies. This next one combines that favorite thing along with my favorite thing #3: cooking. Every week we're sent a menu, a shopping list, and we save boatloads. We don't end up throwing food away. We can tweak the recipes any way we need to in order to make them more fitting for our family's tastebuds. We've not been disappointed, and we've been subscribing to them for seven years. Definitely a favorite at our house, and soon to be yours. E-meals. Go browse their menu and grocery store options. They have something for everyone, and I promise you, it is worth your while. You're welcome.

I'm not done yet. Can you even handle it?! I have horrible, awful, irreparable dry skin. It's gross, but it's me, and there's not much I can do about it. Except Butter Butt. Yes, I said "butt". Butt...don't hold it against me. Favorite thing #4: Butter Butt. This stuff is pretty sweet. My mother gave some to me as a gift and then I ended up ordering a bunch when it was gone. I put it on my face every day, and not only does it manage my dry skin, but it counters the oils in my face, too. I have silky-smooth cheeks (the face kind....) and I love this stuff. It's pretty, a lot more than me, but it works. And it's legit.

Even numbers are also my favorite, so I'll stop at four. Of course this list doesn't include the obvious: snuggles from Haley, vanilla lattes, knitting, or rainbow chip frosting - but I can't really share those so much as I can the other gems listed above. And before you say it, no, I cannot share rainbow chip frosting. Mostly because Betty Crocker decided to discontinue it, and I have joined a Facebook group to bring it back. You should do the same, because it is the best frosting in the universe, and this pregnant lady needs it. I'm off now, to go knit with my little snuggler...

Betty...I need this....