Saturday, July 28, 2012

Makin' It

As you've already seen, the posting is getting less and less as we race toward the baby arriving.  We've got 9 days left of A & M, Isaac's birthday party the day after that and 11 days to baby.  Wait is that correct?  Yes, it is.  Most days I feel great and still have tons of energy.  Others, like today, I've been waiting to curl up into a ball and fall fast asleep since about, hmmm... 9 am?  And truth be told, I didn't get up until 7:15.  Yes, sounds about right.  But instead, we've fed the masses pancakes, been to two baseball games and the husband has been studying for the last three hours or so.  It's funny how life keeps rolling along.

Probably the biggest drama of the week has come in the form of these hideous creatures.  For any of you who have an affinity for your friendly neighborhood rat, I do not understand you at all.  We live in the country.  So naturally, our house has always had a propensity for rodent problems.  However, over the years, I've learned a few tricks of the trade to keeping them out of my house, one of them being a clean kitchen every night and food kept boxed up.  If there's nothing for them to eat, they usually move on.  We haven't had any major issues until about a year ago. 

For some reason they've been worse over the last year and have done quite a bit of damage to our car's engine wiring twice, costing us a total of $1100.   And this last week, they've decided to make their appearance again inside our house.  So the last few nights, Steve has been playing the part of Superhero by catching and killing the nasty little varmints.  With a baby on the way, our car's wiring being threatened again (we found their lovely droppings all over our engine cover) and our four little children sleeping peacefully right near the kitchen (where they usually enter the house), it's been war people.  WAR!  We even called in the big guns this time...a professional exterminator.  But Steve has definitely been playing his part in the whole shenanigan by putting out traps at night and then if we get one, taking the creepy pest to task.   

The scenario has gone something like this.  Now, if you are an advocate for animal rights, I suggest you stop reading now.

Me (who isn't sleeping well anyway due to baby wedging himself in my ribs):  Steve, Steve, I hear it.

Steve:  What?  What?

Me:  It's another rat, I hear it.  I think we got another one.

Steve (who was in deep sleep, suddenly comes alive and pulls on his clothes and shoes):  It doesn't stand a chance.

And then there ensues some sort of exciting event like the rat running away with a glue trap stuck to its back while Steve corners it behind the couch, or something to that affect.  I have found that once I hear the plastic bag being opened, that is the sign that Steve has successfully snuffed out its life and we're one rat down...probably many to go.  Some are harder to get than others.  However, I think last night it was an easy one.  The rat was completely stuck and couldn't run away so Steve simply killed it and disposed of it, coming back to bed in an unusually quick fashion.

Once I'm sure he's washed his hands (ha!), I smother him in kisses and tell him what a true hunter he is.  Like none I've ever seen.  Yet all the while he's out stalking his prey, I just pray he doesn't get bit.  That's the one thing about the glue traps by the way.  The disgusting perpetrators are still alive when The Law comes and so somebody has to knock the suckers dead.  However, with little kids around, glue traps are definitely the safer option.  Anyhow, the story is usually summed up the next morning over the breakfast table as Steve retells the previous night's events in all its glory to the boys.  It's amazing how easily they are entertained!

So that's what we've been doing here.  Nothing too fancy.  Steve's been studying 8-10 hours a day.  I've been mostly fine with some excessively tired days in between and at night, we've been killing rats (Steve does the killing, I merely do the announcing).  But like I said, we've got 9 days left of this semester, and 11 until the baby, with a birthday party smack dab in the middle.  And the really good news is that I surprisingly don't have any signs whatsoever of early labor.  Rather simply the frequent and ever-increasing braxton hicks contractions.  So it looks like, at this point, I'm going to make it.  I keep telling myself, "I must make it past Steve's finals, I must!"  I think if we can get a few more things ironed out, like me cleaning my fridge out, vacuuming the car out and finding all the baby stuff in the shed, and if Steve can finish up his classes well, then we'll be ready to go and take our babycation at the local hospital. 

Until then we're makin' it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nesting Treasures

Well my friends, we had an awesome 10th Anniversary.  More on that later.  And now that Steve is done teaching summer school, our anniversary is over, and some of our best friends have moved (more on that later too), we're just finishing out the last two weeks of A & M and I feel like I can finally nest.  I've been doing one big project a day.  Today the kids helped me tackle the playroom.  It was probably the first time I haven't given a ton of toys away.  We've finally whittled ourselves down to the basics that get played with here-trains, blocks, legos (big and little), board games, puzzles, tinker toys, guns and cars.  Elliana also has her doll stuff and kitchen.  So instead of making decisions on stuff to give away, we tossed trash, put pieces back in their spots and just re-organized.  It felt great. 
But I also found some great little treasures while we cleaned stuff out.  I found this letter from Caleb telling me, "Dear Mom, you look pretty."  In his own words of course.  That's a nice thing for a mom to hear when she's got just about two weeks left.  Perfect timing. 
And then I found this replica of Steve one of the boys made for him this past Father's Day.  Hilarious!  That needs to go to his classroom. 
This past month has been really busy with lots to take in, think about, say goodbye to and also celebrate.  So I'm glad for these last two weeks to just clean, have Steve study during the day and be around at night (mostly so I can pass out with the kids), and take things a bit more slowly before #5 arrives.  Although I am going to have to pull-off some sort of birthday party for my nearly 7-year-old because he is at the age where he needs a party and the baby is arriving three days before his (and his Dad's) birthday.  I'm thinking pizza, Dads and sons, and playing baseball (and a hardy thanks to my lovely friend Allison for the idea). 

 It won't be long now.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ten Years

To my husband,
What an incredible 10th year this has been.  It has been full of challenges, mountains to climb, and valleys to traverse.  But amidst it all, I feel closer to you than ever before.  One thing that I noticed this year is that we both had to sail a bit on what we had already built up since we were so stretched in virtually every area.  Yet, God proved to be the glue.  And even in that stretching, He blessed us over and over again with understanding, care and a depth of love we've never known before.  Every year we understand each other better, work together better, become better friends and companions.

These last ten years have been foundation-laying years and much sweat, tears and work have been sealed into that firm base.  I see the next ten as building on that foundation.  May God be glorified as we toil, together.  Thank you for loving me so fully and completely, and for never leaving me behind, but always right in step with you. 

You are my one and only.
I truly thank God, every time I remember you.

Part 12-Tying the Knot
Our engagement passed pretty quickly since we were both in school and working hard.  At the very beginning, since we had to wait nine months until school was out, we put some ground rules in place to keep us both in check and on track to "make it" to the end with our integrity and virtue intact.  It was actually pretty straight forward and easy to follow-not a big set of legalistic rules or anything.  Just simply, no being alone, unless we're in public.  Easy enough.  And many times that basic principle caught us and kept us out of trouble.
Through the months, we enjoyed reading books on marriage, fumbling at times but also learning a lot through our premarital counseling and dreaming about the future.  Things fell into place for a little apartment located within walking distance to Cal Poly and other little things from free furniture to generous gifts, set our home up.
In the final weeks before the wedding, we spent most of them apart.  Steve worked some of the time at Camp Hammer to stay busy and distracted, and I finished up wedding plans.  God provided in tremendous ways and over and over, we saw how much He cared for even the smallest details.
And then on July 20, 2002 at 10 am, we said our vows before family and friends, and were wed. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little Bling!

Last night I was able to pick up my anniversary present and I was so excited about it!  You see, ever since we first got married just about ten years ago, I have wanted to get an eternity ring for our 10 year anniversary.  When it came down to it, I didn't think I'd be able to get one since financially we're still chunking out quite a bit of cash for Steve's grad school (only two classes to go now!!).  But then, my mom reminded me that I had a lot of jewelry bequeathed to me from my grandma, that I would probably never wear.  She encouraged me to think about selling some of it.  Totally brilliant.  I never would've thought of it-ever.  So I asked Steve if I could use the money from the jewelry to get an add-on to my wedding/engagement ring.  He said, "Yes!" of course!  In the end, I only ended up spending $80 total on the ring after having it sized, soldered and my old two rings re-dipped to match the new one.  I'm not a major jewelry girl but for some reason, getting this ring was just so meaningful to me.  And I love it.  I seriously, seriously love it!
On the way home from picking up the ring, as everyone in the car was ooing and ahhhhing over how pretty it was, Steve told the boys that they would need to save their money to buy a ring for a girl someday.  Isaac quickly responded, "But Dad, I know I need to do that someday but I'm not doing that just yet.  Now, I'm saving for a new lego set."  Caleb, in true Caleb form was just quiet, pondering the whole thing, probably thinking about how the jeweler managed to get all the rings to "stick" together since he was pretty intrigued by that.  And then good ole' Joshy chimed in that what he was currently saving for was ducky bath toys and unfortunately not a ring for some girl.  Steve and I were howling.  

Someday they'll understand.   

And with that, I give you part 11 which details how I got a ring in the first place.  Here it is folks...our engagement story.

Part 11-The Proposal

It poured all the way home from Ventura.  We had spent that Veteran's Day weekend with Steve's family at his Grandma's 90th birthday party a couple of hours south of San Luis Obispo.  It had been a lot of fun meeting many relatives, spending time with his immediate family and honoring his Grandma.  I had a lot to do, since Thanksgiving was right around the corner and once that holiday hit, finals would be right on its heels.  But it was a Monday and that meant the evening would be spent at an AGO/LSM meeting. 

When Steve dropped me off at my apartment, he gently asked if he could see me for dinner before the meeting.  Often times we would make some sort of stellar meal of Pasta Roni before Monday night meetings so, I figured "Fettuccini Alfredo" would probably be on the menu along with some hang out time before the meeting started.  Even though I was swamped, I figured I could spend a few hours with my love.  I agreed, then ran inside to get out of the pouring rain. 

He came to pick me up, in the old Jetta his parents had recently sold to him, around 4 pm.  As I was climbing in the car, the rain stopped and a bit of sun peeked through the clouds.  I noticed his guitar in the back seat and thought, "Hey, maybe we're going somewhere.  How fun!"  We quickly headed out of San Luis Obispo on our way out to Montana de Oro where we had our first kiss.  We had been out there many times since then and it had become a special place to us.  Often we'd sit up on the cliffs, watch the sunset and sing worship songs together-Steve on the guitar and me singing.  We always had a great time.

This day was no different.  And as we drove out there, it was as if God had stopped the rain just for us.  It was an incredibly beautiful autumn day and with all of the rainfall, the air was fresh and clear.  By the time we got out to the cliffs, the sun was just beginning to set.  There was no one in sight.  The ocean swirled below and high up, above the water, we sang and Steve played.  "Father of Lights, You delight, In Your Children.  Father of Lights, You delight, In Your Children.  Every good and perfect gift comes from You.  Every good and perfect gift comes from You.  Father of Lights."
The sun was threatening to slip permanently out of sight to make room for dusk to fall and the sky was lit up in an array of colors.  Oranges, purples, reds and blues were carefully painted on the horizon, as the storm had finally broken, making room for the sun to give one last hurrah to the day before being tucked away for a time.  We drank in our surroundings and just kept singing, breathing in the air, basking in God's amazing creation and relishing in each other. 

And then before I knew what was happening, Steve pulled a little black box out of his guitar case and got down on one knee to ask me one simple question.  Would I be his wife?

"Nikki, I know the day is ending and the sun has slipped out of sight.  But unlike the day, I want us to last forever.  Will you marry me?  Will you be my wife?"

I started jumping up and down yelling, "Yes!  Yes!"  over and over again, and then he slipped the beautiful ring on my finger.  I felt its weight and marveled at its beauty and felt so thankful that he had chosen me.  I had no idea what we would face over the years but this I knew, we would walk through life together, one step at a time, with an amazing God who would never leave us.  With that hope, I knew we'd figure things out.

We stayed out at the beach until it was dark, trying to drink in every last second of daylight to marvel in the commitment that had just been made, with God as our only witness, on those beautiful cliffs overlooking the vast ocean.  But when darkness began to officially win over day, we made our way back to the car, holding hands in silence, totally content with the tie that now bound us-the promise of a life together, the betrothal of two separate souls who would soon be joined as one.

On our way back to San Luis Obispo, we made some phone calls to our parents and then decided to go and grab a quick dinner before the AGO meeting.  We didn't have much time so we headed to one of our favorite little spots downtown SLO, Mondeos, to get a wrap.  Then we were off to the meeting where we'd officially announce our engagement to our closest friends via the AGO tradition of "chugging". 

For us, it had been the perfect proposal.   

Monday, July 9, 2012

One Month Left

Well my friends, I've got one month until this baby comes.  This Thursday, it'll be four weeks.  It's coming close and no, I don't feel prepared.  I have not spent much time focusing on this pregnancy because, well, I haven't had time to!  But I'm definitely excited to meet this little man, see who he looks like, and figure out a name for him.  Steve started back at Texas A&M and so things have been quite busy round these parts.  I'm trying to keep everyone else distracted with lots of fun summer stuff like swimming, going to the park and the beach so that we won't miss Daddy too much.  He takes finals a few days before baby #5 arrives.  We'll all make it, I know.  Since I haven't posted a pregnancy picture since, I don't know, forever ago, I thought I'd throw one up here for fun.  Yes, I am huge.  Yes, it all passed quickly.  I think the last picture I posted I was hardly showing at all and now I'm as big as a whale.  Oh well...time lapse.

And with that, I give you Part 10 of our story (not too many more to go).  Not sure how much you all have appreciated it but, I sure have enjoyed writing it.  Nothing like reliving some of the most exciting times in your life.

Part 10-A Big Decision
The rest of the school year passed pretty quickly.  Many weekends were spent together going all over San Luis Obispo County from hitting up local beaches to finding favorite hang-out spots in downtown SLO.  But once the summer came again, Steve was staying in San Luis Obispo for summer school and I was going to be a Counselor at Camp Hammer.  It had almost been a year.  And now we would be apart for the whole summer.   

We had plans to see each other for our 1 Year Anniversary but, other than that, we'd simply be writing letters.  Email was pretty sparse up at camp so, we stuck to the old fashioned way-handwritten.  Letters flew back and forth and every once in awhile we squeezed in a phone call or two.  I was enjoying my summer up at camp but, definitely missed Steve tremendously.  Steve was back in SLO having fun with friends and going to school, but I could tell he missed me too.  It was going to be a long summer.

Our first anniversary was on the horizon and I was so excited to see Steve for the first time in weeks.  He said he had something important to talk with me about and I was pretty intrigued as to what it was.  When he showed up at Camp Hammer, he seemed a bit frazzled.  He said he'd had some problems with his bank account and only had enough money for gas to make it up to camp.  He wasn't sure we could go out and do anything until he figured out what was wrong.  Because I was young and stupid, I was pretty upset about it.  I thought he was being irresponsible and I was unhappy that he had "ruined" our 1 Year Anniversary.

Some of our friends from camp found out about Steve's predicament and decided to do something about it.  They were a couple that had been together about the same amount of time as us.  In a stroke of extreme generosity, Kenny gave Steve his ATM card and said, "Hey, take Nikki out on me this time.  Go and enjoy your 1 Year Anniversary."  We were both floored.  They even suggested a place-Pearl Alley Bistro located in downtown Santa Cruz.  To this day, we've never forgotten that act of kindness.  Once I had gotten over my own selfishness and realized what a selfless act this other couple had done to bless us, I dried my silly tears, pulled on my favorite, long black gown, that I had worn as Homecoming Princess two years earlier, and got ready to go.

We had a great night out and talked about many things, one of them being our future plans.  While we were apart Steve had been thinking that we should get married the next summer.  I was totally shocked.  I thought we would wait until we were graduated, which wouldn't be for another two years, because that's what "everyone" did.  But he was pretty adamant that we at least think about it and see if it was possible.  He didn't think there was any real reason to wait longer than we had to.  So we started hashing it out and thinking through all of the possibilities.  By the time he left to go back down to SLO, we both knew it could be a real possibility.   

There was just one major hurdle left.

We needed to go and talk to our parents. 
*             *             *             *
The first conversation hadn't gone very well.  Two sets of eyes stared back at us quizzically as we tried to explain our desire to marry the next summer.  "But how will you support yourselves?"  Steve's Dad asked.  "How will you pay school tuition?  Will you both finish school?  You need to finish school."  These were all very good questions to ask of us youngsters.  For we certainly could not live on love.  But, in our minds, if we could make it work, there simply was not any real reason to wait.  Of course we were going to finish our degrees.  That was our first priority.  We'd get married and then finish school. 

We had drawn up a little budget that estimated what our costs would be, how we would attain grants and the school loans that would be available to us.  We also explained that we would both get jobs too, but it all seemed pretty incredulous.  My parents weren't much different.  They asked the same questions.  So we went back to the drawing board and asked God to help us all get on the same page if getting married the next summer is what He wanted us to do.  We definitely knew we wouldn't proceed without their blessing.  They had to be on board.

After various conversations and us explaining that we didn't really care if we lived on little and had very little, both parents relented.  They saw we were serious.  We argued that we didn't need to be financially set before saying, "I Do."  We knew we wanted to marry and if we waited until both of us were in full-time jobs, then it would be some time.  What was the point of that?  More money?  We didn't care.  Marrying young would allow us to grow up together and we both knew we were committed to living on what we had, no matter how small our income.  So, we weren't worried about racking up a bunch of debt.  We just needed money to pay our rent, buy groceries, pay our utilities and provide for school.  I would only have two quarters to go until graduating so I'd get a full-time job after that.  Steve was changing his major so he'd graduate a year after me.

Everything was in place.  After much discussion, the parents had come alongside.  We knew what we had to do to make it work.  We'd be poor but we could do it.  By Fall Quarter 2001, we knew we would marry the next summer.

Now all I had to do was wait for the ring. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Part 9- Christmas Day 2000

Part 9-Christmas Day 2000
It was Christmas Day.  Already Christmas Break itself had been amazing.  I was staying with my parents but, on numerous occasions Steve and I had gotten to see each other and every time we had to say "good-bye," it got harder and harder.  Since I was away from the distractions of school and had a lot of time to think, I really began to think I had fallen in love with Steve and that soon I'd be ready to tell him.  I was pretty sure I had but, like previous conversations we had on the subject, I found that I had a lot to learn.  What I did know was that I didn't ever want to be without him-ever.

I spent Christmas Day with my family and then drove to Santa Cruz to see Steve and his family.  That evening he told me that he wanted to take me somewhere.  We had been dating six months exactly (June 25th was when we were official) and I figured he wanted to do something special.  He insisted that we take his Dad's truck and I figured, okay! 

I didn't know where we were headed at all but when the truck started to climb Highway 17 toward San Jose, I was definitely intrigued.  At the summit, he pulled off onto a little road and we wound our way up to the very tippy-top of the mountain.  Being that it was Christmas Day, there was hardly a soul up there.  It was just us and the bursting stars.  We climbed out and hopped into the back of the truck.  Steve brought out some blankets and we got warm while snuggling, talking about life and watching the stars.  After awhile, he said he wanted to tell me something but that I needed to get out of the truck.

I was already used to him acting strange that evening so, I didn't think much of it.  Once we were on our feet in front of the truck, he held both of my hands and started his little speech.  "Nikki, I've been thinking about this for a long time.  I've talked with God about it on many occasions and I've sought counsel from others as well."  As he was talking, for a split second, I thought he was proposing.  I held my breath unsure of what to do next.  He finished, "Tonight, on Christmas night, six months since we started dating, I want to tell you with confidence that I love you and that I will love you.  I've chosen you."  

With the stars swirling above and the city lights twinkling below, I took his words in, his HUGE, amazing words and immediately responded, "I think...NO!!  I know, I love you too."  At my proclamation, he swept me off my feet, spinning me around and around until we were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.  And then he kissed me.
I had no idea what the future held, when we would marry or how everything would play out.  But this I did know, he loved me.  I loved him.  We were committed for the long haul, come what may.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Part 8-What Is Love?

Things were going really well. Almost too well. So in typical over-analytical female fashion, I began to wonder if something might be wrong. I had started thinking about what love was late in the fall but the whole idea scared me something fierce. How would I know if Steve was "the one"? How would I know if we were really meant to be bound together forever in marriage? The more I thought about it, the more scared and confused I got. And before I knew it, I was tying myself up in knots of frustration and doubt.

One day I finally had the courage to talk to Steve about it. I knew I liked him a lot and things were so great between us. We were quickly becoming the best of friends and there was no question that there was major chemistry between us. But how would I know for sure if he was the one for me? And what did it mean to love someone? Was it just fireworks all the time or was it a steady flame? I was so inexperienced in this area and had no clue what love even was. I was only 19. I didn't know if my feelings were strong enough or good enough to be love, or if love was even a feeling at all.
As all of these concerns came spilling out of me Steve grabbed my hand and said some of the most freeing and clarifying words anyone has ever spoken to me. He said, "Nikki, love comes down to a choice. It doesn't depend on your feelings because they can change over time and we are all imperfect people who do things that are unlovable. You choose to love someone, commit to it and then you trust God to fill in the gaps. He gives you what you need to keep going."

Those words made sense to me; a lot of sense and they gave me hope that I was on the right track. But I still didn't know how I was supposed to tell if he was the "one" for me. That's when Steve replied, "I don't think there is one particular person out there. I think God says, 'Here are my boundaries. Choose whatever you like within these walls.' It's like going into an ice cream shop and saying, 'Do I want vanilla or chocolate?' God tells us, 'Just don't choose the sherbet because it's not as good as the real stuff and I want what's best for you. Choose among the ice cream but, choose whatever flavor you want.' " He then concluded his analogy with a smile on his face, "I guess you might say I'm a vanilla. Not as suave as a chocolate, but still classic."

I understood what he was saying and it really clicked. I still struggled with doubt at times after our talk but as time went on and we talked about it more, I began to understand more about life and love. Love wasn't a feeling; it was a choice. Sure romance brought feelings with it but the decision to love lasted for a lifetime. I also understood that I didn't need to berate myself over whether or not I was making a good choice. Steve was an amazing man, totally worthy of my love. He was a solid Christian and he had integrity. He had the essentials. I had chosen well and there wasn't anything to be afraid of. From that time on, I began to trust what was right and as I did, my fears slowly began to fade.

* * * * 

After talking with Steve, I definitely felt better about things. However, a couple of conversations with godly women in my life helped too. One was with a mentor of mine from San Luis Obispo who had been married for some time and she was someone I respected tremendously. I thought that once I told her my fears about love and what it meant, that she would tell me I hadn't found the right person. But instead, she told me quite the opposite. She explained, like Steve, that love comes down to a choice and that in marriage, that choice lays the foundation needed to build love on. God does the building, we just commit to keep going. And at times when we can't keep going, He helps us. This talk, and her apparent understanding of my fears, really helped me work through what it meant to commit to someone on a more serious level.
Megan, an older girl in LSM who just meant the world to me, also helped me understand more about what love was. She was close to being engaged at this point and she told me that she too had worked through the same feelings I had. That was so freeing to me because I thought maybe I was the only one and that something was wrong with me. During our talk she handed me a copy of a letter written to her by a mentor of hers back home. That letter became a cornerstone of understanding for me, for many years to come. I read it over and over and over again (I still have it). It was written to Megan when she was where I was and her mentor had really stressed the importance of choosing a mate who loved God more than anything and then trusting God to keep the commitment to love over the years. She talked about how the heart is deceitful and can't be trusted. When it is fickle, it's fickle. But God can be trusted and He alone can keep a marriage together, not feelings. This letter, written by a lady I did not even know, totally revolutionized my understanding about love.

Another mentor and running partner from camp that I adored, who had been married for years, also reiterated all of these truths to me as well encouraging me to trust God and commit my love to Him. Her tender understanding of where I was at spoke volumes to me and I really internalized the wisdom she was imparting. I was amazed at how all of these women, within a short period of time, really shaped my understanding of committed love. I wanted to learn. I wanted to understand but, I had no experience and no real foundation. But through various talks with Steve and these incredible women, I began to become more confident that God had designed love to be a commitment and that the feelings would accompany it most of the time, but then at times, they wouldn't. And when they weren't there, that was okay too. All of these conversations took place over Fall Quarter. God was preparing my heart for what was to come. I had no idea at the time, but His timing is perfect. It always is.