Shine.

The hubby shared this video with me last night and I think it's just stunning… plus I have always loved this song. And! They used more than 700,000 Light Bright pegs to make it! Totally animation-free! Amazing. And what a sweet and sad and heartwrenching story to go along with it. It made me cry, but then again, I'm a sucker for these things- the song brought tears to my eyes long before I ever saw the video.

Thank you for overcoming this heart of mine, o God.

Shine by David Crowder Band.

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Appreciation.

I am so thankful for everyone who has been praying for my dad and who contacted me to let me know that he is in their thoughts and prayers. We went to the hospital today and he was awake and in very good spirits, and no doubt very thankful to be alive. We are all happy about that. He would laugh that I am saying this, but he truly radiated appreciation today. Renewed, I think- for life, for his loved ones, for his wife and his children and grandchildren. He's big and tough and ultimately a measly quadruple bypass can't keep him down. But he knows better than to go against doctor's orders, so he will do whatever it takes to get well soon. A CAT scan is in order to make sure we don't miss anything. And lastly, he is willing to have the surgery team go in to take care of the aneurysm the right way- whether that means they have to open his chest again, or go in through the artery in his leg. We're hoping and praying for the latter, and asking God to hold Dad tightly in His protective hands as we await the next surgery. So don't stop praying for him in the coming weeks. Our family is grateful for all you have done to lift up Dad already.

As our family came together at the hospital, anxiously waiting for good news from the surgeon, I realized that there are so many wonderful things about each one of these people that I hope Linnea sees as shining examples of love and character as she grows up. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing what each of those qualities are in individual blogs dedicated to those who are closest to my heart through thick and thin and who have shown love unconditionally in spite of my flaws. These are the people I want Linnea to look to when she questions humanity, because God has blessed me tremendously with amazing people who love her as much as I do.

So anyway, this is just a quick post to say thank you. Near and far, friends and those merely passing through my little site- thank you. God hears each and every one of your intercessions on my dad's behalf, and I will never forget what you've done for us. When I told my dad that there are countless people praying for him- strangers, even- he smiled brightly and said, "That's wonderful. Tell them to keep it up."

Naughty Blogger.

I am a naughty, naughty blogger. Good bloggers stay on top of posting. Good bloggers have something interesting to say, and the best have something interesting to say every day. I have determined that I haven't been keeping up with posting regularly because I haven't led a very exciting life lately. I started this blog hoping that becoming a mom would provide me with a plethora of hilarious, endearing stories to share with my readers.

But alas, my child is so perfect, I have nothing exciting to write about.

So what if I'm biased… and kidding. But she eats well. She's gaining weight at a normal rate, finally. She sleeps ALL THE WAY through the night. She coos, and smiles, and almost laughs, and today she rolled onto her back from her tummy for the first time. TV enthralls her (unfortunately), and I stay home with her most of the week. I take her everywhere I go and she is a little angel pretty much all the time. When she's asleep, or generally content, I get some work done. All in all, a pretty tame existence. I have an amazing kid.

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On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend Bloggy Boot Camp with my talented and world-famous client Kim of the TomKat Studio. My head has been swimming with ideas ever since, and so has Kim's – so much that we're closing up shop next week so she can get some ideas implemented and the brainstorming can commence. It was pretty spectacular being surrounded by ladies who get what it's like to be a mom, to want to contribute to the family income, to use business-savvy and social skill to propel ideas forward. We learned about Web design, PR, SEO, small business, monetizing, and being authentic. It was fantastic. It was inspiring to meet like-minded women who support each other; not compete with each other. How refreshing for a profession that has the potential to be incredibly catty.

I have to admit though, that for a novice like me, it was a tad bit intimidating. I have tons of ideas that I've wanted to see come to life, but the adjustment of new motherhood and working from home has been tougher than I thought. It's not that life is so hard or complicated; it's just that I don't have it down to a science yet. While everyone there was super welcoming, it definitely was hard to feel like part of the "club" because I didn't feel like I had much to offer. These ladies are so talented and seem to have this ability to juggle responsibility that I can barely wrap my mind around. But it was so good to see firsthand that yes… it can be done.

Life as a new mom has been incredible in ways that I couldn't have even imagined. I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I can't complain about having such a perfect child. Ha! I'll be paid back a hundred fold for such a comment, I'm sure (The tween years? Honestly). I mean, seriously, writing about how Linnea has been cooing happily on the couch next to me while I get some work done is only exciting… oh… never. I'm not saying I'll never write about her- she is my muse, after all – I just have other things to share here as well. I'm working on a list of topics and a schedule to follow, and I can't wait to get organized and share them with you.

On another note, I just finished the book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Don Miller, and also had the chance to hear him speak at our church a few weeks ago, and it was a timely, much-needed message for not just me but my husband Cody as well. We're working on our "What If" lists and are determined to live a better story (you can read his here). If I've learned anything in recent months, it's that life is short, and precious. Cheers to making the most of it!

Who loves ya, baby?

Mum Mum Linnea

My dear grandmother went to be with Jesus this morning at 7:30. I had been praying for Him to call her home all night after my sister and I went to visit her in hospice care around 10:00 p.m. It was awful; her lungs had filled with fluid because she refused to take her medicine, and she was essentially- slowly, devastatingly- drowning. The sound of her fighting for every breath was heart-wrenching. The nurses said she wasn't in any pain, but… I don't know. I just wanted it to stop- for her sake. But the thought of her being alone in her final hours hurt more. Our brother showed up at around 10:30, and our parents around 11:00. We were all there to say goodbye. There to kiss her on the cheek one last time. We left shortly before midnight, and then we all went home and waited for the news that we both welcomed and feared. I didn't sleep a wink last night.

I don't remember life before Mum Mum. She had lived with my parents and I since I was four years old. I grew up and became the woman I am today because of her influence in my life. When I saw her for the last time last night, I was flooded with happy memories from my childhood that I had long since forgotten about. I shared all of them with her and knew she could hear me because she tried to respond. I made sure that she knew how much I loved her.

When I was three, before she lived with us, I used to get so excited to go see Mum Mum at her apartment and take her out to the fountain to look for goldfish. I remember one Halloween when my parents took me to the drug store for my costume, and we headed straight over to Mum Mum's, knocked on her door and she opened it and said, "Well my goodness, where did you come from?" and I said, "Skagg's." Ha! I remember playing with her ceramic leopard and trying on her shoes and her jewelry and playing on her reclining board and watching Nick at Nite with her. Our favorite show was Mr. Ed. I would sit on the back of the couch behind her and put velcro rollers in her hair. Every night before I went to bed, I would bring in my stuffed dog Henry, and she would sit him on her lap and I would ask him all kinds of silly questions, and she would nod his head yes or no, and I would giggle uncontrollably. I took Henry along on our visit last night, and happily she was not alone in her final moments because he was with her :) Sometimes I would drink water straight out of the gallon jugs she kept in her room and she never minded. I would run around the dining room table and say to her, "Chase me, Mum Mum! Chase me!" She would pick me up from school every day and take me to Smitty's and buy me a custard-filled donut- my favorite. She loved to drink Instant Breakfast, so naturally I did, too. When we went out and about on the weekends with Mom and Dad, Mum Mum and I would sit in the back seat and she would tap her fingers on the seat to the music. I've always done that, and now I know why. She used to feed filet mignon to our family dog, Muffin- my, how she loved that little dog! She is finally with her again :) When I got older, we would go to the mall together. And boy, when I turned into a bratty teenager, did we ever fight. But she never made me feel unloved. She always, always reminded me that she loves me unconditionally. She always told me that we shared a special bond, and we did- right to the very end. When I visited her in hospice over the weekend, even though she was confused and intensely medicated, she greeted me with a huge smile. She mixed up a lot of other people, but she always knew me for some reason. I will never forget her saying to me, "Oh, my Andrea, you lit up the room when you walked in! Seeing you makes me so happy." Whatever floats your boat, Mum Mum 🙂

I hated to see how gradually and yet suddenly her physical and mental health declined. She just started to fall apart and it was heartbreaking- not only for her but for my parents who, bless their hearts, worked tirelessly to care for her over the past several years. It goes without saying that they sacrificed a lot for her sake and I won't lie and say that there isn't a part of all of us that is relieved that they are free to enjoy their retirement years now- and I am certain that Mum Mum would want that. After 95 years of life, and a very rough past couple of years… it was simply time.

But the difficulties are not what I'm going to choose to remember, even though they're the most fresh in my mind. I am going to remember everything good about her. I will do my best to live my life with no regrets because even after 95 years, she would tell me that life is incredibly short, that time just flew by and she could hardly believe she had made it that far. Even before her death, I had decided to forgive, to do what I could to right wrongs, to make life count, to love unconditionally, to give without expectations, to make the most of my time with the people I love as long as I am blessed to experience it. Honestly, to choose any less than that would be nothing short of pathetic. I praise God for the example He gave me in our dear Mum Mum- one that I will try my best to carry on for my own daughter and her kids someday.

Every night, even into my adult years, she would say to me, "Who loves ya, baby?" She got a kick out of Kojak and his lollipops. And I would kiss her on her hand and we would blow each other kisses and catch them. And I would say back, "Who loves ya, Mum Mum?" Well, there's no question about that. We will all miss you for the rest of our days. But the good news is, we will see you again. The glory, wholeness and love you must be experiencing now no doubt pales in comparison to anything  you experienced on earth. And for that, I will forever be grateful.

It really was OK to let go of this life, wasn't it, Mum Mum? You had a good run at it. And my goodness… look how beautiful you were.

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Who loves ya, Mum Mum?

Helen Mae Eiler, 1914-2010

Arise and be comforted
For the Lord, He is good to the weary
And even the young heart can tire and fall
But He knows them all
For the Lord, He will renew their strength
And they will soar on wings as eagles
And they will run and never grow weary
They will walk and not grow faint
For the Lord, He is good
Lift your eyes to the heavens
For the creator is living in you
Come surrender as you are
And know that you'll never stray too far
Let His power within you heal your heart
Lift your eyes to spacious skies
Let Him chart your way to flight

Spread your wings and fly

For the Lord, He is good

~Arise and Be Comforted by Watermark

(If you are a family member or friend, share a favorite memory or your favorite thing about Mum Mum! I would love to hear what you have to say, and I'm sure everyone else would too 🙂

Baby’s first letter.

Dear Linnea,

Two months ago today, you came into the world in such a whirlwind I could barely see straight. I went to work that morning feeling totally normal and left that afternoon in bona-fide labor. You were born less than thirteen hours later. It was the hardest, most physically demanding, exhausting, BEST THING I have ever done. And your daddy was there helping all along the way. 

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I tell you all the time how I grew you in my belly. What a miraculous thing God had in mind when He knit you together. You, my beautiful baby, my little angel, are an amazing little creation.

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I have spent this time watching you grow, cuddling you incessantly, seeing how quickly you are falling in love with your Daddy- like you could possibly help that. He is one wonderful man. I always knew you would be a daddy's girl. I don't think any man will ever love you as much as your Daddy does (but we are praying that someday one will!). There is nothing more precious than when he comes home from work and all he wants to do is hold you in his arms and make faces at you so that you smile at him. And oh boy, that smile! The first time you smiled at me a couple of weeks ago filled me with so much joy! As if you weren't already beautiful enough- you go and do a silly thing like smiling at me. Goodness, child. Sometimes I think my heart might just explode- and yet it somehow contains this growing love I never could have understood until you came into my life. 

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I find myself getting excited to share experiences with you. I took you to the park one day and we laid under the shade of a tree together and you smiled and cooed at me all afternoon. I went to the toy store the other day and bought you a tea set that we can play with together when you get a little older. I am excited to take you to Disneyland and throw birthday parties for you and teach you the different noises animals make when you see them at the zoo. Right now, you don't do much more other than kick those little legs of yours and reach out with those tiny little hands that look just like mine. You're still such an itty bitty one- less than seven pounds- but from what Daddy and I can tell, you are bright-eyed- SO bright-eyed- and healthy. And we are so thankful for that.

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I love to sing lullabies to you, even silly ones like that ridiculous "binky song" I made up this morning. "I've got a binky, binky for my girl- binky for my girl- binky for my girl!" I love holding you and rocking with you in my arms while I feed you. I love weekends when Daddy gets up in the morning and brings you into our bed, and we take in the wonder that is our daughter. I love your little newborn kisses. I love your drama arms. I love when I pick you up from your crib when you're fussy and you calm down right away. I love when you hold your little head up, peering over my shoulder at your surroundings, or other people in the room, making everyone go, "Awwww!" I love how completely smitten I am with you. I love how completely smitten everyone is with you. You should see your Amma- oh my. If she could have you all to herself forever and ever she would take you in a heartbeat.

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Now that you're here, Linnea, it is impossible for Daddy and I to imagine life without you. We hold so much hope for your future and pray that we will be the parents you need us to be to become the woman God made you to be. You have gifted us with a brand new perspective on the whole of life that only exists by your presence.

But you- you are a priceless gift. We love you so much, Little Monkey. We are looking forward to many more months and years of watching you grow up- and we will cherish every second of it.

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With all our love,

Mama and Daddy

Why I am SO EXCITED: The TomKat Studio.

As you may know, when I found out I was expecting Linnea, I set out on a mission to start a home-based business as a Virtual Assistant and developed No Strings Virtual Solutions. As is the case with most business ventures, it took some time to develop and get off the ground, and before I knew it, Linnea was nearly here and my world was taken over by all things baby. That's the beauty of owning your own biz- you can prioritize your life appropriately and focus on what's most important! I had a couple of project-based clients that I helped with the launch of their Web sites and blogs, but I put anything beyond that on hold as I prepared to become a mom. 

The TomKat Studio

My hubby went back to work on Wednesday, and I was finally settling into somewhat of a rhythm with the little one to where I would be able to start building my business and taking on clients again. That's when I saw a post on Twitter from the TomKat Studio (whose blog I've been following since I saw her on the cover of our local magazine, Go Gilbert! back in May) saying that she was seeking a virtual assistant for her paper and party business. Kim has THE CUTEST blog I've ever seen and it's clear that her business has taken off in recent months, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. I even had friends who saw the post and sent it to me knowing I would love it. Imagine my excitement when she e-mailed me to let me know that I was her top choice! I mean, LOOK at her adorable creations!

The TomKat Studio

There are so many reasons I am so thrilled to work with her, besides the fact that she is one of the sweetest people I've ever talked to. She is immensely talented, creative and is genuinely living out her passion, and I love that kind of energy! Back when I started No Strings, my husband asked me what kind of clients I wanted to serve. I told him that I could work with almost anyone, but in a perfect world I would love to work with creative entrepreneurs- just like Kim! Her Web site was one I frequented when I needed inspiration and it also got me excited that I was having a little girl- bring on the pretty parties please! And lastly, that issue of Go Gilbert! is the only one I kept around the house because it was that article that inspired me to venture out on my own. It was only a few days after I read it that I found out I was expecting- and you can bet it gave me the confidence I needed that I could handle being an entrepreneur AND a good mom too!

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So who would have thunk that a couple of months after our little one was born that I would be working with the very person who inspired me to start my own business? It will never cease to amaze me the way that God orchestrates things in our lives. We NEVER know just how good His plan can be until we find ourselves in the midst of it! And I am sure there is so much more amazingness to come! For now, I am looking forward to helping this successful, creative business owner and fellow mom build her company and realize its full potential. Cheers to Kim and the TomKat Studio!

The TomKat Studio

What really matters.

It's not just a cheesy multi-billion dollar company's tagline: Having a baby changes everything.

I've found that Linnea's arrival has completely altered my perception of everything. I used to think that my pregnancy changed things immensely (and it did), but I had no idea what I was in for when we were blessed with an amazingly beautiful, perfectly healthy little girl. I am so thankful for how fortunate we are to have had no complications in the pregnancy or the birth, to have a home to return to, cars in great condition, that my husband has a job, and wonderful friends and family to share life with. I wanted to correct things that weren't right for the sake of our daughter, and I'm happy to say that I was able to do that in some cases, but sadly, not all. I recently read my friend Jessica's blog on forgiveness and boy, could I ever relate to literally every word she wrote. It's a good, honest read and is exactly how I feel. It's funny how similar she and I are in so many ways- right down to the struggles we face in life! 

As we all process through the recent events in Haiti- the heartbreaking loss of life, the devastation, the long road the country has toward restoration (and wait for news on the Compassion kids we sponsor, Flandie and Makendy)- and follow stories like that of Kate McRae, I look at my precious little family and can't imagine my life without them. I can't help but think about what really matters in this short time we have on earth. There's always that part of me who wonders if our worst fears were realized, who would be there? Any why would they be there? I'm not one of those paranoid types who thinks that the worst case scenario will ALWAYS happen if you're not prepared, but it's clear that no one knows what God holds for each of us. There is simply so much that is out of our control. But what about the things we can control? And in any major event in life, whether it be good or bad, why let a large black cloud hover over those events? Is it ever worth withholding forgiveness and restoration if it means you miss out on amazing parts of life- or if you know you would be sorry if you never had a chance to make things right? 

I don't mean to sound morbid- it's just hard not to think about these things when it's so front-and-center in the news these days. Like I said, our little one has changed the way I look at everything, and while I know I will make mistakes, I want desperately to live as a good example for her sake. I found myself at a crossroads as her arrival neared, and I tried to make things right the best way I knew how, and was shot down and shut out by two people who will always mean so much to my husband and me. I can't condemn the parties involved for being hurt and angry, because God knows I was as well, but I came to the realization that it's not worth living this way anymore- and it's not worth pretending there isn't a problem either. Like Jessica said in her blog, it hurts to have an apology go ignored time and time again. It hurts to be utterly misunderstood, especially when you're trying to make things right. It hurts when you feel like you can't be yourself, and you can't be human and mess up, and be accepted too. And it hurts to be told that all is lost when you see something worth rebuilding. 

When you truly love someone, and they truly love you back, you should be able to have even the most unbearable disagreements and end up with a stronger relationship when all is said and done. That's what I learned through restored friendships that I never thought stood a chance. I don't have all the answers; I just see things differently than ever before. And all I have left to do now is hope and pray that things change- and ask God to help keep things consistently in perspective so that bitterness doesn't ever take root in my heart over the capacity to forgive that He so graciously gave me.

At times, I didn't think I had it in me- and then I met Linnea. She truly has changed everything.