Excuses

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On our first trip this summer, we went to Pryor, Oklahoma to visit with friends and family.  It just happened that our trip was taking us on highway 44 through Joplin just days after the tornado hit.  As we started to drive, I was looking forward to being so close to the action.  You can clearly see the path of the tornado on the map above.  Highway 44 meets just the tip of the six mile damage on the right of the screen shot.  We didn't know what, if anything, we'd see but I would keep my eye out for sure.  About an hour east of Joplin, we turned on the radio.  In between each song, the radio host would come on and give us updates on the work to be done in Joplin.  Far ahead of us we could see that dark rain clouds were hovering over the city.

"I know it's raining now, but we really need your help.  The Baptist church on 32nd street is accepting volunteers to make and serve food for anyone that needs it.  We're collecting food and clothing and when the rain stops we'll need everyone's help to gather valuables from the rubble.  The weather is bad now, but we desperately need your help."

As the announcer began to beg, my heart began to pound.  When I first heard about the tornado, we were all stunned and saddened to say the least.  I read about it and watched as much coverage as I could.  We delivered food and water to our church to be taken to Joplin in a truck, but the city was asking that all out of town volunteers stay away for now.  They just couldn't handle the traffic and there was no place to stay.  It was the least we could do and maybe all we could do at the time. 

But now we were here.  They were begging for help and we were on our way.  We had sleeping boys in the back seat and I didn't know if the work would be dangerous for them or if they would get in the way if we stopped.  We only had less than an hour to spare anyway.  Still all I could think was, I have two hands and we're HERE.  We should stop.  We should help. But it took 30 minutes for me to open my mouth.  "Randall, we should stop in Joplin." I said with tears in my eyes.  We were still 20 minutes away but Randall reminded me of all the reasons we shouldn't.  They had asked us to stay away.  How would we know where to go? "They said the Baptist church on 32nd Street." I answered. "But how will we know how to get there?  There are no street signs.  I don't even know if all the roads are clear."

There's an app for that, I thought to myself.  But I couldn't get out any other words. Minutes and miles passed in silence.  It started to downpour on us, but it was short.  As we approached the devastated city, the rain stopped.  To my left, houses were covered in blue tarps.  Trees were broken into splinters.  To my right a business flew a huge, tattered American flag at half mast.  It was iconic and heartbreaking and the mere feet of damage I saw took my breath away.  I sat silently and cried as the city and the opportunity passed us by.  I prayed.  I prayed for the people for the city.  For the ones mourning 159 friends and relatives while there was still so much rebuilding physically and emotionally to do.  I prayed for Randall and me, that we would know how to serve these people and we wouldn't let another opportunity pass us by.

Our very last trip of the summer would bring us back through Joplin.  Randall did the research this time and realized that a group from our church would be serving the city at the same time that we would be driving through.  Taking a week away from my family wasn't practical this summer since we had already been separated for a month.  But we could spend a day.

So on our way to Tablerock Lake from Pryor, OK, we pulled off of 44 to do what we could for just six hours in Joplin.  As we exited the highway, I didn't see the tattered flag anymore and the buildings along the highway were in pretty good shape.  They've done a lot of work in two and a half months, I thought to myself. Is there anything left for us to do?

That was a stupid question. As we drove into the heart of the city things started looking worse.  At first the houses were just damaged.  

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Then they were destroyed.

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Then I started noticing that all the land surrounding the barely standing structures was leveled.  There were empty lots everywhere, where buildings once stood.

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On some of the land, there were tents, where people now lived.  But many people just left the city.  I think a resident told me that since the businesses and jobs were gone, about 40% of the population just moved away.

Almost three months later, the closer we got to the center of the city, everything was just rubble.  My pictures and words don't come close to doing it justice.

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We made our way through the city to Duquesne Elementary School.  The school was in excellent shape but our job was to strip and paint bookshelves and get the school ready for students coming back in a few days.

We had the boys with us, but this time they wouldn't be an excuse, they would use their own two hands to serve along side us.  Isaac and Asher helped rake and put dead plants in trash bags.  They helped strip paint off of the bookshelves and painted for a minute themselves.  

 

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They took pride in doing the work that they did.  But they also played hard with the principal's daughter who was up at the school doing her part, too.  We stopped for lunch an hour or so after we got there. Some dark clouds were rolling in and it looked like it was going to rain.  The principal's daughter, who looked a couple of years older than Isaac, watched the sky intently.  She told Randall that she thought the storm would pass us by and it did for a bit.  You don't even think about how the survivors feel every time the sky gets dark after experiencing something so traumatic as this.  Did you know that the day after the tornado a police officer working among the rubble was killed when he was struck by lightning?  How awful is that?!

For a while now, a church has been serving food for all of the volunteers (and anyone else who needed it) in the parking lot of Joplin High School.  We stopped there for lunch.

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That's the high school on the left.  You can barely see under the word "drag" in the upper left corner a blue and white tent that serves food day in and day out. But just look at the destruction around it.  

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You can see the sign that used to say Joplin High School, just said OP High School after the tornado.  Someone used duct tape and the sign now says HOPE.  That's the overwhelming feeling throughout the town.  I talked to a couple of locals who were now living in a tent on the grass next to our lunch area.  One of them said that God saved him from the tornado so he could rescue his neighbors.  He said his house was destroyed but he was completely unharmed.  He's living in a tent now but has an overwhelming feeling of hope for the city and for whatever other reason God saved him. 

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 It started raining as we were talking, but you couldn't help but notice the green leaves completely taking over the broken trunks of the trees in the distance.

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In the midst of utter destruction, there is life.

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There is Hope.

 

 

God, I live a perfectly lovely, and contented life.  You have blessed me with two amazing, young boys; a comfortable home in a nice neighborhood; and a wonderful husband who is helping me to grow closer to you all the time.  May I never use the blessings you've given me as excuses not to serve others.  Show me how I can specifically serve You and your people.  When it seems impractical, show me a way to move forward anyway.  May I be your hands and feet in this world.  God, bless Joplin.  God, bless the people that are working so hard there.  God, bless the survivors, the mourners, the rebuilders, and even those that have given up.  Show up in Joplin in big ways, show up in my neighborhood in big ways.  I know you are already.  Help us all to see You here.  And keep our hearts leaning towards Hope.

Introducing…

Guess what else happened this summer?  My brother and sister-in-law gave us a new niece, Trudy Kirkland on August 2.

 

Isn't she beautiful?!

she's pretty much always sleeping

And just in case you needed an update on how her brother Felix is growing, here are some of his latest photos.

Here's Felix and Trudy 

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Felix, back when he got all the attention he wanted.

 

And Felix with his daddy.

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I can't wait to see them all in just a few weeks!

Summer

School is in, that means summer is out.  We had such a full and fun summer that I didn't get a chance to update much on what was going on in the Littleton Household.  This summer was monumental.  Randall and I were separated for a record amount of days, but we both had some truly wonderful experiences.

We were honored that ten million cicadas helped us to usher in the summer season. IMG_2278

 Our house was absolutely infested with the red eyed visitors.  Every step I took, I'd crush twenty beneath my feet.  I took it as my responsibility to the neighborhood to take a lot of powerful walks around my yard.  I also came up with an exciting new game once they started to fly!

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Remember this game in thirteen years!  Everyone's a winner!

Our first trip of the summer was to Rocklahoma in Pryor, America!  

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We visited our friends John and Korey at the famous rock festival and had quite an experience that Randall and I will never forget (although we've been praying fervently that Isaac and Asher already have forgotten some of the things they saw that day).

We visited with Uncle Roger's family while we were there.  We fished, we rode horses and had a grand ole time.

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Shortly after that trip, I headed off to camp with 14 of my favorite 10th grade girls.  When we got back, we celebrated another awesome (in the truest sense of the word) day of baptism.  The next day Randall left for his annual work retreat at the lake.  The day he got home, I left for a different lake with my sisters and mom for our first annual Kirkland girls trip.  We had so much fun! Two days after I got back Randall left for India!  

The night before he left, he was packing and repacking his bag and making sure he had everything in order when he said quietly to me, "I don't think I'm going to make it back."  To which I said sternly, "Then you can't go!"  It was such a huge experience that he had never had before, he couldn't imagine actually going to India for two weeks, seeing and doing all that he would, and then living life on the other side of it at home in Missouri.  I let him go the next day and two weeks later he returned safely to me.  He can't wait to go back and share his experience with his boys someday.

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Can you believe he didn't bring one of those precious boys back home with him?  Next time…

While Randall was on his trips, the boys and I played hard to keep ourselves busy.  We went to swim lessons (where my wedding and engagement rings were stolen.  Don't ask me about it.  I'm still upset.), the Magic House, the zoo, Grant's Farm, Purina Farms, peach/blackberry picking.

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We celebrated the Fourth of July at the lake with friends.

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Isaac lost a tooth.

When Randall got back the boys had a lemonade stand in 115 degree weather.

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It really was a crazy but fun filled summer.  As we realized it was coming to a close and we had spent a whole month away from each other, we decided we needed to take a two week vacation (that and Randall had to use up his vacation time before it expired).

We started our trek in Kansas City at the Great Wolf Lodge hotel and water park.

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Next we headed to the a children's museum in Kansas and met my new cousin Gabby, on our way to Oklahoma City to visit with Grandma.

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We stayed in OKC for a couple of days and visited with all of our cousins and aunts and uncles there.  Here's a picture of Randall's cousin, Diane, playing with the boys and her Parents As Teachers stash.

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Diane is fighting some mean cancer right now.  Take a minute now to pray for God to heal her completely, please.

We took Grandma and left OKC for Fayetteville, Arkansas for a couple of days to go to a baby shower from our niece, Mindi.  We then headed back to Pryor for a night and watched an outstanding Big Band Patriotic set at Roger's church!  It was a lot of fun and by far the best big band patriotic concert we've ever seen!

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We left Pryor and headed to the lake for the rest of the week but stopped in Joplin on the way.  The boys and I took just 6 hours to help an elementary school get ready for kids to come back but it was another experience I'll never forget.

Once at the lake, we got all the rest of our relaxation out and had a lovely time.  We came home just in time to meet Isaac's teacher and prepare for school to start.

Sometimes I wonder where the time goes but I guess when we fill it so completely with these great activities it's no wonder that it speeds by and boys grow older without us noticing.  I am still thankful for the experiences and will take these moments to remember where God has taken us.

Details on some of these experiences to come!  (I have five and a half hours to myself each week now!)

Off we go!

Got all three boys off to school today!

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Isaac had to be out the doors before 7:15. There was no time for his hair to dry….

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Asher was ready to go when Isaac was ready but he had to wait an hour and a half before his school opened.

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Randall had his lunch packed and was out the door by… wait a minute….

School Days

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Tomorrow is Isaac's first day of first grade!  Tomorrow Asher starts his first day of preschool!  It's a big night in the Littleton household.  I was going to write a sentimental blog, but it's 11:30pm and I have to wake up at 6am to get myself ready and lunch ready for my first grader who has to be out the door by 7:15am.  

Instead of a sentimental blog, I'll just remind you of my feelings from this time last year.  Believe it or not, kindergarten did rock my world a little bit.  I have a feeling that two boys in school will do the same.  I don't know why I'm nervous about Isaac being gone all day.  I'm nervous about his new teacher and if she'll be a good one.  She's pregnant, so Isaac will probably have a substitute for a semester or more.  I'm nervous about Isaac eating lunch at school.  Will he give away all of his healthy food and exchange it for sweets?  Will he not eat anything and toss it all in the trash?  Will he be jealous of those who get to buy their lunch?

Speaking of eating at school, Asher gets to eat a snack when he's at preschool, but he'll have to have his own because he is intolerant to dairy and soy (and those two ingredients are in everything!).  Will he be jealous of the snack the other kids are getting?  Will his teacher give me a fair warning anytime a special treat is being served so I can bring Asher a comparable treat? 

I don't know why food is such a big issue with me.  But I'm not the only one.  Maybe it's just the one thing I have to worry about this year and I'm taking it and running with it…  Either way, I'll calm my spirit and say one last prayer before I go to bed and the whirlwind of the school year starts.

 

God, may this year be a huge year for both of my boys.  May Isaac love his teacher and may he learn as much as his bright mind can handle.  Give her wisdom as she embarks on a new journey with new students.  Give her patience as her hormones are changing with the growing baby inside of her.  Give her health and peace as she prepares our students and herself for the next steps in these journeys.  Protect Isaac from the things boys learn on the playground.  May he grow in body and wisdom and maturity, but please protect his innocence.  Give him the strength to stand up for what is right and to be a light to those around him.  Calm his nerves and calm his body.  My boy has SO much energy.  May he learn: when to speak and when to be silent, when to move and when to be still, when to lead and when to follow.  Bless him and help him to bless those around him.

May Asher have a great year in preschool.  May he learn more about You and more about life.  May it begin a lifelong love of learning.  May he grow into a great friend to all his classmates.  Please give Asher one sound and close friend that he can lean on.  Give his teachers wisdom and patience, peace and strength as they go into another year with a bunch of squirrelly four-year-olds.  Teach Asher how to do what is right when everyone else is doing what is wrong. May he be Your light to all he greets.  Bless him and help him to bless those around him.

Thank you for blessing me with these sweet, smart, beautiful boys.  Give me wisdom as Randall and I are their ultimate teachers.  Give us patience and soft hearts that are slow to anger and quick to forgive. And give us peace as time continues to move and there's nothing we can do to make it stand still.

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These boys are so ready…