Tuesday, December 24, 2013

All is calm. All is bright.

Christmas Eve.

Its my favorite night.  Its that moment where it feels like the world slows down to a halt.


I remember one night a few years ago.  It was the storybook Night Before Christmas.  The kind of night that Christmas cards are made about.  The stockings were hung, the children were nestled, and it snowed.  I stepped outside for a moment.

One moment.
To pray.
To honor.
To remember.

Christmas is something different to everyone.

To some, its about family.
To others, its about tradition.
To the young ones, it can be about the gifts.

I am blessed with so many treasured memories of Christmas.  Baking with mom.  Christmas PJs.  Luminaries at Austin Road.  The reading of the Christmas story.

But nights like tonight, there is only one thing on my mind. 

The Star.


On nights like tonight, I long to take a moment from the shopping, baking, wrapping and celebrating to follow the calm, bright light leading to our savior.   It doesn't seem that complicated.  After all, I imagine there was chaos during the time of his birth.

Overtaxed People.

I can't imagine the pressures of their time were less than those of ours.  And yet, they paused and followed the light.

I missed the luminaries at Austin Road.  I didn't get to bake with my mom.  And its still Christmas Eve.  Its a little harder to celebrate without the "comforts" of the season, but its still Christmas.

There is one thing that must be present for Christmas to occur.  On this night, our savior was born.

One moment.
To pray.
To honor.
To remember.

Take a moment to remember the reason for the season. 


Look for the star.  Jesus, Lord at thy birth.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas with Love ~ Our Christmas Letter

"The greatest of these is love."

I remember when this was read at our wedding.  As a 27 year-old young woman, love meant something totally different than it does now.  2013 has brought wonderful memories and even some difficult ones.  With each of them, his love has never been more evident in our lives.  I am thankful to experience love everyday.  As I reflect on our year, I am amazed at the simple things that have shown me love and made this year complete. 

I love when Robbie kisses my forehead.
He has done this since we were dating.  It makes me feel loved and safe. After 12 years of marriage and two kids, we have to steal moments. One of my favorite "stolen moments" was this summer on a convertible drive up the river.  With no words, wind in our hair, and a great summer playlist, I was reminded how valuable these simple moments are.  Since we don't get them often, I cherished the moment to save for later.  I couldn't imagine sharing this life with anyone else.  He is the perfect partner for me.

I love holding Tate's hand.
In the car.  Watching a movie.  Walking out of school.  This boy is a hand holder and I love every single minute of it.  He is our sensitive one that always acts in kindness and love.  Speaking of love, he has found a few.  He has extended his love of art and auditioned for his school show choir.  Imagine our surprise (since we don't have a singer in the family) when he actually made it!  Spend 5 minutes with Tate and you quickly know his 1st love.  Sundays at our house have turned in to SportsCenter.  I treasure watching my son and his daddy sitting on our deck talking about "The Game".

I love the sound of Lily's laugh.
There is no question about it.  This child loves life.  Whether she's helping me cook in the kitchen or twirling around at basketball practice, Lily is light and airy about everything she does. She is a self-proclaimed "Teacher's Pet" and has found her way back in her old Kindergarten classroom reading.  My favorite Lily moment this year was when we introduced her to Ginger Bean, our new boxer pup.  The sound of her squeals is something I will always remember. Simply stated, Lily oozes the love of the people she's around.

I love having dinner with my family.
For the first time in several years, I sat at a table and dined with my parents and brothers.  We are a close-knit family, but due to logistics, our time together, as a complete unit, is limited.  What better reason to dine together than Rev and Red's 40th wedding anniversary?  We took our 1st Willemsen family vacation in over 20 years to Punta Cana and enjoyed many meals, and even more laughs together.  The time together was long overdue and will be something I cherish my whole life.  Even more fitting, mom and dad renewed their vows, officiated by Tate and Lily.  There wasn't a dry eye on the beach that day.  I am blessed to have such an amazing model of unconditional love.

I love hearing teenagers sing their alma mater.
They are the reason I do this job and every 3rd quarter when they sing the alma mater, I am reminded of that reason.  Cleveland High School continues to be a perfect job for me.  The principal job will never be easy, but I am blessed to work at a place that makes it a joy.  This year brought a state title in wrestling, almost 300 diplomas presented, our first Hall of Fame ceremony, a new freshmen class of almost 400 students and a semi-final finish for our football team.

2013 is a year I will always remember as a year of love.  I hope each of you will take time out this holiday season with those you love.  But most importantly, our wish for you is that you find HIS love in your life.  It makes all the difference.

Peace. Joy.  LOVE.
~Autumn, resident writer for Robbie, Tate, and Lily (and Max & Ginger too!!)

I also LOVE writing!  To keep up with our family escapades, check out www.lilytate.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snow Shoes

I love this picture.  I like the contrast of black to white.  I like that the snow looks untouched.  I like that the feet belong to me.

I've always hated the snow.  I remember many cold years of carrying firewood into the house.  I would, of course, put it off until the very last thing, and would end up stumbling through the cold, blowing wind with several armfuls of wood.  In the...Pitch...Black...Night.

I guess thats another reason I love this picture.  The snow seems different from what I remember as a child.  It seems light and airy, rather than dark and cold.  I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that I'm not carrying loads of wood into an already cold house.  Oh, and that I'm no longer a teenager.  We'll call it an attitude adjustment.

Its as if my feet have a clean slate.  Any direction they walk, they will be the first footsteps.  I like that idea.  Its bold and a little unconventional.

It's been a long time since I've been home for 10 days.  Its been even longer since I've been home for 10 days, NOT playing the role of wife and mom.  It feels different this time.  I think I know why.

I left New York over 21 years ago and never moved back.  The interesting part to that story would be if there was some twisted reason behind my relocation.  Its not about wanting to "get out of this place".  In fact, its really more about the person I am because of this place.  

It wouldn't be an accurate reflection unless I started at the beginning.

The Rev and Red #1 are the perfect parents for a girl like me.  Growing up was WAY tougher than I would have preferred.  I thought they had too many rules.  I was a little "bold and unconventional" and thought I knew better.  They had this amazing grace that reflected his love and mercy over my life, no matter how hard I pushed.  They are truly the definition of servants for the kingdom.  They would do anything, for anyone, at any time and I love that about them.

You read all about this guy earlier this week.

Since I usually have my own husband and kids when I'm here, I rarely get any QT with my brother and his boys.  I truly love the one-on-one time with each of them.  And yes, they are as crazy as they appear in the picture.

And then there's my great big Dutch family.

Quite simply, there is no place in this world that feels more like home than at The Willemsen Homestead.  I posted about Austin Road earlier this week.  My dad's brothers and sisters are eclectic, fun, and always make me feel so special.  I am blessed to have distinct memories with each one of them.    I am eternally grateful to my Uncle Brian for keeping the Homestead in the family.  It will forever and ever be my home and a place I cherish.

Coming from a large family on both sides can be crazy and unpredictable.

Look at this beautiful lady.  This is Catherine, my mom's mother.  She is a woman of strength, raising 5 daughters and one crazy son.  Those 6 children each have children of their own and those children have children (you're seeing a pattern here?).  Its a great big ole family with a ton of STRONG women.  You get my point?  There's drama.  There's care.  This family fights hard and loves harder.  Its hard to get everyone on the same page, but you undoubtedly feel their affection from miles away.

I believe the term "family" refers not only to those who share similar DNA.

I have many friends.  I don't say that to brag.  I am blessed and wouldn't ever take it for granted.  There's something about friends that have known you most of your life.  They remember every heartbreak, every dumb decision, and every bad hair style.  They remember everything and they love you regardless.  It would be easy to say thats why we're still friends, but it wouldn't be true.  Of course the past is a great foundation, but its those moments where you're faced with the real adult things.

The loss of a child.
Marriage frustrations.
Financial woes.  

Its during those times, you know this isn't a junior high friendship.  These are real "big girls" problems and they need "big girl" support.  I sure do have it with these ladies.

After a week in New York, I feel like I've been staring in the mirror for days.

The image in the mirror is new, but still the same.  Its a collection of all of the people and places that have touched my life.  The people who made me who I am. 

“Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” 
― Sarah DessenWhat Happened to Goodbye

Until next time,

Friday, November 29, 2013

Game Changer

There are three answers.

The day I got saved.
The day I got married.
The birth of my children.

These are the most common answers when one is asked about the single most life-changing events in their life.  I think everyone can attest that I do truly love God, my husband and children and my life would not be, well "my life", if it weren't for their presence in it.

So lets just say that's not a choice.  Let's just say you can't use the "I'm a terrible mom and wife if I don't say one of those events" for your answer.  If the "easy" answer is eliminated, what is your game changer?

The answer for me is simple and might surprise some.

It was May of 1996.
It was hot.
It was my senior season.
I had never been more excited in my life.

I was a bunter which meant many times, I was a sacrifice out.  I never trotted around the bases and high-fived my coaches as my team bounced around waiting for me to cross the plate. Nope.  I was the bunter.

It seems like a thankless job.  My job was to move the runner to second base.  Everytime.  My presence on the base was a commodity, not a necessity.  It was ok if I was OUT.

It was the nationals.
They were a top 5 team.
We were the underdog.
I bunted.

I ran back to the dugout and put my helmet up.  With a runner on 2nd base, the #3 batter grounded out.  It looked like our record-breaking season was over.  We could hold our heads high.  We were the first team in the history of the school to make it to the NAIA nationals.

Now up to bat.  
Nakia Brandon.

I looked down expecting this to be the very last at-bat for our team.  A team that had no all-stars but many shining stars.  A team that worked together and surprised many.

The bat hit the ball.
My assistant coach started jumping.
Nakia started trotting.
We all bounced around waiting for the game-winning home run hitter to cross the plate.

Tonight I sat in my parents' living room, as my mom recovers from surgery, and listened to the heartbreaking loss of our Blue Raider football team in the semi-finals of the state tournament.

Tonight each of those players is thinking about all the missed opportunities in the loss.  The coaches are reflecting on the game and the "what ifs".

But tomorrow.  Tomorrow is a different story.  Each day from tomorrow forward they will start to build a memory.  A memory that is bigger than they are.  A memory on the season that changed their game.

You see, my team eventually lost in the quarterfinals of the NAIA National Tournament.  I remember very little from my last game.  What I do remember are the many plays that got us there and the moment I bounced around waiting for the home run hitter to cross the plate.

Well played, Blue Raiders.  Well played.  We are so proud of you.

*The above softball picture is from the 1995 season and does not include Nakia.  The 1996 Harley pic has disappeared.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rubber Glove Turkeys

God is great.
God is good.
Thank you for this food.

The words are basic.  Its the first prayer that most of us learn as a child.  A simple thanks for a simple thing.  And yet, year by year, our lives get less simple.  Clutter and complex take over where basic and simple once resided.  We stop folding our hands.  We cease in bowing our heads.  Oftentimes we even forget the words.

This is the second holiday I have spent in the hospital over the past year.  Each time, as the world slows down around me, I am acutely aware of the very basic things that I should be grateful for.  Today, from my viewpoint, I had to start writing them down.  There wasn't enough space in the ole noggin to store it all.

Today I fold my hands.
Today I bow my head.

I'll start with this lady, one of my oldest and dearest friends.

This morning she woke up, ran in a 5K Turkey Trot, and MADE ME THIS ----->

What a great way to start the day!  I felt like I was in one of those Jimmy Dean commercials.  Weary and tired gives way to the lady wearing a sun costume holding a breakfast sandwich.

{Disclaimer - I probably should have warned what few readers I have, that I'm tired and my writing might be slightly nonsensical (and I may invent words)}

And then these two came to visit.

100% authentic, unfiltered, outrageousness contained in these two little bodies.  My brother's boys remind me so much of my brothers when they were little.  As they knelt at the foot of my chair, all I could do was just sweep them up in my lap and give them as many kisses as I could.  It was overwhelming.  I just love their stinkin' guts.  And we made turkeys out of rubber gloves.

This afternoon we started getting hungry.  This wonderful friend came to the rescue.

She is another one of my nearest and dearest that loves my family like they are her own.  Today she knew The Rev would have to have a good Thanksgiving meal.  She interrupted her family time to prepare lovely plates for my parents to enjoy at the hospital.  The food was just amazing.

As I said earlier in this post, this is my second holiday hospital stay in twelve months, as we were in ICU with Robbie's dad last Christmas.  In both of these hospital stays, we have been blessed with an amazing medical staff.  Enter Pete.

There is no picture of Pete.  Close your eyes and envision a tall, dark headed nurse who gave our favorite red head a run for her money.  He was sarcastic, attentive, and extremely pleasant to be around.  There were many acts of service from the staff this week and we are thankful for the care they gave mom.

I'm not a fan of being away from my kids.  EVER.  Its even harder when there is a holiday involved.  Modern technology.  Isn't it grand?

FaceTime with my kids.  We talked about the Purina Dog Show, Aunt Diane's dinner, and our misbehaving puppy.  These seven minutes made my heart smile.

God is great.
God is good.
Thank you for these things.

Happy Day of Simple Thanks.  Try it out.  It feels good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Run Red Run

I climbed on to the school bus.  It was my least favorite time of day.  Living 20 minutes from school was no picnic on an average day, but riding the bus for over an hour?  It was pure torture.

"Is that your mom," the little boy in the seat next to me asked.  I didn't have to turn around.  I could visualize the scene as it unfolded behind me.

Mom, in her bathrobe.
My brother running while struggling to put his shoes on.
Backpack unzipped.
Nissan Sentra honking and blinking the lights.
The school bus slowing down to a halt.

And there he was.  No doubt, without lunch money or completed homework.  Hair unbrushed and crooked glasses.  He made eye contact, cocked his head slightly, and nervously giggled as he walked back to my seat.

Yep.  That's Tony, for ya.

He's the middle brother.  He always has things hanging out of his backpack.  He is a horrible planner.

One could stop there and recognize very quickly, that we are night and day.  Its hard to believe we share any genetic qualities.

He's a computer geek. I'm the big picture creator.
He's the "I don't wear Christmas pajamas" guy.  I'm the "Do it for your mother" girl.
He will talk to a perfect stranger by choice.  I would rather not unless its obligation.

But most importantly, he's my brother.

No matter how different we are, I always see that little guy walking down the school bus aisle, getting it all together.

He still gets that look sometimes.  The one with the nervous giggle and the fidgety movement.  Mostly when dealing with his boys.  Its the look that says, "I'm doing the best I can.  Just give me a chance to get it all together."

He hasn't had the easiest time, but with each step he learns, and embraces the newness of each day.  I am proud of the dad he has become and so thankful he's my brother.

But most importantly, I learn from him.
I learn that details matter, sometimes.
I learn that sometimes the best plans are actually not plans.
I learn that you love, even through the hard stuff.

Happy Birthday Red!  I hope your day is filled with comfortable clothes, great music, and the best Wally burger you've ever had!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Austin Road

There I stood at the top of the hill.  I had never felt this kind of fear in my life.  I could hear my dad calling out to me, "Let's go, Babydoll.  There's nothing to be afraid of."

The things parents tell their kids.  In fact, there was plenty to be afraid of.

Going off-course into a tree.
Falling off the tube and rolling down the hill.
Jumping the snowdrift at the bottom and landing face first.

It seemed to get colder and darker with every breath I took.  I could tell the other adults were losing patience with me.  I was frozen.  Literally.

Deep Breath.
Belly-first on an inner tube.
Eyes Closed.
Scream the whole way down.

The wind had been taken from me.  The laughter made it worse.  I could barely stand.

"Let's go again," I exclaimed, knowing my 6 year old self was changed forever.

I conquered many fears at The Homestead on Austin Road.

Sledding down a HUGE hill.
Riding my bike.
Eating strange foods.
Diving into the pond.

Each time, I was surrounded by a group of adults cheering me on, saying the most ridiculous things to motivate me.

Today I was the adult.

"It'll be fun."

"If you throw snowballs, you're going to be cold before we even get started."

"Take sideways steps.  Its easier."

"Sometimes we have to help each other, to make it to the top."

And when we all made it, I had that same out-of-breath feeling all over again.  Its the magic of this place.  It just brings something out in me that I can't explain.  I didn't have to say a word.  They understood.

I had an epiphany today.  All those years, I thought only the kids were overcoming their fears and having a blast.  I imagined the grown-ups standing around, hanging on our every move, putting in their due time of "kid fun" before dinner time.

There I stood, at the top of the hill.  I realized the adult version was ten times better.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Let the Words of My Mouth

My mom always says, "God has a plan."  To be honest, it gets a bit annoying when you have heard it over and over again, especially when you feel there is no direction in sight.  It's never easy trusting what you can't see.

I remember pulling away from the Red Warehouse in Flint, New York after saying goodbye to my dearest friend since elementary school.  We were all crying and I knew my life would never be the same again.  Boy was I right.

In August of 1992, I packed up all of my belongings and made the 800 mile trip with my parents to Lee College in Cleveland, TN.  I was miserable.  I didn't want to leave home.  I didn't want to leave my boyfriend.  I didn't want to leave everything I had ever known.

Those feelings didn't change for several months.  I remember crying myself to sleep on many occasions.  I had met a lot of nice people, but I just didn't feel like I fit in.  I felt like the most misunderstood yankee in the southeast.

I prayed hard.  I wasn't sure what I was praying for, but I knew that if God indeed had a plan, I needed to be talking to him regularly so he wouldn't forget me.  My day-to-day felt the furthest from a plan that I could imagine.  In fact, it felt more like a train wreck.

Isn't God funny?  We sit around stewing ourselves into a fit about "his will" and all along, he is carefully laying bricks as if to say, "Hey dummy!  Over here!"  I would like to say this is the one and only time that I fought with faith, but unfortunately, it happened over and over.  I think I have it figured out.  I think I have a better plan.  I think I know what's best.  All along he sits back and says "I have a plan."

I still live in Cleveland, TN and pay many visits to my alma mater.  Today was different though.  There's something about "coming home" that makes you remember why you called it home in the first place.  It was the first time that all four of us have attended Homecoming.  It was a perfect afternoon.

As we walked back to the car after the game, a flood of memories hit me like a ton of bricks. It is, in essence, my birthplace.  I was born as an infant in Sodus, NY, but I became an adult somewhere between Church and Ocoee Street in Cleveland, TN.

New friends.

At the end of each chapel service we would recite Psalms 19:14

Let the words of my mouth
And the meditations of my heart
Be acceptable in thy sight
Oh Lord
My strength
And my redeemer

He is a redeemer, indeed.