Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lots of Special People In Our Lives

     It's been an interesting January.  With three busy kids who can't drive and one graduated senior who is now working instead of going to school, a lot of chauffeuring has fallen back on my shoulders, and the only way to describe our lives right now is that we just simply have to take one day at a time.  Sometimes we're just living hour by hour or even minute by minute as the needs arise and change.  Everyone's schedule in this family is different every single day, and as the master planner and coordinator of the bunch, I have found myself very thankful for all the other people in our lives who are walking this journey with us right now and are available to give rides when needed.  Heath, in particular, has three or four people who very willingly let him ride with them to and from school, but even so, we oftentimes still need to meet up with them at various locations.  Jenny has been a lifesaver when it comes to helping out with his schedule!

     Our weekends in January, however, have probably been the calmest they have ever been!  We just haven't had that much extra stuff on the calendar, which has been really nice for a switch.  Last weekend, though, was definitely the exception.  If anything was scheduled in January, it was planned for last weekend, and let's just say that it was totally insane.  Heath stayed back here so he could work, but the rest of us traveled west in three separate vehicles, two of which were ours, so that we could be a part of all the different activities there.

     First of all, Harris and I had a big Primerica event going on all of Friday and Saturday in Des Moines.  We love our company, love what we do for middle-class America, and love seeing our teammates be recognized for the hard work they've done.  One of the best parts of these events, though, is spending time with fellow Primericans from across the Midwest.  We have made so many friends through our business, and there is just nothing better than to be greeted by their warm, smiling faces, giving them a great big hug, and then catching up on each other's lives.  Many of them have been praying for our family, and we are so thankful for their love and concern. 

     On Saturday afternoon I slipped away from all of that to attend a very special party that was going on back in Pella.  My grandma De Boef is now 90 years old!  Just take a look at these two amazing people who I get to call Grandpa and Grandma . . .

     Oh, how I wish I would have had my picture taken with her.  It dawned on me later that I'm half her age, and that would have been such a treasured picture for me to have.  I'm trusting I'll have another chance!

     May I just share a little bit about my grandma?  Don't get me wrong -- all eight of Harris and I's grandparents are very, very special people, and we've loved them all so much.  In fact, I've dug up one of my most favorite pictures from my archives just so you could see who all I'm talking about . . .

Peter and Nellie Westerkamp ~ Kenneth and Carolyn Vander Linden ~ William and Jeanette Andringa ~ William and Martha De Boef ~ 1-year-old Heath
     This picture was taken 20 years ago at Heath's first birthday party.  He was the first great-grandchild for all of them except he was the 19th one for the Westerkamps.  Over the years we've seen six of them go on to Heaven, and now the only two we have left are my Grandpa and Grandma De Boef.  Grandpa is 94, and he is, hands down, the hardest-working man I've ever known.  He's well-known for his massive gardening endeavors, and if something needs to be done, he can be found doing it.  All four of our grandfathers and both of our fathers were farmers, and all of our grandmothers and both of our mothers were stay-at-home moms, so we've been blessed beyond belief when it comes to family values. 

     But Grandma De Boef is who I want to focus on for a bit.  It's not that she's any more important than any of the rest, but it's her moment to shine, and I want to take this moment to give her a great big shout-out!  She gave birth to and raised 12 kids.  Need I really say any more?  It completely baffles my mind to think about all the food she's prepared, all the laundry she's washed and hung on those clotheslines across her yard, all the bills she had to think about paying, all the boo-boos she's kissed and hospital beds she's sat by, and all the hearts she's mended and encouraged.  Our weekend wasn't exactly free of health challenges and emotional complications; in fact, it was a rather difficult one for various reasons.  As the weight of those burdens threatened to consume me, I kept thinking about Grandma all weekend long and how difficult it must have been for her to carry the burdens for twelve kids!  It's hard enough for me to do it for four sometimes!  Granted, she didn't raise her kids in a culture of needing to be involved in everything under the sun, but that means that she was constantly surrounded by kids, and having a moment to herself was probably a very rare event.  A lot of my childhood was spent at their house, and my memory tells me that breakfast was always on the table, no matter what time I got up, and I remember Grandma tucking me into bed at night.  I don't ever remember sitting through a meal where prayers weren't said before and after, and we could always count on hearing from God's Word after every single meal.  The only times Grandma must have had by herself were when she would convince everyone to go outside and play or do their chores, when everyone would go to their rooms rather begrudgingly for Sunday-afternoon naps, or when she would close her bedroom door and through the crack I'd see her kneeling beside her bed in prayer.  Maybe she'd slip away to town once in a while to buy groceries or supplies for her family, but she probably always had someone with her, and I highly doubt that she ever took time to stop somewhere long enough to linger over a cup of coffee or do something just for herself.  The coffee was always on at her house, though, and even today, whenever someone stops at Grandma's house, they are greeted with a smile, a warm embrace, and a kiss on the cheek, and the next thing she will do is offer you something to eat and drink, no matter what time of day or night it is.  That's just the kind of woman she is.  The love of God just permeates through her very being, and oh, how I long to be just like her. 

     It occurred to me midweek that last weekend I had been privileged to see and hug every single one of my dad and mom's brothers and sisters with the exception of my uncle Jim who passed away almost three years ago already.  What are the chances of that ever happening again?  I just wish I could have spent more time with each of them!  Here is a picture of my dad's family . . .

Back row:  Kathy Groenenboom, Pella, IA ~ Leona Gagestein, Roy, UT ~ Ken De Boef, Leighton, IA ~ Bill De Boef, Union, IL ~ Karen Wallace, Pella, IA ~ Donna Grandia, Riverside, CA ~ my dad, Marv De Boef, Pella, IA ~ Steve De Boef, Hull, IA
Front row: Willene Tanis, Imlay City, MI ~ Martie De Boef, Newton, IA ~ Grandma and Grandpa De Boef, Pella, IA ~ Pearl Menninga, Pella, IA

     Not only did we have that special gathering on Saturday, but then on Sunday afternoon my sister, Sheila, hosted a bridal shower at her house for my cousin Stacy.  She had gotten married in South Africa last summer the same day that Haley arrived there on her missions trip, and it took us this long to pull it together and throw a shower for her.  It was a fun special gathering with my mom, her two sisters, and some cousins, and I'm tickled to have this picture . . .

My cousin, Stacy Tandon ~ my aunt, Linda May ~
my mom, Alva De Boef ~ my aunt, Donna Vernooy

     If only my other grandma were alive, she would have loved and cherished moments like these!  She was one of the most endearing women I've ever known, and what a tremendous Godly influence she had over all of us as well.  God has blessed us with a tremendous family heritage, and for that I am truly thankful!

     In closing, there seems to be no better way than to share this little video clip that was taken at Grandma's birthday party and put out on YouTube by one of my cousins.  Being the extremely humble person that she is, Grandma would probably scold me for drawing so much attention to her, but it is precious beyond words to me, and it will be a priceless gem in days and years to come for our family, and I just cannot resist sharing it.  It may be full of imperfections, but that's what we are . . . a whole bunch of imperfect people, saved only by the grace of God.  Grandma always gives God all the glory, and that's exactly what she does again in this video.  Thank you, Grandma, for being such a great example for all 163 of us!
P.S.  Thanks, Loren and Kolene, for sharing your picture and video!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Life Happens

     Christmas 2010 has come and gone, and what a fun time it was!  Not only was it breathtakingly beautiful with all the glistening snow outside but we had lots of treasured family moments together.  Here are a few of the highlights . . .

      A year's worth of pictures were condensed onto four pages for the traditional calendar my sisters-in-law and I create every year to give to our mother-in-law for Christmas. 

     Five batches of Dutch letters were made and given to friends and family throughout the month of December. 

     For the last Christmas program Harris and I will ever attend for one of our children at an elementary school, Keaton stole the show at the end with a very special performance.  

     Kelsey had her first high school Christmas choral concert with two of her friends.

     Haley graduated early, so Vance and Steph's family came over for a surprise celebratory breakfast on the first day of Christmas break.  She's so happy that she doesn't even have to set foot in a classroom again for eight months and can just enjoy some down time figuring out what God wants her to do next with her life!

     Heath started a part-time job at Chick-fil-A, a Christian-based restaurant just five minutes from our house, which was an awesome answer to prayer.  Notice the cow's hat:  "Eat more chicken!"

     We woke up to a winter wonderland on the morning of Christmas Eve, and it just kept snowing and snowing all day long!

     It was the most perfect day for some quality family time! 

     After the candlelight service at church, we came home to celebrate Christmas with our family. 

     We decided Heath was one very blessed young man to be surrounded by so many women in his life, and, well, we are just pretty thankful to have him in our lives too!

     Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffed mushrooms, Snicker apple salad, and ice cream dessert.  Thankfully I had a lot of help throughout the day!  It was good, and we were full!

     Harris read the Christmas story, and then we slowly opened our gifts and enjoyed each other's company.  For the last few years, the kids have decided to use some of their own money to purchase gifts too.  It was music to our ears when they were sharing about how much more fun it is to give than to receive.  Thank you, Jesus!  That is parenting progress!

     Over the years let's just say that Harris hasn't always been the best at coming up with a gift for me, but this year he totally made up for it and spoiled me rotten!  Not only did he give me this Cricut Expression but he gave me his blessing to set aside time every Friday in 2011 for scrapbooking so that I can get caught up.  He is a good man!  The challenge will be if I can actually take him up on his generous offer and let other things slide a little.  Somehow dishes, laundry, bookwork, etc., always have a way of staring me in the face, so it will be interesting to see how I handle the gift I've been given. 

     I'm so thankful for yet one more Christmas morning that a picture like this could be taken!  They are such goofballs, and I love them all so very much!  Having all four of them home yet is truly precious!

     See, I told you he's a good man!

We headed to Oskaloosa to celebrate with my family on Christmas afternoon.  Usually we take a picture with my parents and all the grandkids, but somehow they didn't end up in the picture but my brother Scott did instead. 

Then we headed to the farm where we celebrated with Harris's family on Christmas night, and once again, we took the traditional family photos. 

Here are all the Westerkamp grandchildren with Grandma Bonnie.  It was our first Christmas without Grandpa Howard. 

On Monday we got to help with taking inventory at Harris's dad's Suzuki dealership. 

It was a family affair!  Just imagine how many pieces and parts could possibly be in that one section of bins!  Oh, the joy!

We arrived back home Tuesday at midnight, and on Wednesday afternoon Harris and I took off for Galena, Illinois.  My gift to Harris this year was making reservations for a two-night getaway, and it was the most peaceful, relaxing, and rejuvenating thing I think we could have done.  It was awesome to have some time to reflect on 2010 and then talk about our goals, plans, and dreams for 2011.  We came home just in time to celebrate New Year's Eve, and then enjoyed two more absolutely precious days at home with our family. 
Our Christmas break was priceless! 

Going out to see a movie is something we typically never ever do, but we discovered a couple years ago how much fun it is to see "The Polar Express" in 3D, so that has become a family tradition over Christmas break.  The kids were pretty sure we should keep it up, and in all honesty, Harris and I enjoy it just as much as they do!

Transitioning into 2011 has been a strange phenomenon for me.  I keep thinking back to where we were when we started 2010.  At that time there were three rather big things that we knew about going into the year:  Haley would be going to Africa for two months, Harris's dad's health was failing, and Haley would enter her senior year as a swim captain, all three of which were a little scary. 

This year it felt so different to me.  We're going into 2011 without any real inclination of what may be coming our way for the year.  Sure, we know of a few events on the calendar, but it has been kind of a weird feeling.  Almost eerie . . . mysterious.  I don't know why.  God has proven Himself to be so faithful over and over again throughout 2010, and yet there were things that happened, Heath's seizures and tumor in particular, that obviously we didn't see coming at all, and it just makes me wonder what kinds of things we'll experience in 2011.  It's also very exciting and so full of potential and possibilities!  What kinds of miracles will we witness? 

I have found myself just being very thankful for every normal day of life that goes by.  I have found myself just trying to slow life down a bit and savor the moments.  The first week of 2011 was actually really calm and peaceful, and I found that New Year's resolutions are much easier to keep when the calendar isn't filled to the max and when life is humming along smoothly. 

But then life happens!  Life throws us curveballs, good or bad, big or small, and it has a way of throwing us completely off our schedule!  My first curveball for this year came to me in this form: 

Who can possibly resist a phone call on a Friday afternoon from your sister saying, "I'm thinking of picking up the girls from school and heading your way for the weekend.  Would that be okay?"  Hello!!!

What was going to be a very rare and quiet weekend at home with absolutely nothing on the calendar turned into a major scrapbooking session for us and lots of giggles and grins in the cousin department!  What a fun surprise!

She looks so innocent, doesn't she?!? 

My second week of 2011 was quite different from the first.  Some of those New Year's resolutions quickly fell by the wayside as life had a way of just taking over again.  School is back in session, activities have all resumed, and things just need to get done! 

This special occasion threw some curveballs into this week . . .

Happy birthday, Kelsey!!

Today has been particularly quiet and peaceful again, and it's given me the perfect chance to regroup.  It's given me the chance to say, "Thank you, Lord, for all the good things you bring into our lives.  Thank you for the hidden blessings that we don't see coming and that you lavish on us.  Thank you for giving us the grace to get through the ugly things we don't see coming.  Thank you for your presence in our lives, and thank you for life!"