Thursday, January 31, 2013

Weekly Whitley Fix

I can't imagine it's obvious on Facebook or Instagram just how much fun I've been having with Whitley during the weekdays.  =)  She's pretty amazing - it's hard to resist not doing everything humanly possible to see her smile or laugh at any given moment.

One thing that doesn't usually bring a smile is "Tummy Time".  Whitley is not a fan of being on her stomach, so between that and how often that girl is in someone's arms - she could use a little bit of intentional practice towards rolling over (at least that's what Steph's rooting for....I'm a hole lot less worried about the benchmarks and content to have her more stationary!)  Still, we aim for a few minutes of working on it every day.  A few minutes only, because she's quickly irritated being stuck that way.

The other milestone they are shooting to achieve by her 6 month birthday is sitting up on her own.  With a little bit of propping, I'd say she's got it!  =)

And, of course, they'd like her to know her ABC's by next month too....(ha, just kidding....).  She is attentive to being read to, though - very impressive - and definitely not staged - I just picked up my cell phone to snatch these shots.   I can't say enough how much I'm loving seeing my kids demonstrate some of the best of their characters when they are around Whitley.

Finally, my current cover photo on Facebook.....too bad that baby never gets any love or attention!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Growing Pains

When I was younger, I used to believe that the older a Christian got in their faith, the more black and white, right and wrong, righteous or sinful things would all of a sudden become.  Much of this belief came through the example set by my paternal grandma.  An entire series of blogposts could be written on the influence of Grandpa and Grandma Alexander in my life - the relationship was very complex and took different forms as we grew up.   I'm pretty sure that my first "confession of faith" occurred while watching a children's' evangelical program at their home (and was repeated each Saturday morning when we'd watch it again).  However, much of my Christian faith was very skewed by my exposure to them as well.

I am so happy to know they are both celebrating together in God's presence in Heaven right now - there is no question about that.  But, because of the criticisms they had over every church they visited, they never ended up settling on a church to fellowship in - and therefore what we gained spiritually from them was purely from their teachings, and what we overheard them listening to on Sunday morning radio programs.  It was very limiting.  It was scary.  It was full of rules to follow - and worry constantly that you'd failed at.

It wasn't until we were in college and exposed to a campus ministry program, Campus Crusade for Christ, that Michele and I, together (isn't that a glorious concept...that even in this, we got to journey alongside each other?!) that we were once and for all exposed to the truth; that acceptance into Heaven isn't a result of do's or don'ts - or confessing every sin before you died (oh, the fear I had of getting hit by a bus before confessing everything bad I'd ever done - without even being sure I even knew what I did was wrong or not!).   Instead, during one amazing campus retreat, it was explained to us that Jesus took care of it all on the cross and all we needed to do was give our heart to Him by recognizing our own inadequacies to ever be perfect and then let Him guide our direction from that point on.  GRACE.  It was a profound concept and one that changed my view forever about who God was and how very much He loves each one of us.

But, still, I held on to that "Christian stereotype" that the older you got as a Christian, the more "right" you became, and therefore, the more you "judged" others that weren't as far along as you.  Older people in the faith scared me, as I was certain they were noticing every little failing I made, from child rearing to personal convictions.

But, now, I'm what some people would consider "older".  At 40, I'm sure I'm "over the hill" in the eyes of the college students I spend time with - at the very least, old enough to be considered an "elder".  (Though I hope not yet, "elderly"!).  And I realize how very wrong I was to myself judge older Christians. 

Because, the older I get, it's not how much closer I believe I'm getting to doing or knowing what's right or wrong, but rather, loving others amidst these dividers that Satan would desire to use to tear us apart.  Things I used to see as either black or white have melded into a whole lot of gray for me.  Of course, there are things that the Bible explicitly outlines as sin - but, even in saying that, I'm a whole lot more aware these days of just how much I falter vs. looking at others to highlight their failings.

I'm recognizing that growing more mature in your Christian faith is NOT becoming like one of the "pious righteous Pharisees" that Jesus despised in his time, but rather seeking to become more like Jesus himself - who healed the blind, took company with the "least of these" - the tax collectors and prostitutes, and made it clear through His stories that His love is for everyone....the one missing sheep out of a flock of 100 or the prodigal son who'd squandered his father's inheritance and had done absolutely nothing to earn the loving acceptance of his father when he returned.

Some of these realizations have recently been brought to my heart as I realize just how much judging I've done on my own in an attempt to protect my heart from the judging of others, or to justify my own sin.  I've campaigned against "gray areas" that I don't believe God has given me permission to cast my scorn against.  Instead of heaping piles of guilt upon my heart, though, I feel like, instead, He's just opened my eyes to my own insecurities - and replaced a lot of them with a contentment and confidence that I am complete only as I trust my heart, mind, and direction to Him.  It's also helped to be exposed to story after story of brokenness and redemption of the people that fill my life.  Each of one of them, as they share their intimate details of shame - and rescue from the Savior, has added another layer of light and wisdom to my perspective - and, I believe, helped me to take one step closer to Him.   I can't even express how thankful I am to these friends, family members, and acquaintances for being brave enough to share with me, and in doing so, teaching me so much.  I'm humbled completely after each encounter.

I've also found myself back in familiar old territory lately as our family is in the midst of making a decision regarding the future of our family that some would perceive to fall into the "gray area of choices".  Well, let's be fair, we are well aware that some believe it to be a "black choice".  We believe, though, after lots of prayer, petitions of wisdom, interviews of those that have made the same choice, etc - that is a decision God has given us liberty to pursue.  We make this decision based on the unique needs of our family - and honestly, never expected to follow this path.  (Two years ago, it would been something fitting into the category of what I dealt with in the paragraph above).

It's hard now, though, because no matter what choice we've made, there will be disappointment in us and our decision by someone...probably a lot of someones.  So, that leads us again to God and making the determination of Who we are really seeking to please.  Is it a choice God is giving us?  Do we believe it is the wisest choice in our circumstances?  If so, then we need to follow the course of action we believe we've been led to follow and do our best to navigate through those outspoken against the choice.  This is not an easy venture for me, as I really do want to win arguments, and when I'm feeling judged I want to retaliate with words that tear down so it makes the other person feel like I'm feeling.  I also have a great deal of empathy for the other side too -

So, here we go - another opportunity to "grow up as a Christian".  To love those around me even when we aren't in agreement, without tearing them down or building myself up in the process (which is not a part of love).   How thankful I am to not be alone right now - to have John at my side to walk through this together with, to wrestle over in both of our hearts - and to have two kids mature enough to see all sides.  Growing up (in Christ) might expose you to a whole more truth, but it sure doesn't mean you are immune to the growing pains...


As a little postscript, I want to reiterate that this is a post written about my own "coming to terms" of life and how I'm starting to look at it different, despite being raised in such a way to believe that things were supposed to be more black and white as time goes on.  I got a Facebook message today from a friend who's about a decade ahead of me and this is how she described it:

I think "getting older" has broadened my outlook rather than narrowed it to black and white. It's given me the ability to see past a decision to maybe what got the person there...or at least the desire to try. And it's given me the desire to see it all through God's eyes, not my own, which requires staying very close to Him!!! 

Senior Bowl

When we found out that Kenjon was one of the handful of seniors EVER chosen from the University of Oregon football team to participate in the "Senior Bowl" we felt like we ought to invite the gang of friends that have supported him here in Eugene to watch his game together.

I threw together the kind of meal I'd most want to eat.  Minus the cole slaw (not a fan, but I thought it'd go well on the menu) - this is totally the sort of meal that would be among my "favorites". 

Drew and Kaela showed up last - they brought an AMAZING tasting pineapple to eat, that was passed around the table to snack on during the game.

While it was great to have someone to watch, I can't say the game was a whole lot more entertaining than what we've witnessed in year's past.  Without the "team" to root for - or much of an outcome to care about, it just loses its luster.  We were also really disappointed that Kenjon didn't get much playing time, and when he was in, the couple of passes thrown to him were very inaccurate and impossible to complete.  With all of the hype he's had in the practices leading up to the game, even the announcers were asking "Where's Kenjon Barner?".

I guess the coach must have heard that, as he was put in during the very last part of the game - and sure enough, scored a touchdown.   In fact, he had the most yards (and receptions) for the entire North Team.  I found this online, as they put Kenjon in the category of the three "winners" of the entire North/South team in terms of performance:

"Kenjon Barner: Barner only had three carries for 13 yards, but showed a lot of versatility catching the ball. The Oregon running back caught seven passes for 59 yards, including a late touchdown pass from Zac Dysert."

At halftime, I caught a glimpse of sunshine (oh so rare these days!), so I asked Mikayla if she wanted to join me playing a little bit of volleyball.  We were even kind of discreet, but sure enough, we had a following.  This delights me for so many reasons, 1) we're using the court, 2) we're using the volleyball net and proving it may even be the most fun activity on the court, 3) Mikayla held her own at 11 years old among all of the "adults" (and got some good practice time) - and finally.... 4) I was the one that initiated GAME PLAYING!!!

Nice block, Travis - too bad it's illegal when being done against a serve....cheater!

That's quite a vertical jump for Drew!!

We were originally playing "just for fun" with the girls and John on one team and the rest of the guys on the other team.   When we were playing without keeping score, we were smoking them.  But, as soon as it turned into a competition it wasn't as much fun, the guys seemed to find their talent and ended up beating us by just a couple of points in both games (half-time and post-game) we played.

I can't stand that pose on Brayden....had I seen the pic being taken I would have stopped it.

After the Senior Bowl, we flipped over to the Ducks vs. University of Washington basketball game.  Shockingly, our Oregon men's basketball team is ranked 16th in the nation - and will move up more after their win against the Huskies.  I'm not much of a basketball fan, but am definitely ready to jump on the bandwagon to support this team.

Folks mellowed out - and Whitley was the prime source of entertainment.  Heather was absolutely drawn in by Whitley's smiles and laughter.  It was clear as she fought with Jacob over who got to hold Whitley that she's a goner....just like me....totally enraptured by this amazing 5 1/2 month old baby.

Proof that Kaela was indeed part of the festivities - these pictures are all courtesy of her, so the least I could do was to snap a shot with her in it. 

There will be a few more pics that were taken after I'd downloaded her pics onto my computer.  After using/owning Apple computers for over ten years, for the first time tonight we realized that our laptops have memory card ports to directly download photos.  Are you kidding?  How easy is that....and how did we miss that over all of these years?

For sure, it was a very pleasant afternoon.  These folks make for WONDERFUL company - and the post game phone call from Kenjon that we put on speaker reminded us all again just how much he is and will be missed.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Bleak, Sick Days of January

When Mikayla was preparing for school on Thursday morning, I had this gut feeling that things just weren't right.   She had been achy the night before - something that could have been "growing pains", but a little more widespread.  She was complaining of feeling dizzy, which isn't like her, and had persistent headaches for the couple of days prior.  Surprisingly, she wasn't begging to get out of school that day - (which she'd love to do normally) - it was almost as if she was just too tired to even try to argue why she should get to stay home.  I think that was my biggest clue.  I felt her forehead, it felt warmer than usual (I'm going to stop and brag for a second that I'm pretty spot-on with my temperature predictions based on forehead feels....Mikayla kept me in good practice these last 72 hours, that's for sure).  So, I told her she was staying home, and she wasted no time crawling into bed.  She virtually didn't leave that location from Thursday morning until Saturday afternoon.  (And, the break on Saturday only lasted a couple of hours before she returned again until Sunday late morning). 

I was giving my armchair diagnosis of her having the flu - but, you know, that's a word thrown out there that you always wonder if it's really the case, or just a cold gone bad.  Sure enough, though, as Mikayla looked up the symptoms online, she was 7 out of 7....dizzy, muscle ache, fever, sore throat, dry deep cough, chills/sweats...etc.  There was virtually no doubt as to what she was dealing with, which I guess is a bit comforting as a parent to know what you are up against, and know that a visit to the doctor isn't going to help things....rather, it's just a wait/fight it out.

So, I canceled the walk I was going to take with a college student, Mikayla's attendance at school, Mikayla's attendance at Webfoot practice (and consequently my role in carpooling), our Bible Study to happen at our house (and my attendance), and Friday's walk with Lisa.  Instead, I spent most of those three days sitting/laying on the other side of the bed from this girl:

I put the above picture on Instagram/Facebook on Friday and it was so sweet to see how many people commented to offer their support and "If there's anything we can do's".  I was also tickled at the comments of folks saying they'd never not seen Mikayla smiling.  Hmmmm, I guess that's good, but maybe we need to work on our authenticity as there's lots of "behind the scenes" not smiling from Mikayla on any given day.  She just seems to save a lot of it for home....and more often than not it takes place early in the morning or past 8:30pm - as she tends to break down in a hurry when she's tired.   But, clearly, this pic summarized it all - that was definitely how she felt all day Thursday and Friday.  Even the idea of staying home from school and getting to snuggle in bed with Mommy wasn't enough to offset the horrible way she felt with the flu symptoms.  =(  She was a good patient, though, took her temperature often, and didn't fight the "resting" part of it all.  

By Saturday, we were getting a bit of a smile from her...which helped us to know we were on the road to recovery.  So good to see for a mommy.  At one point on Saturday night, when Mikayla was especially hurting, she apologized for "ruining my whole weekend".  She was apologetic a lot over her time of being sick.  It's funny, because she tends to be overly dramatic about not feeling well on any given day - or getting unnecessarily hurt a lot - and those are the times I'm aggravated.  In circumstances like this, there was absolutely no lack of sympathy (which for me, who doesn't score well in the Mercy category of gifts, that's saying a lot!).  I've been there, and she deserved to be taken care of - and I was deeply thankful that I could do that for her.  I was also very thankful - as I described in my response to her apology of ruining my weekend, that I got to spend that time with her.  Outside of the fact that she felt like crud, it will be a weekend I'll remember and treasure as just being near her, reading/napping next to her, watching endless episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" or "Phineas and Ferb" - and, having no where else I should be more than right there, at her side, in our bedroom (or getting up to get the steady stream of water bottles or Saltine packs).

Meanwhile, John and Brayden occupied the other part of our house, and continued the close companionship they've been especially sharing ever since the "Fiesta Bowl".  Lots of video game playing for those two.

The timing of Mikayla getting sick was about as good as it could have been as there wasn't a whole lot we were missing.  There was no Webfoot tournament, trip to Sunriver, major holiday, etc...  Instead, there have just been days and days of this around here:

The forecast had shown on Sunday that we were to expect Monday through Friday of this last week to be cold, but gloriously sunny.  Instead, it was cold - and just plain dreary.  No visibility, extra frigid (temps barely got above 35 degrees) with the extra fog moisture...and dark all day long.  I just can't see why there's an above average number of cases of "SAD" (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that come out of this area?!  All's to say, if Mikayla was going to pick the right time to get sick and leave us confined in our cozy bedroom, this week was just about ideal.   And, praise God, she's up and at 'em now - no long with fever and feeling about 80%.  As far as the flu goes...this could have been a whole lot worse. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pre-Birthday Surprise

When Heather showed up to Bible Study on Thursday night, she asked me (as she'd arrived early) if we had any plans in place for Friday or Saturday night.  She'd seen John's birthday in her calendar, knew Kenjon was going to have a short visit to Eugene, and wanted to pull something together to celebrate together.

That girl is too good to be true in her love for our family and efforts to make John feel loved and appreciated.  With Kaela also around, we were able to quickly determine that Friday would work best (given the day of Webfoot on Saturday), so she was going to get a hold of Kenjon and see if that would fit for him.  

It took until Friday afternoon for fans to very loosely fall into place.  Heather wanted to keep it all a surprise, if possible, but to what extent was going to be a mystery to all of us.

As it turned out, Drew and Kaela were able to go ahead to Red Robin to reserve a table for 11 of us.  (Good thing, too, as there were over 100 people waiting, and the wait time was an hour).  Meanwhile, I'd communicated with Travis to go along with John with the normal "Friday Night Whites" - meaning, they'd show up around 6 and we'd expect to just hang out at the house.  When John got home, I wondered if he thought something was up, as the kids and I were all looking "better than normal" and he actually opened the fridge to get something to eat and then decided he'd wait as he wanted to play a PS3 racing game with Brayden instead.  (Perfect!)  The Whites showed up, and then soon after, Heather - which surprised John a bit, but it was perfectly reasonable that she'd decide to just "crash" at our house on a Friday, so we ran with that plan.

Knowing our seating time was around 6:45, I waited a bit before suggesting that since I was still dressed up, maybe we could go out to eat.  This is John's dream-come-true statement from me as he's always willing to go out, particularly to Red Robin.  He quickly yelled enthusiastically "RED ROBIN" and off we went - with him entirely clueless that anything was premeditated.  (Later he confessed he was just so thrilled that I offer to go out he didn't want to do or say anything to mess that idea up!).  

Upon arriving, the place was packed.  I faked putting on our names on the list.  With it being so crowded, it took him about 10 minutes to even recognize that Drew and Kaela were waiting around the corner.  He was happy to see them, assumed they were on a date, and asked if they'd be willing to join us.  "Sure!"  After another 20 minutes or so of waiting, Kenjon walked in.  John was shocked to see him - and, of course, delighted - but still believed it had nothing to do with him and he had arrived just to have dinner with a buddy.  As I gave Kenjon a hug, I whispered in his ear, "He's still clueless!".  

I had a Cheshire cat grin on my face watching to see if John would piece it altogether...he finally asked, "Did you plan this?" and I could honestly say, "No, I didn't plan it".  He accepted that, and if it weren't for my continuing grin and repitition of the answer with the emphasis on "I" I really think he would have ran with it for the rest of the night.  Instead, Heather heartily deserved the credit, so we made sure she got it by coming clean with the story.  John was SO DELIGHTED!

Once he'd been clued in, Mikayla gave him additional details...

Heather, explaining the deception....

Poor Kenjon, since our last fateful outing at Red Robin with him, they think they can stake claim to his "child-like attention" during the meal.  It's like throwing a ball to a retriever - if he plays with them once and gets goofy - they'll want him to continue relentlessly.

Sporting some of Kenjon's accessories...

Drew and Kaela - willing to give up their "date" at Red Robin for us =)

The birthday sundae...

I don't think this look on Whitley's face is Kenjon's fault.  I can attest to the fact that she hadn't slept for long durations on Friday, and at this point, it was past her bedtime... (but otherwise, she did super in her first time in a "big girl highchair" at the restaurant!)

Heather was able to get a little bit better out of her...

After Red Robin, we headed over to where Michael Chase was working at Dickie Yo's - if he wasn't able to get the night off to join us, we were willing to go where he was at!  More pics to come from John's phone (the rest of these, courtesy of Kaela).

We were all content to call it a night around 8:30....Kenjon has already begun training for the NFL in L.A. - and was headed back Saturday - and both Heather and I were fighting a cold.  Given we were leaving in the morning at 6:30am, it all worked out great to call it a night early.  Short and sweet - but spot on for John!

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Back in November, these four brave kids did try-outs for club volleyball.  Our local league is called "Webfoot" - and it is a very established and well respected program that many families that we know have had their kids compete in all through high school.  Honestly, I was surprised Mikayla was willing to step up to do something that demands so much of her time and definitely steps up the intensity - especially when initially, we weren't even sure if she'd know any of other friends participating.

From left to right in this picture are Natalie, Noah, Mikayla, and Grace.  Natalie and Grace both attended Mikayla's birthday party (proving they are among her favorite people) and Noah is our neighbor - part of a family that we are so thankful live only two houses down from us.  All of them played Kidsports volleyball this year as well on our teams.  

It was a HUGE praise that they all ended up on the same team of nine players together.  They are playing on 12 Green (meaning the kids on the team had to be 12 or under at the time of try-outs).  Mikayla JUST turned 11, so obviously, she is one of the younger ones - in fact, I think these four are the only fifth graders of the bunch with the other five girls are 6th graders on their team.

It was quite a family decision to determine if this would be a good fit for our family, as there are traveling tournaments on two weekend days every month.  This month (when tournaments began), the competitions happened two weekends in a row.  Last weekend, (when these pictures were taken), we were up in Portland area on Sunday for about 9 hours - and yesterday we were in the tournament facility in Salem for 11.25 hours!  They have to show up around 7am at each tournament, so it will probably lead to some hotel stays (as it did last weekend), dependent on the location.  That's a fun perk...we Rileys definitely like our Fairfield Inns with their indoor pools, cozy rooms, and Belgian Waffle continental breakfasts! =)

Ultimately, we concluded that January through May is a very "dead" time for us and therefore a perfect fit to the Webfoot season.  As volleyball is the only sport Mikayla has chosen to pursue - and is taking her own active motivation and dedication to improving and playing, we want to support her to get better and have opportunities to play.  It's timing is fortunately NOT in contrast to the one sport Brayden loves, which is football - though he is hoping to pick up some time on the field this spring by finding a flag football team to play on.

I went in very apprehensive - very nervous about the intensity and placement on teams, the craziness of tournaments, a fear of having to spend so much time making small talk with parents, etc.  However, all of it has turned out way better than I anticipated.  Mikayla's team is comprised of 9 very similarly-talented kids.  Each have particular strengths to offer, and no one player is "perfect".  I like almost all of them a lot - and even the one that we anticipated being more of a "struggle" based on attitude is going smoother than I thought.   Their coach (shown a little blurred in a light green shirt with blonde hair) is super sweet and enthusiastic.  She's a very good match for Mikayla for her first year, as she's not at all intimidating.

It's hard to remember that this is the same girl who could barely underhand serve a ball over the net that was well over a foot lower and probably 15 feet closer to where she's playing now back in 3rd grade.  She's improved so much - even in the few weeks of practice since she played on the Kidsports team that I helped coach.  She's now able to overhand serve the ball successfully over the net (at full womens' high school court/net size) more often than not....and for the record, yes, she is the smallest girl on the team.  (One of the other moms that I met last weekend said to her husband while seated next to me after watching Mikayla, "I just want to scoop her up and eat her with a spoon". - Okay, that's a little weird, but endearing nonetheless!)

While her serving is improving with each game (she tries so hard), her biggest asset to the team is her passing.  I think she'll eventually end up being a "libero" - which means she'll be the back row specialist and primary person to take serve receive.  I don't think she's all that hip on that idea right now as she doesn't want to be limited from doing anything else, but given her size and general consistency of getting the first pass back up in the air for the setter to set - I suspect that may be in her future.

The team has this fun thing they do when someone gets a serve over with a return.  They chant "A" "C" "E" as they touch their ankles, hips, and shoulders and then yell "ACE" in the air with their arms extended.  In the last game we played, Grace was on a run of (very important) ace serves, so they altered the final word to be "Grace" instead of "Ace".  Cute, and it made Grace feel loved!

Last year's "12 Green" team only won one match the whole season.  It included a few kids who didn't try and made life hard for those who did.  I'm so thankful this is not the case for our team.  Due to that team's success, our ranking began at 32 out of 53 teams.  We've played teams already ranked at #1 and actually gave them a run for their money...which is very encouraging.  While we've lost more than we've won so far, we have seen a few wins - one in which was pivotal in moving us up to #25 in rankings.  I suspect this team, as they grow together and gain confidence will only continue to move up.  =)

Both of the girls seated around Mikayla (Haley to the left, Sophie next to Mikayla) were girls she only met in mid-December.  I'm so proud and pleased that she's as happy as she is with these gals and able to establish the friendships so fast.  Sophie especially loves her....she seems to like the fact that she's so little and frequently smiling.  I sure hope that smile continues through far, so good!