A Full Circle…Woven In A Basket of Hope.

You’ve heard the phrase “It has come full circle.” It’s the idea that something starts and ends in a similar manner. Well, we’ve had something come full circle in our lives that we’re quite excited about. And this circle is woven in the form of a basket… a Basket of Hope.

The story starts just weeks after our son was diagnosed with cancer. Karson was 2 years old and we’d just been given the devastating news that he had leukemia. His diagnosis came to us as a complete shock and was delivered 5 days after the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl in February, 2007.

Our lives were soon filled with chemotherapy, blood draws and countless trips to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. I was consumed with caring for Karson and we were struggling to find the new normal in our lives.

My husband, Kraig, would accompany us to chemo appointments at Riley but he also had the tough task of going back to work. He works for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was then the Northern Indiana Director. It’s a wonderful ministry and has provided many special opportunities. One of those special and unique opportunities came that winter of 2007. FCA was asked to come to the Colts Complex in Indy and help Coach Tony Dungy open and sort his mail. You see, Coach Dungy and his team had just won the biggest game in football and he was now getting more mail than he could personally go through. The Indiana FCA staff was a trusted group to ask for help with opening, reading and then sorting the mail.

Kraig and the other FCA staff were busy going through mail. There were congratulatory letters, speaking requests, letters of self-recommendation of those who thought they could be playing for the Colts, 🙂 and even the occasional homemade gift!

As the mail was being sorted, Dungy’s assistant, Jackie Cook, came into the room and told the FCA staff about an organization their team was working with called Basket of Hope. She explained that it was an organization started by Kurt Warner when he played for the St. Louis Rams. Warner and Basket of Hope would fill baskets full of toys and goodies for children and personally deliver them to really sick kids in children’s hospitals around their area. They would also deliver tote bags filled with inspirational books, items and even a Bible to the parents. Now the Colts were doing the same and Dungy was hand delivering baskets to children on the cancer floor at Riley hospital.

All eyes turned to Kraig. Jackie was unaware of Karson’s diagnosis. Kraig explained that this obviously hit home to him as a great idea and he told Jackie about Karson’s leukemia and the three year chemotherapy regimen we were facing. Jackie then took Kraig to Coach Dungy who gave Kraig a Basket of Hope to take home to Karson as well as a tote bag for us and an autographed Colts pillow.

The basket of toys was special to Karson. One of the toys included was a Thomas and Friends matching game that we played more times than I care to remember over the coming months! The pillow is a wonderful keepsake and the tote bag included a Scripture card holder and verse cards that sit above my kitchen sink to this day.

During those early days of Karson’s treatment the biggest comfort to me was reading God’s Word. It soothed my soul and held out Truth to me in the midst of so many scary uncertainties. To have received a tote bag from Basket of Hope with a Bible inside spoke volumes to Kraig and I about the type of organization it was. Basket of Hope gives hope in a basket and offers ultimate hope through God’s Word. We were impressed!

We also were impressed with Coach Dungy. He is a man of integrity and faith and so Kraig invited him, just over three years later, to speak at the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet in Fort Wayne. Coach Dungy agreed and not only did he fly in for the banquet, but came early that day and went with us to our local Pediatric Oncology Unit where Karson was just about to finish his three plus years of chemo. Dungy visited with the children and families at Lutheran Hospital Kids’ Cancer Clinic that afternoon and allowed Karson to “show him around” the unit to each room. Dungy was patient and kind. He took time with each family and we saw first hand that he put many smiles on faces that day (kids and parents alike!) Again, we were impressed!

Now, here’s the part where it starts to come full circle.

First, Kraig and I were asked to serve as board members on the NE Indiana Riley Hospital Foundation Team. We agreed because the research done at Riley has touched our life first hand. The cure rate for the type of leukemia that Karson has (A.L.L.) has gone from just 4% 30 years ago to an astounding 85% today. And the research at Riley, and other children’s hospitals like it, have made that possible. So yes, we’re in! We joined the team last summer and have enjoyed learning more about Riley and the funds that make it possible.

Now…once again the Colts are involved in the Super Bowl. Ok, I realize they are not playing in it… and we’ll just keep right on moving… to say that the Colts’ city of Indianapolis is hosting the Super Bowl this year…

…Well, the city of Indianapolis, the Riley Children’s Foundation, Former Colts Coach Dungy and Basket of Hope have teamed up for a project called Super Baskets of Hope… I know, amazing, isn’t it?!

The goal is that on January 30th, 900 volunteers will gather at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) to assemble 7,000 baskets and tote bags. These baskets will then be shipped to all 32 NFL cities and delivered by local celebrities to sick kids in that city’s children’s hospital. This will all happen the week before the Super Bowl. Wow.

We are thrilled to be a part of this assembly day. Kraig, through his relationship with Jackie Cook and the Riley Foundation, was given permission to bring 200 FCA students to help assemble the baskets. Kraig is now the Indiana State Director for FCA and so he has 18 Indiana schools sending about 10 kids each to Indy on the 30th (missing a day of school may have been a small incentive!)

We have also been asked to share our story during the assembly. Kraig and I will have the opportunity to stand on that stage with our now 7-year-old healthy boy and give God glory for using Riley Hospital and it’s research in the treatment of our son’s cancer. Our ultimate hope lies in Christ and we’re so thankful that through Super Baskets of Hope 7,000 families will have the opportunity to take a tote bag filled with a Bible. How can you possibly give more hope than that?

I’ve got chills!

We’ll keep you posted of any further media releases or updates. The Super Baskets of Hope website is: http://superbasketsofhope.org/ We also plan to take pictures and video during the assembly day. The following day we’ll be helping to deliver some baskets locally to Lutheran Hospital with a local football coach “celebrity.” It’s going to be a very special week.

A full circle… woven in a Basket of Hope. Only the God of all Hope could have pulled that one off!

Extreme Makeover: Dollhouse Edition

I think Ty Pennington would be proud. You know, the host of the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Though the show is off of the air now, Ty and his team spent several years knocking down old homes and replacing them with beautiful new ones. The show is filled with celebrity appearances, as well as generous donations from Sears and various other companies. It’s always touching to watch the deserving families see their new home for the first time.

And who doesn’t enjoy a good before and after shot!

I had a makeover project of my own this Christmas season. Sears didn’t donate any appliances, but after Grandma, Pappy, and Santa pitched in for some furniture I think things turned out quite lovely.

I greatly enjoyed refinishing my old dollhouse for my little girls.

When I was a little girl my Dad built me this dollhouse. You may wonder if this was to make up for the candle he dropped (see: The Passing of the Candle.) But regardless, he built me a dollhouse and I LOVED it! I spent hours playing with my little dolls and Barbies. I had one particular friend who enjoyed imagination and Barbies as much as I did and I’d love to know how many hours we logged in front of that dollhouse. We had a Barbie car, shower, and even a hot dog stand. We’d even throw Barbie weddings and send invitations to my Mom and brother. They’d show up too! My Mom came to the Barbie weddings because that’s just what Moms do. My brother would come because we’d serve Hostess Cupcakes as the wedding cake. We still have actual developed rolls of film full of Barbie ceremonial wedding bliss. Ahhh… the memories.

The dollhouse still stands. My Dad wasn’t joking around when he built it. In fact, I think it would possibly weather a tornado better than our actual house! However, when Kraig and I pulled it down from the attic in early December we realized it was slightly behind the times. And by slightly I mean the carpet and wallpaper were at least 2 decades old, possibly 3.

Let the makeover begin!

I painted, hung wallpaper, carpeted, laid vinyl and hardwood. I also added some finishing touches to the exterior of the house and my Dad did some re-wiring for the tiny inside lights.

I was happy with the results and what made me even more happy was watching our little girls play with my old dollhouse. What a joy!

And, did I take before and after pictures, you ask? You bet I did! Enjoy the gallery below.

Exreme Makeover: Dollhouse Edition… with NO commercial breaks!

Before:

The team, looking good as always, began the work.

We did have a few celebrity appearances. Peyton Manning showed up to do some exterior work and gardening. This was really kind of him considering he’s a little busy right now.

And Terry Bradshaw worked on the plumbing.

Not to be outdone by Ty Pennigton and his team we even had a revealing like on the show. We parked a bus in front of the finished house just like they do and made the family stand nervously behind it…waiting to see their new home!

Our bus was driven by Mr. Incredible. He’s always happy to help out. He is a super hero, you know.


The family waited. The suspense was thick. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath and standing as still as statues.

And then it was time for the big reveal!

“BUS DRIVER! MOVE THAT BUS!!”

Touching. Isn’t it?!

Well, like Ty Pennington says… There’s only one thing left to say.

Welcome home Plastic family! Welcome Home.

The Cattle Weren’t Lowing…But We Got the Point.

I’ve had several people tell me in the last few weeks how our children are at the “prime age” for Christmas. It’s true. Having three wide-eyed kids 7 and under makes for a very special Christmas season.

I have been trying to soak in all of the festive moments-and we’ve crammed quite a few into December already! We’ve put up the tree, hung the stockings, decorated cookies, shopped, wrapped gifts, seen Santa three times, attended family gatherings and have plans to go ice skating. Whew, no wonder I’m tired.

As much as I’ve enjoyed all of these activities I, like many other parents, want to make sure my children have perspective about what Christmas really means. Don’t get me wrong. I not only want our kids to participate in all of the previous mentioned activities, I want them to enjoy them to the hilt! However, Kraig and I want our kids to know why we do what we do. We want them to “party like it’s Christmas!” but also know who the party is for.

So we tried something. It wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, but I also don’t think it was the worst. You see, I wanted our kids to “feel” what the first Christmas might have felt like. No-we didn’t fly them to Israel, speak Aramaic or even sit them on a mule. But we did go to a barn.

We have some friends who have some outbuildings and barns not far from where we live. We asked if we could “borrow” their barn last Friday evening for a little while. They happily agreed, especially after I informed them that we would use LED candles and not real flame and do our best to avoid burning the place down. We were told that one barn in particular had two calves in it. That would be perfect.

We sat the kids down at home that evening before we left and explained to them what we were going to do. We reminded them of the passage in Luke chapter 2 that explains that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn and so they used a stable, or barn, the night that Jesus was born. Jesus… the reason for this month-long party! That’s the way the kids seem to see it. That’s the way we want them to see it. They seem to understand that all of the cookie making, ornament gluing and present buying is fine–good even–because it’s all a part of the party that celebrates the birth of baby Jesus. (Let me put a disclaimer here that our older two children seem to get this. Our one-year-old still seems a bit foggy on the whole concept… but give her a candy cane and she’s good to go!)

Anyway, we told the kids that we wanted to try to see what it might have felt like on that first Christmas. We told them that basically we wanted to make them uncomfortable. I know, aren’t we great parents?! We reiterated that all of the parties and fun are fine, but that sometimes it’s good to feel uncomfortable. Maybe it helps us understand how uncomfortable God must have felt trying to fit inside that tiny baby.

We got to the barn just as it was getting dark outside. I gave each of the kids a little fake candle that they held and with which they were quite intrigued. We went into the barn where the calves were. And I mean were. They took one look at us and got out of there into their fenced in outdoor area. They wanted nothing to do with us and they wouldn’t even make a peep (or moo.) I was hoping for a little ambiance out of them but apparently they haven’t ever sung “Away in Manger.” Oh well.

Nonetheless we five stood freezing in the barn. We took a baby doll that I wrapped in cloth and laid on the floor in the straw (no manger that we could find!) Then we had the kids help us tell the Bible story from Luke 2. We sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and prayed together. We also had asked the older two kids to take a gift with them to present to baby Jesus. Karson, our oldest, had written a note to God. To: God, From: Karson, it read. I love you God! (with a big red heart he’d colored.) Karson read it out loud. Pretty precious.

Karly, our three-year-old, had a gift that was less on the heartfelt side and more on the practical. A Santa hat. The baby’s head might be cold. 🙂

Yes, we had a fussy toddler who wanted her pacifier and was obsessed with the little switch on the bottom of her candle. Karson and Karly argued about who got to stand where and everyone was hungry and looking forward to our next stop, Pizza Hut. However, even with the noisy children and quiet cows it was still special. Not perfect, but special.

I don’t think it blew the kids’ minds or will be one of their favorite memories of the season, but I do think it planted a seed. Hopefully it’s a seed we can water in the years to come as we remind the kids each year for whom we have this great month-long party.

Memories in a barn. Not perfect, but a good attempt. We knew it was time to go when Karly said, “Let’s get out of here! It smells stinky!” Yes, we made them uncomfortable for a short time. I think we made the cows uncomfortable too. But it reminded me that God made Himself uncomfortable for me. And lowing cattle or not…I’m eternally grateful for that baby in the manger.

The Passing of the Candle

I had a revelation this week. Time is weird.

I didn’t say it was a new revelation, I’ve had this thought before, but this week it struck me in a new way while wrapping tissue paper around a candle. I mean how does time seem to move more quickly now than when I was younger? How can I be the one wrapping the candle?!

When I was in Kindergarten I suffered, what I like to tell my Dad, was a traumatic experience. You see for Christmas that year I was planning to give my Kindergarten teacher a candle. It was a pretty candle too. I was so excited about giving this gift and I really liked my teacher. The morning before Christmas break I went out the front door onto our sidewalk and was waiting for the bus to come down the road. This was the day! The day I could give Mrs. Stouffer the candle. But then my world shattered…. ok, well maybe not my world…but the candle did! Dad had dropped it on the sidewalk. Yes, I’m still not letting him forget it. Poor guy! And now I’m posting it in cyberspace for others to see. I even feel a little bit guilty because for my high school graduation my parents gave me a candle and basically told me it was a replacement for the Kindergarten one and that I needed to get over it! Apparently it didn’t work!

Actually, I have no hard feelings toward Dad for dropping my candle. I just enjoy bringing it up and am thankful that it’s about the only negative thing I can say about his parenting. But this week as I helped my son wrap his Christmas gift for his 1st grade teacher, a candle of course, I could barely believe it. I’m the candle parent now. Seriously, when did this happen?! How can I be the one with a child old enough to get on a school bus proudly bearing a gift for his beloved teacher?

Maybe that book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, is right. That year I learned that you don’t cry over spilled milk…or wax. It’s the thought that counts more than the gift itself. And, that parents will do almost anything for their children, like my Dad who quickly got me another candle to give to Mrs. Stouffer (who never knew otherwise.)

Now I’d do almost anything for my children and I’m trying to pass on those same life lessons. Yesterday I helped my little boy wrap his teacher’s candle. It’s true. I really am the candle parent now.

And I’m hanging on tight!

Now I’ve done it!

I’ve finally done it!

I am starting a family blog. I have considered doing this for quite some time but haven’t pulled the trigger. I’ve been blogging for almost 5 years but so far I’ve been writing on Karson’s Leukemia Blog site and most of the updates were focused on his medical progress and leukemia journey. However, God has been so gracious in Karson’s life and has blessed Karson with healing and health. I still want to keep Karson’s blog and will still update it periodically, but thankfully the news is only occasional and not frequent like it once was. Our life in general has become less focused on hospital trips and more focused on school, playtime and church activities…not to mention two little girls!

When I started to write our Christmas letter for the year and planned to post it to Karson’s blog, Kraig asked if maybe it was time to start a new blog… a family blog that could be for all sorts of updates-not just about Karson’s health. So… here we are!

I’ve learned how to use WordPress and came up with a blog name and now we’re off and running! I posted our Christmas Letter for 2011 below. If you’d like to “follow” this site and receive emails when it’s updated you can choose that option in the column to the right.

I look forward to writing and sharing about our family here. And, please feel free to continue to read about Karson’s progress. We have moved his site to WordPress as well and you can find it at karsonsupdates.wordpress.com

Thanks for reading!

Christmas Letter 2011

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but I enjoy taking pictures! LOTS of pictures! In fact, my iphoto library currently holds 32,572 photos! Although I do greatly enjoy the artistic outlet of photography, I most enjoy having the ability to capture moments of life that my memory is unfortunately unable to recall in such crisp, colorful detail! As our family has grown, I’ve gotten even more passionate (or crazy, as Kraig may call it!) about capturing and then remembering the events of life.

In the Old Testament days, there did not exist a Nikon D90 SLR camera that I so happily possess today! Instead, Joshua was instructed by God to use a less technical object to memorialize events in Israel’s history; a rock! Joshua chapter 4 tells the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan river with the ark of the covenant. When the priests carrying the ark stepped foot into the Jordan the waters were stopped and the people were able to cross as instructed by God. God then tells Joshua,

2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

Why were they to do this?

6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
I’ve always liked this passage. I like that the Lord instructs them to make a visible, tangible memorial… a pile of rocks… to help them remember and pass on to future generations what God had done in their midst.

Well, I guess we could still pile up rocks today as reminders of what God has done in our midst… but Kraig would be frustrated with me if he had to mow around them in our yard. Therefore, I find my picture taking hobby comes in handy! My photos are simply a huge collection of rocks that I can store on my hard-drive and not in my yard!

If you would humor me, allow me to share with you just a sampling of my rock collection from 2011. As you see these pictures and read the narratives below, may it be evident that the Lord has been faithful and ever-present working in our life… and I hope your life as well!

Rock #1 

Karson Andrew!
We don’t have to think hard or search for ways God has been present in Karson’s life. This little boy is a walking (actually often skipping!) answer to prayer! Karson’s leukemia remains in a solid remission and he is a healthy, strong, smart and sweet little guy. Karson is in 1st grade this year and is once again the tallest child in his class (even with his growth being ‘stunted’ by three years of chemotherapy!) Karson still has blood work done every 2-3 months to make sure he is cancer free. These appointments will be a part of his life (and ours) until he is through college (they will become less frequent each year.) We thank the Lord for Karson’s oncologist and nurses and are so grateful that at each exam he has gotten a good report… as well as a room service order full of carbohydrates from the hospital cafeteria!

Rock #2

Karly Sue!
There are girls, and then there are girlie girls…. Karly is a girlie girl and we love it! If it has to do with princesses, dress-up, lip gloss, nail polish or shoes then Karly is in! God has richly blessed our lives with this little lady. Karly turned three in August and
we have loved watching Karly grow this past year in her understanding of so many things. It’s fun (and sometimes looonnnggg) to listen to Karly pray at mealtimes. It’s also a joy to listen to her quote the Bible verses that she’s learning at WEEWonders and BSF (two church programs we are blessed to be a part of.) We often find ourselves laughing at Karly’s stories and raising our eyebrows at her questions and comments such as “Did God make himself?” and “Jesus loves me… and so does the muffin man!”

Rock #3

Kenzie Grace!
After struggling to have even two children due to some physical issues, the fact that God graciously gave us this third little “bonus baby” will never be taken for granted. Kenzie Grace turned 1 on April 30th and is an absolute joy to our family. Although she defines the word sweet, she has recently also discovered her stubborn mode and is developing quite a personality of her own. She adores her big brother (whom both girls call “Bubba”) and her big “Sis-Sis.” Kenzie already says many words and strongly believes that she can do anything her big siblings can do. She enjoys looking at books and playing with blocks and baby dolls. Thanks to her sister, she also often exclaims the word, “Princess!” when she sees any Disney princess or a girl in a dress for that matter!

Rock #4

Our marriage & our “jobs”
Kraig and I celebrate our ninth anniversary on December 7th. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how blessed I am to be married to this guy! Kraig is a wonderful husband and Daddy. What he lacks in fashion sense he more than makes up for in his godly leadership of our home. ;) Kraig has now been working for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for 13 years and has served as the Indiana State Director for 15 months. The job has been challenging and rewarding. We’ve had a front row seat to watch God move in the lives of middle school, high school and college students throughout the state through the influence of godly coaches, FCA staff and athletes. Kraig enjoys training and equipping other FCA staff in Indiana as well as speaking at school huddles and various chapels. We enjoyed hearing from former Cincinnati Bengal, Anthony Munoz, at this year’s FCA banquet and we look forward to hearing from Butler coach, Brad Stevens, this Spring. My job is not quite as focused on state-wide equipping and training… more like potty training… but I think it’s just as rewarding! Being a stay-at-home Mom has been a dream come true for me. I am so thankful I can spend my days with our girls while Karson is in school and then enjoy hearing about Karson’s day and helping with homework in the afternoons. I’m already blown away with how fast time is moving and so I want to revel in every day with these little ones before they are grown. I’m not saying that reveling is the only thing I do during the day… there is often also cleaning, teaching, feeding, disciplining, dressing, hair-doing, sighing and more cleaning as I do my best to learn how to be a good Mom and teach our children, along with Kraig, with our Heavenly Father’s patient help!

Rock #5

Our highs and lows
As with any year and any family-we had our highs and lows in 2011. Our lows are not always fun to remember, but I do think they should make the “rock pile.” In fact if the rock pile is a memorial to how God has worked in your life, then really the lows are often where it’s easiest to see God’s presence. Our lows this year included a difficult winter full of sickness. All 5 of us got sick easy and often. We were told it was due to being so careful and somewhat isolated while Karson was on treatment and then suddenly hitting society and reconnecting with all of our long-lost germ friends. We had a big scare in January when Karly ran a fever for several weeks and also had leg pain. Since these were the symptoms that Karson presented at his leukemia diagnosis, we eventually had to have Karly tested for leukemia. It was a very scary time but thank goodness her blood counts came back normal and her fever apparently was from a nasty virus. Whew! Then we had another scare in March when Kenzie had to have a CT scan of her head/brain to make sure he skull had not fused together prematurely. We feared an impending skull surgery but again were so thankful that her scan was fine and it turns out she just has a lumpy head… looking back, maybe I should be listing these things as highs and not lows because we’re so grateful for how they turned out.

Our highs were soaring! We spent a magical and amazing week at Disney and Give Kids the World Village for Karson’s Make-A-Wish Trip. I could write pages about that trip, but I won’t take the time to tell it here… just that it was a wonderful celebration of God’s hand of healing on Karson’s body. Karson was literally able to soar on the trip by doing indoor skydiving. So fun!

We also went on family vacations with both sides of our family. One was to a lake in Virginia with the Millers/Jones and the other was to a cabin in Tennessee with the Cabes. Both trips were great! We feel very blessed by our families.

Well, my rock pile is getting quite large! I’ve enjoyed looking back at the year and recalling all of these rocks as I’ve moved them from iphoto into wordpress. I hope that you too are able to recall how God has worked in your life this year. Whether you take a lot of pictures, scrapbook, journal, ponder or pile stones up in your yard, may you remember the most wonderful Rock of all… the Rock of Ages.

Jesus, the baby whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season, asked his disciples this;

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Merry Christmas!