June truly is the month of brides. The past three years we’ve had family weddings in June. Two of them my sisters, and two of them my husband’s siblings. Plus, we got married in June 9 years ago!

I adore weddings. The music, the décor, the dressing up, the ceremony, the pledging of lives together until death parts them… it’s just all so wonderful.

And it’s a small glimpse of a much bigger reality! I am so passionate about marriage, because it either reflects the glory of God or it is a mockery to the image He has created. Marriage is so sacred! I could talk all day about marriage. :)

But this is about a particular wedding: my husband’s sister, and her husband Chad.

Pennsylvania in June 113

There have been many nights, over many years, when I heard my husband pray for his sister, that God would bring her a husband. And not just any husband, but one that fears the Lord, and is a man of character and integrity.

His prayers, and the prayers of many other people, have been answered. Our dear friends, Shelly and her husband, have been praying for years for a wife for his brother, Chad. She writes so beautifully about that here. Little did we know how the Lord would answer our prayers!

There is an indescribable beauty to a marriage that has been built on a relationship of purity and integrity. And even more so when a couple has waited for many years before marriage, choosing to believe in the goodness of God, even when single and waiting.

This was a wedding of such incredible JOY – because of the waiting, because of how God provided marriage, because of how He cared for them through their singleness, because they didn’t compromise and give up hope in God in the waiting, because God is so trustworthy.  Bethany and Chad – we are so proud of you guys, and of the Jesus we see in you!

The wedding was absolutely beautiful, and the outdoor reception could not have had more perfect weather! It was such a lovely day.

 The day began in a stunning old church…

  Pennsylvania in June 034
Pennsylvania in June 070

Pennsylvania in June 082

Pennsylvania in June 092

  Pennsylvania in June 093

Pennsylvania in June 118

 The bell girls were so beautiful.

  Pennsylvania in June 183

 Bethany grew up in the south, so there were some darling little southern flairs in the wedding. Including this adorable little guy wearing the “She’s fixin’ to marry you!” sign.

Pennsylvania in June 108

The soft colors of the bridesmaids’ dresses were stunning against the lush green of summertime.

Pennsylvania in June 217

{four of the five lovely sisters}

Pennsylvania in June 098
{with the beautiful bride, all five together}

Pennsylvania in June 133

 Bethany was so happy, so radiant, and just beaming all day. I loved this casual picture with her bridesmaids – so engaged and happy!

Pennsylvania in June 186 Pennsylvania in June 168 Pennsylvania in June 196
Pennsylvania in June 159
I don’t have a good picture of the whole family
{it’s a big family, and my lens wasn’t wide enough: true story! :) },
but here is [a blurry] one of my husband’s siblings.

Pennsylvania in June 138
A rare picture of my husband and I. I love him so much.

Pennsylvania in June 148
And one with we. I {{heart}} them.

Pennsylvania in June 234

Pennsylvania in June 207

{cousin love}

Pennsylvania in June 293 the old car intriguing the kids
A bestie, whom I mentioned before. It was so fun to spend so much time with her over this weekend - and it was a family wedding for both of us [our husband's siblings got married]. Crazy awesome. :) my bestie Shelly

 The reception was under a big white tent, in the most idyllic setting ever. A stream ran by the side, a lovely terrace of immaculate landscaping… It was like a scene from Pride & Prejudice or something incredibly beautiful. :)

The name cards/place settings were so fun. A friend was in charge of a polaroid camera, and after the guests found their name on the door, they replaced it with an instant polaroid of themselves. I loved this!

Pennsylvania in June 295

polaroid camera and name tags
Bethany asked if I’d do some writing for the wedding, and I was honored to do it! I love this kind of thing.

Pennsylvania in June 383
{name tags}

Pennsylvania in June 006

{name board}

Pennsylvania in June 302

{menu board}

wooden chalkboard menu

{pie bar sign}

Pennsylvania in June 367
This was fabulous ~ having a pie bar for dessert!
wedding pie bar

The table centerpieces were vases filled with white and green flowers, a few old books, candles and a table number.

Pennsylvania in June 356

Annnnnnd, who says the bride can’t make her own cake? Bethany and Mary Jo (her sister) made the cake. It was so beautiful.

Pennsylvania in June 329

Best groom’s cake ever. With fun humor too. :)

best groom's cake ever! mr & mrs chairs

Pennsylvania in June 347 - Copy

Pennsylvania in June 376
The kids loved the stream.

Pennsylvania in June 370

[My little boy crush.]

he's my little boy crush

 There was an area set up for outdoor games for the guests to enjoy, which was so fun. Bethany asked if we’d make a set of cornhole game with a Mr. & Mrs. theme for that area. She showed us a picture, then my husband built it and I painted it. It was a fun project we did together.

mr & mrs cornhole wedding game

And there are so many pictures I realized later that I missed. Details I loved and enjoyed but forgot to capture on camera. Some people in the family I missed altogether. But that’s okay. That’s why she has a real photographer. :)

Bethany and Chad – we’re so excited for you guys, and bless your marriage! May your love only ever grow, and always reflect the image of Christ. We love you!

signature

Oh, that’s right.
It was actually, let’s see, a week and a half ago?
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Someone has turned time on fast-speed and I cannot keep up with life these days.

So we’ll just enjoy life twice, even if it’s 10 days late. :)

Who all loved that July 4th fell on a Friday??
*RAISES BOTH HANDS*
I mean, seriously. Not only was it a holiday, but it was also a 3-day weekend.
How much better does it get?!
Which meant Ben was home for three days.
Which meant it was lots of family time.
Which hasn’t happened much lately, so it was all the more blessed.

I posted that day:
It’s a cookie-baking, lemonade-making, pet-bunny-buying, daddy-at-home-deck-remodeling, red-white-and-blue-wearing, pool-swimming, flag-flying, holiday-celebrating, kind of day!

It really was just a wonderful kind of day.
Sometimes the most special days are those of just BEING TOGETHER.
I think I realize this more than ever, because of recent deaths in my family, and my dear friend passing…

So this post is just a celebration of that beautiful simple gift: of being together.

I suppose it’s a little tradition around here to take a few holiday pictures each July 4th, and it’s so amazing to see the change from year to year. But because it nearly makes me cry to look back on even last year’s pictures and see how much the kids grew, so I think we’ll just skip that part. (I’m all in sentimental-mom-let’s-just-freeze-everyone-right-here-mode.)

Happy 4th from the Cottage & Co

4th of July kids

flag kiddos

4th of July kiddos

I’m a little fanatical about anchors right now. It’s a theme of my life, this Anchor of my Soul, so I have it on chalkboards in my house, and painted it on T-shirts for me and the kids. Hudson “cheeeeese”-ed for me in his shirt. Anchor shirt

 

We also bought an early birthday gift for Zoe…
She has longed – and I mean LONGED – for a pet rabbit for years.

Granted, she’s only 6, but she’s been calling her daddy since she was 4, leaving voicemails,
asking if she could “pleeeeeeeeease have a pet bunny? Because it really would be so wonderful to have a pet bunny and I would take care of it and would love to play with it and they’re so cute and soft and I JUST REALLY REALLY WANT ONE.”

We live in the city (read: more like development), and having a pet of any kind (other than a goldfish) is a little impractical at best, and troublesome at worst. Our backyard isn’t fenced in, and how would a pet even work?

But, when you have a little girl with big blueberry eyes that nearly fills with tears because of her desire for a pet bunny for the past two years, it’s rather hard to resist. My mommy heart melted, and I didn’t care about the impracticals: I just wanted a pet bunny for Zoe, non-animal-lover that I am.

Her daddy’s heart melted too, and craigslist came through for us. Found: Netherland Dwarf Rabbits. As I mentioned, I’m no pet lover (after my best-friend-dog died when I was 10 and I cried for days and I’ve never loved another animal since. But that’s a story for another time, maybe I should go for counseling first.), but the sight of those adorable little fluffy bunnies, well, they really WERE cute.

Ben wanted to surprise the girls, so they were waiting on the front porch when he came home, eyes closed. Someone (we won’t mention names) needed to hold her eyes closed.

waiting for the surprise

The look on her face…

bunny delight

bunny love

4th of July 034

You’ve got to admit, they really are adorable. :)
After 10 days, the newness has worn off just a bit for the kids, but they are still loved.
The rabbit hutch has yet to be built [because of the following deck project, see below]
so the bunnies are, um, in the house.
I can’t believe it either.

****************************

We did the “staycation” deal over this holiday.
If you can call working-around-the-house-day-and-night a staycation.
We were thrilled with the arrangement however.
When you are homeowners, you know that nothing is ever fully completed.
There is always SOMEthing to do.

This time, it was the back deck.
I suppose I haven’t shown many pictures of it.
And when I have, it’s been blurry, in the background, you know?
Camouflaged by pumpkin painting and flowers in vases that my little girl picked.
Not really something I’m ashamed of, but not really anything worth seeing.

Not when it’s had nails poking out everywhere, or rotten boards falling down.
Not when it hurts your feet to walk barefooted because of all the splintery things poking out everywhere.
We used it strictly as a place to get out of the house and into the backyard, or out to the car.
The table and chairs and everything else are only for looks, trying to make a café-esque feel to distract from the bigger elephant-on-the-deck,  lest you’re wondering.

Well, we finally saved up money to replace it. (*yippee!*)
This was the perfect weekend to complete get started on the project.

// back deck before //

back deck- before

// My view out the kitchen window, beginning the tear-out. //
4th of July 051

// Olivia and I made them fresh lemonade and fresh cookies //

4th of July 108

Day two: leveled to the ground

July 4th 001

Day two: rebuilding began

July 4th 016

July 4th 019

 

As I speak, er, write, it is still a work in progress.
We teeter across 2X6 boards standing on end 18 inches apart as we go out to the car because we haven’t had time yet to  put down the floor boards.

I tell my husband I’ll gladly learn how to saw the boards and use the drill to put them down myself, but he’s not so keen on that idea. So I tell him I’ll also gladly – GLADLY- be his right-hand assistant, whenever he has time. Which he says may be today. I’m really trying not to get my hopes up too high, and my lips will speak nary a reminding word. I’ll just offer him fresh-squeezed lemonade and (microwave-warmed) cookies. :)

As a grand finale on the lovely day, we went to a local blueberry patch and picked blueberries. I forgot my camera, but I have an Iphone picture. Kids in a blueberry patch are just so precious. My son was too adorable ~ grabbing blueberries from bushes, from our buckets, and stuffing his little mouth. I laughed at him all evening.

picking blueberries
My sister Ervina worded it so beautiful when she said, “I’m so thankful most of all that freedom is not a flag, but a cross.” 

I am thankful for the freedom of the flag represents, yes. But the Cross purchased the truest freedom, one that can never be taken captive. Thank you, Jesus.

Happy Monday, you all!
Mine is off to a busy start, including a bowl of cereal and milk spilled all over the floor, and little boy in the throes of potty training. Yep. I’m choosing joy, peoples. :)

signature

So it’s been nearly two months?
I feel like we need introductions again. :)

Thank you so much for those who have expressed care and love to our family, as well as to my sister and her husband during the past few months. We still grieve the loss of dear little Kenny so deeply, and miss him every day. There have been so many of you that have cared that we could never thank you all personally, or express our gratitude and tell you how much it has meant to us.

The combination of life events and various commitments to some bigger things the past little while has been the reason for the blog hiatus. The Lord has been so faithful to us, to me. His faithfulness doesn’t mean that the difficulties of life simply go away and all is ease, but that He is walking so closely, so tenderly, with us through it all. And it has given us a perspective of eternity like a life void of heartache could never do. Heaven is ever more precious, and what feels like Home, even before I arrive.

I really don’t even know where to start catching up from the past few months. This year in general has been the most sparse with blogging that I think I’ve ever done, since I started writing on this little pad. :) Instagram has taken the place of blogging, I suppose, and I put little life snippets there. So, I don’t know if I’ll try to do some catchup-posts [because we've had some special things like birthdays and a family wedding (on my husband's side) and surprise visits from family and some house projects] or if I’ll just start from here and go forward. But I’ve missed this space and the connection with you all here, and hope to be back more often.

Also, the look of this blog may be changing just a bit, just a little experimenting with headers and fonts and such. Just giving you a heads-up if you come here and think someone with ADD keeps changing things around. :)

And because no post is ever complete without pictures – at least on my blog – here’s a few of that one time we pretended to be hipsters. :)

that one time we pretended to be hipsters

  i love my little family

  wanna-be hipster family

It’s true. We were total wanna-be’s. :) We girls tried to dress the part, in the full 10 minutes we had to prepare, and my sister asked me, “Uh, aren’t you, like, trying too hard?”  You know, she was totally right. And obviously Hudson was there in his jammies and Husband didn’t know he’s get conned into being in the picture. But we had fun anyway. Ha!

the three littles

My brother [ a true hipster, and one who loves Jesus so much] is the owner of this super rad vehicle. He has plans to take a west-coast road trip in Melody [his name for this VW bus]  with some guys later this fall. I’m just a little jealous.

with the yellow bus

 // James, one of my brothers, and two of my sisters.//

This was a fun early morning when my brother rattled up to have coffee with me, and then we snapped a few pictures before everyone left for church and we returned home to the south.

four of we

Sorry girls. To get to him? You go through US.
[We were trying to look fierce and scary. I don't think it worked.]

to get the bro, you have to go through us

Have a lovely weekend!

Remember you are loved by your Creator. ♥

signature

 

'we have this hope as an anchor of the soul' chalkboard
This little blog has been very quiet of late.

The circumstances surrounding these days have been such as need no apology for the quiet, and the thoughts and feelings such as are difficult to translate into words. Pen to paper, or words to computer page, are normally how I can easily express myself. These days, articulation is difficult at best in any form.

It is not a question of my faith, or a shaking of what I believe. It is more a deep feeling for those I love so dearly, that are facing such loss in varied ways… It may be a death, or the losing of a family member in other ways that are equally painful. The details are not mine to tell, but probably all of us know of times in our own lives or in those we love, when we suddenly saw life as the battle is really is: the blissful carefree perspective disappeared, and the reality of the sorrow of life nearly takes your breath away, it’s so severe.

Sometimes my heart feels torn in two for those I love, and the how they experience such raw agony. I wish there was some way I could take it away for them, make life happy and carefree again… and I can’t.

anchor of the soul chalkboard

 

Quote from The Church Initiative, Inc

“Grief will either make you a better person or it will cause you to harden your heart as you resist its lessons. You have the opportunity for unparalleled spiritual growth. This will not happen quickly, but you can grow deeply. By learning that life is a precious gift, you can do more than just exist; you can live on a higher plane.

It was when Isaiah’s friend died that he had a deeper experience of God.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (Isaiah 6:1-3). ”

[end quote]

…Grief will either make you a better person, or it will cause you to harden your heart…
Yes, I can so see how this is true.
I so much want the first one, to be come a better person, to grow a deeper heart in relationship with God. Grief has a way of revealing what a person is truly made of, and of what truly matters in life – that it’s GOD that matters most of all, that life here on earth is so transient, so short, in light of eternity. And it’s PEOPLE and relationships that matter…

There are days when I wake up and feel that I could never be exasperated or upset with my kids again – I mean, how could I be, when I’ve been given three of them as such precious treasures, when some women long for even just one baby of their own?

And then, that very same day, real-life happens.
…Food gets strewn all over the floor at lunch time (and maybe even breakfast).
…Little guy cleans off the chalkboard so sweetly with a wet paper towel, and I suddenly realize that the only water he can reach is the toilet! So into the bathtub he goes, along with his sister who needed a bath anyway.
… I hear water splashing outside, and try to think of when and how I left a faucet on somehow. I look out the door and see the two freshly-bathed kiddos splashing in mud-puddles they’ve made, jumping and laughing, and muddy from head to toe.

And this all happened, for real, in one day. Disasters? Not at all. Exasperating? You betcha!!

Never becoming exasperated again? Maybe that will start tomorrow. :)

It’s in these times ~ in the great heartbreaks of life, of deep loss, of pain to the core of our beings, of relationships that are imperfect and painful, and yes, also in challenges of mothering when I’m brought to near tears – I realize so much how I need my Anchor.

anchor chalkboard mantel

I changed out the chalkboard in the living room recently with the verse that’s been on my heart so much the past six weeks, through various heartbreaking things we’ve lived through and heard, and through the daily responsibility and gift of being mommy to three little people.

“…It is impossible for God to ever prove false or deceive us, so we who have fled to Him for refuge might have mighty indwelling strength and strong encouragement to grasp and hold fast the hope set before us.

“We have this hope, as an anchor of the soul, sure and stedfast…”
[Hebrews 6:18-19, Amplified]

What hope? The hope of Jesus Christ, the truth, and the knowledge that He IS everything I need. He never promised that life wouldn’t disappoint, or that circumstances wouldn’t be hard. But He did promise that HE would never disappoint us.

I don’t profess at all to know the great “why?” behind so many questions… The why of little babies born to a godly father and mother who wanted them, who prayed for them, who would teach them in the ways of God, and then tragically taken. The why of babies born out of sin and lust, put into families that are full of the flesh, that are determined to live their own way no matter what God says, and living in the midst of sin. The why of babies born and growing up, sold into the sex trade (1 million every year). The why of families enduring pain as the result of a father making bad choices, and the innocent are left to suffer and pick up the broken pieces. The why of health challenges, of sickness that is incurable.

Did you know that many atheists have come about not as a mere logical conclusion, but as a result of being angry at God, for all the sin in the world? And so they deliberately turn their backs on Him, refusing to have anything to do with a God who tolerates such pain in His created world.

I don’t profess to know the answers to these hard questions. I just know that I cry tears as a result of this sin in the world, of the pain and brokenness. And I am don’t understand how God can respect the free will of man, even when it results in such sorrow and disaster. But I know that sin is responsible for all the sadness and agony in the world: this was not God’s design.

But can I trust God in the middle of all this? In the wreckage of humanity? In the sorrow of loss?

It comes down to a belief: Either God IS who He says He is, in every situation, or He isn’t. He is either faithful and trustworthy at all times, or none of the time. He is either kind and good in all things, or in nothing.

I choose to put ALL my stakes in with the first – He IS trustworthy in everything, He IS good at all times, He IS God.

anchor chalkboard

Because He is an Anchor. When life brings storms and everything is torn apart, He never changes. He gives peace, even when it seems unfathomable that there should be peace. He brings comfort in sorrow. and we grieve with hope because we know HE will have the last word, and this life isn’t the end of the story.

And if you want a beautiful, powerful song to listen to, go here. Music ministers so deeply…

Happy Monday, my friends! Rejoice in the Anchor of our souls!

And thank you, truly truly thank you for the great outpouring of love and support we’ve felt from so many people – through words on the previous blog post, messages, texts, but also cards and love and even food brought to us and to my family. The family of Christ is just so precious. We could never repay you. ♥

 

signature

 

It’s been almost three weeks now, since I became an auntie to the most beautiful, perfect little baby boy. My first nephew.

Not a one of us ever even had an idea of what these weeks would hold ~ weeks we thought would be brimming full of joy, and excitement, and wonder at a new little life, turned into weeks overflowing of tears and sorrow and how can this be true.

They have been weeks when the grief washes over and over us, like waves at the ocean, never stopping, just sometimes bigger waves than others.

I’ve been so excited about my first niece or nephew arriving on my side of the family. Ervina’s Southern Maternity shoot was taken last fall when she visited us to excitedly document 20 weeks of pregnancy, and I had so much fun preparing little clothes and accessories for the little love. We were so in love with that sweet baby, even before meeting him.

I come from a long line of baby-lovers. And by that, I don’t just mean the women gushing over a baby. But in my dad’s family, even the men absolutely adore babies. They are seen with a baby in their arms as often as the mother is, talking in sweet tones, chuckling and teasing and adoring. And I have to say, my brother-in-law Kenny topped even that. I had never seen a father-to-be more excited about his baby! So many people talked about his excitement.

When Ervina comes to visit 557

The day finally came when my sister went into labor, and at a checkup before heading to the hospital came the shocking, gut-wrenching news, “Your baby is not alive.”

There is nothing in the world that can prepare someone for words like those. All had been fine just one week earlier at the checkup, and even the day before the baby was moving. There was no warning sign at all that anything was wrong.

Little did we know, as Kenny & Ervina were preparing a nursery for their baby, the most beautiful nursery I’ve ever seen in all my life, that Jesus was also preparing a home in Heaven for their precious baby boy.

Little Kenneth, named after the man who was so proudly anticipating being his daddy, weighed 7 pounds, and 11 big ounces, and was 22 long inches. He was born on March 22, 2014, safe in the arms of Jesus.

Baby Kenny

[photo courtesy of Ervina Yoder]

Whoever knew that a little life could mean so much to us, to me? I am not even the mother, but my heart had all kinds of butterflies when I thought of that little baby joining the family. When he was overdue, I was trying to stay busy and occupy my mind because those six days seemed like an eternity! And now, the loss feels so so deep, a continual ache. And I’m just the auntie, not even the mother. My heart breaks for my sweet sister.

These are her words, about a week after his birth…

It’s been six days since Kenny and I found out we’d never get to see our precious baby boy, the delight and expectation of our hearts, take his first breath. The anguish of this has pierced our hearts beyond what we could have imagined possible. We’ve needed Jesus more than anything and have found Him to be so near, so faithful, so sufficient, so redeeming. We miss our son desperately, but through your prayers, words and presence, God has shown His comfort through His Body… we are humbled and grateful.

“I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” [The Apostle Paul, Philippians 1:12]

We have been slammed headfirst into the Grace of God, as my sister Claudia speaks of it. That doesn’t mean the tears stop, or that the hurt goes away. But it means that the presence of God is so precious, He is so faithful. As big as the need, He is bigger still. Jesus is everything.

I spoke with Ervina about a week after the death and birth of her little son, and asked her how she can go on from here, what the anchor of her soul is through this. And her words were powerful and tender… “I don’t know why this happened, and it hurts so much. But, I know my God. I know Who He is, and even in this, I can trust Him.”

In times of deepest grief and tragedy, what truly is within a person comes out. And in Ervina and Kenny, there is a sweetness and strength even in the middle of the agony. The foundation of their lives was built on Jesus long before this tragedy ever happened.

We as a family are so grateful for Jesus, for the promise that He is good, even now. Even though our hearts are breaking in the loss of little Kenny, and seeing our precious sister and her husband walk such grief, we choose to believe Him, and trust His faithfulness to us.

the coming joy[ via]

Without the perspective of eternity, of a Sovereign God, life is hopeless. But Jesus makes all the difference in the world. He gives us strength to endure the pain of today because of the joy of eternity. One day, all tears will be wiped away, and one day, sweet little baby, we will be with you again.

we have not lost him.

Just about a week before the birth of little Kenny, I wrote this quote in my journal, being deeply impacted by the truth of it, and also deeply missing my friend Ruth. And now it touches me so much again, healing and ache all in one.

“We have not lost him, He is only gone a little before us. There we shall soon find him, and enjoy him again and forever – far more than we ever did in this life.” [E. D. Griffin ]

Yes, the loss is still felt so deeply, achingly so. But there is a perspective greater than the pain, that of Jesus, of the preciousness of eternity. For that better world to come, that HOME to come.

Eternity, and Heaven, are all the more real, and precious. We were not made for this world, for all the pain, for the sorrow and agony, for the effects of sin. There IS a bigger reality than what we can see: there is a Heaven, there is a Hell. And it’s real. The life we live here matters. The choices we make on earth matters. ETERNITY MATTERS.

Ten thousand more words could be written, and it still wouldn’t sum up the emotions, the grief, and the way God has carried us these weeks.

But we also want to say we are so grateful for the outpouring of support to our extended family, and especially to Kenny & Ervina. We are seriously blown away by the kindness and care of so many people. The body of Christ has become ever more dear to us. Thank you, thank you…

Please continue to take Kenny & Ervina to Jesus in prayer…

Image3