Sunday, December 29, 2019

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and An Announcement!

Someone is gonna be a BIG BROTHER!!
This Christmas season is extra special for us, because once again, we have a special little gift on the way! We are SO excited and cannot wait to add another little one to our family in June 2020! 

I can't wait to share more with you all, but for now just wanted to pop on and share the news, and also post a few of the pictures from the photo shoot my sis in love Sarah did for us earlier this month. I am in love with how the pictures came out. Axton really wasn't that thrilled to be posing for photos but he adores his Auntie Sarah and somehow she managed to get some killer grins out of him! Enjoy!
This has been an incredible year for our little family. God has been so so gracious to us and our lives are so full with new opportunities and adventures!

Thank-you each for following along and joining with me here on this space. So grateful for each of you.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from our little tribe of FOUR!
-Chels

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Mother & Son Fall Travels 2019

This fall was a full one for our little family. A number of travel opportunities came up, and Axton and I enjoyed taking advantage of them! Sadly, due to other commitments, it didn't work out for John to go with us, but thankfully for me I have a father who taught me to be totally comfortable traveling on my own, a husband who taught me to be safe and aware of my surroundings, and a baby who has learned to be flexible, so between all that, we were set! 
The first trip was in September, traveling to northeast Iowa for my family's annual family camp. It was a seven hour drive (a little longer with gas, bathroom, and nursing stops) but we actually made it in just eight hours and as evidenced by Axton's smile above, we were thrilled to finally be there.
My trusty Ergo was our best friend during our stay and kept both of us quite happy!
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Axton was very spoiled by all of the attention he received! He loved making morning announcements with Grandpa B, at chapel.
Accidetental matching with friends always calls for a picture!
So fun to meet alllll of mommy's friends!
John was able to drive up for a day which was wonderful. We managed to get everyone together for a picture-you'd be surprised how hard it was, but we managed!
Walks with Nana
We had great crowds for both weeks of camp. John and I reworked and then ran the whole registration process this year, so it was especially fun for me to get to be there and welcome all the families who I'd had contact with throughout the year.
Hanging out with Grandpa and cousin Wallace. Quite literally. =)
Exploring outside on a warm day. Axton LOVES being outside and when it comes to discovering and getting into things, he is definitely ALL BOY.
Trying to get a decent picture with these three little cousins was, well, unique. =)
The first week of October, Axton and I traveled out to NY to be with family and attend my grandfather's funeral. It was a very long and wearying trip. For a variety of reasons, I felt it would be easier to drive than to fly, so I drove up to Iowa by myself, with Axton, and then out to NY with my parents/siblings. Unfortunately Axton got sick on the way so it ended up being one of those trips that was honestly quite miserable, but we were very thankful to arrive and to be there.

It was a very bittersweet time, truly. A sad reason to all be together, but so sweet to see so many cousins etc whom I hadn't seen for awhile. Axton enjoyed the other little people.
So good to see my bestie again!
All of the great grandchildren were given roses to place on the grave. Axton was exhausted after the funeral service and ended up sleeping during the graveside portion, so I took him out after he woke up and we put his rose on the grave. Such a sweet moment.
I'm so thankful for the legacy of a godly grandfather. The whole funeral reflected his life so well---even in death he was surrounded there by so many friends and family. His grandchildren were an integral part of the service. Several shared tributes, one led the congregational singing, a number were pallbearers/ushers, all of the grandchildren sang together for the special music, and one of the grandsons, who is a pastor, even preached the funeral message. Truly such a legacy and one of the most meaningful funerals I have ever attended.
Bless his heart. All things considered, he really did so well, in spite of not feeling well most of the time we were in NY. Toward the end he improved and the day home was much better, as evidenced by the happy smile. =)
Beautiful views as we drove through NY. These views brought back many years of memories for me from so many happy summer trips traveling the same route. 
A late night stop on the journey to Iowa.
Once in Iowa, I caught some much needed sleep (while Axton was cared for by aunties and nana) and then he and I finished our trip home to Kansas by ourselves. What a champ he was!
Just over a week later found us back in Iowa again, this time for a family visit and to attend a friends' wedding. 
We got to spend some time with Axton's Great Grandma Bontrager.
We also enjoyed lunch/shopping out with all the sisterhood and babies.
Axton and Micah having a stare down. =)
My sister Allison was a bridesmaid in the wedding, which was fun! It was a very cold fall day, but a beautiful wedding.
And finally, the last weekend of October found us flying to Texas (along w my sis Allison) to attend the wedding of one of our cousins. It was Axton's second time flying and he did so well, sleeping for most of both flights and charming people left and right. 
We got a picture of all the "Bontragers" who attended the wedding.
Such a treat to get to be there for it!
So fun to do the trip with Allison! Many special memories were made and a fabulous time was had.

And that's a little taste of our traveling to and fro for the fall of 2019! We have mostly stayed on "home turf" ever since and been enjoying a beautiful winter/holiday season at home!
-Chels

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A Tribute to My Grandpa Stoltzfus

Today was your Homecoming Day, Grandpa. Your day of all days. Finally your fight with cancer has ended, and you have gained the Ultimate Reward!

I still can't believe it. We've known this day was coming, but still---I can't believe that you are really and truly gone.

My mother got to be by your side this morning, when the angels came for you, and she said she and her siblings were singing these words, "Even so, Lord Jesus come, my heart doth long for Thee." You went straight from a beautiful choir of the voices of your children, to the most majestic angel band!

I closed my eyes this morning and tried to picture what your homecoming must've looked like. The first thing that came to my mind was a whole little tribe of the ones of your descendants (grandchildren and great-grandchildren, one adult and the rest littles) who went to be with Jesus before you did. I especially couldn't get out of my mind a picture of a whole row of tiny ones-the many miscarried babies of multiple of your grandchildren-toddling up to meet you and give you little hugs and kisses. It was the sweetest thing to imagine. You always loved children and babies and were so good with them.

With you living in New York, I didn't get to see you often, growing up, but I have a bountiful host of memories from those special special summers when we would come to visit. For every summer that I can remember, when my siblings and I were little, my parents would load us up in our van/suburban after evening dinner and baths, and set out on the 14hr drive to upstate New York, where my mom grew up. Anticipation always ran high; we knew that you and Grandma were waiting at the other end with hugs and kisses and a delicious breakfast upon our arrival. Our visits would be filled with all manner of fun and memories. I also have so many memories from the reunions we'd have with the whole Stoltzfus tribe, every couple of years.

I remember so so many evenings just like this one, pictured above---beautiful evening cookouts on the lawn overlooking the lake, at your old home, where you lived for most of my memories, before moving to the apartment where you died today.

We had so many evenings like this with aunts, uncles, and cousins, when we came to visit. They were the sweetest of times. Games, laughter, and singing. Always singing.

I remember sitting around the breakfast table at your house and looking out the french doors to see this beautiful view of the lake, way down the hill. It was the most beautiful sight. So many delicious meals and sweet fellowship happened at that table overlooking the lake.
I remember the last time I heard you laugh-when we were playing games, last November, in NY. You LOVED this specific game but it definitely wasn't your lucky night and you kept making these hilarious comments about falling further and further behind. I think you were just trying to make yourself feel better about losing rather badly. You had the rest of us in stitches! The later it got, the more we laughed. You always could crack jokes and laugh with the best of them, and you just had the best sense of humor.
I am so so thankful that John brought me to visit you and Grandma last November. It was somewhat of a last-minute trip but it is one that I will treasure always. You were much more frail and weak than the previous time I had seen you, and I knew it might be my last time. When we left to catch our flight to the airport, you told me, "Now, I'll see you here or there, or in the air!" And I think we both knew it would probably not be "here" that we would see each other next. It was a sweet reminder of heaven.
Seeing you meet and love my husband, and accept him right into your huge brood of descendants, warmed my heart so much. You were always so accepting of all the new grandchildren you were gaining by marriages. I know that seeing your grandchildren happy and married was a big joy to you.

I remember calling you in November 2016, to tell you about John, and when I told you that I had "something to tell you", you said, "Hmmm. I'm thinking it might be a boyfriend!" And it was!

When I was in my upper teens/early twenties, I had an apron that said, "Kiss the cook", and you would tease me about that apron, that I should "be careful"wearing an apron like that. =)
And then you'd get that signature twinkle in your eye, and say, "but its okay for ME to kiss the cook" and you'd give me a peck on the cheek. =)
You didn't get to meet my son but he got to tell you goodbye in a little video we recorded and sent on Sunday, your last "responsive" day. My aunt played it on her phone for you and it warms my heart so much that you got to see his little antics and grins, even if through a screen.
I remember the last photo shoot I did with the two of you, the summer of 2016. You would always try to be very serious until grandma would start giggling, and then you'd laugh, too. I think her giggles could always get you going. That third picture describes your love perfectly---you two were so committed to each other. I have a hard time trying to imagine Grandma without you, now.
You loved playing games, and you were always up for a good time with whatever assortment of grandchildren happened to be present. And that's one thing that was never lacking-the grandchildren! There were plenty of those to go around, and around...=)
Your smile in this picture says it all. You just really really REALLY loved your family. I never doubted that for a minute. 
This picture I took of you and Liz, years ago, but I can remember the very same memories from me and you, when I was her age. I was always eager to help you feed your birdies, and you were always thrilled for anyone who wanted to help. I don't think I'll ever forget your little salvaged containers, full of wriggling worms, and the little bags of seeds. You LOVED birds and your "birdies" as you called them, were the most well-fed little flocks around.
This was you, in your element. Even in your retired years, you were always staying busy with projects. Amongst other things, you were:
A master gardener. (my mom got her green thumb from you!) 
An expert bee keeper. (there was always plenty of fresh honey at your house and I remember the little honey bears that always were well stocked on the table)
A lover of birds and nature. (you knew so many birds by name and type and you loved the beauty of God's creation)
A man gifted with his hands. (you caned chairs beautifully, and loved working on various other projects)
A lover of music. (harmonica was your instrument and you loved to play! You also loved to listen to music and sing with your family. Again, I'd say my mom got her voice and love of music straight from you!)
As I mentioned before, some of the greatest memories I have with you involved a big crowd of family and lots of good food. With grandparents like you and Grandpa, I came by my "foodie status" quite naturally. You were both amazing in the food department--you would grow it and grandma would "fix" it, and what a team you were!
I found this picture today, Grandpa, and I couldn't stop staring at it. I loved your smile, and I loved your laugh. You were truly one of the most happy and contented souls I knew. Yours hadn't exactly always been an easy life, and you didn't have much in the way of earthly treasures, but you knew what was really important, and you lived like it. Jesus and family were your priorities. 
My mama doesn't have a lazy bone in her body, and she got that work ethic from you. You knew how to rest, yes, but you were a hard worker and a faithful provider.

There are so many more memories I could share, and so many special pictures from my "younger years" of memories. I remember long walks on the winding road behind your house. I remember rides in the little red wagon. I remember going with you to feed and play with a batch of squealing puppies that you raised to sell. I remember standing at a distance to watch you work your bee hives. I remember going with you to the garden, scissors and bowls in hand, to collect all manner of yummy produce-radishes, lettuce, and carrots, among many others. I remember Sunday mornings attending your church. I remember our big Stoltzfus reunions where you and Grandma were always the center, sitting and watching and just loving being there with all of us.
And that's not even to mention the memories from the times you would make the long trek to Iowa to come visit us.
All those sweet memories. I didn't know it then, but I know it now---those were the GOLDEN days.

And the legacy you left? Oh my. Words really fail me to describe it. You raised a family for Jesus, and you passed on the message of the Gospel and the principles of truth.
All nine of your children love and know Jesus. WHAT A GIFT that is, just that!
I had to look on the most recent "Stoltzfus Family List" for the current family stats, and even those aren't totally up to date---there are already a number more great grandbabies on the way and grandchildren dating/engaged, just since April 2019.
But as of April 2019 our Stoltzfus tribe numbered 132 people, just from you and Grandma.
That is faithfulness and FRUIT!
Most of all, you were a man of the Word. You knew Jesus. And time with Him was always your top priority. When we were visiting you in the summers, I remember waking up and coming out to the living room to find you sitting in your chair, reading your Bible. Afternoons after lunch would often find you back in the same spot. God's Word and old hymns of the faith were your staples. 

Every morning after breakfast was always family devotions. Our Daily Bread and your Bible and time in prayer. You prayed for all of your children and grandchildren every day. I remember one of the more recent times that I heard you praying and it struck me what a gift that was. I had always kind of taken it for granted. But hearing you pray specifically over each of your children and their families, and the way you mentioned, by name, specific requests or grandchildren on the mission field, etc, blew me away and brought tears to my eyes as I realized what a TREASURE I had in having a grandpa who prayed for me.
I love you, Grandpa. I miss you more than words can ever say. You were so much more than just a Grandpa---you were a hero, a spiritual giant, a living legacy. The impact of your life lives on every day in each of your descendants, and I thank Jesus that I had the honor and the privilege to know you for my twenty-eight years of life.

I'll end this with your favorite hymn-the one you would request your children to sing, at every family reunion, and the one that I am sure we will sing at your celebration of life this Saturday.

PRECIOUS MEMORIES

Precious memories, unseen angels, sent from somewhere to my soul
How they linger, ever near me, and the sacred past unfold.

Precious father, loving mother, fly across the lonely years
And old home scenes, of my childhood, in fond memory appear.

In the stillness, of the midnight, echoes from the past I hear
Old-time singing, gladness bringing, from that lovely land somewhere.

As I travel, on life's pathway, know not what the years may hold
As I ponder, hope grows fonder, precious memories flood my soul.

Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul
In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold. 

Grandpa, I love you---and I'll see you again!
-Chelsy