Journaling Through the Valley . . . and finding JOY in the morning!

Location: MICHIGAN, United States

Thank you for stopping by. It's my hope you find glimpses of my Savior interwoven thru my writings. I am the wife to one husband for over 25 years, a blessed mama to a dozen children, yes each born from me ~ two of which see Jesus face to face & ten at home, all of us yearning to see Jesus someday. We have been home educating for over 18 years with . . . well, another 15 years to go (the youngest is 3, the oldest 23!) I have walked through rejection, to continually learning I am CALLED, LOVED and forever KEPT by God - never, ever to be rejected by Jesus! (Jude 1:1) I've walked through deep sorrow to find that joy does come again, though the night may be long; I've witnessed God orchestrating miracles with my children still beyond my comprehension, & I am seeing new love forming as we begin a new road of older children finding life mates. My life has and is a journey, from the deepest, almost rock bottom pit, to stumbling through my faith and looking towards the ultimate climax of everlasting life in heaven. Will you be joining me here and there? ~ Loni

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Hope at the Grave

(This was e-mailed to me. I do not know the author or much about it, but it touched me greatly.)

BELOVED:--"Farewell" is a sad word. The young whisper it with tears, the aged speak it with a heavy heart; and yet while tears flow fastest and the heart is heaviest, hope whispers "you will meet again." These are earthly partings. These are oft recurring worldly separations, a part of life's checkered history of sunshine and of tears. We parted and we meet again, and so hope rises over all, and our trusting hearts say "the thing which has been, is the thing which shall be;" as ye parted, so will ye meet again.

There is another "farewell" which spoils all earthly ties and snaps assunder every bond which affection weaves around the heart. The loved had been with us until they seemed a part of our very self. And while life was without a cloud, there came a messenger with no sound of footfall to call them away. . .There is no cloud which so shuts out the sunshine from an earthly scene as that cloud of the shadow of death.

We meet to-day around a new made grace. It is a Christian grace. It has no darkness or gloom for it is the place where JESUS laid. It is a grave; a grave which we shall water with our tears. In the quiet hour of evening you will go there to weep. It must needs be. The grave is the only path heavenward. The way JESUS trod is the only way that leads His ransomed children home. For a little while the body will sleep where "dust is changed to dust," but JESUS made such graves the seed beds of immortal beauty. "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." [I Corinthians 15:42-44] He is now with that vast company of sainted ones who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. Now he knows face to face those of whom he had heard by the hearing of the ear. Now he is of the cloud of witnesses who watch our warfare, and who wait for our coming that in the Resurrection morn, they, with us, may be made perfect. . . It ought to be joy to know that one we call our own has escaped out of the fowler's snare to be with JESUS forevermore, and that "nothing shall be able to pluck them out of His hand." [John 10:28-29] We weep for the dead; rather might we weep for the fainting, tempted weary pilgrim. Weep not for the one who has won the race and received the prize; weep not for the weary child who has entered the rest of the people of GOD. There shall be no more battling with temptation, no more bitterness of repentance, no more doubting faith. There shall be no more bleeding feet and weary heart. The world shall no more be a hard task master to make broad the furrows and bow the heart in weakness. All this is passed, the last battle is fought and the victory won; they have entered into rest. Rest with JESUS, where " . . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain . . ." [Rev. 21:4] Blessed rest with JESUS, to be with the Shepherd and lack nothing. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters." [Rev. 7:16, 17] Eternal rest with the people of GOD. "And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps" [Rev. 14:2]. Faith shall build upon it, hope shall cherish it. They are for you, for me, for all who have loved and lost. Call this sorrow? All is darkened but the cross, and this is a way of sunlight now, the light from heaven shines where JESUS trod to guide His children home. It is a Christian grave.

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that JESUS died and rose again, even so GOD will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in JESUS. For this we say to you by the word of the LORD, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the LORD, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the LORD Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of GOD, and the dead in CHRIST will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the LORD in the air, and so we shall always be with the LORD. Therefore comfort one another with these words." [I Thess. 4:13-18]

So, dear friends, with faith and love we shall lay him in the grave to sleep till the world's last Easter, when he will awake in the likeness of his risen LORD.

Beloved, a few days more and there will be another grave. It is not every grave that is a homeward path to heaven. It is only theirs who reach it by the cross, for whom JESUS, their SAVIOUR, is their Judge. There will be a next summons and another grave. Are you ready? The road, be it longer or be it shorter, leads there. Will it be for you the Christian's grave? Oh, how many warnings cluster around this one grave! Of our little company it makes a large vacant place when one is called. It ought to knit our hearts as one; it should deepen love and quicken faith; it should awaken zeal and earnest work. What lessons for you all, in these parted ties. Will you not write them on your hearts? Will you not gain closer fellowship with CHRIST? If you only live for Him, when He calls He will lead you home. Scholars, pupils, teachers, see in this coffin how soon our work is done. What a dark grave this would be without its hope! What sorrow in this grave if it had no shadow of the cross! Let us be wise to betake ourselves to JESUS; together there all we call our own, that so, though our home may be broken, we may know that they who sleep in JESUS shall be one in heaven.

Author unknown

Saturday, May 28, 2005

A Bittersweet Day

It was a day of making bittersweet memories and it went very well. We put the gravestone down, as pictured in our post below. Our pastor gave us some short words of encouragement and prayed and then we let 17 red balloons go, for Matthew's 17th birthday.

Afterwards we hung around and the cemetery for a bit, sharing, hugging, and watching the children run around, enjoying the beautiful day. We then all went to a friends for lunch and more sharing time. I had Matthew's Memory book and Katie's scrapbook all caught up to date, with pictures, so we could share that. It was also our pastor's birthday yesterday, which we celebrated too. Norm's parents and our pastor's family came back. The guys went golfing. This was the first time Norm golfed this year, and said it just was not the same without Matthew. He was always the enthusiastic one about it. But these were more hurdles to get over. The pastor's family stayed for supper and we just had a nice time visiting. The children were good. And now, we got through another, BIG first. In someways, another sinking feeling, to know we are further away from the time Matthew was here, a year away from celebrating his last birthday with him, and just a sad, sad feeling. Yet, hope - we will move on, we will "make it" (not of our own strength, but God's), and we have the wonderful hope to see Jesus and our loved ones again. I can't imagine it without this hope.

Thank you for the many thoughtful e-mails that were sent to us today and yesterday. It has meant so much. Most of all thank you for your prayers.

Matthew's Birthday - 24 weeks gone

"I Can Only Imagine" by MercyMe was one of Matthew's favorite songs, which is where we got some of the wording for his gravestone. He wanted a new Bible for Christmas, which he had bought and had engraved for him. Instead it was buried with him. He wore two rings - one with the Christian Fish symbol and one with the Cross symbol.

He no longer imagines - but we do. Is he off his knees yet? We can only imagine.


"I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by Your side...
I can only imagine, what my eyes will see, when Your Face is before me!
I can only imagine. I can only imagine.

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?
Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine! I can only imagine!

I can only imagine, when that day comes, when I find myself standing in the Son!
I can only imagine, when all I will do, is forever, forever worship You!
I can only imagine! I can only imagine!

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?
Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine! Yeah! I can only imagine!

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?
Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine! Yeah! I can only imagine!

I can only imagine! Yeah! I can only imagine!! Only imagine!!!
I can only imagine.

I can only imagine, when all I do is forever, forever worship You!
I can only imagine."

Copyright: ©1999 MercyMe

Thoughts of today...

May 28, 1988 I was blessed with another little boy. It was labor day weekend and there were not many on staff, and Norm almost deliverered the baby. A nurse kept telling me "don't push" - RIGHT! But he finally arrived, and perfect in every way. His older brother who was just 13 months older, called him Me-Ma, as he could not say Matthew. So, he was nick named Me-Ma throughout the years. As with our previous son, we gave him over to the Lord at an early age. Little did we know . . .

I am up early this morning. Sleep did not come much last night. I thought I was handling things well, but as morning approaches, and this anticipation of another finalness, and doing something we never imagined for Matthew's birthday, my heart saddens so much. I also see a new sadness in Norm, just in the pictures I took of him with Katie for his birthday. I feel like the light went out in him, and though he was interacting a lot with her, and trying to make her happy, I could see the joy was not there. I did not notice it until I looked back at pictures. It breaks my heart seeing my husband hurt so much too. Last night as we were trying to go to sleep, he talked a little, and again, has the regrets he did not get closer to Matthew, or talk more to him. We did not know about the game he played, so how would we have warned him? But, I think Norm feels like he failed him - we probably both feel that way at times.

It's a beautiful Michigan morning, but the gray cloud hangs over us. If you read this this morning, please pray for us - for strength, and to remember the joy Matthew did bring, and the testimony that can still go on. Pray for the children. It's so hard to see them cry and hurt. We are thankful for family & close friends who will be with us.

Friday, May 27, 2005


Katie Rose is FOUR Years old today!

Katie is blowing bubbles - her new little gift - (dress too!)


This is from a blogger who encourages sharing, called Friday's Feast. Here's this weeks . . .

What job would you definitely not want to have?

Working in a fast food restaurant

Oprah calls and wants you to appear on her show. What would that day's show be about?

Mother's who have lost a baby or child

Name 3 vegetables that you eat on a regular basis.


Main Course
If you were commissioned to rename your hometown, what would you call it?

Meijer City (Meijer is a major food chain that started in our town)

If you had a personal assistant, what kind of tasks would you have them to do

Where do I start? Just helping me keep up after 9 children, my husband & myself, 4 dogs, a cat and 2 home businesses! Just sweeping and dusting every day would take a load off (even a couple of loads of wash would even help SO much more!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Etched in Stone

We got Matthew's gravestone tonight. It's beautiful. You can still see our rough draft of it on our blog and also the meaning of it. We will show an actual picture of it on Saturday, his birthday and the day we will put it at the cemetery.

It hit hard - the finality. It's etched in stone. His name - part of his daddy's and grandpa's name. The dates. The beginning of life on earth. The beginning of life in heaven. The end of a precious life on earth. The end of dreams for him, for us. But the hope of eternity.

One of Norm's cousins helped us with the design, so it has a lot of meaning & is unique. Seeing Norm and our oldest son lift it from his car to our car - driving our heavy load home, and then seeing the looks on the children's faces. It hit several of them hard too. This song came to mind tonight . . .


What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a priviledge to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh what peace we often forfeit
Oh what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations
Is there trouble any where
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all are sorrows share
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Are we weak and heavy laden
Comfort with the Lord of care
Precious Jesus' still our refuge
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee
Take it to the Lord in prayer
In His arms He'll take and shield thee
Thou will find a solace there!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

This week . . .

Well, I guess this week will be one of anticipations, reflections, praise, sorrow, tears and laughter. It's our little Katie's 4th birthday on Friday. It's Matthew's - would be - 17th birthday on Saturday, and 24 weeks since his death. It's "funny" as I reflect back to his past birthdays. He would joke about having to share his birthday with Katie - with extended family coming on one of their birthdays and them celebrating together. Bethany, our baby, was due the day after his birthday, and that did not thrill him at all! She was born early. Like with my twins, we try to do things separately for them as individuals, but many times for convenience we did celebrate together. I felt bad for the kids. And now I look how God allowed these birthdays to be close. It's not a whole month of mourning for us. We have Bethany's birthday at the beginning of the month, and Katie's birthday to celebrate the day before his birthday. God is "making" us count our blessings. Oh yes, there will be tears - many of them. But what wonder to pick up my little ones, even with those tears, and be so thankful for ALL God has given us. I don't want Katie growing up thinking there is always sadness with her birthday. I don't think especially this first one without Matthew, that she will remember the tears as much as she remembers the fun of celebrating her birthday.

It's been my goal this year to catch up all the kid's scrapbooks. I really started working hard on Matthew's after he died, and felt guilty that I was concentrating so much on his and the others would think they are not as important. I've got 3 now almost all caught up. But as I have worked on Matthew's and looked through the book over and over, I just cannot grasp at times, when we were celebrating his birthday last year - we never imagined, this year, without him. At times, it still does not seem real. I still slip and say his name when I am calling for one of the kids. I did it today. The other day I came across something of his, and that pain just hits again, and Norm and I have our talks and tears together, and again will ask why, and what did we miss, and why was he so foolish - and yet, did God protect his future from rejecting God, getting involved in something worse, from leading his siblings astray? As a young mom I remember praying that God would take my children early if they were to reject Him, or never come to know Him. I wondered often with my miscarried babies and Angela (stillborn), if that is why God allowed them to leave us so early. Matthew never denied God. He had a passion for God - and Satan knew that too. He spoke so often of spiritual things. Satan found his weakness - like he can find any of ours - where ANY of us can give into something. We have no doubts whatsoever that Matthew is in heaven. What hope we have. And what peace to have even with our slipbacks and failures, that with our personal belief and relationship with Jesus, we will be with Him, and our loved ones who've gone ahead of us, forever.

This will be a week of mixed emotions. Be praying for Norm and I and the children. Music is something that chokes us up many times, as with the several songs we have shared on this blog. We had a special worship group at our church today, and their songs of heaven and the cross, brought tears to Norm and I several times. The ache is real. The pain still hurts. But we know we have to keep going, and have such a big job God is holding us accountable for with the other children. We are getting together on Matthew's birthday with some close friends and Norm's parents to put his gravestone down. We don't want it another "funeral" but a time of remembering Matthew. We plan on letting go 17 red (his favorite color) balloons - so let us know if you get one! :) The children overall are doing well. The two that found Matthew, though they still talk of the day, they are doing well. One of our children struggles with Matthew's "selfishness" that he struggled with and died that way (as this child puts it), and we pray can be forgiving and remember the good times instead of keeping the feelings inside and avoiding any mention of Matthew. It's something we are working with.

Thank you for following our journey with us, for caring and praying. I can't imagine going through this without God, and the prayers of so many. You've helped carry us.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cute . . .

Saw this on another blog. Thought it was cute.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Friday's Feast is a fellow-blogger who asks questions for other bloggers to share on their blog, to get to know them better, so I am occassionally doing these on Fridays.

Approximately how many hours per day do you spend watching television?

An hour

Which colors decorate your kitchen?

Sage Green

Name 2 brand names you buy on a regular basis, and what do you like about them?

Tostitos HINT OF LIME Tortilla Chips & Breyer's Low Carb Vanilla Ice Cream

Main Course
What is your biggest fear?

Burying another child

If you could wake up tomorrow and find yourself in another location, where would you want to be?

In the middle of the rapture, all going to heaven!

Bonus Birthday Question
What's your favorite flavor of birthday cake?

LOTS of Chocolate plus Peanut Butter

Monday, May 16, 2005

Firsts & Finalities

Last week was overall a pretty good week, though busy. I see how Norm and I are going through the different waves of this grieving, and now Norm is having some more lower days. His mom noticed it too. He is working more outside, especially with the small engine repair, and Matthew, though he did not enjoy it much, would help him. Matthew also would mow the lawn with one of the other boys, and Norm mowed for the first time this past Saturday - another first. I think he liked the quiet time, yet reflected a lot on how Matthew use to do this. Norm taught one of the girls to also do it too since two of the boys have part-time jobs and we have close to 3 acres, and so, just another "newness" to get use to.

We also sold Matthew's car today. After our other two boys got in their accident, Stephen did use the car some, and then Matthew's car broke down, and Stephen repaired it in his auto class, but since, it's been just sitting in our driveway - another continual reminder of Matthew's first, and only car. Just another part of the broken dreams - even though "material". He did not have his license long. He wanted a "cooler" car eventually. He was such a big, lanky kid getting into it. We were thankful it sold quickly. It's gone now. Another finality. Norm was teary-eyed when he came in from the sale, and just in a very quiet mood today. The heart of an aching father. We have been through such ups and downs and seeing him hurt in a new way just tears at my heart, and am praying I can be strong for him as he was for me so often.

We finally got more puppies in, and are thankful for God's provisions. Even though Norm keeps sending out resumes, even different areas than "tool & die", we see how the work comes in at the right time, and we make ends meet not of our own doing and keeps Norm home. Especially for him now, I think it's good he can be surrounded with his family.

Thanks for your continued prayers.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Just some ramblings . . .

It's been a busy few days, and hard to believe it will be Friday tomorrow! All of a sudden I feel like our lives are on fast forward. Our oldest son, Stephen, is graduating this year from homeschool. He has also been taking a course through a high school at their tech school - in automotive repair. He really likes it. Our local community college has just started an automotive course, and since we homeschool, we have not been looking into all the details of signing up for courses, and student grants & scholarships. Stephen also wants to take some welding classes. So, I spent a lot of time on the phone this afternoon between an admissions counselor and financial aid counselor. We had to fill out for grants for "two years" as he wants to start some classes this summer, so this is still part of the 2004-2005 year. Yikes! It's LOTS of paperwork (on-line). Then I had to go through all his homeschool books & grades and put everything together for transcripts. What a job! But, I think we got the balling rolling. Be praying for Stephen as he still has some decisions to make regarding actual classes and he would really like to work in an automotive repair shop, and one that is Christian owned, the man said he'd like to hire him, but at this time, does not have room for another guy, but still wanted him to fill out an application. We just pray he can be in a "cleaner" atmospher morally, than many shops are. Also, Stephen is taking two more state certification tests on Friday (please pray), which can help him towards his classes and getting advance credits.

While I was on the phone so long this afternoon, Bethany got "lost" and it was panic for about 15 minutes. She is a little stinker, and will get out of bed, and just LOVES the outdoors now. One of the girls put her down to bed, went outside, and she got out. I saw her, while I was on the phone, not realizing she was put down for her nap so when I got off the phone, I asked where she was. I was told she was sleeping - NOT! Several of the kids had gone for a hike through the woods by us, and she must have seen them far off, and followed, not being able to keep up. We started yelling and yelling for her. Norm went down to the road to make sure she wasn't toddling down the road, and thankfully she wasn't. Finally we could hear her little cries from far off, and she was rescued and brought home. It nerved me up. I think after all we have gone through, I can get into panic pretty easily. We also have an above ground pool, and I dread opening it. She is such a climber. The youngest two before her, they learned quick two springs in a row, after a "dunking" by mom, that this water is over their head, and stay out. But I can see Bethany as "forgetting" quickly. I have a friend who's boy drowned and was revived, and they have had a lot to go through in the past year. So, I've got to get my mind back on giving my children back to God and breathing easier with life.

Today Jayson was wearing one of Matthew's sweatshirts, and from a distance, it took me off guard - just that quick inhale of a split second - "there's Matthew". Stephen today also gave me a "Matthew's hug" where he just patted me - not really hugging. I right away said - "that was no hug - that was a Matthew hug"! It was funny how it reminded me of Matthew - and even saying it, did not bring the silence. There weren't tears with it, but that good reminder of him. Later I heard some of the kids talking about the nicknames Matthew gave them. It hasn't been low, low days, which I am thankful for, though I know there's still going to be the many ups and downs.

Matthew's gravestone should be finished sometime next week. Matthew's birthday is May 28th and we want to put it down on his birthday. A couple people since the funeral have asked about what they could do in memory of him, and another friend gave me a good idea with Memorial Bibles through the Gideons. He wanted a new Bible for Christmas, which we got and had his name engraved on it. It was buried with him. With the Gideons, they have a secure website for memorial Bible donations. The suggested donation is $5 per Bible. So, if that is something you want to do - it will be of eternal value and something I know Matthew would be honored with. If you want us to get a card to know that you have done this in memory of him, you can send it in care of our church to:

Mr. Norm Vander Stel
c/o Alton Bible Church
2780 Lincoln Lake Ave.
Lowell, MI 49331

Norm has been getting several small engine repair jobs almost daily, which has been a blessing. He's not even advertised yet - as we found last year, the advertising ate up so much of the $$. We've been without puppies though for almost two weeks. If you are just starting to read this, we have had a licensed pet shop for over 10 years, and take in pups and find homes for them. We don't have a hard time adopting out the pups - but the slow times are when no one calls us WITH puppies. So pray for puppies for us. I've had a lot of bracelet orders before Mother's Day and a few this week, which helps make ends meet too - and something I enjoy doing. Jayson (15) made me a beautiful bracelet for Mother's Day. I will have to put a picture up of it later. Norm also sent in another couple of resumes to tool & die shops, and it's again a "wait and see" thing.

We've been asked how the remodeling is going so many times. SLOW! With things picking up for Norm with repair jobs, and just "normal" family stuff, it's not been as much a priority, though our twin girls are VERY anxious for us to pick up some speed with it again, as 5 girls are in one room, and it's very tight and unmanageable clutter! It's so nice to be outside more, and have the children out there, but we need to get the remodeling done too.

I got an e-mail to a Wendy's Restaurant website - that said this weekend is FREE FROSTY WEEKEND! We might check it out! :)

Well, it's late, and I am looking forward to reading and getting some good sleep.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Johnny Lingo's 8 Cow Wife (Story)

This was shared with my husband & I tonight by some close friends of ours. It apparently has circulated a lot, and originally was a story in a Reader's Digest. My friend just shared this at a Mother/Daughter Banquet.

When I sailed to Kiniwata, an island in the Pacific, I took along a notebook. After I got back it was filled with descriptions of flora and fauna, native customs and costume. But the only note that still interests me is the one that says: "Johnny Lingo gave eight cows to Sarita’s father." And I don’t need to have it in writing. I’m reminded of it every time I see a woman belittling her husband or a wife withering under her husband’s scorn. I want to say to them, "You should know why Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for his wife."

Johnny Lingo wasn’t exactly his name. But that’s what Shenkin, the manager of the guest house on Kiniwata, called him. Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of the islanders. But Johnny was mentioned by many people in many connections. If I wanted to spend a few days on the neighboring island of Nurabandi, Johnny Lingo would put me up. If I wanted to fish he could show me where the biting was best. If it was pearls I sought, he would bring the best buys. The people of Kiniwata all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke they smiled, and the smiles were slightly mocking.

"Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want and let him do the bargaining," advised Shenkin. "Johnny knows how to make a deal."
"Johnny Lingo! A boy seated nearby hooted the name and rocked with laughter.
"What goes on?" I demanded. "everybody tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then breaks up. Let me in on the joke."
"Oh, the people like to laugh," Shenkin said, shruggingly. "Johnny's the brightest, the strongest young man in the islands, And for his age, the richest."
"But if he’s all you say, what is there to laugh about?"
"Only one thing. Five months ago, at fall festival, Johnny came to Kiniwata and found himself a wife. He paid her father eight cows!

I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one. "Good Lord!" I said, "Eight cows! She must have beauty that takes your breath away." "She’s not ugly," he conceded, and smiled a little. "But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she’d be left on his hands."
"But then he got eight cows for her? Isn’t that extraordinary?"
"Never been paid before."
"Yet you call Johnny’s wife plain?"
"I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow."
"Well," I said, "I guess there’s just no accounting for love."
"True enough," agreed the man. "And that’s why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the sharpest trader in the islands was bested by dull old Sam Karoo."
"But how?"
"No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny’d pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, ‘Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.’"
"Eight cows," I murmured. "I’d like to meet this Johnny Lingo."
"And I wanted fish. I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny’s house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians. And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me with grace to his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, "You come here from Kiniwata?"
"They speak of me on that island?"
"They say there’s nothing I might want they you can’t help me get."
He smiled gently. "My wife is from Kiniwata."
"Yes, I know."
"They speak of her?"
"A little."
"What do they say?"
"Why, just..." The question caught me off balance. "They told me you were married at festival time."
"Nothing more?" The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.
They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows." I paused.
"They wonder why."
"They ask that?" His eyes lightened with pleasure. "Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?"
I nodded.
"And in Nurabandi everyone knows it too." His chest expanded with satisfaction. "Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."
So that’s the answer, I thought: vanity.

And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right. I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me. "You admire her?" he murmured. "She...she’s glorious. But she’s not Sarita from Kiniwata," I said.

"There’s only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata." "She doesn’t. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo."
"You think eight cows were too many?" A smile slid over his lips. "No. But how can she be so different?"
"Do you ever think," he asked, "what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two?" This could not happen to my Sarita."
"Then you did this just to make your wife happy?"
"I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands." "Then you wanted -"
"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman."
"But —" I was close to understanding.

"But," he finished softly, "I wanted an eight-cow wife."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day 2005

Another first. It actually was a fairly calm peaceful day. I am so thankful for my husband who knew well ahead of time that emotionally it would be difficult, and so we decided to not go to church, stay home, and just enjoy the children, spend time with them. Mother's Day has always been somewhat a difficult day for me, with not having a relationship with my mom, then her death last year, our baby Angela's death, and now Matthew's. On Mother's Day, I see where I've lacked, where my mom lacked and the desires of wanting that "Titus Two" type mom. So, though this was different, again, this year, we've learned to just make it a calmer day. And overall, it was a good day. The kids brought me breakfast in bed (FRUIT LOOPS!!), brought me presents, including a homemade bird feeder, a special cookbook, lots of homemade cards, and just lots of hugs and attention. The kids keep asking me to take a walk with them in the woods, so I did that today, and took my digital camera along, and got some precious pictures. Even one of the girls said, "we made good memories." Yes, we did. We watched a movie late afternoon, had pizza tonight and Norm & I took a quick ride to the cemetery and watered the newly planted grass seed. It hit for some moments, just never imagining last Mother's Day, where we'd be today. Matthew was the sentimental type, and wonder what he would have picked out for me. And the tears flowed, and we ache as we miss him so, so much, but went home to the warmth and blessings of the nine who still need us and God has given us such a responsibility for them. Here's a couple of pictures from today of all the children.

Last night before Norm & I were going to bed, he shared with me too, how we have to make sure the children know that they are just important as Matthew, and that though my heart hurts, how important they each are. I will end with this note I wrote to them and put it on the kitchen counter for them to read in the morning. I think it helped to know they could be more light hearted, and not have to fear my being a basket case. And, thank you for the many nice notes of encouragement and prayers for us. God's peace was certainly with us in a extra special way today.

Good Morning Kids!

I just want to let you all know I love you very much, and I am a very blessed mom to have each of you. Though I am sad that Matthew is not here and you may see tears today, know that is just a little part of my heart, and that all of you fill the rest of my heart. I need each of you and love you all so much.

We will have a good day. We may stay home, and just enjoy being with each other – watch movies, eat ice cream, make jewelry together, whatever. If any of you want to go to church in the morning, yes, you may, but do talk to dad and I before you go. I just don’t want to embarrass any of you by crying or falling apart at church. I hope you understand.

Remember, I’ve told you when I was a little girl, I always wanted a big family, and I am very, very happy and blessed to have you.

Stephen, Jayson, Heather, Heidi, Benjamin, Jessica, Melody, Katie & Bethany.

Love, Mom

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Remember Moms with Empty Arms on Mother's Day

This article was orginally written for Mother's Day, 2002, and rewrote it this year, and was in our local paper today.

“Remember Moms with Empty Arms on
Mother‘s Day”

As I look around the dinner table, I know what a blessed mother I am. I always wanted a large family, and many times am in awe of how good God has been to me. When we are out as a family, we receive comments so often of what a beautiful family we have. But, I see the gaps in our family. Gaps where yes, even though we have nine living children, I see empty spaces. Some of the spaces have questions...would that have been a boy or a girl. With my miscarriaged babies (three total), I may not have had the baby that followed, but there are still the gaps: the missing of an irreplaceable, individual child here on earth. I have the peace to know that my babies are in heaven and someday my family will all be complete there, but until then, all my tears won’t be wiped away.

But there are two even bigger "known" that was almost filled here on earth, but quickly snatched away. We lost a baby at 36 weeks gestation because of a placenta abruption. Angela Hope died before she was born. After my emergency c-section, I held this beautiful baby that was so peaceful, so perfect, but oh, so silent. This took place on January 22, 1998 – the 25th anniversary of Roe vs Wade. To look at this beautiful, whole, and perfect baby and to think that these babies are murdered at this age, is beyond my comprehension.

And four months ago, we lost our 16½ year old son, Matthew, in an unexpected accident. He played a game many teens are playing, a breath game. He lost the game. He loved Jesus and was committed to Him, loved life, adored his little sisters, had goals of going into business management and learning to fly. Now we walk through this new year of many firsts, with the sting of death close to our hearts, yet taking in joys of life as we watch our children in a new way and so thankful for all God has given us.

How do we cope? One day, one tear, one memory and one day at a time - holding on to God, my husband, my children and family and friends who remember with us. Though I believe speaking of death, miscarriages and stillbirths is much easier to talk about more openly today than it was 20 some years ago, it is still a silent subject. There are still a majority who do not want to talk about a loss for fear of hurting the people who experienced it. The silence hurts more. We notice the void everywhere, from the empty spot in the church pew, to answering someone how many children we have, to the two pictures on the wall that will never age.

With Mother’s Day approaching, remember the moms who have broken hearts and empty arms who ache for the child they should be holding or getting a hug from. Remember the moms who don’t have any living children. They ARE mothers. Remember them on such days as Mother’s Day, due dates, and death dates. Even if you do not know what to say, a “Thinking of You” card or “I am Praying for You” card will touch a mom so much. If a family has recently lost a baby or child, and a special date is coming up, a small bush, tree or rose bush, can be given to plant in memory, and a reminder every year of your remembering and a precious living reminder of the child.

Churches many times for families who have lost a child, can be the hardest place to go, especially on Mother’s Day. Not only do they see the reminders of their child’s friends, the empty space, nursery, pregnant moms, and infants in arms, their missing baby or child may seem unremembered. Often on Mother’s Day, “all” mothers are asked to stand up, and presented with a flower or special gift, but the moms with empty arms seem to be forgotten. If at all possible, include these moms. Possibly ask these moms privately if they can be recognized, or at least allow the opportunity for their baby to be remembered. Some moms may not want to be recognized, but a Pastor recognizing in a general way, moms with children waiting in heaven, will show love, remembrance and value of life.

And, remember other mothers like me who on this Mother’s Day notice “the gap”… the missing homemade card or one less hug. Yes, we may have other little ones tugging on our sleeves, but “we” remember, and have that ache for the child that cannot be replaced. The first Mother’s Day after a loss is particularly hard and is not a “happy” Mother’s Day. This Mother’s Day, remember a mom who is hurting and who wants to remember a baby or child that Jesus holds, not her.

©Loni Vander Stel 2005
Loni lives in Greenville has been married to her husband, Norm for 20 years. They homeschoo1 their 9 children all yet at home. Loni has an outreach ministry for bereaved moms at and a memorial page for their son at:

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Making Memories

Today more special memories were made. Norm's parents came over for dinner to celebrate Bethany's birthday and Mother's Day. Bethany got spoiled, again, and loved opening her presents.

Later Norm's mom handed me a little package, and told me she got me something special because she knew it would be a hard Mother's day for me. Actually, I've been dreading it, though I know how blessed I am, there's such a pain. Yet, I see these nine other healthy, living chidren, and wow . . . I am indeed blessed. Anyway, I opened the package and got some special chocolates, and then a pretty box with a flower on top. Inside was a beautiful ceramic type heart that opened up and inside that Norm's mom had drawn a small picture of Matthew. It touched my heart so much. She then showed me how the picture could come out, and on the back was a picture of him as a little boy. Of course, the tears came, and she worried some that she upset me, but Norm kept telling her, "it was the perfect gift" and it was. Norm's mom draws beautiful pictures and portraits. I asked her if she had drawn a big one and sized it down, and she said she had, and I told her sometime I'd love to have one. In a few minutes she gave me the big picture. She said she hesitated, because she wanted to make sure I was ready. It's a beautiful portrait, and she gave me permission to share it on our webpage. She also made bookmarks for each of us, with Matthew's 16 year picture and baby pictures. I just cannot say enough how much this meant, and that even as a hurting grandma, took the time to draw this and give it as a gift. Though this sting of death is so new, these are bittersweet treasures that will be held dear until we can see Jesus and our family is whole again in heaven.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Our Baby is TWO!

Today our baby, Bethany, turned two. It’s so hard to believe. It was a fun day of spoiling her (mainly with dollar store items) and the kids lavishing on her all day. It was a good day of memory making. We have much to be thankful for. J