Our last couple months in pictures

I realize that some of you who visit this blog are not on Facebook (all 2 of you ;)), and I don’t always post everything there anyway, SO I thought maybe this would be a good time to catch you up on what’s been happening in our world since the beginning of May.

Living Hope Children’s Club in Masiphumelele.

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Zeke’s class took a field trip to Imhoff’s Farm and got to feed and hold bunnies. Cassidy tagged along for the fun :).

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Mother’s Day.

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All 3 kids are in swim lessons now. They have learned so much in the last 8 weeks and we are confident that they will be ready when summer comes.

Mother’s Day lunch with the Moms and Tots group from Masi and Ocean View. This group of women graduated from the program on June 10th.

Walk-a-thon to raise money for the kids’ school. Avery ran/walked 19 laps, Cassidy did 4, and Zeke did 29! A quiet competitiveness came out of our boy that day…while the majority of his peers were playing and having snack/rest time, he kept running and running until we eventually ended the event and told him he had to stop. It was pretty fun to watch!

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Parent day at Avery’s school. We got to shadow her for the day and we had so much fun being a part of her world! IMG_0476

Parent day for Zeke! We are very proud of how well he’s doing in the Dolphin class!

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Visiting Gram and Pop at Beachside church in Kommetjie.

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We found this guy in the bathroom. The kids saved him and released him (after he ate dinner with us that night…eek!). All I wanted to do was scream, run and hide!

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A cold, rainy Father’s Day. Winter has arrived in Cape Town. Happy summer to those of you in warmer places! Blessings and hugs from our family to yours.

Happy Birthday Ezekiel!

It sure has been a while since I’ve updated anything on here. Apparently I’m on a kick of only blogging on birthdays now. And this one’s not even written by me…Here’s a special blog from my favorite man to my favorite 4 year old!

I am about to be brutally honest here so extend me some grace as I am vulnerable in my journey as a still new and constantly learning parent.

4 years ago when I first saw my beautiful son, Ezekiel Robert Kneezle, enter this world 3 synchronized thoughts entered my mind in overwhelming harmony:

  1. I was so incredibly proud of my wife.
  2. God gave me a son and I was filled with joy and thanksgiving. The Kneezle name would live on!
  3. I was struck that my relationship with Avery would never be the same.

The first two thoughts while not lacking profound impact don’t require explanation, but the third is rather abstract and deserves a bit of further clarity.

You see when I saw Avery look into my eyes and then at Zeke for the first time, I ultimately realized that my relationship with Avery would never be the same, it was never going to be just her and me again. At the same time, I realized that what I experienced with Avery, I would never have with Zeke. It was like the splitting of an atom and I couldn’t understand what I was going to do. The question I continually ask myself and talk with Carla about at times is, “How can I give all that I want and need to give to more than one child?”.

The thing that God has shown me over time is that Zeke is not child number two, he is my second child. This may seem like common sense but it shows the purpose Zeke has in our family. In the same way, Zeke isn’t “the middle child”. God has placed him perfectly in our family as an anchor for his sisters and for our entire family. Carla and I often talk about how Zeke is a perfect middle child because he is the only boy, has such an easy going personality in the midst of his often emotionally expressive sisters, is incredibly reliable to be obedient and go out of his way to do the right thing, and looks for opportunities to serve his family.

The reality is that even though Zeke happens to be the perfect middle child, it is not by happenstance that it is the case. Zeke was and is created to live out the role he has been given with purpose. May sound like a lot to expect for a fresh 4-year-old…Thankfully I don’t expect it from him but what blesses me about watching my son is that I already see it, I can already see Christ’s character in him.

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Just this last week we were able to do ministry together as a family at kids club in Masiphumele. In between the kids club and teens club there was some down time where we were able to casually talk and play (Cassidy danced ☺) with some of the children that showed up early for teens club. Zeke was able to spend time with an 11-year-old boy who tragically just lost his mother to a long, painful illness. He was able to listen to this boy’s story, watch me and our good friend Ntandazo try to process his current situation, lay hands on him and pray with him.

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When we got in the car after club, I was stunned that Zeke was able to explain everything that our new friend shared about how he was feeling and his circumstance with the rest of our family. It was an overwhelming experience for him, processing a boy losing his mommy, but he was able to express thoughts about the boy’s grieving that proved him a very wise soon to be 4-year-old.

That night as we were tucking Zeke in he said, “we can’t forget to make that boy a card.”

I am very proud of my boy!

Here are some other things I love about him as we celebrate his birthday:

  • I love that he is an absolute goofball and out of seemingly nowhere he comes up with the strangest, most creative things to make us laugh!
  • I love that he is genuine.
  • I love that he is a friend to everyone.
  • I love that he is so tolerant and caring toward his younger sister who loves him more than life at times. Just the other night, out of nowhere, Cassidy yelled “I love Zekie!” while eating.
  • I love that he admires his older sister. He is always prideful telling me how great Avery is at coloring, how smart she is, and how he “gets to” play with her and her friends at school.
  • I love that his prayer is always filled with thanksgiving to God.
  • I love that he is such a great listener.
  • I love that he affirms his mommy, tells her she is pretty, and is a genuine helper to her.
  • Ultimately, I love that I get to live this journey with him by my side. Selfishly, I am thankful that God is using Ezekiel to refine me, making me a better man.

Happy Birthday to our boy!

We love you Ezekiel

Happy Birthday CJ!

On this day two years ago our sweet Cassidy Joan was born! I was induced at 39 weeks because I had polyhydramniosis (too much amniotic fluid around baby) and was considered high risk. 8 hours later our 3rd baby was born…and we knew almost immediately that something was not right. I brought her to me to nurse right away and she started choking and had trouble breathing. After a few minutes of working with her in the room they took her to the NICU. I’m not really sure why, but even though I had a “high risk” pregnancy it didn’t really occur to me that I had a “high risk” baby. We had done all the tests, had lots of ultrasounds, visited specialists, and ruled out all the possible problems. And yet, here we were in the maternity ward on the evening of February 22, 2014 without a baby in our arms. And we waited. Kenny stayed with her in the NICU and reported back to me often, mostly about how she couldn’t breathe on her own and wasn’t really improving much despite lots of efforts from our nurses. At that point I think I was too tired to worry much, and I kept thinking back to how Avery was in the the NICU with breathing problems for a little under an hour when she first arrived. Nothing to fear, we’d be reunited soon.

A couple hours later the pediatrician came in. She had a report and started with the words, “you did not do anything to cause this nor could you have done anything to prevent it…” and then she told us that Cassidy was born with TEF (Trachea Esophageal Fistula). In other words, her esophagus was not attached to her stomach but instead formed a little pouch at the top of her throat. Anything she swallowed (like when I first nursed her) would come straight back up because it had nowhere to go. She also had an opening from her trachea into her esophagus (that’s the Fistula part of TEF). She needed to have surgery. And they needed to transport her to a higher level NICU in downtown Denver.

My heart sank. I was terrified. And sad. And maybe a bit mad. And I felt completely responsible and full of guilt. We rushed her into flight for life, drove to another hospital, got ourselves admitted into a NICU parent room, and waited again–this time for surgery. She had surgery to connect her esophagus to her stomach and to close up the fistula on her trachea on her 2nd day of life and it went as well as it could have. We had an amazing surgeon who is the most wonderful gift to our family. He saved our girl! The next 13 days were a whirlwind…tests to rule out other problems with her brain, heart and kidneys, healing from surgery, intubation, extubation, intubation again, feeding tubes, my milk not coming in, then my milk coming in, pumping, lots of tears, exhaustion, wanting to be home with our older two but not wanting to leave our fragile baby. And then feeding our girl, seeing her get stronger, breathing and eating on her own, getting discharged, and finally introducing her to Avery and Zeke (and our lovable dog Samson). Looking back over our time in the NICU I cannot help but be filled with such gratitude. We had loving, caring, skilled nurses who watched over Cassidy 24 hours a day. Many of them prayed over her and encouraged us. They are our heroes! We also made friends with another family whose son was born with TEF just a day before CJ. It is a condition that affects 1 in every 3,000 to 5,000 newborns and while we were in the NICU there were 4 babies who needed surgery for TEF. We believe God brought us together at that specific time and we are grateful for the relationships that were formed.

Now two years later Cassidy is a growing, thriving, sweet, stubborn, clever little girl. She blesses our family in so many ways and we have learned so much from her! A really good friend of mine once told me that “God is intentional” specifically in the way He has brought Cassidy into our world. Kenny and I didn’t plan for a 3rd child, and yet God intentionally gave us another kiddo. He created her, formed her, put her together piece by piece, and none of her congenital anomalies were hidden from His eyes. He knew about her having RSV and pneumonia at 10 months old and He knew that she may have other respiratory issues as she grows. He knew she’d need physical therapy to start walking and that she may develop scoliosis (well, I suppose he already knows if she will develop it…we just don’t know yet). He knew we’d have to re-explain all her health stuff to each specialist and doctor we ever meet with. He knew she’d often choke on her food and have to be encouraged to eat with her “monster teeth.” He also knew that she’d be joyful and smart and kind. He knew that she would teach Avery and Zeke about compassion and empathy. God is intentional and He uses Cassidy’s story to bring glory to His name. I am thankful that we get to witness how she brings hope to so many. We are very proud!

A couple verses/songs that have been important to us over our hardest and best times with our girl:

  • “Oceans” by Hillsong
  • “Wake Up” by All Sons and Daughters
  • Psalm 139:13-16 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
  • Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Happy Birthday Cassidy! We love you like crazy and we are so happy to celebrate you today!

 

A new season

Today we dropped our older two kiddos off at school for the first time ever. Avery started Grade R (Kindergarten for those of you back home) and Zeke started preschool in the Dolphin class. It was a big day filled with much anticipation and excitement, and by the grace of God it went amazingly! I am completely convinced that the Lord has been preparing A and Z for this during the 4 months that we’ve been in Africa because I would normally say that their fear of the unknown would have kept them from transitioning into school so well. They both walked away from us this morning hand in hand with either a friend or a teacher and bravely journeyed into their new adventure. And when we picked them up they had loads of stories to share. We are so very proud!

As change often does, this new season has me reminiscing quite a bit. For the last almost 6 years I have constantly been pregnant and/or nursing. I got pregnant with Avery in March of 2010, nursed her, got pregnant with Zeke while still nursing Avery, nursed him, got pregnant with Cassidy while still nursing Zeke, and nursed her. There has been no break from my littles. And I’ve loved it! I really feel like I came to life when I became a mama. But now Cassidy is almost 2, is starting to sit on the potty, and just weaned from nursing this last week. It’s the end of a very long era. I am now a stay-at-home mom whose kids no longer stay at home. And a mom to a baby who is really not a baby anymore. It’s weird.

I’ve had a lot of moments preparing for this day where I’ve been so sad. Sad to say goodbye to this season of my life. Sad that my kids won’t need me 24/7 anymore (I can’t believe I’m actually saying that!). Sad that our lazy weekday mornings are now going to be taken up by getting ready for school. Sad that my kids are getting old and that I’m getting older. Sad that things have to change, because I like how things have been.

But today, I’m not sad anymore (or maybe I’m just in denial and will be a puddle of tears tomorrow). Instead today I’m full of joy and hope! My kids rocked school! They did it! We believe they are going to grow and blossom and thrive at Kommetjie Pre Primary with their amazing teachers and new friends. Now Cassidy can experience special time as an only child of sorts, and I can give a few more hours a week to ministry with Living Hope. This is the start of a new season for our family and I am expectant that God will show up and do great things. I’m glad to be along for the ride.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Birthday blessings

On December 6th, 2010 I became a mom. It wasn’t the single best day of my life (I have memories of other much less painful and enjoyable days ;)), but the moment our daughter arrived and the 5 years since have been the absolute greatest of my life. Avery made me mommy and I treasure that part of my identity.

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Our first day together

This weekend we’ve been celebrating our girl and reflecting on all that she is to our family so I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you. Avery is creative, smart (or clever as they say in SA), and artistic. She loves to draw and to color, and all things crafty. She is responsible, helpful, and a wonderful (often bossy) big sister/mommy figure to her brother and sister. Most of you who know Avery know that she is quiet and observant, and takes her time to warm up to new people and situations. I love that God made her this way because those who are patient and spend time with her know that she has so much to share. She is a faithful and loyal friend.

Avery is kind, compassionate, empathetic, and generous. Last week there was a huge fire in the township of Masiphumelele. Our pastor John Thomas, the founder of Living Hope, asked the children at church to consider giving some of their clothing and toys to the kids of Masi who lost everything that night. When we got home Avery was eager to search through her clothes and organize them in to piles of “keep” or “give away”. As she went along her pile of “give away” grew and grew. I actually had to stop her a couple times and remind her that she needed to keep some things for herself. I have a tendency to hold onto things, but Avery practices generosity with much joy, and she challenges me to do the same. I love her heart!

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Pure joy!

There are so many other things about our girl that make her special and precious and unique and wonderful. We are so proud of who she is becoming and we are excited to see how God continues to use her giftings for His glory. Happy 5th Birthday Avery Elizabeth!

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Birthday dinner at her favorite place, The Toad. It’s fun (and HOT!) to have a summer birthday in December!

 

On finding a home

The Kneezle family’s search for a home here in South Africa has been a long and sometimes dramatic journey. About a month ago we lost a beautiful home that we loved in an amazing neighborhood just minutes from the beach. We had put in an application in competition with others and we were selected to get the house until the owner changed her mind last minute. The rental market here in South Africa is super competitive and there’s really not much available (much like home in CO), so we were extremely disappointed and felt a bit hopeless. The kids were bummed because they didn’t get the awesome treehouse in the yard.

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Our current landlord of our temporary home is super amazing and sent me these verses when we lost the house:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:8-12

She had the perspective we needed. God sure does know what He’s doing, and He doesn’t always do things the way we would (thank goodness!). If it was up to us we’d be in the treehouse house now. We’d be unpacked and moved in. We’d be living in a small space and my inlaws would be sleeping on bunk beds. But instead, a week after we lost it, we found another home. A better, bigger, less expensive home. Seriously!? In this crazy difficult market!? A home that we love and that we can actually grow into!? It feels like a bit of a miracle really. God really did have something better in mind for us all along and we are so very glad He knows what He’s doing!

We move in December 1st and we are all very excited to finally settle in and unpack all of our suitcases just in time for Christmas. Thank you so much to all of you who have been walking with us and praying for just this. We are grateful!

If you ever find yourself in the Cape Town area, come see us. We’ll have plenty of space, warm beds, and we love company!

Here’s some pictures from the last month:

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Halloween market. Beautiful butterfly.
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A boy and his stick.
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Zeke made a new snail friend.
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Summer time cutie!
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The spiders here are no joke. Karen and I ushered this one out of the garage with a loooong rake and shaky hands.
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We had a lovely visit at the local library and checked out some books to bring back home. It was so nice to do something normal and familiar.

We’re not so different, you and I

Sometimes I think that our family is way different than the people we are meeting here in SA. We come from different cultures, enjoy different foods, speak with different accents (or different languages entirely), etc. I feel like our kids are different too. Lots of kids here don’t wear shoes and they are fearless as they run into the ocean and dive through huge waves. Our kids, on the other hand, cry if the cold water even threatens to touch their toes. I actually can’t help myself from giggling when terror fills their eyes as the cold ocean meets the sand near us. It’s all new and I know that they will get used to a lot of what’s happening around them, but I imagine they will always be a little different from the children here.

The other day Kenny and I visited kid’s club in three of the communities that Living Hope serves in. We joined club in Red Hill toward the end of the morning as they were getting ready to do craft time. The younger kids had simple coloring sheets and the older ones were coloring, cutting, and pasting their art together. Midway through their time I saw one of the younger girls crying. This is not a super uncommon thing in club so I wasn’t alarmed. Maybe another child took her crayon? Or was being rough and hit her? Maybe someone called her a name? Or maybe she was mad because she wanted to sit somewhere else? I didn’t know.

But what I did notice is that she wasn’t even trying to color. Her coloring sheet was blank, and it was folded in half. She just held it helplessly as she cried. So I got a new sheet and sat down next to her. I offered her my new unfolded blank coloring sheet and she traded me for hers. She looked up at me, stopped crying, and got to work coloring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

And it hit me. We are not different at all.

This little girl is my girl.

Her anguish over her imperfect paper is exactly the anguish we experience with Avery any time her brother scribbles on her work or she colors outside the lines. I can’t even tell you how many times she’s had to start a coloring sheet over because it’s not perfect enough. She would have done the same exact thing in Red Hill that day if another child had folded her paper.

As we giggled and colored I found out that the girl’s name is Mercy.

Mercy and Avery are not so different. I think they could be friends, defending each other from the wild and free scribblers in the room.

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So I have work to do as I start to learn how not different we are from the people here, or anywhere in the world for that matter. We may come from different backgrounds, but we are all loved by a big God who isn’t affected by culture or language. His love is the great equalizer and I long to see His children (including the 3 that He’s entrusted to us) through His eyes. May this event mark a shift in the way I look at the world around me.

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…