Sunday, August 9, 2015

Finding the Magic again.


In the early hours of tomorrow morning, Ben will leave for field training.  For the next 3 weeks he will be gone Monday-Friday, jumping out of helicopters, crawling through trenches, getting tear gassed, shooting guns, and other exciting and really tough things, and will come home Saturday's and Sunday's.

We're all feeling a little sad because not only will we miss him, but this is the first year he won't be there for the kids' first day of school.  That may not be a big deal for some, but it is for us--we recognize we're still living in the years our kids WANT us to be there with them their first day, and we know this won't last forever.  


A Gift:

Our daughter Leah was born with the Gift of Making Everything Magic.  From the time she was a baby,  she could entertain herself with the most simple things like a piece of paper, or a rubber band, or her own fingers because she would see them with eyes that turned them into butterflies, fairies and dolphins.  This is what I love most about her, yet some days I worry.  I know too well the world can be a harsh place for those who see things not as they are, but as what they can become. 

I know, because I was born with this Gift too.   


An Ugly side of me:  

As a young girl, I was an optimist.  I remember feeling happy almost all of the time.  I loved easily, sang and danced my way through my days, was surrounded by friends, lost myself inside of a book, laughed a lot, and lived in my imagination.  I believed the world was full of Good and Beauty, and I believed I was going to become someone amazing when I grew up.  

Little by little, I began to change.  Vividly traumatic moments, cruel words, lies, hypocrisy, anger, and volatile tempers taught me to bury this Gift, replacing it with Fear into my world. I tried to hold on and trust in the Good, but with each passing year, as the circumstances remained and continually broke pieces of my optimistic heart, this became more and more difficult.  

I became an anxious, insecure, and wary version of myself, but kept these things hidden.  I could no longer sing or dance in front of others on my own, I had to have the safety of a group.  I hated the spotlight being on me, I was too insecure to stand in it.  The friends I had I believed deserved better than me, so I worked to become someone who could make them laugh, so at least I could contribute something.  

My anxiety and low self worth exhibited itself as not setting goals I felt I was not good enough to achieve.  I felt comfortable in allowing myself to sit in the path of least resistance when it came to academics, dating, jobs, and plans for college.  I no longer dreamed big dreams for myself.

I longed for affection, but was taught and grew to believe that anyone who showed me attention only did because they wanted something from me, and would take advantage of my easily trusting heart. So, I trained myself to stop searching for love built from respect, and allowed myself to fit this role, to be used for another's purposes. 

I formed an outer shell called Prepare For The Worst.  This became my protection from pain, contention, and the Dark parts of the world I had come to understand too closely.  This shell served as the way I separated from the Darkness and did not allow it to drown me.  If I was prepared for it, it could not hurt, or disappoint me.  This is what I told myself.

Then, I met Ben.  

Well, I re-met him, after we had grown up and out of high school and all of the shallow facades we live in during that time.  I re-met him during a time we were both Searching.  For ourselves, for something real, for some way to be who we had been born to be--who we had protected inside for so long with the Shells we created to survive.  I came to realize he had seen even more Darkness than me, and was shocked at this knowledge because for me, he was Sunshine.  He had a Light that had somehow survived all he had been through, and when I was with him, it was contagious.  

It took time, but eventually my Prepare For The Worst shell began to crack, as time and again through our dating and married life, I've found that Light can not only survive Darkness, it can overcome, and shine through it.  

So, I have worked to find myself again.  Habits are hard to break though, and I have stumbled and fallen backwards in my climb.  But I have found my footing, and not stopped climbing.  

It has been tricky at times.  The shell that once protected me was no longer needed, but I knew there was no going back to my naive childhood.  I had to find a balance of a thicker skin while keeping a soft heart, of seeing through the broken pieces of others, while still being wise to not let their broken pieces take me down with them.  And lately I've been really working on a balance of using common sense and knowledge of the World and its Dark and Ugly, combined with an adult-sized Faith and optimism that regardless of any circumstances, God and I make a great team.  

As a wife and mother and individual, I am still working.  Right now I really want that optimism back, that Gift I pushed down and buried so long ago in order to protect it.  

I've been thinking about this, as I've been preparing for Ben to be gone.  I feel like emotionally that protective shell is trying to return, out of fear.  New situations always add a piece of overwhelming for me, and since everything right now falls into that category in my life (finding doctors, babysitters, registering for new schools, meeting new neighbors, making new friends, finding my way/getting lost basically everywhere), I can feel the need to protect, to pre-stress, to worry, and to walk myself through the worst case scenarios while he's away sitting on the edges of my thoughts.

Protect, protect, protect. 

Some form of protection is good, healthy, and necessary.  My form though, causes me to isolate and build walls.  To not let people in, to not emotionally connect.  To not be my best real, vulnerable self.  

I don't want this.  Not for me, not for my kids, not for Ben, not for our lives.  I may never be the carefree child I used to be, but I still have that Gift--I still believe in the Magic.  I'm surrounded by it every day, when I'm out of my shell and looking for it, I always find it.

And so, for the next 3 weeks while he is gone, I will be looking for Magic and documenting it.  Even on the hard or overwhelming days--especially on those.  I don't want the time that I have with the family I've helped create and absolutely adore, to go to waste in the land of fear, guilt, stressing, and insecurity.  I've given too many of my good years over to those anyway, they don't deserve an extra three weeks.  

Because honestly, Life really is such a beautiful thing, isn't it?  

Here's to Finding the Magic.  

Thursday, July 23, 2015


(pic credit:  3 yr old June)

For years I struggled to find my goodness, beauty, or worth--on an intrinsic level.  I did not believe I deserved good things, mostly Love that came from not having to do anything or be anyone.  Love that came from just merely existing.  

I have worked hard to learn differently--to change habits and thought patterns I have used for years.  These habits that used to feel so comfortable but ones I recognize have failed me, because they have taught me to live a life as less of a person than I could potentially become.  Than who I actually AM.   And though there are some days they creep back in and whisper and try to force me back down into momentarily believing I have nothing worthwhile to add to the world, overall I feel I have won--and am continuing to win--this battle.  I have the choice to listen to the whispers, or I have the choice to fight.  Daily I choose to fight.

As an introvert, birthdays have been difficult for me.  There are a lot of moments of being in the spotlight, with presents, songs, parties.  But compounded with my struggle to feel my worth, my birthday was a day I wanted to avoid altogether.  It was an actual celebration of ME, which challenged all of my years of internal struggle.  Ben and I joked that my ideal birthday would be spent alone in a dark bedroom reading books, with zero celebration.  Only I wasn't joking. 

Today I woke up next to one of the best men I've ever known, a man who has spent the last 12 years telling me and showing me that I am beautiful and lovable.  Not once has he given me a reason to question how he feels about me.  I was bombarded with three kids yelling HAPPY BIRTHDAY!  Begging me to find the presents they had hid around the house.  I picked up a sweet, beautiful baby whose arms outstretched for mine with a big smile on her face.  The love I have for my children and the love they have for me has been a reflection of God's love since the day I first held them. I went throughout my day with phone calls, texts, and messages coming through on my phone.  Packages were delivered to me from friends and family.  

The whispers were also there today, telling me I don't deserve this love, telling me I am not worth being celebrated.  Telling me to not let the actions and words to sink in.  I worked hard to shut them out, to focus on the life that I have, and on who I actually AM.  

I am a good person.  It's taken me 35 years to be able to type words that probably seem so easy for others.  That's okay--they have their own struggle.  This is mine. 

I'm a good person who is healing wounds created long ago.  I started the healing for my children, so they could be taught a different way.  For my husband, who deserved a better wife than I felt I was.  For all of the people who had to interact with a girl who apologized too much, felt guilty too often, whose actions were mostly made out of fear of not being accepted and liked.   A girl who could not let their love sink all the way in.  But as I worked, and began to patch myself back together, my perspective changed.  

My focus is no longer on them, to make myself better so I can be better for them--I am here for me.  I am fighting for me, I am healing for me, I am working for me.  The relationships in my life will be positively affected by this change, but I am here for me.  I am worth saving.  

I am worth celebrating.  Happy birthday.  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

San Antonio.

Hold on to me, as we go.
As we roll down this unfamiliar road.
And although this wave is stringing us along

Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm gonna make this place your

Phillip Phillips

On a Tuesday morning, I pressed my nose to the glass cutout in our new front door.  Cars zoomed forward, then slowed as they braked for the speed bump, right in front of our house.  There was a lot of life moving around, just feet away from where I stood.  For me though, the life was foreign and felt very overwhelming.  I watched for a few minutes more, just like this.  Nose to glass, sighing every now and then.  Feeling the weight of it all.

We had rolled into San Antonio in the early evening the day before.  Ben, Caleb and Claire were ahead in the minivan while Leah, June and I followed in our white car.  It had been a long 3 day trip full of sad goodbyes, dead car batteries, washing laundry in a hotel until 2 am, and trading off sleeping sideways on a queen-sized bed next to two extremely rowdy little sleepers.  We had fun along the way though, mixed into the normal chaos.  Frozen yogurt stops, swimming, and dance parties to loud music in the car.  

I stared at the green trees lining the highway as we drove through our new city, trying hard to tell myself that one day this would all be familiar instead of new and somewhat intimidating.  As we turned onto our new street, kids playing soccer scattered out of the way of our caravan-ing cars.  This is good, I thought.  Lots of families.  

We parked in front of our new home, and I took a picture as the three oldest kids ran up the green front yard onto our porch.  Ben found the hidden key, and unlocked it.  I could hear the squeals and yells of excitement as they barreled through the entryway.  I picked up Claire from where she was waiting patiently in her car seat, handed her to Ben, and walked into our new home.  

We searched each room, noticing the size of them, the insides of the closets, the number of sinks.  It had a good feeling inside of it, with a lot of space and light.  We walked out on the back porch, and I smiled at all of the green facing us.  There were no homes behind ours, just masses of trees so thick you couldn't see through to the other side of them.  

Ben, Caleb and I unpacked our cars, and met neighbors who came outside to introduce themselves.  Our first family meal was Chick-Fil-A, eaten at 10 pm, while sitting on the floor.  Then we unrolled sleeping bags, brushed teeth, changed clothes, said a family prayer, and after finally winding down from the excitement, fell asleep. 

It has now been almost 3 weeks since the first morning we woke up in our new house, and I pressed my nose to the glass on a Tuesday.  

Some people look at a big move to a big city as a big adventure.  Ben is one of them.  I am not--but I'm trying.  I signed on to this move, with 100% support, knowing it would be difficult for my personality.  I am a lover of comfort zones, and for the past few years have felt such an intense need for setting down roots that the knowledge we are still several more years and a couple of more moves away from that makes me want to openly weep and then crawl into a hole.  And then take a big long nap.  (But that last part is irrelevant--naps always sound like a great idea, to me.)

The three weeks here have been nothing short of a little ridiculous.  The first week, Claire got a major fever, then June started up right behind her.  Soon every single one of our family was hit with some sort of a major flu bug, except for me.  June and Claire had it the worst, I have never seen June this sick.  Every night she would throw up from coughing, and her fever was 104 for 4 full days.  We had no insurance, no money, no belongings aside from one pillow and blanket for everyone, a few toys, some clothes, a couple of towels, a T.V. and a very small amount of kitchen supplies.  When June would throw up on what we had brought, we would do laundry in one of the bathroom tubs, and went without our own pillows and blankets.  

The second week, we discovered a mold problem in our master bathroom.  We're grateful they repaired it quickly, but this entire week was spent cooped up while waiting for them to finish.  Two days ago, we found a scorpion in Caleb's room.  After panicking a bit and trying to find creative ways to remove everything off of the floors we had been using as our dressers, we got a pest control company in here and bought traps.  Fingers crossed the scorpions are managed.

We are on week three now, still without our belongings.  Luckily, Ben is finally a legit member of the army, we have insurance, our friends lent us a card table, chairs, and a couple of games, June is back to her hilarious self, we were paid a portion of our move reimbursement, we are learning to live with less, and I have finally made peace with the laundromat and the homeless "regulars" who initially terrified me.  Not only that, but we've felt the love of our family and friends from far away.  They have checked in on us with phone calls, and texts, sent letters or packages...and those things have meant the absolute world to us.   

This life will take some getting used to, I know.  It will take a lot of pushing and stretching, again.  These are the parts that are uncomfortable, but bring the most growth--when I can look back at them. 

In the meantime, I'm trying to stay sane in this big, empty house that I can't feel settled into yet without our pictures and curtains and furniture.  I'm trying to get out and drive and find libraries and parks and fun things for our kids to do.  I'm trying to not let loneliness swallow me up, and walk outside to meet neighbors and make an effort.  

San Antonio is beautiful, and the people of Texas are friendly, and I'm trying.  

And it will take time.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

She is God's work.

I don't need nobody
I don't need the weight of words to find a way
To crash on through

I don't need nobody

I just need to learn the depth or doubt

Of faith 
to fall into


--Collective Soul

Tonight I fell asleep unintentionally for 2 hours during "Friday pizza and family movie night."  When I woke I felt dazed and fuzzy, unsure of where I was or what had happened, surprised I had somehow pulled a blanket on top of me without even realizing.  

Once the fuzziness wore off, I thanked Ben for letting me rest and putting the older kids to bed, then said goodbye to him as he left to watch a movie at a friend's house.  Claire woke from her late nap, and I got her ready for her nightly bath.  She looked up at me from the warm water with her serene, content smile she reserves for bath time, and diligently tried to grab the wash cloth I used to soap her up.  I finished rinsing her, then wrapped her in the soft bath towel, turning her toward the mirror to the reflection of her two bright blue eyes peeking out. 

"Hi baby Claire!"  I said to her reflection.  This time her smile was full, showing the roundness of her cheeks and dimples on each side.  

I lay her down on the bed, kissing her freshly-washed, soft baby belly as she laughed a still-new-baby giggle.  I rubbed the lavender-scented lotion between my hands to prevent shocking her warm skin with its cold texture, then snapped up her pajamas and wrapped her up in a blanket, holding her in my arms and feeding her as her eyes closed, her left hand gripped around my right middle finger.  

After I lay my sweet baby down, I realized I had been given something I hadn't had in weeks, possibly months:

time on my own, and energy after the kids were in bed and the house was quiet.

I immediately knew I wanted to write, and write and write some more.  So many words have swirled in my head for too long and I have lost many of them.  I tell myself hopefully that when life slows down, they will return.  I need to believe this.

Earlier today, the words that could not stop swirling were about the curly-haired baby I had just now snuggled to sleep.  One phrase over and over again came to my mind as I went throughout my day living Motherhood to its fullest--washing and feeding, holding and wiping, teaching and correcting, smiling and sighing :  

I used to be afraid of her.  

The first time this thought came, it shocked me, and I tried to reject it.  No I didn't, I argued.  How could I think that?  What does that even mean?

Last year when I had gone back to group therapy, I learned more about myself--outer layers were peeled away yet again to reveal self-discovery and insight.  One thing I learned that was so fulfilling in a way I'm not sure how to describe, is that I am a Sorter.  Meaning, someone who needs time to sort through thoughts and emotions.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to immediately know things--either the right thing to say, or the way I'm supposed to feel, and in the past I have lived untrue to myself because of it.  This is why small talk with strangers can be anxiety-provoking, or public speaking makes me want to run away and hide and my insecurities flare up in a very real way.  This is also why writing is so good for me, why it brings so much peace.  Writing helps me sort.  It's a way I take care of my emotions and needs, and can let go and just be.

The point is this:  today that thought of being afraid of Claire came, and even though I wanted to reject it, I felt instead that I needed to sit with it, giving myself time to sort.  

So I dragged laundry baskets full of dirty clothes close to the washer, and sifted through lights and darks as I let the thought settle.  

Afraid of her?  Of that extremely easy-going, happy, chunky baby?  


But why?  

I turned on the washer, watching the water fall over the clothes.  I filled the plastic cup with the liquid deep-blue soap and slowly poured it into the gushing water.

And then the realization came:  Because I was terrified of being needed by another human being.  

I was already so overwhelmed with the needs of 3 children and a husband in grad school and full-time work, my own part-time job, relationships with family members, friends, time-consuming church callings, etc.  I felt stretched thin, barely making life work as it was and was terrified that another child would take away my ability to be the mother/wife/friend/sister/daughter/church member that I wanted to be.  I didn't know how to give more than I already was, how to let go more than I already had.


Last January, I had made a silent promise to myself for the year of 2014.  I promised myself it would be the year for Me.  That may sound selfish, but I knew this was not a selfish promise.  I have lived the majority of my life for others--taking care of their needs and emotions before I would take care of, or even before I could recognize, my own.  Though I actually really like this care-taking side I was born with, I have known for a long time that it's out of balance.  This was the year I wanted to really push and work on that.  
Going back to therapy was the first step, something I had been wanting to do for over a year and had held back so that Ben could go.  I had learned so much and had loved therapy the first time, I felt ready for more. (I wrote about it here.)  I was ready to jump in and eager to work again.  Once I knew we could financially afford it, I signed myself back up, this time with a new therapist I had wanted to work with for years.  She is gifted and a pusher, and I knew I was ready, for the challenge and desire to learn more.  To stretch myself emotionally in new ways and become even more vulnerable and insightful.  

Physically I was also putting my body and health in the forefront of 2014.  I had been working on a lifelong sugar addiction, as well as emotional eating, and it was showing.  I was exercising for no other reason than the intention of showing my body love and care.  I was also working on a huge issue I have regarding Body Shame and had set some pretty scary, but life-altering goals for myself.

Spiritually I was in a more real place with God, and there were moments in the months before my pregnancy that I felt I had been given the ability to see and feel things that created peace inside of my religion where before I had been unsettled.  I also was beginning to see not just who I am with God, but the potential I have as a human being.  Because of my emotional and physical work, spiritually I was starting to truly get a glimpse of what my purpose might be.  Doesn't that sound big?  It felt big.  Not boast-y though, in fact it felt the opposite.  It felt humbling and overwhelming and amazing.

When I found out in early March that I was pregnant, I had been digging in to all of this, and was excited to see what was going to come from this work, and where I would be at the end of 2014.  The positive pregnancy test sent me reeling.

I don't consider myself an angry person, in fact, anger is an emotion I struggle to allow myself to feel.  But I can say that for around 9 weeks, the only emotion I could focus on when it came to this pregnancy was anger.  I was angry that I was being shown that yet again, I was not in control of when or if I choose to have more children, no matter how much I try to prevent it and be in control of it.  I was angry that I was pregnant when I didn't want to be, but was close with several who want to be, and who could not be.  I was angry that I was so sick.  I was angry that I was so tired.  I was angry that I could no longer give emotionally or physically what I had been to my life.  I was angry that my goals for the year were derailed.  I was angry that my body and my emotions were not my normal, and would not be for at least another 18 months.  

And I was angry that I felt angry.  

After about 9 weeks, I decided I had enough of the anger, reminding myself that I had choices--I always do.  Keeping my pregnancy is a choice, and one I was making, so I needed to accept the choice and stop wallowing in anger.  Also I knew that anger is a secondary emotion, meaning one that masks the real emotion underneath, and one people can become easily stuck in.  Anger is falsely empowering, and easily victim-creating.  I needed now to let go of it so I could become un-stuck and figure out what was underneath it.  I talked about it with Ben, and in therapy, and with a couple of people close to me.  Through talking it out and sorting the emotions, I realized I was actually very scared.  

Which brings me to today, watching the suds and bubbles of the laundry soap rise as the water continued to fall, thinking back to the time before having four children was my new normal.  Before Claire was the baby I now adore and can't believe I'm lucky enough to get to be her mother.  

Yes, I was afraid of her.  Not her, but the idea of her.  I worried I wouldn't be able to be the mom I wanted to be to my other kids with a fourth child to care for.  I worried my marriage would again take a backseat to a miserable pregnancy and the newborn stage of life.  And I worried about the goals I had set, to prioritize myself in a way I had never before would disappear.  I was scared I was going to revert backwards from the progress I had been making.    

But the truth is this.  I was starting this pregnancy in a better emotional, physical and spiritual place than I had been in any of my previous pregnancies.  I think God was prepping me for what was to come, and the blessings that would be given to us during that time and when we were on the other side of the trials that year.  

That pregnancy rocked my world--and not in a good way.  My body literally shut down on me, making the smallest daily task feel insurmountable.  Our life was chaos last year.  Job loss, another move, external family issues, time-consuming church callings, Ben finishing his last classes then  scrambling to finish his dissertation, then both Ben and I working two jobs each to try to cover financial strain, along with his traveling the last two months of the year.....

The goals I had set for myself in 2014 were not accomplished the way I had imagined or hoped them to be, but that doesn't mean I didn't accomplish anything.  I can look back now and see the way I was molded and pushed and stretched-- physically, emotionally, spiritually--just not in the ways I had anticipated.  Far more than my limited perspective could have ever planned.  
I closed the lid of the washing machine and heard the swishing of the water and the clothes as I shut the laundry room door and wondered to myself, 

Maybe the work I really needed to do was to allow God's will over my own, yet again? 

I walked over to where Claire had been sitting in her swing, contently sucking on her fingers and picked her up and kissed her soft,edible cheeks.  As I talked to her and told her how much I love her, a thought came:

She is God's work, in me.  

And with that realization, I kissed her once more, and took a picture.   


Saturday, December 27, 2014


I've been around the world but never in my wildest dreams

Would I come running home to you

I've told a million lies

But now I tell a single truth

There's you in everything I do

--Imagine Dragons
"Bet My Life"

"Are you happy?"  he asked me tonight, and it caught me by surprise.  I paused, which he took as a bad sign--but it wasn't, I was just reflecting.  I was thinking about happiness, and my definition of it, seriously considering whether the current state of our lives, and the current state of myself, fit within the realm that I judged the word 'happy.'

I had been staring at sweet, sleeping baby Claire when he asked me this question, listening intently to her breathe.  She is 5 weeks old now and has come down with her first illness, and I had been debating all day whether or not to take her into the doctor.  I'm not in a good place when my small babies are sick, it brings up old feelings of fear that I have to work hard to fight my way out of.  Luckily her breathing was soft and quiet, clear of the mucus-filled cackles I had been concerned of earlier.

I looked up at him, sitting across the room, running his hands through the thick hair he had been begging me to cut for weeks.  The  glow of the lamp next to him cast a soft light on his brown eyes.

"You know, I was thinking about our life this week," I began, "and how I'm really not a very romantic person.  I don't need flowers and gifts and big romantic gestures, though those are nice every now and then.  But what I am, is a sentimental person.  When I step out of my daily life for a few moments, and pretend I'm someone outside of our home, peering in the window and watching us, my perception changes.  When I look back through pictures and think of our memories, I'm overcome with emotion.  I remember when I was younger, picturing what I wanted--writing a list of things most important to the least.  On the top of that list was being married to a good man, and the next one was being a mother to a lot of kids.  I know when I wrote that list, I had no idea what marriage would be like, and knew even less what motherhood would be like.  I was so naive, back then.  But I'm no longer naive.  Marriage and motherhood can be incredibly hard, and most of the time I'm so caught up in the tantrums of our children, what I'm making for dinner, or the never-ending laundry piles, or the constant compromise and teamwork that marriage requires, that I forget to step back and peek into our windows.  Right now, I am living my own dream, with you being the good man you are, and these four incredibly beautiful, amazing children.  So yes, I am happy."

He nodded and sat quietly, soaking in the words I had spoken.   Then came the next question.

"Will you still love me in 10 years?"  This was another that I took time to consider.  It wasn't because I wondered whether or not I would still love him, because I easily knew the answer to that.  I was taking time to remember why I love him now, and how there could not be doubt of the knowledge of my love for him continuing through my life, well past 10 more years.

Memories of us flashed through my mind.  There were so many--of us at our best moments, and of us at our worst--but one was more vivid than all of the others.

5 weeks ago, I was in the middle of the most painful labor I had ever experienced.  I had been dilated to a 9 for four hours, but the baby would not drop down into the birth canal because my water hadn't broken yet and was so big that the baby couldn't move past it.  My midwife was concerned--if they broke my water and the baby's head came down first, I was okay.  But if the umbilical cord came first, I would immediately have an emergency C section.  So they waited, and adjusted my positions, hoping it would help either move the baby or break the water.

In the meantime I could feel every contraction, and my back was in such excruciating pain that there were moments I couldn't focus on anything else except the blackness of it.  I cried and tried to breathe, and visualize the baby moving down, but each time the contraction started up again, the blackness returned.  I felt like I would lose my mind to the pain, and honestly came to the point where I was convinced I would die within it.  The only thing that brought me back from the dark that threatened to consume me was the feeling of Ben's hand gripping mine, and the sound of his voice:

"Okay, here's another one....this one is really big, but you're almost at the top of it....okay, you're at the top, you'll start to go down soon.....breathe, keep breathing, you can do this.....okay!  You did it, you're going back down're almost did it.  (a few moments later)  Alright, here comes another one--I know, I know, it's okay.....It's okay, you can do this, you can do this, keep breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth, okay you're climbing to the top......"

He could not take the pain from me, but he was there inside of it, with me.  I focused on his voice and his hand, and fought the waves of blackness.

As I thought of this memory, it was symbolic to me of our 12 years together--through all of the mountains we have had to climb, we have been each other's constant.  Our voices offering laughter until we cried, words of love and support, sometimes frustration, but continuing to see the best in each other. Our hands gripping tightly, holding on as we faced some of our best accomplishments and biggest demons.  Together we have been the one temporal thing that has stayed the same through the darkness and the light.

I tried to picture replacing his voice with another's, his hand with someone else's, and could not do it.  I knew I loved him now, more than I ever had, and that in 10 years my love for him would hold another decade of memories and depth.

"Yes, of course I will love you in 10 years.  You are not only what I hoped to find, you are more.  I love you, Ben."  

"I love you, too," he replied.

We stared for a few minutes at the newest miracle we had created together, watching her tiny chest rise and fall.  With God as our guide, we had come through another year.

And I knew we would continue through many more.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Claire Edith Strader
Born 11/17/14 at 4:08 pm, 8lbs even, 21 inches

Birth story to follow, for now here are
pictures from Claire's first 24 hours.

We love you, baby girl!  Happy Birth Day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Water balloons.

(What my pregnancy feet look like at 9 am, and then at 9 pm.) 

Every morning when I wake up, I have little to no use of my right hand.  The nights bring a continual loss of circulation in my fingers stretching all the way up to my elbow, and by the time I rise, my fingers are so stiff and swollen and in pain that I have no grip or ability to hold even a knife to butter toast for my children.

I can no longer style Leah's hair--which completely thwarts her plans to look as much like the Fancy Nancy book character as possible.  She cries as she begs for a bun or a braid, and I apologize that the best I can do right now is a haphazard ponytail, or to brush through it and clip in a flower or place a headband.  I allow her to work through her 5 year old emotion without feeling guilty, because I know I'm doing the best I can.  Some mornings I'm more patient with her emotions than others.

At breakfast, I gag down my liquid iron and wait the 30 minutes required before eating while I prepare a protein smoothie and toast for my kids.  I now allow them--once they're completely ready for school--to watch a morning show while they eat, because it diverts their attention to something aside from each other to bother and screech at.

I try to find something acceptable to wear in public, though I really don't care much what others think.  By "acceptable," my standards have lowered extremely, and the most I do is brush my teeth, put on my contacts, deoderant, and grab my sunglasses.  Because of the constant loss of circulation in my right hand, I save makeup-wearing days for Sunday.  And because showers cause severe swelling in my feet, I save showering for just before bedtime.

By this time, the iron has settled in, and my stomach lurches but I know the only way to get through it is to force down food to absorb it.  So I do.  And take some deep breaths to keep the food down.

Their backpacks are on and we figure out whose turn it is to pray, as we fold our arms.  Then we are out the door.

My morning routine used to be coming home with June after dropping off the older kids and letting her watch her favorite movie "Bolt," while I lay next to her on the couch.  But that has become a luxury now instead of routine, due to an increase in visits to the doctor or specialist.

This morning, I packed snacks and a drink as well as our ipad (in case of 3 yr old tantrum emergencies) and drove the 20 minutes with June to my consultation with the hematologist.  Usually we are quickly seen, but this morning the clock ticked loudly as the minutes dragged on.  June ate one snack after another--her string cheese, applesauce, crackers and fruit snacks--while she chatted with me and stared at those coming in an out of the waiting room while we stayed put.

I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, staring down at my feet which had begun to seriously swell during the 38 minutes we had been waiting.  I was feeling apprehensive about this appointment, nervous about the outcome of my current blood draw and iron count, because I had heard the results of them over the phone the day before, and gagging down the liquid iron twice a day had not seemed to make much difference.  I was disappointed at the outcome, because there had been days where the iron had made me so sick I had to make sure I was close to a bathroom for the majority of the morning.  I had changed my diet to include iron-rich foods instead of the carbs I adore so much.  I endured the weeks of stomach discomfort because of a purpose, and now it all seemed to have been for nothing.

I knew this would mean taking more extreme measures, and just the thought of the options discussed at a previous appointment made my forehead break out into a sweat and a wave of nausea overcome me.  I tried to distract my discouraged and nervous thoughts.

Looking up, I noticed a beautiful woman and her good-looking husband walk through the swinging glass doors.  June noticed her as well.  She checked in at the front desk, and they settled into a seat across from ours.  I guessed she was maybe 10 years older than me, wearing grey skinny jeans, a cute sweater, sparkling earrings, her makeup flawless.  She carried a soft, tan and white, chevron-patterned blanket and a large water bottle.  She wore a stylish grey hat that matched her jeans.

Underneath the hat, she was bald.

The hematologist I see works at the Cancer Institute, and the majority of those surrounding us in the waiting room were those who were in different stages of illness and treatment.  But there was something about this lovely woman, whose swollen cheeks from her medication did not match the rest of her thin body.  She did not carry the air of defeat so many others I watched seemed to.  

June continued to stare at her, and I wondered if she was going to blurt out something in 3-year-old fashion about her hair being gone, but instead she said loudly,

"Momma, that pretty lady is so very firsty,"  meaning thirsty, as she watched the woman take another drink from her pale pink water bottle.

The woman turned to us and smiled, waving at June.  June shyly tucked her head behind my arm, but lifted up a small hand to wave back to her.  She giggled as she hid, so I asked her what she thought of the pretty lady's earrings.

"Oh yes, I love hers earrings.  She's so fashion, Mom!"  And she peeked around my arm for another glance at her new friend, who continued to smile at us.  She asked June her name, and a few other questions, and June replied to them from behind my arm, peeking around and smiling as she answered.

Just then, the nurse opened the door and called my name.  I gathered up our belongings and reached for June's hand.  She shyly waved goodbye to the woman in the waiting room, and softly said, "Bye, friend," as we walked around the chairs.  I told her I hoped she would have a good day, and she waved goodbye to us.

The hematologist delivered the news I had been anticipating--iron infusions would begin in two weeks.  Because of a couple of seriously bad experiences with having my blood drawn, I have an extreme aversion to needles and especially IV's, and I gulped as I heard the appointments would take 30 minutes to an hour each time, depending on "how difficult it was to find a good vein."  I knew my veins are not ideal, and thoughts raced as to what "finding a good vein" might entail.

But the face of the woman in the waiting room came to my mind, and I remembered her reason for being there.  That could be me someday, waiting for the appointment to have a chemo infusion instead of iron, praying that the medicine that would make me so sick and exhausted would fight the enemy inside of my own body that was threatening to take my life.  Right now, my story is so much easier than hers.

This doesn't mean right now isn't hard, it is.  And it has been.  I have become a "bare minimum mom," one who yells across the house because the thought of walking on my water-ballooned swollen feet from the kitchen to the bedroom feels like too much of an effort, the one who has fallen behind on helping my kindergartner keep up with her extremely easy homework, because after lunch I am so desperate to lay down that I push quiet time and nap time as quickly as I can instead of taking that time with her.  Baths are skipped, clean laundry piles up, crumbs stay on the floors.  Our nights are a scheduled routine that doesn't leave much time for doing anything fun, and usually end with me laying between the girls on their bunkbed so their nightly shenanigans will end quicker.  I crave peace and quiet and rest, and feel like that's what has been motivating most of my actions and emotions lately.

Perspective is something that I continually search for in my life--not to invalidate my own struggles, but as a reminder to allow them, but not wallow in them.

I rushed from my appointment to pick up Leah from kindergarten, then walked into our home to get lunch ready.  I thought about the woman from the waiting room the entire time as I served strawberries, cheese and turkey to my girls.  I gingerly walked on swollen feet into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror.  The speckles on my forehead and around my eyes from the weird "pregnancy mask" that has shown up this time used to bother me.  Now I stared at those speckles and told myself they will fade soon enough, and to stop focusing so much on what doesn't matter, so I could use my energy to focus on what does.  I have hair that isn't falling out, and a body that is not at war with itself, but is instead giving everything it has (especially all of its iron) to grow a new life.

And that is a beautiful, miraculous gift.

This pregnancy is a season, and though it is wearing a times, and I have had to lean on others to do things I am normally capable of doing on my own, it is one I am strong enough to get through.  Water ballooned feet and all.