Wednesday, November 25, 2015

They Turn To Gold Before They Die: Seeing Death Through Autumn’s Lens

Below is my latest post for Peanut Butter & Grace.
I hope you have a very blessed Thanksgiving!
Please remember to say a prayer for all those 
experiencing loss or misfortune during this time of year.

***

“Mom, why are all the leaves turning gold?”

It was the end of October and my five-year old son and I were walking down our driveway, gathering an array of red, orange, and mostly yellow leaves. My son gently placed each leaf in a basket. We would later press the leaves between newspapers until they were dry, and then tape the leaves to our windows, in an attempt to bring autumn indoors.  {Read more...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Three Years After Deciding To Adopt Again

It's been three years now since we decided to add another child to our family through domestic infant adoption. We are still waiting for that child.

Three years is a long time.  A lot has happened to us in those three years. We have lost another baby through miscarriage in those three years.  My sons went from being toddlers to preschoolers to full grown little boys in those three years. My family has moved 500 miles from where we once were in those three years, and our life looks much different now than it did three years ago.  

This month, we will face another Thanksgiving Day, three years after the Thanksgiving Day when we announced to our family that we would be adopting again.  How excited they were!  Now, I can't remember the last time any of them have said anything to us about our adoption journey.  It's just me and my husband and two precious little boys waiting now;  it feels like everyone else has forgotten and moved on.

Three years ago, I was still what people like to call "of child-bearing age". Having a child at my age then was uncommon, but certainly not unheard of. Adoption agencies still accepted couples of our age.  Three years later now, many adoption agencies won't.  We are considered too old and are beyond the age when most people have children.  Having a baby now, even an adopted one, for many people, would just be considered strange.

Three years ago, I wanted to have a child who would be close in age to his or her brothers. I imagined them going to high school and college together.  Playing on sports teams together, sharing the same hobbies together. Now, they will be five years apart, maybe more, and those dreams are gone.

Three years ago, I really believed in adoption.  I believed that adoption was a calling placed on my heart and the heart of a birthmother, and that God would lead us to each other.  I believed that adoption agencies that called themselves "Christian" would live up to that name.  I believed that all birthmothers chose adoption because they wanted what was best for their babies. I believed adoption had God's hands all over it.  I still want to believe all of that, but it is getting harder.  

A year ago this month, I was frantically trying to gather the necessary documents to complete another home study. I felt the clock was ticking and I couldn't get the paperwork done fast enough.  After two years of waiting, I had convinced myself that the child we were meant to adopt would be coming to us just as soon as we could get the paperwork in order.  After all, we'd already been waiting to adopt again for two years, right?  God wouldn't make us wait much longer, right?

But just to be sure, in case God wasn't quite paying attention to our prayers, we decided to pay an adoption consulting firm to help us out.  And not just any adoption consulting firm, but one that had a reputation of placing babies within just a few months, sometimes weeks, of being home-study approved. They had great reviews, and other adoptive couples raved about how quickly they were matched.  We became excited and we sent in our check with the reassurance that we would likely be matched soon. Our wait would end before our third year was up.  We were sure of it.

But soon after, we were living the cliche'.  What seemed too good to be true really was, and there is always a catch. Although our consultant sent birthmother situations to us almost weekly, not once did we offer to show our profile. Baby after baby went to other waiting couples because we didn't want to let go of what we had come to believe adoption should be.  We lost one chance after another at having the baby we dreamed of because we stood on principle and did not want to (quite literally) buy into the system that had been created.     

Meanwhile, during this past year, our agency placed five babies.  Four of those babies were placed by birthmothers who wouldn't consider an adoptive family that had other children.  Only one birthmother even considered us, and she chose another family.  At the moment, our agency has approximately ten couples waiting for a baby.  Our odds are not good.

So here we are, three years and another home study update later.  Another October and November spent gathering documents, scheduling fingerprinting, requesting background checks, asking for references, completing physicals. We are doing the paperwork again, sending in our fees again, and waiting again. How much longer, only God knows.  The desire for another adopted child in our family is as strong as ever, even though the dream has changed.

It's hard to be excited about completing an adoption home study when it's the fourth time you've done so and you know that each year, your chances of being chosen get lower.  There will be no fanfare when we complete our home study update this month.  We will simply put it in a manila envelope and send it off, with another prayer.   God still sees us.  In that, I believe.

Were we living in another time, a time when babies available for domestic adoption were not a commodity in a supply-and-demand system, things would be different.  But these are the times we live in; this is the world we've created for ourselves.  A world where most of the babies who could be adopted instead go to heaven, and to be blessed with even one on earth is a miracle. 

  




Friday, November 6, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Adoption Month, Autumn & All Saints and Souls

Linking up with Kelly over at her blog and playing a little catch up with this Quick Takes...again.  Thought I'd just share some of the randomness of our past few weeks.   No drama, just life.

--1--

November is National Adoption Month!  Last year, I wrote a post about promoting adoption and you can find it here.  I am encouraged to see that more and more positive stories are being shared about adoption.  Just this past week, our state elected a new governor and he is the father of nine, including four adopted children. His story alone has reached thousands of people in our state. Let's hope more families that have been blessed by adoption will continue to show the beauty behind this loving decision.

--2--
Speaking of which, we are still waiting to be matched with a birthmother. Waiting, waiting, waiting.  It seems to be what I do best. We have nearly completed the paperwork to update our home study.  Again.  For the fourth time. It's very depressing, and seeing another year go by has been incredibly heartbreaking.  But, quitting has never been my specialty, so onward we go. Maybe this will be our year. Or maybe not.  I'm trying to be okay with either outcome, and I find some consolation in knowing that our loss each year has been another waiting family's joy.  In some ways, I hope that the waiting will someday be a testament to our adopted child of just how much we loved him or her before they even existed. That would certainly make all of this heartache worth it.

--3--
We had a beautiful autumn here, one of the prettiest that I can remember.  I also seem to recall saying that same thing last year!  A friend and I were walking today and reflecting on how unique it is to live in the middle of thousands of acres of wilderness.  Our little town and community is just a postage stamp in a sea of green, although this past month, it has been a sea of gold, as the oaks and hickories, poplars and maples turned to shades of yellow.



--4--
It was this sea of gold that my son noticed a few days ago, when he asked me "Mom, why aren't the trees green anymore?" I thought about it for a second and replied, "because the leaves are all dying."   It struck me at that moment, how, during this month that the church encourages us to remember and pray for the dead, God joins in and paints our landscape with death.  And yet, He makes it so breathtakingly beautiful in the process.  Surely, there is a lesson there for us.




--5--
We are back into the "Candy Season" now, which lasts pretty much until Lent, it seems, and John couldn't be happier.  He and his brother decided to be a pirate and his cat for Halloween, and they came back from trick-or-treating with a pirate's bounty!

--6--
For All Saint's Day, the boys were St. Joseph and St. John Bosco.   St. John Bosco was originally going to be St. Damien of Molokai, but when it came time to paint the leprosy on Joah's face, he would have nothing of it (imagine that!). Suggesting to him that I paint "boo boos" all over his face and hands was probably not my smartest parenting move.  John chose St. Joseph and was particularly tender with his Baby Jesus.  He wants a new baby brother or sister so badly, and it pulled my heartstrings seeing him be so affectionate with his little doll baby.




--7--
Lastly, we are remembering our own little family of saints this month.  Our three babies plus my grandparents are all buried on our family property, so for us, a visit to a cemetery each day this week in order to gain a plenary or partial indulgence has been pretty simple.  My children have grown up with these graves in their daily life, and I hope that in some way, it helps them see death as something not to be ignored, feared, or trivialized, but rather, a connection to the ones we love on the other side.  They need look no further than our own front yard to be reminded of their eternal destination.

Taking flowers and singing Happy Birthday
to our little Francis last month.

Have a great weekend and thank you, Kelly, for hosting another Quick Takes!



Sunday, November 1, 2015

Venus, Mars, and So Many Stars: What God’s Creation Teaches My Children

Happy All Saints' Day!

I would like to share with you this post that I wrote for the folks at Peanut Butter & Grace.  

***

Most mornings, just before sunrise, my two young boys have made a habit of crawling into bed with me after they hear their daddy leave for work.  One of each side of me, they call it their “cuddle time” and I admit, it is my favorite part of our day.  One chilly morning last September was no different.  However, that morning, instead of flopping over onto his belly as usual and falling back to sleep, my five-year old sat straight up, looked out the bedroom window, and asked, “Why is that star so bright?” His younger brother, never one to be left out, immediately responded by also sitting bolt upright in the bed, and I began to realize that my good night’s sleep was over.  Slowly opening my eyes, I squinted out our east-facing window and sure enough, there was something very bright shining through the maple leaves, high above the horizon.   I groggily sat up and clumsily reached for my glasses.  It was certainly something celestial, and it was certainly something we’d never before noticed outside our bedroom window. {Read more...}

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Hard Freeze Ahead

I cut down all the zinnias yesterday.   Before that, I gathered their seeds and they are stored away in the garden shed where, hopefully, they will not become a winter feast for hungry mice. I’ve never had mice eat my stored zinnia seeds, but then again, maybe I’ve never had desperate mice in my garden shed. Given a winter long enough and cold enough, I suspect mice would eat any kind of seed that they could find rather than choose starvation.

The zinnias were ready to be cut down, although a few were still putting forth their last ditch effort at blooming. For the late-migrating monarch and buckeye butterflies, these random flowers with their lingering bits of nectar are a merciful bonus provided to them by an almost completely diminished summer. This weekend, the temperatures will drop to near-freezing, and our first heavy frost will singe the petals of these last remaining flowers.  The butterflies will be put on warning and will, most likely, respond by moving further south. Those that refuse to heed this warning will be allowed to survive for a few weeks longer, until the first hard freeze kills all the remaining belligerent blossoms. There will be no mercy for the butterflies then. 

With that first frost this weekend will also come the opening day of our first deer (gun) season, and the zinnias had to go because they were growing in my line of sight.  Before Monday arrives, the deer trail that comes out of the woods and that winds its way along my zinnias will, with any luck, serve up meat for our family. The timing of the colder weather, should we harvest a deer, could not be better.  The time lost to the butterflies will be appreciated by many hunters this weekend. 

As I sit quietly this weekend, watching the deer trail and waiting, the time will pass slowly, and my mind will wander.  As they have all week, I suspect my thoughts will turn again and again towards two dear friends, both of whom are fighting illnesses complicated by pneumonia, and both of whom have situations that look grave.  I visited one of them yesterday, a dear ninety-six year-old woman, and when I walked into her hospital room, I found her awake and alert and clutching her rosary.  I stroked her head and she kept saying that she wanted to go home.  She was unable to eat; each bit of food and even liquids threatened her life by causing her to aspirate.  She begged for a glass of water but we could not give it to her.  Her doctor explained to her that she needed a feeding tube, and she started to weep.  She turned to her friend who was standing across from me and asked, “What should I do?” and her friend’s response was, “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.” 

The other friend, who lies in a hospital ICU located hundreds of miles from my home, was diagnosed with cancer twelve years ago and has been living, as he will tell you, on borrowed time ever since.  In those twelve years, he has had good days and bad days and days when it looked like his time may be up. But each time it looked like his time was up, he rebounded, and his summertime continued.  However, a week ago, he took a turn for the worse, and his situation continues to be precarious.  He is a fallen-away Catholic with a saint of a wife. Friends and family have rallied around her at this time, but only some of them understand what is truly at stake.  But she knows. She knows that the first frost is behind him, and the hard freeze is next, and that even for zinnias and butterflies, hungry mice and unsuspecting deer, all mercy, at some point, comes to an end. 




  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sand In My Shoes

Years ago, when I was still in school, I saw a poster hanging on a classroom wall.  On it was a picturesque image of a snow-capped mountain against a clear blue sky, with a footpath in the foreground, leading towards the mountain. Under this beautiful image was this caption:

"It's not the mountain ahead that makes you tired, 
but the grain of sand in your shoe."  

For some reason, that image and caption have stuck with me all these years.  And lately, I feel like I have a shoe full of sand.


This past week was going to be one of lots of celebrating in our home.  As I try to continue incorporating  liturgical living into our family life, I became excited at the prospect of this past week's calendar.  We had four very special church feast days coming up, and I intended to make each one of them a little extra special for my family. Not only would we be celebrating angels, but we'd also be remembering two of my very favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Jerome. In addition, we would remember our little one in heaven this week, Francis Gabriel, as we marked the feast of St. Gabriel and the upcoming feast of St. Francis of Assisi. 

I had it all planned out.  On Tuesday, I'd thaw out some of the blackberries we picked in July and we'd have blackberry sauce served over angel food cake for the Feast of the Archangels. I'd also make a trip to the florist to buy a lovely bouquet of flowers to put on our little  Francis Gabriel's grave.  On Wednesday, one of my favorite saints, St. Jerome, would be celebrated.  I'd print off coloring pages of this saint for our boys, and we'd color them together and learn more about this wonderful saint.  On Thursday, my husband and I could finish up the novena to St. Therese of Lisieux together, and the boys and I would pick some wildflowers to put next to her statue on the mantle.  Friday would be special because it would be the Feast of the Guardian Angels.  We'd make an exception to our "no dessert on Fridays" rule and eat the rest of our angel food cake, served with extra whipped cream, while we all snuggled on the sofa watching a movie, and of course, as we do every night, say the Angel of God prayer as a family before bedtime, only this time, with extra emphasis.   

Yes, I had it all planned out.  It was going to be a week filled with flowers, food, and faith.  Our little domestic church was going to thrive this week, and the saints and angels in heaven would smile at us.  I felt holier just thinking about it.

But by Monday afternoon, my son had started to run a fever.  By midnight, he was very ill, and by the wee hours of Tuesday morning, it was obvious that he had more than a 24-hour stomach bug.  The blackberry sauce and angel food cake were replaced with ice chips and popsicles, none of which he could keep down.  Instead of running to the florist for flowers on Wednesday, I was running with him to the bathroom.  St. Jerome got little more than a casual mention during bedtime prayers, and the grave of Francis Gabriel went unadorned.  I lost count of which day of my novena to St. Therese I was on, and had to rush outside in-between rain showers to find a few colorful leaves to place next to her statue, instead of the petite bouquet I'd imagined picking.

By Thursday, my son still would barely eat, wanted only to lie on the sofa and still had a low fever.  I was becoming irritable after the nights of intermittent sleep due to a sick child, combined with being confined to the house for four days, not to mention day after day of cold rain and gray skies that dominated our week.  I grumbled when I had to cancel a long-awaited appointment; I complained about the rainy weather, and I snapped at my husband for every little transgression.  The angel food cake that I had prepared remained in the refrigerator untouched.  For various reasons, everyone had lost their appetite.

By Friday night, my son was feeling better and back to his feisty self, antagonizing his brother and asking me for apple juice and potato chips, but the week had taken its toll on me and I felt like a failure.  How could I expect St. Therese to intercede for me when I couldn't even remember to finish her novena? How were my husband and I going to grow closer in prayer when we kept crawling into bed too tired to even mention it?  How would my children know about their siblings and the other saints in heaven if I didn't take the time to remember them in a special way myself? All of my best intentions that I'd had at the beginning of the week had crashed and burned.

And then, for some reason, I remembered that poster, and I began to realize that the path to holiness that I'd mapped out so precisely for myself and my family this past week was being sabotaged by a grain of sand that had fallen into my shoe.

The week that was is over now.  The novena has ended and the feasts of the angels and those great saints will not come again for another year.  For the most part, my family and I missed all of it.   Instead of celebrating feast days with food and fun and flowers, we were simply bearing with each other.  For one week, my home became my cloister, my son's illness became my penance, and my husband's patience became my model.  It was my own Little Way and a good reminder that celebrating the saints does not make me one.   The only way to become a saint is to climb the mountain with a grain of sand in my shoe.


Angel food cake parfaits. A bit late. Still good.









Saturday, September 19, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Things I Love About September

Linking up with Kelly over at her blog for another round of Quick Takes. Thanks, Kelly!

Since I was in a bit of a funk during my last QT, this time I decided to keep it light and share a few of my favorite things about this month.  September is not my favorite month of the year (because nothing beats May and October) but it is definitely in the top five.  This particular year, the September weather here has been beyond beautiful, with day after day of sun and low humidity and cool nights. All of which are pretty rare when you live in southern Appalachia, so I'll take it! The cloudy, damp, dark days of winter will be here too soon. So, in no particular order, here are some of the things in my proverbial backyard that I love most about this month.

--1--
Apples
It's apple harvest season and we are having a very, dare I say, fruitful year. All the apple trees in these parts are loaded and we, along with the deer and squirrels, are enjoying their bounty.  Since apples tend to produce only every couple of years, we're trying to stock up as much as we can for now.  So far, I've frozen apples, dried apples, and am considering canning some next.  We've been feasting on fried apples, apple cake, apple pancakes and applesauce. If you haven't visited your local orchard, do it soon.  They're never as good as they are right now.



--2--
The River
September (and October) are also usually very dry months around here.  That means the river waters get low and clear.  Combine that with the cool nights that keep the water temperatures down, and the river fishing starts to get good!  This photograph is one of my favorite spots along the river.  I spent many a September as a teenager wading the shallows of this spot and catching smallmouth bass. Now, I just love to sit on the rocks and watch my son splash in the puddles. Fishing can wait until he's a bit older.



--3--
Warm Season Grasses
When we lived in Missouri, I loved seeing the tall native prairie grasses this time of year.  Unlike the "cool season grasses", which are what most people have growing in their yard, the "warm season grasses" mature and bloom late in the summer, during the warm months.  They are very tolerant to drought and also make excellent wildlife habitat.  Plus, I think they are just gorgeous. The big bluestem, in particular, is always dramatic once it reaches its peak height of five or six feet in September.  Before all of the prairie region of the midwest was converted to cropland and fescue, these grasses once dominated, and it is said that a man riding a horse could not see over the top of them.  How I would've loved to have seen that!  This photo is a patch of native prairie grass that we established in our backyard when we lived in Missouri.  Every September, we'd find this patch of grass filled with migrating grosbeaks, buntings, wrens and finches.  It really came alive and the golden hues in the evening twilight were more beautiful to me than any patch of manicured lawn.  I really miss it.



--4--
Fall Wildflowers
This is also the time of year when the woods and fields are full of goldenrods, boneset, ironweed, joe-pye-weed, sunflowers, and asters.   I once tried to learn the names of the various asters that grow in our area, but I found it much too daunting. There are dozens of species, and I have a great admiration for botanists who can tell them apart. Like most people, however, I am happy to simply appreciate their delicate beauty and leave identification to the experts. Goldenrods are also some of my favorite wildflowers.  It's too bad goldenrod gets such a bad rap and blamed for seasonal allergies, because the pollen from these striking yellow flowers is not usually the culprit for everyone's sneezing. Instead, you can blame a lot of that on ragweed, which is prolific this time of year and has pollen that is transported by the wind, not by bees, as goldenrod pollen is.





--5--
Cool Mornings
I mentioned the cool nights but would be amiss to not add that the cool mornings of September are just as wonderful.   Finally, after three months of miserable sweating during my morning runs, I can enjoy a run that doesn't leave me looking like I just stepped out of the shower!   Add to that the fact that the morning sun is now lower in the sky and just starting to peek through the treetops as I do my warm-up, and you couldn't ask for a better month to do a little outdoor morning exercise.
Venus shining brightly in the east just before sunrise.


--6--
Greens
Finally, with the cooler weather, we can also grow things like lettuce and greens again!  Our fall garden isn't much, but if I have a bed of greens and lettuce, I really don't need much more.  I know a lot of folks love growing tomatoes, but for this gal, nothing beats some spinach and kale. If I could find a place where I could grow that year-round, I would seriously have to consider living there.



--7--
The End of Summer
I don't love winter, but I really don't love summer.   Maybe it is because I spent so many summers working in the woods and being a pin cushion for every critter that bites or stings.  Maybe it is because I don't like to sweat (who does?).  But mostly, I think it is because the long days of summer always leave me feeling exhausted.  As September comes to an end, I almost feel like I can take a sigh of relief.  The gardening is nearly over, soon the grass will not need to be mowed, and the kids are actually starting to fall asleep at their regular bedtime hour now that the nights are longer and they aren't being tempted by evening sunlight beaming through their window.  September feels like an in-between time during which we have a chance to gather our thoughts and shake off the dust from what is often a weary summer. The period of rest is ahead, and September reminds us of that ever so gently.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Lesson From A Rattlesnake


A couple of weeks ago, my son almost stepped on this rattlesnake. 


We were on a trail that I have hiked probably a hundred times.  And never during any of those times have I ever encountered a poisonous snake, let alone a rattlesnake.  Rattlesnakes here are rare, so rare that they have been considered for state listing status.   So, to have such a close call with one took me completely by surprise.  To see my son’s boot land within a couple of inches of it took my breath away. 

Thankfully, like most snakes, this one relied on its camouflage to protect it and it did not flinch when my son walked so closely to it.   After emphasizing to my son the danger the snake presented, and the respect that such danger demanded, we gingerly walked away from it and continued on our hike.  It had been a close call.

Since that moment, I have replayed the scene of that snake and my son’s foot landing so closely to it over and over in my head.  I know that I should have been in the lead.  We had started with me in the lead, but I had caved to my son’s incessant begging to let him walk in front.  He had only been in front for a few feet before he nearly stepped on the rattlesnake.   Had he stepped on it and been bitten, I would’ve never forgiven myself.   I should have been in front.

Like so many relationships in life, the parent-child relationship is a constant balancing of give and take.  It’s a one shot deal, raising kids, and I struggle daily with the boundaries needed in order to hopefully get it right.  “We need more free-range children” was a headline I saw to a story published this past week, and while I tend to agree with the premise, there is little advice available regarding how to achieve that without crossing the line between responsible and what many consider irresponsible parenting. 

My children have very few inhibitions.  They are adventurous, confident, brave children.  These are traits that I believe will serve them well one day, but I also worry that their strong-willed, fearless natures may also lead them astray. Once, I found them completely out of my sight, at the bottom of the hill, playing in the creek that they knew was there.  They had been told many times to never go to the creek alone, yet they couldn’t resist the lure of the small waterfall that they knew was there. When I found them, they were knee-deep in water, sliding joyfully down the rocks with no thought whatsoever of the fear and concern they’d caused in their dear mother.  Like most children, mine are constantly pushing the boundaries that their father and I put in place.

Of course, it’s not just children who like to push against boundaries.  It seems like lately, we as a society have been choosing to ignore or push against a lot of boundaries; boundaries that have been in place for millennia and that are part of the natural law, which of course, is also God’s law.  Most of the time, we get away with it with few consequences.  Like the rattlesnake in the leaves, the consequences remain well hidden, waiting only for us to get a little closer, and a little closer. In the meantime, we rejoice in the moment that we are splashing in the creek just above the waterfall, or skipping down the forest trail paying no heed to what lies ahead.

God is so merciful to us and our lives are riddled with dozens of second chances that He gives us every day.  Our guardian angels stand with us, always at the ready.  But even they can only do so much.  Like my son, if we are persistent enough, incessant enough, and determined to not let the wiser one lead, then I wonder if perhaps even our guardian angels and the Lord Himself might feel compelled to step aside.  Refusing to be obedient, we let our free will dominate and soon, we find ourselves walking with our guardians behind us, where they most likely cringe with every step we take.

My son had no idea of the danger he was in when he bounced down the trail.  He knew I was close by, within arms reach, and for him, that was close enough.   But he only thought it was close enough because he could not see what I could see.  He saw only the trail in front of him, beckoning him in the direction that he wanted to go, and he was in a hurry to go down it.  He did not see the danger lying on the trail’s edge, hidden, waiting.

It was a good lesson for the two of us.  When he heard me suddenly and unexpectedly shout “Stop!  Don’t move!”, he immediately responded to the authority and concern that he could hear in my voice.  As I focused his attention upon the rattlesnake that he had completely overlooked, he was genuinely surprised by his own carelessness.  Once he could see the danger for himself, and how closely he’d come to it, he finally understood why I had been telling him repeatedly that he should let me lead and at last, he obediently walked behind me down the rest of the trail.  

And as we walked along, I understood again how important it is that some boundaries not be relaxed, and how I must continue to encourage my children to stay within them, even when it would be so much easier to just let them walk in front.  And I thought about how, as God’s children, we like to push against His boundaries, so sure of ourselves and our own wisdom. Like my son, we want to keep God within arms reach, but we really do not like letting Him lead.  We see the trail in front of us that goes in the direction we want to go, but we do not always see what lies beside it.  As a result, we are all children in so many ways, walking among rattlesnakes.   

Saturday, September 12, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Ups and Downs


After a month already passing (wow, that was fast!) since I did my last quick takes, I thought it was time for another round.  I apologize in advance, however, if this one is a bit of a downer.  Not that my problems are huge because they aren't, but it has been one of those weeks, if you know what I mean. Feel free to click away now if you are looking for something a little more uplifting.  I won't blame you a bit!

--1--
Blogging has been taking a bit of a hiatus here as we slowly move out of summer. Any spare time in the past month went mostly towards digging potatoes, canning tomatoes and green beans and planting our fall garden.  Then, just as things began to slow down, I got hit with a bad case of food poisoning last week.  We hardly ever eat out, but I caved last Sunday and took the easy way out.  Man, did I pay for that decision. Thankfully, nobody ate the same meal that I ordered, and everyone else in the family was fine.  I'm thankful, too, for a husband who was at home (and not on a business trip) and able to pick up the pieces while I was out of commission for a few days. If there was a silver lining to this nasty episode, it was that I had him for backup. I think that is the last time I will eat fast food for a very long time.  It's never worth it.



--2--
Part of our new end-of-summer routine has included Joah starting preschool two days a week now and continuing with homeschooling for John.  John just finished up his pre-reading workbook today and was so proud of his certificate!  It took him 12 weeks to complete the workbook and he has done so well.  He is ready to start reading his first beginner book now.  He is growing up so fast, and I'm so glad I still get to spend my days with him rather than watching him go away to school every morning.  That day will come soon enough.



--3--
However, there is one part of homeschooling that I was completely unprepared for and that is the disapproval that so many people have towards homeschoolers. I've really had to grow another layer of skin this past month, and my tongue is getting numb from biting it. I had no idea so many people are against homeschooling! Most of the reactions have been elephant-in-the-room silence, but a few have been snide remarks and passive-aggressive comments.  It hurts considering this has been coming from close friends and family who I thought knew us well enough to trust our parenting decisions. Anyhow, I'm sure those of you reading this and who are experienced homeschoolers are not surprised, but for anyone who still may be considering it, just be ready for some backlash. Most of the time, I don't try to justify our decision.  I'm hoping that time will tell the tale and perhaps some of them will come around.  Thankfully, I've become quite accustomed to being the odd-duck and so this is not unfamiliar territory.

--4--
We got another potential adoption situation this past week, too.  And again, it slipped right through our fingers.  Not because we failed to respond.   We just failed to respond fast enough.   Five hours after we became aware of the situation and were asked if we wanted to present our profile to the birthmother, we were told by the agency that they were not taking any new profiles.  Five hours! That's how competitive the domestic adoption arena is, folks.  There were so many waiting families that responded to this one birthmother situation that within a few hours, no other families were being considered.  It is all done on a first come-first serve basis.  My husband and I didn't even have time to discuss the situation before our window closed.  This has happened to us more than once now.  And these are not perfect situations.  These are situations that have already been passed over by other waiting families and are presented to couples like my husband and I who are open to special needs, etc.  And even then, these babies are wanted by so many...desperately.   Of course, that's a good thing.   It's just hard to wait so long and miss even having a chance by a few hours.  Infant adoption should never have turned into such a competitive and expensive business in our country, but it has.

--5--
As time continues to pass by with no adoption possibilities playing out, I find myself often wondering if we should just throw in the towel.  Our home study will expire in three months, and this will be the third time it has done so.   During those three years, we've never even come close to being considered.  Part of that is our own fault, because we are not willing to adopt at any cost and do have certain ethical boundaries we do not want to cross.  Part of it is because we listed with agencies that do not promise birthmothers the moon, so to speak. And part of it is because of our age now, which certainly is not working to our advantage.  Our boys still ask often about when are they going to have a new baby sister or brother and now I tell them it may not happen, and that not everyone who wants a baby gets one. It breaks my heart each time. We have been so ready for so long.

--6--
On a lighter note, we celebrated the Blessed Mother's birthday this past week.  I made some cupcakes using this recipe, which I love because it is easy and the cupcakes are firm and not too crumbly, which is important when you have kids who insist on walking around while eating.  To keep it even simpler, I just dusted the cupcakes with powdered sugar and stuck a candle in each one.  The boys loved them! Joah called them sweet muffins. I also made frybread for supper for a special treat, as a nod to our Lady of Guadalupe.  A little honey on some frybread will bring out the happy in anyone, and I hope Our Lady smiled as she watched us.



--7--
That's about it from here.  One high point of this past week was discovering that a couple of photographs I submitted to a local photography contest made it to the finals.  They announced the winners last weekend and even though I wasn't one of them (not that I should have been...some of the other photos submitted were much better!), it was exciting to at least be considered.  Below are my two photos that made it to the finals.  One was of John when we went hiking this past spring, and the other is a very rare species of snail found in the forest here.  I hope the photos inspire you to get outside this weekend and enjoy what I hope for most of us is some beautiful early autumn weather!






Have a wonderful weekend, and don't forget to visit Kelly at her blog for more Quick Takes!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Firefighter

Today, there is a memorial being held for three wildland firefighters who were killed in the line of duty on August 19.   For two decades, I participated in the wildland firefighting scene, so it always tugs at my heart when I hear of these kinds of events.  I was never in a situation like these three firefighters found themselves in, and I thank God often for that.  I also thank God for giving me the opportunity to get to know so many of these great men and women, and allowing me to learn from and work side-by-side with them.  It is an amazing job done by some amazing people.  I wrote this story about one of them, but it could also be a story about so many more of them.  Please say a prayer for all those who are being affected by the wildfires that are still marching across the west, especially those who have lost their homes, friends, or loved ones.  May our good Lord be with them, and may the rains come soon.

*******

Being a wildland firefighter is in his blood.  From the day he fought his first fire, when he was barely a teenager, he was hooked.  Watching the flames lick at his bootheels had stirred his blood.  Feeling the wind suddenly shift from his face to the back of his neck, knowing that such a shift could signal an impending “blowup”, sent adrenaline coursing through his veins.  The smell of the smoke, the feel of the rake in his hands, even the gasping for breath as he carried forty pounds of water on his back to the top of a mountain, all of it made him feel like he had found the purpose for which he was created.  As a young man, he quickly learned that wildland fire is both manageable and unmanageable, predictable and unpredictable, life-giving and life-destroying.  Now, forty years later, he is still being drawn to this great paradox.

For some, the study of fire science is a life-long profession filled with charts and graphs and research into fuel types, meteorology, climate, and landscapes.  For him, understanding fire behavior is a sixth-sense.   His ability to “feel a fire” is uncanny and a God-given gift possessed by only a few.  He has only to step outside to know if the air carries with it the promise of a “good burn” or the denial of yet another “fire day”.  He has only to crush the leaves, grass, or pine needles in his palm to know if the fire will carry across the landscape unencumbered and unchecked, or if it will allow some level of control, or perhaps, not be enticed to burn at all.  He was made for being around fire and he knows it. 

The old wildland firefighter joke, “If they weren’t putting them out, they’d be setting them,” isn’t far from the truth.  On a good burn day, he is restless, wanting either to be dispatched to a fire that needs to be brought under control, or to be asked to assist with a fire that needs to be started (a controlled burn).   Either one will do.

In the beginning, when he was young, there were no control burns. During his childhood, he, along with millions of other schoolchildren, watched the Smokey Bear filmstrips and, like so many others, had been convinced that fire in the forest is an aberration.  So, his early days of firefighting were spent doing only fire suppression.  Believing the Smokey Bear message whole-heartedly, he and his comrades would attack any wildfire with a strong sense of mission and vigilantism.  He proved his value on the fireline during those early days, and was soon considered one of the best.  Years later, as forest ecologists began to understand that fire is an essential ingredient in maintaining the health and diversity of many ecosystems, the need for men and women with his fire skills and sixth sense became even greater. 

And so, in order to help meet this need, he began to train others.  He taught them in the classroom about the fire triangle, and he emphasized that fire is both friend and foe.  He would lead his young crews to a fire on a mountainside, walk with them up the hills, wait to see who fell behind, who loved it, who hated it, who wanted to run, and who faced it with respect but not fear.  He would guide his crews through the thick smoke, pointing out the standing dead trees along the fireline that proved more of a real threat to any of them than the flames ever would.  Hazard trees, also known as widow-makers, he called these trees, and sadly, more than a few firefighters had become victims to them.  He drilled them on the Ten Standard Firefighting Orders, and he watched for those in his crew who possessed the same sixth-sense about fire that he had been gifted.  Those, he would pull aside, and encourage and in time, those would be the ones he would mentor and prepare for leading others, as he had been. 

For decades, his life has revolved around fire.  Each spring and fall has been filled with watching fires burn through the Appalachian forests, many of them controlled burns, many more arson.  Once the humidity climbs in the east and fires will no longer burn late into the spring, he turns his focus to the west.  He packs one half of his “red bag” with the essentials…toothbrush, comb, two sets of Nomex shirts and pants, a few changes of underclothes, toilet paper, beef jerky and chewing tobacco.  The other half of the bag, he fills with his gear… tent, sleeping bag, helmet, radio, water bottles and the required fire shelter that is meant to be used only as a last resort to protect him from the flames should something go terribly wrong and his sixth sense fail him.   Packed and ready to respond within hours, he waits for the request from dispatch that will send him into the frontlines of another western fire season.

When I last spoke with him, it was early springtime.  He had heard I was back in Kentucky and did I want to go burn the woods, for old times’ sake?   He was restless, it had been a long winter, a wet winter, and he was longing to get out and smell some smoke.  I understood.  It had been too long for me as well.  We’ll take my boys, I said, and my father, and he loved that idea.  If only your grandfather was here as well, he’d said.  And I agreed.  My grandfather, the one who’d started it all.  He’d had the same sixth sense and decades earlier, he’d recognized it in this firefighter who later, had trained me. 

So, one sunny day last April, we lit a match and my father and my sons and I watched as this firefighter’s sixth sense was awaken from a winter of dormancy.  Gradually, the flames began to spread and the firefighter smiled.  It’ll burn, he said.   It’ll burn!   We grabbed our drip torches and walked back and forth, spreading a thread of fire behind us. My sons stood back with their grandfather, watching with excitement and awe as I had done years ago with my grandfather.  In a few minutes, the small one-acre plot we’d burned around my house was only smoldering.  The fire was over, and for me, it was enough.  I’d been transported back to my days on the fireline, and I’d enjoyed the visit to my past, but for me, it was just that, my past.  Now, as we watched the smoke slowly diminish, I took off my gloves, and my thoughts turned towards what to make for supper. 

But for him, it was only the beginning.  I didn’t hear from him again after that.  A few weeks after we’d burned my backyard, spring fire season in the Appalachians was again underway and he was off to do his part.   And then spring became summer, and the west heated up, and another western fire season that they are calling “unprecedented” is underway.   The last I heard, he was hoping for a call to go to Alaska.  No doubt, he got his wish.  No doubt, he is out there now, somewhere in the smoke, telling one of the hundreds of firefighting stories he always carries with him, and spitting tobacco juice into the flames.




Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mary, Take The Wheel

This past Saturday, the Feast of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, marked the anniversary of our son John’s baptism.  I am still amazed at the many ways God and our Blessed Mother have made their presence known to us through our ongoing journey to build our family. There was certainly no plan to have John baptized on that Marian feast day, but that’s how it turned out.  Our parish priest always did baptisms on Sunday after Mass and that particular year, August 15, 2010, this feast day just “happened” to fall on a Sunday, three weeks after I gave birth.  In hindsight, it seems very providential, but after the bumpy crossing we had made in order to become parents, not at all coincidental.

I used to know a lot about parenting but then, as the old joke goes, I became one.  There once was a time when I had answers for everyone else’s parenting issues.  Today, having parented for five years, I have no answers.   I don’t even have many theories.  All I know for certain is that parenting is the hardest, most challenging job I have ever faced and in spite of what everyone has said, no, it is not getting easier.  Instead, one challenge seems to be replaced by another.

It has taken me a while to accept this truth…that parenting does not always get easier.  The level of sacrifice, patience, and consistency required of me has been way outside of my comfort zone.  I’ve had to mature emotionally and spiritually by leaps and bounds over the past five years, and I have a long ways to go.  I spent too many years (before children) imagining the kind children I would someday have (or wanted to have) instead of simply being open to what I may (or may not) be given.  My children would be my idols. Perfect versions of a “mini-me”.   My, oh my, did I have it all wrong. 

Last month, my husband and I spoke with a child behavioral therapist.  We want to improve our parenting techniques.  We are admitting that we do not have all the answers and need help.  Our children are thriving; they are happy, affectionate, adventurous little boys.  But there are also too many days when we struggle to manage more extreme sides of their behavior.  It takes a toll on them and on us.

In a few weeks, we begin Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).  I never imagined ever having to go down this road.  I never imagined being a mother who would not have all the answers to her own parenting questions.  But I also did not understand that part of being a parent means practicing humility and swallowing my pride and knowing when to reach out for a little more support and help.

Our therapist is encouraging and believes that time will resolve most of our concerns.  As she put it, “Most people have children who are like dandelions; they are easy to care for and require little extra effort.  But some people have children who are more like orchids, and not just anybody can raise an orchid.”   All my life, I pictured myself raising dandelions but instead, I seem to have been given orchids.  These fragile, delicate plants that are my children have the potential to bloom into a radiant inflorescence if only I can build the proper greenhouse.

This past Saturday, we took another step toward building that greenhouse.  We have found earthly help but we rely even more on the divine.  On the fifth anniversary of my son’s baptism, we decided to formally consecrate all our children to the Blessed Mother.  It was something I’d contemplated for a long time but never had done. Now, the time just seemed right.  Now, finally, I understand. I cannot do this alone. I need all the parenting help that I can get, especially from my Heavenly Mother.  I need you, Mary, to take the wheel.   Together, let’s raise some beautiful orchids for God’s garden.








Friday, July 31, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Goodbye July

--1--
First, thank you to everyone who took the time this month to read the story of our crossing over into parenthood. I suppose in some ways, it read like a fairy tale, which was a big reason why I debated whether or not I should share it.  Of course, none of us gets to live a fairy tale and for every prayer answered the way I want it to be, there are many more prayers that simply leave me wondering if I am even heard.  For example, this photo that I used in the story?

It was taken the day we buried our last baby, in March of 2013.  We had just had the burial and were walking up the hill when I spotted this rainbow through the trees. I took the picture because I wanted to remember that moment.  My heart was filled with sadness at losing the future I'd envisioned having with that child, but looking up and seeing this symbol of hope reminded me that what I have lost in this world will be gained in the next.  That is what I hope and pray for most.



--2--

Prayers that yield happy endings are cherished but they are also rare.  I suppose most of my prayers do little more than lead me towards acceptance, and I got a good reminder of that this past week.  I was participating in the Sts. Anne and Joachim novena, both saints who are very dear to me. Our petition was (and always is) for God to bless us with another child.  Imagine what I thought when, four days into the novena, an adoption situation came up that sounded perfect and not only that, but the birthmother's name was Anne.  I just knew it was a sign.  But while we were in the process of getting our profile to her, we got word that she'd already been matched.  It had only been a couple of days but in those two days, I'd let my mind run wild with the idea of having a real adoption possibility in the works.  Now, we are back to waiting again with no prospects.  So no, I am not a big believer in prayer always changing things, but prayer does change me.  Even though this situation fell through for us, Tom and I had an important change of heart regarding what we'd be willing to accept in regards to the kind of adoption situation we'd consider, and perhaps that was the best thing to come out of our latest novena. Perhaps that was the answer to those particular prayers.

--3--
And so life goes on, and we've been trying to make the most of it.   I'm proud to say that the boys took first prize again in our local Fourth of July Children's Parade this month.  This year, we went with the theme "Keep America Beautiful" and decorated their wagon with recyclable or reusable materials. Inside the wagon, we placed sorted recyclables and encouraged people to "reduce, reuse, recycle".  I think Pope Francis would be pleased with our environment-friendly theme!



We've also been hanging out a lot at the local splash pad.  The Hillbilly Shower as my husband (who is not from Kentucky) likes to call it.  Next time, maybe I'll bring a bar of soap.


--4--
We kept John's birthday party small this year, just us and the grandparents. How did I end up with a five-year old?  More importantly, how did I end up with a five-year old who prefers grilled salmon for a birthday dinner?   We're raising a pretty odd kid, I think.  Apple, meet tree.  He also requested his usual cake...chocolate with chocolate frosting, same as last year.  He may be an odd duck, but at least he's consistent.  We wanted to take him and his brother swimming on his birthday, but we had yet another rainy day here, so he opted for seeing his first theater movie instead.  It was a big hit, but I think he loved the popcorn more than the movie!  Can't say that I blame him.




A few days after John's birthday, we celebrated the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim.  St. Joachim is Joah's patron saint (you can read about how we chose Joah's name here) and so he got to have some fun and extra treats on that day. For once, we had a sunny day on his feast day, so we finally got to go swimming and then came home to feast on Joah's special request...whoopie pies!



--5--



It's also harvest time around here.  The deer were kind enough to leave a little behind in our garden for our family.  We're enjoying sweet corn (a variety called "Ambrosia" and it lives up to its name) and lots of green beans.  Okra and tomatoes, plenty of basil (which the deer do not touch, strangely) and lovely sunflowers and zinnias.  We're picking blueberries too, which I call "bear bait". I'm amazed the bears haven't found them yet but I know that day is coming.  A neighbor lost 30 ears of corn in one night to her friendly local bear last week. Twenty years ago, I helped with the re-introduction of black bears to this area.  It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, I ask myself "What were you thinking?"   Needless to say, the program was a success.  Ah, the irony.

--6--
We're into week eight already on kindergarten homeschooling.  I wanted to start during this summer to give it a trial run.  It has been going really well.  John loves "lesson time" and Joah mostly observes for now.   I'm very happy with how it fits into our lifestyle so far. I wish we had more support (we have none) from our family and friends but Tom is totally on-board with homeschooling and John is doing great.  Perhaps in time, the rest of our family and friends will come around.  We've joined the local home school co-op too, so maybe we'll find some kindred spirits there eventually.  In the meantime, we're just going to keep plugging along day by day.

--7--
This blog will be quiet for a while after this post.  I'll be playing biologist in the wilderness while the boys enjoy the city life with their grandparents.  With God's grace,we'll reconvene back in our hillbilly homeland in time for the "dog days" to be over and the taters ready for digging.

Happy August!

And thank you, Kelly, for hosting another Quick Takes.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Crossing - Conclusion

For John.

Sometimes, it is the mundane ordinariness of our lives that saves us.  I can’t imagine what I would have been like during the month that followed your fetal diagnosis of ventriculomegaly if I had not had my day-to-day obligations to keep me distracted.  I woke each morning during those next few weeks focused on the tasks at hand, and filled my days with staying busy at work and at home.  The nights, however, were long, and hours were spent saying countless prayers for you before I cried myself to sleep.  Your father and I were praying for a miracle, of course, but our expectations were low.  We knew the odds, and we knew that we no more deserved a miracle than anyone else.  The fact that I’d been carrying you inside of me for nearly seven months was already more miracle than we’d ever expected. 

Four weeks after the initial diagnosis, we went back to the perinatal center for a follow-up ultrasound.  This time, the ultrasound was intended to tell us how advanced the ventriculomegaly might be so that we could begin making preliminary plans for your pending surgery and prognosis.  That morning, I worked from home on reports and file transfers and tried not to think of the news and decisions that we’d have to face later in the day.  No longer did I look forward to the doctor visits or sonograms.  Instead, each carried with it a sense of dread as I continued to wait for the other shoe to drop. 

The day was June 14.  Your father and I said a rosary on our hour-long drive to the perinatal center, but otherwise, spoke very little. Our hearts were heavy and all we could do is just hold hands.  We walked into the now familiar sonography room and the process of scans by the technician was repeated again, only this time, with less small talk.  And again, she finished and left the room and the doctor returned.  He repeated the scan, again saying very little, then put his hands in his lap, took a deep breath and exclaimed, “The ventriculomegaly seems to have resolved.”   And then he smiled.  

And that was it.   That was how we found out that we’d been blessed with not just one, but two, miracles. 

And it was in that moment, more than any other, in which I began to truly understand that you did not belong only to your father and me, but to a much larger heavenly family as well. Your life and your destiny would be guided by all of us, and I was already little more than a witness to God’s grace and mercy as it was being revealed through you.

So, when my water unexpectedly broke eleven days later, at 32 weeks, on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, your namesake, I knew that it was no coincidence.  We had chosen your name, John, many months before, as a tribute to your father because he shares his birthday with this great saint’s feast, and also, as a way to honor the parents of St. John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah, who’d also longed for a child.  As I lay in that hospital bed in the labor and delivery room, listening to doctors and NICU nurses explain to me the procedures for preterm deliveries, I felt a strange calmness.  I knew that God was going to have the final say, as He had proven already.

And so He did.  After being informed that 90% of all preterm premature ruptures of membranes (PPROM) result in birth within 24 hours, you were still in-utero and growing 48-hours later.  And then, after being told that the risk of infection was great, and that I would most likely need to be induced within a few days of the PPROM, daily ultrasounds and an amniocentesis indicated that my amniotic fluid levels were gradually replenishing and that there were no signs of infection.  Every fetal stress test came back with the same result and nurses would exclaim, “In spite of everything, your baby seems to be doing great!” and they did little to hide the genuine amazement in their voice.  Two weeks after my water had broken, your father and I went back home.  You had beaten the odds again and once again, we had witnessed another miracle in your life.

But our trials were far from over. A few days after going home, we learned that a potentially serious bacterium, Clostridium bifermentans, had been found growing in the culture from my amniocentesis.  My doctor said he had never seen such a thing and his concerns were beyond serious.  Such dangerous bacteria in-utero, he told us, could have a devastating effect upon both your and my health, and he urgently encouraged me to undergo a second amniocentesis immediately, which I did. Three more sleepless nights passed, filled with prayers for you, as we waited for the results. All was good, we learned a few days later; for reasons unknown, the Clostridium was gone.  

And so, despite all odds, the pregnancy continued, and I anxiously awaited the ninth month.  Only, it did not turn out to be nine months, because two weeks after returning home, my water broke again, this time, at 36-weeks.  And this time, my doctor decided that enough was enough, and that all miracles aside, it was time to introduce you to the world before all our luck finally ran out.  I did not argue.  After so many tests of faith and months of fear and anxiety, I wanted more than anything to see you and touch you and know that you were real. I wanted to hold you in my arms and feel like I could protect you from anything else that may cause you harm, even if, in my heart, I knew that I really couldn’t.  But more than that, I wanted the uncertainty that had come the moment I learned of your existence, and that had haunted me every day since, to come to an end. 

Twenty-four hours later, it was finally over, and I was holding you. I looked at you, and I thought about all the years of waiting and hoping and crying and praying.  I thought about how you’d already beaten the odds not once, not twice, but three or four times, and how little control I’d had over any of it.  I thought about how you had already been prayed for and loved by so many whom you would never meet on this side of heaven.  But most of all, I thought about how I started preparing to lose you the moment I knew you’d been given to me. 

The months that I carried you inside me were the time during which God taught me my greatest lessons in parenting. From the moment I conceived you, I’d had so little control over your life and your destiny. Through every trial and moment of great jeopardy, I’d had no choice but to trust God completely with your life. When we were faced with having a child with ventriculomegaly, I learned that I would have to be willing to love you and care for you regardless of whatever shape or form your life may take. When doctors and nurses assured me that you would be born within a few hours and it turned out to be a few weeks, I learned that even when I and others believe that your life might go in a particular direction, none of us would necessarily be able to predict the final outcome.  But most of all, during all those times when I expected the worst and was sure that I was losing you, I learned to cherish having you with me in that moment, and to be willing to trust God with your future. These were lessons I needed to learn in order to be your mother, and the lessons that molded me into the kind of mother that I am today.

Some might say you are a gift but you are more than that.
You are God's treasure (Deut. 7:6).  

~ Happy Birthday ~











Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Crossing - Part 2 of 3

For John.

The ultrasound technician did the run through, showed us your face, your shoulders, your fingers and feet.  You wiggled and squirmed and your father and I were filled with awe and pride as we stared at the monitor.  Without any prompting, the ultrasound technician got up and left and in her place came a doctor.  He repeated the process again, politely showing us your various features, and then he paused, looked at us, and said calmly and deliberately:

“The ventricles of the brain are enlarged.”

Of course, he said much more, but for me, all the other words seemed to just float around in the air, and only some of them came to land in my consciousness.  Words like “normal life”, “shunts to drain”, “surgery after birth”, "one in a thousand".  And then I stopped listening, and I just stared at your image, still on the monitor, still squirming and growing and full of so much life.

When we got home, your father tried to explain to me what the doctor had said.  Borderline bilateral ventriculomegaly.  It is a term that, to this day, I still cannot recall, and I must ask your father each time to tell me again.  From the moment I first heard it, I have blocked it from my mind.  Your father researched it, and when we discovered just how enormous the odds of you being diagnosed with this condition were, our hearts broke into pieces.  We were convinced that this didn’t just happen by chance; instead, we believed it was yet another way that God had decided to test us.  Never before had I felt such betrayal by the God whom I had only recently begun to trust again.  I felt like we’d just been subjected to one of the dirtiest tricks that providence could play on us.

But where do you turn in times like that if not back to God?  We knew that we must carry on, and that we would love you no matter what your future held, and we asked God to not forsake us in that moment of desolation.  We cried at night and each morning, we washed away our tears and faced our days.  We told no one of your diagnosis, for we knew that the weight that would be added from well-meaning yet careless comments would be more than we could handle.  Time would reveal all, we believed, and so we prayed for a miracle, and began our journey toward acceptance of God’s will for you and for us.

In was during the midst of this journey, only a few days after that devastating ultrasound, when your father found himself in the cathedral. It was the same church in which he’d frequently prayed for a child, and where he’d often gone to find peace during those many years that we waited for you.  As he fervently prayed that day, he looked up and noticed a bishop walking towards the sanctuary.  Your father felt moved to approach him and rushed toward the front of the church and caught the bishop’s attention.  And he poured out the whole story to this holy man, the story of our years of struggle to conceive, the loss of a previous child, and now the story of you and your miraculous conception, and our most recent tragedy of facing an uncertain future with you.  The bishop listened carefully and then he simply asked, “When can you come back here with your wife?  I want to pray with you both.”  

Two days later, we sat in a quiet room with the bishop, and we talked of our lives and our various journeys in faith.  He told us that he was going to pray for you specifically and also, that your father and I would be blessed with even more children.  He then stood, walked over to my side, and asked your father to do the same.  The bishop placed his hands upon my head while your father placed his on my shoulders, and as your father and I listened, the bishop prayed aloud using words that I did not understand.  Peace filled the room and your father, in particular, said that he had felt something come over him that he could not explain.   Unlike me, he was certain that something had changed.

We went home and for the first night since we’d learned of the ventriculomegaly, we slept soundly.  But little did we know that God would be granting us one more very powerful intercessor as we made our way on this journey.  It was three days after our prayerful meeting with the bishop that your great-grandmother died.  She had been our last living grandparent and she had been so excited to meet you.  When we had last seen her, only a few months before, she had appeared well, and she spoke excitedly about your pending arrival. She loved all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren so much, and we couldn’t wait to introduce you to her.   To learn of her unexpected death was yet another blow to us.  Why now?   And yet, somehow, I felt like I knew the answer to that.   “She wants to help us,” I told your father, “and now she can help us more than ever.” So, as we stood beside her casket and looked upon her one last time, I made one final request of her, “Please, ask Jesus to heal our son.”


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Crossing - Part 1 of 3

This is not a birth story; it is the story of our crossing from the island of infertility into the land of parenthood.  We waited for a long time to make this crossing and when it finally happened, it was far from what we'd always dreamed becoming parents would be like. I like to think that the years we struggled to have children prepared us for this crossing, but maybe not.  Maybe instead, those years and this crossing prepared us for what still lies ahead. Only God knows.

This story has a happy ending, and to this day, I am not sure why.  We didn't expect it, certainly did nothing to earn it, and even less to deserve it.  Why did everything work out the way we prayed for it to when, for so many, it does not?  I do not know. I don't think anyone really knows.  Those kinds of questions are the great mysteries of this life that we are not meant to solve.  All I know is that we were blessed, not favored by any means, but blessed.  We have been entrusted with much and now, much more will be expected of us (Luke 12:48).

It was during the infertility years and even more, during this crossing, that I asked so many, many times, "Why me?"  "Why us?"   It took years for me to understand that it was a pointless question, really, because there is no satisfactory answer.  I suppose if God gave us the answer to that one, we'd have no reason to long for our greatest crossing yet to come. and the only crossing that truly matters.

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For John.

It was December 9, 2009, and you were about to change everything.

Two weeks before that, a miracle had occurred, and you had entered our world. However, I was far from being ready to accept that you were real when I looked at that positive pregnancy test with your father on that Wednesday morning.  “This won’t end well,” was all I could think, and I gathered my lunch and headed to my office, where I was determined to bury any thought of you with my piles of paperwork and the distraction of our annual office Christmas party.

I wish I could say that there was rejoicing; I really do.  That was the way it was supposed to be, and the way your father and I had imagined it would be all those years ago.   Instead, now we guarded our hearts and prepared for the worst because, after almost nine years of trying, and after saying goodbye to the only baby we’d ever conceived four years earlier, we were convinced that we would never know the joy of having you in our lives.

The first few days after we discovered you existed were long and trying.  Your father and I felt the stress of waiting for blood work results and our mood was tense and anxious.  When the doctor called and said everything looked good so far, I felt relief, but not peace.  The next eight months, I knew, would be the longest of my life.  We called your grandparents soon after, and gave them our news, but in my diary, I wrote that their response was “anti-climatic” because they too, could no longer picture your father and me as the parents we longed to be.  The image of me as a mother holding her child in her arms had faded away over the years.

The next few weeks were exhausting in every way imaginable.  Every cramp in my abdomen convinced me that your time with me would be short.  Instead of giving me hope, the soreness from the weekly progesterone injections served only as a daily reminder of how much at-risk my pregnancy was.  The biggest thing that I felt grateful for at the time was morning sickness that was not too severe, thus allowing me to continue through my workdays with the same intensity and fervor that had been my antidote to all the depression and sadness I’d been fighting during the past several years.  On December 28, 2009, I saw you for the very first time, the flicker of a heartbeat, and I thanked the Holy Innocents for this gift on their feast day, and I prayed that you would not become one of them. 

The new year came and went and you grew inside me.  My doctor seemed surprised by how well you and I were doing, and after a few months, the progesterone injections were discontinued.  My pregnancy seemed to be progressing normally, but I still could not bring myself to believe that you would one day be real and sleeping in my arms.  Other than our immediate family, your father and I shared the news of your existence with no one and our family kept our secret.  We had all become accustomed to keeping our pain to ourselves. 

Eventually, I had to buy maternity clothes and could no longer hide you.  When our co-workers and friends discovered that I was expecting, there was astonishment.  Your father and I had fit their image of the “childless by choice” career-couple well.  As a 41-year old woman who had been married almost a decade, it had been assumed that children were not part of our future. To see my protruding belly now shattered every perception that others had of me, and I took a certain amount of pleasure in finally being shed of that image of me that reflected nothing of the person I was inside. 

The second trimester was a time of healing for me both physically and spiritually.  As the morning sickness subsided and eventually disappeared completely, I found myself relishing in a newfound energy.  Your father and I would take daily walks down our countryside lane each evening and talk about our future with you.  What would your name be?  Would you be a boy or a girl?  Would you be a red-head like your daddy was?  Spiritually, I was growing as well, and my prayers of petition that had been endless for years slowly became prayers of thanksgiving.  “This could really happen to us,” I thought.  “Why not?” 

In mid-April, we went in for our 20-week ultrasound.  We were excited because we had been told that this was the point at which we would learn if we had a son or a daughter.  We had decided that we wanted to know your gender as soon as possible. Because the fear of losing you was still great in our hearts, we wanted to know as much as we could about you for as long as you were ours.  When we walked out of that sonography room, we thanked God for giving us a son.  A son!  Even more, our sonographer had indicated we had nothing to fear, and we thanked God for a child who was growing and healthy. For once, we felt peace.

Another month passed.  Of my entire pregnancy, those four weeks turned out to be the best of all.  It was spring and everywhere around me, I saw life was bursting forth and I rejoiced in it. We planted our garden, took walks in the woods, and made plans for our future with you.  I finally felt confident enough to set up a baby registry, and your grandmother began planning a baby shower.  My blood work and regular checkups indicated that all was going well with you, and each day was better than the one before it.  I had never felt so incredibly blessed.

But then one day, your father called me while I was at work.  “They want us to have another ultrasound,” he said, “and this time, they want it done at the perinatal center.”  He went on to say that he had asked the doctor’s office why this was needed, and the nurse had only said that they wanted to keep a close eye on me because I was still considered high risk and that it was just a precaution.  “Plus, we get a 3-D image of our baby,” your father told me, which made me excited, and I naively looked forward to the day.  And so, two days later, we got another look at you, and our world turned upside down.