Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sister I see you...

...dancing on the stage of memory
Sister I miss you

All I am begins with you
Thoughts of hope, understood
Half of me breathes in you
Thoughts of love remain true
-The Nixons, "Sister"

Missing my Appie today. I can't believe it's been 4 years since we said goodbye. She should be here to see what her great-grandchildren are like. She should be here to give me a reality check when I complain about raising kids in an era of disposable diapers and automatic dishwashers. She should be here to hug me when I need someone who truly loves me the best.

(Appie feeding my brother)

I don't mean this to be a downer of a post, but between the rain and the anniversary of her death, I'm feeling just a bit down. I know I should celebrate her life by writing about all the wonderful things she was to me. The way she'd do something special for your birthday, even if it's a coconut cake that takes 3 days to make. The way she'd stop whatever she was doing if you dropped by to visit. The way her cookie jar was always full. The backyard parties she'd throw. The way her family adored her. All the beautiful, wonderful things she taught us.

But today, I just miss her and wish she was here.

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite games to play with her was "mailbox." We'd write each other notes and leave them in a certain spot on her hearth for the other to find and read. It was just a silly little thing, but it was our thing. For Valentine's Day 2007, I gave her a decorated mailbox with a special secret note inside. She wrote me a special secret note back, but didn't give it to me right away. I got the mailbox a couple of months later - after she had already passed away. I couldn't even open the box for a very long time. Opening the letter took even longer. Mom kept asking why I didn't read it, but I just couldn't. I wish she was here to play mailbox now.

(me & Appie)

My brother, aunt, cousin and I started playing an online Scrabble game last night, and I couldn't help but think how much she'd love it. She was a Scrabble master and would take you down, no holds barred, no guilt, every time. Guess that daily crossword puzzle worked to her advantage. And she was as high-tech as anyone in the grandparent generation, emailing her grands because she understood that meeting us where we already were was the only way to stay in touch. I know she'd be a Facebook/texting/social media rockstar if she were here to see the communication revolution we're going through now. Hell, she'd probably have 10,000 Twitter followers. She'd have loved to play online Scrabble against my brother as he's tapping letters out on his iPhone.

I wish she could see my adorable little boys. She'd laugh at the silly 3 year old-isms that Jay comes up with. She'd get a kick out of Luke's crazy hair. And then she'd be all no-nonsense and would have told me to cut it before it grew to be nearly as ridiculous as I let it get.

(Appie & Papa at my folks' house)

I just miss her.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

'Cause when a heart breaks...

...no it don't break even

I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing
Just prayed to a God that I don't believe in
'Cause I got time while she got freedom
'Cause when a heart breaks no it don't break even

What am I supposed to say
When I'm all choked up that you're okay
I'm falling to pieces
-The Script, "Breakeven"

Love Love LOVE this song. While it's really about a breakup, I think it works for all sorts of heartache. And it speaks to my experience of falling to pieces.

This morning, I did something that was on the far distant edge of my comfort zone - I spoke in church. (Well, "spoke" is probably an overstatement - "stood up in front of the congregation to read my story" is probably more accurate. Let's face it, I'm a writer not a public speaker.) Each Sunday in Lent, members of our congregation are sharing their personal faith stories. Mine was as much a personal doubt story as faith story. It's tough to stand up in front of your faith community and say that I have more questions about God than answers. Though my hands were trembling and my voice was shaky, I managed to do just that.

Want to read it for yourself?

My life - and my faith - were changed in the early morning hours of August 12, 2010. Last summer, my two year old son Jay had open heart surgery. He came through surgery without a problem. He woke up begging for chocolate milk and begging to go swimming. I cried tears of joy because I thought my prayers had been answered. He was healed, and I was so grateful to God.
Late that night, something went terribly wrong and I got the middle of the night phone call that no parent ever wants to hear. Jay had crashed. His heart had stopped beating and they were doing CPR. They were putting him on life support. As we rushed to the hospital, I prayed over and over “Dear God - please save my baby. Oh God, please help him.” I stood in the hallway of the ICU and watched as the nurses were doing chest compressions on his tiny little body. For an hour and a half, they pounded on his chest to keep him alive.
I have never felt so terrified.

He was on complete life support for a week. A machine known as ECMO would pump his blood because his heart wasn’t beating. The machines kept his body going, kept his blood flowing, kept his lungs breathing. They began talking to us about a heart transplant.

And while he needed physical support to survive, I needed life support of my own. I needed faith support. How could this happen? How could God let this happen to me? My prayers weren’t prayers at all … it was a pitiful kind of begging. I couldn’t get beyond “Dear God - Help him!” Over and over again I said those words “Oh God! Please help him!” I was numb with fear.

But during that time, I saw what it means to live out God’s love. People in this congregation carried me through with prayers for us when I had no words. You prayed for his physical needs. And you prayed for peace and comfort and courage for me and for Derek.

And then the miracle began to emerge. Jay came off ECMO and his heart began beating on its own. He came off the ventilator and began breathing on his own. He talked. He smiled. He showed us that his mind was just as it had been when he woke up from surgery. He again started begging to go swimming.

I’d love to say that having been through trials and heartache, I emerged with an unshakable faith. I wish I could tell you that having been witness to a miracle, I developed a more complete trust in God’s plan for my life.

Instead, I’m left with more questions than answers, more confusion than confidence. I find it even harder to understand God’s plan and God’s role in the world. I find myself asking “Why” more often than I’d like to admit.

At first, I spent a lot of time wondering “Why me? Why my baby? Why should he have to hurt?” But as I watched other heart babies dying around us in the hospital, I began to more fully realize what a miracle it was to have my child restored to life. The other side of that WHY coin pretty quickly became “Why me? Why do we get the miracle? What responsibility comes with this blessing?”

These are not easy questions, but I’m reassured that God wants us to struggle to an understanding of them. The easy faith, the simple faith, the child-like faith has its place. But it’s in the tough places of faith, the times when God’s plan just doesn’t make sense, that we are forced to examine our understanding of Him.

In this community of faith, I’ve been given permission to ask tough questions. I’m grateful that I have people to talk with, to struggle with. Many of you have been generous in sharing the things that have guided you along the path as you search for understanding. Your generosity of spirit is what’s given me the courage to stand up here this morning and say “I don’t have all the answers.”

The lesson I draw from the woman at the well is that God is part of our physical and spiritual healing. She goes to the well in search of water to meet her physical thirst; she finds spiritual healing, too. I believe that God can renew and repair all kinds of broken hearts. He guided the miracle of physical healing that I saw in Jay. And he’s still working on the spiritual healing within my own heart. That may take a miracle too.


In the end, I was pretty proud of what I said. Honestly, I was most worried about bursting into tears and not being able to get my thoughts out. But I managed to keep it together until I stepped down from the pulpit, so I was grateful for that. And afterward, I had a bit of "Wow! I really did that!" kind of feeling.

I am grateful that Jay's story, and maybe even my faith struggles, have been inspiring to readers (and now hearers!) who've followed along on this journey with us. If nothing else, I hope it makes you hug your family a little tighter tonight. Be thankful.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Give it up...

...Baby give it up
na na na na na na na na
Give it up
Baby give it up
-KC & the Sunshine Band, "Give it Up"

More bad 80's music for ya. I know, I've really pulled out some awful stuff lately, but come on. That last intro from the Roots (complete with video!) was a good one, right? (Sorry, DWO - that's what Pandora is for.)

So what am I giving up? Facebook. I'm giving it up for Lent.

Though I grew up a Presbyterian, I'm officially Baptist now, and Baptists have historically been very anti-ritual and thus anti-giving-up-stuff-for-Lent. Baptists in the truest sense are very "Ain't nobody gonna tell us how to run our congregation! Ain't nobody gonna tell us what to believe or how to relate to God!" Thus it's interesting that the conservatives/fundamentalists who took leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago have been adamant in telling southern Baptist churches what they can do: who can preach (not women) and who can belong (not gays). Can you tell I come from the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where affirming women's role as ministers was a founding principle? (Still not really gay-friendly, but CBF at least allows individual churches to make their own decisions on social matters of that sort.)

Anyway, back to my point. Giving up something for Lent is not really a traditionally Baptist thing to do. But I find rituals comforting. It's pretty neat to think that others have been doing the same thing, asking the same questions, feeling the same peace for thousands of years. So the ritual of giving something up for Lent speaks to me. I've tried before, and not made it very far. The candy dish loaded up with Hershey's Miniatures pretty much eliminated all chance I had that year I tried to give up chocolate.

So why Facebook? While I've got my fair share of vices, I don't think that my nightly glass of wine with dinner really strains my relationship with God. I think he's pretty cool with wine in moderation. And I don't really think that giving up chocolate would bring me any closer to the creator either. I tried it.

But I do know that - for me - facebook is an enormous time sucker. Like, "Suddenly 3 hours have passed and I'm still sitting here on the couch looking at photos of friends' dogs" time waster. (No really, I love seeing pictures of your dog. Seriously. But I probably have other things that ought to be higher priorities. Like the 18 loads of laundry that are heaped up on the pool table. The cat is currently sleeping on those piles, which means the clean clothes are covered in cat hair and thus need to be re-washed. Yes, I realize that, in laziness, I am creating more work for myself.)

And it's not like I'm going off the grid or anything. If you want to get up with me, you can still call. Email. Text. Drop a comment on the blog (shameless plug for more comments!). Google Talk. Geez - in the scheme of things, giving up one social media channel when I'm so connected in so many other ways seems pretty insignificant.

But I do hope that my lack of facebook-iness will give me a little more time to spend with God. Perhaps I should talk to God while I fold laundry. God would be cool with multitasking, right?

Sometimes when I am sitting by myself...

...those quiet moments when not with no one else
I'm mesmerized by all the many good things in my life
I think about the time when I was younger
And the older that I get the more that I feel wiser
With the love of friends and family
Get stronger and it carries me on through

So I say lovely, lovely, lovely
lovely lovely lovely,
lovely lovely love, my family
-The Roots, "Lovely Love My Family"

Yo Gabba Gabba! For Jay's birthday, he wanted a Brobee cake. And a theme was born...

What? You've never heard of Yo Gabba Gabba? You think it's weird? Have you actually watched it? Well, we think it's awesome. The Super Music Friends Show has all kinds of interesting performers, from Weezer to The Roots (seriously, did you watch them in the video above? It's my fave!) to The Killers to Jimmy Eat World. They all do music that's completely kid-friendly, while still being fun for grownups. There are songs with great messages like "Don't Bite Your Friends." What wise advice, no?

But I promise, it's not just me & Derek that love the show. It is the only show that Jay ever requests to watch. We don't watch much TV - maybe 1-2 hours a week - MAYBE. But those hours are filled watching YGG exclusively.

Since it's not nearly as easy to find Yo Gabba Gabba plates as it is to find Dora/Elmo/Thomas/fill-in-your-favorite-licensed-character decor, we had to improvise. We made our own shirts!

(Jen = Foofa, Luke = Plex, Jay = Brobee, Derek = Muno)

It wasn't hard, I promise. In fact, it was far more challenging to get a picture of all 4 of us looking the same direction & smiling. (3 out of 4 ain't bad ... if only the birthday boy looked happy to be there!) We found these iron-ons at the printables section of Nick Jr website. Print them onto transfer paper, cut them out, iron them on, and VOILA! Matching family attire.

And, of course, I made the Brobee cake that he requested:

(This actually came out cuter than I expected)

We were all set for a fab time with a few kids, their families, and our immediate families chillin' in the backyard and enjoying the springlike weather. And suddenly it turned rainy. So we set up a tent over the sandbox. And then it began to pour, and said tent seemed like a really silly plan. And suddenly, the not too big crowd got to feeling like a REALLY big crowd in our little house.

But we had a great time anyway. Jay was SO incredibly excited. Like, screeching at the top of his lungs, running in circles, cheering at the TV kind of excited. His friends were happy to see him, too. They gave him awesome gifts that he loves already including a guitar ( it's not just us who loves music!), the world's largest container of playdoh, a really great train set, a book with tools, and a bug-catching vacuum (which may go down as my favorite toy ever!). Yes, he's already tried to suck Luke's hair up with it.

I had an epiphany during Jay's birthday party. Our backyard is great for parties. We love having folks over - even lots & lots of folks! - while we grill out and play in the yard. Horseshoes & ladder golf? Check. Sandbox & swing? Check. Big shade trees and room to roam? We've got it to spare. If you can fend off the mosquitoes, it's always fun for a backyard bash.

But on Sunday I decided that our house is not nearly so great for large crowds. There was one moment when there were 6 little kiddos running underfoot, bunches of adults trying to keep them entertained indoors without injuring one another, and the smoke alarm was going off as the grill fumes wafted into the den. My first thought was "This is too much chaos!! Everyone is going to be overwhelmed and leave before we even get the food off the grill!" But then I couldn't help but laugh. I heard myself shout "Best Party EVER!" and some of the crowd laughed too.

And while that kind of chaos can be stressful, it can also be loads of fun. I choose to call it fun and go with it. Jay had a blast. We did too.

Thanks to all our party people for joining us and for making his birthday one to remember!

Monday, March 7, 2011

How did you grow so big overnight...

...How did you get so smart and bright
Yesterday you were asleep in my arms
Today you're growing off the charts
I'm so proud of you
-Frances England "You & Me"

My friend, Sush, who blogs over at First Do No Harm, has introduced me to some of the best kids' music around. Like me, she thinks that young folks can enjoy music that moms and dads love too. Thanks to her, Jay's current favorite song is Yellow Submarine. Well, it's kind of a tie between that and Jimmy Buffett's version of Take me Out to the Ballgame (aka "The Old Ball Song"). But also thanks to her, I've been introduced to Frances England and the song above. I just adore her music, and if you like the indie-guitar-singer-songwriter-happy-lil'-ditty vibe, you might too. Wanna hear a sample? Go to her website and click "You and Me" under "Featured Songs" on the right hand side. It has become my bedtime song of choice to sing to Jay. I really do feel like yesterday he was asleep in my arms, and I am in awe of how he's grown into such a smart little guy.

(Just before his first surgery at 3 days old)

I now have a THREE year old little boy. Yes, three. I just can't believe you're not my Baby Jay anymore. And I really can't even justify calling you a toddler. You're a big preschooler who speaks your mind and runs and plays and builds things and can read your name and remember things that I'd long forgotten. You're figuring out this big world at an amazing pace. You amaze me.

Let's just forget the heart stuff for a second. Just think - 3 short years ago, you were a helpless newborn who relied on us for everything. Now you're more than 3 feet tall, big enough to get to all sorts of things we've tried to put out of your reach. You're so independent, getting yourself ready for school, serving your own meals, telling us what you want and need. That's a lot of change in a very short time, and it's such a wonderful thing to watch you grow. I'm sure every mom is overwhelmed by the amount of growing up a kid can do in three very short years.

But no one who loves you can forget the heart stuff. When I look back on what you've been through just this year, what your tiny little body has to fight, I have to fight back tears. Multiple rounds of pneumonia. Heart failure that we didn't even recognize. Open heart surgery. You went for a week without your heart beating. You went another with a machine forcing your lungs to breathe. Six weeks in the hospital. Months of recovery, re-learning how to do everything: how to eat, how to walk, how to communicate, how to hold a toy hammer. (While eating, walking and talking were the keys for me, remembering how to hold your hammer was pretty much your first priority during those days.)

(I do a collage postcard for each birthday - here's Jay's birthday #3)

How do I reconcile that image with the perfectly healthy little boy who appears in front of me right now? I see you shoveling in your sandbox, or doing your funny robot dance, or playing with your friends at your party (more to come on the party soon!) and I just cannot comprehend that you've been through anything out of the ordinary. That there were days when we simply prayed for you to live. In so many ways, you're just a three year old who knows no other way of life. But in my eyes, you're a miracle. How do I remember that part of your history - those awful, heartbreaking weeks of fear - and still be fully present to appreciate every moment of now?

How do I do that? I don't. I don't get it, so I quit trying. I don't understand how you could have been so sick, and have been returned to me so perfect in every way. I've tried, and I simply can't understand a miracle which can't be explained. I don't understand why miracles happen sometimes. And I really don't get why sometimes they don't. I have a mustard seed's worth of faith, and I do a lot of being thankful. Someday, you'll grow up and have questions about how and why the world works the way it does. And you'll probably face your own struggles to understand why bad things happen. If you come up with a good answer, I hope I'll still be around for you to teach me.

If you don't have an answer, that's okay too. The less time I spend philosophizing on that stuff, the more time I get to enjoy your robot dance. And maybe that's the point.

Happy birthday, baby. We love you more than you can know.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

No need to ask...

...he's a smooth operator
Smooth operator
Smooth Operator
coast to coast, LA to Chicago, Western male
-Sade, "Smooth Operator"

Hard to believe it's been 2 days since Luke's surgery and I haven't updated. You can tell he's a second child and we've been through more than our share of surgeries, eh?!

But he managed to stay healthy enough for surgery on Tuesday and it was as smooth as an operation can possibly be. We had to be in Durham at 6 a.m., and we were back home by 9:15. Yup, that's fast! I really wasn't too worried about it beforehand - I mean, when you've been through a couple of heart surgeries, tubes and adenoids are a cakewalk.

(Yes he's adorable in his gown, but we gotta do something about that HAIR!)

I handled it really well during all the pre-op stuff. But when we were sitting in the waiting room and the surgery took 5 minutes longer than promised, I kinda freaked. "What's wrong?! Why's it taking so long?! Why haven't they come to tell us what's happened?????" My cool & collected hubby reminded me that the actual SURGERY time would be 3o mins, and that it probably took some time to get him under anesthesia, and then some time to get him back to the PACU. And lo and behold they paged us. Whew.

He was pretty cranky until we got some food in him, but once we did it was like we had a new kid on our hands. A very hungry new kid. (Guess getting all that snot out left room for more food?) Ever since, he's been grinning up a storm and is clearly feeling better than he has in many weeks. His teachers even commented on how he seems to be feeling a ton better, so it's not just my imagination. Perhaps now that he can actually hear, he'll start talking. The snot rivers aren't gone yet, but they're dramatically better. Here's to a snot-free summer!

But the biggest sign to me of his improvement is that on Wednesday morning, he woke up babbling "Da da? Da da da deee do!" He's woken up crying for months, and it was music to my ears to hear him chattering away. Life is good.

PS- Anyone got any tips on how to keep his ears dry? We got the wax for bathtime ... and we're working on convincing big brother Jay not to pour water on his head. But what about the pool this summer?