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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Revisiting: How Eddie Died (The Sweet Escape)


I woke up sad this morning.  Not the can't-even-get-out-of-bed kind of sad but also not the mild variety that is most often cured quickly by a cup of coffee and my morning devotional.  No, I woke up alcoholic-y sad.  Irritable and discontent.  Forcing myself to be pleasant when really I just wanted to lash out at everybody even though the only available "everybodies" were all under the age of six.  I held it together and was a good mommy but it was a whole lot of work.

I can't cruise along at that speed or things are going to get ugly and I know it.  So I did my devotional.  It helped but not nearly enough.  I prayed and asked God for the next step.  And then the next.  And then the next.  I won't go through the whole rabbit trail but eventually He led me to my blog.  I opened up a new post but realized I wasn't here to write, but to read.  He led me to the most painful but most popular post of all.  After I opened it and re-read it, I realized that I wrote and posted it exactly two years ago today.  I smiled my most genuine smile of the day.  I love it when God does that... shows you that there are no mistakes and few coincidences... but a plan and a pattern that He has for you to follow and He'll lead and guide you every single step of the way.

I think He wanted me to read this to assure me that it is okay that I wake up brokenhearted sometimes.  That my weakness was permissible and God-glorifying since His strength is made perfect in human weakness.  For some reason revisiting the most painful day of my life has lifted me up rather than dragged me down and my heart is lighter, my irritability gone, my gratitude restored.

I feel He wants me to repost this and so it is in a spirit of obedience that I do so.  I hope it serves to lift someone else up today or perhaps even introduce someone to the glorious, gracious and unbelievably good Creator, the One True God, the great I AM, who I worship and adore.  So without further ado, here it is.  The tragic, triumphant end to Eddie's story and my testimony as to why I am able to live a joyful life.


How Eddie Died (The Sweet Escape)


Okay, so I know those of you who follow the blog regularly and don't know the story have probably been curious about this particular topic.  I am feeling brave this evening, the kids are napping, and I have had a Chai tea and an L-Theanine.  So here it goes...

In May of 2007, Phillip and I decided we could no longer afford the duplex we were living in so we moved out to a trailer his mother and dad own in Red Rock, Tx.  Red Rock is about thirty miles southeast of Austin and a mile north of the Middle of Frickin' Nowhere.  It was where Phillip lived when we met and I swore to myself I would never, never, never live there.  But, there we were.

The day we moved in, I set one foot outside of the car and a butterfly landed on it.  He sat there for a moment, slowly opening and closing his wings, and, I don't know why, but suddenly I knew.  With a deep-down, uncanny certainty that this was to be Eddie's last stop.  The site where he would shed the chrysalis of this life and fly away from me to the arms of the Lord.  I didn't share this knowledge with his dad.  Oogie-boogie stuff makes Phillip a little nervous for one thing and for another I did not want to rob him of any hope and joy for the coming time we had with our little man, however long it would be.

As the summer progressed, Eddie's liver disease worsened.  The TPN (intravenous nutrition) was necessary to sustain him, but it was killing his liver.  Soon his liver stopped being able to process it altogether.  Although he was getting enough calories pumped through him to be downright chubby, he was steadily losing weight.  His eyes and skin were growing more and more yellow.  The food he was eating was helping a little with the liver and nutrition stuff, but not nearly enough.  Still, these were happy days.  He was a normal twenty month old in every other way:  learning new words, learning to use crayons rather than eat them, dancing and playing.

Let me digress a moment to explain what I mean by "dancing."  He was mobility-impaired...all of the abdominal surgeries and issues had kept him from ever crawling much less walking.  But like his parents, Eddie loved music and he would wave his little hands and clap.  In our bathroom there was a vanity along one wall and a huge mirror above it.  One of his favorite songs in those days was Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape."  It has a really catchy little "woo hoo, wee hoo" at the beginning and throughout and Eddie really got into it.   I would hold him up on that vanity, supporting his little hips, and he would sway back and forth and wave his "jazz hands," laughing and smiling at himself in the mirror.  It is one of my favorite memories.

In the first week of August, Eddie began to have fevers.  It had all the earmarks of a central line infection.  We faced a decision.  His last line replacement surgery had resulted in Eddie wanting to quit altogether.  The point of his central line was to deliver the TPN.  The TPN wasn't really working anymore, except to accelerate his liver disease.  Either Eddie could make it on the nutrition he ate alone or he couldn't.  The inevitable moment had come.  We scheduled a surgery to have his central line removed.

When we were admitted and Eddie had to put on a hospital anklet, he screamed like it had burned him.  It made me feel glad that this was, really, the last time he would have to be in a hospital.  His surgery was quick and easy and we were able to take him home immediately.  Everyone was so loving and supportive of our decision.  Our hospice doctor made sure we had oxygen support and pain medications and we went home.

Phillip and I were still praying for the radical miracle.  I still had faith for it, but, just as with the sinking certainty I had felt with the butterfly encounter when we arrived at our house, I felt that God's answer this time was "no."  For a couple of days, it seemed like things were going well.  Eddie was eating and interacting normally.  But things changed on Thursday night and by Friday morning it was pretty clear that the end was near.

That morning I still prayed for miraculous, radical healing.  Desperately, fervently, I prayed.  As the day progressed, though, and Eddie continued to decline, my prayer changed.  I gave God two options.  He could, as I had begged Him, radically heal my twenty-two month old son.  This option came with lots of promises.  Eddie and I would be on every television program telling our story and giving praise to God.  This was Option A and the desperate desire of my heart.  If that wasn’t God’s will, however, I helpfully supplied Option B.  If He was going to take my son home, He needed to go ahead and do it.  Now.  Not this slow, steady decline.  It was far too painful, both to Eddie and to me.  So, now God had it.  My acceptable two options:  a Lazarus-style miracle or instant death.

God wasn’t listening to me.  Eddie lost his sight, his eyes becoming soft and dry.  He stopped eating and drinking.  The hospice nurse came to check on him.  I asked her how long this could last.  Death was a funny thing, she said.  She could leave and immediately have to come back to declare him dead or this could last for days.  The word “days” resounded in my heart like a shotgun blast.  I could sit here at our bedside and be forced to watch, helplessly, as my child wasted away for days.

By this time, I had run out of words to pray.  In my desperation, I still reached out in faith.  I remembered that when Pope John Paul II prayed, he simply came into the presence of God and said one word:  “Yes.”  This became my prayer as well.  The nurse left around eleven p.m. and as I sat next to my tiny toddler, my heart breaking, I internally prostrated myself before God with that word on my lips.  “Yes.”  Your will be done, even in this.  Immediately, my agony was accompanied by a quiet peace.  The pain did not leave me but I knew that Christ was sitting right there with me as we endured this together.

At two-thirty Saturday morning on August 11th, 2007, I took a moment to be alone with God.  I washed the few dishes in the sink, talking to God.   “Thank you for Option C," I said.  "I don’t understand it.  I don’t like it.  But I know you love me and you love Eddie even more than I do.  So whatever this is, it’s for our good.  So, thank you and I love you.”

I walked back into the bedroom, looked at Eddie, and knew that he was gone.  In those few moments, his spirit had gone home.  I wanted the first words I said to be words of faith.  God’s peace enveloped me and enabled me, even with a shattered heart, to say, “Naked came I out of the womb and naked go I thither.  The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Thanks be to God.”

There is no moment like the moment your child dies.  Nothing more heartbreaking, nothing more surreal.  But God was with me.  He was listening to every single one of my prayers.  The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35.  It states simply:  "Jesus wept."  Even though He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead (and He knew it), when he encountered Mary's grief, He cried with her.  I think He did this so that we would know that at these moments, He weeps with us as well.  We are never alone in our grief.  Not in the moment that my son left this earth and not while I sit here, weeping, and write about it.  The Lords sustains me...and weeps with me.

Phillip and I called hospice.  We lovingly and reverently washed our baby's body and changed his clothes.  We placed him in his crib and covered him with a blanket.  It was impossible, but we did it.  We loved him and we honored him, both in life and in death.  When our hospice nurse arrived, her eyes were tear-stained but she smiled and said, "Our boy is free and he is flying."

She didn't even know about the butterfly on my foot back in May or that I had spent most of the day rocking Eddie and singing "I'll Fly Away."  She did know the truth, though.  That as hard as it was for all of us, Eddie was free.  He was running into the arms of the Lord.  Running!  Like a normal nearly two year old.  His stomach didn't hurt anymore.  He would never shed another tear.  He was perfect, whole, and home.

It was nearly dawn by the time all of the administrative stuff had been taken care of.  The van from the funeral home pulled away from our house just as the sun was breaking over the horizon.  It was a beautiful morning and a cool breeze was blowing.  Phillip and I sat down in the lawn chairs in our front yard and watched the sunrise.  We didn't say anything.  Really, when you've just been through what we had been through, there isn't a lot to say.  A butterfly landed on my arm, opened its wings a couple of times, and flew away.  There was so much ahead of us:  phone calls, funeral preparations, a new baby, and a lifetime of coping with grief and the loss of our first-born son.  But in that moment, I just watched that little butterfly fly away and felt peace in the assurance that my little boy was with his Savior.  That Eddie had found his own sweet escape, from all the pain, all the struggling, all the sickness.  That he was happy, laughing and joyfully showing Jesus how well he could dance.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Heartbreaker

I love Pinterest.  In fact, I'm pretty much an all around social media junkie.  I can dwindle away countless hours in front of my computer screen or on my smartphone, liking statuses, pinning recipes I will never cook, and, yes, occasionally giggling at pictures of a grumpy cat or two.  For the most part, it is an addiction I have to reign in, a time suck that could and should be spent doing something more productive.  But it's not all mindless, time wasting fluffery.  Sometimes you can use social media as a means to offer and receive encouragement, to share joy, to teach and to learn.  To inspire and spread inspiration.

To this end I have a Pinterest board entitled "Motivation."  For the most part it is filled with diet and exercise stuff, which is not necessarily a good thing for this overly body-conscious mama.  But there is a smattering of pins on there that reach for a deeper kind of motivation.  One is a lovely picture of a woman wading through a river with a simple prayer printed over it.  It says, "Lord cleanse me of anything that breaks your heart."

I remember the day I saw it.  I thought, "Wow," and repinned it.  But I didn't pray it.  Because that is a scary prayer and scary prayers... well... scare me.  Despite what my love affair with running might suggest, I am not a masochist and that prayer is just asking for trouble.  That is a prayer you should not pray unless you really, really mean it.

I've been cleansed from a lot in my life.  I remember when I was first saved I memorized Psalm 51 which says in verse 7, "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.  Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow."  There was a lot of purging to be done then.  God really had to wring me out and, unfortunately, I didn't learn my lesson.  I went back to most of if not all of my bad habits, and had to ask Him to do it AGAIN many years later.  I was a glutton for punishment, apparently.

Because to cleanse me, God had to break me down.  He had to smash my heart into a million pieces so He could put it back together.  He had to take a wrecking ball to my life, knock down every wall and strip me to the foundation.  It wasn't fun.  I am grateful for every excruciating moment of it since the final outcome was amazing and wonderful, but the process hurt.  Like childbirth, the miracle that follows outweighs the pain that led up to it.  Still, it doesn't change the fact that it hurt like hell.

So these days I do not intentionally sin.  By that I mean, I don't set out purposefully to do things I know I shouldn't do.  That is a vast improvement over my youth.  Additionally, I pray.  I read Scripture.  I attend church.  I even blog about my faith.  So, I'm good, right?  That should be enough.  I'll just hang out right here, thank you.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way.  I mean, it could, if you want to live a life of mediocrity or, as Thoreau would put it, "quiet desperation."  But I don't want to.  I know an extraordinarily awesome life is available through faith in Christ Jesus and I want it.  I have experienced a taste of kingdom living and it has given me a hunger and a thirst for righteousness that outweighs my human desire for comfort.  Sri Ramakrishna cautioned, "Do not seek enlightenment unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond."  Well, at the risk of sounded too terribly corny, I'm on fire!

So a few weeks ago, I did it.  Right in the middle of my morning prayer time I uttered the words "cleanse me of anything that breaks your heart."  And I meant it.  Meant it so much that I was immediately frightened and added a quick codicil.  "But, please, be gentle."

What happened next is best summed up by yet another quote in this already quotation heavy blog post (but I can't resist).  As Margo famously said in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy night."  Holy freaking heck.  If this is gentle, I don't want to know what rough feels like.  (Really, God, I don't.)  Apparently there is a still a lot of junk in my heart that breaks God's and He is drawing it out piece by piece, carving it out of me with a spoon and cauterizing the wound that is left behind.  I'm surviving, singing my praise songs, smiling through it while I feed and nurture this family, but let me tell you... it hurts!  On most days it's a good hurt, like the burn in your muscles that lets you know your workout is effective, but pain nonetheless.  And I have a feeling that I'm only at about a seven and God is going to dial it up all the way to ten before it's done.

The idea is both terrifying and elating.  Terrifying for obvious reasons.  Elating because, if I will endure it with faith and patience, rejoicing in every tribulation, at the end of it I will be more like Jesus.  I will have more joy, know more love, feel more power than ever before.  Things that used to defeat me will seem trivial and I will be better prepared for the next challenge that lies ahead.  God is changing my perspective, opening up my eyes to see wonder all around me, showing me that there is so much more to this life than the things I have treasured more than Him.  It's awesome... and unpleasant.

I had a hard night last night.  I woke up this morning full of resentment over the lack I felt regarding things I need.  I need a good night's sleep.  I need some cash.  I need some new clothes and new running shoes and large quantities of chocolate.  I need five minutes in which one of my children doesn't need something from me.  I need a break.  This morning was headed in a bad direction.

So I read my devotional.  And I decided to write this post.  I'll admit; it is more for me than for you.  To remind myself that I have all that I need.  That I asked for sanctification and that is exactly what I'm getting.  To call me back to gratitude for the blessings I have and joyful anticipation of the those that are to come.  To call my heart to worship the One who breaks it, only to replace it with something newer, better and more amazing than anything I could have imagined.      

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Still Life

Like every other Texan in the state, I am loving this July cool front.  While temperatures in the 80s may not seem particularly cool to my friends in northern climes, down here this is some exciting stuff.  So, like every other runner in the state, I have been taking advantage and going on some amazing runs.  I ran an 8 miler last Sunday that was itself something near a religious experience but that is the topic for another post.  This morning (in the wee hours... my two month old has just drifted off again after a 4 a.m. wake up call/feeding) what is on my mind are moments.

Yesterday evening I ran three miles through my neighborhood park, coming to the top of our one and only small hill just as the sun was setting over the lake.  Okay, it's more of a pond but we call it a lake.  It was a beautiful view, the water still and pink, contrasted against the darkening backdrop of my admittedly suburban  neighborhood, street lamps and lighted windows beginning to shine in the deepening dusk.  As I descended, I spotted a crane wandering into the water and as I passed it took wing, flirting with its reflection in the rosy water for a few moments before taking fully to the sky.  I was entranced by the present moment, taking a mental picture.  Still Life with Crane.  Or something like that.  I breathed deeply and praised God.  I wanted to remember that moment forever.

I want to remember this summer forever.  Time passes so quickly and the moments you think will always stay with you sometimes fade.  I look back on my life with Eddie and can pick out a few dozen memories, a few snapshots frozen in time.  The rest, the vast majority of those two years, are a kaleidoscope of feelings and impressions, a mash-up of memory, a collage rather than a still, strong image.  That's okay; that's the nature of life.  But sometimes I just want to take a moment and save it forever.

This is the summer that Baby Boy learned to ride his bike without training wheels, took off and never looked back.  It's a summer of four-square and popsicles, of running outside to catch the ice cream truck and running through the sprinklers in the back yard.  When Baby Girl learned to write "Mommy" and left me precious little notes all over the house, the rest indecipherable swirls and arches but that one word standing out strong and clear, reminding me of who, by the grace of God, I am and what it means to my children.  Of strong, tanned arms and legs and strawberries on knees.  Of all five of our living children under one roof, the sixth one felt even if not seen.  Of big sisters making little ones shriek with laughter.  Of popcorn and Disney movies, Golden Books and Legos.  When the Chipmunk joined this jolly crew and we learned that joy goes up to eleven.  All of that, so much more, and it is only the third of July.

Nothing spectacular by the world's standards has happened this summer.  No one has won the lottery or appeared on television.  No trophies or awards.  Just a whole lot of happy little moments, already swirling and blending into the greater pool of memory.  But this morning, as I retrieve my little cat-napper from his swing and earn a full throttle Chipmunk smile for my efforts, I just want to celebrate the moments, this present moment, and look forward to the next one to come.       

Friday, May 31, 2013

Joie de Vivre

So it's been a little over a month since my last blog post, but, hey...  I've been busy.


Our newest addition, a.k.a The Chipmunk, was born on April 26th at 12:18 a.m., weighing in at a healthy 7 pounds, 11 ounces and 19 3/4 inches long.  We are all smitten.

And a little tired.  I'm not complaining, really.  He is the sweetest newborn.  He eats well, sleeps well, and has a very pleasant natural disposition.  But he is, after all, a newborn.  So by "sleeps well," I mean that on good nights I get about four hours of uninterrupted sleep and on not so good ones I get what feels like four minutes.  During the first three weeks of his life, this did not bother me.  This past week has been a little rough.  When I hear the tell-tale rustling in his bassinet that tells me he is awakening in the wee hours of the morning (yes, I'm a light sleeper), it takes every ounce of my being to get out of the bed.  I want to be grumpy.  I want to cry and switch him to formula so someone else (namely, my hard working and little-sleep-getting-as-it-is husband) can take care of Chip's middle of the night munchies.  I want to feel intolerably sorry for myself.  I am one of those people who loves to sleep.  I love nothing better than a good nap, preferably under a light blanket and the gentle breeze of a good ceiling fan.  I need sleep.  I'm like Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to the level of sleep I'm getting.  Ask anyone.

So it's no surprise that I've had something akin to suicidal ideations in the middle of the night lately.  New parents get these feelings.  They are natural and a part of this thing.  Or are they?  It would never have occurred to me to even question the psychological effects of new parent sleep deprivation were it not for the fact that for those first three and half weeks or so I didn't have them.  Me, the worst middle of the night mom on the planet, was bouncing of out bed at 2 a.m. full of joy and gratitude for the squeaky little bundle that was building up a good cry if he didn't get his milk STAT.  And while I was sleepy during the day, I was still happy and somewhat functional despite the occasional incident such as leaving the grocery store only to get to the car and realize I left the actual groceries behind.  (The grumpy, unsympathetic checker acted like I was crazy upon my return despite the presence of my 5 year old, 4 year old and infant.  Really?  I have to explain?)  So what's the difference between now and the weeks prior?

I've come up with lots of different ideas.  First, that the sleep-deprivation had a cumulative effect and I had just finally reached my limit.  The problem with this theory is that this is baby #4 for me and with the others I felt the effects of a lack of sleep within days (if not hours) of not getting my usual shut-eye.  Second, dietary changes.  I have given up dairy since, like my others, The Chipmunk is sensitive to cow's milk.  The problem with this theory is that I indulged in a large scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and felt even worse upon awakening (and gave the baby a tummy ache).  There were others, but you get the point.  Finally, I had to admit I did not know what was different.

Then, in church last Sunday, the priest said an interesting thing.  It's a miracle I even caught it since I was actually not in the sanctuary at the time, but in the bathroom with Baby Girl (who conveniently needs to use the restroom almost every single time the homily begins).  What preceded this statement and what followed was, unfortunately, no more than background noise for me, but I heard clearly and succinctly the quote, "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."  I googled it later and found it attributed to Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest.  I like it.  It rings true and it provided the key to my midnight misery.  As usual, it was all about God.

Is that to say God has not been present this week?  Hopefully you know better.  God is always present.  What varies is our awareness of His presence.  In those first blissful weeks of The Chipmunk's life, I was overcome by gratitude for him, continually in prayer thanking God for this miraculous little person, for his life and his good health.  Somewhere around week three, for a variety of reasons, worry entered into the scene. I started to obsess over details.  Was he eating enough?  Was he sleeping too much?  And what on earth was that crusty stuff on his left ear?  You get the picture.  I made the subtle and insidious move from gratitude to anxiety and within days (if not hours) the whole happy house of cards came crumbling down.

My children are my life and my greatest joy in the world.  They allow me to live with joie de vivre (everything just sounds better in French, doesn't it?) and I don't know what I would do without them.  So why do they sometimes seem to be the enemy, the ones stealing my peace, my energy, my sleep?  In fact, they aren't.  It's a lie.  Sure, they may wake me up but if I'm grumpy and lethargic I have no one to blame but myself.  If I'm a wreck, it's because I have once again separated myself from the true Source of joy, the One who gives it freely, abundantly and permanently.

Luckily it's an easy fix.  God does not withhold Himself from those who earnestly seek Him.  All I had to do was pray.  When it was time to nurse the baby again and I felt as if my eyes were glued together, I reminded myself that I was not my feelings and prayed a prayer of gratitude.  I forced myself to really look at the baby when I picked him up from his bassinet, to see the miracle right in front of me.  Not immediately, but eventually, my joy has returned.  Even in the middle of the night, running on four minutes sleep, I am grateful and happy, enjoying the presence of God and of the fantastic mini people He has entrusted to me.  My treasures, my greatest gifts, my joys.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Where God Is

So it has been a little over three months since my last blog post and for that I apologize.  I don't have a great excuse.  I have had the time and on some days even the inclination; I just haven't done it.  And today I took some time to think about why.

It started with Sandy Hook.  The day it happened I opened my blog, ready to say something about it all and realized I had nothing to say.  Nothing original to offer; no words to even attempt to address it.  After that day I managed to post a few times about this and that but it seems like 2013 thus far has been a year of shocking tragedies, both on a global or national scale and on a personal one for many of my friends and loved ones.  In the face of it all, I read lots of what others have to say, particularly on social media, and I find myself leaning toward silence.  Toward not throwing another voice into the arena, though I totally understand those who do and choose to process this whole mess in that way.  I just don't really want to.

Because all I have to say is what I always have to say.  My bottom line in the face of everything.  My unwavering belief, based on the cold, hard facts of my own life and journey, that God is good, no matter what.  Doesn't really take a whole blog post to say that, though I guess I have dedicated this entire blog itself, not to mention my entire life itself, to trying to get that simple message across.

2013 has already held some wonderful moments as well, not just senselessly tragic ones.  On a personal level, we have moved to a new house and new community that we love and which we never would have been able to find and afford without God's intervention.  My pregnancy has progressed happily and healthily and I have been surrounded by the unbelievable support of my friends and family as I grow this baby and take care of my littles along the way.  My days continued to be filled with the wonder and hilarity that having a five and four year old naturally brings.  I have no cause to grumble... but when has that ever stopped anyone?

The past few weeks I've been a grumbler.  My pregnancy has gotten to the point where "discomfort" takes on a whole new meaning.  I had my hopes set on a somewhat early delivery and after several disappointing "false starts" it would appear that this little one will make his debut on his due date of April 25th at the earliest or perhaps some day thereafter.  My husband and I have encountered some unexpected financial challenges.  I got stressed out.  I'm not sure if my kids picked up on my stress or if they are just sensing the change in the air that a new baby will bring, but they are amping up the whining and clinging to levels I find... irritating.  And while I've managed to handle it all without blow ups or panic attacks, I am hardly my usual cheerful self.

I had already become self-aware of all of this and was working on it... in a half-hearted, marginally prayerful kind of way.  I certainly haven't been ignoring God and I've prayed but I would be lying if I said it had been consistent, persistent or even more than a cursory nod on some days.  So last night I had an asthma attack.

No, that should not be the beginning of a new paragraph.  I think the first two sentences are directly related to the third.  Am I saying God punished me with an asthma attack?  Not at all.  That is not who He is.  Am I saying He allowed my stress, current physical situation and lack of faith in those areas to carry through to a natural consequence like the perfect "love and logic" parent that He is?  Yes, yes I am.

A scary hour of struggling for breath, a trip to the ER, a breathing treatment and several tedious hours waiting around the hospital in the wee hours of the morning later, I am home and breathing just fine.  Humbled, prayerful, grateful and fine.  There is nothing so revelatory as the reminder that the simple act of breathing is a gift.

If you follow the blog, you know God healed me of asthma.  Does last night's attack negate that truth?  My answer in faith is an emphatic "no."  I simply means my healing, in this and in all things, is entirely dependent on an on-going relationship with my Healer.  Just as my sobriety demands a dependance on Him, so does my health:  physical, emotional, spiritual... all of it.  I'm grateful for the (relatively) painless reminder.

Now before you accuse me of rambling, let me assure you that the first part of this post and the latter part are not wholly unrelated.  Because this morning I found myself asking the question:  How can I know that God is good (not just believe but know) in the face of massacres and bombings, of personal loss and unspeakable tragedy, but not trust Him with my finances?  How can I surrender the loss of my child to Him but begrudge Him my heartburn?  Trust His perfect plan in the face of a world full of evil but swell up like a petulant child because He refuses to cooperate with my personal expectations for the birth of my new baby?     

So my prayer for myself today (and any of you who have stuck with me through this meandering post) is to simply remember that God is good.  He is the hope in the face of fear; the comfort in the midst of tragedy.  He is also the healing balm to sore and swollen feet; the provision when the work dries up and the money doesn't come.  He is there for the big stuff and again for every single mundane detail of daily life... because He is THAT big and that good.  And really, all we have a right to be is grateful... no matter what.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Glimpsing Abundance

I started this new year with great intentions to faithfully post to this blog at least six days a week.  I'm a little discouraged to see that I have failed already (significantly so) but am going to be diligent in beginning again.  There are some days when I truly just feel that I have nothing to say, at least nothing interesting.  Then there are other days in which I have something to say but just don't really feel ready to say it.

This post is one of the latter posts, a few days in the making.  Because, more than anything, this blog is my tribute to Eddie, my touchstone in remembering the beautiful lessons his life taught me, my way of keeping his memory fresh and sharing him with others, especially those who didn't get to know him in life.  So I felt that I should post my dream about him Thursday night.  Every time I sat down to do so, however, I felt my throat tighten and my heart break a little and I stopped.  I put it off.  But I really don't think I'm going to have it in me to write about anything else until I get this out there into the cyber-sphere so I'm gutting it up and getting through it.

It wasn't a bad dream at all.  In it, Eddie was standing on a chair in front of our kitchen table, frustrated with some project he was undertaking on the table's surface.  He looked just as he had in the last months of his life:  a gorgeous little man-toddler, hardly larger than the average twelve month old but with a maturity of expression befitting an adult.  The fact that he was standing should have clued me in that this was a dream, since he was never able to stand on his own, but it was overshadowed by his terrific frown, which was definitely true to life.  In my dream I was laughing at the intensity of it and he was not pleased with my giggling.  I scooted next to him in the chair and hugged him, snuggling my head into the curve of his back and closing my eyes, loving every grumpy inch of my curmudgeonly son.

I then remember holding him, cradling him in my arms as if to rock him to sleep.  I was smiling at him and bent to kiss the curls that lined his high forehead.  Someone was there with a camera, taking our picture.

An unremarkable dream, really.  That's it.  No big revelations, no visions, no lessons.  Except for the fact that he was standing, those moments could have been snatched from any number of the days that we shared together.  But we don't share days together anymore, at least not in the way we used to.  I feel his presence with me, some days more than others; I talk to him in my heart.  But I don't get to see that hilariously frightening frown or kiss those beautiful curls, so these dreams are precious to me.  I wouldn't trade them for the world.  They give me little glimpses of the person I miss most, that I will always miss most, but that doesn't keep them from being painful.  I woke up Friday morning feeling as if my chest had been hollowed out with an ice cream scoop.

These are the mornings when I have to breathe a little deeper.  A little more deliberately.  When I have to get on my knees (figuratively) before I even get out of bed.  I give praise to the God who is going to get me through this day, through this life, without my first born son.  Because the answer to the comment I get more than any other, "I don't know how you do it," is, honestly, really, I don't.  I wake up some mornings and can't imagine surviving the day.  I don't know how to get out of bed and have something that resembles a decent day.  I don't know how to do it, but I know someone who does and I trust Him.  So far He hasn't let me down.

So I prayed and I got out of bed.  I prayed a little more and made coffee.  And by the time my husband and bounding preschoolers were up and about, I was able to give them all a genuine smile.  We played music and watched cartoons.  I drank a hot cup of coffee and could appreciate its taste, its rich aroma, its magical reviving power.  We decided on the day's adventure, a trip to see the "Dinosaurs Alive!" exhibit at a local nature park.  On the way we stopped and ate donuts.  I didn't have a decent day; I had a great one.

One of my go-to Bible verses is John 10:10 which reads, "The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.  I have come so that may have life and have it in abundance."  The latter part of that verse was printed on the memorial cards from Eddie's funeral and I know it probably seemed a strange choice to some.  After all, 22 months of life does not seem "abundant" by the world's standards and in many ways, no, it wasn't enough.  But abundance is not about quantity but quality.  It's not about money or material possessions.  It's not even about bountiful amounts of food, though those are always nice.  Abundance, Christ's abundance, is about starting the day lost in loss, crippled by the pain of the past, but finding God's hands ever open, doling out much more than sufficiency.  Pouring out joy overflowing, "pressed down, shaken together, and running over."  Were it not for Eddie, I might have missed what an abundant life looked like.  Through his short little life, my eyes were opened to who God was, what He could do, and what He offers, freely, daily, and without reservation.  Love divine, all loves excelling.

So, yes, it hurts to close my eyes and see those images from my dream, not to mention all of those from my memory.  I yearn to hold my little boy again and the promise of our heavenly reunion seems too remote, too far away, to ease the longing.  But God is with me in these moments, covering me with His comfort and waiting for me to go to Him for help.  To ask Him to get me through, to which He responds by lifting me up, above and beyond any height to which I could have aspired.  I ask to be able to cope; He gives me the ability to flourish.  I ask not to cry; He calls me to laugh.  I ask for life to be tolerable; He makes it phenomenal.  So through grateful tears tonight, I find myself whispering, simply, "Abundance."  Much more than enough.  The best I could hope for and better.          


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Art and Other Messes

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is art.  I don't really know how else to put it, though the phrase "do art" doesn't really make me happy.  I guess I could say "create art" or "make art" but that implies an activeness on my part that is very much absent when we have our little art sessions.  Not because I don't want to participate.  Sometimes I have to restrain myself from becoming more actively involved.  Instead I try to provide interesting materials and mediums and let them do the creating.  This process is always different, always interesting, and always extremely, extremely messy.

Today's art lesson, such as it was, was no different.  It started with an idea I saw on Pinterest that I liked and thought would work well for my twos class at preschool.  My kids are testers for all art and sensory projects, even though they are a bit older than my demographic.  For one thing, they prepare me in advance for the fact that, whatever the thing looks like on Pinterest, the result is probably not going to be the same if toddlers or preschoolers are given free reign.  For another, they always have a whole lot of fun and that makes me happy.

So today's project, initially, was relief painting with tape.  I masking-taped the first letters of their names on a piece of paper and had them paint the paper around it.  Tomorrow, when everything is dry, I'll take the tape off and see if it looks cool or if I should relegate it to the "fun at home, not so much for school" list.  My kids had a blast splashing paint on the page and rubbing it over the taped letters.  After they were done with that I provided more paper so that they could paint at will.  Baby Girl covered a page with green and began drawing designs.  Baby Boy did what he almost always does... mixing colors together until everything is a really strange purply-grey-brown blob.

Here is where my restraint comes in.  He loves to mix colors and he loves to use a lot of paint while experimenting.  Like, a lot of paint.  He would go through gallons if it was available to him and he would take all of the lovely bright hues and, by process of experimentation, produce gallons of purply-grey-brown.  With all of it.  I grew up in a household where mixing play-doh colors was punishable by death.  Okay, not really, but you get the point.  Watching him swirl and swirl and swirl until we go way past pretty is hard for me.

But I am a woman of strong resolve and I am resolved to let my children be free.  To let them explore their world within safe parameters and to suspend judgement when possible.  As I bit my tongue to prevent myself from saying something to the effect of "that's really probably enough," I repeated to myself the mantra, "He's exploring the medium.  He's exploring the medium."  And he was.  Baby Boy was learning and doing so in a way that made him spontaneously erupt in a fit of joyful giggles.  I was immediately glad I had not "corrected" him and had let him create in the way he wanted to create.

Once the paintings were all done and the little Picassos deposited in the bathtub, I cleaned up the mess and then took a look at the drying masterpieces.  They are beautiful.  There is no doubt whose is whose; Baby Girl's deliberate swirls and twirls are a totally different style than her big brother's excessive Jackson Pollack-esque works.  But one of his in particular is pretty fantastic.  It is purply-grey-red with a big swipe of red (squeezed straight from the bottle) down the center and another of yellow in the corner and it's... beautiful.  I would take a picture of it to post but I'm a terrible photographer and would not do it justice.  Not that I'm about to show it to a gallery or anything.  It's just interesting to me that the moment that my "grown up" brain was shouting in alarm, "Too much paint!!", my child was creating something really striking and... well... beautiful.

Pablo Picasso said, "All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."  I don't pretend to have the answer to that problem, but I'm going to do my best to protect my little artists' hearts and spirits, to let them be them and not have to be anything else.  It's not always my first inclination.  Baby Girl loves to take pieces of construction paper and a pair of safety scissors and cut the paper into tiny little slivers and squares, triangles and squiggly spirals.  My "grown up" brain screams "Messy!" (and it is) and "Wasteful!" (which, really, it isn't) but I've never complained.  Consequently, the girl has mad scissor skills that were remarked upon by her preschool teachers.  I breathe and decide I'm doing something right.

At the risk of making this blog post too quote-heavy...  As I was looking at Baby Boy's artwork, I was reminded of a quote from Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (which is nothing short of brilliant if you've never read it) which says, in part, "Let others bring order to chaos.  I would bring chaos to order."  Not that I'm an anarchist or anything, but I do believe this world is chaotic.  There is nothing we can do about it and probably nothing we should do about it.  The chaos is a big part of why it is so beautiful.  The less we try to control it, the happier we will be.  

God tells us the kingdom belongs to children and children don't follow the rules.  They don't try to impose order when chaos will do.  These perfect little artists don't know well enough to have "grown up" brains yet and it suits them just fine.  So I'm going to continue to tell my brain to hush when it's being a spoil sport and let my children inspire me.  Let's get messy.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Celebrate

As I prepare for the arrival of another bundle of joy, it occurs to me that I now am in need of a new pseudonym for one of the boys.  For so long it has been Baby Boy and Baby Girl with no need to disguise the "real" identity of Eddie since he is, after all, deceased.  But there is a little guy on the way who needs his own name.  Or, perhaps, big brother needs a change in his.  Not only is he no longer the baby-est boy, but he turned the ripe old age of five in December, taking him solidly out of the baby category (at least by his own estimation).

Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of this momentous occasion, a whopping five years in the making.  It's been a really big deal.  I mean, birthdays are a really big deal in our family anyway.  Part of this stems from my husband's Mexican heritage, a culture who loves to celebrate and can stretch a birthday party into a month's long event if they so choose, complete with live music, bounce houses and feasts that feed a crowd of hundreds.  I'm really only exaggerating a little.  It's awesome and I love it.  Added on to this cultural penchant for larger than life celebrations, however, is the fact that we only got to celebrate one birthday for Eddie.  I was in the process of planning his second birthday extravaganza when he left us.  Luckily, we had celebrated every week while he was in NICU.  I will never forget that Eddie was born on a Tuesday, because every single Tuesday was a big, big deal for those first three months.  After he was home, I calmed down just a little and it went to monthly celebrations.  Not always the big thing with cake and presents, but an acknowledgement, an excited "You are seven months old today!" when he woke up that morning.

With Eddie, every day was something of a celebration.  Even on the hard days, there was an underlying gratitude that he was there, present, drawing air even if only through the aid of machinery.  I found a random journal entry, scrawled in the pages of a Mead notebook between old meal plans and to do lists.  I was sitting at our kitchen table in a duplex in Bastrop, Eddie napping a few meters away in his crib in our bedroom.  I was grateful and writing about it.  Midway through the entry, I noted that I heard him stir, no cry or call of "Mama," just a simple rustling of body against sheet, the kind of noise that would be easily missed by many parents, those not hyper-sensitively attuned to every single sound (we, the parents of critically ill children, whom God blesses with our own bizarre brand of spider-sense).  I wrote how that tiny little sound shouted joy to me, screaming, "He is alive!"  For as long as he stirred, he lived and as long as he lived, I had hope.

In those days, I could not look ahead to a future where Eddie no longer slept in his crib, no longer awoke with a small stirring followed by the sing-song "MA-ma" which was music to my ears.  The times when my mind would wander toward the possibility of  different days I would feel a tearing in my heart, a pain so acute and sudden, that I would shy away, take a deep breath, and focus on the present moment.  He was there now, I would tell myself, and that is enough.  Life beyond Eddie seemed something I could never bear, never survive.  I imagined that if and when the time came I would just heavily medicate and drift away to la-la land, living a sort of half-life until I got to follow him home.

God had other plans for my life and He gave us Baby Boy, already five months in my womb and completely dependent on me by the time his big brother died.  From those first kicks and wiggles, I had someone else that I loved much more than myself, someone who wasn't going to let me escape into oblivion.  Even as my first tears fell after the breath left Eddie's body, they fell onto my full, round belly and I knew I would go on.  That somehow I was going to survive this; we were, my new Baby Boy and I.  I didn't have any other choice.

What I didn't know was how much better we were going to do than merely survive.  How we were going to thrive.  The laughter and joy we were going to share; the indescribable hope.  I love this picture, one of the first pictures of Baby Boy and me, taken the day after he was born.




There is so much in my expression.  If you didn't know, you would only see the face of a happy, if a little tired, new mother, never guessing that this was also the face of a mother who had lost her child a mere four months before.

Do not make the mistake of thinking I replaced one child with another.  That is impossible and mental.  I grieved for Eddie; I still do.  The tearing, ripping, unbearable pain of loss came in waves in those first years and still comes, crashing and impossible, but I have the strength and fortitude to sit with it, to allow God to draw me near to Him and comfort me.  I breathe through them like a woman in labor until they abate.  I can do this only through God's strength, not my own, but I choose to seek that strength because my children give me a reason to.  A purpose, a direction, and I thank God for that.

"I'm a grown up now," announces Baby Boy with confidence.  "Because I'm five."  I look at him and smile because in so many ways he is, compared to the tiny little bundle born five years and one months ago.  Yet I'm grateful that there is still so much of the baby there too, in no hurry for him or his sister to grow up.  Not just yet.  So perhaps I'll let him keep his moniker for now and we'll wait and see what we'll call the new one when he arrives.  My big Baby Boy crawls into my lap, gives me a kiss, and tells me he loves me so much... can we play Mickey Mouse Clubhouse now?  I laugh and tell him we can.  So it is with a heart full of love, hope and gratitude for this present moment that I sign off, wishing you all a joyful day full of moment to moment blessings.           

Friday, January 4, 2013

Anchors Aweigh

Instead of making my usual list of New Year's resolutions for 2013 (which would have read something like: eat more vegetables, lose baby weight... once I have the baby of course, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah), I'm trying something new this year.  In my search for new and interesting teaching methods for my kids, I ran across a blog called Fairy Dust Teaching and caught onto her recommendations for a mindful beginning to the new year.  I'm only two days in to a five day series, but geeking for the next installment.  I love it when I try something and it really, really works.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The first day's exercise was a reflection on 2012.  Workbook pages that made you reflect on what worked, what didn't, what you accomplished and what fell flat.  It was eye opening and encouraging, showing me where I had excelled in 2012 (physical fitness) and where I had fallen flat (sadly, service to others and creativity).  Instead of using this as an opportunity to beat myself up for not serving meals to the homeless or building a house in El Salvador or something, I reviewed it in non-judgment.  My focus had been on getting back in shape for 2012 and I'd done that, quickly and impressively, if I do say so myself.  So what could I accomplish this year if I shifted that focus to where it needed to be for 2013?  The idea stirred an excitement in me that threatened to overcome the perpetual heartburn of my pregnancy and it was with a sense of anticipation that I put the day's reflection to bed and looked toward the next.

The second day brought a challenge to choose one word to define the year to come.  One word, to provide clarity and focus for what I wanted 2013 to be for me.  Looking at a list of words, so many of them looked good to me.  Create.  Adventure.  Learn.  Live.  Be.  Imagine.  Choosing one was going to be torture.  I just knew that when I found that one word, though, I would know it.  That there would be a click and that would be it.  Going throughout the day to day tasks of a busy homemaker, part of my mind kept wrestling with it, turning the concept over and over like the clothes in my front-loading washing machine.  Then it came to me like a flash.  From Disney Jr. of all places.  I turned on the TV in order to make lunch (if you are a better mom than me and don't use your TV in this manner, hats off to you and all that) and at my kids excited cheers that Jake and the Neverland Pirates was on, I found it.  It resonated like a tuning fork, bringing all those words together into one:  Neverland.  I want this year to be Neverland.

I rushed to write it down in my New Year's workbook.  Neverland.  It was beautiful.  It was creativity and child-like joy, possibility, imagination and endless adventure.

Now, do I know how to instantly transform my home, heart and surroundings to fit the Neverland theme?  Not remotely.  Do I even know what, precisely, that would look like?  Ummm....  No.  But I do know about the power of intention.  I do know that when you plant that seed, that when you voice a desire of your heart, even one as nebulous and undefined as J.M. Barrie's imaginary island, you create a ripple, you throw a stone into the stillness, and things come to you.  You knock and God answers.

I watched the movie Finding Neverland many years ago, which is an adaptation of the story surrounding Barrie's creation of Peter Pan.  I remember crying, not only because of the content of the plot but because it made me realize that being a "grown up" was not necessarily compulsory.  That we could keep a child's heart, if we devoted ourselves to its preservation.  That the world could be full of wonder and discovery every day of our lives, not just those days in which we glimpse the Grand Canyon but also those that we glimpse little more than meatloaf and ketchup stains.  

So it is with a deep breath of salty sea air (produced by my Scentsy burner) and a swig of hearty brew (to wit:  decaf Constant Comment tea), that I embark boldly on this adventure of 2013, my wee first mateys by my side and even a stowaway in my belly (due to arrive in April).  I look forward to seeing what it brings me.  What pirate attacks, what treasures to be found, what dreams to be discovered and realized, as we set sail through stars and sky for Neverland.