Friday, January 8, 2016

2015 Year In Review

(Skip to the end for pics and a factual breakdown of my year.  This section is all emotional. :-))

A few weeks ago, I posted a Facebook status that caused people to worry.  It said something like, “Officially, for the rest of the year, I can NOT.  I just cannot.  I’ll see if I can again in 2016.” 
This status was totally tongue-in-cheek.  People got concerned about me, but I tried to reassure everyone that it was nothing.  And it wasn’t- I mean, it definitely wasn’t something specific. It was just that I had enough.

You know what I mean?  Just enough with this year, already.  Enough with the emotional struggles, the hard decisions, the worrying about the destiny of my children, the difficult conversations.  And enough with all the little stuff- the homework management, the refereeing over toy fights, the cleaning out of closets.  I was just done.  DONE.

Of course, none of us can actually be done with that stuff, but there is a large part of it I truly am done with forever.  I have realized a ton about myself this year, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, the stuff God showed me has led me to a place of freedom and joy.

So 2015- take that. I’m so over you. It’s not me, it’s you. We are through.

But to back up, here’s what happened this year:
Each year, when New Year’s rolls around, instead of resolutions, I pray that God will give me a word or phrase to focus on for the year.  At the start of 2015, the word He gave me was FULLNESS. And I was so excited. Fullness, to me, meant I was going to really have joy and love and passion and excitement and wonder and just feel like my heart might burst. 

And in many ways it did burst.  Just not with those things.

Instead, the year was full of anxiety, stress, heartbreak, hurt, betrayal, fear, frustration.  Emotionally, it felt like we just got beat up repeatedly, and it was painful.  Rather than being filled with wonderful things, I felt like my heart was cut open, scraped out, and stitched recklessly back together again- empty. And all of this with no anesthesia.  I had no idea how all these painful things went along with my visions of a full, happy heart. 

As the year went on, I gradually saw how being broken-hearted and emptied of certain things that I held onto tightly was necessary if I actually wanted to experience fullness.  The junk I kept inside was taking up too much space.  I had to throw out some of the stuff.  And most of it seemed like good stuff- friendships held high, expectations for people close to me, commitments to church-related stuff, dreams for my children, control of many things in my life.  A lot of areas in our lives that are “good” also have a “bad” side, and for me, a lot of that previously good stuff had taken over and just grew into grossness inside of me, masquerading as non-negotiable ideals passed on to me by other people. 

What finally pushed me over the edge was that one day I woke up and realized I was miserable on the inside.  Again, nothing huge was wrong on the outside, but I sorta felt like I went to sleep at some point and woke up in a life I didn’t recognize. And had become a person I didn’t recognize. I believed tons of lies about myself, most of them coming from trying to live up to ridiculous standards.  And I was enslaved to things people had said to me over the years about who I was and who I needed to be. I had betrayed my own heart by trying, tirelessly, to please other people and had forgotten all the things that I actually liked about myself.  My inner life was full of JUNK, and it was too much to take any longer.

I can pretty clearly remember the defined moment I decided to change that.  I can only describe it like something inside me broke- but not broke like something I now need to fix.  Broke like bursting out of a rope that was tying both my hands together behind me back and now I was free.  Like finally, FINALLY, my heart was empty enough that I could start to be filled. Filled with  hope, excitement, joy and motivation to move.  

So move I did: In the direction of all things that gave me life, and away from the things that were sucking the life out of me. The more LIFE I got, the more I wanted. And the less appealing all of those tightly-held (man-made and oppressive) ideals looked.  In the end, I have been left in a place where I feel closer to God than ever, am surrounded by people who love me in the truest sense of the word, and I feel hopeful for the first time in a while.  All the pain of JUNK REMOVAL has been more than worth it.

So I’ve ended 2015 with that fullness I was hoping for at the start, but it didn’t happen how I thought.  And that’s ok. I know God knew that He couldn’t cram all these exciting things into a space that was already overgrown with dying branches and rotting fruit.  It had to get pruned and burned off. 

So as I thought about my word for 2016, it was obvious: I had forgotten what it felt like, but was pleasantly surprised by the way it snuck back into my life.  As I began to feel it more and more, it was like an old friend moving back into town.  So this year, I am going with JOY as my word.  I have a few ideas about how to recognize and treasure the joy that’s around me, but the cool thing about joy is that it can pop up out of nowhere at any time, if your heart isn’t full of stupid junk.

So goodbye to 2015. I guess you weren’t all bad, but still.  I am moving on.

Here are other things that happened in 2015:
-I was a part of two musical productions through RRT: Hello, Dolly! and The Addams Family.  Both great experiences, but Addams was by far my favorite show to be in yet.  I got to play an Addams Family Ancestor- a dead person- which I actually enjoyed immensely.  I was also cast in a show that will open in February of 2016- Mary Poppins.  Talk about a joy-filled show! I also got the chance to see many amazing productions my friends were a part of.  I just commented to my husband last night that I can’t believe I stayed away from this stuff for so long.  It is so life-giving to me, and a huge source of joy for sure.  The new friends I’ve made through RRT have expanded my world so much and I feel like I’m sorta back with my tribe- the people who “get” me. 
Hello, Dolly! 

Sitzprobe rehearsal for Addams

My Addams Ancestor character- Millie, a dead flight attendant

Photo cred- Patrick Evenson

-I started a new job in March at St. Joseph PRC- what many of you know as The Pregnancy Resource Center.  I am the office manager, and I get to be a part of a fantastic group of people who are working to bring hope and help to women in unplanned pregnancies.  This has been a blessing in many ways to me, including my fantastic co-workers and the way I get to see God moving every day in desperate situations.

-We decided I would homeschool Eli beginning this past fall.  It has been an amazing experience.  He is an eager learner and we love spending time together.  The current plan is to send him back to school next year, but he says he wants to stay home again. We will see! He also started taking Theater Academy classes, which he loves.  He is still undergoing physical therapy for his head injury and I am glad I can take him to those appointments during the day.

Eli on the Missouri Theater stage for the first time ever. Won't be the last!!! 

-The twins turned 2- which was momentous for us- I guess with them it feels like every year we survive is a reason to celebrate! But Lord have mercy- we have two two-year olds now.  They are a joy and a challenge every single day.

-Seth entered 3rd grade this fall, and he is such a smart, funny kid who loves guitars and cars and Legos and is very much becoming a tweenage boy.  Again, Lord have mercy.

-My first-ever nephew was born!!! I actually was randomly hanging out with my sister when she went into labor 4 WEEKS EARLY.  I was honored to be there through the whole process. He joined my four nieces, and then we got another niece in the summer. Our family is exploding.

-I saw one of my lifelong musical idols live in concert- my mom and I got to go see Billy Joel in May, and thanks to generous friends, ended up with really close seats! He is one reason I fell in love with the piano, so seeing him in real life was overwhelmingly touching.

-We have healed some relationships that needed to be healed long ago, and it feels amazing.

-We had our first year in quite some time where NONE of our kids were admitted to a hospital for any reason! Yahoooo!!!!

-I lost 20+ pounds and finally feel like I recognize my outer self when I look in the mirror.  It’s a great feeling.

-And we continue to be grateful for friends- old and new-  and family who stand by us.  Too many to picture here, but here are a few moments from this year;

So we will see what 2016 holds- but I know for sure many more big changes are on the horizon.  So stay tuned.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

Valleys, Disciples, and Bad Head Bonks

Today I am thinking about this week, two years ago.  This story hasn't really been told much.  Or fully.  Not sure I can even tell it all here today, but I have felt that it's time for me to share. I hope you'll indulge me as I think about this specific life event and what it's done to my heart.

Two years ago, I was 7 1/2 months pregnant with twins- I was uncomfortable and huge. I was on partial bed rest, as I had been having fits of premature labor for about 2 months.  And with all of that going on, I was sitting here, at this very kitchen table, wondering if my precious 3 1/2 year old was going to be able to walk again.

When people look at my Mr. Boo, they see an active, joyful, entertaining, "normal" now- 5 year old.  But I see the huge struggles he's had in his five short years, and how God has shaped him.  And it's amazing.

But that day 2 years ago, I was afraid I was going to lose him- in some capacity- forever.

To this day, it's difficult for me to detail the actual accident.  Let me tell you that it touched on just about every one of my fears as a parent, and I am one of those moms who you'd probably accuse of being over-protective.  I don't leave my kids with people I don't fully trust.  I don't take them to places where they'd get hurt.  I hover under the monkey bars.  I read those articles about how kids these days aren't allowed to roam and get hurt and do things like when we were kids, and I think, "Yah, that's because we are smarter parents now- and we don't want our kids to die."  (not saying I'm right- it's just how I think).

I'm going to "long-story-short" you here.  I left him in a childcare situation I thought was completely safe- somewhere he'd been hundreds of times with people I trust explicitly.  Due to the negligence of one or more adults who I dearly love, something massively heavy fell over on him and trapped him underneath. I'm talking hundreds of solid pounds.  On his head.  Through no fault of his own.  I was nearby and heard it happen, and heard his screams. He was carried to my arms, crying, unable to explain what he was feeling. As I laid him down to examine him, I had a vision of laying him in a coffin.  My heart was punctured.  I was terrified.

Doctors, hospitals, tests.  Words thrown at us: Skull fracture. Traumatic brain injury. Post-concussive syndrome.  FRACTURE of my 3 year-old's SKULL.  We spent days at a children's hospital (a place we have come to know fairly well), while I tried hard to remain calm so I didn't deliver twin babies prematurely on the floor of a radiology waiting room.

His little face the night of the accident. His fracture ran from the bridge of his nose, up through his eye socket, to his forehead.

The next morning. Trying to make me laugh by CHEESEing.
You can't keep a good man down: still smiling through his tests. 

Thank God- he didn't have spinal cord damage, despite being injured in a way that could've resulted in that. He had "the best kind of skull fracture." Somehow, that didn't comfort me in the moment. One of the seemingly endless line of doctors said to us, "Well, if his bones had shifted an inch one way or the other, it could've been life threatening." Literally within an inch of his life .

He came home and didn't walk normally for about 2 weeks. The skull fracture was only part of the huge issue- the brain injury was worse.  His personality was altered badly for awhile. I can't tell you the amount of fear that was in me.  I can also say it hasn't totally gone away.

I know I'm rambling. Here's the point: this might be the first time in my adult life when my faith came into question in my own head. What if he had died? What if he was paralyzed? This child has been in the hospital 7 times in his short life- he's fought battles some adults I know haven't fought. And we've made it through, together. He is a treasure in my heart, and I'm amazed by him. So the thought of losing him, as I'm sure all parents would agree, is just incomprehensible.  But it could happen. It could happen to any of our children at any time  It HAS happened to friends I know.
Standing up, with help from Nana.
I was grateful and rejoicing that Mr. Boo was ok.  But my spirit was still disturbed: that aching reminder that I am not in control and I cannot protect my kids from everything. I felt a little betrayed by God- that dumb, recurring feeling that somehow my family should be exempt from this kind of trouble. I felt lost, down in a valley I had never been in before. I felt Him asking me: Will you abandon ME if something this heart-breaking (or worse) happens in your life?

I put the question off for days. Weeks. Months. But finally I could put it off no longer. And as I wrestled in my heart, my mind went to the story in the Bible where many people who had been following Jesus abandoned Him, and He turned to his disciples and said, "Are you also going to leave?"

Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go?"

Where would I go? If I gave up my faith for this, what would I have? I would have nothing.  No direction, no confidence. No hope.  To whom would I go for the unconditional love and comfort and peace and joy and healing in my life? Who else will never abandon me? There is no one else.

Mr. Boo's head recovered slowly, but his spunky spirit and joyful heart were no worse for the wear: in fact, I think this only made him more full of life.

Sitting up, unassisted, for the first time in a week.  (Wearing his Hawthorne Huskies tee: represent)
So where are we today?  He still often brings up his "bad head bonk." We talk about it a lot. He has fear too.  And, as I've been revealing to some of you lately, we recently found out he still has neurological issues as a result of the accident, and we are seeing neurology again. He needs specialized therapy for the damage that has remained. And over and over I have to let go of fear.  And anger. And sadness.

Add the "head bonk" event to the crazy last two years: giving birth to twins, fighting their medical issues, a Life-Flight/ICU event for Sammy Brown, and all kinds of other life-shifting stuff, and sometimes it still feels like giving up would be easier. To turn to something else for comfort, or just shut my heart down completely so I don't feel this stuff.

But I know where I am and Who I am with is better than any alternative.

And to be completely honest, we have had another year of valleys.  Nothing physical, but still heart-wrenching. People who we thought would never abandon us have done just that.  We've been massively deceived and hurt as a family by people close to us.  Lies have been told about us, to slander us and damage relationships, while we've had no chance to defend ourselves. Our children have been hurt and confused. And there have been times I've questioned everything: where is God when I'm hurting? Why does He allow this? Wouldn't it be easier to just chuck it all and stop trying to follow Him?

And the answer is the same: To Whom would I go? Even in the hurt, I know there is no one like Him.
Keeping your heart alive means feeling the deep hurts.  But keeping it truly alive means you will never be truly alone. And as I often quote, "Turns out, (it's) not where, but who you're with, that really matters."  Grateful I'm with Him, and thankfully,  I'm still hanging onto my Boo.  Whose real name, by the way, is based on a story about one man turning the hearts of an entire nation back to God.  My little old testament prophet continues to do that for me time and time again.  I'll gladly keep my heart alive for those moments.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Clothes

Of the many, many things (MANY) that have surprised me about parenting, one of the things that I simply never ever thought about as being emotional, and yet is something I cry about frequently is this:

The clothes.

It began the year before our adoption was complete.  My friend, Wendy, called one day and said she knew we were waiting for our baby boy's adoption to go through and she wondered if I needed any clothes or toys.  I am never one to miss out on getting used items (this is why my kids ask me every Saturday if the garage sales are calling my name- they've heard me say that a lot!), so I said "sure!" to Wendy. We set up a time and I went to her house.  In her garage were four large, carefully labeled Rubbermaid totes, full of boy clothes that her kids had outgrown.  I asked her how much she wanted for them.  She said, "If you'll take them out of here, they're free!"  I protested, but she insisted.  I was thrilled.

I took the totes home and spent hours carefully inspecting and sorting them by size, season, and type (The only thing I love more than getting things cheap or free is organizing things!). I put them back in totes to have them ready to go when it was time. So after we finally got our son, I happily pulled out my totes and he had an entire wardrobe!

I added items to the totes as people gave us gifts. After he outgrew things, I carefully saved the ones that weren't damaged or stained, in case we had another baby someday.

In between Son 1 and Mr. Boo, I had a friend who had a son.  We discussed swapping clothes, and so I got out my totes again.  I labelled each item with our last initial on the tag, and gave them to her.  She used them, put them back in totes, and gave them back.  Thus began a process of passing around clothes within our circle of friends.  "Who has the 6 month boy stuff?" we'd ask.  Or "I think he will need the 12 month stuff this fall- do you have that?"  Everyone had their own totes and labels on their clothes.  It was amazing. We would sigh with happy delight when we saw someone wearing "our kid's" clothes at church.  We took really good care of the clothes. We also all understood that kids' clothes get ruined easily, so we kept those few sentimental items out, and if something got ruined, so be it.

This has saved us all thousands of dollars, I am sure, which makes our husbands happy to go "pull out the totes" from storage when we need them.

For over 7 years now, I've had totes upon totes in my storage room.  "0-3 Month Boys: fall/winter" they would say.  Sometimes I'd work ahead and put "For Mr. Boo next fall" on a tote.

The first inkling that this process could be emotional came the very first time I "put away" clothes that Son 1 had outgrown in his totes.  What mother hasn't stood and cleaned out a closet in tears? My first baby was already growing so fast.  What a physical, tangible reminder of that.  There were outfits he never even got to wear before it was time to put them away.  How does this happen, this dressing a baby in a precious outfit, holding them close, and then blinking and they can no longer squeeze into that onesie? But in the beginning, there was a little respite in knowing that another one of my babies might wear the clothes.  There was only a temporary finality to putting them in the totes.

But now?  Yep, this is it.  The 0-3 month boy tote is no longer in existence.  After Sammy Brown wore that size, I donated some (some that I'd had for 7 years) and then stashed the best clothes away for my sister. I did make sure to save certain outfits that reminded me of each kid in their keepsake boxes.  But I am now down to one tub that says "0-9 month boy clothes to pass on." It's ready to leave this house and never come back. And my baby girl clothes had such a temporary stay here.

I can't believe it.  I can't believe there will be a day that there won't be tubs full of clothes in my basement.  All the time organizing, managing and sorting them.  All the "oh I remember that outfit!" when you pull out a new tub.  That will slowly be done as the years go on.  The tubs will leave and won't come back.

This has been such a sweet way for our community of friends to support each other and to delight in each other's kids.  It has been a visual reminder of our kids' temporary status as babies, toddlers, preschoolers and on.  I can look at a photo of someone and know how old they are based on what outfit they are wearing.

I never dreamed that something that had never even crossed my mind before would mean so much to me. I can't get used to this- this time marching forward and not waiting. Don't get me wrong- I am so happy to see my kids growing- they are becoming wonderful people who I genuinely love spending time with.  But I have this crazy hope that one thing I will get to do in eternity is sit and hold my babies again at that young age.  And maybe they will be dressed in whatever outfit I most remember at that stage.  A girl can dream, right?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

To Celebrate the Twins' First Birthday

I really want to sit down and write a nice, neat blog post about the twins turning one.  I want to frame our last year for you in neat life lessons and tell you ways we've all grown and how wonderful it is.  I can do some of that- but here's the truth: It is hard to remember.  :-) This year has flown by in some ways, dragged in others.  I am not quite sure I even know what year it is.  Yesterday I was out walking, and it got dark earlier than I expected.  I realized it's fall.  I have to think really hard about the date each time I write it.  There is chaos, noise, mess and joy constantly. But my brain is done.

So I'll just post some cute pictures and a summary of what the babies are like, because that's about the most I can manage.

***But first, I want to ask you if you can help with a fundraiser I have committed to.  Instead of gifts for the twins, our family wanted to do something meaningful.  They really don't need anything (except diapers!) and we felt like we've been so blessed this year by so many people.  So we found a neat fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network. Children's Miracle Network Hospitals is an international non-profit organization that raises funds for children's hospitals, medical research and community awareness of children's health issues. As you know, our kids have experienced care at two different children's hospitals and it's quite amazing how much we've been helped.  Read Erin's blog post here about her experience going to a children's hospital. 

Here's what I want to say.  My kids are in no way the sickest kids around.  But we have way more experience with children's hospitals than I'd want.  We are constantly struck by the number of families who just walk around with healthy kids who've never seen the inside of a children's hospital for any reason.  I don't know why this has been what we've had.  It never gets easier, it never gets more comfortable.  Most parents I know stress when their kid gets a fever or a bad virus.  So do I.  But for us, we can visualize and remember what the next steps can be if your kid doesn't get better.  We still hate it.  But we are so grateful for children's hospitals.  

Do you know that there is entirely different protocol for treating babies and kids than adults? Without children's hospitals, we wouldn't know the difference.  And when it's your baby- your precious one- who you are carrying half-dead into the hospital, you want people who KNOW KIDS to treat them.  You want people who know that your very heart is laying there on the bed, and you want them to do everything they can to make them better.  They get it.  They have the tools to do that. And the desire.  
As I have said before- we are confident that without the medical care our kids have gotten, at least two of our kids wouldn't be around today.  And our life would've been way worse on a daily basis. 

My personal fundraiser is The Miracle Marathon- to walk the equivalent of a marathon in about a month- and to raise $10 for every mile.  My support goes to Children's Hospital of Omaha, where all three of our youngest go to the GI clinic and have had procedures. We have asked friends and family to donate.  Can you give even a dollar to help celebrate the twins' first birthday? This means a lot to us.  

Go here to donate and read more.  Thank you for considering helping.***

Here's a summary of who these babies are:

Sammy Brown (as he's called on here): 

I have asked my husband to verify many times over that this was the baby that he saw come out of me when he was born.  That blond hair! Those blue eyes! He doesn't look like us- except his little face looks just like Baby Boo when he was younger.  Just the wrong coloring.  Since the beginning we've noticed Sammy Brown is a sweet, sensitive kid.  However, he's also turned into a bit of a bully.  No one told these guys they are twins, and they'd like to be the only child in the family.  So they fight a lot.  But Sammy will crawl over to me and want to be held and to snuggle all the time.  He's been slightly ahead of Honey Bunny on motor skills, but not by much.  He did sit, crawl and stand first. But he has also decided he hates most solid food.  He'd like us to feed him bottles and baby food forever.  With the exception of rice cakes.  He gets super excited when we get those out. He loves to talk and make noise.He is very social- he actually made great eye contact with me instantly after he was born and he just loves to go places and be with people. A friend has called him "the ultimate frat boy" and said he has such a "joie de vivre".  He is a smiley kid and loves to play.  He's busy. I can't wait for this next phase- when he starts to turn into a real person.

Honey Bunny (as she's called on here): 

You guys, no one told me about this girl thing.  I am far from a "girly girl" but sheesh! This is fun! So many cute dresses, shoes, hairbows! I've been stuck in boy land for far too long.  I remember going to buy a coat for Son #1- the choices were a black puffy coat or a camo coat.  That's it.  So I am LOVING this! Thank goodness for garage sales and second-hand stores or we'd be in the poor house from my buying habits.  Honey Bunny is just a wonderful girl. She coos and sings and we call her the Happiest Girl in the World.  She just loves everyone and everything.  For the longest time, Big Brother Bully Sammy Brown would steal her toys and she'd just allow it.  She is finally figuring out not to do that.  She cries and/or hits him, but at least she's asserting herself.  I am overwhelmed by her preciousness.  She's dainty and sweet.

We are learning what it means to be a family of 6.  It's still taking a lot every day to make our life work.  But I am super glad we have these two.  So this week we celebrate that we all survived the first year (party pics to come after) and that these guys are with us.

Happy Birthday, you Two Babies! We love you!
***all the good pics of the babies- Photo Credit Becca Whitsell