Thanksgiving

He met me at the door, squealing with delight when his eyes caught mine. He raced through the doorway and grabbed my hand, pulling me toward his cubby before I could even say “hello” to his teacher. He ruffled roughly through the papers in his drawer before finding his treasure. He held it up to me, eyes dancing with delight.

I am thankful for my family.

15110311_944021635731365_2188695687674230530_oHis little hands were clasped under his chin, waiting. His mouth wide in laughter, eyes alive with his signature joy. He studied my face to see what I thought.

He is thankful for his family… for ME.

Thanksgiving is still such a new holiday in our home. Our 6 year old is only celebrating his third American Thanksgiving today, surrounded by people who love us and have worked to bring him home. This year represents the first holiday we are spending with others, having cocooned and celebrated holidays quietly at first because the excitement of them was overwhelming to his system.

The significance of his drawing and the words accompanying it are not lost on me. It is a reality we live with everyday that family was not a guarantee in his world. Especially now that he has a baby brother who joined us biologically, we see the glaring differences in their childhoods. It is as though there is an entire room in the home of JM’s world that I cannot enter no matter how hard I try. I was not there to soothe him during the nights. We did not nurse, I did not help him gain his first teeth or take first steps. For every time my youngest calls “Mommy!” and I answer him, there is an accompanying cry from my oldest when he was young that went unanswered or was answered by someone else. Some who was not me. Not his mommy. I cannot wrap my mind around the reality that for almost 4 years, my boy didn’t have a word for someone like me. He didn’t get to call my special name and have me answer over and over for hours and weeks and months and years. Not until he was 4. That’s a really long time.

We didn’t know for sure if he would accept us as his own. Learning what “family” means has been a slow and delicate process. And yet here we are, an excited boy waiting eagerly to show his mommy the Thanksgiving paper he made at school that tells me in black and white that he understand who I am and he is thankful for me.

I’m thankful for you too, kiddo. I cannot imagine our world without you in it. Mommy’s heart cries a little bit each time I realize just how long we were without each other, but your rejoicing in the here and now helps me remember that although our pasts have shaped us, they certainly don’t define us. This Thanksgiving, you’ve given mommy a special gift, little one. Words to tell me how much I mean to you. How did you know that’s what I needed just now? You are gift to us, son and I thank God today and everyday that He brought you into my world. Shine bright, my happy boy. You make a difference to the people around you every time you are so happily yourself.

Not in control

As one of our friends put it, the scientific measurement of snowfall after this storm is “toddler high.” We’d lose our youngest completely if we tried to set him down in it!

EVJ and I were awake before the sun this morning, so I pulled back the curtains at the window and showed him the icicles forming from the roof. I pointed to Venus and told him that even though it looked like a star, it really wasn’t. “Planets don’t twinkle, buddy, but stars do!” He chattered happily and smacked the window. We walked across to the other side of the house and peered out those windows too. “Look at the snow on the trees; see how it sticks to the boughs?!” He yawned. Maybe he won’t be my introverted, stare-at-the-snow-in-the-predawn-hours kid. 

I’d call this a low-crisis storm. Our power stayed on, we are warm and dry. We stocked up on snacks and meals. It is a weekend – no need to go anywhere anyway! We can put our feet up and marvel at these snowy days together. I’m enamored with the reminder of this amount of snow: we are not in control. Entire towns have stopped humming with activity but rather lay still and quiet. Roads that are usually highly trafficked are empty. Stores, churches, community hubs are closed and their participants at home, hopefully with ones they love. We are at a bit of forced standstill… and there is very little we can do about it even if we tried.

In our house we like to have “do nothing” days after we’ve had several busy, stressful, or challenging days. It is sometimes more challenging than restful to declare a do-nothing day because there are always doctors to call, therapies to attend, work to accomplish, and so our to-do list just grows while we try to sit still. But this snowy weekend is a call to a “do nothing” day that we simply can’t ignore. Where are we going to go… and how are we going to get there anyway? Those people we need to call… they aren’t available to do anything either. So, I guess we’ll snuggle with our books on the couch. We’ll laugh at silly jokes until our eyes glisten with silly tears. We’ll dance to Christmas music in January. We’ll make waffles for breakfast and then build tunnels in the snow. We’ll play.

We couldn’t stop this storm from coming even if we wanted to. Now that is is here, we can’t rush to return to normal either. So, we’ll play. We’ll rest. We’ll smile. We’ll make the best of it, and discover that maybe this really is better anyway. EVJ wouldn’t have learned about icicles or Venus if not for a massive snowstorm this year.

We are not in control (of this or any storm in life). But we can choose to rejoice. There is One who has gifted us with His presence in the middle of it.

And He is enough.

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“Help my unbelief.”

You love going to school (and I love taking you there)! I came back early one day to watch you interacting with your friends before you knew that I was there – and I loved seeing you just being yourself. JM, you have such a beautiful way of interacting with the people around you that endears you to them. I think it is because you don’t pretend to be anything you’re not. You don’t yet know (and I pray the knowledge is slow in coming) that people see you are different. You don’t yet care if you are doing the same thing as those around you or not. It is not important to you to be viewed as normal or on-par developmentally. You are just… you. And it warms me head to toe. You are wonderfully made, JM , and you believe it unconditionally. Don’t lose that truth, little one. You ARE wonderfully made just as you are. God didn’t make a mistake. Your sickness did not win. Your diagnoses do not define who you are.

When J and I first glimpsed the picture of our future son, we knew only in part of the struggles that would follow him to our home. We read of his medical diagnoses (a much shorter list then!) and found comfort in a story from the Gospels of the father who came to Jesus asking for help with his unbelief. With no insights to share yet, I’ve been pondering faith and unbelief. Are they contradictory? Can you have faith and unbelief at the same time? And if so, what does Christ say about that? The father in the story says he believes and yet indicates doubt. (A paradox I know well in my own heart.)  And even still the son was healed.

I think often of the people Jesus healed in those days and what their life was like after their healing. We don’t get to see who they became and what happens next in their story. Much like the ending of a fairy tale, we are left with a vision of “happily ever after” but we know the story doesn’t really end there. They go on to have lives after healing, we just aren’t privy to what that looks like. Now that I’m living one of those healing stories, I want very much to know what came next for the others too. Did they ever look back and take for granted what happened for them? Was their healing complete and lasting – or did they experience physical set-backs and re-emergences of their healed condition?

We knew that our son was having seizures. We knew that we felt called to pray for his brain. The story from scripture was encouraging to us because even though neither my husband or I came from a true “faith-healing” liturgy we wanted to believe that God was still in the business of healing His people, especially the bodies of little boys who had already struggled so much. One morning before I became his Mami, I awoke and knew God had asked me a question about JM.

“Why did you stop praying for JM’s brain?”He asked my heart.

I thought about my answer through much of the day and realized it was because I was afraid to be wrong. To ask for something we wouldn’t see the fruition of. I had heard from others (even some very close to me whose faith I trusted) who wanted to save me the grief of asking but not receiving and so had tenderly encouraged me to consider that He might not heal JM in full. I quietly stopped praying for it and had resigned myself to accept whatever happened.

And then we received an update from our agency on our son’s condition. The update told us that JM was completely off of his anti-seizure medication and had been seizure-free for some time. We are going 3 three years strong since the last.

I think so much about his newest diagnoses too. Do we trust what our eyes can see? Do we read the research and make educated guesses about his future? Do we pray for complete healing and look expectantly for our son to wake up one day “speaking full sentences?” Or is there some kind of in-between, where we know that God can do what He’s already been doing – healing – and that sometimes He uses doctors and intensive therapy over years to do it? Maybe “healing” take years before we see that it has happened in the tiniest of increments and only after we painstakingly show up to appointment after appointment.

Is it possible what we call “unbelief” is that we want Him to answer one particular way? We say that He can do whatever it is He is going to do, even while we are believing that He’s good or faithful or powerful only when we don’t have to struggle to get there. Are the miracles I’m asking Him for lazy ones? I want life to be easier, less chaotic, less messy. But is His healing any less real if we build speech sounds painstakingly, one at a time, rather than having it gifted to us in a way we easily take for granted?

Maybe “healing” looks like a little boy who signs to us to communicate his thoughts, feelings, and questions. Maybe healing is a Mami who is proud of her boy for exactly who he is. A Daddy who signs back to his son without reservation. A baby brother who doesn’t need language to laugh and play happily with his God-given friend-for-life.

As my heart prays like the father from scripture prayed, I realize that “Help my unbelief” really means “Show me that Your healing takes on as many unique forms as the people to whom You are gifting it.”

6 months

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A little more hair, perhaps. More than double your birth weight. Sitting up on your own. Full of smiles and babbling words. But always my snuggly kangaroo baby.

Happy 6 months, my darling.

 

 

Six months ago, I was laying uncomfortably in a hospital bed talking with the doctor who stood next our midwife sharing how they were worried about delivering you vaginally. Daddy held my shaking hand.

“A guarded chance at best.” She graciously explained that her instinct was telling her there was a reason my body wasn’t laboring and you weren’t coming on your own. She didn’t fully know why. She couldn’t explain it; it was mostly a feeling. And we felt it along with her. We were sick – you and I – and you needed our help to come out and get well.

I remember being mostly relieved at her suggestion that our best option was to bring you out of me with surgery. I don’t remember being afraid because I was absolutely ready to meet you. After so many days of trying everything else, it was time. Even though we didn’t know why we had been thwarted at every other attempt. I wouldn’t grieve the story I wanted to have until later. I was rejoicing that I would (finally!) meet you within the hour.

You weren’t coming. That’s a bit of a sobering thought. I muse over the times we’ve said to JM that his brother “came out of Mami’s belly!” as though it was no big deal. But really, they had to take you out of me, little love. (As Daddy tells it, she had to work pretty hard too.)

I prayed often in the days of waiting for you that God would whisper to you when it was time to be born. That He would prepare my body and put into motion the mysterious ways of a laboring mama. In the months since your interesting delivery I’ve spent quite a few hours pondering over what happened and why He didn’t answer my prayers the way that I wanted. I remember waking each day and thinking Could labor start today? I laugh when I think of Mama’s friend telling me everyday I was post date “Babies always come! Labor will start.” It didn’t. She lied. :)

But then I am overwhelmed with gratitude as I hold you close. Sure, I could’ve done without 17 frustrating days of waiting. I would avoid our infections if I could. I’d push you out myself without losing sensation in my lower half. I’d keep you close, sleeping on me instead of watching someone leave the room with you as the realization of just how sick you really were sunk into my lonely heart. But you are here with me now. No more monitors or IVs. My scar fading into only a pale pink line. Six months later and so much of what happened then is just one tiny piece of the really cool story we’re writing together as we share life.

You know, my son, there are thousands of women who have gone before us through history whose stories have made it possible for our team to know just what to do and when to make sure that you were placed in my arms as healthy as could be given what we experienced together. I think of the moms whose babies didn’t come until it was too late to save either of them. And I cry with thanksgiving that medicine has evolved and there are hospitals with experts who saved you – and me.

Maybe God didn’t whisper to you that it was time to be born. Maybe my body didn’t respond to the nudging of how labor was supposed to go. Maybe you didn’t come out of me healthy and able to stay snuggled with me as we recovered together. But He did put our medical and support team exactly where we needed them that day and during the week that followed. I am overwhelmed with joy to have grown, delivered, and brought home a beautiful baby – YOU.

– – – – –

Today you are 6 months old, little one. Boy of my heart and my body. We love watching you grow and change, becoming the little personality who delights us so.

You like to pull my cheek close to yours and hold it there, squashed against you. I think you are hugging me!

When Daddy walks with you up and down the hallway, you reach for my picture hanging on the wall and try to lick my face. (You love me so much to kiss a photograph of me?! Be still my heart!)

You rub your pudgy belly in an adorable laughing-Santa-Claus sort of way. You grin at me and kick your feet into the suds of your bath as though the world is just perfectly yours. You smile and laugh when I clean your ears. You are very ticklish for sure!

Each morning you wake up with the most interesting of hair-dos. Your crazy hair is just like your Daddy’s.

Your little face is so wonderfully expressive. Almost imperceptible eyebrows raises make us giggle and flashes of laughter dance in your eyes too. I love watching you delight in all that you are processing as the exciting world unfolds around you.

I’m most surprised that you rarely cry. Until you do, and then your little sobs sound as though someone utterly broke your heart – which of course breaks mine!

I love that you only want to fall asleep in our arms. I love your dimples when you smile, even in your sleep and especially when you wake up to find that I’m still holding you.

Baby boy, when this page of your story has turned, I will miss your little fingers absent-mindedly playing with my hands or my hair while you breastfeed. Gazing at your sleepy profile in the shadows late at night when only me and you are awake. The smell of your skin just after bath.

I know the bittersweet feeling of “Where did my baby go?” will one day overcome me, but for now I am taking your hand and looking so excitedly forward to the next 6 months too. Life is such a gift. (And I am honored to share it with you.)

Fearlessness and bravery.

He ran back to the door, little red hood bobbing behind him. Eyes locked to mine, he climbed the steps, one, two, three. He leaned over the railing to peer at me through the window. Smiling. MAMI INSIDE. He signed. MAMI COME! Then laughing, NO. MAMI STAY. SEE YOU LATER! As he hopped off the bottom stair, he turned one last time and I blew him a kiss. He giggled (a sound I could hear in my heart even through the thick glass of the window because of how often I hear its beautiful sound throughout our days). He blew a kiss over his shoulder as he ran in climb into his daddy’s car.

This scene would repeat itself two more times before he actually got into the car.

I love watching him. All of life is a grand adventure for this little boy called mine. Even when something challenging faces him – like when Mami stays at home for the very rare occurrence of him going only with his Daddy – he always finds his way through it, even if it takes two or three tries, and he always comes out victorious. This boy teaches me something about bravery.

Which, frankly, is quite different from being fearless.

I’m not fearless. I’m timid. I have always been a shivering bunny, staring out at the wide world certain that under every shadow is a fox about to eat me up. But I’m learning how to be brave. How to pause just long enough to consider the possibilities but to step out regardless. Fearlessness means you don’t even hesitate. Fearlessness means you don’t even know that something could hurt you. Fearlessness comes from ignorance. A person who was once fearless in love – and discovers the sting of rejection – learns a lesson they won’t forget. And the choice to love again will now be a brave one. Brave means you feel what you feel, but you do what needs to be done regardless. Bravery comes after knowledge. When you know something can (will) hurt you and so you pause and yet, you choose to move forward anyway.

I’d much rather be brave than fearless. Bravery means I know something, have learned something, have been to the bottom of the ash heap and am rising up from it. To be brave is to heal while to be fearless is to be an inch away from crashing. I want to know what could hurt me and move toward it anyway, if its the right thing to do. This is what my son teaches me to do: move forward anyway.

We received a new diagnosis for our son’s speech disability this month. It is more permanent and it feels more ominous than just saying “JM’s struggles with forming speech sounds.” So, we are grieving anew around here. A fellow momma with a kiddo with special needs told me, “I accept the challenge [of my child’s disability], but not the label.” This is where I find myself right now. In fact, I’m not even naming the diagnosis just yet. It is a bit of a curse word around our house right now. My husband and I even spell it to each other, rather than saying it outloud. We’re not naming it, not from denial but in defiance. Maybe it is a silly response, but everything is still just a bit too raw to go around talking about lifelong issues as though it is no big deal.

It is very much a big deal to be handed a diagnosis of any kind for your child.

At therapy the week after his diagnosis, I sat on the floor, tears dripping silently off my face. His therapist gently handed me a tissue. She paused for a moment and said, “I know, Mom. You don’t want to be here. You wanted to take your boys to the park today.” My tears were a lot harder to spill quietly after she said that. She grasped it completely. We go to therapy after therapy not because we want to, but because that’s what he needs. This isn’t how I wanted to parent. This isn’t how I wanted to spend my days with my boys.

I wanted to g0 to the park.

I have been musing frequently over the ways my God is weaving together the story of my two boys with mine. How one boy joined our family in an explosive sort of way, when it felt as though sticks of dynamite were like buried landmines exploding so regularly that we were forced to very quickly learn the path of his triggers and fears and Traumas so we could tread lightly near them. The other son joined our family with mystery, sickness, surgery and a scar I am learning to embrace, but still hate. From one I learned how to lay prone on the floor and whimper the name of Jesus for strength. From the other I learned how to stand up with a gaping wound and walk on, doing what I needed to do as his momma, even while I literally bled. Both stories have handed me invaluable lessons I’ve needed to use for the telling of the other. I’ve cried out for Jesus in desperation for the older and the younger sons. I’ve willed my body to do when exhaustion threatens to take over for both the big boy and the little.

I think of the roots of a solid tree, intertwined and unable to be extracted from one another. The roots, their entanglement, and the depth to which they extend is the very reason the tree stands strong. This image is the way I see our family story these days. I can’t find whose story has taught me what and how they affect each other and who I might’ve been if not for this or that part of the journey. God has grafted our family so diligently that I am not quite clear where the cutting and restitching begins or ends anymore. This is just our life. We just are, all of us together.

I read a blogpost written by a momma who was writing about her boy and his diagnosis. She was pleading with others to just view her boy as himself. “He’s not high or low functioning. He’s himself. He’s just Liam.” She wrote. It gives me a vision for our son. He’s just himself. I want to give him no standard to live up to. No developmental marker he’s not reaching. I want him to just be JM. To let him tell me what he can – and will be able to – do.

He’s adorable as I lace up his shoes. His little button down the front shirt, khaki pants and freshly combed hair. He is grinning ear to ear. Man, I love this kid. His joy, his ability to read and feel the emotions of others, his courage to try something difficult again and again. And again. Our unstoppable sunshine boy.

That’s my brave JM.