The Gift of This Day

photo (36)Following a day that has shaken most of us, my husband and I decided to get the kids out of the house and visit the local nature center. We are trying to keep the news channels off our television, and to shield the little ears in our home from hearing about the tragedy that took place in Connecticut.  To be honest, we both can barely keep it together when thinking about the precious six and seven-year-old boys and girls whose lives were taken.  All of the children who died were born in 2005 and 2006.

Our son was born in 2006.  He thoroughly enjoys Kindergarten, and is learning so much.  He doesn’t know a stranger and says “hi” to every student and teacher he passes by.  Our walk in to the school building every day has become a ritual of sorts.  I thought about stopping this and letting him off at the door to save time, but after yesterday, I will continue to walk him into the classroom, say hello to his teachers and friends, hug him, tell him that I love him and to have a “blue” day (color card incentive for good choices), and walk back out greeting people along the way.

My husband and I cannot really talk about the school shooting without getting tearful.  The thought of losing a child; especially in such a violent way, is so unbearable.  The lesson that I was reminded of yesterday is not to take any moment for granted and to love our children for the incredible gifts that they are.

photo (40)As the day turned into evening, we baked up a batch of gingerbread cookies for the kids to decorate.  The smell of sugary comfort filled our home while our children gleefully awaited for the cookies to be done.  During this time, I was reminded again of the stark difference between what my day involved and what this day must have been like for the grieving parents, siblings, friends, and grandparents who all lost loved ones, and the sense of security they once had.

I know as the days go on, our family will go about our business of staying busy, gearing up for Christmas, and creating new memories.  I also know that we will get to a place where we can talk about the school shooting without getting tearful.  We will be able to discuss rationally (at least in our home) the pro’s and con’s of gun laws in our country.  I know we will return to a sense of normal.  For today though, I’m choosing to cherish the laughter I hear from the living room, the off-key singing of a boy in a bathtub, and the gift of this day with my children.

Every good and perfect gift is from above… – James 1:17

Days like Today

Tonight I had the incredible blessing of watching my 4-year-old daughter perform in a Christmas dance recital.  I helped her get ready by putting on her glittery leotard and pulling her hair back in bun.  I smiled as she gingerly walked onto the big stage, and giggled as she twirled in her fluffy white tutu.  As the evening went on and I watched the children dance, my mind escaped off to that place of sadness for the mom’s and dad’s of the little princes and princess’s who were not tucked into their beds tonight.  The shooting tragedy in Connecticut today has invaded my thoughts, and it was hard to get the families whose lives were abruptly interrupted off of my mind.

Christmas presents will be left unopened, family pictures will not happen, visits to Grandma and Grandpa’s house will be filled with tremendous heartache, and parents will forever feel the silent emptiness of loss.  Gingerbread houses will go unmade, Christmas stockings will mournfully hang by chimneys, Santa will not be visited, and the sounds of laughter will not ring out on Christmas morning.  It is absolutely heart-wrenching to think of the precious lives lost today.  These children were just going about their day handing in homework, counting down the days until Santa visits, and telling their teachers their big plans for the weekend when darkness entered their lives.

The sad truth is that violence against children occurs year round and all over this world on a daily basis.  We discard them as if they don’t matter.  We ignore them as if they are not important.  We use and abuse them as if their little hearts and bodies will just “get over it”.  Scripture speaks of children being a reward, and yet, we take our time with them for granted.  I absolutely believe that we will not escape the Lord’s passionate and protective love for His children.

It is days like today that I hugged my Kindergartner and ballerina a little tighter.  It is days like today that I repeated the words “I Love You” to them often.  It is days like today that I am reminded that our children are not ours.  We are gifted with them for a while.  Some stay longer than others, but ultimately, they are the Lord’s children.

It is days like today that I long for His return.

Embracing the Noise

joyful noises

Recently in the community I live in, there has been several tragic situations that have led to the deaths of children.  One toddler passed away following a valiant fight against cancer.  His family’s faith and their bold witness of it is extremely humbling.  Yesterday, two mothers buried their children at the same time.  All three siblings, their father, and a family friend died in a plane crash just minutes away from the local airport.  Just this weekend, I learned of a former classmate whose 18-year-old son passed away suddenly.

My heart feels so much sadness for these mothers.  I cannot imagine the despair they are going through.  I have known the pain and the notable silence of a life without children that my barrenness once caused.  But now that I am a mother, I cannot even wrap my head around going from sitting in a home that used to be filled with the chatter of a teenager engaging in an energetic conversation, a television in the background blasting a video game, or the imaginative sound effects children make when they play, to sitting in that same home that is now silent.  I cannot fathom what it must feel like to walk into a home that once housed children with great dreams, loving embraces, and inquisitive yearnings about life, that now houses empty spaces, thick tears, precious (yet painful) memories, wounded hearts, and sorrowful aches.

Sometimes I long for just one moment of complete silence in the home or the car.  Sometimes I wished my little ones could dial down the volume a bit; or at least, maybe not like the sound of their own voices quite as much as they do.  These recent tragedies in my community have helped me to keep it all in perspective though.

I will take the squeals, the laughter, the “I’m gonna tell mommy”, the fights, the cries, and the constant chatter.  I will take the background noise of a television that is too loud, or the bang of a drum from a little boy who thinks he is rock star.  I will take the non-stop questions of soon-to-be 4-year-old who still thinks it is never too early to get out of bed in the morning, or implores for her questions to be answered.

Actually, I am not just gonna take it.  I am going to embrace it.  I am going to remember the gift of noise.  I am going to be grateful for my Heavenly Father who has given it all to me.

I am going to embrace the noise.

The Day After

I remember the day of September 11th when time seemed to freeze on the image of those two proud, tall, and shining buildings crumbling to the ground.  I remember the image of people running with anguish on their faces and their bodies covered in ash.  I remember people begging for their loved ones to be found.  I remember wondering how humans could have so much hatred in their hearts that they would choose death over life.  I remember the day of September 11th.

But…it is the day after September 11th that I remember as well.  I remember waking up, running to the television, and desperately hoping for a little good news.  I remember praying and pleading that more survivors were found over night.  I remember laying on the couch in a fetal position sobbing over the strangers whose lives were gone, feeling the heart-break for the families, and knowing that life would never be the same.

I remember getting ready for work, hopping in my car, and driving as if in a quiet trance.  Going to work after such a tragedy did not even seem right.  I was in graduate school full-time while working part-time at a pizza cafe, so asking people if they wanted cheese on their salad, pepperoni on their pizza, or a refill of their drinks seemed so trivial compared to the visions blasted on every television screen around.

I remember being annoyed by a group of ladies who seemed to be completely oblivious to what had just occurred.  They were laughing, telling stories…you know….just having a “girls’ lunch” while the rest of the folks in the restaurant spoke in hush, softened voices.  I wondered if they were purposefully ignoring the news or if they did not see how that fateful day affected everyone.

I’ll admit that growing up in the middle of America caused me to get a little used to things happening far off in the big cities or on the coast-lines.  This time though was different.  I remember calling my mom and telling her, I think life in America will never be the same again.”

Out of my own ignorance or false sense of security, or whatever it is one might call it, I never really thought an attack would happen to us.  But, it did.  I also knew that it was now just a matter of time before we would be headed off to war.  To be honest, this broke my heart and scared me a little as well.

Yes, I remember the day after September 11th.

Mother’s Resilience

During Mother’s Day weekend, one might expect me to write about my adoption experience and the incredible love I have for my kiddos. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on my own mother. Mom is quiet, doesn’t seek attention; yet, strong. She is stronger than she gives herself credit for being. She is also faithful and fiercely loyal. It was not until I became a momma that I realized her resiliency, courage, and unselfishness.

To say I was blessed growing up is an understatement. My childhood home was often filled with the smell of sugary sweetness from mom’s baked goodies. It was fairly common to have homemade French toast waiting for me when I woke up. I did not just have a mother; she was a “mommy”. Often, she would be waiting after school to walk me home, after having made a sweet surprise that would greet me when I got there. Fresh brownies, hand-made ice cream sandwiches, and sugar cookies drizzled with icing that spelled out my name were all part of the wonderment of my mom’s love through her baking. I would collapse onto the soft couch with a morsel of something delicious, feeling the love and comfort of home. It does a child good to feel as though she is the center of someone’s universe.

My mom, though reserved, was also very much liked by the kids in the neighborhood and dance studio. Girls would stay the night with me and thoroughly enjoy the vast array of mom’s meals and desserts. I just assumed every mother was like my mom. Although on a tight budget, I never went without anything. She often bought second hand clothes for herself, so I would have the best. My hair was always fixed, clothes clean and ironed if needed, and shoes matching… Mom took pride in taking care of my needs.

Life was pretty normal for us until my illness at the age of eleven. Now, I’m not talking just a little sick. I’m talking going from running in the countryside while visiting my uncle at his farm to facing certain death. A week passed by and all my mom or the doctors knew was that I was dying from massive infection. Exploratory surgery had to be completed to try and figure out what in the world was going on with me. They suspected cancer, but were not certain.

During the surgery, mom escaped off to a room and sat by herself for about three to four hours pondering the thought of losing me to cancer. She tried to prepare herself for the grim news. “How can it be?”, mom must have thought. It was so out of the blue. With the exception of the previous surgeries (appendectomy and adhesion’s), I had been healthy, active, adventurous, and full of life. How do parents truly prepare themselves for hearing the worst possible news about their child?

Once the surgery was over, mom was told devastating news. The doctors had to remove my uterus, Fallopian tubes, and right ovary. It was not cancer though. They had not figured out what type of bacteria it was or how I got it, but if left in, I would have died. Not long after she was told, she and my dad went off to a room by themselves and let out a wail. I wonder what this sounded like. It must have been one of those guttural sounds that come from deep pain…not just the ones you can hear, but ones you can feel. Yes, I was alive, but the impact of what had occurred was life-long.

Sometimes I close my eyes and picture mom and dad huddled in a sterile white hospital waiting room. They must have been holding on tightly to each other. I wonder if they were shaking out of anger, fear, or exhaustion…perhaps all of them out the same time. My seemingly normal life had just come to a screeching halt. It would never be the same. But, neither would theirs. Their daughter’s tragedy; their own parenting experience forever indented with sadness.

Three and half weeks passed by while I was in the hospital fighting the infection. Mom was there all of the time. She put on a brave face, smiled at me through her pain, and held my hand during those long days in the hospital. Her daughter went from being vibrant and energetic to lying in the hospital bed with one foot in this world and the other in Heaven. Yet, she never let me see her scared.

Mom was also grieving as she knew what the surgery meant for the rest of my life. It was more than just a brief illness that I would hopefully recover from. She grieved for the fact that something very special was taken away from me. People would try to tell her things or come up with “reasons”, but she was still trying to figure what the purpose of it all was. Yet, she knew it was important for my life to go on and for me have a sense of normalcy. This must have been difficult for her. She carried this burden by herself so that I could get back to being a pre-teen girl. I was not aware of the full gravity of the situation, but she was.

Mom fought to regain life for me. She made sure I went right back to doing the things I loved; dancing, socializing with friends, etc. However, the surgery did not just affect my life. Through my tragedy, she had to bear witness to and experience the impact of infertility. She too had just been dealt a huge blow. She would never have a biological grandchild. This must have saddened her. Yet, there she was strong, silent, and smiling.

Mom might say that I am the one who was the most resilient during that fateful time in my life. I definitely had the fight in me to survive. Yet, she’s the one who had to navigate raising a daughter who was unlike any other girls. She had to walk through life parenting a daughter who would never experience the joy of announcing a pregnancy, the surprise of finding out the gender, and the moment of seeing her child be born. My mom would also never hear the delightful words of “You’re going to be a grandma”. She would never be able to await anxiously to find out the gender. And, she would never have the opportunity to sit in a waiting room for hours before gazing upon her grandchild for the first time.

But, mom is also the one who modeled how to face the darkness with courage, how to look to the future, and how to seize control back from something that was totally out of control. She’s the one who held in her fears so that I would not absorb them. She’s the one who told me “if you want to achieve something, put your heart into it”. She’s the one who went right back to being the mommy who made home made goodies that brought great comfort and sacrificed her wants so that I would have the very best. She’s the one who never allowed herself to be victimized by this; thus, teaching me to not be a victim of my circumstance. And, she’s the one who didn’t run away from her faith in God.

So, mom, thank you for being resilient. Thank you for modeling to me that when life deals you a blow, you just get up, dust off, and walk strong. Thank you for showing and telling me that I was the most important thing in your world. Thank for you giving me security when the floor fell out from under me. I know your grandma experience started out different from others, so thank you for standing by and supporting me while we were foster parents, and for the love you give my children.

See mom? The Lord does work all things for good for those who believe in Him. My story didn’t end with infertility. Oh, it may have altered it. It may have brought doubts, anger, and tears. But, my story is now filled with love, hope, grace, faith, and your sweet grandchildren.

Happy Mother’s Day. I love you…Caroline