Friday, August 22, 2014

A Goodbye and a Hello

I'm really hoping this will be the last sad blog post I have to write for a very, very long time. I'm sorry to even write it but it's important to my family's life and I need to record it, if only for us. It will end with something sweet though. 

The day we returned brokenhearted from Florida, we picked up our 10-year-old golden retriever, Beckham, from a boarding facility. I crouched down and gave him a huge hug when they brought him to us. He has a comforting presence. That night he did not seem great. Over the next few days he was breathing really hard and blood dripped occasionally from his nose. We found a spot or two every day, usually where he had been laying down. I was very scared and pleading with God not to take him right now. 

Three vet visits in the next three weeks only amounted to this - diagnosing the problem would be extremely costly and would probably only confirm a diagnosis we couldn't do anything about. He had all the symptoms of a nasal tumor. The vet said they would help us know when it was time to say goodbye. We decided to try an antihistamine and an antibiotic in case it was just an allergic reaction. 

For about four weeks we cherished our beloved friend and watched him very closely. It was hard to watch him decline and live with the dread of what was probably coming.

During that time we visited Curt's family in Missouri. Beckham loves to be with Nana and Papaw and run around with their dog, Silas. He had a great time. One afternoon they wandered past the ten acres of my in-laws' property and made friends with an elderly neighbor. When we finally found him the man said he wouldn't mind keeping him. Of course he said that! Here is Beckham's "Homeward Bound" moment. 

On our way home we spent the night in Irving and got to see lots of old friends. Beckham had a little reunion with Janelle's dog, Jones. The kids asked if Janelle had named her dog after us, which was hilarious. I wished I could know if the dogs remembered each other after 6 years. The kids don't remember their playdates from when they were babies, but they really enjoyed being together. This was definitely a summer highlight. 

A week ago today we woke up and Beckham was clearly very sick and suffering. They say you'll know and it was true. He was dying. A repairman had just arrived to fix our air conditioner and he heard all of our tears and painful goodbyes while he was working in the attic. Curtis and I held each other and cried. Annabeth sang a song to Beckham and included the words "You will see God!" I am tearing up again right now.

Curtis took Beckham to our vet and he went to sleep peacefully. Our faithful old boy was laid to rest under a gorgeous tree on my parents' property. 

I cried so many tears that my kids went into comfort mode. They brought me tissues and cups of water and said, "We're so sorry, Mom." I felt proud of their compassion and guilty that they had seen me cry so much this year. I wondered if they would need therapy because of what a wreck I have been. (I was very sick with Cyclospora for 4 weeks after we went to Mexico. They have not seen me at my best in a while.)

Our house was painfully quiet and still. You don't realize how much you do for your dog until he's gone. After 10 years, it's second nature to open the back door at certain times of day and let him out. To be walking out the front door and look back to make sure he's inside. To step out of bed gently because your big ole bear is probably laying on the floor next to you. I took a bath for practically the first time in 10 years without him laying next to the tub. It's hard, hard, hard with so many reminders all day long. Coming home after we had been out was the worst because he was not there to greet us. I left the dog bowls on the floor for several days because I couldn't bear to clean them out and put them away. We still haven't gone swimming because it's been too sad to do that without him. 

A few months ago I decided that if adoption did not work out for us, I was going to get a lap dog to help keep me company while the kids were at school. I had a breeder picked out and knew there would probably be a puppy born at the end of summer.  I did not expect that our big boy would pass away before that happened. I did a little research one night about the toy breed I was considering compared to the golden retriever. There was just no contest for a young family. Goldens are amazing family dogs. Beckham had been everything we hoped he'd be and more. His patience with and affection for the kids was priceless to us. I realized I was not ready to live without a golden in our home. One day I would like to have a lap dog, but if I'm being honest, my kids are not at a great age for one. 

On Monday my friend Crista and I took our boys to Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels. While we were there, my sweet husband was researching breeders so that we could have a little bit of sunshine in our house sooner than later. Annabeth starts kindergarten in a few days and I was dreading being completely alone in my home. And we all needed a dose of sweetness after a very difficult summer. As we were filling up my car in New Braunfuls after a great day, he sent me a picture of a potential puppy that brought happy tears to my eyes. 

We all had so much joy over this picture. It was medicine to some sad little hearts. Yesterday the four of us piled into Curt's truck at the crack of dawn and made a four hour drive into the country. We met this sweet 3-month-old girl in person and fell in love with her.

She sat in my lap and we snuggled for four hours on the way home. She has an outgoing personality and is enjoying the kids. For now she is sticking around the living room and hasn't explored much more the downstairs. I have my phone timer set to go off every 30 minutes so I remember to take her outside. It's kind of like having a toddler again. Also, I feel like I *might* cope better with puppy badness now that I've survived two toddlers. Maybe. 

Ladies and gentlemen, but mostly ladies, here is Miss Sailor Jones.  

A lapdog indeed, if only for a day. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Dream Trip and a Bad Dream

When I was a kid, one of my best friends used to go to Destin every summer. I would listen with envy when she talked about the clear water, the white sand, and finding sand dollars in the ocean. My dad was a fisherman, so our frequent beach visits were always to places like Port Aransas, Texas, that could double as a fishing trip.  There is much to love about the Texas coast (minus this summer's horrible seaweed invasion) but you definitely can't see your feet in the water. I confess it makes my inner third grader unbelievably happy to visit a white sandy beach with clear water. 

Two weeks ago when our truck began the journey down 30-A in Florida, Jackson saw a giant sand dune and said, "Mommy, is that sand or snow?" Exactly!

It was a dream to get to visit Santa Rosa Beach with some of our closest friends. We rented a darling beach house that was big enough for 4 adults and 7 kids. 

Holding to tradition, Curtis made awesome sand castles, Jackson got buried in the sand, and I was inseparable from the boogie board. We learned how to find sand dollars with our feet, which was so fun. I'm highly skilled at finding hermit crabs in Galveston (it usually starts with "Ouch!") but this was more challenging. 

Annabeth really took to the water and spent most of the time riding the waves with her little board. She was very fun to watch, even if she did make me a little nervous. 

Crista and I discipled the girls in the (very complex and gourmet) art of making pigs in a blanket. 

Every day we walked across the street to a place called Pop Stop that had "artisan popsicles." Oh my word, they were so good! My favorites were the banana pudding pop and the cookies and cream pop. I have been longing for this place since we got back home. Here is a picture of Jackson encrusted in sand and with a cookies and cream goatee. When he saw himself in the mirror he said, "Whoa." Hahaha! I think he was embarrassed that he had been seen in public like that. 

Here are our beach adventurers. This was taken after we ate a sunset picnic dinner of meatball subs wrapped in foil. It is already one of the neatest memories of our family's life. 

Crista and me.

Right after we took this I said, "This is probably the last picture of us as a family of four." 

On our third night at the beach, I got a phone call from our adoption agency. I couldn't believe my ears when they said a baby had been born who needed a family. No one else was available to receive the baby at this time. Were we open to him? 

Curtis and I were in shock. We had told the agency we were only open until the end of summer and after that we would be moving on. We really didn't think anything would work out at this point. We left the kids with our friends and went on a walk. We found our faith and let our hearts warm up to this possibility. We decided that we would say yes, give it another day to let everything solidify, and then drive home to receive our new family member. 

We didn't tell the kids what was happening or let them know that we were actually leaving the beach three days early, but I couldn't wait for the moment when they would be surprised with the news. I was told to make a newborn appointment with our pediatrician for right after placement. We had neither named nor seen a picture of the baby yet. The doctor's office asked me the race and I didn't even know how to answer that question. The receptionist had to know a name, and I knew what name Curtis wanted, so I literally named the baby right there on the phone. It was very surreal. By the time we got on the road on Wednesday morning, the papers had already been signed. It was looking like all the chaos and emotional pain of the last year was about to make sense. 

The thing I was most excited about was the potential healing of my spiritual wounds. I had lost almost all confidence in hearing the Spirit's voice. I had stopped looking for the God-connections in everything, which comes as naturally to me as breathing. Some of the dearest parts of me had suffered near-fatal blows on this adoption journey. If this worked out, I would know I hadn't misinterpreted what I sensed to be God's direction after all. It would change everything. 

The drive home was going to be 10.5 hours. We left at 6:30 AM so that I would have a little bit of time to shop for an infant carrier before all the stores closed. The placement ceremony would be the following morning. 

When we had been on the road about four hours, we got word that things were not as stable as we thought. And then when we were too far to turn back around, we got word that it was all over. 

A slap in the face. A punch in the gut. Those things don't sound severe enough to describe how this felt. It was like the enemy custom-designed a plan to see how miserable he could make us before the adoption timer ran out. This felt so very personal. 

I had finally accepted the outcome that we would never adopt and had adjusted my expectations to it when this was dangled in front of my face. And when we let our hearts warm back up, left a dream vacation half-way through, and were too far to turn around, it exploded and left us bloody. I felt like a young woman whose ex-boyfriend talked her into getting back together, proposed, and then left her at the altar. I felt stupid, naive, and very angry. 

When I think with the mind of Christ, I know that we did not lose. We believed God again. We didn't let our comfort or fun sway our decision. We did not operate in fear or self-protection. I know that even if this never, ever, ever makes sense until we meet Jesus, we won the spiritual battle. There will be reward in heaven that the enemy cannot steal, kill or destroy. 

It's been a little over a week since it happened and I'm still sad. I've been surrounding myself with friends as much as possible, but when it's quiet at home my heart is heavy. This journey is over - for real this time. It is very hard for my soul to accept. My subconscious keeps bubbling up hopeful thoughts that the agency may call us again. But we have told them not to. This is the fourth baby we have opened our hearts to. My stubborn self would never give up if my husband weren't saying, "Enough!" I will be glad when acceptance has made it all the way through my being. When you have fought so hard for something it takes a while for your soul to settle down and be still. 

I am thankful that even though it seems like the enemy was allowed to sift us in this process, God restrained him. We were protected from having a child cross the threshold of our door who wasn't meant to be ours forever. I know many people have experienced that nightmare. I myself experienced it during my adolescent years as a brother came in and then went out after 7 years. I had so desired to see the redemption of that difficult experience. 

You know what I learned? I don't get to tell God how to redeem something. He does redeem, but it's on His own terms. Somewhere along the way I made the mistake of thinking it was up to me. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Twelve Years

Mom arrived at 8:30 on a recent, bright Monday morning to collect two happy campers. They were looking forward to their vacation at her house as much as we were looking forward to ours at the beach. The emotional hugs I'd received from Annabeth the night before had been spent. Everything was breezy and smiley. "We'll miss you, but it will be a happy miss!" I told the kids in the front yard. That was how my parents used to say it. Their marriage is 35 years old now - 9 months and two weeks older than yours truly. 

Curtis and I loaded our small bags (I swear this was the first time I've ever packed light) into the Park and Fly bus and exhaled. Businessmen crowded around us and I felt a teensy bit guilty that we were traveling for fun. We got off the bus at E Terminal, where the international travelers go. 

After seven years Mexico had finally called us back. Back then it was for our fifth anniversary. I had taken on an editing project with one of my mom's publishers in order to pay for the whole thing myself. I wanted it to be awesome and I didn't want to feel guilty about how much things cost. It was a great strategy. I haven't made an income in a few years so nowadays I have to rely on my man's generosity. 

There was a young couple checking in ahead of us. I knew the second I saw them that they were leaving for their honeymoon. She was impeccably groomed - gorgeous hair, nails done, even tan, no body fat except in the desired places, and a flattering sundress. She was a vision. This is the kind of perfection that takes months to accomplish. If I had any sliver of doubt it was put to rest when she held up her left hand and wiggled her ring finger just so.  

I wished I could be that fresh and beautiful for my husband again. I wanted us, once more, to be intoxicated by the newness and by the beginning of everything. But time only works to stretch us farther from that moment when everything was carefully planned and groomed and fashioned and placed and photographed and celebrated wildly.  

We spent five days at a gorgeous resort. We saw honeymooners, anniversary celebrators, and wedding parties everywhere we turned. I had a few more of those wishful moments when I saw young brides with perfect bodies, but then my perspective changed. Sometimes that happens when you take a few steps - or a plane ride - back from your life. 

The joy of our twelve years together poured out of our hearts, out of our memories. We have built a life, by the grace of God, that is good. We have an endless supply of adventures (and misadventures) to reminisce about. We have a million inside jokes. Most importantly, we have two incredible kids who make us laugh and who make us prouder than we ever knew we could feel. 

This is the purpose of that. 

I had to trade in my white gown and my honeymoon figure, but what we enjoy now is more fun and even more meaningful than we could have imagined. 

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Where I Feel Like a Good Mom

My lofty goal for this week has been to get a base tan. And see my son finish second grade. But the base tan is pretty important because the hubs and I are going on a beach getaway soon. If I go with white skin I will fry like a chicken. 

So in my effort to slightly darken the epidermis, the kids and I have spent a ton of time in the pool. This is our happy place. The kids love it when I have second or third hair day and I'm willing to get my hair wet. "Yay! Mom's getting her hair wet!" they yell. I feel like a good mom when I play with them there. I feel like a lame-o mom when I stink at playing Barbies or can't have an intelligent conversation about Minecraft. 

Swimming makes me feel like a kid again, so it's easy to pretend we're exploring Mars or to body slam Jackson into the water, which is his favorite thing. Our new game for the summer is this: the kids stand at the edge of the pool and I set a beach ball to them. The goal is to jump in the air, hit it, and land in the water. It feels like volleyball so it's a win for everyone. 

Don't tell Jackson I said this, but sometimes I like to cradle him in my arms because in the water he's not too heavy to pick up. Gosh, I don't even know the last time I would've been able to pick him up like that in normal gravity conditions. (So sciencey!) He squints his eyes, his whole body shakes, and he laughs really hard as I say, "Oh, my little baby Jackson. You are so sweet. Too bad your diapers are so stinky." 

(A note to any first-time boy moms: you will need to summon the potty humor you once had when you were four years old. Every now and then it will win your son's heart and you will be his dream mom.)

On my first day in the pool, which was a whole month after the kids started swimming in the freezing cold water, I gathered him in my arms like a baby and said something to make him laugh. His elbows, knees and feet were bonier and more forceful than I remembered. I'm sure I came out with a few little bruises. His legs hung over my right elbow and dipped deeper into the water than before. Annabeth was bigger too. When she rode on my back while I swam across the pool, it wasn't quite as easy as last year. They are growing!

All winter long I regretted our decision to put that pool in. We rendered our back yard useless for half the year when we did it. I missed the days when I could make the kids go outside and jump on the trampoline or swing by themselves. Our play structure was exiled to my mom's house and our trampoline was dismantled for lack of room. But now it's hot and I'm remember why we did this. We all love it and we love one another well with splashes and dunks and dives. 

What is your favorite way to bond with your kids? When do you feel like a good mom? 


The kids' first swim was back in April. This is Annabeth's face after she jumped in and came out of the water. Complete and utter shock. She forgot how to swim for a second because it was so cold! 

They begged and begged to get in and only lasted 12 minutes. 

Jackson requested this picture yesterday.

My first swim a couple of weeks ago.

*Ironically, I have ignored my kids for the last hour while writing this post, so I feel like lame-o mom again. ;) 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Setting an Atmosphere of Grace

*A few months ago I was asked to write about some of the struggles that pastors wives face. This one is about the pressure to have it all together or to look like you do. Something reminded me of it tonight and I thought I would share it here.

After years of being raised in and feeling right at home in church, I got to high school and began to feel like an outsider. I remember the day that sealed the deal. In my 10th grade Sunday school class we were encouraged to break into various small groups to discuss the things kids our age were going through. I went to the corner of the classroom designated for the peer pressure discussion and waited for others to join me. 

No one came. I quickly found another group to join so I wouldn’t look like a loser. It was absolutely demoralizing to realize I was the only kid in my grade battling the temptations that bite at the heels of teenagers. That was the last time I went to youth Sunday school or made an effort to be part of our youth group. I couldn’t relate to all the kids who “had it all together” and never experienced the pressures I felt. 

Separated from the flock, I eventually succumbed to those pressures and suffered greatly, believing I was the only one to fail. Years later, I know that I was not the only kid in my class who was dealing with peer pressure. I must have been the only one desperate enough to admit it that day. 

Perhaps the peer pressure to seem perfect at church was even stronger than the peer pressure I was dealing with in my high school. That is a scary thought. 

As a pastor’s wife, I play a very large part in setting the atmosphere of grace and transparency in my church’s culture. Authenticity starts with me. After what I experienced as a teenager, I reject the lie that I should either have it all together (no one does) or project the illusion that I do. Sometimes the lie originates in my heart and sometimes it comes from another person’s expectations. I tear it down as often as I can with a simple and powerful phrase: “Me too.” These words can lift a heavy burden in a split second. They can brighten the countenance. They can wrap a cloak of fellowship around a shivering, lonely sister. We certainly don’t need to say “me too” when it doesn’t fit, but our attitude of humility and love should fill in the gaps when we can’t relate to our sisters.

Woe to me if I can have a conversation with a woman who is stressed out, in pain, disappointed, struggling as a mother, or in a rut in her marriage and then let her believe that I’m above it all. Woe to me. 

The way I see it, I can use my energy to have authentic, meaningful relationships and interactions with our church members or I can use my energy to create illusions and desperately try to maintain them. In one hand I have community and the love of Christ, and in the other hand I have isolation and vanity. 

Sometimes it’s hard to know how far to take authenticity. There’s a fine line between transparency and letting it all hang out. I know I miss the mark sometimes, even if my intentions are good. The line we’re looking to walk can only be discerned by the Holy Spirit, so it is important that we keep in step with Him in our interactions. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

She Likes to Clean

By the time you have an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old, you've had plenty of opportunities to be humbled by the annual Mother's Day Questionnaire. There was that time when Jackson was in Kindergarten when he wrote that his favorite thing about me was "my body." More recently, my children have answered the "My mom likes to ______" question with "lay on the couch" and "take a nap." 

No comment.

Right before Mother's Day I took Annabeth to school and she was very excited to show me a new piece of work that was hanging in the hallway outside her class. Mercifully, this year's questionnaires did not have the children's names on them, perhaps in order to protect the innocent - or the guilty. I would've known which one was hers because she always draws her self-portraits with a bow. This time she gave both of us a heart-shaped bow. She's so wonderful. 

I braced myself. 

I read the fateful question: What is your mom's favorite thing to do? 

Eek! Here it comes!

She likes to clean the kitchen. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is redemption. That's right. My daughter thinks I love domesticity. She might even think I excel at it. Both are untrue, but it doesn't matter because my daughter honored me, however anonymously, for all eyes to see. Muahahaha! 

On the Friday before Mother's Day, Mom, Melissa and I got to attend a "Muffins with Mom" type of event with Annabeth in her class. 

We had a sweet time with our little darlin'. 

There was yet another questionnaire - this time laminated to preserve the answers for years to come. Will my redemption continue? 

Well, it was a mixed bag. Annabeth thinks I'm really good at cleaning (yay, cleanliness!), but the best thing I cook is sandwiches. Bahahaha! Oh my gosh, I love my child so much. I feel the scale was tipped toward a win for me though. 

There wasn't as much laughing going on by the time Saturday came. I was feeling pretty melancholy about Mother's Day. There's so much pressure to be happy and shiny on that day, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much pain my mama heart has felt this year. We had a second failed adoption placement the week after Easter and, honestly, I just felt sorry for myself. 

Curtis had some pastoral ministry to do on Saturday, so I reached out to my mom and asked if we could come out to her property and get gritty and messy. I was feeling gritty and messy on the inside, so I couldn't think of anything better. 

We started with an experimental bike ride. I didn't know if the kids would be able to ride their bikes successfully on the trails but they did great. A few places were hard for Annabeth, but I think this is something we could do again. 

After we were good and hot (it was like 90% humidity that day) we took the golf cart down to the creek and played in the sand. We named this spot Bibby's Beach. 

Please just call me Nature Mom, y'all. No longer Napping Mom, but Domestic-Nature-Sandwich Mom. 

To my delight, I received my very first coupon book from Jackson on Sunday morning. He made it at school. Included in my many coupon options are a back rub, a foot rub, cuddle time, cereal in bed, and the gems pictured below. My child's handwriting struggles, so I'll help you out: "90 min of TV time" and "No food for 100 min." I died.

Jackson explained that these two are actually for him. If I need some peace and quiet, I can make him watch TV for 90 minutes. If he's driving me crazy by asking for food non-stop, I can make him fast for 100 minutes. I will never get over the split second I thought I needed my child's permission to watch TV or to diet. 

Ultimately, I had a good Mother's Day. God gave me the grace to smile and be happy and have so much gratitude for the son and daughter that have been entrusted to me. I've been advised to stop trying to figure out what everything means or understand why and what God is doing. One day I will know. For now, I have to move forward with these two turkeys and that awesome man of mine. 

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Annabeth is Five...And Kindergarten Bound

On the day I typed the very first post on this blog, I never could have fathomed registering my baby for kindergarten, much less his younger sister, whom I wouldn't meet for three more years. I wouldn't have been able to imagine myself 8 years older than I was, just like it's hard to imagine myself at age 42, which is what I will be in 8 more years. Oh my word, Jackson will be driving then. I can't even...

Regardless of my readiness or ability to visualize this milestone in my family's life, the day to register Annabeth for Kindergarten came and went.

I actually missed the day because I was freshly home and insanely jet lagged from my Australia trip. (I'm putting this on the record in case I get the itch to go there again - jet lag coming home from Oz is INSANE. I couldn't sleep through the night for two weeks.)

About a week ago, after requesting shot records from the pedi for the umpteenth time, I finally got my junk together. One of my dear friends and I took our girls up to the school to fulfill our motherly duties. I felt a mixture of happiness for Annabeth and sadness that my little shadow will be detached from my person next August.

Another very dear friend works at the school and she happened to come through the office while we were there. She told the girls how excited she was that they would be there with her next year. She even took them by the hand and showed them the Kindergarten wing of the school. It was so precious to see them walking down the hall together holding hands. I melted.

I want to say something to those of you who love Jesus and who work in public schools. You are ministers. You minister to children. You minister to their parents. You bring the Kingdom into your school whether you are ever able to utter the name of God. Your calling is important and I thank you for your very hard work and dedication.

After registration it was time to celebrate this rite of passage with the girls. We considered getting their ears double pierced but thought Merle Norman probably isn't into that. I'm totally kidding. We went to the American Girl Bistro at Memorial City Mall and had lunch with the girls and their dolls.

Annabeth got her doll, Isabelle, on her fifth birthday. It was special to me because I had an American Girl doll (Samantha) when I was a kid. I was right on the verge of being too old when it I first learned about Pleasant Company, but I loved the stories, clothes, and historical nature of it all. My best friend and I used to climb up in her oak tree and look through the catalogs for hours.

These pictures are from Annabeth's birthday in February:

And since we're on the topic of her birthday and y'all know I have a thing for cake, here are a few more pics. When she saw her cake she tried to dive out of my arms and hug it. If it isn't obvious, this is supposed to be My Little Pony-ish.

Having a daughter has been everything I hoped it would be and more. Annabeth is smart, affectionate, cheerful (except when she wakes up), and she loves Jesus with a precious childlike faith. She's also the funniest person in my life. The years ahead will have more wonderful experiences for us than I could ever count, and I know this sweet preschool season has to pass before we can have them.

But they sure have been great.