So God Made The Girl

Take a stroll through the clothing departments for boys and girls, and see what you find on the t-shirts.  Some of what you’ll notice in the girls’ department, are shirts with sayings like:  GIRL POWER,  STRONG GIRLS RULE, GIRL TRIBE, or something like the one I bought a few years ago which says, POWER TO THE GIRLS.  Looking through the boys’ department, you’re likely to find messages such as: BEAST MODE, PLAY HARD, LIKE A BOSS, or SCORING MACHINE.

The point of this post is not to criticize graphic tees and what kids are wearing, but rather to talk about something that is a polarizing and prevalent topic in our culture right now…..the gender gap.

In recent years, there has been even more of a narrative pushed about how women are being held back by men. Let me first say that if you’re a female living in the United States of America, then “oppressed” should never be a word that describes you or your female peers. As an American female, you are already more privileged than most women on planet earth. If you’re stuck in first gear, complaining about your oppressed womanhood status,  making one excuse after another while blaming your male counterpart, then you are squandering every ounce of the privilege you’re so fortunate to have been given or were born with.  That’s right—most of you were actually born into this lap of luxury status, yet still, you are teaching girls that they are somehow less than, and the boy sitting next to them in class is to blame.

Here is the truth though…..God made two genders, totally separate, but perfectly designed to go together.  As the story (basically) goes, God made the Heavens and the Earth, and then He made Adam. All of it was good, but it was incomplete. So God made the GIRL.

Raising girls is hard. I’m sure raising boys is hard too, but God gave me four daughters, so that is the experience I have.  The time in which I’m raising my girls, is even harder; with endless outside influences, mixed messages, social media, social pressures, and the list goes on.  The t-shirt game is hot right now, and I’m not here to bash graphic tees……I’d love to sell some tees of my own! But the messaging of empowering your own girl, needs to begin at home, and it needs to be clear. Regardless of your own experiences, either when you were a little girl or as a grown woman, the message to your daughter should be simple: You are CALLED and CAPABLE, and you have been, since the day you were born. The success or failure of your girl, depends on her. Teach her to respect her male peer, just as she would her female peer.

With regard to people in America–continuing a narrative that men oppress women  is not only outdated, but it provides nothing more than an excuse for girls to use as they grow up and go through life. Rather than buying into the media-driven messages of fearing or disparaging men, give your daughter the firm foundation she deserves to stand on……a strong identity. Its hard, emotionally draining, repetitive, often heart-wrenching, and completely exhaustive parental work, but if she doesn’t get her guidance in finding her identity from you, she will go everywhere you pray she won’t go in order to find it.

It is from a firmly rooted foundation in understanding who (and whose) we are, that enables us to support one another. I hear so much about women supporting women, yet they are often the first ones to name call, tear down, accuse, and chastise their fellow females. This behavior is learned, put into practice, and then taught to the next generation of girls. Exclusivity and cattiness starts in elementary school, and it is shameful and damaging in every direction. In my own experience, I have learned that if the girl is a brat, then the mother is also a brat. Its not rocket science, its just math.

As my Grandma used to say, “Don’t let your halo pinch.” So I write all of this with full acknowledgement that neither I, or my daughters, are anywhere close to perfect. They fail others, just as I fail others, and just as you fail others, because we are human. Thankfully, God’s mercies and grace are new every single day.

If you want to encourage your daughter in rooting in her identity, you have to speak what is true to her—out loud and in person…..in a letter….in a text message….in front of others and also at home. Its important and wonderful to tell her she’s beautiful. This is something that has been kind of looked down upon, which is absurd. Tell her anyway, especially if you’re her father. Also tell her that aside from her outer beauty, all the things which make her so beautiful: her kind and loving heart, her thoughtful mind, her discerning ears, the sweet words that she speaks to others, her strong body which puts forth great effort in all that she does, and her feet that she’ll use to become a leader among followers. Remind her all the time that God made her CALLED and CAPABLE, from the very first day she was here. Teach her to come along side of others, and to do what she can to  be an encouragement to them. Teach her how to take a compliment. We all have enough burden to carry, so teach her not to carry any chips on those shoulders.  Teach her that both girls and boys have different areas of strength and so much to offer each other. Sometimes those different areas cross over gender lines, or are shared by both. Sometimes they don’t. God made the Heavens and the Earth, and then He made Adam.  All of it was good, but it was incomplete.  So God made the GIRL.

 

 

Fifth Grade Shapes

My fifth-grade year began in 1986, when Ronald Reagan was President, phones had cords attached, and it was a big deal if your home had more than one television in it. Mrs. Jackson was my teacher that year, and I am forever grateful and blessed for spending that year under her tutelage. It was the beginning of her career then, so she was a far cry from the strict rulers that I’d had in the previous two years of my schooling, who had taught for at least a hundred years each.  She was young and pretty, gentle-hearted and thoughtful, and always gave the winner of the Geography Bee a lollipop. Today, she’s retired and enjoys time spent with her husband and family, and takes pride in her role as a Grandma. Thanks to the magic of the internet, we are Facebook friends….what a cool thing!

When I think about my fifth-grade year, I’m reminded of all kinds of ways it shaped me into the woman I am today. This was a year when I was teased a lot for having freckles, pale skin, and braces. A year when I forged one of the best friendships I’ve ever had, but also a year I lost some friendships because I wasn’t perceived as cool enough. All my life, I’ve heard this thing about how “You are where you were when you were ten.” Whether this is true or not, I do know that being ten and in fifth grade can be a big part of your most formative years.  Every year is important, but your tenth year is the beginning of the bridge from your childhood to your wonder years. I’d be willing to bet that if you stop and think, you can point to something during your tenth year that shaped you in a significant way.
The reason this has all been on my mind lately is because my second born daughter, Sylvie, is currently halfway through her fifth-grade year. Last week, her teacher died, at the age of 49. His passing was sudden and tragic and has impacted so many in our school community. Two of our four daughters have had him as their fifth-grade teacher, and the impact of his life and death will likely stay with them for years to come. I’ve learned a lot about my motherhood over the past couple of weeks, and have been keenly aware of how tuned in children are, regardless of the madness of screen time and over stimulation that seems to surround this digital native generation. They are tuned in to the emotions around them, and if given the opportunity, they are tuned in to their own emotions, which is a crucial part of being human.
Facing and trying to understand death can be difficult at any age, but watching my children navigate loss (a few times), has taught me a lot about what our hearts and minds are capable of. The funeral for their teacher was last weekend, and it was beautiful, albeit emotional. The six of us attended, along with (almost) every member of the faculty and staff of our school, as well as some other students and families, and former colleagues were there to lend support to his loving family and friends. Being there to celebrate the life of a wonderful and well-loved man, is something I will always be grateful for, as it was so impactful and important to my daughters. To bear witness to his family, and the beautiful way they so boldly shared their faith to all present, in the midst of such pain and loss, is something my girls will carry in their hearts, for always.
There were touching tributes shared by colleagues and friends, and even two former students, whose charismatic and from-the-heart offerings, had to be a highlight for the family of such a beloved teacher. There were scrolling photographs from a life well lived, but cut far too short. The American flag that draped his casket, shed light on his years of service to our country, during his earlier days before becoming a teacher, and helped to define the rich and diverse life he had lived. The praise and worship songs that were led by his loved ones–with his step-daughter accompanying on her cello–were powerful and beautiful and were a testament his strong faith in God.
Learning about the faith he had and that he shared with his family, was such a sweet surprise in all of this. Because we attend public school, it is often times hard to know what faith practice a teacher follows, unless you happen to attend church with them. We learned he was a Christ follower with a heart for mission work, and that he and his wife (also a teacher at our school) even spent their honeymoon serving on a mission trip. Amazing!
Who we grow up to be, is in large measure, a result of many moments that shape us……big moments and small ones, happy and sad and everything in between. As a parent, helping to steward these moments for our children can be one of the most challenging efforts we face. Only time will tell how these fifth-grade moments shape my girls, but I am thankful for the example set by their teacher’s family and encouraged by the way they boldly displayed their faith for all to see. Sometimes that is harder to do than it ought to be.

A Nod to Prehistoric Mothering

My mind is filled with many sweet memories of my childhood. I was born in Texas, which is where I learned to walk and talk, but all of my earliest memories are from the two years we lived in Juneau, Alaska. My mama was born and raised, deep in the heart of Texas, so its safe to say she probably always assumed her own children would share many of the same experiences since my sister and I were both born there too. My oldest daughter has told me a few times that a child doesn’t remember things that occurred in their life prior to the age of three. I’m not sure if that’s a true fact or not, but it seems it must be, since I can easily recall so much of my (albeit short) time spent living in Alaska, from age eighteen months to almost four. My mother had lived most of her life in the southern part of Texas, so Alaska was certainly well outside of her comfort zone. She lived up to her wedding vows, and happily supported my Dad as his work took our family WAY up north, and agreed to live in Alaska “until she got too cold.”

In the scheme of things, we didn’t live there long, but those early days of our family living out a true adventure, are deeply imprinted in me. Over the years since I’ve become a mother, I have given thought to what it must have been like for my mom to leave a place that was so familiar to her…..their friends and family, their church, the home where they welcomed their newborn baby girls, and the warm weather and palm trees of south Texas. That’s a lot to leave in your rear view, especially with such a young family in tow.

Our time in Juneau proved to be an amazing adventure, even counting the difficulties that came with living in such a remote part of the country. My parents made friends, met great neighbors, found a church home, and they even led the youth group there. Our loved ones came to visit us, and always brought goodies from the lower 48, like fresh produce! Mom and Dad took us for nighttime moonlit ski slope gatherings, they taught us to ice skate on frozen ponds, we had salmon bakes, we hiked the glacier near our home, and any time we had a party, my mom would break off a hunk of glacier ice to put in her punch bowl. Friends, that right there, is LIVING.

In the summer of 1980, they sold our Juneau home, and we moved nearly 4,000 miles away, where they bought a 125-year-old home in the historic district of a town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My sister and I spent our most formative years in this home, living there during our elementary school years. For us, it was a magical house, in which endless memories were made, and I have often referred to this place as “the house that built me.” For my parents though, this house and those years were a lot of hard work. They poured themselves (and their sweat!) into refurbishing our home, bringing it to its former glory, and possibly better. By our middle school years, we had moved to Virginia, and we have all made this area our home for the last thirty years.

Through all of those heart-shaping child-rearing years, through the many moves, hard work, adjustments, and making where we lived into a home…..guess what my mama didn’t have?

Instagram.

She—-just like your mother and every mother who came before her—-lived her life with an audience of whoever happened to be around her. There was nothing to distract her thirty-seven times a day, no “feed” that she had to mind, no photo chronicle of her morning coffee and the only moms to compare herself to, were those she saw in person…in real life. When she wanted to share a photo of her children with someone, it had to be done either in person by showing them the developed film, a Polaroid picture, or photos sent in the mail. As in the postal service, with a stamp, and a note on the envelope that said, “DO NOT BEND.”  There was no taking time to post something online, no clever hashtags to author, no editing, and certainly no do-over photos because the film was expensive!!  If your kid had a crazy look on his face, too bad, that’s the way it was, take it or leave it, like it or not. There was no direct messaging, no following, no friending and no un-friending, no checking how many likes or reading comments, no online shaming and no online profile, no tagging your friends, and no daily INSPO for how you’re going to “one-up” the Joneses with your child’s next birthday party. They just lived and worked, loved and grew, traveled and stayed home, and raised us up in a prehistoric world where there was no Instagram. Heroic? Of course it was!

To be clear, I am thankful God made me a mama in the Instagram world we live in, and I can count on about two fingers, how many peers of mine have absolutely zero online presence. So it stands to reason that if you’re reading this, you share an appreciation for Instagram, Facebook, or any number of social media platforms that are so prevalent right now. Whether you only post occasionally, or multiple times a day, these are tools you are familiar with, and they do infiltrate and often times, inform our motherhood. We check our phones when we wake up, just before we go to sleep at night, and far too many times in between. In the olden days, people would have a basket of magazines or books in their bathroom, but as we all know, the only reading material we need in there is our phone. Gross, but a hundred percent true.

For all of its natural and obvious drawbacks, living and mothering in an Instagram world can be pretty awesome. I’m a photographer, so taking and posting photos is just what I do. I love photos, and I enjoy the opportunity to see photos posted by friends—those I have met in person, and some that I have not. I’m a shameless hashtagger, and I follow an absurd number of accounts on Instagram. I get easily caught up watching Insta-Stories, and I devote too much of my time swiping through photos.

On the flip side though, there is a wealth of information, connectivity, inspiration, support, humor, and meaningful encouragement, that can come from being an active participant in social media. When exposed to good content in proper measure, Instagram can improve your motherhood and give you the support you need in a moment you may not have otherwise received it. That can be as simple as just getting some comic relief on a tough day, or it could be discovering that other mamas are going through the same challenges of parenting tiny humans, and that knowledge and feeling of support can carry you through something.

The reality is that we are living in an Instagram world. I want to tip my hat to my amazing mother, and all the other prehistoric mothers, who raised us without the watchful (and often judgmental) eyes of an over-connected online peer group. While I AM in fact thankful for social media, I also want to be mindful of the simple way in which our own mothers did life together. Take some time and give some thought to ways you could dial it back a bit, and mother your kids the way your own did when she was raising you. Be more aware of how you’re spending your time with them. We are all guilty of wasting time, and it is the single most precious gift that God gives us. We need to be more careful with it.

I was talking with my Dad last night, and he commented that when we moved from Alaska to Maryland, he was 34 years old. He then said, “And now I’m 72….that’s how fast things go.” Wow….right? If you’re blessed to grow old, it will certainly be nice to have so many photos from over the years to look back on and enjoy. What’s even better though, is making the sweet memories that accompany those photos. So enjoy the online, social media driven world we live in, but take more time to see what is right in front of, and all around you. Real, old-fashioned, prehistoric human-to-human interaction.

The Baseboard Struggle

A few days ago, I was watching the Instagram Story of a woman whose profile I follow. She’s a mama, and often posts videos of her baby girl, who is crawling age, super chunky, and completely adorable. This sweet baby was following the family cat around the house, so the video was shot at floor level, as the mom followed her baby, who followed the cat. As I watched, I barely noticed the baby or the cat…..all I seemed to notice was this woman’s perfect baseboards. From one room to the next, the baseboard perfection was consistent and honestly, mind-blowing. They were crisply painted, unmarred, straight, and, as if this were a miraculous thing….they were also CLEAN. I clicked back three times, just to admire the perfect and amazing baseboards. Don’t worry….I don’t waste time looking at Instagram (winky face).  I only do it the way everyone on planet earth does it, which is while I’m IN THE BATHROOM.

As I was admiring this woman’s baseboards, on Instagram (as one does), the thought occurred to me, how nice it would be to have baseboards that look like that. I would love to have baseboards that even remotely resemble those I saw, but in a sweeping singular moment, I realized something crucial to my motherhood: I am not called to have perfect baseboards in my life right now!

This realization seems silly and mundane, but it’s actually really important. I’m not saying that God actually calls people to the purpose of achieving perfect looking baseboards, but I DO believe that one day in the distant future, I WILL have amazing looking baseboards in my home. But right now, it’s not part of my purpose, and I need to remember this. To give you an example of this, I point to the fact that I cleaned my bathroom this morning. I mean, cleaned it….like, got inside the tub, moved everything off the surround, cleaned it like a professional cleaning person would clean it, and even cleaned (some of) the dust off the walls around the tub. I also cleaned the toilet, the sink, the SIDES of the toilet, and guess what else….I spent fourteen seconds cleaning the baseboards in my bathroom. Then I realized that I was simply taking things too far, so I stopped myself. The bathroom was sparkling, the SIDES of the toilet were clean, and I was pretty much feeling like a hero. So…..#sorryNOTsorry, I only invested fourteen seconds in the baseboards, and they will remain imperfect (and dirty).

Something else I won’t apologize for, is the tongue and cheek nature of this blog post. Life would be nothing without being able to laugh at things happening in your life. Taking the time to write about my gross and sad looking baseboards, is just funny in itself. In all seriousness though…..let’s talk about my baseboards, and how I’m not called to do anything about them right now. My husband and I each spent our childhood in old, historic homes, and the home where we are raising our four daughters was built in 1952. This is to say, that clean and perfect looking baseboards is just not something that has been a big part of either of our lives, so we hardly notice that not everyone has baseboards like ours.

In the nearly nine years we have lived in this home, we have probably painted most of the baseboards at one time or another. Despite the valiant effort that painting baseboards require, they still fall far short of how I dream of our baseboards looking. The fact is, this home is old and storied, withstanding four children growing up here, and the baseboards reflect this. To be fair, there are a few stretches of baseboard that look halfway decent, and on the occasion that I happen to notice this, it takes my breath away. I feel like a champion…..like I’m really living right, and that I might actually be better than some of you. Then I see the rest of the baseboards in my home, and I begin to wonder what people think when they see my ugly baseboards! Just kidding…I’m over forty, so I’m too old to care two shakes about what anyone thinks of my BASEBOARDS.

The truth is, I’m overwhelmed every single day, with the responsibilities I have. The majority of these being, walking alongside my husband to raise four good women. I think back to the first home my husband and I bought together, which was a townhouse built in 1972. When we bought it, the kitchen and bathrooms were original to the home. During the years when seemingly everyone around us was having babies, we were heavily investing our time, sweat, and a ton of hard work, into renovating our home. We struggled for over three years to have our first child, but we look back with gratitude that we had that time before kids, to renovate a home together. During that season, we learned so much about each other, our marriage, and most importantly, about God’s perfect timing for our lives. We ended up having our first two daughters while living in that home, all the while, surrounded by imperfect baseboards. We never could have imagined how wildly blessed we would become, being entrusted with these four daughters. This is what God does best…..He exceeds your absolute wildest dreams. Even through the trials that are guaranteed in life, God exceeds expectations. Think about it, and acknowledge something He has done in your life, which has left you utterly struck and in awe of something bigger than yourself. Reflect on this for a moment….back to the ridiculous baseboard talk in a second.

See that? Awesome, right? Big moments in life are wonderful, and they are a big part of what tells our story. But the very best things in life, are the small moments. For me, those small moments are happening ALL the time, in the rearing of these little women. Being here and doing my best in those moments, is what I feel I am called to do right now. Sometimes I handle these small moments very well, and sometimes I fail miserably. Fortunately, God’s grace and His mercies are new every day.

Perfect baseboards are something I admire, and I realize they only really appear in much newer homes. I also realize that one day in the future, these girls of mine will be grown women, and my husband and I will sit around wondering how our baby girls grew up so quickly. On the upside, we will have more time for things like couples retreats, international travel, going to the bathroom without an audience, and achieving perfect looking baseboards. After all of that, God willing, we will have at least a gaggle of grandchildren to come over to our home and wreck our perfect baseboards.

 

 

 

Sylvie’s Story: Part One

Written on May 9, 2012

Sylvie Kristine, my second born, turned four in March. Four years, and it’s only just now that I am making an attempt to write about the way she entered this world. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to before–writing is a good and expressive outlet for me–but a lot of that space in time is difficult to think about. Each time I’ve thought about sitting down to write her story, I’ve avoided doing so, wondering if some things are better left to fade with the course of time. I have come to trust that when Sylvie is grown, she will appreciate me writing about how she came to us, and it will somehow enable her to connect to a part of herself which has been there all along, and that hopefully she’ll already have come to know—what a strong girl she truly is. Each of us is meant to be….if you’re here and breathing it in, then God had His sights on you long before you ever arrived. Why we are here is a question for another day, but Sylvie’s story, in more ways than I can count, tells me to put all my trust in Him and that which He has intended for us. So I do, and it’s just that simple.

Most people who know a little about Sylvie, think first of her birth and the time surrounding it. But to tell her story, you need to first know about the time shortly after her conception, as that is the first time we thought we’d lost her. Shortly after I’d learned I was pregnant, I had a little bleeding which prompted a 48 hour HCG level blood test (pregnancy hormone), as well as a sonogram. Monday they drew blood, then Wednesday they drew it again to compare to Monday’s HCG number. Wednesday we went for a sonogram, which showed a normally developing pregnancy of about 6 weeks, and a precious beating heart of 130 beats per minute—a number within normal range for this gestation. Thursday we went to see our OB, Dr. Shah, who’d delivered Adelaide. Armed with Monday and Wednesday’s HCG level results and the info from the sonogram, she entered the room with a somber tone, and told us she was going to cut to the chase. She told us my levels had gone down significantly on Wednesday’s blood draw, and my HCG level was at 10,000. She said this indicated a certain miscarriage and that she was sorry to give us this news, but since tomorrow was Friday, she could schedule a D&C for Monday. Shocked, we began to question her, pointing out the normal sonogram we’d had the day before, and most importantly, the beating heart. I said 130 beats per minute for a newly beating heart is within normal range and seemed that it was on its way up. She countered that she believed the number was declining and on its way down. She agreed to do one last HCG level test the next day, and asked that I go to the hospital to have the blood draw, in hopes they could get her the results by day’s end, before the weekend arrived. We were eager for the Friday blood draw and informed her there was no possible way we were prepared to schedule a D&C.

The next morning, I parked at the hospital, while talking on the phone to a mortgage broker. In the midst of all this, we were preparing to put our house on the market. We were interviewing a realtor that afternoon, so we were cleaning the house, working on pre-approval for getting a new mortgage, etc. I hung up the phone as I walked inside, uttering to God, “Lord, if it is your will for this baby to live, then please….make it so.” Visibly a nervous wreck, I tried to sink into the feeling that all of this was indeed in God’s hands. I began to relax, had my blood drawn, and went about my day. My mom kindly had spent much of that day helping us get the house cleaned. The realtor was due at 5:00. At some point that afternoon, I went back to the Lord in prayer. The day before, Dr. Shah had told us that she did not expect the HCG level to go up at all, but “IF” it did, she’d like to see it go up to at least 17,000 (from Wednesday’s number of 10,000). My prayer was simple…..asking God that if it is His will for this baby to survive, then God please….make the number that comes back today, be SO high, that no one, not even Dr. Shah, could deny this was a normally developing and healthy pregnancy. Upon saying this prayer, a number came into my mind…..46,000. I remember wondering why that number came to mind, and thinking how absurd the number was. Even I, who believed in this baby, could not imagine that such a number could come back. The night before, after receiving the news of certain miscarriage, my sister had spent time online doing some research. She called to read me one very important line from another doctor which stated that once a pregnancy has been verified via sonogram, you are to “put no trust in HCG levels.” I clung to every inch of that statement, and that, along with our family’s love and support, allowed me to truly rely on God for Friday’s results.

Dr. Shah called me at around 4:30 Friday afternoon. Once again, cutting to the chase, only this time with surprise and elation in her voice–quite the opposite that she’d given just the day before. She said “Tiffany, I have great news! Your HCG level came back. It was 46,000. I just can’t explain this, but I’m very happy about this!” With that single statement, any shadow of a doubt I’d ever felt about God, vanished. The beating heart of 130 per minute, was in fact….was real…..was growing….even thriving. This baby could not be denied, or doubted, but was here to stay, was indeed His will.

 

Sylvie’s Story: Part Two

Nearly six years have come and gone, since I wrote the first part of Sylvie’s story. Countless times, I have thought about writing this second part of her (birth) story, and I just never followed through. Sylvie will turn ten the day after tomorrow, on March 15th, and if I close my eyes and think about it for a moment, I can easily recall the night of her birth and the days that followed. I believe that God is growing my motherhood in so many ways, especially during this particular season of my life. But my journey of bringing Sylvie into this world, is truly when and where God began a work in me, that has become the foundation from where all that growth is rooted.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to a Mexican restaurant with my parents. We have eaten there many times since Sylvie was born, but that night, I was reminded of how my labor and delivery began….right there at a big table, in the middle of the restaurant. I was wearing a red maternity shirt that barely covered my belly, timing my contractions, while attempting to eat a few tortilla chips. We were with my parents that night as well, and my Dad was the one to suggest that restaurant, because of its close proximity to the hospital, “just in case.” It turned out to be a good decision to be close by, and I ended up checking in to the Labor & Delivery floor after dinner. For four weeks prior to this night, I had been placed on full bed rest, and this was just a day or two after the bed rest restriction had been lifted, since I was 37 weeks along. Jorn and my Dad took Adelaide with them, and went back to our house to gather some things I would need in the hospital. By the time they got back, I was headed into full labor, and began to get excited that Sylvie was on her way. I remember at about 10:30 that night, Dr. Choudhary smiled and told me things were going well, and would likely go smoothly “like the last time” referring to Addie’s birth (presided over by her colleague, Dr. Shah). I have always said that my experience giving birth to Addie was my “fairytale birth” since I only pushed for seven minutes, and she practically flew out of me like one of those quick and effortless births you sometimes see depicted in movies. It was seriously an easy and magical birth experience, for which I will always be thankful. This same type of ease, is what I fully expected was ahead of me that night.
At some point closer to midnight, the doctor came to break my water. I remember that she was surprised by how much fluid I had, and things thereafter began to head downhill. She had been monitoring the baby closely via the belt heart monitor, and at that point, there was just one nurse in the room with us. Jorn was on the opposite side of the bed from where Dr. Choudhary was sitting, as she sat next to my belly, watching closely but not speaking. I can’t share this story without talking a bit about our wonderful and capable doctor. She delivered our niece, Evelyn, in 2005, and during that same year, she became my OB, helping me to get pregnant after over three years of unsuccessful attempts.  In addition to the rough start to my pregnancy with Sylvie, we had two other bad encounters with the other doctor in the practice, Dr. Shah, who we’d previously had a wonderful experience with when Addie was born. It was sad and disappointing, but we felt very strongly, that we needed Dr. Choudhary to be the one to deliver Sylvie when it came time. She promised us that she would be there for us, and thankfully, she was.
After a short period of sitting in silence with Dr. Choudhary next to my belly, she could no longer detect a heartbeat from Sylvie, and she firmly instructed the nurse to reach her hand up to hit the code blue button. This was clearly the first time this nurse had received such an instruction, and I could see the fear in her eyes, which was my first clue things were not good at all.  As the previously quiet delivery room became filled with nurses, who literally came out of the woodwork in an instant, one of them told Jorn to stand up next to my head (on my left side) and not to move from that spot. He took hold of my hand, and squeezed it tightly, looking at me and not saying a word aloud, yet conveying everything with his eyes. There were seven or eight medical professionals in the room and surrounding my bed, feverishly assisting Dr. Choudhary in determining if the child inside me was still alive. As you can imagine, it was here where time seemed to stand still for me. I remember the feeling of terror that overcame my entire body in a single moment. I looked at Jorn and immediately began to pray. I’m not sure I can give words to describe all that I was feeling, but the moments that followed, changed me. It was then that I felt God holding me. When I say “felt God” I mean that I literally felt His presence behind my body, holding me in the bed. Never before or since, have I ever felt so close to God. I’ve also never felt so close to my husband, and I cannot imagine how he must have felt, standing by my bedside, holding onto me, yet being totally helpless to whatever outcome was ahead of us.
Dr. Choudhary was sweating and was finally able to detect Sylvie’s heartbeat. This was done by her reaching blindly for Sylvie’s head inside of me, and successfully attaching a wire to her scalp. We began to hear that sign of life, and rejoiced that she was in fact, still with us. Sylvie still has a small scar on the top of her head, from this wire. It looks like a freckle or mole, and sometimes I go months or years without thinking of that detail, which was such a critical part of her birth story. Sometimes I search her head for this tiny scar and kiss it, just to remember it.
Needless to say, this was all followed by an emergency c-section. Sylvie was born during the midnight hour, and weighed a healthy 7lbs 9oz, and did very well on her Apgar test. At some point, while Dr. Choudhary was sewing me up, the baby’s doctor on duty, determined she needed to go to the NICU, and Jorn went with her. I don’t remember much after that. My next memory is from later that day, in the afternoon, when I still had not laid eyes on Sylvie in person. One of the Neonatal doctors came to my bedside, to explain that all five of the Neonatal doctors on staff there, had seen Sylvie and conferred with one another about her case. They said she had low tone, and that they all agreed that Sylvie ought to be transferred to Children’s National Medical Center, in Washington, DC. The transfer team from Children’s brought Sylvie to my bedside, so that I could at least see her before we were separated. She was inside of a transfer contraption on wheels, so I could not hold her. They did allow me to reach inside and touch her perfect little head, and Addie was also allowed to be held by Jorn and say hello to her new baby sister. As time would tell, it would be five days until I was released from the hospital and able to get to the NICU at Children’s. During that time, Jorn spent his days at Children’s, with Sylvie, and his nights with me in the hospital in Reston. I pumped that “liquid gold” and family, friends and neighbors, took turns driving my milk to the NICU, any hour of the day or night that they could. The love that was poured over us during that time, is something we will cherish forever. In the evening, Jorn would bring the baby blanket that Sylvie had been wrapped in that day, so that I could smell it and feel close to the baby that I could not be with yet. I would sleep with the baby blanket and a little stuffed bunny, and pray over these items. My sister would pick up Jorn and the baby items, and drive them back downtown early in the morning, to be with Sylvie.
Sylvie received amazing care in the NICU at Children’s. The first 24 hours she was there, she had no suck reflex, and the doctors were concerned she wouldn’t be able to feed from a bottle, and that her stay at the hospital was unknown, but could be up to six weeks. Sylvie’s team of prayer warriors were at work, and so was her heavenly Father. By day two, her suck reflex was not only there, but it was strong. By the time I got to her on day five, I was fearful she would never breastfeed, and that she wouldn’t know who I was. She took to breastfeeding immediately, like a total champ. This humbled me, and was just another way God was showing me that HE was in control the whole time, and that I was to remain faithful. Sylvie improved every day, and one week after her birth (the day before Easter), she was released from the hospital, in very good health.
The next day, when giving thanks before our Easter dinner, we were surrounded by family, and friends that are close like family. One of them stood to give a toast to Sylvie. He said Sylvie is like Mohamed Ali, because she fought her way into this world. It is overwhelming when I stop to think about how Sylvie did exactly that, not only during her birth, but in the early days inside my womb, when she fought against science and numbers and a doctor’s biased opinion of the state of her being.
Despite the way in which she entered the world, and the difficulty she went through during that time, Sylvie has the most incredible disposition.  She was born with a good attitude, and to know her, is to love and adore her. She is a person who absolutely lets her light shine. Sylvie is meant for great things, and I believe the strength she has always possessed, will take her anywhere she wants to go in life. She rarely gets down in the dumps about herself, but when she does, or if she doubts herself at all, I say, “Sylvie, what does God say about you?” She laughs and says, “I am CALLED and CAPABLE.” Then we talk about what that means. My prayer is that someday, when she’s a grown woman, she will stand firmly planted in who she is, because of her understanding of who God made her to be.

“Red and Yellow, Black and White”

When I was a little girl, we lived in a big house that was built in 1860, in the middle of the historic district of our town. Catty-corner from our home, was the church where my sister and I spent our most formative years. It was very old with the facade built of stone, and sat facing the corner of the lot with its big wooden doors just a few steps up from both sidewalks that met that corner. I learned to ride my bike in the small parking lot behind the church, and my sister and I played with the neighborhood kids all over the grounds of the church….rain, shine, or anytime at all, except for after dark because that’s when children were expected to go home. On Sundays, we worshiped inside the church, with many of our neighbors. My parents sang in the choir, and my sister and I spent several years participating in the children’s choir. Our choir director, Mr. Smith, was animated and lots of fun, always employing his humor to motivate us to project our tiny voices during rehearsals, so that we’d be heard by all when it came time to sing on a given Sunday. Of course I didn’t know or understand it as a tiny child, but Mr. Smith was gay. He passed away several years ago, and to think of him now, I think it must have been difficult for him….to be a gay man in the early 1980’s, in a non-metropolitan town. But there he was, not only attending but serving others as the Choir Director in our church, pouring himself and his talents into that ministry.
I’m fortunate to have countless fond memories from that part of my childhood, and one of my earliest memories of spending time at church–both during Sunday School and in children’s choir–is learning and signing that well known song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Many of you can probably recall a similar memory of learning this song, somewhere along your path, or perhaps your own children have learned this song. It has recently come back into our home on a more regular basis, as our youngest daughter has found her sweet singing voice, and this is one of her regular favorites right now. If you are not familiar with it, here are some of the lyrics:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
These famous lyrics were written by Clare Herbert Woodson, and the composer of the even more famous tune is George Frederick Root, who quite ironically, was a composer who wrote songs, some with the purpose of rallying northern troops during the Civil War. So its of no real surprise, that since the events that occurred in Charlottesville last weekend, this song has played on repeat in my mind, and undoubtedly, on the minds of so many whose hearts are heavy laden.
In recent years, this song has taken some heat, as of course nobodies skin color is actually red, yellow, black, or white. However, the song remains ever popular and the message is clear, profound, and everlasting. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” The tune is catchy, its memorable, its simple, and it stays with you for a lifetime. You can not hear it or sing it for twenty-five years, and then recall it from deep within your memory bank, and it can transport you back to the little child you once were, singing to a congregation, in a big majestic, very old stone church across the street from the house that built you. And that fills you up inside and brings a smile to your face.
But this song, special to me as it is, even with all the sweet memories attached to it, both old and new, is not the reason why I love people of color. We are born fresh and new, with a God given capacity for loving others—anyone and everyone—all with the same unconditional love that God gives to us so freely. We learn from example, and most often, from the example of our parents or those closest to us during our most formative years. Catchy songs with profound lyrics are wonderful, but nothing can mold the tender heart of a child quite like the example and leadership of the ones who raise you.
Over the past week, I have given a lot of thought to this particular notion, and it has made me even more thankful than ever, for my parents and the way in which they raised us. The home and the life they made together, even before my sister and I were born, was blessed by God and His love. Their hearts and home have always been open to everyone–“red and yellow, black and white.”  Its not something that I remember “learning” but just simply witnessing over time. The capacity for loving others, that we are all born with, was simply guided…directed…encouraged by the example and leadership of my parents and grandparents. Its generational, and rooted in our faith. None of us are perfect, in fact, far from it. We all, no matter who we are, fail our teachings at one point or another. We fail in the midst of teaching the next generation. But the good news is that we have the Grace of God, and each day is a new opportunity to love and be kind, one to another.
My grandmother died in 1996, and her funeral was held at that same old stone church, where she and my Grandpa worshiped in for many years after my family moved away from the home across the street. Several years before her passing, she served as a Docent two days a month at the DAR Museum, here in Washington.  She and my Grandpa would make the three hour trip from their home on the eastern shore of Maryland, and stay with us for the weekend, she would docent on Monday and Tuesday, and then head back home. The head of security at that museum during those years, was a black man named Larry. Of course, throughout her long life, she had many friends of many colors, but Larry and my grandmother struck up a special friendship. She brought Larry a homemade pie every month, because he loved her homemade pies, and because he was special to her. When I was a teenager, a few times I went into the city with them, and Grandpa and I would drop Grandma off at the museum and go tour other museums, and pick her up when she was done for the day. On those occasions, I had the pleasure of meeting Larry, and he always told me how much he enjoyed my grandparents, and especially how thoughtful it was of my grandmother to bake and bring him a pie. Larry learned of her death, and he drove three hours to that stone church on the eastern shore of Maryland, to pay his respects and to help celebrate her life. I don’t remember everything he said when he stood up at the front of the church to share his remembrances of her….I just remember the first words he spoke, which were something close to, “I heard she had died, and I had to make this trip here, because she was my best friend.”
When I think of Larry’s kind words, it reminds me of the love of God, and takes me back to when I was a little girl singing about how God loves all the little children, “red and yellow, black and white.”  As Christians, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, and we are told to leave our burdens at the foot of the cross. It seems impossible to understand the type of hate displayed on the campus of UVA last weekend, and it seems even more impossible to imagine what our children must think of it. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think that people actually think that they are superior because of the color of their skin. I don’t have an answer to how we combat that kind of ideology, except with leading by example. One of my sticky notes (see previous blog post) says, “Teaching Precedes Understanding” which applies so strongly to what I’m talking about right now. We are all born with an endless capacity for loving others. So show your children how to love others, “red and yellow, black and white,” and by the time they grow old enough to even understand that their skin differs from their friends or neighbors, that love they are born with, has a foundation to stand on forever.
** The featured image for this post was taken last summer. It is my four daughters, standing in the children’s choir room, in the old stone church where I first learned to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I took this photo after the funeral of our former next door neighbor, Dorothy Hudson, who also served as one of my Sunday School teachers.

My Father’s Sisters

****I wrote this as a Facebook Note about four years ago, but always thought to myself that if I ever started a blog, I’d share it there. So, here it is.  🙂

 

For no apparent reason, during the night last night, I got to thinking about my father’s sisters who have passed. My Dad is the youngest of seven, and has six older sisters. Four of them have passed, which is hard to even imagine, especially if you are blessed to have a sibling, and share the love that often comes with that relationship. So for whatever reason, my four Aunts, were on my mind. So much so, that I felt compelled to begin writing a bit about my remembrances of them. Perception is a funny thing if you think about it…each one of us perceives a person in a particular way. We have experiences with a person, in certain settings, at different stages of our growth and maturity, over many years if you’re lucky, in good times and hard times, in different spots on our globe if you travel with that person, or sometimes always in the same little place in the same little town where you first met. Nevertheless, the experiences you share with a person, completely….wholly shape your perception of who they are. Of course you might consider what other’s perceptions of that person are, but truly, it’s up to you alone to truly know a person….to understand who they are and what they’re about.

All of this to say that the thoughts and remembrances that came to my mind about my four Aunts who have passed, when strung together, make up how I perceived them to be. I do think (and of course, hope) that others who read this, who also knew these women, will find commonality in their own perceptions, or at least that something written will spark a memory, shared or singular, and a smile to go along with the memory. Even with a profound faith, the promise of reuniting when your days here end, the only thing we truly have on this side of Heaven, is the memory of who they were, and what they meant to you…….

Aunt Gloriann. (Gloriann Lloyd Haitz)  She was good with her hands…..in the way that every food she prepared tasted so good, and was good in the way that just breaking bread with her formed a sweet memory for you to remember her by. She was good with her hands in the way that when she spent time with you, talked with you, embraced you, her genuine and loving spirit stayed with you. She was good with her hands in the way that the children she raised and the manner in which she raised them, caused them to grow into loving adults, to marry their heart’s other half, who raised another generation of our extended family tree….who grew to become beautiful adults, some of whom have begun to have and are raising her great-grandchildren….and she would be immensely proud, and would be overwhelmed by the joy they bring her children—the grandparents (and Great Aunts/Uncles) of this newest generation. She really seemed the part she was–the matriarch of the family. She was wise….tender…inclusive….beloved by the wives of her sons, which speaks volumes about a woman. She left behind a strong legacy of faith, family…warmth….the beauty of simplicity and a realness only few can achieve.

Aunt Linda. (Linda Lloyd Sappington) She was beautiful, inside and out. She was refined, sophisticated…well traveled….so smart, so cool, so chic. I always wanted to be like her. At times, she had a little curve to her smile….my father captured this in a photo during the wedding reception at my cousin Stu’s wedding, in 1986. It’s my favorite photo of her, as it truly shows her personality. When I see the photo, even in my mind, it makes me remember everything I knew about her. I’ve never said this to anyone, but that photo, even though I had no way of knowing it at the time Dad took it, I believe has played a significant part in why I am a photographer. The power of expression and eyes….in the nuances which make up your persona….these things come alive through photographing people, and that’s why I love it. So Dad, thanks for that photo of Aunt Linda.  She was inspiring…caring…had the sass and style every woman longs to have. She followed her heart her entire life, which is a more difficult thing to do than it should be, but she seemed to know how. She had an encouraging heart. She made a lasting impression…a beautiful and positive one, on those she loved. She touched more lives than she probably realized. She loved living, and being who she was….she was remarkable.

Aunt Joyce. (Joyce Lloyd Olson) She had a smile that lit up the room. She was a deeply passionate woman…she loved baseball and teddy bears….she loved her children and her grandchildren. I was fortunate to live in a neighboring town to my cousin Kevin and his wife Tracy, when they gave birth to Aunt Joyce’s first grandchild….a girl, who is now a beautiful grown woman. They didn’t live in this area long, but lucky for that new little granddaughter, they moved south, and she was blessed to grow up knowing the love and devotion of her Grandma. She had good stories to tell….she had a wonderful laugh, and was fun to talk to. She was fiercely loyal, and a hard worker. She was devoted. She took time to send cards and always, always, always sent photos in the mail, and always with a detailed account of the story the picture held. I can’t help but imagine how much she would have LOVED Facebook!  She made it a point to be there, in person. This was evidenced (among other times) by her coming to my wedding. It was 104 in the shade that day, she wasn’t in great health, and the heat was tough on her….but she came, she was there for us that whole weekend, and it is something I will cherish my entire life.

Aunt Delores. (Delores Lloyd Peterson) I was close to all four of these women, but particularly close with my Aunt Delores. I spent a lot of time with her in my young adulthood, which I didn’t get to do much with Aunt Joyce, and not at all with Aunt Gloriann or Aunt Linda, since they both died during my junior year of high school. She was, as I’ve always been told by family, the most like my father’s mother…my Grandma Elsie, whom I never had the chance to know. Heather and I are the youngest of the grandkids, so she and I are the only two out of sixteen who were born after Grandma Elsie’s death.

Aunt Delores defined strength…..fortitude….what it meant to live by faith. There isn’t an unkind word imaginable. When it comes to her, she was everything that is good and comforting…..everything you would hope to be as you grow old, and as revered as “regular” person could be. She was an extraordinary human, and I miss her. I learned so much from her…..I have countless memories of time spent with her over the years, good and happy memories, and sad memories too. Sitting around a table with her, just visiting, just listening….sharing…..what a gift. She was staying with us at the time when Jorn asked me to marry him, and for the time we were engaged, and for years after we married, she’d greet me with “Well there’s my little bride-to-be!” We drove 15 hours through hard rain, from Texas, to her home in Colorado…..she waited up until after 1 in the morning for us to arrive, and spent another thirty minutes that night playing with and snuggling a three-month old Adelaide. A few days later, as we headed out of Colorado, she learned she had ovarian cancer…..I still thank God that we had the opportunity to go see her that day….that we hadn’t left Colorado yet, and that we’d had such a nice visit together. She loved her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. She had fun with them…..she knew the value of laughing together….of praying for one another….she knew the power of forgiveness, and handed it out regularly. There just aren’t enough words to describe the good, of this special woman……

That Sticky Note Life

Yesterday, I watched my second born girl as she jumped off of a spring-board, into the deep end of the pool. She is a decently strong swimmer, but it had been over a year since she had jumped into such deep water. I reminded her that when jumping in so deep with a spring-board giving you a boost, you tend to go further toward the bottom, and it takes more effort to swim back to the surface. She assured me she would be fine (and she was), so I watched as she jumped off the board with a spirit of confidence, made a nice splash, but quickly popped back up to the surface. I noticed that even though she made the jump with confidence, she seemed to have a keen awareness of the deep water, so she adjusted herself quickly in order to not sink too far, too fast. Nevertheless, she claimed the deep end as hers, and jumped right in.

With this, my first ever blog post, I will try to approach it with that same spirit of cautious confidence that my Sylvie showed me yesterday. This is something I have wanted to do for quite some time, so I’m finally going to claim it as mine, and jump right in.

In recent months, I have been listening to some great podcasts, mostly about parenthood. After the first few, I found myself hitting pause in order to stop and grab a sticky note. Every time I heard a “nugget of wisdom” that really applied to my motherhood, I wrote it down with a Sharpie and placed that sticky note on my kitchen wall, above the toaster and our pet beta fish, Bob.  I currently have nine sticky notes on the wall, and they serve as a daily reminder of the wisdom of others, who have walked this walk through parenthood. A few of the sticky notes are taken from our own family treasure chest of wisdom, and I’m going to share of few of my sticky notes with you, in hopes they might strike a chord in your own motherhood, parenthood, or otherhood.

  1. WHERE’S YOUR AMEN?  This is something we say in our family, and it began when our youngest, Elin, began to talk. After saying grace before a meal, or bedtime prayers, we would prompt Elin by asking, “Where’s your Amen?!” We did this mostly because once she learned how to say AMEN, we all thought it was the cutest thing ever, so we wanted to hear it as often as possible. One evening during dinner, she said her big AMEN, and it hit me that we should apply this as a family mantra, focusing on the deeper meaning behind the question, “Where’s your Amen?” A commonality among the average human, is the quickness we have to complain, even when things are going well for us. I often remind my girls to “have gratitude on your breath” which is another way of saying, “Where’s your Amen?” When you find yourself complaining, stop and recognize it, and ask yourself that question. Where’s your Amen…..what can you shift your focus to, and be grateful for in that moment? Find your Amen.
  2. ONE BASKET LIVING. The story of Sylvie’s birth is long, profound, JOYFUL, but a bit difficult to share, and will likely be done in a future blog post. I will say that the notion of One Basket Living comes from our walk of faith through that time in our lives.  Since we said “I do” we have walked through our marriage in faith, and with Christ at the center of us. It wasn’t until one singular moment during my traumatic labor with Sylvie, that we fully understood what it means to place every ounce of your faith directly in the hands of God. To truly and fully rely on Him takes focus and effort, and above all else, FAITH. It is, put another way, One Basket Living……placing your every proverbial egg into one singular basket, turning over everything you have, to God. 1 Peter 5:7
  3. RESPOND IN GRACE. I heard this during one of the first podcasts I listened to, and this was my very first sticky note. It is one of the hardest things to do sometimes, especially in the thick of mothering my girls. I am learning that unless you were born with an outrageous gift of patience (I was not), achieving the ability to respond in grace, just takes time and practice. Responding in grace, means putting your own gut response/reaction ON THE SHELF, during those tougher moments of parenthood, when that gut response is to react badly, shouting, “What on earth are you thinking, child?!?!” God gives us the gift of grace, readily, easily, and repeatedly. Why not extend a similar grace to your children, or those around you? The older we get, the more we become set in our own way of doing things. It is so easy to be quick to harshly judge…to reprimand….to correct….to scold. Those things are all meant to destruct, rather than to construct through encouragement. Sometimes all it takes is a handful of grace. Can you think of a time when someone offered you a bit of grace? Be the one to give grace freely. Of course, in the heat of motherhood or otherhood, this is easier said than done. But try it! Practice makes (not at all perfect) better.

I want to close this blog post by saying thank you for reading it! Please share it with someone you know who might be encouraged by my words. What does your sticky note life look like? What are some nuggets of wisdom that have carried you through a time? Please feel free to share yours in the comments below!