Showing Up

A few weeks ago marked the annual “worst week” for us, which is the week 7 year ago that started with such joy, and ended with such heartbreak.

7 years ago, a little boy was turning 4 and celebrating with people who loved him, with cake and swimming and toys. The world was perfect that afternoon. One of his favorite gifts was a big green dinosaur that moved and roared, from his Uncle Austin. He was excited most of all to be going on a trip away from mom and dad for the first time, heading to the beach with his beloved Nina.

The trip was cut short, the beach had to wait, as he and his Nina rushed back to help find Austin.

This year, that little boy turned 11 and he celebrated with people who loved him, with cake and swimming and electronics, and a carbon copy 4 year old brother. The world was almost perfect for an afternoon. He slid down roller coaster type water slides, posted photos on his new Instagram account from  his new phone, and stuffed his face with pizza. He was excited about his baseball trip the next weekend, ready to hit the clay.

But before that trip, he helped welcome his Nina back, as she came to help find Austin.

So much the same.

7 years ago, friends and family rallied beside us, determined to help find him. Now, in all honesty, most of those who knew Austin don’t show up anymore. But more people than we ever could have asked for, that never knew Austin, do show up. They showed up in large groups, from all over the Southeast (and a few even further).

And the same story was told over and over. They showed up, because my mom shows up. She showed up and sat with them on the side of the interstate while their son was pulled from the water. She showed up and wouldn’t go home when planned, because they needed her. She showed up and handed out tough love, pushing searchers hard. She showed up and was cut and bruised and swelling and kept going.

There is so much to be said for showing up.

This group stood together, on the side of a busy road and hugged and cried and loved. They showed up. For my mom and for Austin. For Rosemary and her family. For Mark and Bryan and their families. For Josh and his family. For John and his family. For the others represented there that night.

vigil

And then they searched.

For 2 days, in 100 heat index weather, in long pants and long sleeves and boots, with short breaks for water and snacks.

Including my mom.

jester_mom

And we reached the end of this part of the journey. Austin wasn’t brought home. And that creates more questions than answers. It felt like our story of the search for Austin was coming to an end. But instead, it was the end of what we know to do for now.

I don’t know what’s next. Before I even thought about it, we needed to go enjoy some family time and be reminded of all the joy there still is. We cheered on Drew in baseball. We swam in freezing springs. We listened to bullfrogs and crickets and horses. We reconnected with friends and twirled sparklers on a beach in the dark.

We celebrated summer like we didn’t get to 7 years ago.

We won’t ever stop searching. We won’t ever stop yearning for answers. We won’t ever stop aching with miss.

But we’ll keep showing up. For me, that mostly means showing up for my kids. Because they deserve summers full of all the things my brother and I enjoyed.

And I’ll keep hearing his laugh, knowing that we haven’t lost all of him.

IMG_4962

___________________________________________________________

What’s keeping you from showing up in areas you maybe should? For hurting friends, for fast growing kids, for yourself.

Showing up can look like many different things. It can look like a hug, a text, a card. It can look like a freshly mowed yard, a plate of cookies or an afternoon entirely dedicated to them.

Something is coming to mind- somewhere you need to show up.

Show up. Celebrate. Laugh. You won’t get today back.

 

 

 

Traditions

I’ve been gone.  I know you missed me. {despite your silence that would say otherwise.  no hard feelings.}

Every now and then I disappear because I can’t figure out how to write about what’s going on, but every now and then I just give myself permission to take care of what’s going on around me without worrying about sharing it, or enjoy some time without then writing.  That’s what this was- and I find that after I take a short break, I’m grateful to get back and have the chance to share.  Sometimes I write because I’m ‘supposed’ to, much like I do many things in life because I’m ‘supposed’ to.

Especially at Christmastime, when traditions are everything.

We have to decorate and shop and sing and watch movies and make cocoa and visit Santa and make lists and look at lights and make cookies and visit friends and send cards and host parties and volunteer and take photos and and and and…. Oh, and then there’s Ben’s birthday right in the middle and there’s a whole list of must do’s there too, to make sure his birthday isn’t overshadowed.

I LOVE all those things.  But when they become more about checking off a list and making sure we do all the things than about enjoying the things we do, we’ve put tradition over what we’re really meant to get from it.

And this year, once again, I started stressing about what I hadn’t yet checked off that list and when I would.  But then, one of my best friend’s brother died very unexpectedly and I only cared that week about what she was feeling.  And then I got knocked on my butt by a bad cold and days of migraine.  And then I realized that my husband was slowing down and that we were probably entering the pre-phase of a an episode of his chronic illness.  And when I asked friends about what they consider must do’s so I could alter my list, a good friend called bullsh!t and said that nothing was a must do.  She’s a genius.

So, I switched gears and am really trying to focus on simply enjoying what we are able to do.

It’s not as much as I’d like.  I’d always like to do more.

But yesterday, on my youngest son’s birthday as I worried that it hadn’t been magical enough a day, he reminded me again.

Me:  Ben, what do you want to do tonight for the last part of your birthday celebration?

Ben:  Watch Diego and play with my new toys. 

Me:  But I thought we’d go look at lights and get hot chocolate, or …. You really just want to stay home and play?

Ben:  Yep.

Me:  But did you have a happy birthday?

Ben:  Yes!

So we stayed home, ate ice cream and played.

Yes, in my ideal world my husband would be full of energy and able to fully participate, and every day would be full of lifetime worthy memories.

But maybe just enjoying what we do, whatever that is, and being together makes the best tradition.

Do you have a checklist and must do’s, or do you just enjoy what comes?  I’m not sure I’ll ever drop the list without being reminded, it’s my nature.  But I’m trying to learn.

 

minnie

one of the memories we did make- Ben kissing Minnie!

 

Life Is Good

We always have something going on in this family that acts as a speed bump.  So much so that over the years I’m almost more uncomfortable when there are none.  {Almost}  We dump a lot of plans because of Michael’s unexpected hospitalization or the build up of illness before it, and we always seem to have one child or the other sick as well.

But last week’s still threw me for a loop.  Though it shouldn’t, since a variation of this story seems to happen every two years.

I’ve had a very small and very slowly growing ‘something’ on my neck for several months, not of much concern.  But early last week I realized it was hurting, growing rapidly and very red.  Consensus was that I should see the doctor.  But I was traveling a few days and couldn’t get in ahead of that and really figured it would be okay to just wait and see if it went away.

So I spent the next few days convincing myself it wasn’t really that bad, and thinking it might just go away.  It didn’t.

Friday morning, I went in to the doctor and was promptly sent to the hospital.  I genuinely didn’t feel sick, though going in I’d known it was pretty bad.  The hope was that it was an infection of some sort, but could possibly be something even worse.  If infection, it’s location made it more dangerous than it might have been otherwise.  So, off I went.

Actually, first I was on a conference call for an hour or so getting some work done, then I sent out some emails, all while waiting for a call that I had a bed. I finally went and the same concerns were repeated, and potential plans were discussed.  I had some tests that night, and learned the next day that it was infection thank goodness, and started strong IV meds. Then some painful stuff happened {let’s just block that from memory} and we waited for meds to begin working and to figure out exactly what was growing.  The assumption was a really tough infection that would mean me going home on 10 days of meds through a PICC line.

Oddly enough, throughout the ordeal I felt pretty good.  Well, other than when my skin tried to crawl off as a reaction to the meds, but we switched meds and all was well.  So, feeling pretty good, Michael and I hung out and actually enjoyed some time together.  We watched about 10 episodes of Arrested Development, we watched football, we joked about our idea of a good date.  A few friends visited and my mom brought the kids to visit.  I even got to Facetime in to my birthday party.

Yeah, that part stunk.  I had joked with a friend about how something always comes up around my birthday, and hers was just last week, so we got together with another friend whose birthday is between ours, and planned a fun night.  I missed it.  Of course.

Eventually, the unexpected happened.  It was determined that I can take oral antibiotics, which meant going home and without a PICC line, which would have been a major speed bump to some plans over the next few weeks.  I felt like we’d broken out of jail!

Truthfully, there were some scary moments, and I’m grateful for the prayer and love from so many.

We hate the speed bumps, but without them we might forget how much we have to be thankful for.

So, back at home, back to work and back to hanging out with the kids I love.

Life is good.

some of the meds

some of the meds

 

 

10 Years & 24 Babies

Christmas 2002 was good.  I was pregnant with our first child, we were able to spend time with family, and we had the best of friends just down the street to share more good times with.  Michael was in the Navy and we were stationed at CBC Gulfport with NMCB 133.  We were enjoying the last few months of home port, knowing that soon the battalion would deploy, bound for Rota, Spain. We were not a nation officially at war, though the last deployment had started with a bang- quite literally, as just a few days after Michael left, our country was devastated by 9/11.

Christmas stand down, a few weeks of mostly vacations, was not quite over for the battalion.  But yet, the phone rang at 9pm, calling the entire 600+ in.  It was another 13 hours before I saw Michael again, when he came home for some much needed sleep after the unexpected all nighter.  But by then, word had spread throughout the base and families, that they were loading cargo planes.  The first wave of our Seabees would be leaving the next morning, bound for the Middle East.

The next few days were a blur, as preparations were made to deploy unexpectedly early and to an unexpected location.  I was nervous for many reasons.  Being pregnant while your husband goes to war is never the dream.  The fact that he had been hospitalized 8 times in the past year, and that his battalion seemed unaware added to the fear.

But there were these women.

I was surrounded by some of the bravest and strongest women I’d ever met.  Women who were raising children mostly alone, who had faced many more deployments than me, and who literally kept the home fires burning.  And men too.  Days before our husband’s and wives left,  we gathered in a base chapel, for a family briefing.  We were told limited info on the mission and destination.  Not even a country was named, though we believed they were headed to Kuwait to prepare for the Iraq invasion.  (We were right.)  I looked around at these women and knew I was in the company of the best.

One of those, was my rock.  She lived a quick walk away, had a few more deployments under her belt, and was pregnant with their second child.  She fed me and kept me going.  Another one was my example.  She was the wife of the battalion Commanding Officer, the mother of two teenagers, and wise.  I’ll never forget her answer to my question of how she stayed so strong.  She told me that she didn’t.  That the mornings her husband left, she said goodbye at home, and cried.  She could barely get out of bed she cried so much, but not for long.  After that first day, she picked up and started life.  She made me know it was okay to be sad.  But it was also okay to enjoy life while they were gone.  Other women were simply my friends.  They shared fears and tears, but even more, just shared life and laughs.

My rock and I were due about 2 weeks apart from each other, both in June.  My husband was scheduled to come home and discharge from the Navy, hopefully just in time to see our son born.  Her husband was in for the duration, and we knew would miss the birth of their daughter.  The plan was for me to be with her, and have the joy of being the first to meet that sweet girl.  But first, we were going to have a day of lunch, pedicures, and a movie.  It was May 24.  By the time we ate our salads, I realized she was checking her watch frequently.  While we had our toes painted, I noticed she was uncomfortable.  When we set out for the car, I knew we weren’t seeing a movie.

You’d think that the almost 9 months pregnant woman pushing the wheelchair with the laboring 9 months pregnant woman in it would attract attention and get us some help.  No such luck.  But we laughed.  And laughed.  Several hours later, the most beautiful baby girl was born.  I was in love.  Her daddy was leaving on a convoy into Iraq just a few hours later where he would have no access to email, so getting photos and news of her arrival to him was top priority.  I spent the next few weeks loving on her as often as possible, and in disbelief that I’d have my own very soon.

Michael made it home the first week of June, with about 10 days to spare before my due date.  Drew has always had his own time frame for things, and being born was no different.  When he was 6 days late, I packed my bag in the car and announced that I wasn’t coming home from my doctor’s appointment that day, they were going to keep me.  My blood pressure, which had been high all pregnancy, was high enough that inducing was needed.  It was June 24.  After a rough labor and delivery, Drew was born at 8:56pm in the same room I’d witnessed my friend’s daughter born in.

He was just as beautiful.  We laughed about the irony of our babies both being born on the 24th, and in the very same room.

Ashley, 4 mos & Drew, 3 mos

A month later, as we were packing up our home and preparing to take our newborn and forge a new life, I got a phone call.  A friend of ours who was due with their first any day, was in labor.  We’d been through pregnancy together, and I could do nothing but laugh.  Because it was the 24th.  Amazingly enough, her precious son arrived later that day in the very same room.

May 24.  June 24.  July 24.  In the same room of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.

Leaving a few days later was the hardest thing I’d ever done.  I knew I’d always remember those days of fear that turned into days of Joy, surrounded by women of strength and character.

It’s now been 10 years since I helped welcome the first of the 24 babies.

A month later we met our own son.  And a month after that we welcomed one more to the world, as we said goodbye and turned our world upside down by leaving the security of jobs, in lieu of the comfort of being together.

So much has happened in these 10 years since.  But I cherish those days as much as any I’ve ever had.  I learned that I was stronger than I thought, that joy can come through pain, and that love is stronger than anything.  I pray our 24 babies grow to know the same.

Wishes and Prayers

blowing out his birthday candle

Over the weekend we celebrated my youngest one’s third birthday.  It was a festive day, with friends and family, and exactly as it should be.  I am not overly sentimental, but on occasions like this, I can’t help but think back to the excitement of bringing that sweet new life into the world, magic of introducing brothers for the first time, and anticipation of learning who he was.

He’s a study in opposites.  He is routinely covered in anything he can get into, yet asks for napkins and won’t keep the same clothes on for more than a few hours because “they’re dirty.’  He loves to fight but lavishes hugs and kisses.  He yells at his brother, but mimics everything he does.  He climbs higher than I prefer, but is scared of sleeping in his own bed.  He’s sweet and sour and full of so much life I hardly believe it when he falls asleep, though crashes may be a more accurate description. 

I am so thankful for the privilege of guiding him and teaching him, heavy with the weight of that responsibility, and the excitement of what is to come.  But this weekend it was ever more poignant as we all thought of the sweet faces who weren’t home, parents who had fulfilled their time of guiding and teaching much too early.

Like so many, I struggled with what to tell my older son, who had gone off to his elementary school that morning just as those children had.  While we all hugged our ‘babies’ a little bit more, we also all handle it a bit differently.  I didn’t want to cause fear, or bring sadness, but I knew he would hear about it if he hadn’t already.  The answer was obvious to me.

Let the story and the impact of today or any day, be of those who are brave and selfless and give us hope.  Let the story be that there was more love shown that day than hate.  Let the story be that no matter where you are, you are in God’s hands and He puts people in place to hold us.

As parents, our ‘job’ is not to protect our children, as much as our hearts tell us to.  As parents, our job is to teach them to love and to trust and to be brave and selfless.  Our job is to send them into the world to be the hands and feet of God, though they’ll each do it in different ways.  Our job is to love them so much, that they have so much love to give.

As I kissed my oldest goodbye and wished him a good day at school this morning, I wanted to turn around and grab him and have us both stay at home in safety and comfort, knowing that any day could end like Friday had for the families in Connecticut.  But I didn’t.  My God is not a God of fear.  He is not a God of safety zones and comfort, but the exact opposite.  There have always been, and always will be, people and circumstances that cause pain and suffering.  I thank God daily that there have also always been and will always be, people that bring even more hope and courage, when they could instead stay safe.

I pray that our answers don’t come in only more protection and more fear, but of more confidence in the One who protects us.  I pray that we do hold our babies closer, but to ensure they feel our love and know their worth, so that they can go on with courage and strength. I pray for the families who hurt so much, and thank God for those who were so brave and selfless that they are the real story.

2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Wild Ride in Cambodia

Very few people actually seem to have any memory of Austin.  Or so it feels some days, when the support we get is mainly from people we’ve known in more recent years.  So it’s really nice from time to time to hear someone say his name, or simply share a thought about him.  One comment on his birthday that really made me smile was “I miss that guy” from someone I’m introducing you to today.

In part because he remembers Austin, and in part because he’s an author and now world traveler, and is kinda what I want to be when I grow up!  Ryan and I shared a few of those oh so fun teen years, and we recently reconnected through the magic of Facebook.  He’s pretty cool, and I wanted to share his story with you today because I’m excited to follow the journey he’s taking and think you’ll enjoy it too.

The remnants of  their 4 bedroom house.

Ryan and his family recently left for Cambodia, and he’s taking us with him on the adventure through his writing.  As I sit here in my office, wishing I was having an adventure, I’m hoping his provides some inspiration to you and I both.

Can’t wait to read more!

Visit his blog.

and check out his book.

Getting Messy and Birthday Cakes

I’m attending an amazing conference that kicked off tonight- but has already rocked my world in a way I wasn’t quite prepared for.  The speaker, Reggie Joiner, talked about how we can’t reach people without it getting messy.  It gets messy for us to be involved and share ourselves, and it gets messy for them.

I don’t like messy.  What I mean is emotionally messy- lives intertwined, issues faced together, sharing hurts and feelings.  Surface is easier.  Surface is safer.  So in order to keep a bit more control in this crazy life where very little is under my control, I control that.  I let few people in very deep, and I don’t get very deep with others.

But I’ve wanted to be a bit more messy, I’ve wanted to share, thus this blog.  But you notice it’s been a while since I posted.  It’s been too hard lately, anything I would have said would have required me to share more than I really wanted to.  But yet I keep asking God to use me.  But you know, without the mess.

It doesn’t work that way.  I’ve let few things get messy in almost five years, and truthfully avoided it usually even before then.  For almost five years I’ve stayed out of ministry areas of the church that required me to get messy with people with few exceptions, and I’ve been involved in missing persons work but in the least messy way possible.  Tonight was like God was speaking directly to me though- letting me know that I can’t do the work I’m called to do without being willing to be messy and uncomfortable.

It might be baby steps, but here is my first go at it.  Writing a post when I’d rather keep it private.  And sharing this:  Yesterday was Austin’s 31st birthday and in my no mess style, I made one post on Facebook and didn’t think about it much again- because you know, I’m fine.  But I wanted to take a cake home to eat with my mom and the boys and recognize the day, so I stopped at the grocery store.  I thought I’d get something he’d like.  And that’s when the minor meltdown happened, when I realized that I don’t remember what he liked.  I walked in a circle around the bakery for 10 minutes, long enough for four employees to ask me if they could help find something.  I left empty handed and brokenhearted.   

I don’t know what good may come of sharing that simple honest look at a tough day, but I know that like 2 Corinthians 3:3 says, our lives are a letter from God, meant to show Him to others.  I hope that someone can see that in my letter there is pain and trouble but there is an ever present hand of God.

Getting messy isn’t going to be easy, but I’m going to be trying more.  Feel free to ask me how it’s going and keep me in check- because I know Reggie was right.  Ministering to people is messy.