All posts by Kerry

Important Things

My Dusty Old Name Plate
My Dusty Old Name Plate

I believe the Universe works very hard to maintain balance. This past week was my family’s turn to be in the wringer. We’ve been sick, never healthy for more than a few days, since Thanksgiving. The past week though, wow! We ended up in the ER for stridor, followed by vomiting, croup, ear infections, ruptured ear drums and a flat tire. A new special something for each day of the week!

It all started with a hard task for mommy on Saturday. I spent the day cleaning out my old office in preparation for turning it into the new nursery for Baby #3. There is a reason these things have laid in there so long, unattended. Ghosts of my past. I broke down in tears no less than three times. I came across a goodbye letter I wrote to my friend who was murdered. Some 25 years later, I finally found the strength to throw it away. All the journals from our fertility treatments, a chronicle of the roller coaster of hope and despair. All the sonograms and sympathy cards from our baby Noah. My old school papers and planning documents from the center I had set-up and directed. —Keeping a few things but just donating or throwing most things representative of my old life away and feeling like my kids will never know I used to do very important things.

After an emotionally exhausting day, I was ready for bed. I joked with my husband, since I could hear that tell tale croupy cough over the baby monitor, “Maybe I ought to just sleep in my clothes since Emerson sounds so bad.” Prophetic words. Less than ten minutes later, I am cleaning up vomit, alternating steam and cold air, walking that tight rope of not panicking and then realizing I should have left ten minutes ago, rushing to the ER and waiting to see what works to stop that horrible gasping for air as your precious child tries in vain to breathe.

I had just that day been celebrating the fact that Silas seemed to have gotten through his first bout of croup without having stridor. I had been celebrating that maybe, just maybe, we were done with this torturous routine of trying at home measures and then heading to the ER anyway. We came home from the ER, put Emerson back to bed and realized we probably have another three years of this with him, every time he gets a cold if he ends up like his big brother. Who knows if baby #3 will have the same issues?!?! We were desperate to get some sleep and then Silas was up all night coughing and throwing up. Yes, these things are common to raising young children. Centuries of mothers have survived them but that does not mean it is easy. I know these days are short but while you are stuck in them, especially where it concerns your children’s health, they are so unbelievably long. Absolutely daunting at times.

And then it happened. My Umbrellas showed up. Literally. Uninvited. Unannounced. Not even knocking. They know I am not going to ask for help. They know I am likely to turn down their offers of help when made. So, problem solvers that they are, they just walked into my house. A welcome sight. They came bearing chocolate, balloons, lemon juice, honey and hugs. They let me cry. They made me smile and laugh. They watched my kids so I could clean  the house a bit. We baked cookies together for another mom who was having a hard time… because there is always a need for an umbrella! And, perhaps most importantly, they spoke to me of important things.

“Kerry, you do the very most important things every single day – by loving your husband, your kids, and all of your friends too. And Silas and EJ, they see THAT and it is what matters. You can tell them about everything you did in the past and the person you were before they came along, and they will listen and they will appreciate all of it someday. But you, being who you are right now – that is what is important. To ALL of us. Because you are amazing.”

This is not to say that working mothers or fathers don’t do important things every day. We all make decisions based on our individual situations and your decisions are right for you and your family, regardless of what they are. A stay-at-home mom is not something I had ever envisioned for myself but it ended up being right for us. This is exactly where I want to be. My reasons for walking away from a very successful career are the same as they were the day I resigned. Yes, what I did before children was important. It came with impressive titles and decent paychecks, even good benefits. Yet, I believe there is nothing more valuable than pouring my heart and soul into each of my boys. The time I have with them will be so very short. I do not want to miss a minute of it. I am so very fortunate to have a choice in the matter.

Yes, I am tired. Yes, I am frustrated. Yes, I would love to be able to get one child dressed and the other STAY dressed so we can get out the door on time. Yes, I would like to have a night off every now and then. Oh, and sleeping in seems like some sort of wild forbidden fantasy. But, I also have the chance to mold their character. I delight in the fact that my 18-month old has already mastered how and when to say, “please” and “thank you” via sign language. My heart overflows when I see my 4-year old inviting his younger brother to help put ice cubes into his cup and offering him encouragement for doing a good job. Manners, compassion and love. If there were a report card for them, these areas would read, “Exceeds Expectations.” I can’t imagine anything more important than working to offer the world three humans full of these gifts.

The remainder of this week brought even more unpleasantness. It brought more sickness, tears, tantrums, early bedtimes, refused naps and restless nights. But I was able to meet those detours with humor and strength. No longer defeated. My perspective rectified. Thankfully, my umbrellas had revived my spirit.

I have learned a few lessons this week. (1) No matter what, through the good and the bad, we are here for each other. This makes the good stuff awesome and the bad stuff so much better than it would be alone. (2) I have been reminded of what the truly important stuff is. It is love and giving of ourselves to each other. (3) I have some other parents, who are now grandparents, to thank for the time and energy, the sleepless nights and days of frustration they put into loving and molding their children. If I am ever in doubt about the value my job as a mom holds, I can look to my Umbrellas and know how much their parents’ work has impacted my own life.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

With love,

Kerry Stephen, Director of Important Things

New Position: Director of Important Things
New Position: Director of Important Things

Unfinishable

“King’s last great crusade was the Poor People’s March. He never made it to the March. Trying to help the poor in Memphis, he was cut down. And the poor are still with us. As King said in a sermon, ‘One of the greatest agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable.'” Adelman, B., & Johnson, C. (2007). Mine eyes have seen: Bearing witness to the Civil Rights struggle (p. 195). New York: Time Home Entertainment.
“King’s last great crusade was the Poor People’s March. He never made it to the March. Trying to help the poor in Memphis, he was cut down. And the poor are still with us. As King said in a sermon, ‘One of the greatest agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable.’” Adelman, B., & Johnson, C. (2007). Mine eyes have seen: Bearing witness to the Civil Rights struggle (p. 195). New York: Time Home Entertainment.

 

As with so many people, Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my idols. I usually honor this day by reminiscing and sharing some of his greatest words as well as embarking on acts of social service throughout the day. Today, I spent the morning talking with my boys about our country’s history, how change was possible here and how MLK contributed to that change. Why his efforts were singular among other efforts. Love, peace and fairness. Fighting indignity with dignity. Fighting hate with love. Fighting violence with non-violence. What finally moved the middle to action were images of peaceful people being sprayed with fire hoses, those being beaten responding with hymns and prayers of love. Most people know, in their hearts, God abides in acts of love not hate or violence.

It does not go unnoticed that many of my heroes, those who have fought for equality and justice by peaceful means, have died at the hands of others. Jesus. Ghandi. MLK. Men to be feared because they move people to action. Catalyzing beliefs in fairness, peace and justice from wishes to reality. It seems to me, this approach has really been the only way throughout history to create massive and lasting change.

Faced with terrorist attacks, realized as well as thwarted, we still see much cruelty in our world. Amid organizations, among countries, across people, even neighbors and families. As MLK said, “One of the greatest agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable.” The urge to rest is strong. The urge to ignore is powerful. The urge to succumb to the nagging thought that this is an unfinishable task is mighty.

Much like the feeling a mother has in rearing her children. We wonder, do I have the strength? We doubt our efforts are enough. But we never give up. These are our children after all. And this world is the future for our children’s children. It is and will be what we make of it. I take comfort in remembering that the million tiny, soft grains of sand laying upon the beach were once giant, ragged boulders. Over the course of time, nature persevered in changing the unchangeable. Finding and fulfilling the purpose and potential inside each and every life God has gifted the world is a worthy quest. Start with where you are and you can change the world. One ragged boulder at a time.

“One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Is there room at the inn?

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622
“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

 

I have been uncharacteristically Grinch-like this holiday season. I was thinking it was perhaps the pregnancy hormones but I have noticed many others having similar feelings. We are all feeling pinched by holiday pressure. Feeling pulled in many different directions like taffy. I was grumpy and complaining about having to travel to so many different places, to please so many different people, that we would not have time for our own family celebration of Christmas. I was unhappy about the discomfort, no matter how welcoming a place is, of not sleeping in our own home. Especially when I will be halfway through a pregnancy, sleeping with four people and one dog in one room. Grumpy and unhappy may, in fact, be an understatement.

I found myself talking similar feelings over with friends and pondering, “Why can’t Christmas ever just be about Jesus?!?!” Then it was time to put the boys to bed and just about the only time in a day where it is quiet enough for me to reflect. It dawned on me that I am an utter hypocrite. I was wondering why people can’t seem to just keep things simple and focus on Jesus during the Christmas season. Well, what does that mean when we think about the Christmas story?

Augustus issued a census decree. Mary, obviously extremely pregnant, rode a donkey all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem (about 70 miles). Upon arrival, the city was overflowing with visitors coming to register for the census. There was not one room left, not even for a mother in labor.  Thus, Jesus was born in a stable and placed in a manger. God, had given man his only son.

And so we all hear the decree around Christmas to travel home. We make difficult treks to share time with family. We make room even when the inns are full, laying on sofa beds and air mattresses in less than ideal rooms. We go without sleep and comfort to simply be and share the season with our family and like-family friends. We are challenged to give and sacrifice of our selves as God did for us. No, Christmas is not about comfort. Nor is it really about personal joy. It is about love and oftentimes love is hard. Some of us flock to the manger with excitement and wonder like the shepherds and Magi. The holiday season may be trying to others for a reason. As we replay the story each year, maybe God has cast us in the role of innkeeper and we are being asked if we have room for kindness, generosity and love in our hearts.

I don’t relish discovering I am a hypocrite. So as I feel tension from the holidays rise, I will now ask myself if I have room at the proverbial inn. Even at the height of fatigue and discomfort, I want to remember what this season is really about.

How about you? Will there be room at your inn for Christmas?

 

Gratitude, Miracles and Hail Marys

saint_gerard_abbottFor better or worse, my pregnancies have always been classified as high risk. How we came by that is one of those funny ways God works. The only reason I began seeing a high risk doctor early on the first time around was because I never received the rH shot following my miscarriage. In being abundantly cautious on that front, we discovered the much larger issues of low fluid, growth restriction gestational hypertension and eventually severe pre-eclampsia/HELLP syndrome. Thanks be to God, someone made a mistake after the loss of Noah.

Every single time I walk through the doors at the perinatal office, see the staff and visit with the doctor I am struck by how fortunate we were with our first pregnancy. And our second. I continue to pray for our third.

As the mother, I am astounded and amazed by Silas. How troubled his pregnancy was, how early his birth was, how precarious his first months were and how healthy he is now. Born at just 33 weeks, at 3 pounds and 4 ounces, he cried immediately and scored an Apgar of 8/9. He stayed just 19 days in the NICU. He never once returned to the hospital in his first year. He never fell behind on any of his developmental milestones. I remember feeling so proud of him before he even left the NICU as I sang, “We are the Champions” to him. And, that is exactly as it should be. Yes, Silas’ situation was unique to say the least, but mothers are always impressed with their children.

We now have the chance to work with this phenomenal staff and doctor through our third pregnancy. I can’t remember what I said to him in my last visit but he responded with, “Oh, I could never forget you. Your case was so severe and then your second was amazingly perfect. I don’t use your name but I do refer to your case often with my patients.” Wow. There is something about hearing someone who’s very job is dealing with high risk pregnancies, who sees hundreds such cases every year, specifically noting how remarkable your case is… And then using it to give hope to other mothers.

My doctor then said what happened with me simply does not happen. According to research, I am an anomaly. Subsequent scientific research has said the vitamin regimen he put me on based upon a report showing limited success does not actually prove effective . Yet, after the stunning difference in my first and second pregnancies he has prescribed that regimen to every pre-eclampsia patient he has had and absolutely none have had a relapse. Not one.

I suppose there could be a placebo effect. So I ask myself what else I did. Obviously, I was not on bed rest so I was able to get exercise throughout the second pregnancy but I was getting exercise the first time around and was on bed rest by 26 weeks. The resounding answer for me is prayer. I wore a Saint Gerard medal throughout each pregnancy. I prayed to God over that medal every morning and night. I thanked God at night for each additional day of healthy development. I thanked God for another night of healthy development every morning. I was open about what we were going through as well so there were literally legions of prayer going up for health. Rivers of faith. Floods of love.

I always knew things were bad during Silas’ pregnancy but I truly never realized how close to death both Silas and I were. I have been reminded, once again, of just how very lucky I am to be here loving my happy, healthy boys (with another on the way). I am grateful for my many miracles, the doctor with his Hail Mary regimen of care and the love of all those who surround us.

The specific mechanism is not all that important to me. I know it is God working through all of them and I am grateful.

 

If Dogs Were Teachers

IfDogsWereTeachers

This poster was hanging in the emergency vet’s office last night. I took a picture of it because it is how so many dogs are. I know Star taught us all so very much.

We had to put our girl down last night. We had been getting cocky about how long she could live beyond the vet’s prognosis. She started seizing late last night, she could barely walk and was clearly, finally, feeling the pain of it all.

I’ve been aching all over. Inside and out. Crying off and on all day. I hadn’t expected to physically feel the impact of her death but I feel as if I have been hit by a truck.

Dogs are a part of our family not just pets in this house. She was our daughter and a sister to our boys. She was rarely ever referred to as a pet. She was our baby, our girl, our daughter, a sister. I’d say she was our equal but I do believe dogs are often our superior as the words in this picture convey. So much love. So much patience. So much perseverance. So much to teach us. And, even after death, she is still teaching me.

I took a much needed nap along with Emerson this afternoon and had a dream of her. I saw her playing with a boy who looked a lot like Silas. I couldn’t figure out why Emerson was not there or any other members of our family and why Silas was older then he really is. Then, I realized she was playing with Noah, our angel baby. She is safe and happy at home in Heaven with the rest of our family.

“Enjoy every moment of every day.”

Star_10112014