There's Not Place I'll Go, You've Not Already Stood

Lauren Daigle on shuffle and replay…I feel like that’s all I’ve listened to the last few months. It’s on in my van, in my office, even my running playlists have been replaced by her soul touching lyrics. Not typical running songs maybe, but I feel closer to God when I run than so many other times. Somehow, her words calm the anxiety, and help center my eyes back to God, and putting all trust in Him.

Effie has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning…last night, she wanted me to snuggle in her bed, and I happily obliged. I went to bed earlier than usual, and slept well except that I dreamed for what seemed like all night…it was ALL about this appointment tomorrow. Sadly, I think she feels my anxiety, the angst in my soul worrying about what these x-rays will show. Last visit, we were so happy to hear that her curve actually measured less - kudos to Effie for being an avid brace wearer and such a strong little girl. This time, I feel like she’s grown a bit more, and with growth comes more risk of that scoliosis curvature increasing. What if it does increase, and surgery comes up as a bigger possibility? What if when she does have surgery, she has to have rods? There’s a newer type of surgery that is called tethering…supposed to be less invasive, and if we stay steady like’s she’s done, that one sounds like it could a possibility instead…and of course we would love to avoid surgery all together, although that’s not likely with her situation.

She knew I was worried this morning, and although she’s a little worried, she was telling me that it would be fine. “I’m wearing my brace. I’m working out and running…it’s going to be better. I’ll be fine.”, she says with all the certainty that I wish I had.

One of Lauren Daigle’s songs, “Everything”, in the very first verse says this:

“Even the sparrow has a place to lay it’s head, so why would I let worries steal my breath?”

That gets me EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. If something as tiny as a wild sparrow has a place to sleep in this massive world, and that God made sure that tiny bird was taken care of…how could I let worry take my breath away?

Worry and some anxiety gets me even when I don’t want it to…it just does. Even when I know better.

This year, Effie made the Middle School Cross Country team…something she’s been dreaming of for over a year! Watching her run this season has been such a blessing. So many things in her life she has to work so hard at, and even though running and training requires work, she loves it so much, and the willingness to work at it and the ease at which it comes for her has been amazing to watch unfold. She has consistently been one of her team’s top runners - making friends with her older teammates, and seeming to fit it so well. The team aspect as a whole has been so comforting.

My dread for worsening of her spine curvature isn’t surgery really, although I would love for her not to go through it, but rather I know that if and when she has to do it, that it will sideline her for a while from one of the only things that has come so naturally for her…she loves it, and I don’t want her to ever lose it.

When she runs, it is without a brace, and that time that she’s running and working out counts just like she was wearing her brace, so those 22 hours she’s supposed to be in it, gets cut down when she’s active. As much as I would’ve loved for her to avoid dealing with any of this, I have come to believe that all of this is a blessing to her. She knows that in order to have a chance at avoiding major surgery, that she has to stay active…keep her core strong. She knows that not wearing her brace isn’t a choice that she can make. She knows that running has helped her, and she can’t just stop. She loves it, and the people she runs with…in Columbus and on her team…they seem to love her too. I’m sure some of them don’t know her story, but many of them do, and I think they admire her for it. I know I do.

I don’t know why I write this tonight, except to tell you where she is…and to ask you to say a prayer for her tonight. If you want to throw one in for a worrying mama, I won’t argue with you for that either. I know my anxiety about this if for naught…God has this under control. Lauren Daigle has another song called “Trust in You”…my favorite words in that song…

“There''s not a place I’ll go, you’ve not already stood.” God already knows what tomorrows x-rays will show, and for whatever that is, I know we will trust in His plan…but man, the waiting is so tough.

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Faith….

It isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice to trust God even when the road ahead seems uncertain. (Davewillis.org)

How long will I be his #1?

“Happy Birthday!”….I’ve always loved celebrating my kids’ birthdays..I think it’s a special time that should have special traditions. And honestly, now they’re probably a little spoiled as they’ve come to expect some of those special things on their special day. For more years than I can count, the birthday kid gets oversized pancakes for breakfast, balloons, and a dinner of their request. I see other friends and family get all choked up and tear up at the thought of their children “growing up”. So far, I haven’t been sad…more thankful really that they’re still here with me. It does seem like just yesterday that I held him in my arms for the first time, but no tears. We are far luckier than some who have limited or no more time with their children. Who am I to be sad that they grow up…isn’t that what we want them to do?

I always tell people, “every stage is fun and challenging in it’s own way”…and it really is. To be honest, a crying baby makes my stomach hurt a little these days…and to think about changing diapers again…don’t judge me, but it makes me cringe. The snuggles were fantastic…and I soaked in every second I could, but I’ve loved each stage so much, there’s no way I wanted to go backwards. There are people with far more jewels in the crown waiting on them than me, those families who take in other children who need a loving family…and they make them their own. I admire them so very much, but so far in this life, I have not felt led to travel the same path. Three was our number…it just seemed to stick.

Carson turned fourteen today…second year having a teenager and it doesn’t bother me at all. I feel like he’s growing into a young man…living up to my sometimes unreasonable expectations, and sometimes more mature than I give him credit for. He has always loved having me right by his side…he loves to be with people, and is a “mama’s boy” for sure (for a little longer)…and I love it! I’m pretty satisfied that I’m still his #1…for now:) He has said for a while that he “doesn’t have time for girls”, although this year there seems to be a shift…he has big dreams of Auburn University and attending Vet School there…he knows he has to stay focused and work hard to get there…he knows we married at 27, and he says he will be at least that old before he does the same. (I can hope, right?!)

We have been rocking it…cruising in our own little world…cuddling at times…bickering some times…lots of hugs, then sometime last fall, I leaned down to kiss him goodnight and got smacked right in the head with a brick.

Earlier that week, he had asked a little girl to be his girlfriend…and I heard it from someone else…he didn’t tell me himself. Not gonna lie…it crushed my soul a little…and my ego. I pride myself in that my kids will tell me the most personal details…God knows they tell me plenty of things I don’t want to know…so how would he not feel ok to tell me he kind of liked a girl? It’s normal for a 7th grader to have a girlfriend, and I honestly feel like it’s necessary to some degree as kids learn to navigate through feelings…and drama:) He knew we didn't ’t allow social media, he didn’t have a phone at the time (according to him, he was the only one his age that didn’t own one).

And even though I know it’s normal…I cried. Yep, I cried about a milestone. Not because he was older, not because he had a girlfriend for the moment…but because this was the first time in his life that I had not been the only girl he really cared about. I’ve always been his #1…and even though I currently still am, it hit me hard that one day I won’t be. One day, just as God would have it, he will grow up and have someone else…someone else to hold him…someone else to console him when he’s upset…someone else to take care of him when he’s sick…someone else that wants to smack him sometimes…all of that stung a little.

That girlfriend from last year didn’t last long…she decided she wanted to break up…he didn’t cry, but I hugged him anyway. He’s had one girlfriend since…over the summer - I allowed them to write letters, but that ended before summer was over. He’s crushing on a girl now…and they’re getting to know each other better.

My rules haven’t changed about relationships. I know some of my friends think I’m a bit over-protective, but as of right now we don’t allow texting to girlfriends, there aren’t phone calls to or from, we aren’t meeting anyone out for dinner or a movie…girlfriend/boyfriend is for school. At fourteen, there’s not much more time that he gets to be a kid…relationships can get messy and complicated very quickly at this age, so judge me all you want, but we are taking our time on those things. And he’s cute…like, really cute!

He’s growing up, and not far behind him are Effie and Cullen. I may never get upset when we sing Happy Birthday every year, but that moment last year sort of came out of nowhere.

Fourteen years ago, I labored for over 22 hours, pushing for almost three of those…then, they put a lop-sided sweet and big boy in my arms and he was perfect. It seems like yesterday that I met him, and I’m so thankful that God is sharing him with me. I’ll keep praying for all of my kiddos, for them in their daily life…and start praying that somewhere God is preparing the perfect soulmate for all of them…meanwhile, excuse me while I go and hold this precious birthday boy of mine…while I’m still his #1.

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Let me love you a a little more…before you’re not little anymore.

Holding up her end of the bargain...even before God did

I’ve never considered myself a “cat person”…dog maybe…cow, for sure, but not a cat. Two to three years ago now, Effie and the boys had been begging for a cat for sometime…Matt, nor I, were excited about the possibility. Then, one weekend, on a whim, I told them we would go LOOK…love on some, but absolutely not get one. Turns out, Effie got sick, but we still snuck in and loved several kitties…one was a sweet male cat - about a year old - not known why he was placed, but had only had one owner and kept only indoors. I knew I didn’t want an only indoor cat…we live on almost 70-acres, for goodness, I felt like a cat that was a Ward kitty would need to chase birds when it wanted to. We left and went home, but not before Effie took a “big eye” picture and sent to her daddy — begging for the kitty. When I talked to him later that night (Effie now running a fever), his response was simply, “How can I say no now?”. The next morning Matt arranged for me and Carson to drive secretly into town to adopt that sweet boy, known now as Mr. Fuzzy Pants.

After a few weeks, he started to venture onto the grass outside, and loved it. It didn’t take him long to decide that he wanted to spend some of his time out there, and he transitioned himself to an indoor-outdoor kitty, who would meow to go outside, paw at the door to come in, and never had a littler box from that day forward. Perfection. That sweet boy has spent so many nights cuddled at the foot of one of my kids’ beds almost every night since, and hardly left Effie’s side after she had her brain surgery. He consistently finds me between 4-6 a.m. to go outside to potty. He’s like clockwork.

A few weeks ago, we traveled to the mountains for a 4-day vacation…we had a friend housesit for us…a very trustworthy college guy that Matt has worked with. From day 1, he said Mr. Fuzzy wasn’t super excited about his being there, and never came in to eat while we were gone….rather, he just sat on the ping pong table out on the back porch, peering at him, eating the food he would put out, but didn’t dare to enter. Fast forward to our arrival home…Mr. Fuzzy was nowhere to be found. The kids called and called, I called and called, then a few hours later after some frantic kids, Matt called more and there he came! Such relief! He was sort of stand-off-ish for a few hours. I told the kids he was mad at us for leaving him I guess…but within the next day, he was back to normal and happy to have his family (and his routine) back!

We were home for almost two weeks, when it was time for a planned 4-day beach vacation before school started…I was a little leery about kitty, but figured it would be same as last time, so not many worries. This time, our house sitter said he didn’t see Mr. Fuzzy as much, but did have to refill his feed bowl several times, so he knew he was eating. Arriving home, the kids couldn’t wait to love on their sweet boy, but to no avail, he was nowhere waiting on us. We called and called…nothing…no ringing of his sweet tag and bell on his collar, no meowing, and now his food obviously hadn’t been touched for at least a day. Matt and I both were very concerned (and not super optimistic) when through the entire night he didn’t show up. Even our sweet mini Australian Shepherd, Lola just sort of laid around…I think missing her buddy.

Back at work on Monday, I got several sobbing phone calls from Effie, and some worried texts from Carson - him not knowing how to comfort Effie…who at one point called the kitty for a solid half-hour and sobbed for almost an hour. I told her that all she could do at this point was pray that God would help kitty find his way home. I emphasized to her that if in fact, something did happen to him, that I was positive that he knew how much he was loved while he was with us.

Effie prays, but doesn’t like to pray in front of people, even us (a trait I’m sorry to say, that I’ve probably inferred on her). She does take her turn to say the blessing before dinner, but her prayer is often quiet and short.

That evening, though, we sat down to dinner, held hands and bowed heads, and before Cullen,(the steady Eddie saying the best blessings), could even get a syllable out of his mouth, Effie immediately took over. It was the most fervent prayer I’ve ever heard come from her lips…it was loud, clear and very precise. She took her time to thank God for dinner and her family, and then asked God to help bring their kitty home and keep him safe..that they really wanted him back.

After her Amen, we all just sort of looked over at her…I squeezed her hand, Carson leaned in to give her a hug…we told her how proud of her we were…very confidently, she said “I promised God that if He would bring kitty home, I would say the prayer every night before dinner!” I asked her, “So, you’re holding up your end of the bargain, even before He does?” She looked at me and said, “Yep!…because I know he’s coming home.” Very matter of fact…very confident.

Dinner was finished and table was cleared…a couple of hours later, it was time to dig some extra school supplies out of the coat closet to see what we had and what we needed. On my way to that closet, I was talking to Effie who was in her room, and out of the corner of my eye, I spied something moving at the front door glass…could it be?! It WAS!! It was two precious paws, pawing at the glass to come in. I called for Effie and immediately opened the door carefully and just sat down talking to him. It took him just a minute to come inside and we couldn’t quit holding him and loving him…he was thinner and absolutely starving! That sweet boy loved all over us that night, falling right back into his routine. Effie sat beside me on the couch late that night, and was just so very thankful to God for his return.

Often, as adults, we make “deals” with God…”I’ll do this, if you do that…” God’s will isn’t negotiable in my opinion, but I do believe he knows the desires of our heart, and I think maybe He uses things and times, good and bad, to bring us closer to Him. Through so many of Effie’s stories, I’ve always felt like she had some special connection, and her faith is so strong, even when mine waivers..it always stops me in my tracks and pulls me closer to God to witness her actions.

“To trust God in the light is nothing. To trust Him in the dark…that is faith.” C.H. Spurgeon

Effie held up her end of the bargain, even before God did….are you?

So glad to have this little guy back home!

So glad to have this little guy back home!

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Mom Of The Year

17.more.days. I keep dwindling that number down every morning for the last two weeks, and yet it seems like it’s taking forever. As a parent today, I just can’t comprehend when other parents say they don’t want school to be over, or at summer’s end “I can’t wait for it to start back”. Those are words that you’ll never hear escape my breath.

Each beginning school year, I’m all geared up to stay completely organized…completely engaged…and completely committed to every school related assignment the kids have…then, fast forward to these last few weeks of testing and exhaustion, and it’s all I can do to stay completely committed to getting them out of bed every morning. Between extracurricular activities and living life outside rather than on a game or computer screen, it is just so hard to stay afloat. I hope the teachers know how much I love and appreciate them….how I couldn’t begin to do what they do every day (I’d heap rather see patients and take care of their girly parts)…I also hope they know I love my child, and I want to stay engaged, but we are on the STRUGGLE.BUS. Field trips, signed progress reports, homework, projects, teacher appreciation week with super specific instructions from the room reps, study for standardized testing, and projects…did I mention projects?!….for God’s sake, I’ve probably only managed to pick Effie on time from Chorus once this entire year—I’m sure they know this just isn’t my year, and that I’m just not capable of a morsel more. I used to scan folders nightly…now it seems the teacher is probably super near to sending a note directly to me asking me to clean it out. Three kids…three different schools this year, and the little one has probably been walked to class three times…it’s pretty sad…it’s a good thing he’s not clingy.

Good thing is…there is 17 more days of survival for me, my kids and all the teachers…there is an end in sight. WE.CAN.DO.IT! A short summer break full of activities, vacations, sports, farm work, and then it’s back to school again. Next year I’ll stay organized…I’ll stay committed…I’ll sign every paper on the first night (rather than the last day when the kids are shoving it in my face at breakfast as I’m cooking breakfast), I’ll check folders nightly……next year, I’ll be mom of the year.

Another year, another season...

I tossed and turned…I always do anyway, especially 8 months pregnant…can anyone really get comfortable that far along?! I had just turned back to a side when I felt a little gush. My eyes immediately opened…I was sure it wasn’t my water breaking…I had just worked that day, delivered a baby in a bathtub for goodness sakes…my baby girl was still 5 1/2 weeks away from her expected delivery date…it was too early for her to come. I quickly got to the bathroom, cleaned up a little, and just as I was thinking I was safe…here came another gush. I peeked in the bedroom and called out to Matt to “Wake up…my water broke”…he made a little noise…unbelieving, and rolled back over (no shame to him…he’s a hard sleeper:)). I called my co-worker, Susan, the midwife on call..told her what happened, and she stayed calm (just like always) and told me to head in to the hospital. I hung up…and I just cried…scared to death because it was me. I took care of folks like this pretty frequently, but it was happening to me… I was terrified.

I woke Matt back up…he was panicking a little now…we gathered a few things…gathered our 2 1/2 year old, Carson, and we headed out to the hospital. I knew the nurses on staff…they got me all settled, then I got Carson to sleep on the pull out sofa…he slept, and I labored. Up and down, and in and out of the shower…then at 8:20 a.m. with Carson in Matt’s arms wide awake…my two friends, and colleagues, Susan and Tamara in attendance, I pushed and quickly had a tiny 4 lb. 9 oz. baby girl in my arms…Effie Rose.

To fast forward 11 years to today and imagine all the ups and downs we’ve been through, well, that would be impossible. She is a fighter…she has been since day one. To try and convey just how sweet her little soul is…that would also be impossible. Frequently, I see parents, moms and dads, reminisce and saddened by how quickly kids grow up, and although I realize the time does fly, it doesn’t hit me the same way.

A few years back, Effie got into trouble in the car for unfastening her seat belt while riding down the road…I pulled off quickly, swatted her legs telling her how dangerous that was. Her response through tears, was “I just want to go live in Jesus’ house”. That statement hit me like a ton of bricks…to live with Jesus, would mean she wasn’t with me, and that was something my mind couldn’t process. She talked like that for a day or two…telling me she knew I would be sad, but it would be ok, and that she would see me again one day. I remember posting on social media that story, and saying something about I wasn’t ready to give her to God, and how much her saying that broke my heart. A friend from high school reminded me that God gave her to me, and she was His first. That rocked me…I knew it was true, but yet hard to hear. I remember keeping her in a little bubble for a bit…so very nervous of her every move…a true helicopter parent.

A good friend in high school played ball with my brother, and my boyfriend at the time. I went to almost every game I could, and I often sat near the mom of this friend…he was killed in a car accident in high school, and my heart ached so very bad for her. I didn't have kids at the time, but couldn’t imagine the loss and hurt that losing a child must bring. Another friend I work with today, lost her son a couple of years ago…I see her grieve sometimes even now. Another friend quickly lost her one-year old on Christmas Day several years back after more heartache than a little even before that. I can’t completely understand how they feel, but the pain is palpable.

So, as Effie is another year older today, and time really does fly…there isn’t one ounce of me that can post a crying emoji face, sad face, or hysterical crying face on social media…as I see frequently when kids of friends have a birthday. For us, it’s a celebration of life… a celebration of another year she is with us, and a celebration of all she’s able to do after the challenges she had to face.

I’m not even gonna lie…the teen years of my oldest are the most challenging so far, but even with it, there are such new and exciting things to take on and do as he gets older…new conversations, new things to be comfortable and even uncomfortable about…and every season, with every kiddo brings about those things.

This weekend, I watched and ran along side of her for most of 16.2 miles that she ran…a half-marathon at 6 a.m. then a 5K at 6:30 p.m. for a special shamrock medal…then she got first in her age group for the 5K with 24:36 time. I have watched her anxiety disappear so much over the past year, post brain surgery, and dealing with her scoliosis head-on…our running community has been an absolute godsend for her, and for Big Dog and Columbus Roadrunners, and those folks and fellow runners that support Effie, I couldn’t be more thankful…they are all amazing.

Today, I celebrate another year…and toast to another season of Effie’s precious presence in our life! No sad faces here…just hearts and love and pure thankfulness.

Effie after 1/2 and 5K

Circle back...

It's hard to think back and gauge when Effie started running...somehow she ended up running a mile in my hometown with my parents several years ago...and I think, won the 1-mile overall female that year… surprising us!  Later that year, the boys played football in the middle of Columbus, and around that collection of fields, was a fantastic running/walking track.  For anyone that knows me, you'd know I can't sit still for very long.  The practices were long, and I needed to exercise anyway.  I remember asking Effie if she wanted to run while they practiced, and she answered an emphatic "yes!".  It was sometime after that I devised a plan for the two of us to walk/run the track while the boys practiced.  Gradually we would work our way up to running longer distances.  There were definitely days that she'd rather not run...days that she may have cried a little, but most days, we managed to push through, and both of us always felt better for it after.  It's funny to me...on the days I really didn't feel like running, she was pushing me...and on the days that she wasn't as up to it, I pushed her...it was a good team effort. 

Occasionally there was a 5k, and she did well for her age...I was proud of her for going that far.  Then, 2017, she started youth track in our county.  While trying to figure out what she would run best, the first unofficial meet, they had her in a sprint group...I think she cried the whole time...I thought “Oh Lord, what have we signed up for?”…it was distance from that point on...and you would never be able to convince her to do anything else.  She did pretty good for her first year, and again, we were proud of her attitude and what she was capable of at her age.  We continued to run some in off-season, and soon, it seemed like she was leaving me in the dust...and when I say "it seemed"...she WAS...and would laugh about it.  I would have to look for places to run where she could run ahead of me...if we ran on the road, she of course had to run slower to stay with me... and she hated the slower pace.

In the fall of 2017, she had her setback, and I just knew brain surgery would sideline her track season, but as she would work back to running, 2018 became her second year of youth track...she loved running and had seemed to find her niche.  Carson has always been the most athletic in the family...but soon, he even found out, that when it comes to running distance, he didn't stand a chance with Effie.  As much as track helped cement how much she loved running, she doesn't love running in circles...she would always rather run on a new track or a trail...she likes something different…new scenery.  She made it to state last year for her group, but missed placing in state by what I think was just a few seconds...she was devastated, but some failure is good for kids in my opinion, and her recovering from that to be successful now has done big things for her confidence level. 

We continued to run, and heading into the summer of 2018, I decided to sign her up for a Summer Series with a local running group...it included five races...you have to run at least four, one of which was a 5-miler,  to be qualified for awards at the end of the series.  I signed both of us up...I don't run to win anything...I'm really not that fast...I run because running with Effie is by far, one of my most favorite things in life at this season of life.  It also helps to hold me accountable to run with her through the week, and maintain a level of exercise in the midst of this crazy, busy life.  

We combined the Summer Series with many additional races, and in most of those, she placed in the top 3 for her age group.  Her most impressive finish to me was at the end of April, when she finished first in her age group in a 5K with a time of 23:36, but placed 18th out of 219 runners total...men included.  When I look back at that statistic, it blows my mind. 

As many of you know, prior to that 2018 track season, a routine well visit turned into the perfect storm of chaos for us...three weeks after that visit, my husband and I would watch her roll into the OR to have brain surgery. Surgery to decompress a Chiari Malformation and relieve pressure that had built up in her spinal cord...something we had no idea of prior to that pediatrician visit.  Her success in running faced so many questions in my mind...would she be the same after surgery...would she run again...would she want to?  The doctors assured us, it was possible, but then, we also had to tackle scoliosis head-on after recovery from surgery.  She would be wearing a big brace 22 hours a day...how well would she deal with this?  So many questions, and so few answers.  Recovery was H.A.R.D.   It's excruciating watching your child hurt, and being so unable to calm or sooth them.  Then one day, she turned a corner...I arrived home from work one afternoon, and she was up walking unassisted!  After surgery, she kept stepping over her feet...what I mean by that is that she kept crossing them over each other when she took steps...on the inside, I was internally terrified.  She certainly can't run THAT way.  Our orthopedic and neurosurgeon said to give it time.  We held the faith and just kept believing it would return to normal. And it did.

Just six weeks after brain surgery, we ran our first mile after surgery...she was slower than she had been, but she felt great and still beat the brakes off of my time!  It was a near freezing 42 degrees outside...her nose was red and cold...but SHE WAS RUNNING.  My heart could just explode.  I've probably told that story already on my blog someplace, but somehow it slips in here again.  It was a turning point for what those next thirteen months have held, and we couldn't be more thankful. 

Effie has had anxiety for years, and she used to cry and get super anxious when we would be preparing to line up to run a 5K...almost into anxiety attack mode.  Then in April for that run, a friend joined us...not even 1/2 mile into that run, I could no longer see her.  From that day forward, there's been no real anxiety before races...we usually go for a slow warm up run, then when they call the runners to the line, she grabs me, kisses me and says "I'll see you at the end!"...and her tiny little body will often put herself in the front area of the group of runners...and she can certainly hold her own in that spot.  Each race, I think builds her confidence even more, and this past weekend, we ran a half-marathon…something she had been contemplating in her mind, although until recently, she really doubted she could go that far. She finished fourth in her age group at 2 hours and 5 minutes…she’s ten years old and weighs 55 pounds. The running community in Columbus is so strong, and again we are able to see that Effie is right where God would have her be right now…surrounded by a great group of folks that love running as well…and so many of them are so supportive to Effie…cheering her along the way when I can’t keep up (which is every time by the way;)) We’ve added youth training workouts this fall at a great locally owned business, Impact Performance. She’s fun to watch in those groups and with their wonderful coaches. I hope she can realize how taking care of her body is helping her bent little body so much. And for this year, our plan is to continue to run as many races as we can, and her eyes are on trying out for our cross-country team for their next season.

Each week when we go out for runs, we usually end up somewhere, at least once, that she has to stay more with me, rather than set her own pace.  So many times running, she will do her normal what we call "circle back" to me...it's a saying we came up with when she would get far enough ahead of me, that I thought she needed to come back and run with me...usually on the highway or a trail...I'm not comfortable with her being too far out of sight.  She does it instinctively now...and I always think, “what a great heart that girl has!”.  She continues to work hard...and she knows I'm working hard, but even though I am a little (or a lot) slower than she is...she's willing to run back to me, then start again.  This happens many times on our runs, but a few months ago, it just hit my heart differently.

I think God works like this so often...He's ahead of us...all-knowing...all-powerful...we try and keep our eye on Him, but even when we lose sight of Him, and we fall a little behind or need His encouragement, He "circles back" to pick us up...to carry us further. 

I’ve had a good deal of bitterness in the wake of all of Effie’s troubles…not towards God at all, but towards medical mistakes that were made in the couple of years before we found out…I’m working on that in my heart, and trusting in God to see that through to complete peace for me, but that’s a different blog for a different day.

This week, I’m looking up and asking God to stay by our side. We go back on Friday for our routine, every six month, x-rays to evaluate Effie’s spine curvatures. She continues to wear her brace when she’s not active, up to the 22 hours per day, but it’s not a cure…it’s more of a “let’s try and slow this curve down” kind of tool. So far, she hasn’t increased that curvature, but every time we go for one of these appointments, I’m anxious. I know as she grows, her risks increase for that number to rise, so at some point, we’ll face that. Every time, I ask for it not to be “this time”. And again, I find myself asking God for more time, and more good news…news that this curve hasn’t changed, that what we are doing is working for now, and that all of Effie’s hard work in compliance in bracing is paying off for her…I’m asking for more time to run, more time to build confidence and love for something that has been a saving grace for us both, and more time for her to see that even after surgery one day, running will be worth fighting her way back to.

She is a warrior I will always want in my corner...and just like God, I pray she always "circles back" for me.

Nine miles+ in and she was still smiling!

Nine miles+ in and she was still smiling!

It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
— Nelson Mandela
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Keep jingling, even if it's not all the way all the time

Matt moved to Alma, GA with his parents when we were in the third grade, so I’m guessing he was around eight years old..it was a small town and a small school, so everyone knew everyone. Throughout the years, his mom was a PE teacher for me, his dad, a principal and football coach, and Matt…he was a friend. My brother played recreation league and high school baseball, as did my high school boyfriend, so I was at every game I could be, and practically watched Matt grow up playing baseball and cheering for him. He was fun to watch, I remember a very good player…and he was somebody you couldn’t help but like. Just an all-around good guy.

His family moved the end of our junior year, and for eight years, I would occasionally hear his family’s name about where they were, or what they were up to, but we had no contact. Then, Valentine’s Day 2004, that all changed when fate would deal a different hand. I’ve written before about our love story, so I won’t bore you in this post about all those details on how it came to be…I will, however post another link at the bottom…but everyone was in the right place at the right time, and within just a few weeks, I knew I needed to be wherever Matt was. That place ended up being Mars Hill, NC - I moved in May and we were married December 19, 2004, and welcomed our first baby September 2005 while I was still in graduate school at Emory. Almost four years later we welcomed our caboose, and now had three babies under the age of 4 with a sweet girl smushed between two bouncing boys.

Today, I sit here…14 years married, and having known this man for around 33 years…seems crazy and so normal all at the same time. I think since I knew Matt and his family growing up, that it made our relationship just so comfortable…in my mind, God had laid all of that groundwork years before. Sometimes it seems like only days, and sometimes it feels like F.O.R.E.V.E.R. that we’ve been married…because…that’s life.

I always wanted to be married and have kids…I just never realized there would be days that would be so dang hard…magazines and, now social media, makes it all look pretty much like a storybook. I’m one of the lucky ones, and am beyond thankful that Matt breezed into my life at a time that I couldn’t have needed him more, but we’ve definitely had our share of difficult times, and there have been moments..days…and at one time weeks that I thought divorce might win….so very happy it did not. With every struggle, we came out stronger…more appreciation and more understanding for each other, and today, I’m so proud to have a partner as we navigate life.

A few years ago, I saw a craft that I just had to make…it’s a shadow box with the words “Jingle All the Way” on the front. Inside, there are jingle bells of different colors. I guess each family can make up what they want their jingle bells to stand for…ours has silver bells for each year of marriage, red jingle bells for each child we have, and a special pink one for our “Emily” that we never knew by Effie’s special request. One day, if and when we have grand-babies, I will represent those blessings with green jingle bursts of color. In our box, we have big and small jingle bells…and just like the bells, some years for us were bigger than others…some were more broken than others…some we were glad to have survived…some years, well…I could’ve shoved that jingle bell up his nose….but this year I’m just so thankful for this man and this life we get to live.

Today, I will add a jingle bell, and we will keep jingling…some years that jingle is louder than others, some years, it’s more peaceful than others, but the important thing is that we keep on jingling together, even if it’s not all the way, all the time…we will keep working at it. Two imperfect people…perfect for each other.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Here’s a link too, to the story on how we actually met…Effie asks me to tell her this story at least once a month…I hope she always loves to hear it.

https://www.faithfamilyandafarm.com/blog/2017/12/18/how-we-met

photo credit: Kristin Robertson - Clement Arts Photo Day

photo credit: Kristin Robertson - Clement Arts Photo Day

“jingle all the Way”

“jingle all the Way”

Elf on the Shelf...I love it...and here's why I'm not sorry

December brings social media overload of Christmas trees, new family photos, Santa, church functions, and some Elf on the Shelf mixed in. It also brings about a various array of opinions on Santa, family tradition, and my favorite today…THE ELF.

Years ago, when I first heard about this ELF….I was working full time as a delivering midwife, and felt like I was on a carousel that didn’t take a break…I absolutely would not invite this insane creature into my house to create even more scrambling and turmoil…I wouldn’t…I couldn’t…I shouldn’t…then, I CAVED. I don’t remember all the reasons I caved except that Carson knew about an elf…Effie was probably close to three years old…a truly magical age when it comes to Christmas, and I thought…”what’s one more thing, really?” The first couple of years, there were times that “Roscoe” (our elf) wouldn’t move for a couple of days…I think he needed more Vitamin D and sunshine…he must’ve just been super tired. Then, nearing one Christmas season, the kids were over the moon about when Roscoe would come back, and at the time I had not really given a lot of thought to him, but their excitement was contagious. Pinterest was now on my resume…and I just decided that Roscoe could get pretty creative for 20+ days if it brought that much joy and excitement to their eyes and hearts. Let’s face it, nearly every single one of you have committed to a diet for that long or longer…and you didn’t start it to cheat, right? Well, for me, I just decided that I could do anything 100% for that short amount of time.

I won’t try and sell you on the Elf…Lord knows I’ve seen so many posts totally against it, and sometimes what feels like judgement for having an elf…it’s just what worked in our house. There’s one thing I’ve learned since stepping away from a crazy on-call work life, is that what’s right for my family, may not work for somebody else…and that’s ok on both sides of the opinion. I am, however, going to say something that may sting a little…so prepare yourself and hold on…for those of you who deny the Elf in your house because “it takes too much time”…I would bet that the majority of you have spent more time on social media today than Roscoe has spent this year setting up his tricks. Ouch! That does sting, doesn’t it. That doesn’t mean you should do it if you don’t want to, just don’t use excuses that don’t hold up.

I am that mom who’s had an elf with a homemade “The Voice” set of chairs…microphone included. There have been Lego statues of our elf that were created while we were all sleeping peacefully…there have been messes in my kitchen, and this year…an elf who (like little boys do) peed in teeny cups…but on my kitchen counter! How dare that little elf?! The kids love it when Roscoe makes me “mad”, then he usually does something sweet to win me back over:) Truth is…none of this is for me or Matt…it’s for the kids, but as the magical years have been very quickly slipping away, having Roscoe in our home means more to me than it did in the beginning.

So, there you have it…I’m not sorry. Roscoe doesn’t sometimes do fancy things in my house to make someone else’s elf look lazy…he’s just trying to squeeze as many pitter patters of little feet roaming the house to find where he’s hiding…because honestly, those pitter patters aren’t so teeny tiny anymore and we are over here soaking up every bit of magic we can!

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I'm not saying I'm a bad friend, but I can see how it looks that way

I’ve talked a lot about the different seasons in our life, and how each one is special and different and faces it’s own challenges and rewards. I remember me and Matt saying to each other SO many times when the kids were really small….”it’ll slow down a little when the kids get older”. Truth is, it’s only forged full speed ahead with no sign of slowing in the near future. And while sometimes I long for things to be at a little slower pace, I don’t hate how busy we are…it’s just who we are. When we bought our farm in 2012, I don’t think we realized even then, how it would shape and sculpt our life in a totally different way. Now, six years later, it’s busier and has more responsibilities than it did in the beginning, so taking time away from it isn’t something we can do easily. We love our life…we love our friends and families, but if you consider yourself a friend of mine in this season of our life, I’m probably not the best friend.

Last week, I hit a wall…and when I say hit it, I WAS DONE. Matt and I both are busy from the time our feet hit the ground in the mornings…he’s getting up early to take care of animals at our own farm…I get up, make breakfast…and yes, I try to literally MAKE breakfast for the kids…(this year I just got tired of them eating cereal that I knew wasn’t good for them)…then, lunches are made, last minute kid wardrobe changes, usually a load or two of clothes goes into the washers before we leave, beds are made, dirty clothes picked up, dishwasher emptied, then coffee must be made before we run out the door to take kiddos to schools…three kids, three different schools this year. Matt takes one and I take the other two. I could forego the clothes and other chores, but let’s be honest, the cat isn’t going to do it while we are gone during the day, and I’m away at the office five days a week, and Matt is at his job too. The past few weeks, while we’ve been getting back into school mode, it’s been a change of pace and a change of chores for the kids, and when i say change…well, I think they just lost their mind and didn’t think they had any. I tell them all the time “school is your job right now”…yet, there are still responsibilities that they need to help with at home. It was one too many days of dirty dishes in the sink when the dishwasher was open and empty…it was too many shoes left in the kitchen instead of their rooms…it was too many backpacks being dumped in the kitchen and left for dead…or maybe it was the five baskets of clean laundry in the living room, or the stacks of folded laundry that no one seemed to want to put away…nonetheless, it took me nearly losing my mind on Saturday to hit a reset button. I swear you can talk and ask nicely once or twice, but it takes literally looking like I walked out of an Exorcist audition to get any serious attention. Sunday, I put them outside with water and instructions for chores…Matt was around for supervision too…and I said “you can only come in if you for real have to poop…and I might want to see it to be sure you’re telling the truth”…I was cleaning, and honestly, I didn’t want their help at that point. By then, I didn’t need bickering of who was doing the most, or finding something halfway done…I just wanted to do it myself, music playing, and no help from anyone. Let’s face it, cleaning your house with kids in tow is like eating Oreos while brushing your teeth. I’ll say, for the most part, they respected it and stayed out…they cleaned the garage, picked up sticks, cleaned off the porches, washed my car…and of course played some too. When there was a squirmish, I just directed them to Matt or told them to work it out before one of us had to.

Lots of people and things that I love get neglected while we are maneuvering about our life and our farm. Jesus didn’t program me to sit around…I have a really hard time just sitting…I don’t nap unless I’m sick…very jealous of those that can, and even at night, my 40-year old brain wakes up and can’t sleep more nights than it can. It’s easy to be drained…emotionally and physically. I often look at my phone and find a text that I may have responded to, but didn’t hit send…I may not have responded at all, but was really glad to hear from you. I don’t really visit, and I don’t love surprise visitors. I see Facebook and Instagram posts from friends, and think “Man, how do they have time for that?”. All three kids take music lessons, Cullen is playing fall baseball because he will move up in age groups next year, Carson was doing orgainzed workouts until he fractured his ankle (to restart soon), and I try to get Effie into races when I can. Could I sign her up for less and have more “free” Saturdays? I could, but honestly, I don’t think that’s what is best for her. To see how much her confidence has grown and her anxiety has decreased over the past nine months is unfathomable…and it began with a 5K back in the spring. And my own little bit of refueling right now…in this season…it’s when I run with her, it’s my bit of taking care of myself too. I see and talk to women every single day, who don’t make time for themselves because they’re too busy taking care of everyone else…running with her is my way of putting myself back on my list of things to take care of. And we can talk about “lists”, but well, that a different blog for a different day…I have what Matt calls “pre-list lists”…it’s ridiculous really.

We just don’t really have free weekends…or whole days for that matter. When we have a rare day with not much on the agenda, it turns to getting caught up at home, cleaning, or on the farm with something we’ve not been able to get to for a while…when you don’t live that life, it’s hard to understand, especially when you’re in a different season of life than us. I don’t think for a second that we are busier than everyone else. I see other friends that are equally as all over the place with their kids and family, and many friends feel sometimes that they are drowning too. It’s nice to hear those things from folks, so it validates that I’m not alone. Me and Matt are fine with how busy life is, and how little time we have…one of our best dates ever was setting our alarms super early and getting in the boat to fish right outside in our backyard while the kids were still sleeping. It’s probably a good time to do that again soon. I tell couples all the time that they need to be sure and date, but I should probably take my own advice, but even for that, it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of time. We sort of suck at it.

If you’re a friend to me…I hope you forgive me while I very poorly navigate this season. It’s a season where I don’t make a lot of time for you…I don’t volunteer for a lot of stuff…it’s pretty centered around whatever one of the three kids have going on, the farm, or a race with Effie. A year ago, I didn’t know if my feet would ever get to follow behind hers again, and then they did. And while it’s true that some of the things we choose to do in life, like races, music lessons, extracurricular activities…are all entirely voluntary…as a family, we love them, and I think that all of the things we are involved in are important for each kid. They’re only small once, and while I have the next few years with the three little people that are some of the most important to me…you’re gonna fall in my to-do list. And I’m sorry. We are in Cataula…there’s always something to do at the farm. You might be hanging out while we plant a garden or inseminate some cows…or maybe you’ll get to catch a glimpse of a baby calf being born…you might come cheer Effie on as she crosses a finish line, but you’re always welcome to join me anywhere, but otherwise we don’t get away much. I feel guilty about it, but it’s just where I am right now. Somehow, it seems the wife in the family always takes the blame for lack of visits and plans, but Matt and I have played on the same team for years…it’s what we’ve always told our kids, and the same goes for how we manage our family and time.

So, know I love you all…I have a love-hate relationship with technology, but the love part is how I get to maintain contact with some of those friends that are neglected. I hope you still love me and hang in there…maybe give me a chance when life really does slow down…and I love hugs and always have one for you when I see you…but right now, this week, this month, and for a period of time I can’t see the end to, I’m not saying I’m a bad friend, but I can see how it looks that way.

I just need to stick to knowing about lady parts...

A couple of weeks ago now, there was a full moon...our five bovine and very pregnant girls all look like they're ready to pop, so I just knew we would have babies!  Some of their sweet udders look like my breasts did when my milk came in with that first baby...sweet Jesus, surely they'll deliver soon!  The full moon came...I snuck over through the night with a lamp on my head (multiple times)...there they slept...no labor on the horizon...the full moon came and went...many more days and nights passed by...no babies.  Ugh!  I'm over there talking to them...calling them by name (yes, I name them...our herd is small enough I can do that;) ...giving off some midwife warm and fuzzies...they apparently were not feeling it!

One following morning, there was one heck of a mucus plug from the biggest of the expecting cows, and for those who have ever been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a little one, well, they know what a big deal that can be...I would've bet my life that there would be a baby on the ground before nightfall...I would've been a goner...yep...still pregnant.  As much as I've read and studied signs of impending calving, turns out, I'm not as good as that as I thought, and these mamas aren't nearly as predictable for calving than I thought.

Now, I'm gonna make a U-turn and talk about something completely different, but bear with me and know that it'll all come together in the end.

In the midst of all this baby-waiting, early on the morning of the 10th of July, I loaded a sleepy Effie Rose into the van with me, and headed out to Atlanta for her check-ups with her pediatric orthopedic doctor and her neurosurgeon.  The appointment with the orthopedic doc has been one I've been super anxious about for a good long while.  Since the end of December, Effie has been wearing her Rigo Scoliosis brace, and for the majority of the prescribed 22 hours per day, she is very good at wearing it just like she's supposed to.  Over the past 7 months, she's had some random, and weird, complaints, and I've been worried that her curvature was increasing rather than remaining stable.  And honestly, now that I know it's there, I can't not see it, so I way over-analyze it.  I've spent countless hours reading research, looking at other people's stories, and just flat out imagining the worst possible recheck and x-rays on this upcoming visit.  When I tell folks to stay off of Google for medical stuff...I should be looking in the mirror...I honestly had figured out in my head, what my questions would be when the curve was worse, and how to be as proactive as possible for Effie, and seriously worried we would be heading to some earlier than wanted surgery.

We arrived and signed in, and just a few minutes later, they grabbed her for x-rays...she's matured so much, and doesn't even need me to go with her anymore...and back she was, and there I was sitting on pins and the sharpest needles ever! 

Her curve measurement was actually less than it was previously...her physician praises Effie for wearing her brace so well, and tells her the measurement is a direct reflection of how well she's done!  What?!  Better than before...it's not increased?!  I had myself so prepared and so convinced and ready to make plans for whatever we needed to do..I was shocked!  Praise Jesus!  He did tell us, that if she stopped wearing the brace that very day, that slowly the curve would go back to what it was...that the brace more stabilizes it, but doesn't improve it longterm.  The goal is to wear the brace over the next few years...and when Effie is skeletally mature, that's when we may be looking at surgery.  The biggest changes in curvature will mostly likely occur when she hits a growth spurt...I swear her legs grow, and I know one of these days, her body will catch up with those long legs:) We will certainly have to watch her closely during those growth spurts, as sometimes that curve can change rapidly with fast growth, but for now, she is stable!

The neurosurgeon visit was uneventful...we will repeat her MRI in a couple of months to recheck the fluid that was in her spinal cord before the surgery...if that's resolved, she can get on the trampoline...something she's been begging him for!  I secretly would guess that if he had his preferences, the trampoline would be a no-go forever;)

So, with all of that...I really thought I knew what was coming with Effie's appointment...and I really thought I knew when my cows were going to drop their babies...turns out I don't know squat about either of those things:)  So, maybe I'll just stick to knowing about lady parts as a midwife...that seems like a safe bet...and even then, it's an ever-changing, and ever-learning environment.  This year, especially pushing past my comfort zone and learning lots of new stuff...and absolutely loving it!

As adults, we often think we have the answers...only God knows the plan, and trusting Him is really hard sometimes.  It certainly has been through Effie's venture these past nine months, but fear and anxiousness get me nowhere, so I need to work on that whole trust thing.

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."  Hebrews 4:13

He knows everything...nothing is hidden from Him...not my anxiety about Effie's health, not what the results were going to be, not what her future holds...and yes, not even when those dang cows were going to have their babies.  

Those sweet cow babies started coming on July 13, and just five days later, they were all here...safe and sound...four girls and one boy...and our herd grew by 25%:)  And after all that watching and waiting...I witnessed ONE...just one...baby arrive farm side of this Earth:)

 

This little mama was the first to welcome her little calf, and I was quite surprised by her appearance...a super sweet mama and this sweet girl let us love on her for days before she got a little more shy:)  Sticking with our Disney theme for the year, this little lady is "Tiana".

This little mama was the first to welcome her little calf, and I was quite surprised by her appearance...a super sweet mama and this sweet girl let us love on her for days before she got a little more shy:)  Sticking with our Disney theme for the year, this little lady is "Tiana".

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Watch out for mama!

This little lady is the only one I actually watched arrive on our little farm...her mama is VERY protective, and certainly had me sprinting the next day!  Meet Moana!

We deviated from the Disney theme for this gal...sweet Hollis...named after my paternal grandfather...her mama is named after my grandmother, Stella.   The mama of this cutie was the last of the offspring from a cow originally from my grandmother's herd.  She is the CUTEST!

We deviated from the Disney theme for this gal...sweet Hollis...named after my paternal grandfather...her mama is named after my grandmother, Stella.   The mama of this cutie was the last of the offspring from a cow originally from my grandmother's herd.  She is the CUTEST!

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The one little guy...

This handsome dude is the sole little boy to arrive in our herd this time...he was very laid back!  I would've bet my sweet life his mama was hiding two babies in there...but as it would have it...I was wrong about that too:)  Meet Prince Naveen...Tiana had to have her prince here:)

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And then there were 20...

Being a fourth girl surprised us tremendously , and when she arrived she rounded our herd number to 20!  Introducing Jasmine! 

Just about three years ago, we started with just one cow...Ruby...(not pictured).  Ruby's due to deliver her third calf with us around Halloween!

Re-engage....

I watched one of my friends grow up from very early elementary school through late high school...I was able to watch him play Little League baseball, junior high and varsity baseball...he pitched...and he was the best.  I am so very fortunate to have memories of just how good he was.  You see,  my brother and boyfriend from high school played baseball, so rarely was there a game that I missed.  Matt moved away at the end of our junior year, and there was an eight year span that I didn't see him or honestly even know where he was...I know it's hard for youngsters to realize, but internet wasn't as readily available, and there was no social media or text messaging.  In those eight years, I know now that I missed an excellent college baseball career, lots of experiences and him really growing up to the great man he is today.

If I fast-forward you to where I sit right this very minute...I'm in surgery waiting, while he's prepped for surgery...for the last 13 years years, I've known him as my husband, and because we knew each other most of our young lives, I feel like I've known him forever, and honestly, I've known him and we've been friends for more than half of my life.  To know him is to know he loves baseball...he always has...he had a drive for it, and during a very trying time in his adolescent years, it was probably one of the best things he could just hold on to.  In a way, maybe baseball saved him.  If I took you back to the Little League years, it was before pitch-counts and limits on how much young kids could pitch.  He was one of the players, that if our team was playing, I was happy to see him headed to the mound...he was going to give absolutely everything he had to walk off that mound a winner...everyone wanted to see him out there.  He struggled through those years with Tourette Syndrome...many folks not understanding what it was, what to say or do, and hearing opposing team's players say things about it from time to time wasn't endearing for him or anyone else, I'm sure my mother in law, especially.  Yet, he persisted.  There's no telling how many pitches or throws he's made in his 40 years...I'd hesitate to even guess, but I know it's an ungodly number.  He said for as long as I can remember that he would never have another shoulder surgery, as he endured two in college, but yet a few months ago, it became evident that this is most likely where he would be.  The verdict...extensive damage and some tears...what was needed?...a shoulder replacement.  He coaches baseball...pitching actually, and he is really good at it...and he still loves baseball as much or maybe even more than he did all those years ago.  This was a kick in the gut, but at least he would be able to throw with less pain again, right?  Then, last week, we were told that he'd probably never really be able to throw batting practice again...not the same anyway...hence that kick in the gut again.

You see, 12 years ago, we had our first son...a son that been thrown that same unmeasurable number of pitches, a son that absolutely loves playing baseball with his Daddy...a son who, last week, hit a homerun on the last pitch Matt threw to him at his Allstar practice (thanks to those coaches for having Matt throw BP that day...it really meant a lot to him)...and a son, that yesterday, really felt the magnitude of Matt's last pitch to him in the cages at our home...he knows it may never be the same, and right now it hurts them both.  

To some, it's silly...it's just baseball, right?  For Matt, it's been his life...it wasn't a phase...it's part of his life every single day, and his love for it has never dulled.   To watch Matt with kids, young or older, is something special...and in my eyes, there's not a better coach out there. It's scary to Carson...it's scary to me...and Matt may not admit it, but I'm sure it's scary for him too.  There was a podcast some years ago that Matt has played for Carson, I  have played for Carson, and Carson has played for himself pre-game...it's a pump-up talk...it's true.  So, now when Matt is facing, what is potentially a life-changing challenge for him...it's time to get up...dust off...re-load...re-calibrate....RE-ENGAGE.  For those of you who have ever seen the underside of one of Carson's hats, has seen lots of writing...one of the abbreviations on his hat is "RE"...that's what it stands for...to "re-engage".  If he's struggling, he often takes a look at that hat...with a quick glance, he's reminded that he can do anything with Christ, and when he sees that RE...it's a reminder to hit that reset button and get back in there for the fight.  That's what Matt will be doing now...

Last week, prior to getting the information on his future of throwing batting practice, we were sitting in bed when he just out of the blue asked "Do you think I'll be able to throw to the boys still?"  My heart sort of stopped, because honestly I was thinking....new shoulder...recover and therapy and he'd be back at it...surely that was right.  I told him I wasn't sure, but we could ask, then jokingly told him he better start practicing with that right arm:)  He sort of huff-laughed...you know the one, where you really don't like what someone says, but you laugh because maybe your mental wheels start turning a little bit, knowing maybe they're right.  About half-hour later, I was snuggling Effie on the couch when he walked in to talk, and then standing in the living room, he did the, what I call, ghost pitching motion...the motions I've watched for the last 13 1/2 years, where he acts like he's pitching, but doesn't even have a ball in his hand...except he was winding up to throw right handed.  He laughed and just said, "It looks like I don't even know how to throw".  I asked him how that shoulder felt...he laughed and said "What?  My right one?!....no pain whatsoever".  He laughed it off and went on about his way.  Then, a few days ago, getting ready for bed, he scared me when he all of a sudden excitedly says, "Oh my gosh...I totally forgot to tell you!  After throwing BP to Carson today, I threw him about 10 with my right arm."  Immediately, I said, "Really?!!  How did that go?"  He kind of laughed and said, "Now don't get me wrong, I almost hit him with two, but the other 8...weren't so bad."  Since that time, he has tried it again, and yesterday in the midst of some emotions for Carson, promised Carson that next spring, he WOULD be back on that mound again...throwing right-handed, instead of his normal left-handed.

If there's one thing I know about Matt, it's that he won't give up on that promise, and it should be fun to watch.  Carson feels like he's taken all of these times Matt could throw to him for granted...I reassured him that it's human nature to take things for granted...as adults, we do it every single day...he's done nothing wrong.  The fact that at 12 years old, he gets it...that he knows the magnitude of this on Matt and their relationship and Matt's livelihood is pretty special.  So, when I say Matt will get up, dust off, re-load, re-calibrate, re-engage...that's what I'm talking about.  If ever a person has done it, he will....there's not much that Matt loves more than throwing baseball with those boys...to be without that at 40 years old is not really an option in the playbook.  So, get ready, to watch a fun show...I'm sure it'll be full of frustrations, laughs, successes and even some failure....but in the end, I already know the outcome...it's just what Carson wrote in his card yesterday...he'll be the "best throwing right hander in the house".  I better get to shopping for that right-handed glove:)

If you need a little motivation this morning...this should do it:)  Just re-engage!  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTMDpizis8

Carson's current hat...we've always told him just to play hard...give 100%...no less.  A reminder that with Christ, he can face anything...that reminder to RE (re-engage)...and this year, a symbol of remembering a special friend.

Carson's current hat...we've always told him just to play hard...give 100%...no less.  A reminder that with Christ, he can face anything...that reminder to RE (re-engage)...and this year, a symbol of remembering a special friend.

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Batting Practice

This was last week when Matt got to throw BP to Carson's team...he knew it may be one of the last times on a mound for BP...Carson unloaded on his last pitch to him, and sent it over the fence:)  

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Carson's card...

Carson absolutely had to get a card for Matt yesterday...he filled it with his own words and a special four-leaf clover that he had in a book:)

One of our very favorite things to watch...and even more than performance, his attitude and effort is what we are most proud of...and his heart...what a sweet heart.

One of our very favorite things to watch...and even more than performance, his attitude and effort is what we are most proud of...and his heart...what a sweet heart.

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Sweet Cullen...

Cullen's not really old enough to feel the magnitude of this surgery, but watching his love for baseball flourish over the past year has been something special...he sure has two good role models to watch and follow.

Storms make trees take deeper roots....

Friday night, May 4 - I sat with some of our family in Commerce, GA at the GRPA State Track Meet for 2018.  Just the week before, Effie qualified at the District meet to run the 1600m event at state.  We couldn't be more proud!  I had hoped for her that she didn't finish last, but the competition was tough, and she did finish last in her age group with a time of 7:05 for the mile event.  A great time, but with competition running in the 6:30-ish mark, she couldn't make it out in front.  All season long, I've tried to push her to get out in front, but she's more content to start near the back, and try and catch up and pass whatever competition she could.  It worked ok for her most of the season, but that doesn't work at all in state competition.  She wanted to win...or even place, but it wasn't meant to be this time.  I'd like for her to have that bulldog...win-at-all-cost attitude, but she's not built that way.  When we run longer distances, she's more in her element, and I pray that when she's at the eligible age, that she have a good future in cross country running...time will tell:)  I held her and wiped her tears away, and reassured her that I was so very proud of her...she was so worried I would be mad.  I am a tough mama...and if you don't give 100%, I'm way tough, but she did give it her all, and I am overjoyed...and thankful.

You see, when she ran that night, I watched her with a different eye than anyone else in that stadium.  She was 2 days away from the 6-month anniversary of her brain surgery...BRAIN SURGERY.  Holy cow! And to see her out there running...at a state track meet...it's almost too much to process.  

In the day or two after her surgery, we helped her get up and "walk" to the bathroom...she was very wobbly, and when I watched her feet take steps, it was as though they were stepping almost on top of each other, sort of "pigeon-toed".  I remember asking the surgeon about that...his response was "it's early...it should get better".  I had watched Effie over the couple of years before this whole thing started run...and run well...and grow to like it.  I tell her all the time that God can give us talent, but it's up to us to nurture that talent, work at it, and make it grow.  The worry "what-if" she couldn't overcome this and be able to run again was enough to bring me to my knees.  She's had to deal with enough already, why her?  Why should she have to face this?  Eventually the steps became straighter and straighter, and finally we could see the light.

Six weeks after surgery, we had clearance to go for a light run again...it was 42 degrees outside, I bundled her up, bundled me up, and we went to run laps in her school parking lot...I think her time that evening for a mile was about 8:00/mile.  I was blown away...6 weeks without running and she came out and ran almost like she had never missed a day.  She wasn't tired...she wasn't complaining about being cold...she just wanted to run.  My heart healed some after that run.  

Obviously,  Effie is doing well, but she still has obstacles to face, and she still has some really rough days.  We go back to Atlanta in July for follow up x-rays with her orthopedic physician, and then we see her neurosurgeon on that same day.  From what I understand, if there is any change in the curve in her spine, we may be looking at an earlier MRI.  If that curve is stable, she wouldn't have another MRI until 1 year after surgery, which would be November.  Waiting is hard.  There's a large part of me that wants to know today if that curve has increased or not.  There are days filled with tears, back pain, and discouragement.  22 hours a day she wears her brace...it's a part of her life now.  I know facing summer temperatures, there may be more complaining about heat, but just over a week ago, she helped plant the garden...while she wore her brace.  When we were all done, she had some pain, but a shower and a meal later, she was back to herself.

We still have a running plan, and we are getting signed up and registered to run about 6-7 races over the summer.  If anyone is close by over the summer, and wants to wait for her at the finish line to cheer for her, I'm sure she would absolutely LOVE it!  

In the 3 week span that we learned of the scoliosis, then the Chiari, then facing brain surgery...I would just stand in the shower alone and just cry...and pray.  It was a quiet place to let all of the fear go...to not have to hide just how terrified I really was.  There is a song by Casting Crowns "Praise You In This Storm".  The first few lines read "I was sure by now, God you would have reached down and wiped our tears away.  Stepped in and saved the day.   But once again, I say Amen, and it's still raining."  At times, it felt like the storm wouldn't end, and we know there are more storms in her future...but Effie has continued to have an unwavering faith throughout this time in her life...the storm has made her have deeper roots, and for that I am so very thankful.  Praising God in the midst of a storm is tough...I am so often in awe of parents facing true devastation and their steadfast faith and praise.  I've failed at this on so many levels, but it truly was prayer and feeling the love and prayer from our family and friends that helped hold us up in the trenches.

Today, we capped off her track season with their end of year party...when it came time for her name, her coach asked if it was okay to share Effie's story.  Of course, I was totally happy to share where she was six months ago...I didn't expect to cry, but as I spoke, my voice cracked and the tears were flowing.  I'm an ugly crier...it's pretty pitiful really, but in that moment I couldn't even begin to express how proud we are of her perseverance, her attitude, and yes, her success in something that she has found she loves.  Tomorrow is Mother's Day...I told the kids all I wanted was a clean house, kids that didn't fight for the day, and to go for a run with my family...I sure am going to enjoy that run:)

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2018 State Meet

We are so thankful for this girl's health and her hard work...running with her is my very favorite thing to do in this season of life.  A special thanks to her coaches, who understood that we had two other children playing sports...and on days when I couldn't get her to organized practice, they would share with me their running plan for the day.  When the boys got to where they needed to be, Effie and I would run whatever the team's plan had been...that truly helped us! 

Making a man...

Obviously, my life is crazy busy right now, and honestly most nights I'm just too tired to make any sense of a blog...but it's past time and I have several ideas and drafts started, so prepare yourself for updates and picture overload coming soon...but tonight, this...

Interestingly, I had this idea for this post yesterday, and coincidentally, this morning on the way to work, there was a news interview regarding chivalry and whether it was dead and why.  The word chivalrous originally described valor, honor, and courtesy, associated with the medieval code of knighthood. Medieval knights are no longer with us, but chivalrous has survived in modern usage to describe a man — or a behavior — showing courtesy or attentiveness toward women.  On this particular interview, a letter was read that was written more than 50 years ago.  It was from a man to his fiance the day before their wedding day...it was endearing...it was written with words that would make any woman feel like she was on a pedestal...a queen...very loved.  I've seen those same kind of letters written to my paternal grandmother from my grandfather when he was away at war...it was evident in his words that he loved her so, and held her in high esteem.   (Photos and my best interpretations of the two letters I have copies of are below.) 

One of the women was arguing this morning that women have been a part of disassembling the idea of chivalry in modern times, with many men now being confused as to what they are to do for the women they love or want to date or marry for that matter.  The other woman argued, that she could open her own doors, and she was her own person and she was strong and independent...she didn't believe that any women had contributed to the idea that there is a demise of chivalrous men.

I can't say I completely agree or disagree with either of these women.  First, I'm gonna say, I am independent, I am strong, I have always wanted to be successful remote from what my husband does...but I am happy to have my husband open a door for me...I am happy to read some endearing words from my husband...I am happy to have my husband wash a sink full of dishes for me, or help fold those clothes that continue to stare me in the face at night when I'm all out of "mommy juice" (and, no I'm not talking about wine..although that has it's place...I'm talking about energy).  Being strong and independent doesn't make me not want...and need...those things from my husband.  Together we are stronger, and that fulfills something in me I never knew was missing until I met him.  My husband's doing anything for me doesn't demote me, or make me feel less than I am.

As far as the first woman, I do agree that to some extent, there are women who have pushed back on the chilvalrous acts of men so much that it has led to those things being more "dead".  However, I think teaching boys to be men starts in the home.  Many mothers and fathers today are just not teaching their boys to do these things.  Both are at fault.  Many fathers are absent, promiscuity is alive and well -- that sets a precedent.  Divorce statistics are at an all time high, and may be considered more of the "norm" in today's society.  Does this contribute to this trend of many men not demonstrating those chivalrous traits...or is it the reverse?  Does the lack of chivalrous acts eventually get tiring for women and for men, the spark fade, and throughout the years, that love just fade away?  Chicken or the egg? 

A few weeks ago, I was home after baseball practice and music lessons on a Friday night.  Matt was away coaching a ballgame, the two youngest were all tucked in, the oldest, Carson, had showered and asked to stay up so he "could spend time with me".  Awe...so sweet!  I showered, grabbed another load of clean clothes and carried them to the living room and started talking with Carson.  He grabbed a book and sat down in the recliner and started doing some sort of word puzzle...WHILE I WAS FOLDING CLOTHES.  Uh....no sir.  I work all week...and even for those mamas that are stay at home mothers, you work...and work HARD...I quickly told Carson..."you can stay up and talk to me and hang out, but you will help with these clothes.  You absolutely will not sit in that chair and watch me work."  It was a trade off...I love hanging out with him, but sometimes that includes working together.  It's life...REAL life.  I told him one day...a long time from now;)...when he's married, I hope he doesn't sit in that chair while his wife starts on the mountain of clothes that needs tackling after a long week.  He may have rolled his eyes for a quick second when I wasn't looking, but he did get up and help and do a great job.  We worked together until everything  was done.  I hope it was a lesson to be remembered.  I'm a hard mama.  I expect a lot...maybe too much at times...but there is a reason for the madness.  I know that my time with these people is limited, and it's my job to make them productive members of society, and good partners to their wife/husband one day.

They all have chores...a good many too.  I tell them all the time, it takes all of us to make this house and farm work, and they will participate.  There are grumblings at times, but because we've made it a part of their life, and still make time for fun, the grumblings are less and less.  Some of their chores include making their bed every day, cleaning bathrooms, they cook certain things, they unload the dishwasher, fold and put away all the towels, gather hangers, put away their clothes, take out trash...you name it, they probably have helped.  I don't ask them to do anything I'm not willing to do myself.  I have moms tell me all the time, "my kids wouldn't do it".  In our house, you're not allowed to tell us what you're not going to do.  Too harsh for you?  I promise, with as much as we all provide to our kids, there are things that would disappear or be turned down if one of them refused to do something I asked.  But, I understand, every family is different.  This is what works for us.  I know that Carson will be going to college in just about six years (sniff, sniff)...I need him to be able to be self-sufficient and not a dang slob at college...I need him to make good respectful choices and know that bad choices will have consequences.  That is my goal.  I'm praying it works.  

The story from yesterday that made me start this post was some (from what I understand is normal) smartass 12-year-old (sorry...but true) comment from Carson to Effie while she was trying to get dressed for track practice.  She's not fast in those things, but she was making progress, and we were doing fine with time.  The tone of his voice and his comments hurt her feelings and she responded by declaring what she thought about it...he barked back more smart comments, and by the time I walked in, she was in tears and had told him she wished he wasn't her brother.  Now, I know that isn't true...Carson knows that isn't true.  Truth is, when Effie was in the hospital at Scottish Rite, Carson was about the only person she asked for other than me and Matt...she adores him.  He smarted back, but then walked out and grabbed a basketball like it never happened.  Meanwhile, when I went to Effie's room to see if she was done, she was tidying up and crying...tears running down her sweet face.  I hugged her, but reminded her that we shouldn't say things we don't mean.  Words hurt.  She's not appreciating this preteen stage either though, and it's hard for her to process.  We all got into the car and headed out, but Effie was more withdrawn and quiet.  I nudged Carson and encouraged him to tell her he was sorry...he whispered that she should too...I gave him THAT look...you know the one.  He turned around and apologized...her response (as always) was "it's ok".  She shifted a little more forward in her chair.  I then whispered to Carson that he should reach for her hand...he reached around and she gladly reached for his...all was well in the world again, and singing quickly commenced again from the backseat.  

We dropped her off at track practice for her daddy to pick her up while I ushered boys to ballgames...as we pulled away, I asked Carson to turn the radio down and listen to me for a moment.  I told him about Effie crying when I went to get her before we left.  I told him what I told her, but I reminded him that while she was crying, he had forgotten it and was outside playing basketball.  I also reminded him of her needing to hear HIS voice and see HIS face while she faced one of the hardest times in her little life last November...recovering from a sudden brain surgery, and our worrying about her recovery and future.  His face grew quiet.  I told him that women feel things much more deeply than guys do.  I told him that no matter the woman in his life...whether it be Effie, me, a girlfriend or wife in the future, grandmothers...women are to be respected by men and he really needed to work on how he talked to her.  I hope he got it...I'm sure there'll be times he forgets...but my hope is that he carries it with him for the rest of his life on some level.

Is chivalry dead?  I don't know the real answer to that, but I do know that it's not as prevalent as it used to be.  I also know that I don't want it to be dead in our house or in my boys.  I also teach Effie to be independent and encourage her to further her education after high school, earning a degree that allows her to support herself...but I pray for a man to sweep her off of her feet and treat her like the princess she is...forever.  That wouldn't make her any less independent, but I know she deserves the kind of love that loves hard and deep.  She really does feel so very deeply...she closes her eyes and makes hand motions when she's singing at the top of her lungs...she responds better to talking and explanation than yelling...she gives the best hugs, and I swear she smells like an angel!  (Not that that has anything to do with anything, but if you're near her sometime, just hug and smell her...it's heavenly!  haha)

And for both of my boys...I'm raising them to respect women, to hold open doors, to try and watch their words (although I may not be the best example), to be faithful to the woman they love...if they fall in love with someone who doesn't want those things, my heart will hurt for those young women who don't know what they're missing.  Chivalry versus female independence...having one does not make the other disappear.

Leroy Hollis Deen & Stella Inez Deen

Leroy Hollis Deen & Stella Inez Deen

Love letter:)

Hello Darling...

My Papa was born June 1, 1922 - his letters to my Granny tell me that he held her in high esteem, and I know that most men don't write sweet words to the woman they love.  Got these out tonight after writing this blog...some of his words I can't read...some made me cry.  

"Hello Darling,

   Just thought I would drop you a few lines to let you know I am still thinking of you sweet darling.  I hope this few lines finds you sweet and getting along fine these lonesome days....(some words I can't completely make out).  Just lonesome and blue for you darling.  Honey, how is my sweet boy getting along these days?"  

It's followed by more words I haven't been able to completely make out...I do see where he tells her he is sad and blue, but assures her they will be together soon.  He tells her "I had better close my letter tonight and go to bed with you in my heart."...

From what I understand, their oldest son was born while he was in training, and he was able to come home to see him then, but then after he left again during the war, he didn't see his son again until he was about 3 years old.  I've certainly got to gather more information! He was 22 when he wrote this letter.

Love letter:)

Hello Honey,

July 12, 1944

Again, there are some words I can't read, but then he tells her "as for myself I am ok.  Hope you the same.  Honey, how is my sweet boy getting along, still sweet as he can be? I just will be glad when I can see him.  Honey, have some pictures of you and the baby together and send one to me."

We just lost our grandmother.  She was strong and so very hard working...her husband, as evidenced by these letters was chivalrous...she had both...and my heart is so full tonight having gotten these back out:)

Be the catalyst...

Not too long ago I read an shared opinion cited on Facebook that recommended the thought of placing a fire extinguisher in each and every school classroom.  The link to the short opinion is posted below.  I have had a few minutes today to search around the web and find several such opinions that match those thoughts.  Bare with me while I ramble for a minute...

https://iwastesomuchtime.com/96144

As the news broke of the tragedy yesterday, Facebook began to be flooded with opinions about gun control...a very touchy subject.  As a government that has proved to contain corruption from any political side you may stand on, Americans that are against the slippery slope of stronger gun control are certainly wary of such legislation.  Americans that do not wish to carry guns and put their trust and safety in the hands of others are speaking out in favor of stronger gun legislation.  There are good points on both sides.  I am a gun owner.  I have a license to carry a gun.  I am proud of that and would have no hesitation in using a gun in a threatened situation.  Today's world is crazy, and it's for protection of me and my kids.  You may not agree with that stance...and that's ok.  It's one of my rights, and I certainly recognize your right to be in disagreement. 

As the identities of some of the victims of yesterday's shooting started showing up today, my eyes were warm fighting back tears.  It's hard to even look at the faces of the victims.  There has been a sick feeling in my stomach all day.  I drop my kids off every day at school...trusting that they are in good hands and that they are safe...I absolutely cannot fathom getting news of a shooting at one of their schools.  The pain these parents and families are facing today is unimaginable.  Just picture, rushing to the school to search for the location your child may have been sent to in the aftermath of such a catastrophe, to be so ready to wrap your arms around them and thank God for their safety...only to never find them...to instead find out that they are one of the victims lying in a pool of blood in a school hallway or classroom.  And for what?  Such a senseless act of evil.  The questions that would be going through my head would never end.  Losing a child is something I'm not sure how people get through...only faith in God could sustain someone through that kind of loss.  If you're a parent whose child made it out safely, how do you ever send them back to school with peace of mind? How do educators get over it?  The damage something like this does is so far-reaching.  We all think it's so very sad...yet deep inside there is no understanding on how it could happen in our own communities.  On some level, we are in denial.

The reality is, that opinions on social media and news outlets right now are just that...OPINIONS...they aren't going to solve anything.  We need some sort of action, and we need it now.  That brings me back to the original piece I posted at the start of the article...a fire extinguisher in every classroom.  You're asking yourself, "seriously?  A fire extinguisher?"  Hear me out and read an excerpt from the above article...

"What if, when a school went into lockdown, every teacher grabbed a fire extinguisher?  If you're up against the wall next to the classroom's door, you should have a split second to make a first move.  Pull. Aim.  If he gets in, squeeze.  The attacker is now engulfed in a cloud of white smoke.  The white powder (potassium bicarbonate and CO2 mix) is now in his eyes, ears and lungs.  He can't see, and his oxygen has just been replaced with CO2 that is so cold his throat is being freezer burned"

Now, I talked to a firefighter tonight and realize that there are several different types of fire extinguishers and the contents may not be the same, thus potentially having different effects from those listed above.  However, even with different contents, the ability to hit the shooter and blind them, even if temporarily, is a real possibility.  If a shooter was blinded, the extinguisher itself can be used to hit the perpetrator over the head...that teacher has just saved their students, and probably many more.  

I do not have the answers, but this has been reeling in my non-stop little mind all day.  Knowing that new legislation wouldn't please everyone, and knowing it wouldn't be immediate, why are we waiting?  I work in Muscogee County...I live in Harris County...two communities that I care about and that I know care about their schools and the children in them.  Let's encourage and build a real discussion with trained personnel and impassioned parents and educators, and if there is any, and I mean any,  possibility that this could make a difference, LET'S MAKE THIS HAPPEN.  Why wait?  You want to wait for someone else to do it to see if it fails?  NO!  Be a CATALYST...we may not agree with our neighbor on gun control or armed guards in schools, but if we can prove that this could work...to save even one life...why wouldn't we be that change.

I know some will talk about the cost...I know as a parent of three kids, our family would be happy to purchase extinguishers for every classroom our children walk into on a daily basis.  You want to see a successful fundraiser?...raise money to pay for something that has merit to save children from an active shooter situation.  I just know in my heart, these communities care.  I realize there are fire and safety measures and re-certifications/re-tagging of extinguishers that have to take place,  and I get it...that takes money...I still think it can be done.  I'm so sick of seeing opinions and arguments...I'm sick of seeing murdered children.  Unfortunately, it's a matter of time before it happens in one of our own towns and schools.  While legislators are fighting over changes that may take years, let's do this NOW.  
 

If you think this could work, I urge you to share this around to try and reach the city officials of Muscogee and Harris Counties, fire officials, fire and safety organizations, anyone you think has good input on this.  If you have a reason on why it won't work, comment and tell me something I'm not seeing.  Stepping up as a community that refuses to wait on others to find a solution that may never come...that's the change we need...be the catalyst.

 

Lord willing, we have plenty of years to date when the kids are grown...

It's the day before Valentine's Day...I'm tired and didn't initially plan on sitting to write a blog.  But honestly I've been knee deep in kids, work and errands all day, and this time of night I long for a few minutes of alone time.  So, I'm camped on the couch...there's two baskets of clean laundry that need folding (right in my line of sight ironically)...I'm not doing it tonight.  I've turned on today's episode of The Price Is Right...laugh if you want...you can keep your This Is Us...I don't have the energy to ugly cry like it sounds like you all have...I can barely hold back tears when some needy person wins a car on this show.  When I was pregnant, IT.GOT.UGLY.  I've always loved the show...have said I wanted to go sometime, but have never been that far away. Maybe one day:) For tonight, it's on...I'm half listening as I write this and for some strange reason, it's comforting.

I finished Valentine's for Effie and Cullen just before I tucked them in.  It was last minute and was based on what Target had left in stock and what ideas Pinterest had to match that stock.  Tootsie Pop flowers won that bid.  They're cute and the kids helped, so they're satisfied.  Valentine's Day brings up a ton of good memories for our family...it's where it all started.  A couple of months ago I shared our story on a blog post...I won't go over it all again, but if you haven't read it, go read it.  It's mine and Matt's story, but it really is a good one:)  Effie has asked me to tell her the story a couple of times over the last week...I'm saving it for tomorrow.  Here's the link if you have a couple of extra minutes.  https://www.faithfamilyandafarm.com/blog/2017/12/18/how-we-met

Your Facebook feed will be filled with flowers, cards, jewelry, and extravagant gifts for most people tomorrow.  I don't know about you, but the money in our account is exactly that...OURS.  If a dozen roses or some expensive gift in a fancy box showed up for me tomorrow, the only thought I would have is "how much did that take out of our account?!"  Through the year, if I need something, I get it.  The same is true for Matt.  Valentine's Day is not when I need gifts....a card is plenty, but keep your presents.  For us, even though February 14 was where our story started...it's not about us.  We make it about the kids.  Effie started planning this year's Valentine's Day date with her daddy on February 15th of last year.  She loves celebrations...parties, showers, dates...she loves it..and she talks about it and plans...ALL YEAR LONG! About four years ago, we set out to have Matt take Effie out on Valentine's Day instead of him taking me.  We both want her to know what being treated well feels like, so that she has those same expectations from someone that she loves one day. 

So many times in life, little girls don't get to see how women should be treated by a man that loves her so dearly...we want her to see that.  Their date usually involves a nice dinner out, candy, a card and a small gift.  I don't consider her high maintenance, but just so you know, once the bar is set...there's no going back.  With the crazy soaking wet weather lately, there was a chance that the baseball team Matt helps to coach would do a make up game tomorrow...I tried to mentally prepare Effie this morning just in case...I had to talk her off of a ledge at the mere thought that the date would be postponed.  Thank God the game won't be played tomorrow and the planning of the date can go on. 

After I help her the most beautiful girl get dressed, I'll tuck them in for their date tomorrow and wave as they drive away.  Then,  me and the boys will pack up and head out on a date of our own.  They get candy too...and their best present, is a date just mom and the boys.  They love it...someone is usually holding my hand, and they usually argue about who will sit by me, and honestly there have been times where we all sat on one side...surrounded by two handsome guys that are all mine for now...it couldn't be better.  

I'm not saying this is the right way to do it...I know many of you will get a sitter and head out on a date with your husband or love tomorrow.  I don't judge you for that at all...this is just what works for us.  We've been married for 13 years...some days it feels like two...somedays like two-hundred, but Lord willing, we have plenty of years left to date when the kids are grown.  Carson is twelve...in four years he could drive...will he still want to go on a date with me?  He's a handsome little dude...my guess to that question would be "no".  We are always on the go...it's our life and I love it, but I can stop long enough to realize that this time with them is quickly slipping away.  So, while I can, I'm gonna dress that sweet girl of mine up tomorrow afternoon for the best date with her Daddy...and I'm gonna meet two of the most good looking guys right after that for a date with me...and I'm gonna let them choose the restaurant...the music...the conversation...I'm just gonna choose to make memories....and we will continue to do it for as long as any of them want to.

Tootsie Roll Pop flowers
Valentine's Day flowers

Only Jesus....

Only Jesus helps me survive some mornings...well, he helps us survive EVERY morning, but you know what I mean.  The day after a school holiday...the girl in the house woke up really grumpy and whiny...not two bites into her breakfast, she knocks over her milk...of course it spills over to Carson's book and through the seam in the table...Holly, our Golden Retriever, was Johnny on the spot to help clean it up.  I'll be honest, some mornings that would be enough to just set me back for the day.  It's an accident, and it's easily fixable..but wrangling three kids for breakfast, school, and morning chores isn't an easy task, and sometimes it's easy to get lost in the busy-ness of the morning.  That morning was ok...a few dry and wet small towels, some cleaning spray after Holly had done her part and the table was like "new" again.  

Not 5 minutes later that same morning, I've got one burping out of the wrong end...one laughing...and the girl is now holding her nose and whining.  One thing that Effie hates...it's that specific type of "burping".  Meanwhile, I'm putting up clean dishes, making lunches, making eggs and bacon for me and the husband who has one leg out the door...oh and I'm still in my pajamas.  I finally get kids off to their rooms to attempt to get ready... I retreat to mine and switch the radio over to IHeart Radio...Third Day station...it always seems to pick me up when mornings are tough.  Today is no different, first song helps keep me grounded when one of the littles lands a hay-maker to the one who fanned one of those booty belches his way.  I. REALLY. DO NOT.MAKE.THIS.STUFF UP.  I head out to redirect those two crazy boys in the house.  We make it out of the house in time and with no yelling.  That in and of itself deserves some sort of an award occasionally.

I've got just the two boys...kuddos and standing ovation to the mom's who have only boys...Effie helps break up the non-sense and constant penis talk...you think I'm joking...I've had one laugh and act like his penis is a joystick, a helicopter...whatever you can name.  Last week, after the boys returned from squirrel hunting, I walked onto the front porch to find two lifeless squirrels in an embrace...like they were hugging...stiff as a board...ON MY FRONT PORCH.  We won't even talk about the things I find left in the toilet...I always assume they leave it for the viewing pleasure of others.  Thank goodness Effie puts on those occasional concerts and doles out those sweet little hugs to break up the penis monotony.  But thank God for these boys...our house would be a little boring without them here...and baseball is around the corner...my favorite time of the year. 

Last Monday was a school holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr...school Tuesday, then snow and ice days for 3 days...kids were excited...parents, that's a toss up.  How many moms were glad to see school back in today?  Show of hands...honestly.  If I had to bet, it would be a tie...half glad to send them back today, and half happy to have them home last week.  For the Ward house, we are happy to be out of school.  Effie has to work twice as hard as the boys, so any break is a welcome break.  Cullen's teacher is probably happy to have him have a snow day since he has more energy than the Energizer Bunny, and Carson is easy-going and is fine with whatever.  As soon as I knew their fingers wouldn't fall off, I was shuffling them outside to play in the snow as much as possible.  A rotating rack in front of the fireplace to dry gloves, hats and jackets kept them in supply of warm stuff and we were in business.  On the first real snow day, we loaded up a make-shift sled and headed out to one of the back pastures for some fun.  At one point on that day, I scooped up some snow into my glove and looked at it closely...I could see the perfect outline of the prettiest snowflake, another reminder of how amazing God really is...such a fragile, yet perfect creation.  

Whether it's a beautiful snow backdrop on our farm, or just trying to stay sane some mornings (and days) keeping kids on track without any screaming, it's only Jesus that keeps me grounded.  And on the days when I don't keep it together (because there are lots of those days too), there's always that bottle of wine in the cabinet.

Sledding on the farm
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"Can I have a hug? Because your hugs always make everything better..."

Those are the words I've heard most the last couple of days.  I've sat down and scribbled ideas and notes for the last 3 days trying to find the right words for this entry in the blog...I don't think I've really found them, but I feel like I need to get it going.

Before we ever found out about brain surgery, we found out about Effie's need to wear a scoliosis brace...I dreaded it even then, but after facing surgery, bracing was put on hold and my fears surrounding the brace hit a pause button too.  We scheduled the fitting for early December thinking at least then it would be filed to insurance before the end of the year...that would be good for us since we have already met that great "maximum out of pocket" amount.  When I asked the receptionist about filing it to insurance before December 31, she let me know that they can't bill until we receive the brace and it usually takes about a month to make them, so she didn't think we would get it on this year's benefits...that was a big bummer.  However, we met her orthotist at our initial appointment, and after discussing with her, she scheduled us to return on December 29 to get the brace..she felt confident they would have it ready by then.  Praise God for that because it really saved us a chunk of money...at least for now.  

Lee is her orthotist.  She carefully measured so many places at that appointment nearly a month ago, and with unbelievable technology and intelligence, Effie slipped into her light pink hard shell brace for the first time last week.  The fitting was flawless, and after some trimming, some padding and some practice, we were headed out on the next leg of this adventure.  I've had people ask so many questions about surgery and bracing...I think with the two diagnoses so close together, there were folks that thought her recent surgery repaired everything.  Just to clear up confusion, the surgery she had in November was to repair a Chiari malformation and open up the area so that hopefully, her cerebrospinal fluid will flow more easily, and prevent the buildup of fluid within her spinal cord...the scoliosis was sort of put on the back burner until she recovered.  The two are somewhat related, but that's a longer story.  Now, we start to address the scoliosis itself.  The brace is designed to put pressure on the two curves and attempt to help those curves become more straight and more stable.  The hope is that the brace helps to slow progression...I don't think there's a lot of hope that the brace will actually improve her curve, but rather to slow down how much it continues to curve.  It's a race against time as the higher degree the curve, the faster the curve changes...also against her, is that the closer to puberty she gets, the faster it changes too.  Her brace is a Rigo brace...it's a newer design, rather than the traditional Boston brace.  I don't know the reasoning behind why this one versus the other, except based on Effie's case, the orthotist worked with our pediatric orthopedic physician and decided this was the best option for her. 

22 hours per day.

I don't think many of us have something that we have to do for at least 22 hours per day other than those involuntary actions of breathing and living, but starting this past Friday, Effie started the process of working her way up to 22 hours per day.  I've searched and searched for information from families on what to expect with bracing.  The basics are out there on scoliosis websites, but no real people advice to be found, so while many of this may not interest you, I'm going to do a 30-day "diary" of Effie's experience with her brace.  I'll continue to edit this specific post and I won't re-share it each time, just so I don't bore you:)  My hopes are that at some point, it will help some other family and little girl facing the same challenges.

From the very beginning, one of my biggest fears with bracing was the lack of physical touch when she's wearing it.  We hug...we hug a lot.  I think I've already told this story, but that fear started one morning when I went in to wake Effie.  She always reaches up to hug me when I wake her up in the morning.  The morning after we found out about the need for a brace, I went in to wake her and as she wrapped her arms around my neck, mine went around her little torso...her gown was soft against her soft skin...the perfect amount of squishiness:)  As I felt her body in my hands, my eyes began to sting and I had to finish the hug with a quickness to sneak out of the room before the salty stream of a tear slipped down my face.  I knew in that moment that once she had the brace, and had to wear it the length of time prescribed, that my days of feeling her body in my hands every morning were limited...sadly, I was right.  We are two nights in to wearing it, and just this morning, she took it off, laid it aside and then quickly jumped back under the covers and said "now you can really snuggle me".  She knows.  She doesn't say it, but I'm sure she knows.  

Effie was anxious to get her brace, and already she's handled it like a pro.  She was so attentive when Lee taught her (and us) how to wear the brace.  She will get it on lying down for now, but is told that she'll be flawless at putting it on different ways very soon.  She saved some stickers from Christmas, and already the light pink hard shell of a brace adorns unicorns and glitter stickers. We've been supplied with some specially made undershirts to wear underneath the brace...so far, her normal clothes fit over the brace, although I'm sure jeans will be an adventure.  

Day 1 - She chose to leave the brace in place as we left her fitting appointment - the plan for Day 1 was just 1 hour for the day.  She made it about 30-45 minutes before she started to complain of back pain. She found it super uncomfortable to ride in the car, but the pressure on her curves by which the brace actually works, forced her out of it before the hour was up, she postponed the remaining half hour or so until later evening.  She wore it that evening with little complaints, and was proud of herself for sticking to her schedule.

Day 2 - Eager that morning, she knocked the hour of bracing out first thing.  She was near the hour mark before she started whimpering...we talked, changed positions and toughed it out.  I dreaded the night, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  She even woke up surprised that she slept most of the time.  

Day 3 - The agenda for the day was two hours in the morning, two in the evening and to wear it through the night...the morning hours went by pretty quickly, but the evening two brought along tears and frustration...the minutes seemed to tick by as reality had set in that soon, she would need to wear it nearly every minute of the day.  Nearing bedtime, she grabbed the brace and with a little help was all tucked into it.  We all sat to watch a movie...she was up and down and just could not find a comfy spot.  She climbed up on the couch with me and attempted to get settled...the hard shell of plastic laying on my chest.  It's so hard to comfort her when she gets upset...she knows she has to wear the brace, so she doesn't ask not to...she does it, but she's frustrated by the magnitude of change that comes along with it. I laid beside her in bed this night listening to her moan and sigh as she turned over...I prayed the night would pass quickly and she would sleep well.  It's New Year's Eve...she didn't stay awake to see it in, but I'm sure she would hope for a better 2018 than what 2017 brought along for her, yet I know that this is God's plan, and I remind myself that He knows best.  

Day 4 - Again the night went better than I expected, but as I mentioned above, she couldn't wait to get the brace off for some real snuggling.  She faced three hours this morning, then two for the afternoon, then again to wear through the night...she'll be wearing it every night from here on out.  She's come to me several times asking "Can I have a hug? Because your hugs always make everything better."  Each time, she's wearing the brace...needing some contact.  Maybe it's such a midwife thing, but I worry so much about this lack of physical touch while wearing the brace.  The hugs are hard...I usually wrap my arms around her body, but now that's replaced with a shell that she actually can't feel through...so I make sure I kiss her and rub her face.  I'm wishing deep down that my hugs really did make everything better...I'm glad for her it soothes her for now.  She started questioning me today on how long she would need to wear the brace...she knows it's years...she also realizes it may not even help.  She asked to be tucked in early tonight because she just couldn't find a comfortable place hanging out in the living room with us.  She has another week before she returns to school, but I worry about it already...removing and reapplying the brace for PE...going to the bathroom...getting frustrated, or just being in pain in the middle of the school day...some of the things on my mind.  I know it'll be fine, it always is.  I need a clone...because if my hugs really do make everything better...I need one.

Day 5 - "I just don't know why this is happening to me."  There are times she doesn't understand why she has to do this...why anyone would have to do this.  Morning and afternoon stretches of wearing the brace are starting to run together, and it's becoming more obvious that she will get little break from the new contraption.  Sleep is ok...if you enjoy bedding down with alligators.  I go back to sleep fairly easily, and I know that my being with her is giving her comfort, so it doesn't bother me to much, but if you require lots of sleep, be aware.

Day 6 - She woke to the morning and decided she would just leave it on through the morning.  She is up to 17 hours per day of wearing the brace, and still handling it much better than me.  A long bath seems to be her go-to when she wants to be out of it for a while.  Thank goodness for that bath-bomb kit she got for Christmas:)

Day 7 - She came out of the brace for just a few minutes while eating breakfast then no complaints to put it back on.  She did tell me she was able to go to the bathroom today while wearing the brace...when I asked her how it went...her response "terrible".  We are up to 18 hours per day...only 4 more to go!  I feel like there are less complaints.  Tonight, though she laid down in my lap during a movie...the brace firmly laying against my thigh and causing some discomfort when I noticed she was asleep.  I didn't move her until Matt could pick her up and tuck her into bed.   I just cannot imagine how uncomfortable it is to wear the brace...tough girl for sure!

Day 8-9 - She doing pretty good...up to 21 1/2 hours per day.  She's still restless at night, but not waking up like she was before.

Day 10 - We saw her neurosurgeon and her orthopedic specialist today.  It went well.  The neurosurgeon said she had no restrictions, but then she asked him about the trampoline...that was a firm "no".  He didn't really mean "no" restrictions, but he promised they would TALK about it when we see him back in May.  That was good enough for Effie.  At the orthopedist, there is no real change in the curve since October, and that is good news for now.  We see him back in six months for another x-ray, then if there are any changes, she may need her MRI sooner than November.  

Day 13 - Effie doesn't wear the brace when she's practicing or playing guitar, honestly, she just hasn't found a comfortable way to do it, so out the door on the way to guitar lesson, she forgot her brace.  We were headed to Perry, GA for an archery tournament just after that, so she got a free pass for extra hours.  We didn't make it home until close to midnight, but she gladly buckled herself back into it and went right to sleep.

Day 18 - GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD---Snow day out of school and we spent hours outside and sledding, as snow for us is a rare opportunity.  It wasn't until the afternoon that any of us really noticed that she didn't wear it all day.  Honestly, had I noticed, I probably would have given her a pass to be out of it while were sledding and playing, so no harm done.  After she showered, she was back into it and right back to the routine.  Effie knows the brace is part of her life now, and whatever she does has to include at least the thought of the brace.  I know, though, that life and playing is important too, and sometimes it's just going to be ok for her to be the regular brace-less kid she was before all of this...snow day was that day.

Day 22 - Exercise is another way Effie can forego the brace...on this day, she biked trails and ran track...a little extra time that really counts as brace time, but isn't really.  I told her it won't be too long and she'll be begging me to go on extra runs, just so she can use it as core-building time.  She's not able to build core strength while in the brace, so out of it and exercising is accomplishing something that she needs to do too.

Day 23 - This morning around 2 a.m. Effie came to my room and asked me to come sleep with her...she had a bad dream and wanted me closer...how can I say no to that, so off I went:) . Around 5:30, I woke up and asked her if she wanted me to snuggle her for a little bit...she didn't speak a word, and all I heard was the pulling apart of velcro while she quickly escaped the brace.  She quickly nestled right next to me.  It just goes to show how much our children need our physical hugs and love:)

"Bent but not broken"...scoliosis diagnosis 2017

Bent not broken.

Images from the day we got a scoliosis diagnosis.

Effie listens intently to her orthotist as she gets instructions on her brace.

Effie listens intently to her orthotist as she gets instructions on her brace.

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Effie leans in to her Daddy as she soaks all of this in.

It was a long visit...and while I'm not a big fan of electronics, this appointment needed them...if you're taking other kids with you for this appointment, pack some entertainment.

It was a long visit...and while I'm not a big fan of electronics, this appointment needed them...if you're taking other kids with you for this appointment, pack some entertainment.

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First fitting

Straps have been applied, and for the first time, Effie is helped into the brace.

She's up for the first time, trying to pinpoint any uncomfortable areas that need more trimming or padding.

She's up for the first time, trying to pinpoint any uncomfortable areas that need more trimming or padding.

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"I can do it"

Effie attempts to strap herself in all by herself...she makes quick progress needing little help.

She's all tucked in...seems to be a perfect fit.

She's all tucked in...seems to be a perfect fit.

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Perfect..

Emojis, unicorns and glitter...what more could a girl ask for?!

A little dose of just what we need when we least expect it...

Today was a weird day for me...3 days after Christmas and I think I'm still tired and in a sugar coma from all the goodies I always like to make.  I woke up before anyone else in the house this morning and just didn't sleep well with things on my mind last night...that always makes the day seem super long.  And what's with insomnia in your late 30s...and now 40?! I swear on nights that I'm the most tired, that's when I'm wide awake at 3am...finally doze off at 5 or so, only to need to be up by 6:30 through the week.  Oh well, sleep is for the weak...at least that's what my body must think.  

After walking in this evening, Matt shared their journey with me...I had him running a couple of errands in Hamilton today...paying taxes, renewing business license...all the fun stuff with kids:) . I felt more normal when there was reports of whining, complaining, and losing "it"...you all know what that is. You've heard the saying adult people say when their kids are all grown and their memory is faded...."the days are long but the years are short"...today was a long day...for me and for Matt.

I stopped to grab a couple of things on the way home, and from the minute I walked in, I swear "mama" was called every 2 minutes.  I am so dang happy to see them when I walk in the door EVERY SINGLE time, but I swear some days, I nearly walk right back out after half an hour or so.  Today, that's how I felt, but I had things to do, so I did what any normal mom should do...I poured a glass of wine and I pushed through.  About an hour in to being home, Effie and Cullen were up to something...making "tickets" and putting a private "do not enter" sign on her door.  The lights were out...she was all dressed up in a second-hand dance recital get-up, and it wasn't long before we were all informed that at 7:30 "sharp" we had to attend a "party"...we had to have our ticket and it wasn't optional that we come.  I was intrigued, but felt rushed to finish up some things, and hoped whatever we were in for wouldn't last long.

You see, in the midst of a rough day, I had lost sight of what's important.  It's what I've worked so hard to see this past year...being with my kids and not being pulled in directions that takes me away from family.  I needed that reminder today.  Cullen was her sidekick tonight, so it was me, Carson and Matt that filed in and took a seat in her room.  In the corner of her room was the new karaoke machine that Santa brought...the lights were out, and there was this little girl climbing up on the bed with her microphone...Cullen was her choreographer and sound person.  

The music starts...it's Taylor Swift...because in my house she is Effie's first ,and usually only, choice to listen to.  It's an older album...she likes them all...she has them all.  As the music starts to play, it's dark and I wonder how we are really supposed to see her well...the lights from the karaoke machine are flashing, but that's it...when suddenly as the music gets a little faster and louder, Cullen turns on a flashlight and starts flashing it on the ceiling and around...even using the sequins from a pillow to make scattered lights on the ceiling above her...it's a concert.  They've been in her room for more than an hour secretly working on it...it couldn't be more perfect.  It's not even 30 seconds in, and the feelings of being rushed and frustrated fade away...THIS...this is where I'm supposed to be, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be.  The 513 times that "mama" was called when I walked in the door, suddenly were forgotten and didn't matter.  It didn't take long for my eyes to fill with tears and a salty steam to slip out and roll down my cheek.

It's funny how life works and how God sneaks in a moment like this on days that we really are struggling.  I'm so thankful for the reminder today...I'm thankful for this girl that can dance around on her bed, and for her little brother that likes to hear her sing, and was willing to trigger lights, find songs and flash his flashlight for special effects over her.  It's funny to watch him when she sings...most of the time he's bouncing around, but when she's doing her entertaining, he just sits in wonder.  I'll attempt to load a small video clip of her...in the background you'll see a one-and-only art picture of Effie and Taylor...the great Dylan Ross drew that for a birthday gift for her a couple of years ago when we were gifting her Taylor Swift concert tickets..she loves it.  What she doesn't know yet, is that she'll be going again this year! It'll be a gift for her birthday...actually probably the only gift from us for her birthday...they're floor seats and they didn't give them away.  It was a splurge for a little girl who truly appreciates every gift.  Two years ago, we met Taylor's mom and she invited Effie to a special area...Effie dreams of meeting Taylor...it'll probably never happen, but she keeps dreaming and I'll dream with her...if I can listen to these little concerts and get that dose of just what I need from time to time, maybe one day she'll get that little dose of something special when she least expects it too.

Effie's karaoke version of a Taylor song with the best little brother being her choreographer and sound guy:)

 

Uploaded by mjwards04 on 2017-12-29.

Video #2---Effie's karaoke version of Taylor's Tim McGraw song:)

 

Uploaded by mjwards04 on 2017-12-29.

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Where it all started...

14 years ago I was in a bad relationship...it was bad for both of us and on nearly every level, it wasn't a relationship at all and love, if it ever existed, had long vainshed.  Life is all about choices, and even then it was my choice to stay.  I have no regrets about that nor any of the circumstances surrounding that relationship.  Everything happens for a reason.  Looking back on my life since then, I believe God held me there in His hand and protected me until I was ready to move on to the next stage of my life.  That stage started in a way I would've never imagined.  Me and Matt have told the story of how we "met" so many times...my kids listened intently not too long ago when I told it over dinner one night.  It seems fitting for me to tell it out loud today, the day that marks the anniversary of the day that we said "I do" to each other.

Valentine's Day 2004 -- Atkinson County Girl's basketball team was in a state playoff game in Pearson, GA.  The guy I was "dating" at the time was that bad relationship, he had no intentions of any Valentine's plans, and rather than facing the day of "love" alone at home, I invited myself to join my best friend to cheer on her alma mater.  Fast forward to the game and we cheered, and then watched the next two teams warm up to play...one was Seminole County High School - I don't recall the other.  Sitting in the stands watching the Seminole team warm up, I kept looking at the coach on that side...so familiar...he looked so much like David Ward, a former principal and coach at my high school.  We attended a small school - I graduated with about 120 classmates, so we all knew each other pretty well.  Coach Ward's wife was my PE teacher in the third grade, their oldest son was my age. They moved away when we were in the 11th grade, and I had not seen them since.  I watched him intently, but could not decide for sure if it was him.  After all, I thought they moved to Florida, so I sort of dismissed it in my mind.  Shortly after the game started, or while waiting on that second game to start, we decided to leave.  As I was walking out of the gym that night, I said to my friend "I just really want to know if that is Coach Ward coaching that team.  Is there a way to find out?"  Her sister walked over and found one of the last programs around and sure enough it had "David Ward" listed as the coach.  I was so excited!  Their oldest son, Matt was a friend of mine throughout school.  I wondered how he was, was he married, did he have kids...what about the other two kids, Allison and Josh...how old were they now?  I thought out loud and said "If that's him, I wonder if Mrs. Maurine came too?".  I walked over the to the closed double doors and peered through the window to see if I could find her in the stands.  I can still picture exactly where she sat that night in the stands, that image of her chatting with friends, having barely changed in the eight years since I had seen her last.  I walked in and down the aisle behind her and politely leaned down to say "Maurine Ward...I bet you don't remember who I am."

Slowly she turned with a surprised look on her face and exclaimed, in the Maurine voice I know so well now, "Julie Deen!".  I sat down and we chatted for a few minutes, catching up on those lost years...Allison was engaged to be married in a few months, Josh was a senior in high school, and Matt had just taken a job near Asheville, NC as the assistant baseball coach at Mars Hill College.  She asked if I was married and of course that was a no...she then asked if was dating anyone...before I could even think I responded, "It's not serious."  Truth be told, I was in a long term relationship that died long ago...I don't have the reasons and answers as to why things happen the way they do, but it was a situation that had been difficult to get out of.  I didn't answer that question with any intent, the answer just flowed out of my mouth.  As a female in her mid-twenties at the time, I think it's easy to get discouraged about "good" men being left in the field, and I think lots of girls "settle" and accept less than they deserve.  Staying with someone in hopes that they change doesn't usually end the way we want...I loved his family, but honestly, he wasn't changing any time soon.  At that moment, none of that was a thought, but looking back, maybe I was surprised there may be good men still left out there.  We talked for a few more moments and exchanged phone numbers with each other, and she gave me Matt's number so we could catch up sometime.  I left the gym that night having no idea what the next few months had in store for me.  Later the next day, I dialed that number...he picked up and my first words were "I bet you'll never guess who this is..." His response immediately was "Julie Deen...my mom already called me."  We spent at least half-hour catching up...I was just accepted into graduate school at Emory in Atlanta, he had started a new job coaching and was recently out of a relationship.  We decided we would try to meet in Atlanta sometime during MLB season for a Braves game and left it at that.  Over the next week, I did lots of soul searching and decided to walk away from a toxic relationship...it took a lot of courage, but decided that I deserved something better...when I shut that door, it felt like a load of bricks from my shoulders.  

A couple of days later, I called Matt back...still no definitive intentions...it went straight to voicemail. For those of you who have never been fortunate enough to get a voicemail from me...don't feel neglected...I. AM. TERRIBLE. at leaving messages.  What a dork! But fifteen minutes later, my phone rang...it was Matt leaving a Lacrosse game to return the call.  That call lasted a little longer than the first.  Emails over the next few days that spilled a few more details of each of our lives were exchanged.  It felt like we had known each other forever.  We nearly did...from 3rd grade til 11th grade, he was a good friend...I watched him play more baseball games that you could count... I knew his family...it was just so comfortable.  It had been 8 years since he moved but it was perfect timing.  Three days after that second phone call, he called one morning.  I had worked 3-11 shift in the hospital the night before...I woke up the phone ringing and when I answered and said "hello?"...He responded "Good morning sunshine!" There's never been a day we haven't talked since. 

About 2 weeks later, I drove up to Due West, SC from Emory to see him coach a game...I saw him for maybe 10 minutes after the game - he gave me a Mars Hill sweatshirt...you'll still see me wearing it:) He was much taller than I remembered...slimmer and very handsome . A hug and goodbye and I was on my drive back home.  The emails and phone calls continued and it was obvious this may be more.  On March 7, I drove up to Mars Hill... stayed for about 3 days and had the time of my life...he surprised me with a John Mayer concert...we ate at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co...we watched The Last Samurai.  It was a good movie, but the connection between us was even better.  I drove home on that last day and cried nearly all the way home...I knew my heart belonged there.  It's frightening to be so sure about something so new, but I was...no reservations.  I got home late...when I checked my answering machine (ok...that tells my age a bit)...there was a message from him...I still have it recorded on a mini-cassette tape..."Hey it's me...you just left.  I miss you already.  I had a great time and I can't wait to see you again."  The tears I had dried were flowing again.  How could it be that this human could change my whole being in the span of a month?  

Several visits and less than three months later, I packed everything I owned, I had a NC nursing license and a job and moved to be with him.  It was the best and most spontaneous decision I had ever made.  We started planning a wedding...I visited a jeweler to design my ring...December 19, 2004 would be the day.

About 5 weeks after we said those "I dos" I had a positive pregnancy test...it wasn't planned, I was in Graduate school, I was a mess.  4 years later we had moved to another state, bought a house, I had finished grad school and we were welcoming the caboose to our family.

There were so many factors that could've been different...my stopping and really wanting to find out if that was his dad...his mom actually being there...the game was about 2 1/2 hours from their home at the time, and she didn't normally travel that far for games, but this one she attended...the circumstances surrounding both of our situations had been different and yet the same.  

Our story is my very favorite of any I ever hear...but marriage is hard...REALLY hard, but nothing in life that's worth having is easy, right?  My sweet Great-Aunt hand crocheted snowflakes for our wedding to give out to guests...she worked tirelessly on them and every year when I put some on my tree, I am so very thankful for them and what they stand for.  Snowflakes are amazing in that they have no beginning, no end...they could go on forever tracing the lines...there are lots of twists and turns in the middle...some of those turns more graceful and beautiful than others, but when you look at the big picture, the snowflake is just one beautiful creation.  Marriage is like that...ours has been far from perfect...there have been times that I'm sure walking away entered our minds, there has been yelling and fights and slamming doors, there has been nights of sleeping on the couch and days with minimal talking, but in the end the love we have for each other has won out, and I can remember very little reasons we've had any of those big fights.  There were times in my life before Matt that were bad...times that I don't even really remember...I think God helps us not to remember some of the bad things to try and protect us...I'm thankful for that.  Our beginning story is sweet, the middle has ups and downs, and that doesn't change just because we are 13 years in...we work at our marriage, some years we work better at it than others.

Today, 13 years later after marrying my soulmate, I am so thankful for our grade-school friendship...that bridge helped nurture a relationship we never knew would come our way.  I'm thankful him mom traveled to that ballgame...I'm thankful I recognized his dad, thankful for that friend and her sister, and thankful for God protecting and holding me until all the pieces fell into place.

All love stories are beautiful...but ours is my favorite.

Snowflake by Virginia Crowley