This morning, I can't get this particular picture out of my head. I imagine this face, with a look of awe, joy, and contentment as Thao takes in the wonders, colors, and beauty surrounding him - cheering us on and waiting for us.
This photo was taken on a Day of Adventure in the Lincoln area only a few months ago. We had to reschedule once, but made it happen. We began at the Decatur Zoo and followed up with a stop at Gail's Pumpkin Patch. I kicked myself that whole day because I had packed my memory cards in another bag and missed out on a slew of photo opps at the zoo, but looking back, I got to participate with the kids that day. Everyone allowed me to stop by Target and send Brad in for an additional card so I could carry on my desired role and shoot away once we reached the patch.
Being a photographizer (as Brad calls it) is a double-edged sword. While I do "miss out" on the interactions - aka literally throwing children in the air with Jeff and Brad - I get to see into the soul and feel moments happening that others missed out on. As I put Thao's slideshow together, I could FEEL him looking back at me, totally allowing me to stick my lens in his face. I got the same, sweet acceptance from Ava the morning of Thao's Celebration of Life. In fact, she downright posed, but I'm sure no one is surprised by that. :)
Today, I really miss him. Today, I am thankful for the past three years in Illinois. Today, I wish responsibilities like bills would melt away so I could spend time, unlimited time with my loved ones. Today, take a photo of something you love. Today, now, is what we have. Don't squander it.
"Live like you'll die tomorrow, die knowing you'll live forever." - Rich Mullins
You were three years old once. Do you remember what it was like? For me it was 1984 (yes, also the year Brad was born *sigh*) and quite frankly I remember very little. What I have been told, was that from day one, I was in LOVE with my baby brother, who came as I approached the age of two. When Mom shuffled into the car's back seat that first ride home, I flipped over the front seat and reached into the back to get my first glimpse at Jeffrey. Our bond began instantly. He was my baby and he was going to be my best friend whether he liked it or not.
I can still hear Mom belly laughing while retelling the stories of those days... Jill Ritter had just gotten a baby and now I was going to have my own and he would not be left alone on my watch. We lived in a home that was narrow and long. Mom had been in the kitchen cooking her amazing food or cleaning up after our crummy little fingers had disgraced every surface. I was on baby watch in the front room. At the time, our home was carpeted and Jeff was about to have the ride of his young life. Determined to keep him with me at all times, I grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him down the house, through three rooms, until we safely arrived at Mom's feet in the kitchen. Content little guy had rug burns on the back of his arms and head!
And then there was the day that Mom didn't hear Jeff escape from the house, realized it was far too quiet, and looked out the front door to find me protectively holding him in the middle of the street with a van at a complete stop next to us. Jeff had out-smarted the screen door latch (Sound like anyone else's child?) and toddled into the path of oncoming traffic. I barreled out after him and just held him until Mom arrived.
And thus began our adventures...
Like the reasons Mom had to attach bells to Jeff's shoes, add a high latch to the front screen door, use a timer for video gaming on the Commodore 64, or be prepared to call 911 when he first spider-manned his way up the door jam. We played cowboys and indians, school (somehow I always managed to end up as the teacher bossing the poor kid around), read books by flashlight in the tunnel under his bed, rode bikes around the block and down secret paths, recorded fake radio stations, "Slip 'n Slide!", climbed the crab apple tree, climbed the dogwood tree, planted flowers, saved bunnies from Nacho, helped Dad take x-rays, went sledding, played in the snow and came back into the house to put our numbed fingers on Mom's warm tummy, played baseball in the empty lot behind our house where Jeff insisted on pretending like the ball was going to come at my face just to drop it behind his head (and people wonder why I flinch at everything!), visited the neighborhood's elderly, attended school together, rode the bus, played in sports, played the piano and guitar together, caught frogs camping, climbed massive dunes, laughed hysterically, married off, said goodbye, moved away, talked until wee hours of morning, cried together, held each other, loved one another...
And this is why it pains me to look into those bright brown eyes of Miss Ava Lillian. I, too, had a best friend in my brother and whether three or 30 years old, those things will never change or be lost. So, as much as this is about Jeff, it's about that little girl who is deeply pained because her big brother, her lifelong friend, is so very sick. Her reality has shifted and now sharing has become much more difficult.
Thao has been connected to machines for three weeks now. As Tiffany said last weekend, who would have thought that dialysis would be the least of our problems? Having just returned from PICU where we spent a few moments with Thao, I wanted to take a moment to assure everyone of the care he is receiving. Medical staff from Children's Hospital of Illinois have been working around the clock, through vacations, even on days off to find answers and solutions for our nephew. They are monitoring every moment of his dialysis, ecmo, and multiple medications. Picture plates on poles and they are spinning each one to make sure he is not only safe, but that he can get better. This same team of specialists and nurses are so humble and empathetic of this five year old boy that they have been consulting with other specialists nationwide including the HLH Hospital in Cincy and St. Jude's (OSF St. Francis is a St Jude's affiliate and work they together regularly). The doctors and nutritionists (all professionals) feel as many of us do...restricted. Thao has to stabilize before treatment and nutrition can begin. So in your prayers today, pray for stabilization, that together the many doctors across the country can keep those plates spinning, that Thao will be without pain and discomfort, and that Mom and Dad will continue feeling warmth and confidence.
God is using your prayers every minute! Thank you from all of the fam!
Today I was struck with a variety of emotions. Several of you upheld me in one way or another until I was able to reach the doors of room 423 of Illinois Children's Hospital. A dear friend called to pray with me on my way to the hospital and one of the things she asked for was God's peace that surpassed all understanding. A few miles later, Cara and I approached the sliding glass doors. After pulling the door open, and subsequently causing an alarm to sound, we made our way into a room of warmth; of peace. I literally cannot explain the calm I felt in the room full of machines, wires, tubes, beeping, nurses, and a quiet little boy lying under a mountain of blankets and stuffed animals. I shouldn't have been surprised, not with Jeff's most specific prayers of peace to soothe his child, his wife, and his heart. Jeffrey whose first name means "God's peace" and a middle name meaning "Harmony" and "Rock." Tiffany. Tiffany, my dear, sweet, sister-in-law who has been a sister to my heart. In fact, it often freaks Jeff out how similar the two of us are. It was a wonderful blessing to have a few hours of time with my friend, my kindred spirit. My heart melted as I watched her reach for her baby and comfort him with words of encouragement and love. Thao was responsive for a part of my time with them. He nodded when Tiffany asked him if he would like to play with Uncle Brad and the new nerf gun. He nodded when I told him he was strong and doing a great job. I'm not sure if this note is for me or for you, but what I can tell you is that God's presence was in that room. He is there with Thao. He is with the nurses, doctors, Jeff, Tiffany. So, for those of you who have hearts torn as you feel restless, helpless, or disconnected, be encouraged this Christmas day - Our Lord who was born this day - or in May if you're to ask Brad :) - is ever-present and guarding the children he loves so dearly. He has answered your prayers and is wrapping them with grace, love, and faith.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Most of us have been there or are going through it; that day when you’re dating and everyone asks the question, “When is it YOUR turn?” Then, you get married. Most people are content for a minimal amount of time before the next question arises, “When is it YOUR turn?” You pop out one kid and they want to know when the next one is coming.
So it begs the question…what happens when you’re done having children? What does everyone want from you then?
That is the scenario.
There are rules for this sort of thing. Exceptions. People who can get away with it. Misconceptions. People who think they should be able to get away with it. Absolutes. And those who really have no business. Period.
Category 1: Exceptions
You are in this category if you are immediate family, extended family and friends who act like immediate family, in-laws, or good friends of deceased mother.
Rule: You may ask. However, when the individual has appropriately answered your question (ex. Soon, I don’t know, We’re talking about it, Not right now, Never, Yesterday) you respect the answer. It can one day lead to further discussion, but until said individual has updated you with “anything new” or bringing up the subject willingly, proceed under the guidelines of strict respect (which may mean shutting up when you would rather not). I know, you’re thinking, “In-laws?” but I happen to be blessed with incredible in-laws who follow this rule well.
Warning: Being in this category organically does not mean that flippant foolery will keep you safe. The subject in question has every right to mentally reassign you to Category 2 at their will.
Category 2: Misconceptions
You are in this category if you got kicked out of Category 1, you are an acquaintance, distant friend (easily defined by being the one who is informed six months after “friend” gets married), or person who knows “dad” and then assumes you also have rights to such information.
Rule: You do not get to ask direct personal questions as you do not get regular updates or the juicy details of the person’s life from them directly. When you see the acquaintance years later, you may only ask general questions. Verbal probing is unacceptable. You may ask "dad." That is it.
Warning: If you ignore the rule and insist on knowing why the person isn’t making THEIR turn, consider this - you may be forever written off upon discovering that they can’t keep a job, can’t make babies, or can’t marry the guy because he’s obsessed with himself.
Category 3: Absolutes
You are in this category if you were booted here from Category 2 for emotionally scarring the person for life, a coworker of the opposite sex, or a carny.
Rule: Just keep your mouth shut.
Warning: If you don’t, this person has no loyalty to you and can make your life a living hell in return.
May this be a good reflection on your own behavior, even if you're the one under scrutiny.
I often suppress the fact that I cannot recall all that my practical mother taught in her years of life to other family and friends.In her attempt to be a godly wife, mother, and friend, she often fulfilled lives with open ears and words of truth and wisdom.As I get older and come into situations unknown at the young age of 18, I wonder what Mom would have done or said.To my friends trying to juggle, train, and grow multiple young children, what encouragement would she have bestowed?To my loved ones with loss and depression, what love would she have poured?To those with crisis in marriage, work, or church, what would she have prayed?What did she share with you?