Friday, May 27, 2016

To Be Honest #TBH




(This was published with permission from my father and my family.)


I was administering the SAT in a classroom with 24 students when my dad was admitted to the hospital for the second time in two months. I couldn't get any updates on his condition because my cell phone had been dutifully powered off and stowed away in my purse for the exam (testing procedures). All I knew was that earlier that morning, he had been rushed to the ER where nurses said his blood pressure was a whopping 210/110.

It wasn't until I dismissed the last student and did a final count of all testing booklets and answer documents (again, testing procedures) that I was finally able to check my phone. Twenty-eight missed text messages. The doctors had decided to issue a 10-13 hold on my dad.

In police movies, when a cop yells 10-13, it means officer in distress and in need of back-up. In Georgia hospitals, it means the doctor is holding a patient for 72 hours to ensure they don't cause harm to themselves: a.k.a. Suicide Watch. The English teacher in me can't help but point out the irony in the fact that my dad's birthday just happens to be 10-13.

To be honest, people are usually pretty hush-hush when it comes to talking about suicide. There is definitely a stigma attached to the words mental illness, and most people think depression is a dirty word. Truth is, we like to keep it on the down-low because we don't want anyone to know that we are sad or in distress or in need of back-up. But, truth be told, we all need back-up from time to time. Truth be told, there is nothing shameful about sending out an S-O-S when you are in distress.

That's why I'm so proud of my dad for allowing me to tell his story. 

He's an extremely private person, and I know it took a heaping amount of courage for him to be this transparent. Currently he is in the hospital yet again for shock therapy which is supposed to be helpful for older patients.

The rate of suicide deaths in the U.S. has increased 24 percent over the past 15 years. In fact, the country's rate of suicide is at its highest point since 1986, according to recent data released by the CDC. More than 34,000 people die each year from suicide- about 90 people per day. If you feel like you are in distress and need back-up, please be brave and tell someone.

You DO NOT have to walk through this alone. 

Call someone. Anyone. Call ME. Depression is a monster lurking in the darkness that has to be forced out into the light of day. It's a festering wound that won't get any better if you just cover it up and hope it goes away. 

You have to expose it. You have to pour on the medicine. 

Even if it burns. 

If you want to talk to someone anonymously, you can call The Hope Line at 1-800-394-4673. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Life Line at 1-800-273-8255.










Saturday, May 21, 2016

Schooled


(Published by Temple Independent School District on August 15, 2016)


When you're becoming a teacher, one of the things you're required to do before student teaching is your practicum, a field-based experience where you're supposed to get your first taste of the classroom. I was assigned to Carver Estates Youth Program in Delray Beach, Florida. Carver Estates was a run-down, public housing project where some of the most economically disadvantaged residents in Palm Beach County lived. 

Located about 10 minutes from the ocean, Carver Estates was so devastated when Hurricane Wilma blew through town in 2005 that it was deemed uninhabitable and nearly 200 families were evicted from their homes. It was completely demolished in 2008, just five years after I completed my practicum. Now, the land is home to a new low-income apartment complex called Village Square.

When I showed up for my first day, I was expecting desks, books, four walls, and a whiteboard with Expo markers, but what I got was something entirely different. The classroom was a basketball court. Instead of desks and books, we had park benches and lessons in how to talk smack. The kids wanted to know everything about me. They wanted me to know everything about them. They wanted to touch me and smell me and hug me. 

I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

Attoriana showed me some cool new dance moves and how she could jump rope. Keion taught me the latest slang. I listened to Cassandra's life story as she twisted and braided my hair.  It was fun, but I couldn't figure out why on earth I had been sent to this place to hang out with these kids. What could this experience possibly have to do with education and preparing me to be a teacher?

Fast forward to my classroom fifteen years later...

All of those memories from my field-experience come flooding back to me every time Sharish runs her fingers through my hair and asks for a rubber band so she can put it in an updo. When Tanijah asks if I like her new body spritz as she mists some of it on me. When Kanchan throws her arms around me to give me a great big hug. When Melanie dishes about her current boyfriend situation. When Anthony asks how he should ask his girlfriend to the prom. When Tre brings me cupcakes he made in culinary class that he says I just have to try. 

So much of teaching is about this. 

Allowing them to push you out of your comfort zone and them learning to trust you enough to let you into their world. The building of relationships. The sharing of secrets and cupcakes and body spritz. 

Some of them accidentally call me mom sometimes. Some of them call me that on purpose. They come to me for help with other classes. They come to me when they need advice. They come to me when they are in trouble. They come to me when they are in tears. 

This is all part of being a good teacher. 

I didn't have the wherewithal to realize it back then, but those kids at Carver Estates did prepare me to be a teacher. That experience was invaluable. They were my books. I went there thinking that I would be teaching them something.

As it turns out, I was the one who got schooled.

  
Carver Estates Squad 

  
Me, Cassandra, and Attoriana 

Gettin' My Hair Did  



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Childish


A version of this post first appeared on the Hope Mommies Blog on May 17, 2016.


Once upon a time not so very long ago, a child was born. A child who had been longed for and whose arrival had been bathed in much prayer and anticipation. This child was already loved beyond measure even before ever being held. 

But once upon a time, the happiness this child brought was short-lived. Once upon a time, a mother and father's joy soon turned to sorrow as they watched their precious child pass away right before their very eyes. 

Sound familiar? It should. It's GOD's story. It's MY story. If you've experienced the loss of a child, it's YOUR story, too. 

But long before my husband and I lost OUR child, another Father was mourning the death of His one and only begotten Son. Another mother looked on in horror as the child of her womb was ripped from her arms entirely too soon. 

Once upon a time. Once upon a cross. Once upon a tomb. 

As bereaved parents, we have experienced the very same sorrows as our heavenly Father, and as followers of Christ, we are also partaking in His suffering each day as we take up our crosses and follow Him. And because we have suffered with Him in His death, we have also become heirs of an absolute fortune! 

We have inherited the right to be called children of God and to share in Christ's glorious victory over sin and death. The grave no longer holds any power over us! 

We each now have the blessed assurance of seeing our child again. A child whose name will be the jewel in our crown because, like our heavenly Father, we have endured what no parent should EVER have to endure. 

And we have prevailed.

Yet, too many of us have lost our child-like faith. We have become hardened and calloused from the trials of this life. Our hearts are broken and heavy with questions. 

The good news is that God is in the redemption business. He can work wonders with lost causes. He's cheering for the underdog. He creates order out of chaos. Makes beauty from ashes. A bed from a manger. A crown out of thorns. 

God is still a good, good Father. Even when times are tough. And we are still His beloved children, no matter how many times our faith has faltered. No matter how far you've strayed or veered off-course. No matter how thick those walls are around your heart. 

God has been anxiously awaiting your return. So, come back to Him, all you who are weary and burdened, and He will give you rest. Put down your heavy baggage. Unpack your most intimate apparel and stay a while. 

Let Him wash your feet. Let Him anoint your head with the healing balm of Gilead. Let Him satisfy your thirsty soul. He is purifying us even as we hope in Him. He is transforming us into an image of perfection, by and by.

Let's be carefree like we used to be when we still looked at Him with wide-eyed wonder. Let's dance with unbridled joy before Him while He smiles upon us. 

His burden is light and His yoke is easy. 

We cannot live in His presence without being changed. Let's become once again like little children. Remember what that feels like? 

Implicit trust. Purity of heart. Unswerving devotion. 

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Robbing the Cradle



A version of this post was first published on the Hope Mommies Blog on May 14, 2016.

My husband and I met through a prank phone call my first semester of college. I was a bright-eyed eighteen year-old fresh out of high school. He was a dreamy junior who was the front man in a rock band. Some might even say that he robbed the cradle. But, back to the prank phone call...

The phone rang in my dorm room late one night and I answered. This was before everyone had cell phones (yes, we are THAT old). It was a group of not-so-nice boys who said they were in my English class. I naively believed them. As it turns out, they were randomly picking girls from the Belmont University directory and cold-calling them. 

THEY ASKED ME MY BRA SIZE. To which, I replied, "None of your business." They asked why I came to Nashville and I told them I was a singer. They put me on speaker phone and asked me to sing. I sang Amazing Grace.

My husband (who swears up and down that he wasn’t involved in his roommates’ pranks) overheard me singing on speaker phone and took note. He had to meet the girl who sang the same lullaby his mother used to sing to him. He called me a week later and apologized for his roommates’ inappropriate line of questioning. 

He asked if we could meet in a gazebo on campus. It was in that very same gazebo six months later that he asked me to marry him. It was a whirlwind romance and before I even turned twenty, we were married and dreaming about how many kids we would have and making lists of our favorite baby names.

However, after eight years of wedded bliss and nothing to show for it except for one very early miscarriage, we began to wonder if we were able to have a baby at all. We even made an appointment with a fertility specialist. But in an ironic twist of fate, I had to call and cancel because the very week of my appointment, I started throwing up my breakfast and seeing those coveted pink lines on a home pregnancy test. Yes! Our dream of having a family was finally coming true.

Nine months later, our first son was born. He is our namesake and our pride and joy. It was such a great pregnancy and birthing experience that we wanted to have another baby right away. I remember thinking, “That was so easy, let’s do it again!” 

Four months later, Chad’s little brother was on the way. His name would be Cohen. These two brothers would be just over a year apart. This one, however, would not be easy. This one, in fact, would rip our hearts in two. 

They often say that having a baby changes everything. What they don’t ever mention is that losing a baby makes the ground beneath your feet tremble. It shakes the very foundation of everything you thought you ever knew.

For me, it all happened so fast. It seemed like another perfect pregnancy, but the nightmare began when I went to the hospital to be induced. I was a day past my due date. No one had any idea that I had a velamentous cord insertion which caused vasa previa, a very rare condition affecting only 1 in 3000 pregnancies. It has a 50-100% infant mortality rate when undiagnosed and when a c-section is not performed. Because the fetal membranes were exposed, they ruptured when the doctor broke my water.

I wish there were a way to rewind. To pause. To freeze-frame that moment in time and change the outcome. IF ONLY I had been more concerned and proactive when the doctor broke my water and it was mixed with blood. IF ONLY I had been more argumentative when she told me that was normal. IF ONLY I had been more adamant and had insisted on an immediate c-section rather than allowing her to go to the ER for another surgery. IF ONLY she had been there when Cohen’s heart rate began to drop and the nurses began to panic. 

IF ONLY.  IF ONLY.  IF ONLY...

When I finally woke up from general anesthesia, I remember asking my husband if we lost the baby. He whispered, "We lost the baby." Those are the loudest words I think I've ever heard. They still echo in my ears to this day. 

Talk about robbing the cradle.

To be honest, the year that followed losing Cohen was kind of a blur. I remember lots of crying myself to sleep. Crying so much that I couldn’t breathe. Crying so hard that I couldn’t even recognize the red, puffy face in the mirror anymore. I remember reliving every single moment of that day over and over again in my mind as I lay in bed each night. I remember desperately trying to find the ever-elusive answer to the question, "Why did God allow this to happen to us?"

Eventually, I realized I was asking the wrong question. The question I should have been asking was not Why? but What now? Am I going to dwell in this sorrow and build walls between myself and other people? Between myself and God? Or am I going to trust that God is who He says He is and that He knows what's best for me?

I had to choose. There is NO riding the fence with grief.

The anger I felt was destroying me from the inside out, so I decided that in order for my wounds to truly heal, I had to make peace with God and accept what happened. It was only after I had that spiritual breakthrough that I was able to see the good that Cohen brought to our lives.

It is vital for me to know that he mattered. That his little heart did not beat in vain. Even though his life was short, he made a HUGE impact. He had such a positive effect on us as parents, as Christians, and as human beings. We now have the glorious hope of not only meeting our Maker someday, but also of being with our beloved son again. We also feel so much more capable of comforting others who are grieving after having had our own hearts pierced. We have come to appreciate so much more how our heavenly Father must have felt when He lost His Son. 

His ONLY Son.

I was introduced to Hope Mommies almost five years after losing Cohen. It was like opening up a secret door and stepping over the threshold into a magical world where I discovered women just like me who were thriving. They weren't afraid to boldly speak out about the death of their babies and they were using the platform God had given them to reach out, to inspire others, to win souls for Christ. 

It was eye-opening. 

Now I see that Cohen helped usher me closer to what God intended for me to be. A better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better wife, a better mother. He made me so much more than just a survivor. 

He made me brave. He made me a fighter. He made me a Hope Mommy.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mourning on Mother's Day


A version of this post was first published on the Hope Mommies Blog on May 5, 2016.



If you have lost a child and find that you're not in the mood for celebrating on Mother's Day this year, let me tell you something, my friend... that is absolutely okay. 

Everything you're feeling? Perfectly normal. 

Been there. Done that. Own the Hope Mommies T-shirt. 

And if I've learned anything about grief in the nine years since my son died, it's this: Be real about what you feel. It's okay to grieve. And you should. 

God is BIG ENOUGH and STRONG ENOUGH to bear the brunt of your burdens. Don't try to hide how you are feeling from God. 

Remember how it worked out for Adam and Eve when they played hide-and-seek with God in the Garden of Eden? God came looking for them. 

He pursued them and He will relentlessly pursue you just the same. There is nowhere you can hide from the love of God, not even if you try. His love will find you even in the deepest, darkest depths of despair. Rest assured that even when you think you've outrun Him, He is STILL holding onto you.

He will NEVER let go. 

For I am persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.

Not even the grief of losing a child.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bringing Sexy Back



Eighteen years of marriage and five babies changes a person. 

I don't have killer abs like I did when I got married and my hubby is beginning to go gray (which I happen to think is totally hot). We're celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary later this month, and let me tell you, it's really got me feeling some type of way.

I'm kind of in my feelings reflecting on what I think is sexy after all these years. My apologies if you think this topic is taboo, but I'm bringing sexy back. I'm afraid our society's definition of sexy has become somewhat muddled and convoluted. So, for all intents and purposes, I'm redefining the word.

I don't need to remind you that we live in a day and age where we are constantly bombarded and inundated with images of what other people think is sexy. You've seen it. I've seen it. It's everywhere. The Kardashians. Victoria's Secret. Magic Mike. 50 Shades of Cray Cray. And the list goes on and on and on... 

Sex sells. There is no doubt about it. 

But try to look past the eye candy for a moment because sexy is so much more than meets the eye. I think I speak for all sane women when I say that we want something more than just rock-hard abs and a whole lotta swag. 

Ladies, am I right? So, pay close attention, guys. Oh, and you're prolly gonna wanna take notes...


Sexy is a man who doesn't play games. 

What he says he's gonna do and what he does are one and the same. He texts or calls you back and doesn't have side chicks in his inbox. 

Sexy is a man who likes it and puts a ring on it. 

He doesn't drink the lemonade if it doesn't belong to him and he definitely doesn't pull a Jay Z and throw it all away for "Becky with the good hair." 

Sexy is a man who brings you flowers. And not just because he messed up. 

Sexy is a man who is there for his kids. And not just every other weekend. 

Sexy is a man who listens and remembers what you say. He makes you feel understood and valued deep down in your soul. He's not judgmental and doesn't make fun of you or your ideas. He doesn't yell or belittle or make you feel small. 

Sexy is a man who takes you seriously but always knows how to make you laugh. 

Sexy is a man who opens the door for you. Not because you can't do it yourself, but because he insists on treating you like a queen. 

Sexy is a man who never stops wooing you. He makes you feel beautiful and wanted and desired. He pursues you relentlessly. You and ONLY you. 

Sexy is a man who believes in you, even when you stop believing in yourself. 

Sexy is a man who holds you so tightly when you feel empty inside that you can literally feel his love filling you back up again. 

Sexy is a man who never, ever gives up on you. No matter what. 

Sexy is a man who stays. The night. The next morning. Forever.




Happy 18th Anniversary to my husband. 

Thank you for never giving up on me, despite all my flaws.

Now, that's sexy.