Thursday, June 30, 2016

Confessions of a Blogoholic

I recently came out to all of my family and friends. But, I'm not gay. 

I'm a blogoholic. 

A few years ago, I didn't even know what the word blog meant. 

(blog = short for web log, in case you didn't know either.) 

And now, it has become nothing short of an addiction. 

My family has been very supportive, so long as I don't air any of their dirty laundry. Some friends have been super sweet and encouraging, and other so-called friends seem to sit back silently and judge me from a distance. Haters.

Writing can be a lonely occupation, but I enjoy the solitude. 

You know all those social butterfly-type moms who are always flitting through your facebook news feed at parties with all of their social butterfly-type mom friends? I'm NOT one of THOSE moms. I never feel more alone than I do in a crowded room full of people. Introvert problems.

But, I have always had a love affair with words.

The way they taste in my mouth. The way they sound rolling off my tongue. The intricacies and complexities of their meanings. The way they sometimes slither through my mind and coil themselves up in dark corners.

I'm not saying I'm a great writer. 

I'm not even saying I'm any good. Trust me, I'm keeping my day job. What I AM saying is that I'm writing for me. I write out of necessity. It helps me to "know thyself". Sometimes I'm not even sure how I'm feeling until it becomes words on a page. In a way, I guess I am writing myself into existence. I write, therefore, I am.

But I'm also writing for you. 

Because words are weighty. They hold the power of life and death. I tell stories because stories are what become us. After all, what are we if not the stories that we tell? All of us are driven by words. Our bodies are just the vehicles. 

Words are eternal beings. 

In the beginning was THE WORD. 
THE WORD was with God and THE WORD was God. 
THE WORD became flesh and dwelt among us.

I blame my elementary school teacher with chained glasses on the edge of her nose for this obsession. She red-inked, "You are a great writer!" on my paper in the second grade. 

That image still flashes through my mind like an old-fashioned slide show. 

Or maybe my handsome college professor with starched shirt and beard who published my essay on "The Yellow Wallpaper" and encouraged me to keep writing. 

I think I will.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Ever-Elusive "Why?"

(A version of this was published on The Mighty on July 18, 2016.)

It's inevitable.

You are trekking through life, minding your own business, and then, BAM!!! Life sucker punches you in the gut when you aren't looking and then runs you over like a freight train while you are laid out across the tracks.

If it hasn't happened to you yet, then lucky you.

But don't get too cozy in that comfortable life you are leading. Eventually, the proverbial crap is gonna hit the fan.

And when that train derails, trailing steadily behind is a little red caboose with that smokestack of a question: "But why?" The answer may as well be swirling away in the atmosphere in a puff cloud of dirty black smoke.

Almost from our infancy, we are designed to want answers.

I have four voraciously inquisitive kids under 10 years old, and they are constantly throwing questions at me like I'm a dartboard. These days, if you don't know the answer, it's so easy to just say, "Let's Google it." But what if the question you are grappling with has no hard and fast answer? What if, when you ask it, you can hear your voice echoing back at you from the four corners of the universe?

Nine years ago, when my perfectly healthy infant son died in the delivery room, that question was seared onto my brain with a branding iron. The question with no answer. The harder I tried to reach and grasp it, the further away it seemed. 

So far, this is what I've been able to come up with...

#1: My husband and I didn't do anything to deserve losing our child.

#2: God was not punishing us for some offense we have committed.

#3: Other people are not more deserving of a child than we are.

#4: And no, we were not cruel to animals in a previous life and deserving of bad karma, nor do we subscribe to that philosophy.

Here's what I do know:

I may never fully understand why I had to lose my child when others didn't. I am especially confounded when I hear of mothers who flippantly abort their unwanted babies. Or neglect them. Or abuse them. Because MY baby was wanted. MY baby was an answer to prayer.

But here's the thing:

Why is not the most pressing question. When you are being crushed by the weight of your own grief, why will not save you. 

What WILL save you is how.

How now shall I live? Now that the world as I know it has been obliterated. How now shall I pick up the pieces of my shattered heart and make it through another week? Another day? Another hour? Another minute?

At some point, you have to make a decision.

Am I going to waste away in the excrement of my pain or am I going to uproot the dry, dusty fields of my heart and plow through the hardened, cracked dirt? Is this going to become a toxin running through my veins or am I going to use this stench to fertilize new soil where good things can grow?

I don't know about you, but I want to plant rows and rows and rows of green fields upon green fields as far as the eye can see. I want to see hope spring eternal. I want to reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed.

Because even with all that I have been through, I STILL believe that "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no heart has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him." And, no matter what, I STILL believe that my God is a good, good Father. 

Without question.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hope in a Box

Some days are more memorable than others. 

This was just such a day. Some days are throw-aways or do-overs. But not this day. Because on this day, I put hope in a box and tied it up with a jute twine bow. 

This day was years in the making. 

This day was the culmination of months and months of planning. This day wishing turned into reality. This day gave my pain meaning. This day gave my baby's death purpose. Somehow, putting hope in a box and tying it up with a bow for another mother who lost her baby helped answer the "why" of losing mine.

It was for this:

To show her that she is not alone. To remind her that there is hope. To point her to the One who can fuse the fragments of her shattered heart back together in the fire and make beauty from the ashes. 

Each box represents a baby that has died. Each box represents a grieving mother who is still anchored in hope. That's what we do. For we do not grieve like those who have no hope. We are Hope Mommies and our hope is in Christ alone.

It was a tremendous honor and a privilege to work alongside fellow hope mommies and others who support us in this worthwhile endeavor. I wish there were not a need for one more hope box ever again. But because the need is unfortunately so great, I wish every day could be a hope box party day. 

If you feel called to host your own hope box party, here's a step-by-step guide of how to turn that dream into a reality:

Step One: Gather the Troops
It's hard to do this alone. So don't. Find other Hope Moms in your area who feel called to support you in this endeavor. Ask your family, friends, church members, co-workers, and neighbors to help "hold up your arms" in this battle (see Exodus 17:12).

Step Two: Set Realistic Goals
Each hope box costs about $50 to produce including materials and shipping. Decide on a goal that is doable for you and your troops. You need to raise about $500 to make 10 hope boxes, $1000 to make 20 hope boxes, etc. Set a realistic goal and give yourselves plenty of time for fundraising.

Step Three: Contact Your Local Hospital
When you fill out the Hope Box Party Interest form, you will need to have the name and contact info for the hospital where you will be donating the boxes. Set up a meeting with the bereavement coordinator in the labor and delivery unit. Tell her (or him) about Hope Mommies and our goal of putting hope boxes in the hands of grieving mothers. Establish a good relationship with this person because you will be working together a lot!

Step Four: Fill Out a Hope Box Party Interest Form
Now that you've got your ducks in a row, it's time to fill out the Hope Box Party Interest Form. Then, you will receive an e-mail from the Hope Box Coordinator and you will work with her on the timeline for fundraising and setting the date for your box party. Keep in mind that you need to allow at least a two week-window between the end of your fundraiser and your box party so that Hope Mommies can ship all of your materials. Yes, Hope Mommies sends you everything you need to put in the boxes including a Bible, a journal, handprint/footprint cards for baby, Spotify playlist for bereaved moms, Heaven by Randy Alcorn, the new Anchored book by Hope Mommies founder Erin Cushman, Hope Mommies brochures, bookmarks, and bracelets, and other comforting items like a candle, coffee, tea, and lip balm.

Step Four: Fundraising
Create an online facebook event to raise money for your cause. Online donations work best because they are secure, tax-deductible, and Hope Mommies keeps a record of who gives so that you can donate a box in their name or their baby's name. You can also raise money the old fashioned way through bake sales or car washes and then just mail in a check payable to Hope Mommies to the following address:
Hope Mommies
328 West Main Street
Kerville, TX  78028

Step Five: Buy the Boxes and the Bling
Hope Mommies will send you a gift card from your donated funds to purchase the photo boxes and decorations or you can choose to purchase them yourself so that all of your donations go toward more hope boxes. Either way, stores like Michael's, Hobby Lobby and JoAnn's have tons of them and they are often on sale. Plan a fun shopping trip with your troops to get supplies. Some things you will need: Glue guns/sticks, decorative paper, ribbons, buttons, fabric flowers, scripture stickers, and of course, jute twine to tie it all up with a bow!

Step Six: Time to Party!
I can tell you from experience that it is helpful to delegate responsibilities. An assembly line works best. You need someone to fill the boxes, someone writing personalized notes for each box (preferably a hope mommy), someone in charge of dedicating each box in the name of a donor or hope baby, and someone decorating the boxes. It also helps if you have someone there to watch the kiddos and someone who is taking pictures to document the whole shebang for posterity. F.Y.I. Our party took about four hours to finish 40 boxes.

Step 7: Labor & Delivery
This is the best part of all. This is what makes your labor of love worth it. The delivery. The bereavement coordinator for the hospital met us at the curb with a cart to haul the hope boxes up to the labor and delivery floor. All the nurses and even some doctors came out in droves to meet us and shake our hands and give us hugs. They really rolled out the red carpet for us! They even let us put on bunny suits and personally walk them into the operating room where they were to be stored until needed. It was an amazing experience!

So, there you have it. I hope this was helpful and we wish you lots of luck in planning your own Hope Box parties!

Boxing Up Hope,

Andrea, Jennifer, Katy, Bev, Emily C. and Emily W.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

How We Stay Together (Without Killing Each Other)


(A version of this post was originally published by Mamalode on June 9, 2016.)

My hubby and I recently celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. That's a lifetime compared to Hollywood marriages these days. It's like 126 years in dog years. Just saying.

Marriage is not easy. 

It takes work-work-work-work-work (in my best Rihanna voice). And trust me, we've had our fair share of arguing. Of name-calling. Of slamming doors. Of knock-down, drag-out fights. We've learned through the school of hard knocks what it takes to make a marriage last.

I'm certainly not the most qualified individual to be doling out relationship advice. But I AM a hopeless romantic. I'm in love with the idea of forever. I'm in love with the idea of two people who never give up on each other. No matter what.

So, here are 7 lessons in loving that I've learned the hard way:

1. Be Nice to Each Other.  We are often nicer to people we don't even know than we are to our own spouses. We take them for granted. We take out our own frustrations on them. Over the years, many crooners have sung the line, "You always hurt the ones you love," and the unfortunate reality is that in most relationships, those lyrics ring true.

2. Don't Nag.  No one likes to be nagged. Do you? My point exactly. So, exercise the golden rule on this one and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's just good old plain common sense and common courtesy.

3. Disagree IN FRONT of the Kids. Don't try to keep up the charade that everything between mommy and daddy is always perfect. Your kids need to witness you having an argument and watch you work toward solving it right in front of them.

4. Make Each Other Laugh. The longer I live, the more I realize that laughter really is the best medicine. Life is hard enough as it is, so do your best to not take it too seriously. Provide some comic relief to help keep each other ROFL!

5. Give Each Other Freedom. If you love something, set it free. We've all heard that old adage, and it couldn't be more true. No one likes to feel trapped in a corner or pinned down beneath someone's thumb. Allow one another the freedom to dream new dreams and pursue them, even if it's not what you originally signed up for. Support and encourage each other along the way.

6. Don't Say the D-Word.  And, by that, I mean divorce. If you really want a marriage that lasts, then don't even throw that word out on the table. Not even if it's just a threat. Divorce is not an option if you want to stay together, so don't even mention that word. All other d-words are perfectly acceptable. 

7. Forgive. And Forgive Again. This one speaks for itself. Love always hopes. Always perseveres. Always endures. So, unless you or your kids are being emotionally or physically abused, keep forgiving one another. Seventy times seven. And never, ever stop believing that you two are going to make it. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016


When I was 10 years old, my favorite book was There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar. I was reminded of this childhood favorite by all of the recent hullabaloo over transgender bathrooms. So, I pulled my dusty old box of memories out of the closet so I could read it with my kids.

It's about a bully named Bradley who is the oldest and meanest kid in school. All his classmates hate him and call him a monster, and his teachers say he has serious behavior problems. Bradley gets sent to see Carla, the very calm, very unconventional  new school counselor. The two strike up an unlikely friendship. Carla sees potential in Bradley and thinks he can change his ways. She convinces him that if he believes the people who call him a monster, then that is what he'll become. Thanks to Carla, he begins to believe in himself the way she believes in him.

I won't give away the surprise ending or how a boy ends up in the girls' bathroom. You can read that part for yourself. After all, what kind of teacher would I be if I didn't sprinkle a little curiosity dust in your face?

But now that I'm reading this story through grown-up glasses, I can really relate to the way Carla shepherds the lost sheep of the fold. As a teacher, I seem to always have a heart for those hard-to-reach students. The ones who tend to be hated and despised by everyone else. The ones who pretend to be all hard and unbreakable, but deep down inside they are an absolute mess.

I recently had a student like this. 

She came to my class mid-semester because she had a personality conflict with her previous teacher. She kept getting sent to the principal's office for refusing to comply and for obnoxious outbursts of profanity.

I knew all of this before I met her. 

I had been prepped and I had been warned. So, I knew what I was in for when she showed up at my door with new class schedule in hand. 

And she did not disappoint.

Like all high school students, she liked to push my buttons. But this kid took it to a whole new level. Every day it seemed, she would try to provoke me a little more than she did the day before, just watching and waiting for that moment when I would crack. That moment when I would lose my cool and yell at her just like everyone else in her life had always done before.

But I didn't crack and I didn't lose my cool. 

I didn't yell at her when I came in from hall duty and she was sitting at MY desk using MY computer. I didn't yell at her when she picked up MY phone and tried to order pizza in the middle of class. I didn't yell at her when she tried to staple a strand of my hair or when she wrote on me with Expo markers or when she squirted me with whiteboard cleaner. 

I wanted to yell, but I didn't.

Instead, I watched and I waited patiently until, one fateful day, she cracked. She lingered after the dismissal bell rang until everyone else had gone. Then, I marveled as that hard, unbreakable shell of hers melted away, revealing the absolute mess underneath. 

Her mother had been an addict. 

She had been taken away by CPS and then had been kicked out of foster home after foster home until the only place left for her was a group home for the unwanted. She was a product of the system. She had already tried to kill herself multiple times, once since she had been on MY roster.

We talked for an hour. 

I asked a lot of questions. I did a lot of listening. I never lectured or scolded or judged. Then, she wanted to know about me. She asked how my baby died and how I dealt with that kind of pain. I showed her my blog and let her read the stories about losing Cohen.

After that day, she didn't try to staple my hair anymore. 

She didn't write on me with dry erase markers or squirt me with whiteboard cleaner. I never found her sitting sit at my desk using my computer when I came in from hall duty. She was still loud and obnoxious. She still had a potty mouth. But we understood each other. She knew my pain and I knew hers. 

We had a bond that went beyond student and teacher.

I helped her start her own blog. I helped her design her graduation party invitations. I helped her fill out her college application. She wants to help other young people who got a rough start in life like she did. She was, by far, one of my most challenging students ever, but she also turned out to be one of my favorites. 

Somewhere along the way, she stopped believing I was the enemy. Somewhere along the way, she stopped believing she was unwanted. Somewhere along the way, she stopped believing the people who told her she was a monster.