Saturday, August 6, 2016

Bella Notte

This is a fun parenting stage. Well, not always, but for the most part, this kid is keeping us laughing, her imagination is running wild, and she is starting to ask really poignant questions. I wanted to be sure to record one of the sweetest memories we've made so far.

I had purchased a new dress to wear to a wedding. I don't buy dresses hardly at all (just for weddings and funerals) and so I tried it on to to show Justin. I came strolling out in the dress and the shoes, hoping, as most wives do, for a positive reaction from my hubby. Amber Joy was in the hallway outside our bedroom and saw me coming. She immediately knew this outfit was out of the ordinary for me and said, "stop mom!" She then proceeded to "announce" my arrival into the living room to Justin, who was sitting on the couch watching TV. She said, "presenting, princess mommy!" Then she fell to one knee with both arms pointing my direction. I chuckled, wondering where she had learned this. So I walked into the living room and she kept going. "Daddy get up and dance with the princess!" Justin reluctantly got up, told me he liked the dress, then began to dance with me. Amber Joy grabbed a marker that was close by and began to sing, "for this is the night, it's a beautiful night and we call it Bella Notte..." She sang the whole song. By heart. She made us keep dancing.

As I danced with my husband as our daughter serenaded us, I thought to myself, "this is what life is all about."

I'm in love with my family.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The gift of touch

Many of you know that when Amber Joy was born, she was very early...well, God wasn't surprised, but according to the 40 week gestational calendar, she was 14 weeks early. When a baby is that premature, and there is a decent NICU, the baby will spend the next several weeks in an incubator. They will receive as little stimulation as possible, and when their senses are stimulated, it will be for short, controlled time periods, typically with only one sense "awakened" at a time. For example, it is routine in a NICU for parents to be told only to touch, but not to sing or talk to the baby simultaneously. Or, if they want to make eye contact, not to touch. These babies are so tiny and their brains are still developing, that it is believed that over-stimulation can lead to heart rhythm changes, blood pressure increase, overall fussiness, and even hiccups.

We don't know, but we assume that after she was born, she entered the NICU and these protocols were put into place. She would have likely been touched only when absolutely necessary for diaper changes, IV/ventilator maintenance, and other medical procedures. The NICU had very caring nurses, and when we visited the Taiwan hospital where our girl was born, we met a precious social worker who had been on Amber Joy's particular case, working to find a family. We imagine that this social worker visited her at times, perhaps even touching her. When Deana Pan found out about Amber Joy, she visited her as well. We know she was well cared for in the NICU.

In November of 2015, our nephew was born in Pensacola. In an odd turn of events, he was born at 26 weeks and 3 days, exactly like Amber Joy. It was surreal to see his tiny body, fighting for life in that incubator. He wore little velcro "glasses" that kept the glare from the heat lamp out of his sensitive eyes. Justin's sister wasn't even allowed to touch him for several days because of his frail condition. We spent time at the hospital there after his birth so we could see him and visit with Liz. One of the things the nurses told her was that, when she touched him, she should do it with a firm touch, not light and feathery. They explained that gentle touch produced irritability in these babies: they needed pressure, no stroking, and just a firm hand that says "I'm here."

As I thought about that over the next few days and weeks as our nephew slowly fought his way out of the NICU and home (in February), I was surprised at the range of emotions that hit me in the face. Every update from my sister-in-law about our nephew was like getting to experience what it might have been like for Amber Joy. There's more to that, but I've decided not to divulge her story in my blog since it's HER story and not mine...

Our nephew's journey has made me aware of some things that we began to try to integrate into our life with Amber Joy. I've discovered that she loves a firm hand on her back while she's trying to go to sleep. She fidgets a lot, and if we leave her room before she's asleep, she'll call us back in half a dozen times. But if I lie next to her with just one hand heavily on her back, she's asleep in 15 minutes. When she was a baby, many nights, I remember sitting on the floor, holding her hand until she fell asleep. She's super ticklish, so light, feathery touch is not her favorite.

She is also easily stimulated. If there are too many senses being used all at once, she is prone to meltdown. It's easy to get aggravated when she doesn't make eye contact while she's eating, playing, or doing any number of other things, but because of what we now know, we're much more forgiving, realizing that it's not that she is being willful, rather she is sometimes incapable of managing more than one or two senses at a time.

Honestly, there have been days when I've grieved the fact that we weren't there throughout Amber Joy's first months. I wanted to be there to touch her the first time, feed her, hold her, dress her, change her, and learn every single detail of her. But instead of dwelling on the time we didn't have, I'm choosing to concentrate on the now. At the end of the days, we're so tired. She's quite the chatterbox and by 8:00 p.m., we're done. But then I hear, "mommy, you snuggle with me?" Not every night, but most nights, I'm reminded that I have a chance and an invitation to be there for her NOW and that every time I lay beside her, sing to her, pray with her, place a firm hand on her back, it's sending a message to her. I hope she hears that message loud and clear: we're here and we're with you...FOREVER.

P.S. Our nephew is doing well! He is home, seven months old, and he's growing every day. We can't wait to see these two get to know each other as they grow...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What is this Kindergarten thing you speak of?

How did we even get here?

Just five short years ago, we were dreaming of the day we would finally hold our baby girl, and today, I'm about to order her school uniforms for Kindergarten. It's true what they say..."the days drag, but the years fly."

Amber Joy 'graduated' from Pre-K in May and we had a plan for next school year. It was a good plan. We had met with her teacher and decided, for some really good reasons, that we would wait to let her start Kindergarten. We had talked to the school system. Her dad and I both went to public school so we were happy with our "good" plan. We had discussed possibly doing private school in middle school, but we found out about the Kindergarten readiness program in the public school and decided it would be a good fit for her: only 15 students and a teacher who was highly recommended by people we trust.

But God. God had better than good in store for our girl. God had her best in mind. Please don't read this as me saying no one should go to public school...that is not my message at all. My message is this: trust the Lord with all your heart and don't lean on your OWN understanding...acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will direct your path (Proverbs 3:5-6). That path looks different for all of us.

For Mother's Day, my mom wanted to go get her nails done. As we were sitting there, I told her I still wasn't sure about school for next year, even though we had a good plan. A lady at our church teaches Kindergarten at a small private school, I said, and I was going to talk to her about her opinions and Amber Joy in particular. Mom asked where she taught and I told her the school was called Redeemer. Mom began to giggle. Confused, I asked why she was laughing and she said, "my friend at church has been praying specifically that Amber Joy would go to Redeemer." This stopped me in my tracks because I know my mom's praying friends. They're the kind you don't want to pray for you unless it's something you REALLY want, because it's likely to happen.

She proceeded to tell me that her friend is a stand-in grandmother to a young girl who attends Redeemer. Her friend also loves Amber Joy and decided a while back to begin praying that Amber Joy would go there. I had no idea until that day that any of those prayers had been said.

A few days later, Justin received notification of his merit raise for the next fiscal year. It was a fair amount and we were thankful. Fast forward a couple more days and I spoke on the phone with the Kindergarten teacher at Redeemer. At the end of the conversation, I said, "oh, by the way, how much is Kindergarten tuition?" Her reply stopped me in my tracks. It was the exact amount of Justin's raise...to the dollar.

Mom and I visited the school and were so impressed. It is the Classical model of education and the class sizes are small. Justin had wanted Amber Joy to go ahead and start Kindergarten, but I had worried about the class sizes and the amount of hours she would go every week (35). Redeemer provided an answer to all of that: she will go only half days and there are 10 kids in her class! Personalized attention, short school days, a place where all the teachers know all the kids and families, and a Christian environment...we couldn't have asked for more.

God has amazed us through this whole process. On the day after I first visited Redeemer, I took Amber Joy to the public school where we had intended to register her for Kindergarten readiness, in case something fell through. As we pulled into the parking lot, the bright sunny sky literally clouded over and it looked like the bottom was about to fall out. As we walked toward the school, Amber Joy said, "mama, will there be a picture of Jesus at this school?" I shook my head.

The next day, when we went to Redeemer for Amber Joy to have her evaluation, she peeked into the office where there was a canvas of Jesus behind the desk. She exclaimed, "There he is, I found him!"

We're excited about how God has worked this out and can't wait to see how our girl blossoms next year.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Theology and other conversations

Twenty-five years ago, I started college at Belmont. I thought I wanted to be a teacher...that lasted for about half a semester. I realized very quickly that I most enjoyed my Old Testament history class, taught by the amazing Marty Bell. I loved learning the history and context behind the scriptures, something I had never learned at church. So, at the end of my first semester, I have a memory of trudging up the hill in the rain to Fidelity Hall where the School of Religion was housed. I sat down in tears across from Dr. Bell and after some heavy sighs, decided to change my major to Religion. Soon after, I took my first theology course, "Christian Theology" with Dr. Steve Simpler. (side note: Dr. Simpler has been a fixture in my life. He was the dean of the SOR when I was at Belmont and we have kept in touch all of these years. Later this month, I'll attend his retirement party.) I'll never forget the simple definition of "theology" that Dr. Simpler gave: theology literally means "thinking/thoughts about God." It may sound simplistic, but honestly, we're all theologians. I'm convinced that every single human has at least contemplated the thought of a god or God at some point. Personally, I believe we're created that way. We crave knowing that which is bigger than ourselves, but I digress...

Our children are also theologians. Amber Joy has been asking great questions lately, and despite my best efforts to keep it simple, she's delving into deep waters. I'm not sure Justin and I are quite prepared, but we do our best, all the while hoping that what we tell her now doesn't cost her too much in therapy bills later.

She's a perceptive little thing. We listen to music a lot because frankly, I don't like the total silence and we don't have cable TV. So often, when we're at home, it's easier just to put on some music. I don't remember the song, but a few weeks ago, she heard the word "glory" in a song. She looked at me intently and said, "mommy, what's glory mean?" Um. Well? After I stumbled over my words a bit, I decided on "awesome." "Honey, it means that God is awesome. That's God's glory." When Justin got home that night, she told him that God's glory means He is awesome. Maybe that will do for now?

Then another day, the word "sin" came up. Here we go. I don't want to tell my five-year-old that we are all sinful, but then again, that's the truth. We are all in need of a Savior. So, I said the first thing that came to mind: "sin is, well, um...it's why we need Jesus. We do things and think thoughts that God doesn't like. So that's why Jesus came." We've talked about other words lately..."life," "Satan" (the enemy of God as we call him in our house), and "variety." Her vocabulary continues to grow as does her understanding of the world around her.

Our girl! She likes to draw, write letters, cut, and glue. She draws our house, our family, and usually includes her cousin Jasmine in the photo. She is no longer sure she wants to be "Amber Joy." Most days, she says she just wants to be Joy. But then last week, she told Justin she just wanted to be Amber. She loves the song "Better When I'm Dancing" by Megan Trainor and says she wants to meet Megan one day. Pink is her favorite color, she only wants to wear shirts with skirts (or dresses), and wants to be an audiologist. She is fascinated with the story of Jesus on the Cross, but also loves the stories of Joseph and Moses. She likes learning about Egypt, Pharoah, and the Sphinx (spinks, as she calls it). Her favorite phrase is "nailed it!" The first thing she does when we get home is to take off her socks and shoes. She loves being outside barefoot. We are putting in a garden this year and she's super excited. She likes to play with mom and dad anytime, any day. She can unload the silverware out of the dishwasher, get herself in and out of the tub, and buckle her own car seat. She can sweep the floor and hang up dresses and shirts. She is compassionate, especially toward people we see on the side of the road who "don't have food." Lately, we've been visiting a ground swallow every day. She has three eggs and Amber Joy just likes sitting there in the grass with me, watching the mama bird and tearing grass blades. She says she wants to move to another country and live in an apartment (or a pink lake house). I absolutely love this phase! She's so much fun and so creative.

Keep going, girl. #shine