/> Raising Angels: August 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mackenzie is 11!


I am amazed at the young lady you have become right before my very eyes. I saw it begin last year sometime but this year, as you enter middle school, there is no denying that you are no longer our little girl.

You are a magnet for young children. It doesn't matter how long you've know them or even if you do, they love you. You have a gift with them that can come only from God. I'm amazed to watch it in action. I am certain you will be a very busy babysitter.

I pray that you maintain your sweetness as you enter the world of middle school. You have always been a peace-make and a friend to everyone. Continue to do that and you will go very far.

I love you with all my heart and don't know what I'd do without you.

Happy Birthday,


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Minimalist Prayer

Once a week we have a few people join us for dinner. This week one of them had to eat and run.

"Why are you going?" Dawson asked.

As he was walking out the door the guest explained, "I’m going to the Underway Prayer Meeting."

After the front door closed, Dawson turned with a quizzical look and asked, "They have UNDERWEAR prayer meetings?"

In Short

Dawson's friend is over today and he asked Dawson if they could play Mario Brothers.
"They're not brothers," Dawson informed him. "They're bros."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To My Mom

My mom is one of the most caring people I have ever met. As a nurse, she has literally cared for thousands of people, not the least of which is her own family. She has been called at all hours, delivered babies in the backseats of cars, held people's brains in their heads, crawled through a window to get to someone, run down the street to save a baby not breathing and even administered CPR to a preemie kitten (long story).

Even more than our physical well-being, she cares for us. She's listened to us cry, yell and tolerated our silence and now she has to do that all over again with my kids. She gives out more wisdom than most people will ever have. And most importantly, she prays. Always she prays.

Thanks for everything Mom. I love you. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Let Me Speak

I was riding home tonight in a car with my talkative kids. On the way out we had a discussion reminding them about how rude it is to interrupt people. On the way back it happened again...this time to little Max, who can't think fast enough to prevent his older siblings from jumping in before he's finished.

He was in the middle of saying something he thought was very important because when the perpetrator butted in he loudly emphasized, "Hey! You just ripped me up!"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cleaning Cabinets

Tonight I was doing the normal kitchen clean-up. It was one of those nights when wiping off one peanut butter smudge on the cabinet snow-balled into wiping down every cabinet in the kitchen.

As I was scrubbing the final one, I was thinking how funny it was that even though I do a pretty thorough cleaning of the kitchen on a nightly basis, the cabinet doors were pretty dirty. Somehow I had not noticed how dirty until I saw that peanut butter today and decided to take a closer look.

I've often thought of myself in the same way. I look great from a distance but when you get up close you tend to see the grays popping out here and there, the massive veins protruding from the backs of my legs, and the lines beginning to engrain themselves around my eyes.

Marriage I've learned is similar. I've told many a young girl that dating and being engaged is like seeing yourself fully dressed in a one-way mirror in the best lighting. You almost always look good. When you get married though, it's a lot more like standing in the buff in front of a three-way mirror in some very unflattering lighting for the first time. Suddenly, you're totally exposed and the view is not always attractive.

My logic is that people who get married are meant to balance each other out. In our marriage, Nelson is strong in many of the areas I am not. This, indeed, is a blessing. It can also be kind of like a slap in the face that teaches me how weak I am and how much I have left to learn. It forces me to see the real me instead of the me I hope everyone else is seeing.

This is not something Nelson does to me. On the contrary it is his goodness that makes me feel the way I do. His strength magnifies my weakness, but it also calls me on. This is part of what makes the early stages of marriage so challenging. When you're forced to see the real you, it's not so easy.

The good part of all this is that when you finally get close enough to see the dirt that's been hiding, you can actually clean it off. It takes a little elbow grease sometimes, but it can be done and what you end up with is cabinets that not only look clean, but actually are clean.

And that, my friends is a result worth working for.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lemonade Stand

The boys have been begging for weeks to do a lemonade stand and I've been putting it off thinking I just don't have the time to supervise this activity. But today, after an 11 mile run and then going straight to their un-air-conditioned school to clean out classrooms and move books, I was too tired to say no. All I wanted was a shower and they were knocking down the door so I gave in. “As long as you don't bother me in the shower again, have at it.”

They've been out there about an hour, have made over seven dollars and have only come in to make more lemonade. When Aiden came in I told him maybe he could use that money to take us to dinner tonight. His response was, "Mom! No...we're going to save it up for college or a car or something."

Peace, money and a lesson well learned - pretty good Saturday if you ask me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Just Another Day at the Zoo

Today, thanks to the generosity of a good friend, we had a great day at the zoo.

We started in the botanical garden. Remember Edith Anne?

The kids loved the aquarium. I loved the faces. Even the tank cleaner in the back got into the action for this one.

Max didn't really understand the piranhas but he posed just like the one behind him.

The animals were at their best with the cooler weather. The giraffes were some of the most beautiful animals we saw.

The kids were mesmerized by the fact that there were baby giraffes.

The gorilla was my favorite of the day. When we walked in, he was sitting with his back against the glass and, while that was cool, we couldn't really see his face. But within a few minutes, he rolled over on his back. He grabbed a branch, scratched his belly and then nibbled on it. He stretched his feet out, crossed them and propped them on the glass.

We got to walk right next to the kangaroos. There were no walls or cages between us. Of course Max jumped right off the path to go to pet them. Luckily, we caught him before he caught them.

I thought the lion fish kind of reminded me of Dawson's hair as it grows out of the buzz cut.

I think the kids' favorite part was feeding the lorikeets.

Even Max got into the action. The bird landed on his arm and I quickly snapped the photo. Then I asked him if he wanted to get the bird off and he looked at me and said, "Uh...yes!"

They loved the farm too. Max said his favorite part of the zoo was milking the cow. Of course the fact that it was not a real cow combined with the fact that the utter, tilted at just the right angle, could also be used as a squirt gun helped.

We also saw a koala awake for the first time ever.

We appreciated this because every other time we've ever seen them, they've looked a lot like this. Which, I have to say, after our full day I was ready to join him.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Peaceful Pause

In confession today the priest gave me some good food for thought. As usual, I was bemoaning my inabilities as a mother. I get too impatient I told Father. I get angry.

Sometimes our lives get very busy, he related. When you find peace, you'll have more patience. Try taking some moments each day just to sit and enjoy the beauty around you. Look at the trees outside. Watch your beautiful children playing.

My first thought was, "Seriously?" How can I take time to sit and soak it in? Do you have any idea what life is like? Then I remembered that he was sharing God's wisdom with me, not his. I felt the peace in his voice and it drew me in. Suddenly, I was putty.

Luckily, these thoughts came and went quickly enough that I was able to refocus and hear the rest of what he had to say. He recommended using my work as my prayer. The more my life becomes a prayer, the more peace I will find. The more peace I have, the more patience I will find. That might even lead to me wanting to pray more.

It all sounded so beautiful and hopeful...just what confession is supposed to do. There is a freedom gained and a joy you find with the anticipation of how good you have the potential to be.

Well, tonight after dinner one of the kids asked, "Can we go out and roll around in the grass before we take our showers?" I was so stunned by the request I was speechless. I haven't been able to pay any of the kids to go outside lately, it has been so unbearably hot. But tonight it was a beautiful 88 degrees so I obliged.

The kids bolted out the door like caged animals that had been set free. And, instead of going back in to get the kitchen in order with a little peace, I went outside with them. I watched and listened as they squealed and played. I showed my flower gardens the love they've been needing. We all stopped to talk to friends walking around the block. It was beautiful.

Showers, prayers and bedtime were a little more peaceful tonight because I was more peaceful. Instead of racing from table to tub, there was a moment of pause and it helped...just like Father said it would.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Good Point Son

Tonight Aiden was reading his Kids' National Geographic while Dawson and I worked on a puzzle. "Did you know that the President's favorite sport it basketball," he read, "and the First Lady's is volleyball?"

"You don't say," I commented.

"Does that mean Barack Obama's favorite sport is basketball?"

"Yes it does."

"And the First Lady's is volleyball?" he wondered.

"That's what it says."

"Who's the First Lady?"

"That's what they call the President's wife," I educated him. "Mrs. Obama is called the First Lady."

"Hmm...” Dawson noted as he placed a piece in the puzzle, "I thought they were talking about Eve, because she was like the real First Lady."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Day My Dad's Heart Stopped

The morning of the surgery my brothers picked me up when it was still dark outside. We rode to the hospital so we could have one more chance to be with dad before his surgery. It took three of us plus a nurse to finally find him.

The six of us huddled in that little niche and watched as each medical person came in to check on dad. We joked about his freshly shaved chest and his third shower in less than 24 hours. Apparently, being clean and sterile is kind of a big deal before surgery.

Before we knew it, it was time to wheel him back to the OR. The staff gave us a minute to snap a photo and give dad a hug before we had to leave. In the photo we look happy, normal almost.

I had been strong, at least I did well pretending to be strong, right up until it was time to kiss my dad goodbye. I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it. I've kissed my dad goodbye a million times in my life but never like this. That morning, in a hospital with all the smells and my hero confined to a hospital bed in a gown, well, I lost it.

It was a moment of emotions much like those I felt way back when Mackenzie was admitted to the hospital for the Rotavirus and most recently when Max was whisked away for his ear surgery. A moment when I was slapped in the face with my insignificance in the universe. A moment when I was faced with the reality that no matter how hard I try, I cannot control everything. A moment when I realized that no matter what I do, I cannot protect the ones I love the most from pain. It is a scary moment when God gives you no other choice than to trust in Him. It is scary and beautiful and it makes me cry every time.

But my dad, who was at that moment was preparing for a heart-stopping event, reached out to comfort me. "I'm going to be alright," he assured me. "I know dad," I sniffed, in spite of myself. And then, he was gone.

We were escorted to the waiting room, where we were told to settle in for the long haul. A nurse was our liaison and would keep us posted she said. It would be four to five hours from the first cut.

We staked our claim in the empty room and my brothers immediately put Women's World Cup soccer on. They should put recliners in these rooms, we collectively thought. The stress of the day combined with little sleep made for pure exhaustion before we even got started.

At last the surgeon came in to speak to us. The care he took in talking to us impressed me. He had just the right amount of seriousness to let us know he knew what he was doing, tempered with a light-heartedness that put us as at ease as we could be. He would have his nurse keep us posted but now, he had to go.

The nurse came in and told us that dad was under now. When she came back she notified us the first cut had been made. Finally, she told us what we didn't really want to hear. His heart had been stopped and he was on the bypass machine. We wouldn't hear anything again until it was over.

This was the point where my mother lost the nursing side of her and was reduced to a scared wife with a husband in danger. It was agony for me to watch the transformation. I've seen her nurse so much and so well, that I let myself forget that she is human. She's had to hospice four, yes four, of her very own siblings. In every case, she has been a pillar of strength. I don't know how she did it. But that day, at that moment, she was just another worried family member hanging on for a word from anyone that everything was going to be okay.

I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and hold her tight as she has done to me so many times over the years. I wanted to give her a kiss, pat her on the back and tell her she'd feel better in the morning. Instead I did what she asked and gathered my brothers together so we could pray the Rosary.

I know people who aren't Catholic often take issue with route prayers like the Rosary but let me explain why I love them. In a moment like this when you can't find enough words to pray the prayers in your heart; when you don't have the strength or endurance to weave a beautiful prayer of your own; when you don't even know what you should be praying, it's really, really nice to have something to fall back on. And that morning, we fell hard.

The rest of our time was spent reading, chatting, praying and watching Modern Family scenes on my brother's computer (a little levity is always nice). I was overwhelmed with texts from friends checking in on my dad and me. The Facebook messages from people praying made me feel so loved. A wonderful friend forced me to let her make dinner for my family that night and my amazing father-in-law stayed the entire day with my kids so I could be with my dad. They say you can see who your true friends are in your times of need and let me tell you, I have a whole lot of wonderful people in my life.

When the nurse came in an hour and a half later we got a little nervous. "I won't be back," she said, "until it's over unless something goes wrong." We all stood up as she walked towards us. "Well," she said with a huge grin on her face, "they're closing him up now. Everything went well and he should be in the SICU within an hour. The surgeon will be in to talk to you soon."

I don't remember jumping up and down, but I remember feeling like doing that. Was that really it? Could it be that the surgery was over and dad's heart was repaired in that short time? When the surgeon came in, he assured us it was. Dad did great, he said. He only needed three bypasses and the minute they connected them and took him off the heart and lung machine, his heart started beating stronger. We would be able to see him in about an hour.

When we gathered outside the SICU, we were instructed that we could all come in to see him but after that we would be limited to two at a time. Mom turned to us and warned us. "Remember," she said returning to the nurse with an iron will, "dad's not going to look like himself. He's on a ventilator and will have a lot of tubes and wires coming out of everywhere."

We stood at the hand washing station quietly. My six foot four brother looked at me and said with a pale face, "I'm not looking forward to this." I smiled what I hoped was a reassuring smile. Truth was, I wasn't too sure I was ready either. I just knew I couldn't not go in. I'd be okay, I reasoned. I know what to expect.

Unfortunately, all the preparation in the world could not have made the moment I saw him any easier.

We let my mom go in first because she is his wife after all. That and the rest of us were too busy holding back tears and too scared to touch him for fear that we might accidently disconnect him from something important.

For me, it was the hardest moment of the day. The man lying on that bed did not look like the dad I hugged goodbye that morning. He looked small. He looked weak. He looked...dead.

I took his hand and told him I was there. I told him he did great. I told him I loved him. Then I took out my camera. I explained to the nurses that I was under strict orders from my dad to take these pictures. I'm not sure they believed me.

I stayed with my dad for those first few hours after surgery. I held his hand and watched as he began to come out of the anesthesia. I watched as he struggled with the tube in his throat. I was there when they gave the okay to take it out and then I got to watch them do it.

Interestingly enough, the TV in his room had a mind of its own and changed channels randomly throughout the day. When my dad came off the ventilator, an old Alabama football game just happened to be on. I'm pretty sure the first thing he said when he could talk was "Roll Tide!" Perfect. In that moment I knew he was going to be just fine.

It was amazing the difference a few short hours made. You can see from this photo that he already looked a lot like himself once that tube came out and he was sitting up. By the time they brought him something to eat, he was aware enough to marvel at the size of his new scar. Of course he looked like himself, but whatever medications he was on made him act...well, not quite himself.

From that point on it was a competition between me and my brothers as to who would have the funniest story about what dad said under the influence. Those stories, because I love you dad, I will not share here. But let me tell you, he was HILARIOUS. I'm pretty sure I could have gotten him to tell me any deep, dark secret he's been hiding but I didn't have the heart. Besides, I didn't need secrets to be entertained. Just hearing what he had to say about things like his lemon Jell-O was all the entertainment I needed.

By the time Nelson made it up and we visited with dad long enough to let mom get a little break, it was after nine. We tried to talk her into going out to get some dinner or home to get some rest but she wouldn't leave the building. He was still critical, she reminded us, and she wasn't going anywhere.

A little less than twenty hours later, he was walking around and transferred to a regular room on the cardiac floor. According to his nurses, he did not look like a man who had just gone through open heart surgery. And, well, they were right.

By the time I brought the kids up to see him the next afternoon, all the tubes and wires, save the IV, had been removed. His color was good and other than a big a big scar on his chest and a cool heart pillow to hug when he coughed, what the kids saw was the Dampa they know and love.

Now, a month later, as I look once again at these pictures I am beginning to see why dad wanted me to take them. Pictures, like history, help us not to forget what we've been through. They remind us how far we've come and sometimes, how far we still have to go.

I felt like it was important to document this event so that I wouldn't forget the miracle of modern medicine or the miracle of my dad's life. There is no logical reason why dad should have been alive with the blockages he had in his heart. It doesn't really make sense that they can stop his heart, sew in some new veins and get it beating again...better than it was before. I don't want to forget any of that.

God had a plan for dad. So in His wisdom, He gave my dad a wild hair to do the Half Ironman with me. That decision to be fit literally saved his life. The road to recovery is long and requires hard work but the doctor is convinced that next year, not only will dad want to swim the Half Ironman, he’ll be able to do it better than before.

You hear that, Ironman with a stronger heart? Next year that race is ours!

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Night Before Dad's Surgery...A Little More Than A Month Later

My dad gave me permission to share the photos of his surgery. He said I didn't need to ask, but when you see them, you'll understand why I did. Even though he asked me to take pictures of him at every stage, he didn't see himself.

The day before the surgery I knew that mom and dad would be tied up in pre-op all day. I also knew all three of my brothers would be in town, which doesn't happen very often. I decided we needed to have a family dinner.
I had a nice steak dinner in mind. You know, roasted asparagus, twice baked potatoes - the works. I wanted to do it up big. That's what I wanted. But when I asked my dad what he wanted? He wanted burgers, plain and simple.

That is my dad. He loves simple. He yearns for casual. So we fired up the grill and put the burgers on. But before we did that, mom and dad called me and my brothers into the dining room because they needed to talk to us. As we gathered together, time seemed to stand still for a moment. There was seriousness in the air that none of us missed.

It was there, standing over the dining room table, that my dad laid it out. Wills had been done, medical powers of attorney given out. He made it clear that mom had the medical power of attorney and that if anything happened, she was to make the decision. Period. The decision is hers and hers alone he told us. She knows what I want.

Mom took over and told us how the next day would go. She told us the risks. She warned us of how we would see him when it was over. "He's going to have tubes coming out of everywhere," she gently explained. "He'll be on a ventilator, have a tube in his neck, two in his chest...you need to be prepared."

I'm not sure if it was the will, or the power of attorney, or the image of dad that got to us but as I looked to my brothers for some strength, they, like me, had tears in their eyes. It was not a good discussion to have the day before your dad's heart is going to be stopped. Next time we do this, I asked my folks if they might get these things together before the life threatening surgery is looming. Just sayin'.

With that heavy conversation out of the way, we broke out the beer, wine and even some daiquiris. The men and kids headed out to the grill, while I did some last minute chopping.

Dinner was good and the conversation was light. I'll hand that to my family. When the going gets tough, we have a tendency to laugh. Humor we do very well.

Like all good Catholic families, we invited our parish priest to join us for dinner. We wanted his company, but we needed his prayers. So before he left, we asked him to pray for dad. He happily obliged...on his knees no less. It was moving, scary and comforting all at the same time. I don't know what people do without faith.

As dad was saying his goodbyes and telling us how early he had to get up and that he still had to shower with his special soap, I eyed the camera in front of me. I wanted to ask him if we could take a picture together but I was torn. On the one hand, I didn't want him to think that I thought he was going to die. That wouldn't exactly be encouraging. On the other hand, what if he did? I would never forgive myself. Funny how a particular situation can make the simplest request so complicated. So I asked him because, well, better safe than sorry.

Once Nelson snapped the photo, my brother asked if he could have one too. In a skinny second we were all there with my dad...just as we should have been...just like he has been for us all of our lives.

Of course, I needed one of him with the kids as well.

One of the greatest things about having kids is their unadulterated faith. There was no heaviness in them. There was no fear. There was only faith. They had prayed so they believed my dad would be fine. That's all they needed. That's all any of us should need.

Of course, they have learned their senses of humor from the rest of us. And I have to say, it was a great way to end the night.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Master Bath Upgrade

Waiting on my new running watch to charge up, I came across a bunch of pictures I've never shared. Remember when I talked about how the decorating bug had bit me? What follows is just a small example. I hope more will follow.

These are not pictures of that little laundry room curtain, but they'll have to do for tonight. This is a picture of the master bathroom. When I'm asked about my favorite parts of the house, I always put my bathroom at the top of the list. It turned out just like I pictured when we designed it. It has a spa-like quality that I love. I love it, but it needed something.

In shopping for my curtains, I happened upon some things that gave me a few ideas about how to make the space a little more inviting and warm. I started searching for some vases. I was shocked at how expensive they are. Vases, $75, really? I had almost given up (because I'm too cheap to spend that kind of money on a simple decoration) when I found these for a fraction of the price. I love them.

We searched for three years for just the right furniture piece for this little space and for Christmas we found this little gem. However, once I got it in there, it too needed something.

Enter vase number two. It just happens to go with the first one but is different enough to do the trick. The height of the flowers seems to work.

There is one more change I made that I'll post when I snap a photo of it. What I'm amazed by is how inexpensive it was and what an impact it has.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Fine By Me

We were having a musical discussion in the car today. Most of the singers we discussed are dead and so the conversation turned toward how exactly they had died.

"A lot of singers are dead because they were shot," Aiden casually noted. "People just don't like them or something and they shoot them. That's why I'm not going to be a singer when I grow up. I just want to die of old age."

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Good Runner

Running lately has been tough. Unfortunately, this is beginning to feel like the story of my running life. I keep waiting for it to get easy, or feel good, or at least lose a few pounds but it does none of these for me.

Yesterday I trudged in after a very rough six-miler as Nelson was getting in the truck to head to work. "How was the run?" he cheerfully asked as he always does.

"Really not good," I panted. "It's all I can do not to cry right now. I'm ready to give it up."

"Hon," he tried to encourage me, "it's really hot. Don't give up."

Truth is I know it's really hot. The temperatures around here have been over 100 with heat indexes that add about 10 more degrees. Y’all, it's hot down here and it's no joke. When I come in from a run, I can literally wring out everything I wore.

This kind of heat combined with our sticky humidity is doing a number on me and making my already slow times even slower; which, quite frankly, I didn't think was possible. It does this to everyone, but I forget about that. It's hotter than all the other summers I've run, but I forget about that too. Instead I've spent most of my runs the last three weeks or so putting myself down, doubting my ability and sanity, and wondering what in the world I was doing posing as a runner.

Today though, in the wee hours when the alarm went off, I got up anyway. I got up because I needed to run. Good or not, I'm part of a team now and I've no choice but to forge ahead. It's been so bad, I've actually been trying out the Galloway method of running a few minutes with a one minute walk break for my sanity and to try and prevent my darn IT band from killing me. This is kind of humiliating for some reason but it's what I've had to do to keep at it.

This morning was a short four mile run and my personal challenge was to run it without stopping, which I haven't done in weeks. I could feel the old ITB tighten up by mile two and by mile three I had to stop and stretch it out. Besides the one stretch break, I did the four continuously and that was helping my awful attitude take a turn back towards the light.

A fourth of the way into my final mile, a young teenager I see running all the time passed me with ease. "Good job! Keep up the good work!" I got out as she blazed past. At that moment I ran into a friend who asked, "Can I run a little with you?" She just started two days ago and wanted to see how long she could hang with me.

"I hope I'm not slowing you down," she said to me as I've said to so many others through the years.

"Don't worry about it. I'm not in a hurry," I told her. "I'm happy to have some company."

For a half a mile we chatted about running and I gave her some tips. Did I just say that? She was asking me for help. Me? Seriously? Would I be willing to run with her again sometime? Could she ask me some more questions?

I am not a good runner. I am not fast. More likely than not, I never will be. God has given me many gifts, but running is definitely not one of them. Today however, He reminded me that sometimes being good at something is not always about obvious success. Today I realized that in that woman's eyes, I am a runner. Not only that, but a runner who knows enough to help her. In her eyes, running her first half mile by my side, I am good.

When good things happen to me I always pray that I will remember them so that one day I will be able to pay it forward and help someone else in need. When I started running I felt so encouraged by everyone in my group that I wanted to stay with the sport long enough to be able to do that for someone else. Today I did.

Maybe, I thought, God doesn't have me running so that I can be good at it, but rather so I can be a good runner. When I am running I have some of my best prayer times. When I am running, I am a powerful intercessor. When I am running, I have the power to build others up and encourage them.

Turns out, I am a good runner...I'm just not very good at it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Max Takes the Plunge

We spent a lot of time last week on vacation begging Max to jump into the pool. He would run out into the waves and get rolled around without a tear. He'd let them wash over him and just spit them back out. Jumping into the pool should be no problem after that right?

Not so in three-year-old logic. The mind was sort of willing but the legs just would not let him take the plunge.

But today, oh today was glorious in his triumph. He started by letting Mackenzie hold him as she jumped into the shallow end. Next, he held her hand as they jumped together. Finally he did it on his own. Before I knew it, he was going off the diving board without a word. By the time I took out my phone to capture it he was done with the board but still willing to go it alone...in the deep end.

Awesome, truly.