Nine Lives (Minus Five)

Her name was Mittens, appropriately bestowed on her in recognition of her four little white paws that perfectly decorated her otherwise black body.  She was my roommate while I was in graduate school, my furry little companion in what was a large, drafty and often lonely apartment.  Mittens was a bit of a funny little creature and developed some strange habits during our time together.  One of these oddities was her love of jumping into the refrigerator whenever I opened it.  There was plenty of room for her to jump right in, as I was, after all, a graduate student and had little to no time to ever cook a meal.  My fridge was empty, bar a few liquids on the top shelf.  

This particular day, I must have had an unusual amount of time on my hands, as I was embarking on the lofty goal of making mashed potatoes for dinner.  That said, I’m ashamed to admit, I had to make a call home to get a walk through of the recipe(?)  I picked up the phone, dialed home, walked over to the fridge to grab something out, noticed Mittens jump in and then shut the door and proceeded to enjoy a long conversation with my parents. My boyfriend at the time (husband now) was sitting at the kitchen table engrossed in his engineering studies and suddenly wondered why he hadn’t had a visual of Mittens in the last fifteen minutes or so.  He broached the subject of her disappearance with me and I, in horror, ran over to the fridge, opened the door and out she popped.  Cue boyfriend shaking his head and rolling his eyes.  Whoops.  Nine lives, minus one.

The little fur-ball also endured a few falls and her survival of the first is proof positive that cats always land on their feet.  Mittens used to love sitting in an open window.  She would perch herself right on the sill and lean her chubby body against the screen.  I thought it rather funny one afternoon when I noticed the screen missing from one of the second floor windows.  It took me a minute to sort it out, but once I realized what it all meant, I proceeded to run through the house screaming that Mittens had fallen out the window (I never did handle stressful situations well).  Mom and I ran outside to see the screen lying on the ground, but no Mittens.  It wasn’t long before we heard her cries from far up in a tree in which she fled out of fear and shock from her ordeal.  Poor thing.  Nine lives, minus two.

The second fall wasn’t quite as terrifying, but does merit mention.  Mittens was, for the most part, an indoor cat.  I was moving around a lot at that time and was afraid she would get lost with the change in surroundings.  I did take her outside for walks, but kept her on a harness for fear of her running off.  This particular day I was letting her enjoy the fresh air out on the deck.  She had her harness on and was tied to the railing.  (I feel it necessary to mention that her harness was not a leash around her neck, but rather went around her whole body).  Curiosity got the best of her and she decided she just had to see what was on the other side.  She sauntered right off the edge of the deck and was left swinging in the air until I reached over and grabbed her.  Silly cat.   Nine lives, minus three.

The loss of her fourth life was one of those things I just didn’t think I had worry about with a cat.  I had left my water glass out on the table and Mittens jumped up and stuck her head right in.  The glass was tall and slender and her head was, well, not.  I found her flailing her furry head around in an effort to remove the glass that was suctioned around her little face. We got her out and she didn’t seem any worse for the wear.  I however, was.  Nine lives, minus four.

Ok, one last story.  At this point you may be questioning why on earth I ever decided it was a good idea to have children.  Fair enough, however there are two sides to every story and I’m standing firm in my claim that Mittens was unusually curious and not the sharpest tool in the shed.  I can’t be entirely to blame for her more unfortunate experiences.

That said, the last of my stories pairs Mitten’s lack of prudence with her wonderment of the dancing golden light on the kitchen table.  She decided to investigate and, it wasn’t until I questioned the source of the smell of burning plastic in my apartment that I rescued her from searing all of her whiskers right off.  By the time I grabbed her away from the candle, I actually saw one of her whiskers curling right up as the heat snaked its way to her little pink nose.  Seriously Mittens?  Nine lives, minus five.

There have been plenty of times in my life where I’ve failed to land on my feet, so to speak.  And curiosity definitely has its way of snaking into my life and resulting in less than intelligent decisions.  Perhaps you can relate?  There is ample opportunity to fall victim to our more selfish culture and waste away our days perched on the windowsill, content in our chosen ignorance.  It’s so tempting to choose comfort over service, entertainment over quiet time in prayer, indulgence over sacrifice, gossip over truth, opinions over understanding, self over others.  Before we know it, the screen gives way and we are falling from grace.

While we may not have the physical dexterity and finesse to survive a fall to the ground, we do have a ticket to another chance at life.  Jesus bought us that ticket when He laid down His life on the cross.  The gates of Heaven are opened to us and the promise of redemption is ours to keep.  The celebration of Easter is the celebration of new life.  It places before us the ultimate goal and reminds us what this life is all about; the falls, the suffering, the work; Jesus makes sense of all of it for us.  

No matter how many times we fall, no matter how many times we take the wrong path or our curiosity gets the better of us, Jesus is waiting to pull us up and out of whatever trouble we have landed in.  It’s amazing really.  All we have to do is open our hearts to His love, honor the guidance He provides for us and we are promised to be made new again in a life that is better than we can even dream.  

We had some fun adventures together, Mittens and me.  All in all, I humbly submit that five out of nine ain’t so bad.  

He has risen, Alleluia

 

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Climbing Out

I was volunteering with my daughter’s class during their designated library time.  Mary was sitting on the floor with her classmates listening to the librarian read them a story. She had several of her fingers lodged in her mouth, chewing away in an attempt to sooth the new adult teeth fighting for room in her already overcrowded gums.  I watched as she proceeded to take her tiny soaked hands out of her mouth, drag them across the carpet in front of her to dry them off and immediately shove them right back in, this time undoubtedly with countless germs along for the ride.  While this scene would have once sent me into panic mode, I sat still and simply prayed, “into your hands, Lord”.  

It’s a prayer I say often and is one of immense freedom for me.  I can now acknowledge that, while what Mary did was gross and may expose her to germs, I can not possibly be in control of her every move, nor does God expect or ask me to be.  What I can always be in control of is recognizing that, by continually placing my children in God’s hands, they will be taken care of.  The clouds have parted and the gift of clear discernment is once again my own.  The paralyzing fear that once kept me from living the joy around me has dissipated and logic and reason are mine to claim.

Healing is a beautiful thing and it would certainly make for an easy life if everyone who suffered from anxiety could follow the same simple formula to find their own. Unfortunately, like anything else, there are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to climbing out of what can feel like a bottomless pit.  Everyone’s path will be different and mine wasn’t necessarily straight and entirely easy to maneuver.  It is true, however, that God never gives you more than you can handle.  After much reflection on those few years when my anxiety was at it’s worst, I see all the hidden gifts that God provided to keep me faithful and trusting in His eventual answer to my prayer.

My husband and best friend was life vest number one.  I’m certain there were times when he wondered what exactly had happened to the woman he once knew and questioned whether or not we would ever truly enjoy this life and family we had worked so hard to build.  He’s a man of his word, however, and  he gave both me and God his word to love me through sickness and health.  And he never wavered from that promise.  He quietly and prayerfully worked to understand where I was at and what I was going through and supported me day in and day out,  from one fear to the next. He’s simply a beautiful soul and I have immense respect and the deepest gratitude for the sincerity of friendship and love he offers me every day.

I’ve always felt that there is no coincidence in life when it comes to one’s friends.  Rather, I do believe that each and every person you call a friend has a distinct purpose in your life. And I love to marvel at the thought of God smiling at the exact moment you meet one friend or another, thinking to himself, “ah, good.  now my plan is set in motion.”  During the worst of my anxiety, I had two friends that offered me what no one else could; genuine understanding.  They themselves were living with anxiety and, although it manifested itself differently in their lives, we understood one another in a way that was simply impossible for someone who didn’t live it, day after tiring, frustrating day.  We could call one another at a moment’s notice to talk through one fear or an other.  Tears, anger, shame; no words were even necessary between us to know exactly where the other was at.  Thinking of them, and the many other women I have since met that have lived with anxiety for too long, is a big piece of what compelled me to share my story.  It is so important for people to know that they are not alone in their struggles and I am personally amazed (and saddened) at the number of people I have connected with that understand anxiety on a deeply personal level.

Remember the name of the man who was asked, or perhaps more appropriately, ordered to help carry Jesus’ cross when he couldn’t go on?  Me neither.  But Google reminds us it was Simon, Simon of Cyrene.  My husband, my parents and sisters and my friends were all my Simon.  They weren’t necessarily asked to help me.  They never had any warning that this might be a piece of what they would have to do to love me.  The anxiety demanded they step in and they did, wholeheartedly.  They picked up the cross with me and we walked together until I was ready to lay it down and let God take over.  

There was a piece to the healing that surprised me and took me off guard.  Oddly enough, I can remember the exact moment when the feeling of shame overcame me and brought me to tears.  I was in my bedroom one morning making the bed and listening to my boys play happily in the other room.  It was one of those moments when my heart just swelled and I was overcome with the love that I have for them.  In that instant, I saw them for the innocent and precious little beings that they are and I was all at one wrapped in this cloak of guilt and shame, stitched together by all the times I hadn’t been that free-spirited, play-in-the-dirt mother I so wanted to be for them.  It was a hard reality to swallow.  I would never get those moments back.  The times they wanted to sit on the floor with all the other kids, push the button on the elevator, play outside unencumbered by my rules and regulations.  The more it became clear to me how illogical my behavior had been, the harder it was to forgive myself.  It was yet another layer to the healing and forced me to pull back my pride and live in the humility that was necessary to move forward.

A few weeks ago we took a trip to the Tampa Zoo as part of a vacation in Florida.  It’s hard to describe the joy I felt watching our youngest truly “live” the day.  She was fascinated with the world around her and I made no hesitation in allowing her to experience every piece of it.  She pet the sting rays, fed mr giraffe, rode the merry-go-round five times and even surprised us by riding a toddler-sized roller-coaster all on her own.  I literally gave myself a headache from smiling for the better part of the day.  Living a life free of the anxiety is a gift I do not take for granted.  I am always acutely aware of the many things I do throughout the day that used to be very difficult for me.

In the end, anxiety will always be a part of me, and I’m ok with that.  The memories of the worst of it, the gratitude for those that helped me through it and the awareness each and every day of the freedom I now enjoy has all been a part of shaping who I am and who I can be for others who are trying to understand it all and find their own healing.  I find myself stronger as a result of the cross, humbled by God’s mercy, enlightened by His wisdom and forever protected in His limitless love.

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In the Midst of the Storm

His words felt like a betrayal; every assertion an unwelcome exposition of the truth I was fighting so hard to deny.  “We are going out to dinner after this appointment”, he said, “and I can tell you she won’t enjoy a minute of it.  She won’t be the one to open the door to the restaurant for fear of what germs lurk on the handle.  She will Purell her hands after touching the menu, wipe down her utensils with her napkin and avoid using the bathroom at all costs.”

We were at my therapist’s office and I was suddenly regretting inviting him along to my appointment.  My intention in including my husband on this visit was so my therapist could tell him what she had told me; that my anxiety was not a personality flaw.  She was supposed to explain to him that it all made sense; the combination of my type A personality, my family gene pool of “worriers” and the dramatic hormone shift and drop in serotonin as a result of pregnancy and childbirth had created these anxious moments and resulting behaviors.  She was supposed to stick up for me and encourage him to be patient and supportive as I continued to work through it.

My husband had a different plan and it’s an understatement to say it took me by surprise. Fact is, he had been patient and he had been supportive and he had enough of both.  He wanted his best friend back and he knew I was struggling immensely.  He wanted to look at me and once again see genuine joy, rather than a smile that was trying to hide one fear or another.  I can still see the look on my therapist’s face as she processed the reality of the information my husband lay before her.  Her response was the very last thing I wanted to hear.

Have you ever heard of the man who was trapped on his roof as a result of a flash flood? Fearing for his life, he cried out to God to save him.  Shortly after, a man in a small canoe rowed by and invited him in.  “No thank you”, said the man.  “I’ve prayed to God and I trust he will save me.”  A short time later a police rescue boat came by and offered to bring the man to safety.  Again he replied, “No thank you.  God will save me.”  As the flood waters continued to rise, a rescue  helicopter flew overhead and lowered a rope ladder for him to climb aboard.  Once again the man insisted that God would save him.  He perished in the flood and, upon reaching Heaven, immediately asked God why he did not save him.  And God replied, “My child, I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

It wasn’t that I hadn’t considered medication before.  I had, for about two seconds.  I dismissed the need for medication entirely, much like I had been downplaying the reality of my current state for quite some time.  To me, medication felt like raising the white flag.  It was a surrender I wasn’t prepared for.  I had prayed.  Oh, how I had prayed.  I felt like such a failure, like my faith wasn’t strong enough to reward me with healing.  There was a stigma attached to this anxiety and an even larger one attached to taking medication for something I couldn’t see and didn’t entirely understand.  If I had a broken leg, I’d put it in a cast.  If I had diabetes, I’d take insulin.  Why was it so hard for me to accept this?  Was this God’s answer to my plea for healing?  Was this my canoe?

I knew if I stayed on that roof for much longer, I would continue to be flooded with waves of anxiety that would carry me further and further from the person I once knew.  The storm around me had continued to grow stronger, my obsessive-compulsive behaviors all the more consistent with someone who did not have it all under control.  My therapist had given a name to my feelings.  She had helped me connect the dots between my personality and need for control and the devastation I felt when that control had been taken from me with the loss of two babies to miscarriage. She had given me suggestions as to how to find a better balance between my worries and careful consideration of what was logical and what was based purely on fear.  I had walked as far down the road to healing with her as she was able to lead me.  I had much further to go and I was gripped with fear over taking the next step.

We all have a choice to make when we are faced with an uncomfortable or scary situation; fight or flight.  In the midst of my anxiety, I felt helpless, unable to fight.  When faced with a challenging situation, be it grocery shopping with the boys and wondering what germs they were going to be exposed to while happily sitting in the cart or the simple act of opening a door or pushing an elevator button, I immediately fled in fear.  There was no sitting still and fighting the illogical worry over the germs.  I ran to the closest solution; hand sanitizer, wipes, whatever I could use to “clean” the fear away.  A close friend of mine who walked this road with me explained what I was feeling so well.  She equated the panic associated with an anxious situation to stepping on an elevator.  As the doors close, and you watch each button light up signaling the rise in floors, you identify a worry and feel the blood rush to your face, feel shaky and uneasy and your discomfort rises.  While most would be able to think through the fear and stop the elevator, stepping off confidently onto the floor of reason and logic, those of us with anxiety careen recklessly to the top floor and, by the time we reach the top, our fear has turned to panic and we’ve convinced ourselves that the worst is bound to happen.

It wasn’t that I didn’t feel joy during the few years that my anxiety was at its worst.  I took full advantage of being home with my boys and have such precious and beautiful memories of that time in my life.  There was just this nagging uneasiness that traveled with me wherever I went.  I compare it to standing outside on a beautiful summer night trying to enjoy the sweet air and continually having to swat at mosquitoes.  I saw the beauty around me in my family and all the gifts God had given me, I absorbed all the love I was surrounded with and returned it tenfold.  But all the while, I was distracted by the incessant worry.

I was dying to jump in that boat and wanted to climb the rope to the safety of the helicopter that would fly me away from all of this illogical nonsense.  I was so tired of fighting for control that was never meant to be mine to begin with.  I reluctantly agreed to try medication and began down what was a bit of a long and winding road to finding the right one and the right dose.  Long story short, God brought me where I needed to be. Ironically enough, healing came with its own set of challenges, a new dose of shame and a heart full of mixed emotions.  

jonesdesigncompany.com

jonesdesigncompany.com

My Walk With Anxiety

It’s a recurring nightmare and makes for a restless night’s sleep close to once a week.  I have to use the bathroom and I’m not at home to enjoy the luxury of my own clean, personal space.  I walk into the public bathroom and the scene before me is always the same, dark and filthy.  I make my way down the row of stalls and peer into each one, growing more and more horrified and anxious at the sight of my choices.  My stomach is literally in knots as I choose the least of the evils before me and carefully make my way in and shut the door, being ever so careful as to not allow my clothing to even brush against the germs I can feel swarming around me.  The walls close in tighter and tighter and I feel completely helpless in my fight to get through this without being utterly contaminated by the unknown.  I am gripped with fear and my only escape is to wake from the nightmare, at which point I thank God that this nightmare is no longer alive for me in the form of what once was a long walk with anxiety.

Over the past year, I’ve shared a lot through my posts.  I’ve mentioned several times how valuable I find the gift of understanding and find great healing in being able to relate and empathize with others.  As the weeks come and go, I do my best to remain faithful to listening to what it is God wants me to share and it never fails to amaze me at what length He will go to in affirming a certain idea or in encouraging me down a specific path.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been standing at the head of a path I am fairly reluctant to take you down, but remembering how alone I felt during the worst of my anxiety, I realize I have within me too valuable a gift to keep to myself.  In essence, that gift is simply experience. I’ve lived it and I can help others living it to feel less alone, less confused, less afraid and less ashamed.  My expertise on the subject  is not based on any sort of medical truths, only in the reality of understanding that each person’s walk with anxiety comes in its’ own unique form, takes on its’ own life and finds its’ own personal resolution.  I’ll share my story and let God do the rest.  And because it’s a rather lengthy one, I’ll spread it over three different posts; a mini-series if you will, the beginning, in the depths, walking out.

The Beginning…

Looking back to my childhood, I have to admit there were some glaring (like neon-fluorescent) signs that I had a personality perfectly suited for eventual inclusion in the obsessive-compulsive category.  When I was young, I remember getting masking tape and creating labels for pants, shirts and skirts, clearly designating each section of my closet.  I never went to sleep without first perfectly lining up all my stuffed animals along the side of my bed.  I loved going grocery shopping with my mom, not so I could pick out what I wanted, but rather because I got a total thrill out of perfectly packing the groceries in the cart.  Every item my mom picked up had its place I made sure it fit in a way that was neat and organized.  My room was always clean and tidy and I was the girl who was always “put together”, hair perfect and sporting an “outfit”.  I have the “best dressed” award from high school to prove my dedication to the outfit with a picture of me in a blazer, blouse and matching skirt (did I mention I went to public school?).  I stressed my way through school, always striving for the A and felt happiest when things were orderly and controlled.  

Fortunately for me and my compulsive tendencies, my childhood was blessed.  My parents were selfless, loving and dedicated to their children.  They kept my world neat and my heart full.  My memories are joyful and my path was straight.  I was raised knowing and loving God and was given the gift of faith.  My world never felt out of control and by God’s grace alone, I was never faced with any sort of traumatic event that may otherwise have led the anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms to surface at a much earlier age.

Fast forward to my early twenties and I was met with the trigger that would serve as an open invitation to welcome the anxiety in.  At twenty-four years of age, my husband and I lost our first baby to miscarriage.  My world fell apart as I realized I wasn’t in control and everything in my life was not guaranteed to work out accordingly to my carefully constructed plans. The vulnerability I had miraculously dodged for the better part of my young life had entered stage left and would soon take center stage in my struggle to maintain control.

Several months after our miscarriage, we were blessed with the news that I was once again expecting and my need to control each and every part of my pregnancy became all-consuming.  I remember a co-worker of mine at the time describing my feelings perfectly. He equated being pregnant to carrying around a hot cup of tea.  You walk around careful not to bump into anything, keeping everyone at a safe distance and constantly wishing you were surrounded by a protective bubble so as not to spill a drop.  

The birth of our healthy baby boy was surrounded with indescribable joy.  We snuggled him up and left the hospital accompanied by all the so-called “normal” nerves new parents have.  As the weeks came and went however, my new-mother concerns slowly but surely morphed into obsessive worry and compulsive actions in an attempt to ensure the world this little miracle of ours lived in was perfect, clean and safe.  The more independent he became in exploring his space, the more my protection over him increased.  When he started to crawl, all I could think about were the germs he was being exposed to on the floors.  I soon enacted the “no shoes in the house” law and made sure every person who set foot in our home abided by it, regardless of how unwelcome and/or uncomfortable it may have made them feel.  No one could pick my child up without first being instructed to wash their hands and my trips outside of the house became more and more limited as I became less and less able to fight the worry about the germs that were lurking in all the public places.  

I remember story hour at the library (one of our few outings) was a particularly stressful event each week.  The adults and children would sit in a circle on the floor while the librarian read a few stories. My kid was the only one made to stay neatly on my lap.  All the other children rolled around on the carpet, while I sat horrified at the negligence of their mothers.  I just couldn’t understand how they could  let their kids play on the rug that we had all been walking over.  The risk associated with it just overwhelmed me and my logic grew to be more and more misconstrued.  I increasingly felt like an outsider, as I just had such a hard time relating to the other mothers.  On the outside, I smiled and did my best to project a relaxed mother who had it all under control.  On the inside, I felt as though I was always tied in knots.

In my quiet moments, I began to wonder what was going on.  I knew in my heart that my fears were illogical and unfounded, yet I was driven by this desperation to do everything I could think of to keep my son’s world clean and safe.  The “looks” I started to get from my family were becoming more obvious every time I wiped my son’s hands, furiously washed his pacifier that had fallen to the ground or became impatient with someone who wasn’t conceding to my strict rules.  My husband’s confusion with my behavior began to turn into frustration as he simply could never do anything quite right, at least not by my unrealistic standards.  I was stripping him of enjoying special moments and outings with our son by bringing along my obsessive worry everywhere we went. I continued to justify my behavior by believing that what I was doing was best for my son.

Twenty-three months after TJ was born, Noah came into the world and blessed our lives beyond measure.  I was overjoyed, overtired and falling deeper into the throes of anxiety. Now I had two precious lives to protect and the most exhausting part was not the late-night feedings or the early mornings, but the constant, ever-present worry.  It was draining me of the person I once was and I hated it.  I tried so hard to hide it all and keep things neatly concealed behind my smile, but I know my unhealthy state of mind was glaringly obvious to those closest to me.

One of the hardest things to deal with was the way my anxiety was affecting my relationships.  As far as I was concerned, no one could do anything quite right and I constantly felt annoyed and angry that others wouldn’t take the same precautions that I found to be obvious.

I was impatient.  I was frightened.  I was embarrassed.  I felt completely alone in my struggle to protect my children.  I knew my fears were illogical but had no idea how to put an end to the worry. Why were these thoughts creeping in?  I never used to be this way.  I have everything I’ve ever dreamed of in my husband and children and I can’t seem to get past the worry to enjoy these amazing gifts.  My God, where are you in all of this? quote about fear

crosswalk.com                  

Restoration Man

It’s called “Restoration Man”, and it’s my new favorite show.  Set in Britain, the show follows couples that bravely take on renovation projects that most wouldn’t even consider. So far, I’ve seen an old water tower, a 100-year-old windmill and a long-forgotten school-house transformed into incredible homes.  The vision the renovators have is nothing less than awe-inspiring.  They look at these old derelict buildings and something inside of them is stirred.  It becomes all-consuming and they find themselves sacrificing everything to bring life back to what seems a crumbling mess.

What adds to the show’s fascination is the work of the host (not to mention his delightful accent) to research each building, delve into its history and present the full story behind each brick and beam.  In his initial meeting with those heading the restoration, he reviews the plans and makes suggestions as to how they might be improved and also offers advice on how to ensure the historical significance of the building is respected.  I’ve found it so refreshing that each couple that takes on one of these projects comments on the responsibility they feel in preserving the dignity of the building and honoring the original purpose and use of the space.  They aren’t looking to raze the buildings, but rather bring new life and new use to what once was, all the while taking into account the many stories encompassed in its history.

January is a big month for taking stock on one’s life.  Our bad habits sit around us like the rotting wood struggling to hold up the forgotten building.  As the end of December rolls around, we look toward January with excitement for all the possibilities it seems to hold. We are inspired by the thought of a new beginning and are quick to mark the first of the month as the beginning of what is sure to be a better life.

We’ve all heard the saying, “we make plans and God laughs”.  I often think of that as I’m meticulously planning out my day, my week, my year.  I am humbled in the reminder that I am not the master architect here and there may be alterations, additions and/or subtractions to my plans that will help me lead the life I am meant to live and bring out the beauty of who I was always meant to be.  I am forced to put down my pencil, sit back and allow for some reflection.  What does God want me to build this year?  What does He want to shed light on for me? What joys does He want me to pay forward and what struggles does He want me to use to help others?  Once again, I am gently reminded that I was never meant to be in control and the only real dependable plan is to hand it all over and strive to remain open to God leading me down whatever path He has chosen.

One of the many challenges people face in these restoration projects is the demand on them to use as much of the original materials found in the building as possible.  Materials are stripped, reconditioned and replaced with painstaking effort and detail. I’m always left amazed at the amount of usable material found in these building that look like they are just begging to be torn down. Interestingly enough, the same might be said for all of us.  I’ve found that so many of my lessons learned in these short forty years can be used for good if I allow God to show me how.  Just last week I sat with a cherished friend and relived much of my own journey with anxiety as I listened to her current struggles with this debilitating condition. I know that the simple fact that I understand exactly where she is at is more comforting than anything else I could offer her.  I feel the same way when I speak to other couples that have experienced miscarriage.  The gift in the struggle is the understanding I can offer to others experiencing similar crosses.  And that is God’s way of restoring me.  I love that.

The year has just begun and we all have our own personal plans and goals mixed in with fears and worry.  There are moments when I truly wish I could see the plan for me drafted neatly on a piece of paper.  I wish I could review them, make the changes I saw fit and give them my stamp of approval.  Of course we are all well aware life just doesn’t work that way.  I have yet to see a restoration project that didn’t encounter one or many major challenges once the work began and problems were revealed along the way.  I also have yet to see an episode where the restorers succumbed to the challenges and gave up on their dream.  As we delve deeper into 2016, I pray for the strength to remain always open to the true architects plans, (whether they match mine or not) and am truly comforted by the knowledge that God never tires of His role in restoring each one of us piece by precious piece.  In true British fashion, I dare say that’s just “brilliant”!

Charlie Balch, freeimages.com

Charlie Balch, freeimages.com

What Mold?

I wish I had video footage of the scene as it unfolded.  I can just imagine the look on my face and the various contortions it went through as I processed what was before me.  We were visiting with my in-laws and I was helping my mother-in-law get dinner ready.  She had pulled out a block of mozzarella cheese to use for the pizza she was putting together and I could immediately see the mold through the package.  The growth was rather abundant.  It would have made for a perfect lesson on the various stages of decaying matter and the pervasive way mold takes over what was once edible.  I fully expected her to head straight to the trash and dispose of the atrocity, yet she saw something in this hairy, green/black mess that I would have never even thought to look for.  

Unfettered by what lay before her, she grabbed a knife and sloughed off what was easily a half of an inch of cheese from each side while I stood beside her paralyzed with the realization that she was in fact hoping to use this on the pizza I was supposed to feed my children.  After a few moments, she turned to me with what remained of the cheese post-surgery and held it before me with a look of pride, much like that of a child showing off a prized art project.  And there we stood; waste-nothing meets OCD.  I smiled meekly and she immediately knew it was time to think of something else to put on the pizza.  We both laughed a little and fell into that rare and beautiful place of understanding and acceptance.  

With the start of the new year, people across the globe are formulating personal resolutions that they hope will create within them a renewed sense of being, a better self. I’m curious how those resolutions might change for the better if we were to look outside of ourselves and ask God how those around us could help us become the person we were created to be.  Each one of us is a unique and intricate creation of all the people that we have shared our lives with; those that have crossed our paths briefly and those that have walked with us for the long haul.  

At the risk of being too “cheesy”, I’ll ask that you bear with me in seeing this comparison through. Fact is, we can all be compared to that block of mozzarella.  Each one of us starts out a perfect, unmarred creation and, as we grow, we are heavily influenced by our relationships and contact with the people in our lives.  Some relationships bring out the true flavor of who we are and do much to shape our well-being and success in life.  Others weigh heavily on our souls, misdirect our steps and before we know it, the mold begins to grow.  So often we are left to question how we can create anything positive out of the hand we have been dealt.  We have a choice; throw it all away or hand it over to God who is perfectly and wholly capable of sloughing off the mold and using all of our experiences, be they good or bad, for positive personal growth.    

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, our lives have recently been filled with family and friends, those closest to us that have had a part, be it small or large, in defining who we are as individuals.  We’ve enjoyed many visits,  some too short and some too long. Conversations have been abundant, some with healing and others with resolute defiance that things will ever change.  Many gatherings have been joyous with the joining of family and friends that don’t often enjoy the blessing of time together and other gatherings felt the deep sadness of loved ones lost.  

There’s a lot of “de-briefing” that takes place after the holidays.  We are quick to comment on how Aunt Bertha’s weight continues to fluctuate like a yo-yo, how cousin Jimmy has grown into such a nice young man after some turbulent teenage years, how much Uncle Ed has aged since the last time we visited.  Too often we get so caught up in our opinions, we fail to absorb the richness of the diversity around us within the personalities of our family and all those God places in our lives. There is much God wants to teach us and, if we let Him, He will use those around us to gently whittle away misunderstanding or harsh judgments, refine our patience and increase our acceptance.  On the flip side, it’s so important to remember that we are gifts that God can use to do the same for others.  

In the end, I have to give my mother-in-law credit where credit is due.  She dug deep and sure enough, she found the purity left within that marred block of cheese.  I know it wasn’t easy for her not to use it on the pizza, but she respected where I was at and loved me anyway.  And, in case you ever need to know, parmesan cheese makes for an excellent substitute on pizza.

Copywrite, 2016, Nicole Johnson

Pixabay.com, Dominik Schraudolf, CCO Public Domain

Pixabay.com, Dominik Schraudolf, CCO Public Domain

Merry Christmas from the Johnsons’

Our family Christmas letter:

Being that it was over 2,000 years ago, I realize I’m stating the blatantly obvious when saying that much has changed in our world since the birth of Jesus.  It’s hard for me to gain true perspective on the enormity of change within one year of this life of ours, not to mention from 2,000 years prior to present-day.  The vast difference between then and now begs the question;  what if Jesus were born today?  How might people react and how would the news be shared?  

I imagine the wise men on a group chat discussing what gift each will bring to present to this small child.  I see hundreds standing before the creche, phones in hand, clamoring among one another to get the best picture.  Thousands of people’s opinions and thoughts on the announcement of his birth would be tweeted, texted and liked before he woke up enough to set eyes on his mother and father for the first time.  Like much else these days, I would guess sharing the news would overshadow the importance of the news itself.

The miracle hidden within this passage of time is the truth that remains forever constant in our world of change.  Jesus was born.  And with His birth came reason for the rest of us to live.  And with His death came reason for not one of us to fear our own.  Of course there is a lot that happens between those two major events.   There is joy, sadness, achievements, struggles, immense growth and change.  And through it all, we know this baby came into this world as one of us so he could relate, sympathize, empathize, walk beside us and carry us when needed.  There is such an element of peace within this one whole and perfect gift, and I love when our world slows down just enough to celebrate His birth.

As anyone with teenagers knows, the word “constant” is perhaps one of the last adjectives one might use to describe these interesting and fragile creatures.  Pant sizes change overnight, moods fluctuate more rapidly than our waistlines this time of year and by the time we parents have a grasp of current interests, they are on to the next bigger and better thing out there.  

TJ turned 14 in November and has officially surpassed me in height.  Just the other day he commented that it seems strange when he hugs me “now that he is bigger than me” (excuse me while I grab a tissue…).  I’m grateful to say his confidence continues to grow as well and, as turbulent and confusing as these teenage years can be, TJ is standing on solid ground and surrounds himself with a great group of friends with whom he shares many adventures.  He continues to bring music into our home with each new song he masters on his electric guitar and is now looking to learn some acoustic songs as well. With this school year already half over, thoughts are looming of high school to come next year, a driver’s permit in another year and a half and this world of independence expanding by the minute.  As I am forced to let go more and more, my prayers grow ever more fervent in asking the Lord to draw near.

While I may still have about an inch or so on Noah, his growth has been enormous this year.  He ventured on to middle school and is transitioning to this new and independent world with great success.  Aside from the social benefits of attending school, there is little else Noah appreciates about getting up at the crack of dawn and heading off to sit in a classroom all day.  Joe and I continue to wonder how soon we can pull him away from the drudgery of this more common path of education and plop him right into a tech firm where we know he will eventually end up.  He continues to spend hours on his computer mastering various graphic design programs and entertaining us all with his creations.  If he only had the same amount of patience and perseverance when it came time to pick up his room…

Mary started full-day Kindergarten this year and is absolutely thriving.  She is developing a firm understanding of many introductory concepts, is reading several “sight” words, knows how to spell and write her name and even brought her favorite book into class and read it to all her classmates.  We continue to go to speech therapy twice a week and she is making incredible strides with both her language and speech.  Just recently, a photographer at the center took pictures of her during one of her speech sessions and his comment captures her perfectly, “her face in EVERY shot is fierce determination.”  God has so beautifully lined up His angels to care for Mary and ensure the potential He blessed her with is fulfilled (and most likely, surpassed).  We are grateful beyond words.  

My life has changed significantly this year, as for the first time in fourteen years, my “hours” have been cut and I find myself wondering (anxiously) what God has planned next.  He says, “Be still” and I say, “for how long?” While I wait for word on my next assignment, I am having a lot of fun writing bi-weekly posts on my blog, “Joy in the Journey” and am also blessed to be a monthly contributor for catholicmom.com. I am so thankful for the interest of my readers and the thoughts and comments that are shared. Through it all, I pray my presence right where I am at is a constant my family continues to count on.

Joe has logged one of his busiest years yet.  Among his hours at the office, he was assistant coach for Noah’s soccer team, has been heavily involved in our homeowner’s association, serves on a technical review committee for our town and joined forces with me to serve on the Board for Bethany Christian Services, the adoption agency through which we were blessed with Mary-Rose.  Our greatest blessing on the workfront is his ability to work in the New Hampshire office three days a week.  Rather than spending two hours commuting to and from the office, he spends that time with us; priceless.

Just last week I came across some of the boys old “wish lists” for Christmas.  It was bittersweet to read through these lists of toys that marked each stage of their growth.  It’s true; much has changed.  And there is much this mother’s heart worries about as we travel further down this uncertain path to adulthood.  I admit there are moments when I want to make a u-turn and head back to the stage when the ‘Wiggles’ were cool and the most violent part of their video games involved Mario jumping on the heads of mushrooms and flattening them like pancakes.  

We are raising our children in a world that seems to grow more confusing by the day.  The enormity of social media leaves me feeling both fascinated and completely overwhelmed.  It’s true that if Jesus was born today, news of his birth would be spread instantly and the peace within the manger would have most likely been disrupted with thousands of people having been immediately informed of his presence.  In the end, whether the news of His birth is tweeted, shared on Facebook or simply spread among the words of the shepherds and wise men, the news is exciting, true and lasting;

                                          Jesus is born, Merry Christmas.

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Finding Our Home in the Manger

If my mom hadn’t taken me by the arm to gently pull me aside, I could have very well tripped right over him.  Never would I have expected it necessary to watch my step for someone sleeping on the side of the road.  I remember looking behind me to be sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  I was disheartened to realize I had in fact seen a grown man, cuddled up in a ball, seemingly asleep right in the street.  He had positioned himself over one of the vents in the road through which the heat from the subway below makes it way up and out of the underground.

It was my first trip to New York City and my sisters and I were enjoying a weekend filled with wonder as we took in the dazzlingly decorated sites of the Big Apple.  We were treated to excursions to all the popular tourists attractions, including a horse and buggy ride to the theater district in which we saw the famous Christmas Spectacular.  By the time we made our way back to our hotel that evening, it was dark and it was cold.  I held tight to my mother’s hand and allowed her to lead my step as my mind was still absorbing all that we had seen and done over the past few days.  I was all but entranced in a state of awe; the sparkle of the lights and the energy of the streets captivating me in a world where it seemed all was well.  The site of the man asleep in the street was an un-welcomed awakening, it was the unveiling of a dark secret the city had done so well to hide behind the bright lights and warm experiences of the past few days.

I was young and I was naive.  I remember simply asking my mom why this man was asleep in the street, as if it had just been a silly decision on his part.  The vision of this man stuck with me and left me completely unable to reconcile the vast difference between his world and mine.

The beginning of Advent means its time to once again bring the bins up from the basement and transform our home to reflect the beauty of the season.  Nothing brings the season to life in our home quite like the manger scene.  The tree is beautiful, the decorations fun, but the manger scene denotes the true meaning of the celebration to come.  The tradition has always been to wait until Christmas morning to place baby Jesus in the cradle.  As the youngest in my family, it was always my special honor to place the baby in the creche.  It has become our tradition to bring our three children before the manger each Christmas morning to sing Happy Birthday to baby Jesus and allow our youngest to place Him in the arms of his mother before glimpsing the treasures hidden beneath the tree.

In contrast to what we have always known, the Bishop of our diocese, Bishop Libasci of Manchester, has set out a decree of sorts asking that the focus of the Advent Season this year be on the Christ child himself.  All have been encouraged to display baby Jesus in our mangers and spend the Advent Season reflecting on His place in our lives.  As Bishop Libasci describes, “What is being asked is that during Advent we take the infant (Jesus) as our centerpiece, remembering that He came as one of us.”

Reflecting on the scene before me as I position each character in place, I realize that, all those years ago, when baby Jesus was born in a dark, cold cave, there wasn’t much difference between the circumstances of his simple existence and that of the homeless man sleeping in the street.

So often I’ve wondered what it would be like to be homeless.  How many times in my life have I said, “I just can’t wait to get home.”  The physical structure of a house offers escape from so many things.  It is a place to come in out of the cold, or out of the rain, safety in a storm, protection from the elements.  It is a place to sit, have a meal, refresh and ready yourself for the next adventure that awaits.  And of course the home within the house provides that place where even the worst day can melt away, where you can find comfort unattainable anywhere else, escape from the busyness of the outside world, and be loved just for being yourself.

Not being one to question tradition, I’ve never before taken the time to reflect on the significance of the manger scene without the baby Jesus.  A closer look reveals the emptiness within.  Without the presence of Jesus, it is just a cold, dark cave.  It is a woman preparing to give birth among the stench of animals and the filth of their surroundings.  It is a man, frustrated and unable to find room for his wife in any of the finer accommodations throughout the city.  It is dark and full of fear.  The shepherds have no reason to have left their flock and the wise men seem to have been deceived by the guidance of the star.  It is full of people but void of life.

Place the baby Jesus in the manger and everything changes.  It is warm.  It is inviting.  A refuge unlike any other has been created and it all exists within the tiny body of this precious infant.  The fear is gone, the peace is real.  The anxious hearts of the shepherds have been quieted and the wise men find the purpose of their travels.  Hope has been birthed and joy has been found.

There is a connection between the baby in the manger and the homeless man on the street, and it goes well beyond the place of poverty they both find themselves in.  While one may never be able to reconcile the harsh life of the homeless, the despair of the refugee, the pain of the victim of cruel and senseless violence, or the sickness of our loved one, the truth that is hidden within all of the suffering is that Jesus is the home in which we are invited to take refuge.  Our personal invitation was extended the moment He entered the world,  it remains today and will hold true for all eternity.  He is our protection from the storm around us, the hope for the hopeless, the light for those encapsulated in a world of darkness.

There is a song I love by Building 429, titled, “Where I belong”.  The refrain presents a unique lesson in the words, “All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong.  Take this world and give me Jesus; this is not where I belong.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he32vwlKQPY

It is true that this world was never meant to be Heaven on earth.  We get pieces of Heaven through our loved ones and our experiences, but our real home awaits and all the gifts within are held in the heart of that sweet baby in Bethlehem.

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Waiting To Be Loved

It was September 21st, 2010, early evening.  I was standing beside my youngest son at the kitchen counter as he happily mixed the cake for his birthday the following day.  Looking back, I can literally see myself glance quickly over at the phone as it rang.  My heart skipped a beat when I read the words on the caller id; Bethany Christian Services.  I wasn’t expecting a call from our social worker, which meant that this could finally be it.  The news that our social worker had to share may be the end to fifteen months of waiting to bring another child into our family through adoption.  

It was hard to fully absorb the words being spoken on the other end of the line.  I had the phone wedged between my shoulder and ear and was continuing to help my little guy mix his cake as I heard, “a beautiful baby girl, two and a half months old, Down Syndrome” and then, “ the birth mother would like to meet with you.”  I hung up the phone and continued on as if it had been a wrong number.  My heart was frozen in this strange numbness; I didn’t know what to feel so I was just trying to not really “feel” at all.

Only a few minutes after the phone call, my husband walked in with our oldest son and, as I walked up and down the hall, putting clothes away in the boy’s room, I recounted the conversation I just had with our social worker.  I delivered the news to my husband as if I was relaying a message that was almost trivial or unimportant.  I was certain if I was nonchalant about the whole thing, the fear and uncertainty that was hidden within this decision we now had to make would never actually materialize.  I wanted to separate the excitement from the fear.  As the reality of the decision that now lay before us sunk in however, it seemed the bulk of the excitement had seeped through the strainer and what was left were the questions, the uncertainty, the list of “what-ifs”, the fear of not being in control.

As I sat down with my husband to discuss whether or not we could welcome this child into our hearts and our family, the prayers we lifted up for wisdom, guidance and courage were joined by those of our social worker and the staff and prayer warriors that make Bethany Christian Services (Bethany) so unique and successful in achieving it’s mission of “bringing and keeping families together.”  We truly were not alone, nor were the members of this child’s birth family that were in love with this beautiful baby girl but unable to care for her in the way they knew she would need.  Bethany was the bridge between us and our social worker patiently guided our steps and united our families forever through the heart of a little girl in need.

Within ten days of receiving the phone call on the night of September 21st, we joyfully welcomed our daughter home.  God worked His miracle for our family through Bethany, as He has done for countless other children and families throughout Bethany’s thirty years of service to the New England community.  The need for children to be loved, respected and cherished is a need we hold close to our hearts.  It is a need Bethany works to address each and every day, and that is why my husband and I now serve on the Board for Bethany New England.  

We serve for all of the families that are anxiously awaiting the gift of a child to love. We know what it is like to wait; the questions that are always with you, the fear that creeps into your heart wondering if it will all work out, the roller coaster ride of emotions that leaves you tired, worn and running on empty.  The staff at Bethany understand that they are the facilitators of miracles that are orchestrated by God. Every meeting with our social worker began and ended with prayer, reminding us that all of our questions and all of our fears were to be handed over to the one really in control.    

We serve because we have seen firsthand the very real heartache that birth mothers face in creating an adoptive plan for their child, and we know Bethany cares about their healing.  A few weeks after our daughter moved in with us, I went to a local coffee shop to meet with her birth mother.  The baby girl she had given birth to, and loved dearly, was in the arms of another woman and it hurt.  I sat next to our social worker as she lovingly and patiently consoled her through her tears and did all she could to walk beside her in her healing process.  Adoption isn’t a business, it’s a ministry, and it’s one Bethany Christian Services takes seriously.    

We serve because, as the parents of three children, we know the stress of parenting.  We know how fortunate we are to be able to provide them with a warm home, three meals a day, transportation to activities.  We have access to doctors, medicine and insurance.  We live in a supportive community and have family we can depend on in times of need.  We serve because we are aware of the staggering number of families within New England that struggle to provide the most basic of needs for their children.  We understand that when crisis strikes a family already in dire circumstances, it can be tragic and families can be torn apart as a result.  We serve because Bethany works to prevent families being torn apart through the Safe Families For Children program.   (Safe Families)

We serve for all of the vulnerable and hopeful children still waiting to be adopted into their forever families.  We serve because we know Bethany cares about each and every child as the precious individual they are. Every child deserves a home and every child deserves to be loved.  

It’s hard not to look back on the two people we once were before the addition of our daughter to our family.  I can still see us sitting on the couch staring into each other’s eyes as we searched desperately for the answer to question, “Can we do this?”  The one question that still haunts me from time to time is simply, “What if we had said no?”

Two years ago, Bethany global launched a new initiative titled, The Bamboo Project, that has the specific goal of finding adoptive families for children in China with Down Syndrome.  Not long ago, these beautiful children were not even free to adopt, deemed unworthy and unfit for the love of a family.  Bethany worked to change that, and, within the last few years, over fourteen of these little miracles have been brought home to their forever family.    (Bamboo Project)

Just recently, I had the incredible opportunity to meet one little girl who was brought home after spending the first few years of her life severely neglected by the caregivers at the orphanage in which she resided.  At the time of her homecoming, the neglect was incredibly apparent.  In fact, her adoptive parents were actually told by the caregivers at the orphanage that they didn’t ever care to pick her up.  It was stated very matter-of-factly, as if this precious child didn’t deserve the same attention and love as the other children as a result of her being born with Down Syndrome.  I can not appropriately express how my heart soared with joy in seeing this little girl in the arms of her adoptive father, smiling, snuggling and being loved unconditionally.  In the short time she has been home with her adoptive family, she has thrived.  This is why we serve.

October is Down Syndrome awareness month and November is National Adoption month.  In the marriage of these two incredible, life-giving, life-affirming causes, we are inviting you to join with us as we work to support children and families through Bethany Christian Services.  We ask you to open your hearts to the vulnerable children within our communities and answer their needs by making a donation.

In just a few weeks, we will all be gathering together with family to celebrate Thanksgiving.  We will join with those closest to us, those with whom we have loved, laughed and created memories that many children only dream of.  Please consider making a donation to Bethany Christian Services so other children can come home, can belong, can celebrate the love of a family.

By clicking on the link below, you can give directly to Bethany New England, as you will see that the designated location has already been chosen for the Candia, NH Bethany office.  We will be able to track our progress and will report back our success with this newly established annual mini campaign.  In honor of Mary-Rose and all the children still waiting to be brought home, we sincerely thank you for your support.  

Please give now (click here!) to support Bethany New England

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Love you more…

I compare it to the feeling of carrying a candle outside in the wind.  You hold your hand up in front of the flame and do what you can to protect it from the breeze, but there is a distinct awareness that, at any moment, the flame could be extinguished.  That’s how I felt when I held the positive test result in my hand all those years ago.  I was expecting and I was terrified.  The sense of wonder and excitement that is truly unique to the gift of pregnancy was there, but it was overshadowed by this paralyzing fear that we could lose this precious gift as easily as we lost our first child to miscarriage just five months prior.

Bound and determined not to let that happen, I remember going straight to my room, knelt beside my bed and prayed with a desperate heart and a fervent plea that God would protect this child I immediately cherished.  The pain of the loss of our first baby was still so poignant for me.  Not only did I miss this sweet being that I never had the chance to meet, my life, my future, felt so different now.  The reality of what little control I really had, was nothing less than life-altering for me.  It was both a brutal wake-up call to a girl who had always lived a charmed life and a test under fire of what my faith really meant.

When I knelt by my bed that day, I looked up to a statue of Jesus that I have had since my first communion as a child.  Jesus has one hand pointing to His heart.  It was the first time in my life that I can remember clearly hearing an answer to my prayer.  “Trust me”, he was telling me.  “Trust me”.  Each and every day, for nine long months, I prayed and I trusted. The first time I held you in my arms, TJ, true hope was restored in a heart that I doubted could ever be repaired.

We broke all the rules with you.  We were rookies in the first degree and we let our infatuation with you overrule what were the more educated and logical decisions we probably should have made.  For the first several weeks of your life,  you slept on a pillow between us and we snuggled you like our favorite teddy bear.  I remember the excitement I felt waking up each morning and remembering that you were now a part of our lives.  It was like Christmas morning over and over again and I marveled at the gift of our little man; of getting to love you and call you my own.

As you prepare to celebrate your fourteenth birthday, I sit in awe of this young man who once lived for Thomas the Train and mastered every song and dance move of The Wiggles.  In many ways, my sweet TJ, you are my anchor in this crazy world of parenting. You’ve been nothing but accepting and forgiving since day one, as if you knew you were the first and you’d have to expect some bumps in the road as we traveled down it for the first time.

I’ll never forget the moment I realized you were really there for me, that you had my back no matter how nutty a mom I could be.  You were all of three years old at the time.  I was cleaning up our bedroom and, when I picked a pair of jeans off of the floor, a big black spider fell to the ground.  I screamed and you dropped your toys and came tearing down the hall to see what was the matter.  You made it to our doorway just in time to see me grab a shoe and smack the eight-legged intruder.  The expression on your face remains ingrained in my memory.  I’ll never forget how you sadly proclaimed, “Oh Mama, now he will never get home to his family.”

From a very young age you have had such a mature understanding of what family means and a sincere appreciation for God’s design of your own.  You accept and love each one of us for all the intricacies that make us who we are and you quietly encourage us to be better people through your example.  In many ways, you epitomize the qualities of the first-born.  You are a true “pleaser”, always striving to do the right thing and keep those around you happy.  I sometimes secretly praise you for the moments when you do challenge the norm and show me the true colors of the teenager you are.  While I am so proud of you for all the ways you succeed in this race called life, part of me can’t wait for the day you mess up so I can prove to you my love doesn’t depend on you always getting it right.(!)

When you were in your second year of preschool, your teacher sat you down to “interview” you about your world, where you lived, your family, your favorites at the time.  Most of your answers were right on, some were funny and showed the innocence of your age.  It was your answer to the last question that stopped me in my tracks and brought me to tears.  When asked “why your Mom and Dad love you”, you replied, “because they are so happy God gave me to them.”  You were simply regurgitating the eight words I repeated to you each night when I tucked you into bed.  However, I can’t tell you how that affected me and daddy.  It feels impossible to find the right words to tell you the depth of love we have for you, for everything that makes you who you are.  Knowing that, in some small way, I had succeeded in teaching you how special you are to us, was priceless.

Always hold on to that TJ, for it is nothing short of joy living this life with you.  And, remember buddy, “I love you more.”

One of TJ’s favorite things to do when he was little was play his red hockey stick “guitar” and jam to the soundtrack to the Cars movie.  Take a look at this video to see the transformation from three-year old rocker to present day.  Enjoy!