My birthday boy

Happy Birthday, my sweet Titusaurus!

My mind was swirling last night. So many memories playing like a roll of film from your first birthday to today. Titus, my heart… it aches. I remember you and I smile and even laugh, but then I cry. It’s complicated, this grieving and joy partnership.

I remember your first birthday so well. We had two celebrations that year. One just before your actual birthday so we could celebrate with the family in town visiting and the other was just you, me and your daddy. I slaved over these legit rubber ducky cupcakes. Man, they turned out awesome. (By my standards anyway… Ok, let’s just be real. That was actually the best “cake” I pulled off your entire life. It was downhill from there!)

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With a candle in the cupcake and all, your eyes lit up as you watched the rubber ducky cupcake in my hand sway closer and closer to your tray as we sang. You reached out for the cupcake and it promptly crumbled in your hands. Confused at first, you looked troubled at your hands, at the cupcake, at me. And then you started to cry. We are pretty sure you thought your favorite toy was broken. There was no going back from there. You refused to try the cake and I had to clean you up and get you down. Sorry buddy! (It was pretty hilarious, actually.) And then on your actual birthday, I decided you MUST try your birthday cake or it just wouldn’t really be your birthday. I took a few crumbs, yes crumbs, and set them onto the front of your tongue to just give you taste, sure that you’d be back for more as soon as you figured out chocolate was REALLY good! (It’s in your genes to love chocolate after all.) And in true Titus fashion, you delivered the unexpected. As you started to move it around in your mouth, you began to choke. Not because you couldn’t handle the few crumbs in your mouth, but because the texture of the cake really threw you off. I watched you smack your mouth trying to process the texture and then it happened. All my slaving in the kitchen making those homemade rubber ducky cupcakes was rewarded with a tray of vomit. Awesome. But you got those crumbs out, so you were good! Oh Titus, those are just the kind of memories that keep me laughing for years to come.

Your second birthday you discovered the joy of singing birthday cards. You had family surrounding you on this birthday too, everyone taking in your joy and wonder of the Mickey Mouse Hot Dog song coming out of a piece of paper. We laughed and laughed and laughed and you thought that was pretty cool too. And did you want any of your cake? Nope.

Your third and fourth birthdays were low key, but fun. We had friends over, played, and finally, FINALLY, you tried one of your birthday cupcakes. And you found that you do actually like chocolate cake. Whew! (Your silly brother still isn’t convinced.) I look back on those simple birthdays; I was never great at planning a big party. Most of the time, any plans that were executed were last minute. It was a good thing we had friends who were willing to fly by the seat of their pants and jump on those last minute invitations. I always had Pinterest-level intentions for your birthdays, but let’s face it… that is just not my gift. But fun was always had. For your 4th birthday, you got your first bike! You could’ve cared less about the actually biking activity, but you loved sitting on that bike and pushing the button making your Thomas the Train bike “choo choo”. I still remember standing out on the driveway that year as we surprised you with that bike. I can’t believe we only had two more birthdays with you after that.

Your fifth birthday was complicated. It was following your diagnosis of Batten disease. You had lost so many abilities you once had. But that morning you woke up so happy and energetic. You loved birthdays and found joy in calling your friends and family to sing happy birthday to them over the phone on their special days. I told you it was your birthday and you lit up. You couldn’t see much anymore, nor could you walk or speak words. But you felt the love. And once again, in true Titus fashion, you were one crazy, wild boy that day. You somersaulted, you flipped around in our arms screeching and laughing and begged for us to blow raspberries on you. You kept us smiling that day even though my momma heart ached that as you got one day older, that was one day closer to when I would no longer hold you in my arms. And that hurt.

Birthday number 6 held the same emotions. We had watched your body decline so much. Your birthday always falls on or near memorial day weekend and that day our church was holding a big picnic at the park. We knew it was going to be hard to take you out for too long, but wanted to give you two things you absolutely loved: being outside and being around people. When we arrived, there was an adorable cake decorated just for you buddy. Dinosaur and all. We laid out on the grass for a good part of the afternoon and enjoyed the company, the fresh air and the snuggles with you. You were so content and looked so peaceful. It was nothing extravagant, but it was good.

Today, I struggle. I think of how this birthday would’ve been if we still had you here. I know you’d never be able to celebrate your life here like you are in Heaven. And for that, I’m relieved and thankful and filled with hope that you are fully healed. But my mind wonders at what it would’ve been like to have had you without Batten Disease stealing you away. To have celebrated your 7th birthday as a typical 7 year old. I wonder at what your interests would’ve been, what you would’ve requested for your favorite meal, who your friends could’ve been. And I really, really hurt over not being able to wake you up singing a goofy version of happy birthday and kissing your cheeks and tickling you. So many emotions run through me in a single space of time; anger, joy, sadness, confusion, hope, and lots and lots of love. We started the day with the movie Land Before Time. I needed some dinosaur noises in the background. I’m drinking tea out of my Lion King mug remembering how much you loved that movie even after losing your ability to communicate. You’d laugh so hard when you heard the opening note of Circle of Life.

You find a way to be on my mind all the time. And I miss you, all the time. I know, without a doubt, your adventures are great in Heaven. And each day that passes is one day closer to getting to feel one of your big giant-sized hugs once again.

Happy Birthday, Titus.

Love,

Your momma

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No time like the present

I walked into my living room after laying Ely down for nap and it was a disaster. My couch was all torn apart, pillows on the floor, everything in every toy basket seemed to be emptied all over, bringing the risk factor of navigating my living room to somewhere between high danger and impending doom zones. Blankets were slimy, wet and smelly and a stench of “poop” hung in the air.

Normally, I huff, take a breath and begin the clean up process knowing that in an hour or two when the little guy gets up from his nap, this is going on repeat. I know, I know… I should ask my son to help with the clean-up. I mean, I do…. Sometimes. It’s just not his gift. Titus, my oldest, now he could clean! That kid would clean up after me! And if I put something in the wrong place, he’d correct it. It didn’t take much to convince him to clean up. Ely, well… his gifting is to destroy things in Guinness Book of World Record fashion. Don’t get me wrong. I still try to instill these housekeeping values in him and encourage him to help mommy “ea up” as he says it. But there are days that takes more energy than the actual clean-up process itself. So today, I walked into this catastrophe lone soldier style. I took a look around to survey the damage and assess how long this would take. Those “nap minutes” are precious to me.

In my pause to look, I felt something well up inside me. Was that really what I think it was? Yep, thankfulness. Maybe it was because just a few hours ago, I was reminded yet again how little we are really guaranteed in this life and how dependent I’ve become on the hope and grace of Christ to be my enough. A text had come through on my phone from my dear friend who has begun the end of life stage with her sweet 6-year-old son, navigating painful, horrible and precious moments. I was rocked back on my heels of emotions as I replayed that very stage I just walked through with my 6-year-old son Titus, just a short 6 months ago. The disease ripping her son from her arms and requiring a far too early goodbye wreaked havoc in my household as well and we are learning to live in this place of pain and missing, yet holding on to the hope of redemption, wholeness and the promise to see him again someday soon.

“How long, Lord?” I asked out loud staring at the mess. “How long do I get to clean this up day after day?” I miss so much the mess Titus used to make. Yes, he helped clean up so that made it nicer, but really…. The dinosaurs meeting up with the trains on our ottoman, the cars lined up neatly in a row all facing the same direction ready to play out whatever imaginary adventure he had prepared in his mind. Duplos… everywhere. The bowl of cereal there to snack on that wound up getting crushed into the rug more often than not (oh wait… that still happens). Those moments with Titus are now just a memory and gosh, I miss them. So, I stared at the couch cushions resting haphazardly on the floor, the blanket that had been sucked on leaving sopping wet corners to hang. The stuffed animals sprawled everywhere, the dinosaurs hiding beneath the blankets, waiting for me to step on one of their spikes, and the other odds and ends that seemed so random. I’m not sure they even had a purpose for being out except as collateral damage in the 3-year old’s wake.

I stood up on the aforementioned ottoman and snapped a couple pictures. Yes, I want to remember this. My 3-year-old, Ely, isn’t guaranteed a long life either. I mean, who is really, but most of us expect it. But Ely is plagued with the same fatal disease that took his big brother at the age of 6 years old. And I know I’m given a gift because I can’t afford to take my days for granted; to huff and puff about cleaning up toys and messes. I embrace it because it is my son’s presence. He’s living and breathing here in my life right now and I don’t want to miss that. I would never wish this pain on any other mama. Ever. But I do hope and pray that my story helps others see the gifts in their lives that are wrapped up as inconveniences, frustrations, and unexpected stops. I don’t want to give anyone a guilt trip. I want to provide an avenue for a perspective shift. I almost sit down among the mess and let it be. But I don’t. I clean it up and every breath breathed holds a prayer for both my boys, for my husband, for me, for my friend. Such fragility, this life and yet, so vibrant that I can feel His spirit moving in me allowing me to glimpse His kingdom in the midst of such mundane things. Joy carries my soul, hope lifts it, and grace allows me to embrace. May we all be stirred in such places as our living room, among stinky, slimy blankets and sharp weapons disguised as children’s toys.

Thanks for listening…

Bekah

The escape plan

I was sitting at a red light so I quickly clicked on my notifications to see what I might be missing or need to know. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the light turn green so I took my foot off the brake to slowly roll forward while I clicked my phone off and put it away. After all, I don’t text and drive, don’t ya know. Only when I’m at a red light. “Whoooop Whooop” rang in my ear, a quick blip of a siren. I looked in my rear-view mirror and realized to my dismay, it was intended for me. I sighed and my shoulders slumped as I pressed on the gas, turned through the light and pulled over noting the time. Yep, my son will be late to school today. And then began the pleasant conversation one has with a cop after being pulled over. You know, the one where he asks what business you had on your phone that you needed to do it while behind the wheel of a vehicle in drive. Ugh. Nothing important and it was just plain stupid. And I pulled away with an extra piece of paper when we were done. No tears spilled, although they were close, but my ego took a big hit. All day I’ve been contemplating this experience that started off this fine, sunny, beautiful Thursday. I dropped Ely off at school, jumped back in the car (feeling a bit grouchy about it all) and drove home. I pull up to a red light. I sit there for a moment. Geez, it’s quiet. Automatically my hand reaches for my phone! Like it seriously did it all by itself! I caught myself just before turning it on and threw it back in my bag. What the heck, Bekah?!

I had to drive that same exact trek 6 times today. Once to school and back for drop off. Then to school and back for pick up. Then to Ely’s occupational therapy and back (which is just down the road from his school). You’d better believe my phone stayed put inside my purse, but my mind went crazy. I made a couple phone calls on one of the trips (using hands free bluetooth of course!), the others I would turn on the radio. And I started to worry about my inability to sit in the quiet. The quiet can be a little bit scary for me. The undistracted can be an emotional abyss that looks dark and looming. So I look for an escape plan. One that takes me someplace artificial so I don’t have to deal in the real and vulnerable. And it’s become a bit obsessive. It doesn’t always look like Facebook, texts or phone calls. It could be a fictional book. Or food. Or TV. We all have our list.

In all my driving today, on my final trip home, it hit me. I’ve been looking for an escape plan through all this because my mind is pleading for a break. It’s begging to run from pain. My nervous system is operating at maximum sensitivity levels and it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge. This is my daily struggle. The one where I’ve become really good at pushing back the emotions because they might make me or someone else uncomfortable. Choosing the superficial and surface escape route is much easier. Oh how I grow tired of it. Even when I’m caught up in the act of distraction, my heart grows weary of it and yet I don’t stop. What might be on the other side if I do?

It’s the season of lent. The season where we pull back, we sacrifice, we take away, we re-evaluate, we pray more, we become aware of ourselves and our need for God. We stop turning to our own escape plans and turn our full attention and focus on THE escape plan. The one where God sent his son Jesus to this earth to sacrifice his life in order to save ours. That escape plan.

So what will I find on the other side of distraction and faulty escape plans?

I will find a God who heals. And, yes, while I believe God can heal physically, well, the truth is, that hasn’t been my personal experience. I’ve watched so much death happen. Even right here in my living room. But I have to be a person who is willing to remember! Remember how He has carried and continues to carry me through. To remember the fullness of life experienced right smack in the middle of the most broken of times. To allow the healing work he is doing in me to sink into my soul and be a healing balm to my wounds… ones that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

My eyes tear up when I see another family with needs like our own. And that distraction tugs. The uncomfortable sensor goes off like a siren! But I want to say, so what? That reaction is God’s heart in me. Let it be.

I feel the jerk of my heart beating like it’s reminding me how very alive I am and how gone from this earth my son is. There is that sensor! Distract! Distract! But I want to say, so what? That is a momma’s heart, each heartbeat is a heart-bleed because I loved and still love big. But instead of clotting off that heart-bleed with distraction, I must let it run. For it is his blood that first ran to give us freedom in His love and grace. It is his broken body that made us whole. And it is my broken heart, bleeding all red and love that is finding healing.

My healing doesn’t look pretty. You should hear me in my therapy sessions when I start crying. I choke things out, sometimes my breath comes into my lungs super constricted and wheezy. But I am reminded that in Jesus’s most broken state, all things were made new and He was beautiful. He did not distract from His mission. A mission to rescue his most dearly beloved… you and me.

So…

I’m going to put down the phone, yes even at red lights. I’m going to get comfortable with silence. I’m going to cry when I feel like crying. I’m going to hug someone when I feel like they need it. I’m going to walk into brokenness knowing I’ll want to run. And I’ll run to Him.  And I know I’ll be able to do it because it is HIS strength in me, reminding me that all is not lost or broken. And in fact, redemption is here and it is for all. Because that was His ultimate escape plan for us. 

Thanks for listening…

Bekah

Remember…

“He had 43 seizures at school today.” Titus’s teacher said these words to me just over an hour ago. I hate those moments. They are the ones where I am not surprised at all, yet shocked at the same time. They are moments that fill up quickly with fear, sadness, frustration, doubt. Counting the ones I’ve seen today, we are easily crossing the 100 seizure count line before the night comes. And a word keeps echoing in my mind…. remember.

About a week and a half ago I was sitting in a staff meeting when our lead pastor, Jeff, asked us a couple questions.

1. When has your joy been stolen? and 2. We need to remember what God has done. What has God done in your life?

When he asked those questions, inside, I was actually angry. Because I could remember. I could remember A LOT of ways God has shown up in our lives. And the passage Jeff had brought to us that day was about a dad begging for his son who had convulsions and foaming at the mouth to be healed. And Jesus healed him. There is obviously so much more to the passage of scripture, but all I could see was Titus and what he looked like when he had those kinds of seizures and the fact that he is not healed. The fact was, I was sitting in that staff meeting with my joy stolen from me and I couldn’t figure out how to share what God had done. But, I am ready now, because this is one of the ways in which I continue to find hope and heart change… through remembering.

So, I’d love to pick up in a part of our story about our mischievous little boy, Ely and I’d like to remember with all of you.

7/6/2013:

I’ll spare details here as the story of remembering begins when I am in labor and about to deliver Ely. The Dr tells me to push, so I do. I’m so ready to see my son, it’s been a loooong night and day. But what I see is not my son, but complete shock across my doctor’s face and then something inside me snapped. It all happened so fast, I had no idea what was going on, until I hear this, “Oh my gosh, the cord was really tight around his neck. Your cord snapped away from your placenta allowing him to be delivered, I’ve never ever seen that happen.” He was quickly rushed over to receive oxygen. Danny paced, I cried, the Dr kept mumbling “I’ve never seen that happen, I’ve never seen that happen”… we waited for words of comfort that our son was going to be okay. We didn’t get any. We heard no cries. It was painfully heartbreaking. Finally, I hear my son’s voice and the nurse looks at me, smiles and says, he’s going to be okay, mom. I cried even harder. I couldn’t process it in the moment, but I believe God cut the cord. I truly do. He protected my son and brought us such joy through Ely in the process.

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12/24/13:

We are headed up to Comer’s Children’s Hospital in Chicago with Ely. It’s been a really tough road for him thus far and he is slated for surgery due to malrotation of the intestines, which was discovered on an upper GI test performed just a couple weeks before. I’d never heard of it before, but quickly learned this was non-reversible, completely fixable, yet very dangerous if it wasn’t identified and fixed. Leading up to that day, Ely had started throwing up green color, not pooping (sorry I can’t talk about a baby without throwing this stuff in here!), and had many of the signs that this had gotten very bad. As we were sitting in the waiting room for the medical team to take one last look at his intestines before sending us to the surgeon, he had the BIGGEST blow out diaper I have ever seen. Right there in the waiting room. Awesome. So inconvenient… but wait, he POOPED! That was a big deal! We head in to the room where they run a second upper GI. The doctor comes in to report their findings, “We see significant reflux, but no malrotation of the intestines. Surgery is not necessary at this time!” My first reaction was that the first doctor got the test wrong. But then our pediatrician tells us, at a follow up visit, that she saw both tests and there was malrotation and then there wasn’t! And that she has never, in her 20 plus years of practicing, seen malrotation reverse like that. She kept calling Ely her miracle baby. So that is what he has become… our miracle baby. We got to go home and be with family for Christmas and thank God for the way in which he showed up in this circumstance.

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There is more to Ely’s story. But I’m going to stop here for now because I want to say this… lest you think the only way God can show up big is through these kind of unexplained physical events, I have more.

I remember God showing up through my boss who cut our grass when my husband was gone for a week and I had two sick boys to take care of.

I remember God showing up through the family who stopped by to give hugs and enough money to pay for the insane parking fees in Chicago at our next specialist visit.

I remember God showing up through my second moms who made us dinner, loved on and sang to our boys, supported us through prayer, helped me put the boys to bed at night when Danny was out of town.

I remember God showing up through my MOPS group, both past and current, who let me talk, cry, and laugh through it all and invited me in to their stories.

I remember God showing up through the man who I had never met who faithfully cleared our driveway of feet of snow when it was just me and the boys and there was no way for me to get out there to do it.

I remember God showing up through friendships that quickly became family in a place that shouldn’t have felt so much like home, but it did.

I remember… and that is why I have hope. So when your joy is threatening to be stolen, remember.

Thanks for listening…

Bekah