All Night Long

Have you ever wanted something so terribly that you ache inside?

The only thing a mother wants to do immediately after giving birth is hold the baby.  She can not get that child into her arms fast enough, and once there, she can at long last gaze into the eyes of her little one.

I didn’t get to hold John for his first 22 days.  It nearly killed me.

Because John’s intestines were exposed in utero, he was at high risk for contracting infection upon delivery and beyond.  Even though the team did a great job containing his intestines in a plastic “silo” bag, the hole in his stomach was wide and painful, hence no holding until a series of three surgeries cinched it shut.

During those eternal weeks of waiting, my maternal instincts nearly drove me mad, and Christian and I did everything we could to get as close to John as possible.  We held his little hands and stroked his tiny foot (the other bore an IV).  We kissed his forehead and brushed his cheeks around the medical tape.  We clung to every touch and did our best to let him know we loved him and hovered near.

One fine day, a surgical nurse showed us how to slide a hand, palm-side up, under his shoulder.  We were all smiles as we took turns, sharing this new means of snuggling our son.  Part me initially felt ridiculous rejoicing in something seemingly small when compared with the end goal, but it felt so good to stroke his back and feel him press into my hand.

He yearned for more, too.

I’ll never forget walking onto the unit with my father that twenty-second day.  John’s wonderful nurse, Cathy, saw me and smiled.  After I greeted my sleeping son, I walked over to sit in the rocker.  Cathy’s smile disappeared as she watched me settle in.

“Mom – aren’t you going to hold him?”

I gasped.  “Can I?”

“Haven’t you held him yet?”  I shook my head, breathless.  “Let me check, but since Dr. Flake has closed his belly, I see no reason why not.”

She bustled away while my dad and I exchanged excited glances.  I couldn’t see his face (we’d both gowned and masked due to the Swine Flu epidemic sweeping the nation), but our eyes said it all.  Nurse Cathy bustled back into the pod, beaming.

“It’s a go!”

I squealed with delight and rushed to wash my hands as she set about untangling John’s tubes and wires, sensing the urgency of getting this boy into my arms.

All at once, he was there, staring up at me, so beautiful.  I could barely see him through my tears, smiling all the while.  He tolerated it for about five minutes and then grew highly agitated without a solid bed beneath him, so I returned my little bird to his nest.

Within ten minutes, he’d changed his mind and called to me so sweetly.  I rushed to his side and complied with his request.  This time, he didn’t look back as he settled in for the long haul, falling asleep, his face awash with peace.

I didn’t want to leave.

My sweet Hannah needed me back in Macungie that evening, so all-too-soon, my dad tapped my shoulder.  He’d sacrificed holding his grandson so that I could enjoy every minute.  It took everything in me to tear myself from John’s side, but I finally mustered the strength.  Thank God he was sleeping – I don’t know if I could have done it otherwise.  I’d waited so long to hold him . . . I didn’t want a limit.

Not today.

I called my husband from the car.  Christian had arrived at work by 5 am and had put in a full day.  He’d told me over breakfast that he was exhausted and wouldn’t be able to drive to Philly to see John that night as usual.

“I just can’t do it, Beth.”

I’d understood.  We were beat.  The initial rush of adrenaline had worn off, and a cruel worry-monster threatened to take over.  Fighting the mounting stress drained us of every ounce of energy, and we found ourselves hard-pressed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I waited for Christian to answer.

“Hey, Sweets!”  Fatigue oozed through the phone.  Poor man.

“Hi, Christian!  Guess what?!  I held him!”

“You did?”  Pause.  I heard papers rustling in the background.

“YES!”  His chair squeaked as I imagined him standing.

“I’m going down right now!  Love you!”

The next morning, Christian called me from work to let me know he’d arrived safely.  Grinning and giggling, I couldn’t stop myself from asking the obvious.

“Did you hold him?”

“You bet, Sweetheart,” Christian said.  “All night long.”

Those weeks of waiting were some of the longest of our lives.  I still tear up thinking about it.  Yesterday, Abby and John climbed onto my lap and asked me to tell their birth stories, and when I got to this part, my eyes welled up with tears.

I squeezed John a little tighter.

King Solomon was right.  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 NIV).

Thank You, God, for our little tree!

Maybe by Midnight

Maybe by midnight my little one will be here,

Snuggly and warm, wailing and dear.

I’ll hold you and love you each and every day,

Close to my heart forever you’ll stay.

 

Maybe by midnight you’ll fall back asleep,

Your dreams returning to counting sheep.

I’ll watch you dream under soft yellow fleece,

Your body surrendered to most perfect peace.

 

Maybe by midnight your fever will break,

A day or two later, full recovery you’ll make.

Back to playing and singing, cooking and games,

Making memories in my mind’s forever frame.

 

Maybe by midnight we’ll get home from girls’ night,

Shopping and snacking, a day of delight.

I’ll pamper and primp my little sweet,

My daughter, I love you from your head to your feet.

 

Maybe by midnight I’ll hear you open the door,

My teenager, my precious – you’ve been late before.

I pray you have listened to all I have said

I hope you remember I can be a good friend.

 

Maybe by midnight I’ll see your smile alight,

After walking up the aisle, dressed all in white.

You with your prince will toss the bouquet,

As you rush away on your happiest day.

 

Maybe by midnight your arms will be full

With a darling dear one, snuggly and all.

Your heart linked forever to this little child,

Your days instantly become happier and wild.

 

Maybe by midnight I’ll hold you fast,

My sweet baby girl, grown up at last,

Having babes of your own and watching them grow –

What a blessed content it will be to know

 

That the seeds I have sown have grown in your heart,

And in the oak that now stands, I have taken part

In the planting and feeding,

The waiting and weeding –

 

Maybe by midnight.

 

I didn’t make the post by midnight, Mom, but I’m grateful for you and love you dearly.  Thank you for giving so much of yourself in loving me well.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Three Peas in a Pod

This is a totally “mom” photo.

I had brief emotional moment at the kids’ annual physicals yesterday as the pediatrician declared them all healthy.

How incredible is that?!!!

I wanted to whoop, dance, and holler all at once but settled for a picture, one for which John was non-too-thrilled to pose.  What an amazing thing to behold, this stark examination table lined with blue bath towel and three squirming miracles.

After all that we’ve been through, it’s incredible to me that some days pass without a thought to the gaping wounds we’d once experienced daily.  The full impact of the miraculous-ness of their existence often takes my breath away, and I find myself in complete awe of the God Who has healed them.  To think that each one of them nearly died but now lives, physically strong and running around the yard with smiles and sunshine.

O Father, thank You!

We celebrated the good report at IKEA with chicken meatball platters and chocolate cake.  I bought two desks, one for myself, the other for Christian.  I hope to sit at mine often, writing posts about these sweet gifts and the Awesome God Who’s allowed me the privilege to be their mother.

Please help me, Lord, to steward these three peas wisely and well.  May I trust You to carry and keep them, both today – and beyond.

Aiden’s Light

 

https://www.aidenslight.org

Have you ever procrastinated on something important?

That’s typically not me, but it was last week.  My topic for this post hit close to home, and I had trouble with the “going there”.

I remember the first time I left Abby for an entire weekend.  After all of the years with children in-and-out of the hospital, I’d been yearning to finally get away with “girl-friends” now that my family appeared medically stable.

As the date of the 2015 Living Word Community Church Women’s Retreat drew near, I hesitated, knowing that I would be leaving my toddler behind, one with half of a functioning heart.   One from whom I’d rarely parted.

One who’d nearly died many times.

I admit to being nervous.  Christian and I had spent countless hours over the course of several years fighting to keep our children alive.  Their birth defects and challenging diagnoses had transfixed us into this perpetual state of crisis, torturing us to no end with the pain of possible outcomes . . . the not-knowing how things would turn out . . . and worse yet, the dark moments when we thought today was likely the last . . . nearly drove us mad.

Thankfully, it all drove me deeper into the arms of God and made me trust Him more.

I decided to go.

I’m glad I went.  I met Joanna Beck on the very first night.  Pretty and quiet with her hands tucked into the pockets of her sweatshirt, she’d offered a “hi” and a simple smile when a mutual friend introduced us.

While I discerned Joanna’s greeting to be sincere, I noticed that her countenance saddened immediately after our introduction.  My instincts screamed that something unrelated to me was amiss, but I didn’t know until later that night the reason why.

Her little boy had drowned less than two months prior.

Beacon of joy and player of drums, Joanna’s precious Aiden had lost his life due to a negligent caregiver.  With one horrible phone call, Joanna and her husband, Chris, found themselves thrust into the midst of a heart-wrenching tragedy, immersed in the darkest moments of their lives.

My worst nightmare of eight years had become their reality.

How moving the moment when I next gazed into the eyes of this mother, this beautiful woman who’d loved and lost, this wife who’d survived utter anguish of soul!

The results of such loss can be devastating.  Shock melts into anger and despair.  Depression soars.  Addictions increase.  Bitterness breeds.  Marriages fail.

But not the Becks.

While they have endured an intense grieving process, and, truth be told, some days still prove difficult, this amazing couple has founded a non-profit organization, Aiden’s Light, Inc., with a mission to counter the negative effects of poverty on children.

Swimming lessons.  Piano lessons.  Scholarships for education majors.  Mentoring and goal-setting, psychological counseling and emotional support, academic tutoring and additional programming.

That’s not all.  Their long-term goal is to build community centers in underserved areas in order to provide further support and opportunities that empower local youth.

Living Word Community Church will sponsor the first fundraiser for Aiden’s Light, Inc. on June 2, 1018.  Please visit Aiden’s Light, Inc. for more information regarding their 501(c)3, upcoming events, and ways you can support this incredible ministry.

O Lord, I pray you would richly bless the efforts of this inspiring couple!  Swing wide the door for them to help children find light in the darkness, to know that they belong and and that they matter in this world.  

May Aiden’s Light shine brightly upon many children, that they may dance into their future, brimming with confidence and full of hope, living testaments to how You give beauty for ashes and trade joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:1-3).

https://www.aidenslight.org

 

 

 

 

Ironman Fran

“Hey Beth, Tony texted me.”  Drawing near the kitchen table, my husband paused as he placed a hand on my shoulder.  “Frannie passed out, so he called 9-1-1.  They’re at the hospital.”

I hate news like that.

We’ve borne far beyond our share of bad calls within our family over the years, but to receive one pertaining to my dear friend, Fran Lombardi, rattled my cage.  In an instant, my Cheerios® and banana breakfast became pebbles in my mouth, the rest left behind in the bowl, morphing into a soggy, pasty mess.

It’s amazing how one phone call can jolt us out of the present, thrusting us into the reality of our own mortality.

Please, Lord!  Not Frannie.

I’d met Frannie two years ago at a church retreat, and as we chatted over a cup of tea, I found her to be one of the most positive people I’d ever met.  Over time, we became dear friends, as I gleaned much from her quiet, gentle spirit and loving ways.

I didn’t want to lose her.

Thoughts raced like Thoroughbreds through my mind as I fumbled for my phone.

Dehydration?  Heart attack?  Stroke?  I gulped.  Cancer?  

I shook my head.  Stop diagnosing, Beth, and call Tony!

I punched in his number.

Her husband didn’t answer, but Christian and I offered our prayers and support on voicemail.  We rushed the kids through breakfast, and as I began getting them dressed to go to the hospital, we got word that Frannie was okay.  Earlier in the week, she’d caught a cold, and the ER doctor believed that the OTC the medication she’d taken had caused her blood pressure to bottom out.

Thank God!

Frannie is a Stage IV lymphoma survivor.  She’s enjoyed remission as long I’ve known her, but the what-if has reared its ugly head the few times something unusual has happened.

Like when she and I had planned to race the Demarest Triathlon together back in June of 2016.  It was my first race, her third, and we were excited.  We trained hard.  Our amazing husbands supported us like crazy, and somewhere between homeschooling and writing, I squeezed in my workouts in preparation for the sprint distance event.

Roughly one month before race day, I got the call.

“Frannie’s in the ER.”

She’d been over-training, gotten dehydrated, and simply tanked, but the whole experience shook us all and left sweet Frannie completely wiped out.  We all knew she shouldn’t race, but hats off to Tony for the way he handled it.

“It’s her decision.”

Frannie chose not to race, but selfless as usual, she encouraged me to compete.  I hesitated, but when I saw how much it meant to her that I continue, my mind was made up.

Press on, I did.

The remaining training proved nothing short of grueling for me as I dealt with the “knowing” Frannie wouldn’t compete, but her episode at the hospital stirred something inside me, a growling, burning passion that compelled me to move forward, faster, father.  Gratefulness that her cancer had not resurfaced surged within me, and when June 6th arrived, I stood ready at the start.

I raced alone.  For Frannie.

For all of her seemingly wasted hours in the pool, on the bike, and on the road.  For all the disappointment she’d surely felt for not being able to race the tri herself.  For all of the recent fear she’d had to face and the questions her heart had undoubtedly asked.

For the fact that she was alive and cancer-free!

And there she was, on the sidelines, cheering me on every step of the way along with Tony, Christian, and the kids.  She’d poured all of her disappointment into one big lump of encouragement, offering me strength in spite of her weakness, the epitome of a precious friend.

Thank you, sweet Frannie, for your millions of smiles and thoughtful words.  Thank you for loving on my kids and calling them precious.  Thank you for making the calls that count and being our family’s friend through every storm.

A friend [who] loves at all times. (Prov. 17:17)

Frannie went on to race the following year.  I had to sit out due to injury, but I look forward to racing with her (Lord-willing) this summer.

What an honor it was to watch her run, bike, and swim (with our families and our good friend, Mark), to cheer her on from the sidelines, to witness these special moments of victory in her life!  I don’t remember who had the best official time that day back in August, but I will forever remember the winner.

Iron Man Fran.

Please click the link below if you’d like to see Iron Man Fran in action:

Tornado

Have you ever been caught in a tornado?

We nearly drove through one on Saturday.  Literally.

I’d heard a storm was coming, but because I no longer live with my weather-forecasting-sister, Krissie, I did’t think much about it.  Until . . .

All five of us Morgans felt quite festive as we barreled along the highway to the Scranton area for Nani’s 92nd birthday party.  Christian and I bantered back-and-forth while the kids watched a movie, so none of us noticed the ominous sky surrounding us.

Sometime around 3:15 pm, my phone beeped as it received an official weather text alert stating that a Tornado Warning was in effect until 3:30 pm and that we should seek cover immediately.

I grew up in Illinois where tornadoes are a part of life, so much so that we had tornado drills at school, scrunching up into little balls in the interior corridors.  I can still remember my surprise at seeing my mother participating in a real tornado emergency while pregnant with my younger sister, Jenny, all huddled up, lining the inner staircase of Wild Rose Elementary School with the other PTA parents.

So when I got the text message on Saturday, I knew I wasn’t watching for a tornado.  One had actually been spotted.

My eyes instinctively searched the sky.  There it was, a dark billowy mass of cloud hovering out the left-front window.  It wasn’t as defined as I would have expected, but only later did I realize that we were too close to see it.

I peered over my shoulder.  The kids were oblivious, thankfully, and I turned back around.  We were potentially in big trouble because the next exit lay several miles down the road.

As we drew closer, dark whips of cloud seemed to be everywhere in the sky immediately above us, and uneasiness rushed over me like the first jump into a swimming pool.  I felt small in the face of this inverted mountain of wind, rushing and swirling all around, tugging at our SUV with a vigor that made Christian hold tight to the wheel.

“Christian, we’d better get off at the next exit.  I just got a tornado warning text.”

“Really?”  He craned his neck and peered through the windshield.  “Awesome!”  He whooped and hollered while reaching into the backseat for his GoPro camera.  I motioned for him to keep his voice down, but he paid me no heed.  “Kids, check out the tornado!”

“Where, Dad?”  Hannah paused the movie as they pressed their faces against the windows.  They located the darkest patch and collectively said, “Ohhhhh!”

John complained loudly that he couldn’t see the vortex.  Hannah thought it was extremely cool and handed Daddy the GoPro.  Little Abby burst into sobs.

“Are we going to die?”

In that moment, something flashed through my mind that I’d read years ago.  Author and speaker, Christine Caine, had once recounted a time when she, her husband, and a few other tourists were stranded on a jungle tour.  Something went terribly wrong, and for a couple of days, they’d had to fend for themselves.

At times, Christine found herself wondering if they would survive their ordeal.  She shared that once she returned to safety, God impressed upon her heart to never forget for one day from what she had been saved.

Her story made a huge impression on me.  How true it is that I, with so many comforts and conveniences at my fingertips, can easily distract myself from facing my own mortality.

Life is but a breath.

Saturday’s storm jolted me into remembering how important, how essential the daily contemplation of death truly is.  Doing so doesn’t fill me with fear.  Rather, remembering that my days are numbered infuses me with passion to more fully live.

I found myself thankful Abby had voiced the question.

“Mommy,” she said again, tears streaming down her rosy cheeks.  “Are we going to die?”

Christian seized the moment before I could speak.

“Who’s going to pray?”

Hannah volunteered and quietly offered up something sweet and simple.  Peace washed over our vehicle and stilled Abby’s soul.  As our eyes returned to the skies, Christian took my hand and smiled.

We were now less than seven minutes from our destination, so we decided to make a run for it.  Apparently, our family missed the heart of the storm by less than two minutes because cars still huddled under the overpass as we finally made our highway exit.

Residents started slowly emerging from their refuge as we drove through Dunmore and surveyed the damage.  Fences were down, branches strewn everywhere.  A trampoline stood awkwardly bent nearly in half, pressed up against a battered shop wall.

Christian whistled and murmured, “Something definitely came through here.”

We arrived at his grandmother’s house, grateful.  His family breathed a sigh of relief as we crunched across the hail-covered lawn and into the sturdy ranch-style house.

In the face of death, we celebrated life, the wonderful gift of Christian’s grandmother.  How ironic an afternoon, how fitting an ending, how blessed our family, getting to grow together through yet another of life’s storms.

May God continue to richly bless our family and yours, through storms and sunshine, both today – and beyond.

Love Walking

You would never have known I had purchased the plain black, somewhat saggy umbrella at a dollar store had you seen the radiant smiles emitted from beneath its cover.  My four-year-old and I giggled as I wrapped my arms around her like a mother pretzel and made our way into school all snuggled up, holding hands.

So sweet.

Abby tilted her head to the side and leaned into me, smiling, smitten by the beauty of the moment.  We sauntered slowly across the lot, savoring each step, making a memory.  As we approached the security guard, Abby glanced up at him.   She’d never before uttered a word in his presence, but today, she could not contain herself.

“We’re love walking.”

He had grinned at our approach, but when he heard her explanation, he nodded straight-faced.

“Love walking, yes.  Yes, you are.”

He and I exchanges smiles.  I floated to class with my Abby Mae, not wanting the moment to end.  When we reached her room, she pulled my head down and kissed me fast and firm.

“I love you, Mudder!”

I walked back to my car alone, remembering the countess times I’d crossed a parking a lot just to be with her.  That particular lot never saw rain.

It stood beneath The Children’s Hospital of Philadeplia.

Over the course of several months, this massive gloomy dungeon of a garage bore little light, happiness, or hope.  I will never forget the oppressive, smothering feeling that would overtake me as my SUV lumbered through the entrance, sinking lower and lower into the quagmire of emotion and unknown below.  The dim lighting, bland concrete walls, and blunt yellow lines provided no comfort, serving only to highlight my heartbreaking reality.

Parents from all over the world walked this very lot, not knowing whether their child would live or die.  The unwelcome enemy loomed around every corner, waiting to send families home with empty carseats and devasting loss.  We all prayed that today would not be our turn.

Some have loved and lost.  Some have experienced joyful discharge celebrations and have whisked their child away, never to return again.  Some are still there.

All of my family is finally home, praise God, but I still remember.   Every day I pray for the families going through hospital crisis, praying that one day they would finally cross the horrible yellow parking lot lines and carry their children home.

Yellow is Abby’s favorite color.  She loves yellow parking lot lines and relishes the opportunity to balance beam her way across them.  I find it ironic how her sunniness often defies all logic, the amazing way she brings quiet out of the corner, giggles to the lips of lonely, and joyous song out of sorrow.

Adversity has made her shine.  I checked my watch and sighed.  Only 8:32 am.  It would be a full three hours and five minutes until I picked her up.

May it be raining when I return.