Saturday, January 7, 2017

De-Cluttering Heart and Home

Clutter--one little word that encompasses so much MESS! How quickly it can creep in, overtaking homes and hearts. It can feel like an uphill battle filled with great effort yet little returns--one step forward, two steps back. Writing from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom this battle is especially keen. How much energy is spent during a given day simply trying to maintain some semblance of order in the crazy and beautiful chaos of family life, when efforts are so quickly unraveled and the cycle begins afresh with each new sunrise? Toys picked up off the floor are quickly strewn about again, books placed neatly (or not-so-neatly) on the book shelf are dismantled in lightening-quick speed by tiny hands, laundry piles are in constant motion, empty sinks are quickly filled again, empty trashcans are soon overflowing, and the list goes on and on...



We purchased our home well over six years ago, shortly after Benjamin celebrated his first birthday. Up to this point we had only been renters, and we were thrilled to take the big step of becoming home owners. After living in fairly small spaces, our three-bedroom home just shy of 1200 square feet felt like a palace! I had more cupboard and closet space than ever before, and with only one child at the time, we utilized the third bedroom as a home office. I could not imagine filling the space we now had--HAA!

Two more children and six years of accumulation later I feel we are close to busting out the seams! Our desk and bookshelves have been housed in the garage since we welcomed Joelle into the world, and it keeps filling up as the grand "catch-all" of our home. (Forget about parking a vehicle in the there!) Closets are stuffed and overflowing, furniture arrangements have had to become more creative, and I feel like I'm in a constant juggling act to maintain it all. 

As I said, clutter creeps in over time, and I believe that mothers especially are prone to internalizing the external. The clutter of the home can so quickly become clutter of the soul, igniting feelings of stress, frustration, inadequacy, and a general sense of being overwhelmed. In our hearts we desire to love and serve our families well, to enjoy and cherish the childhood years, and to cultivate and maintain a life-giving home environment. However, the monotony of the mundane and the tyranny of the urgent--if allowed--can rob us of our joy. 



This has been my struggle as I have embraced this beautiful, difficult, rewarding, and exhausting call of motherhood. One moment I can be drinking in the giggles and cuddles with my little ones, and the next moment I can be tense and frustrated by the messes I see piling up around me. As I calculate the never-ending to-do list, the conviction and desire to spend quality time with my kids, and the constant demands and interruptions of little ones when I just want to complete one household task start to finish, the exasperated cry can quickly well up within me, "I can't keep up with it all!!!" 

This is the clutter of the heart that turns my focus from what is truly important to that which is fleeting. The seemingly unending tasks of maintaining a home are truly only temporary, while the little souls of my children are eternal. 

Isaiah 40:11 holds a wonderful promise for mothers,

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.



As we entered this new year, I told the Lord that I want to focus on knowing Him more as my Shepherd. I want to go deeper in my understanding and experience of being led and nurtured by Him. We become what we behold, and as I behold Jesus as my Shepherd I will be better able to shepherd the little lambs He's entrusted to me. 

Earlier this week I was nursing Josiah to sleep for a nap and scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across two separate articles shared by a few of my friends. In a nutshell, one was about de-cluttering the heart, not allowing our to-do lists and projects to crowd out our devotion to the Lord or our enjoyment of our families. The other was about de-cluttering the home, purging out our abundant accumulation of stuff so that we have more time and freedom to enjoy what's truly important. I have read advice of this nature before, but this time it felt as though my Good Shepherd was leading me onto a life-giving path.  

I will begin with the latter. This week I have had a renewed resolve and motivation to DE-CLUTTER our home. I started with something easy--the kitchen cabinet shelf that hosts our wide array of children's cups. I mean, how many plastic cups do you actually need! It took me less than five minutes to sort out what to keep and what to send to the recycle bin, but what a wonderful feeling to open the cupboard and see neatly stacked cups instead of stray lids and bases threatening to spill out onto the counter!

The next day I began the great toy purge. The recent celebration of Christmas made me more keenly aware of the congestion of toys that has built up in our home. The top shelf that spans Benjamin's closet is completely dedicated to toy storage. Joelle and Josiah have a small toy box in their room, and our large toy box is in the living room. How quickly the entire house can become strewn with toys and miscellaneous pieces that no one is playing with!



I have been reluctant in the past to part with much of their toy collection, always justifying reasons for holding onto things. Benjamin does not typically like anything new, and for years he has been interested in the same toys: a See-n-Say, light-up baby toys that play music, and stuffed animals that he can twirl. We have tried again and again to introduce new objects and aspects to his play, often to no avail. I've bought toys over the years, excited to think that it may launch him into a new level of developmental play, only to be disappointed when it is cast aside again and again and again. I have held onto things with the hope of "one day." Recently I have become more accepting that this is where my son is right now, and that's okay. He is not interested in pushing a toy car, or building with blocks, or engaging in imaginative play. Maybe these things will come in time, and maybe they won't. I am learning to let go of my expectation of what his play should look like at any given age and simply let Benjamin be Benjamin. 

Benjamin does not enjoy new things while Joelle is delighted in new things. I delight in seeing her delight, but as a result I have been guilty of indulging her too much. The initial excitement soon wears off, and I'm realizing that the more options she has, the less likely she is to play with any of them. 

I have also held onto to toys for Josiah, thinking of both his current age and his future play. However, he is often just as content if not more so to play with a simple household object while the vast spread of toys sit untouched. 

All that to say I did a big toy sweep this week. Benjamin's closet shelf is organized and no longer overflowing and toy boxes actually have extra space in them. I have also limited the amount of toys I allow to be out at a given time. The purged toys are currently sitting in the garage awaiting the city-wide children's consignment sale next month. So far there have been no questions or objections concerning "missing" toys, and I have noticed that the kids, Joelle especially, have been more engaged in playing with the toys that are available. I feel lighter as well, like a weight has been lifted off. Let the de-cluttering continue!

A few weeks ago we took the kids for a drive through a local light show. We turned on the radio to tune into the accompanying Christmas music, but before we could change stations, I was captivated by what I was hearing. By "chance" we had tuned into an interview with an author I was not familiar with by the name of Gloria Furman as she talked about her new book Missional Motherhood. I found myself hanging on the words of this fellow Christian mother, only a few years my senior and she talked about Jesus and the beautiful, messy, significant world of motherhood. 



When we returned home I quickly looked her up, and discovered that she has authored multiple books. I had yet to spend my Amazon gift card received at Christmas, and I was sure to add her new book as well as one of her previous works entitled Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms to my order. A few days ago I began reading the latter, and her wise words have been helping me in the process of de-cluttering of my heart. Here are a few gold nuggets I have read:

"When your eyes are fixed on the horizon of eternity, it affects your vision of motherhood. We need to have eyes to see a view of God that is so big and so glorious that it transforms our perspective of motherhood. In the context of eternity, where Christ is doing his work of reigning over the cosmos, we need to see our mundane moments for what they really are--worship."

"Our joy cannot be wrapped up in motherhood but only in God."

"Preaching the gospel to myself each day is the best way to remind myself that my life in Christ is the prevailing, permanent reality in my life."

"The gift of motherhood points mothers to treasure Jesus Christ as he transforms our heart from the inside out."

TREASURE JESUS, treasure family, treasure life, let go of clutter both internal and external. Worship in the mundane, rejoice in the glorious, messy, ever-changing, and eternally rewarding call of motherhood. Behold my Good Shepherd as He gently leads me to green pastures and still waters--may these be the hallmark of this new year. Here's to living clutter free!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Benjamin's Song

Mighty Warrior, Child of God
Mighty Warrior, Child of God
Mighty Warrior, Child of God
Benjamin Lee, Beautiful Boy
Benjamin Lee, Beloved of the Lord
Benjamin Lee, Son of my right hand
Benjamin Lee



While pregnant with Benjamin, I asked the Lord to give me a new song to sing over my baby. He answered my prayer with the simple lyrics above along with a simple melody. "Benjamin's Song" effortlessly flowed up from my spirit and out of my mouth one day. I began to sing it over my womb regularly. I sang it over my son after his birth as he fought for life in the NICU, and it was an anchor for my troubled heart. I have continued to sing it over Benjamin ever since. 

Benjamin LOVES his song. Each morning I sing songs to him as we wait for the school bus to arrive. I almost always include his song as well. As soon as I begin my son starts beaming. His face breaks out in a huge smile, he places his hands around my neck, and he joyfully bounces up and down, dancing with delight to this song that is just for him. He literally comes alive!



Whatever his level of comprehension may be, I believe that Benjamin's spirit knows that his identity and his destiny are being released through this simple song. He doesn't question the truth of these words; he receives them with joy!



The Lord has a song in His heart for each of His children. His song speaks of our identity and destiny. His song speaks the eternal truth of who we are created to be. His song speaks of His unconditional love for us. His song is true, regardless of what our emotions or circumstances may be saying to us. There are many voices trying to influence us and shape our perceptions and identity: the enemy, the world around us, the opinions of people, and our own shifting emotions. It can be difficult to drown out all the other voices and really listen to the only Voice that truly matters.

There is much I can learn from my son. He freely and readily receives the true song that is being sung over him. The world may try to sing many different songs over him, but he recognizes his song without question. I desire to cultivate this child-like simplicity that hears, believes, and responds to the song that my Heavenly Father is singing over me. His song is the only one that tells me who I am! 







Saturday, December 3, 2016

Celebrating Daddy

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, dear Daddy, Happy Birthday to you!

Yes, today we celebrate Shawn's birthday--my wonderful husband and the loving father of my children. Thus begins our marathon month of celebration, continuing with our church Christmas party next weekend, our 11 year wedding anniversary on the 18th, and of course the glorious celebration of the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day! In Shawn's honor, this blog post is dedicated to celebrating the truly remarkable man I am privileged to be married to.


During my teenage years I began praying for my future husband and daydreaming about the type of man he may be. One of the most important issues for my heart was the kind of father he would be for our children. I desired that my kids would have a daddy who was present both physically and emotionally, a daddy who showered them with affection and affirmation, a daddy who could delight them with play and discipline them with love, a daddy in whose love they could feel secure, a daddy who would model to them the heart of their loving Heavenly Father. It is with a heart overflowing with gratitude that I can say with confidence that God answered my prayers!


Beginning the moment Shawn pulled me into a delighted embrace when we had our first positive pregnancy test until now as we daily enjoy the beautiful chaos that comes with raising three small children, he has been a loving and intentional father. He adores each of our children for exactly who they are, and in return they adore him. Daddy's homecoming at the end of the day is always a cause for much rejoicing as he is greeted with squeals and smothered with hugs and kisses! It means the world to me to see my sons and daughter so secure and free in Daddy's love.

Our journey into parenthood had a lot of twists and turns and difficulties that we never could have imagined. After a few years of trying to conceive, we could not have expected that our newborn would be fighting for his life in a NICU crib, facing open heart surgery as an infant, or arriving with an extra chromosome. Shawn was only 24 years old at the time of Benjamin's birth. The stress that continued to pile up on top of us those first several months was intense. However, he never once wavered in his love and commitment to his wife and his tiny son. It is with heartache that I have heard stories of marriages crumbling and families breaking apart after experiencing the difficulties that can come with raising a child with special needs, especially if that child is medically fragile. It is with a heart continuing to overflow with thanksgiving that I can testify that our marriage has only become stronger through it all! I am so grateful for the grace of God working in and through my husband and me as we have walked out our journey of parenting a child with Down syndrome hand in hand. Benjamin is crazy about his Daddy!









When Benjamin was still in the NICU, we were encouraged by a friend to "celebrate our son every day." Over the last seven and half years I have watched Shawn live this out with Benjamin and now with Joelle and Josiah as well. They know how much he values them. On good days and bad days he pours into his children. Surrounded with Daddy's love, our little ones naturally celebrate him in response. Our family is so very blessed!




Happy Birthday, Shawn! It is so easy to celebrate sharing life with you!















Saturday, October 15, 2016

Growing Awareness



Throughout my pregnancy with Benjamin, I was aware of the miracle of life growing inside of me. I was keenly aware of the many changes taking place in my body. I was joyfully aware of the first flutters of movement in my womb, and I was lovingly (though sometimes painfully) aware of the kicks, rolls, and punches as he continued to grow and stretched my body beyond what I thought was possible! I so gratefully aware that I was being initiated into motherhood, and I could hardly wait to meet my little firstborn miracle.

  

On May 21, 2009 I was nervously aware that something was not right when Benjamin was so inactive during a non-stress test, and I was tearfully aware that things were not unfolding as I had planned when the specialist sent us to the hospital for an early delivery, five weeks before my due date. On May 22, after hours on labor-inducing medicine, I was reluctantly aware that a natural childbirth would not be possible and that a Cesarean section was going to be the necessary course of action.

In the midst of my fear and exhaustion on the operating table, I was joyfully aware of my newborn’s first cries piercing the frigid air, and I could hardly contain my excitement to see him. As I waited and waited for my baby to be brought to me, I was suspiciously aware once again that things were not right. Shortly before being wheeled into recovery my husband told me that Benjamin had breathing troubles and was being taken to the NICU.


In the recovery area, I quickly asked Shawn to show me the pictures he had snapped of our son while he was being cleaned up. When I saw the pictures, a new awareness came crashing in on me that was soon confirmed by the doctor’s desire to order a genetic test…Benjamin had Down syndrome. When the testing confirmed his extra chromosome a few days later, our new journey into parenthood took an unexpected turn as we became keenly aware of our complete lack of awareness as to what it meant to have a child with Down syndrome…

                  

The last seven years have definitely been a beautiful learning process as we have navigated the various ups and downs of raising a child with special needs. While it was important for us to become educated on the various medical facts concerning Down syndrome, no facts could ever prepare us for the day-in-day-out journey of loving and caring for our son. Benjamin has Down syndrome, but Down syndrome is not who he is. Yes, he carries an extra chromosome. Yes, he has faced significant medical and developmental hurdles. Yes, he still has much to overcome in multiple areas of development. However, in the midst of these things we daily enjoy a unique and precious little boy, who’s smile has always been able to light up a room and who’s laughter can brighten anyone’s day. We have a handsome little boy with blue eyes just like his mommy and daddy. We have a lively little boy who loves to wrestle on the floor with his daddy and dance with his mommy while she sings his favorite songs.
       

 

We have an ornery little boy who knows when he’s doing something he’s not supposed to and will giggle at himself when he feels like he’s getting away with it. We have a silly little boy who loves to spin in circles until he’s dizzy, especially when he has an audience. We have an affectionate little boy who loves to give hugs and slobbery kisses.

                         


We have a routine-loving little boy who eagerly waits for the bus to pick him up each morning as he prepares for another active day at elementary school. We have a food-loving little boy who rejoices at meal times, especially when we go out to eat! We have an independent little boy, who needs alone time just as much as he enjoys time with others. Sometimes he will retreat to his room when he’s ready to take a break from interacting, and he is so content to play by himself for a time.

                               


We have a worshipful little boy who loves the presence of God and expresses such joy and delight in the midst of worship as his beaming face looks upward, as though he is seeing into another realm. Most importantly, we have a beautifully unique little boy who belongs to us, his very life a testimony of the covenant love between husband and wife. We cherish him immensely.


October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. This month I rejoice that I am aware of what a gift I have been given in my son Benjamin. I am aware that it is a privilege to raise him, to love him, and to walk with him through every obstacle and every victory as his precious life unfolds and we discover together who God created him to be!


Saturday, September 17, 2016

I Cannot Be Silent


“There are two lines. Two pink lines. I stand in our tiny bathroom in stunned silence. Two lines—there have never been two lines. How many times have I rehearsed this moment in my mind during the last two years? I’ve lost count. I’ve pictured my reaction over and over. Will I scream? Jump up and down? Laugh? Cry? Instead, I stand in silence, studying the little strip again and again to make sure my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me. After all the tears, all the disappointments, all the prayers, is the moment really here?... The reality suddenly hits me like a wave…, and the tears pour down. Deep happy sobs erupt from the core of my being. We’re going to have a baby!”

The narrative above is an opening excerpt from my book Reflections from Holland: A New Mother’s Journey with Down Syndrome, and it lays a fitting backdrop for what I want to write about today. Why was it that those two little lines could cause such a reaction in me? Those two little lines told me that a miracle had taken place, and my life would never be the same again. They were the evidence that a human being, my baby, was growing inside of me! In this blog post I want to address an issue, a crisis of our times, that I have been passionate about for years, long before I was a mother myself. However, becoming a mother has definitely fueled the fire! I have never sought to use this blog as a platform for politics, but this issue goes far beyond politics. This is an issue of life vs. death. This is the issue of abortion.



In a matter of weeks our nation will be facing what I believe to be one of the most critical elections in our history. Regardless of what our individual opinions are of the candidates, the reality is that our next president will play a key role in shaping the trajectory of our nation for decades to come through the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The next president’s choices in this regard will no doubt affect countless lives yet to be conceived, either for good or for evil. Remember Roe vs. Wade? Since the fateful decision handed down by SCOTUS to legalize abortion an estimated 58,586,256 babies (nrlc.org) have been murdered in the womb, and the numbers grow daily. Let that number sink in… 

According to the United States Census Bureau we entered 2016 with a national population of 322,762,018. That means that since the legalization of abortion, nearly 20% of our population has been eradicated in the womb! In fact, it is estimated that 21% of all US pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion (abort73.com). In 2012 the University of South Carolina published a review that 67-85% of pregnancies that have a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome end in abortion. As I wrote above, I was overwhelmed with joy by my positive pregnancy test because I knew I was carrying a baby inside. The fact that he ended up having an extra chromosome did not change the fact that he was my child and deserving of life! In 2014, an estimated 954,000 babies were aborted (abort73.com). That’s greater than the population of Austin, TX! These are not just faceless numbers. These are boys and girls, sons and daughters, just like my children, and just like yours. I cannot be silent.



I know I will be stepping on some toes with what I am going to share next, but share I must. We have too long approached abortion as a political issue among a large field of other political issues, as though it somehow only held the same level of importance as tax reform, or healthcare, or foreign policy, or (fill in the blank). Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of important and critical issues that we are facing as a nation. I do not want to undermine the reality of some of the crises of our times. However, we have a literal genocide of innocents happening all around us, and I cannot be silent. I have heard so many share the sentiment that, though they don’t agree with abortion and even consider themselves to be pro-life, they set those sentiments aside in the voting booth and cast ballots for those who support abortion because they “like their stance on other important issues.” It’s almost as if they are saying, “We may not particularly like abortion, but it’s legal, and it’s just the way things are. Who are we to judge?” (On a side note, it was also legal in Nazi-controlled Germany to murder Jews).  There seems to be such a disconnect in this way of thinking. Do we REALLY believe that abortion is the brutal murder of a living child? If so, how can we sweep it under the rug and treat it as simply one issue among many?



Let’s frame this another way. As mentioned above, the abortion statistics for 2014 surpassed the population of Austin, TX. Humor me for a moment if you will, and let’s pretend that, in the name of population control, it was legal for the population of a large US city to be eradicated each year. One political party was in favor of this method, and the other party was opposed. Do you think this would be a game-changer in the voting booth? “Well, I do feel sorry for those poor people in Austin, TX, but I sure like this party’s stance on health care, so they’ll still get my vote.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!


Or, let’s pretend another scenario. There is an argument from the pro-choice camp that a baby in the womb lacks personhood. Dictionary.com defines personhood as: “the state or fact of being a person,” and “the state or fact of being an individual or having human characteristics and feelings.” During a baby’s first year of life there is an incredible amount of dependency on the caregiver(s). It takes a while for a baby to even grasp the fact that he/she is separate from his/her primary caregiver, often the mother. One of our current candidates believes that an unborn person has no constitutional rights up to the moment of birth. So, let’s pretend that this was extended to the first year of life. That’s right. During that fragile first year before a child has really grasped his/her personhood, the parents could decide whether to keep their child or “terminate” their child (to use popular abortion terminology). Maybe they decide that they weren’t ready to be parents after all. Maybe they realize that they can’t actually afford to raise this child. Maybe a disability is discovered, and they do not feel up to the challenge. Whatever the reason, they have the legal right to kill their own child or pay someone else to do the grisly job. It is not required that the “termination” be a humane one. It can be painful and bloody, but it’s their “right,” and who are we to interfere or judge their “choice?” Maybe they will be virtuous and even donate their deceased child’s parts to medical research in order to “save lives!” This scenario sounds preposterous of course, but how is it really any different than the gruesome reality of abortion in which babies are murdered in the most barbaric of ways? If a political party stood for such an atrocity as murdering a child during their first year of life, would we even consider casting a vote for them, even if we agreed with their stance on other issues? Or would we be so horrified that we would stand and fight for change? 58,586,256 lives lost since Roe vs. Wade. Once again, these are not faceless statistics, these are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters…”



In 1999, our nation was devastated when two troubled teens opened fire in Columbine High School, killing thirteen people, wounding twenty more, and ultimately taking their own lives as well. We were shocked by the brutality, the senseless violence, the loss of young lives and potentials. Since that fateful day, at total of 141 lives have been lost in additional school shootings across the nation. Each incident shakes us. Each incident carries with it heartbreak and sorrow, indignation and rage. We mourn the loss of lives, and rightly we should. Every single life is unique and precious. Not a single one can be replaced. Yet, the number of lives lost in school shootings since that tragic day in Columbine is only 0.00000241% of the lives lost since the legalization of abortion. It is only 0.000147% of the lives lost in one year at the hands of abortionists. If we mourn for the young ones murdered in our schools, why don’t we mourn for the young ones murdered in the wombs? If we are enraged by the 141 lives that have been lost, why are we not enraged by the 58,586,256 lives that have been lost?!



We cannot afford to make abortion a merely political issue anymore. We cannot afford to allow the senseless murder of the next generation to continue. We must stand for life, and that includes our stance in the voting booth. In Matthew 12:30 Jesus stated “Whoever is not with me is against me…” I believe this is true concerning the lives of the unborn. Proverbs 6:17 shares seven things that the Lord hates, including “…hands that shed innocent blood.” There is no neutral ground on the issue of abortion. If I am not standing for the lives of the unborn, I am standing against them, and I will go as far to say that I am standing against the Lord of all creation, who knows and loves each of these children who remain nameless and faceless to the rest of us. I cannot claim to be pro-life and cast my ballot for those who support the shedding of innocent blood. The next generation is at stake. I cannot be silent. 


WARNING: If you continue to scroll down you will see some very disturbing images of aborted babies. I really wrestled with whether or not to share these images. I wept the first time I saw them, and then I realized this is the very reason I must share them. When we look the other way, it's easier to remain passive; it's more comfortable for sure. If you are willing to be uncomfortable though, look at these horrific photos and allow your heart to be broken for the plight of the unborn. Allow a cry for justice to rise up inside of you. If we won't stand up for these precious babies, who will?

First Trimester Abortion


Second Trimester Abortion


Third Trimester Abortion

Aborted baby parts pulled from a dumpster behind an abortion clinic

I CANNOT BE SILENT!




  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Giving Back to Grandma Jan

On May 21, 2009 I made a tearful phone call to my mom as Shawn and I headed from the specialist's office to the hospital after an unnerving change of events. Due to heart complications, Benjamin was to be delivered right away at 35 weeks gestation. Could she please arrive as soon as possible? I was calling from Oklahoma, and she was responding from Whidbey Island, WA where she had moved the year prior to help care for her mother as she began the steady decline into Alzheimer's disease. It was a sudden change of plans and a taxing travel schedule, but she arrived in Tulsa and was by Benjamin's NICU crib less than 24 hours later. She remained with us for the next six weeks. She stayed with me in Tulsa for nearly the first month of that time as I recovered from the unexpected C-section and we waited for our sweet baby to be released from the NICU. Shawn had to return to work an hour away and could not be there all the time. I don't know how I would have made it through those long and lonely days (and nights) without my mom's company.

Upon Benjamin's homecoming, she returned with us to our hot, little, two-bedroom rental house. The Oklahoma heat was sweltering in June, and our small air conditioner did very little to keep the indoor temperatures bearable. She sat and sweat and cuddled tiny Benjamin while I would try to get some much needed sleep. One night in the wee hours of the morning she held a screaming baby and walked up and down the living room floor with him while Shawn rushed me to the ER. I was in unbearable pain and experienced my first (and only) panic attack, making it difficult for me to breath. It would be two more years we would learn that my pain was triggered by gallstones. She took the exhaustion of those weeks in stride, cherished the cuddles with her first grandchild, and eventually had to return home to Washington. During that time she also kept a written record of events, and soon after she mailed me a notebook entitled "Grandma Jan's Journal." I will always cherish her writings. She chronicled the first precious weeks of my son's life when I didn't have the energy to even think about writing. Her journal became the middle section of my book Reflections from Holland: A New Mother's Journey with Down Syndrome.



Once home in Washington, she expected to resume her routine of living with and assisting her mother. Her youngest brother owned land in the woods where he had built a house and the necessary caging for his unique hobby of raising cougars and other exotic cats. My mom and grandma lived together in a second house on his property. My grandma was still fairly independent at this point, but my mom had taken over all of the shopping and cooking. She was present to keep her mother company and to be a watchful eye for her overall well-being. However, within weeks of arriving home from her visit in Oklahoma, she received word that her elder sister Ann was dying. She went in for a stomach surgery, and was found to be full of ovarian cancer. Once again my mom boarded a plane and, instead of flying half-way across the country, she went coast to coast, arriving in North Carolina. Ann's final days ended up being stretched into 66 pain-filled final days as she was moved from facility to facility. My mom loyally stayed by her side during that time, advocating for her in some less than desirable conditions and being a presence of comfort. She loved her, suffered with her, and faced many lonely days and nights in unfamiliar settings. Upon Ann's death, she made another stop in Oklahoma again, this time for some healing cuddles with her grandson.




As she grieved the loss of her sister, my mom once again resumed her life in Washington, and keenly noticed the changes that took place her mother's memory and ability during the months she was away. Life regained a sense of normalcy, but she was always sure to plan visits to Oklahoma every three months or so. Spending time with her daughter, son-in-law, and especially her little grandson gave her the needed reprieve and refreshing from the strain of witnessing her mother's steady decline into memory loss. However, the beauty of Washington, her exceptional church family, and her mission of caring for her mother always drew her back again. However, I had a building inner sense that one day she would be coming to Oklahoma to stay.  






In the fall of 2011 I had some more visits to the emergency room, and I was finally correctly diagnosed with gallstones. An outpatient surgery to remove my gall bladder soon followed. Benjamin was a heavy two-year-old who was still only crawling and required the care of an infant. I had my surgery near the end of the week, and I was hopeful that I would be recovered enough after the weekend to resume Benjamin's care when Shawn had to return to work. However, the closer we got, the more I realized that I was hurting too much to be lifting him all the time. Once again I made a phone call to Washington and asked my mom if there was any way she could come. Once again she made arrangements and was soon on a plane headed our way. Her help that week was immeasurable!


The following February brought some major transition for her in Washington. The level of care my grandma needed had surpassed what my mom and uncle were able to provide. They made the difficult decision to move her to a professional facility for people with dementia called Home Place. It was an exceptional care home, but it was a hard change nonetheless, especially in the first weeks as my grandma pleaded to be brought home again. In time my grandma's memories of her house in the woods began to fade. The loss of memory was heart-breaking, but her contentment at Home Place was reassuring. My mom visited her on a regular basis as she processed her conflicting emotions of relief and guilt that she was not able to continue caring for her mother at home.



She continued to enjoy visits to Oklahoma and was delighted to receive the news that summer that we were expecting our second baby! Knowing that I would require a second C-section birth, she blocked out six weeks to stay with us when Joelle was born. She arrived the week before to help me in the midst of late-term pregnancy, and she stayed with us through my recovery. When the time came for Joelle to be born, my mom took care of Benjamin so that Shawn could be with me at the hospital. Of course, she was sure to come have some newborn cuddles too!

  


What I have not mentioned thus far is that my mom has lived for years with fibromyalgia, which affects her with chronic fatigue, muscle aches and pains, and a weakened immune system, among other things. The strain of travel, caring for Benjamin by herself, and the winter weather took it's toll, and she came down with a nasty virus shortly after we brought Joelle home. I felt so bad for her. Our house is small with no guest room. She was staying in Joelle's nursery on an air mattress, (we kept the baby in our room), and I knew she was both miserable and frustrated because it wasn't safe for her to hold her new granddaughter while she was still contagious. I was recovering from major surgery, and Shawn and I were both exhausted from our colicky, high maintenance little princess! We were all in need to someone to take care of us! Prescription medicine and lots of rest finally put her on the mend, and she was able to re-engage with the family. Once again, her help was so appreciated as she would spend the evenings after Benjamin went to bed holding a baby while Shawn and I caught a few hours of sleep before beginning our night time marathon. 




The return to Washington was again marked by rapid change and transition. During the six weeks my mom was with us, my grandma had taken a definite turn for the worse. She celebrated her 86th birthday on April 24, and she peacefully passed away in her sleep a few weeks later on May, 16 2013. Thankfully, she was still able to recognize her children up to the very end. A definite chapter in my mom's life had come to a close. In addition to caring for her mother over the last five years, she had also been chronicling the journey along the way. The next year she would compile her writing into book form and release her first self-published book Three Corner Has My Cat: Caregiving in Alzheimer's Time by Janis Lussmyer (available on Amazon). 



Though she loved her life on Whidbey Island, surrounded by natural beauty and the support of her church, my mom was feeling an increasing pull to Oklahoma and her two precious grandchildren. A few months after her mom's passing, she flew out to visit and to begin looking around for a possible home. In a timing of events that only God could orchestrate, the house across the street from us hit the market a few days before her arrival. To make a long story short, she was the only one to even view the home, and before she returned to Washington, she had already signed the contract! A few months later she arrived in Oklahoma once again, this time to stay, and began a brand new chapter of life. It was the first time we had lived in the same town since I graduated from high school. 


It has been a remarkable blessing for us all to have my mom so close these last two-and-a-half years! She jumped eagerly into her role of grandma and has given us immeasurable help with the kids. We have been able to enjoy casual family dinners as well as holiday celebrations. She has been company to me on some of my more taxing mommy days, and my children absolutely adore her. Regular visits from Grandma and trips across the street to her house are always a cause for celebration!




It was so special to have her close by through my entire pregnancy with Josiah, and she prepared herself to help with the older two while Shawn and I were at the hospital upon his arrival. None of us realized all that would end up requiring. Due to the inhalation of amniotic fluid right at birth, Josiah was immediately fighting for his life. He ended up being transferred to a NICU in Tulsa for his first few days. I was recovering from my Cesarean section in the local hospital, and Shawn was staying in Tulsa with our newborn son. Grandma Jan was beyond weary, but she stepped up and did what was necessary in caring for the other two. Some wonderful friends gave her a few hours of reprieve at times so she could get some necessary rest, and another friend stayed by my side in the hospital. It was a long three days, but finally we were able to bring little Josiah home and transition into life with three children. Grandma Jan quickly became on of our little guy's favorite people, and he joins his older siblings in demanding her attention as soon as she enters a room!



It feels so natural now to have my mom living so close. However, I have tried hard to not take this gift for granted. It's become very natural for her as well. Oklahoma is home, and she has established herself in the community, getting involved in a local church and related activities and even volunteering once a week at a Christian-based hospice home named The Journey Home. At times we've discussed ideas about the future, including the possibility of getting a large house all together if she reaches the point someday of not being able to maintain a home by herself. For the present, we've been enjoying our lives that are both deeply combined and uniquely separate. We've always known that God is the One who brought her here, and recently we have recognized with gratitude more of His purpose in doing so. 

On May 27 (my 34th birthday) I accompanied my mom to an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound in order to test the lump in her breast she had recently discovered. We had both been experiencing a supernatural peace since she found the lump. I interpreted this to mean that it would end up being nothing more than a cyst. I found out later that she wasn't so sure. It was both shocking and sobering when we were told following the procedures that she more than likely has breast cancer. Biopsy testing and an MRI over the next few weeks have confirmed this. What we have learned thus far is that she has triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma (a common and aggressive form of breast cancer) and that there is some lymph node involvement. The recommended course of treatment right now includes chemotherapy, followed by surgery, and finally radiation. It has been a very emotional month, but the Lord has so graciously filled both of our hearts with His peace that truly passes understanding. My mom's prayer from the very beginning is that God would be glorified through this all.

Next week I will accompany my mom to her oncologist appointment and to the out-patient appointment to have a port inserted so that she will be ready to begin chemotherapy. I have already taken her to a handful of appointments and some wonderful friends have accompanied her as well when I have been unable to. We have no idea what the next several months will be like, but it could be a very long and trying road. Whatever it looks like, though, I know one thing--I am committed to being there for my mom. 

When we used to discuss the future, she would often lament that her greatest fear was that she would one day become a burden to Shawn and me. She knows first-hand the ups and downs of caring for an aging parent. I was relieved a week or so ago when she told me that her fears about this are dissipating now that she is faced with this present need for help and care. As I said, I don't know what things will look like, but I do know that, whether on good days or bad days, it is a privilege to serve her. I have witnessed my mom's Christ-like service to her family over the last several years--now it's our turn to give back to Grandma Jan! I love you, Mom.