Friday, December 30, 2011

Defining Moments

"Kind of defines you, doesn’t it? You know like, one moment you’re gliding along… the next moment you’re standing in the rain watching your life fall apart." - Hitch

We have had Zack and Sabo staying at our house the last couple days since they're out of school for Christmas break. Desperate to watch something other than Waterboy (which is always, always their movie selection when given the choice), we suggested Hitch. There's one scene where Sara tells Hitch about her past, when she saved her little sister from almost drowning. She says that she doesnt think she ever got over it. And he agrees that those moments define you.

At her words, I felt an immediate rush of relief. A kinship in feeling changed by the past, even mired in it sometimes (nevermind that they are fictional characters). Captive by the fear of what might have been, what could have happened, how close we came to losing him. And I know that those moments defined me. They changed the person I am today, while I sat at his bedside. When they answered my question of "will we lose him?" with an "I don't know."

Last January, we declared 2011 "the year of new beginnings," and it has certainly been that. One of those years where life's pendulum has swung wide, and big changes have shaped all of us. We have been defined by a new home. By a new ministry, a new baby, a new family landscape, a hospital stay . . .

And undoubtedly those big moments DO define us. I can look back at my 27 years of life and point at those snapshots of my life I would declare "defining." Adam and I at the altar. Grasping hands as they laid Jayci on my chest, and I gained the role of mother. Showing up at camp for the first time. Tentatively inviting Sabo and Zack out for lunch. Deciding to quit our jobs to do ministry. Caden's birth, and when the cardiologist walked into my hospital room with the news. Seeing Caden's sweet eyes open for the first time while his heart beat new. Bringing Caden home.

Yes, those moments have shaped me. But I am also defined by the in-between. Quiet moments, chaotic ones, boring ones. When I fold yet another load of laundry, or wake up at 3am and again at 4, 5, and 6 to nurse an-almost five month old who still lives on a newborn schedule. When I cry a little in the shower as water drenches my head, and these are the only quiet minutes without someone asking "why mommy?" or knocking on the door and interrupting naps for a glass of water and a safe place to color.
Today was one of those mornings when I felt a hopeless ache in my spirit. Like I might never sleep again, or have space to breathe again. Like I was doing something wrong, because both of my children refuse to be put down for naps or to sleep through the night. Like I'm the only mother on the planet who can't handle two kids on her own when her husband has to work outside of the house all day. Embarrassed at how triumphant I feel just to get Jayci some broccoli and spaghetti for dinner without Adam around to help me. Weary as I lay in my bed finally snuggled with Caden because his eyes pop open and he wails each time I lay him in his own bed. And then I hear bikes clattering through the front gate and footsteps and shouts and I brace myself for the knock and barking. Because even though we have rules, even when I scribble a desperate note begging kids who cant read not to knock right now, the knocks still come.

The truth is that I'm ok with being defined by the big moments, the ones when I am able to rise to the occasion. Because he is my son, and what else will I do but trust in the Father's goodness? But I'm not always defined as beautifully by the moments when I'm answering Jayci's "why" 800 times a day. Watching episodes of White Collar instead of praying with Adam before bed. Deciding how I spend my money. Folding the sixth load of laundry this week. Ignoring the knock at our door for the fifth time this morning because Adam took the kids to give me a little quiet time. And I'm staying snuggled here, writing and reading, until I recognize anew that every single moment is a reflection of His grace.
So if 2011 has been the year of new beginnings, I am determined that 2012 will be the year of celebrating in-betweens. I will learn to embrace the everyday moments and somehow accept that my inadequacies in their midst point me to Jesus just as surely as they did when Caden was in the hospital. To recognize that my role as mother is a holy one. That who I am is a product of each little choice I make.

In 2012 I will grasp hold of the joy set before me. I will see through the haze just how dependent I am on a Father who is holding me close and wrapping me in His great grace. I will grab peace and cast my cares on him. And this year, I wont just do it when I'm mired in the hard times. No, I will thank Him for those hard times, but I will draw near to Him at ALL times.

I am a better person because of 2011. My own heart has been molded by our experiences with Caden's heart. I am attuned to motherhood and the loss and hardships that so many mothers have experienced, which somehow I have never noticed before this year. I am grateful for all we have been through this year and who we are on the other end. And I am praying for us that this year will be another year of growth and change, and of walking closely with a Father who loves us deeply.

"Standing in an imperfect place is just the perfect place to begin, and everyday offers the hope of Day 1." - Ann Voskamp

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas 2011

So I wrote this entire post and then realized I had titled it "Christmas 2010" . . .oops, I guess I'm a little stuck in the past! I'm going to be a mess when it changes to 2012 in a few days. Side note: how did 2011 go by so fast? Crazy.

This may have been our most fun Christmas ever. Ok scratch that, it most definitely was. Having a three year old and a sweet-miracle-baby at home made thing even more special than ever. We absolutely loved putting out "santa" presents and Adam was excited that Santa brought Caden a baby bullet. Even though Caden cant eat baby food yet . . . one day he will enjoy his gift.

I will also say, however, that this year's Christmas was straight-exhausting. Seriously. Adam and I got home after 3 Christmas celebrations (one at home, one at my parents, and one at his parents) and crashed. We may have been in bed before nine. Cause we're cool like that. Next year we're going to have to figure out something less exhausting. Especially because both kiddos were somewhat melting down at the end as a result of all the festivities.

 After hurrying around and opening gifts and celebrating lots of family time family (which is wonderful and fun and important . . . ), it's nice to be reminded of the real reason we celebrate. . . I cannot express what a joyful and beautiful time this Christmas Eve campfire was, and I loved hearing Dedric recite the Christmas story from Luke. It was like our very own Charlie Brown Christmas moment.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Delivering goodies . . .

The days leading up to Christmas were full of fun, as we delivered various and sundry goodies all over Atlanta. We started by delivering our baskets to the CICU at Choa. It was such a treat to get to spread a little bit of joy to a place where we spent the hardest days of our lives. Everyone was blown away by how much we were able to give, and we were quick to tell them it was only because of all of YOU. Seriously, they wanted to put our name on the baskets and on the bag of gift cards for the nurses, and we made them put "Caden's friends and fans" (or something) on the label, because they were NOT just from us in the least. It was especially wonderful for us to be able to tell the families that the baskets were the result of suggestions and contributions from SO many heart families who had spent time in the CICU. We were glad to be able to remind those sitting at the bedsides of their loved ones that they were not alone. That others had walked before them and many were walking alongside them and covering them in prayer. So thank you all a million times over for your kindness and generosity, and for making it possible for us to honor Caden's journey this way. It was a privilege and joy for us.
Each basket was full of goodies - including parking passes, a $25 gas card, $25 worth of restaurant gift certificates, the Matt Hammitt cd, plus wonderful coupons and such from Chickfila, journals and pens, notes from us and other heart families, lotion, homemade treats, water bottles, gum, tissues, prayer blankets, homemade burp clothes and more. The whole Phi Mu chapter at Georgia Tech put together a fantastic basket, as did several friends and even a few brand new blog friends who I haven't had the privilege of meeting yet. I was BLOWN AWAY. For realz. And I'm hoping and praying that each basket (which was prayed over specifically) ministers to a family this holiday season and touches their hearts in a special way. We also gave 50 Starbucks gift cards for nurses and staff, and were able to give special gifts to the social workers and doctors too. Again, I cannot overstate what a JOY and privilege this was. And we've already had lots of people say they want to help next year. I love when God surprises us with even more ways that Caden's special heart is making a difference. I'm literally tearing up right now just thinking about it. Thank y'all.
Not to mention that everyone at the cicu was just over-the-moon at how great Caden looked. They reminded us that the Ross-konno procedure is so rare and that Caden looked amazing considering what a huge procedure he had. Caden had also had a nurse come give him a synagis injection that morning, and she said she had seen a baby earlier in the week with the exact same procedure. And she said Caden looked remarkable in comparison. All that to say the whole day was a reminder of God's goodness to us and to his miraculous healing through the amazing people at Egleston.

Next, on Christmas eve, we delivered some Christmas gifts to kiddos and neighbors. We had fun walking around and handing out gifts and homemade caramel sauce. Yum. Oh and this little smile right here is the best thank-you ever.  If you've been hanging around the Stanley Clan for awhile, you've seen it before.
We then got dressed quickly and went to Christmas eve service, dinner at the in-laws, and then back home for a fun bonfire and marshmallow roast with the kiddos. As we pulled into the neighborhood (we have to go around the block because we live on a one-way street), the kids yelled and ran after us and followed us home for the bonfire. It was SO fun, totally my favorite Christmas eve ever. We sang Christmas carols, one of the kiddos read the Christmas story from Luke (by heart!), and we ate delicious smores under the stars. It was a beautiful reminder of what Christmas is really all about.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas . . .

As we speak, Adam is lighting the bonfire for the dozen or so kids who are waiting to roast marshmallows, read the Christmas story, and sing carols. I cant imagine a better way to spend Christmas eve.

We have learned so much about hope, and joy and God's nearness this year. And we are enjoying Christmas on a whole new level because of Caden. I hope every single one of you has a Christmas that is full of peace and joy. I am profoundly grateful for every one of you and the way you have all touched our lives. Thank you and Merry Christmas from our family to yours!!
I wrote about God with us and how that has taken on new meaning for me this year. And this very cold night is one of my favorite Christmas memories ever.

And if you think about it, say a prayer for the Green family, their sweet baby Hallie went to be with Jesus this morning.

Friday, December 23, 2011

When Everything Changed

Despite relatively warm temperatures here in Atlanta, we are determined to at least pretend it's winter since Christmas is just around the corner.  So we are huddled around our fancy new fire pit. And I am happy. Content. Enjoying holding Caden snuggled close while Jayci roasts marshmallows and eats way too many smores. I wink at Adam, and squeeze the hand of the sweet little kiddo sitting next to me, and then I look up and see a smattering of stars strewn across the sky. Suddenly I am transported to a dark night so long ago. When the stars weren't dimmed by the lights of a city, but their sparkling glow shone over a quiet countryside and kept watch over a holy stable.

It was that night, under twinkling stars, tiny pinpricks of light, that the Savior was born. Groaning and laboring culminated in a moment of exquisite joy as a King left His throne. And since that moment, nothing has been the same.

Because we serve a God who enters in, who joins us where we are. Who leaves glorious heavens to be born in a straw and manure-strewn stable. Emmanuel. God with us.

And now when we sit at our son's bedside surrounded by blinking light and beeping machines, I feel Him sitting beside us. I know, He whispers. I know what it is to surrender a son. I know how it hurts, how hard it is to unclench your fist and let go of that which you love most. And I understand, in that moment, that He will redeem even this. That just as His own son was sacrificed to save the world, our son's suffering will not go unnoticed. It will make a difference. It will change us, transform hearts everywhere. And it has.
And for those who dread waking up yet another day to a thankless job they just don't love. When we're certain we were made for more than sitting at a desk or cleaning up dirty diapers. Again He whispers, I know. For 32 years, I whittled and carved and made tables from wood. The King of the universe who created every thing worked as a humble carpenter, patiently biding His time until His Father whispered it's time, and He turned water into wine.

When we weep for brokenness and death. When our baby doesn't come home from the hospital, or our husband hears "it's cancer." He knows. He too has wept for the loss of a friend. He wipes His own tears, wraps us in His strong arms, and carries our pain on His beautiful shoulders.

And when our heart aches because of betrayal. When friends weren't what or who we expected. They say one thing and mean another. When middle school "friends" reminded again and again how ugly I am. . . He watches with tears in His eyes, and grasps my hand tightly, gently reassuring me that He knows. That one of His closest friends sold Him for a few pieces of silver. That His best friend denied knowing Him. That He died alone, the voices ringing "crucify Him" in His ears.
For each person who stares unhappily in the mirror, uncomfortable in their own skin. He gently reminds us of how He left His throne, and lay swaddled in a manger. A bed not fit for a baby, let alone a King. How he had to be burped, fed, and clothed by those He created. How He intimately and fully understands our pain. But He also knows that His Father doesn't make mistakes. That He had a plan for His newborn son, just as He has a plan for each of us. That God knit together His son perfectly, and He does the same for each of His children. Carefully and painstakingly creating fingers and toes and eyelashes. And hearts, even those that have to be "mended" again. Because He knows how grace is given and strength provided in small doses, doled out as needed.

By the light of the bonfire, I smile as I picture that night. With cattle, and sheep, and manure, and body heat warding off the late-night chill. With shepherds barging in to admire the baby-king. With Mary and Joseph exclaiming over their beautiful son, even while their hearts squeezed with the pain of knowing they would have to give Him up. With the stars glittering overhead and the bustle of the nearby town bursting at the seams.

And I think to myself, it must have been a lot like our house. An unlikely place. An unusual location for holiness. The last place anyone would look to find a King. Where drug deals happen as the street lamp just barely pushes through the night's black. Where kids run around wearing the same clothes for days, and children have babies, and gangs claim young lives.


Yet, we serve a God who loves to use the unlikely. Prostitutes, liars, murderers, gang-members, and even newborn babies.
This God who knows us so intimately, who has walked where we are, who enters in. This God will use the unlikely to save many. To rescue the world with a baby, by sacrificing His son. To show up where He is needed most, and expected least. To spread love and warmth and life to the darkest corners of the earth. Even to street corners in Atlanta. And stables in Bethlehem.

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." -Isaiah 9:6

Monday, December 19, 2011

A fire pit, kickball, and the best pictures ever.

Considering I still haven't finished stuffing, addressing, and sending my Christmas cards, I don't have much time to chat with y'all on here because I simply must get back to work on them or I will literally not get them out before Christmas. Shocking, I know.

I did want to share a few whole bunch of pictures from our weekend. Actually, these are just from Sunday. Some folks from our church in the suburbs (we have a church down here too) came and built us a fire pit. We've been wanting one so we can roast marshmallows etc with the kids. We played kickball, made hot dogs over the fire, hung out with friends, and met even more of our neighbors (score one for the fire pit operating exactly how we intended), made smores, and drank hot chocolate. Sadly I had no smores, mainly because I caught one of the kids BITING off a marshmallow from the bag, which had become a big mass of one giant marshmallow. And well, I'm no germ-phobe but that's just wrong.

Here's some of the little punkins hard at work on our fire-pit. Hooray for helpers!

Meanwhile, there was also a rousing kickball game going on at the park.
 Rounding the bases in his rainboots. . . love it.
Here's Jayci running the bases. I wish I could figure out how to do video on my camera so you guys could have seen this. She circled the ball carefully when it was pitched to her, before kicking it away from the field behind home plate. Then she ran giggling to first base, dressed in her pink sweatpants,  brown ballet flats, and hand-me-down blue sweatshirt. And my heart melted even further when as she was running the bases, one of the kiddos yelled out: "take it easy on jay ok?"
Then we headed back to our newly built fire pit and benches (pretty sweet right?) for roasting hot dogs and mashmallows.

 Jayci stole my sunglasses to block the smoke from her eyes while she roasted a hot dog she didn't even want to eat.
She did, however, want to eat her s'more. Shocking. 
After everyone had eaten their fill, we headed back to the park for more kickball and ultimate frisbee.
 Jayci just cheered everyone on this time.
And what was Caden doing all this time? Being cute as usual. Seriously, are these not the cutest pictures ever? Mr Man is getting more and more personality (and also more drool) every single day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hearing His Heartbeat

After Caden came home from the hospital with a feeding tube, we had to use a stethoscope to "check placement" of the tube, to make sure it was in the stomach before putting medications and food through it. After noticing (from a blog post of course) that we were using the fantabulous yellow plastic stethoscope they gave us at the hospital, a sweet nurse friend of ours offered to let us use her own stethoscope.  Caden, praise the Lord, doesn't have his feeding tube any more; but sometimes I still like to use the stethoscope just to listen to his heart.

I wont pretend to know exactly what I'm hearing, but as I listen to the gentle thump-thump-thump of his miraculous little heartbeat, I am filled with awe. I can scarcely imagine that the surgeon's hands could be steady enough to make that heart beat, to swap teeny-tiny little arteries and stitch up teeny-tiny little holes. And even more than that, I am flooded with a sense of wonder at a God who carefully knit together my son's bitty little heart. He made no mistakes. Not even in the murmur, the abnormal cadence of his special heart.
It's harder to hear his heart beat, to recognize his murmur, than I thought it would be. I have to send Jayci out of the room. Wait until Caden stops flailing his little arms and screeching his sweet baby sounds. I have to focus. To breathe deeply and listen closely. And only then can I hear it: Lub-dub with swishing and regurgitation, almost musical. Again, I don't describe it accurately or medically. I only know that I can hear my son's heart. And it is miraculous.

I gently lay my fingers over his raised scar; touch his sternum, bumpy and bound together with wire. I can feel his heart trilling lightly, and I listen at the same time: thump-thump-thump-thump.

It's the same way with the Lord, I think. I have to listen so closely to hear His heartbeat. Tune out the distractions, focus my gaze, still my own heart. I have to put my head to His chest, breathe softly, and listen. Thump-thump-thump. There it is I think, as I sneak a cookie from our wrapped plate to give it to a homeless man on the street corner.

Again I hear it as I watch Jayci dance around excitedly, offering all the kiddos hot chocolate and making sure they all got marshmellows. Thump-thump-thump, I hear it when we hand a jar of caramel and homemade cookies to the drug dealer on the corner and hug him merry christmas, no strings attached.

As hustle and bustle surround us, particularly during the holiday season, it can be hard to hear it.  But, rest assured, it's still there. His heart still beats for His children, and if you listen closely you will hear it. Thump-thump-thump. In unexpected places you'll hear it. His heart beats for the least of these, for the forgotten, the lonely.
 I watch fourteen and fifteen year old mamas in our neighborhood: babies holding babies, and I think I hear the Lord's heart faintly thumping, with promise and hope despite pain or perhaps because of it. I imagine another teenage mommy, over 2000 years ago. Her heart racing as she cradled her beautiful baby, counting his tiny toes and exclaiming to Joseph over his little fingers. I wonder at the pain she must have felt, knowing she held the Saviour, and knowing she would have to give up her son.

I recognize my own pain mingled with joy as I imagine how she must have felt. I understand intimately this year how her heart must have ached, and yet been flooded with a certain peace. How she had to rest in the Lord's mighty arms, secure in her status as highly-favored and deeply loved. How she gently wrapped her Creator in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger to watch him slumber, the Lord's heartbeat loud in her ears.

The shepherds heard it beating, surrounded by a brilliant angel chorus. The sheep and goats heard it coming from their food trough, tiny coos from a bitty baby. And when I wonder how in the world can our little tiny light reach such a dark neighborhood, I remember that the Wise Men followed a single star that led them to the Savior.

Thump-thump-thump, His heart beats for each of us. For His children. For His son, sent to save the world. For our kiddos, for all those who wont have presents under their tree or a family to hug them tightly this Christmas. For the tantrum-throwing toddlers and the less-than-patient mothers. And for my son, I hear His heart beating loudly. I hear His heart matching Caden's own special heartbeat in a beautiful chorus that proclaims that God is good and the Savior is come.


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