Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Four No More

We had a mostly quiet family of three until five years ago today when Jenna exploded onto the scene. I tell people that when she was born, she hit the ground running. I know there was a time when she was tiny and helpless and had to be lugged around in her infant carrier. But I don't remember that. Jenna has always been a blond-haired blur of joy and energy.

Most of the photos we have of her look like this:

Jenna loves life. I guess a lot of people do, but Jenna really embraces the whole Carpe Diem thing. For her, there is something to rejoice about in every moment of every day. And she cracks us UP. Just two days ago, she stepped on the scale in our bathroom, read the numbers, yelled "YES!", put her arms up in a victory "V" and danced an elaborate dance of triumph all around our bathroom like she was in a Jenny Craig commercial or something. I don't know where she got this because this is definitely not how her dad and I react when we weigh ourselves. But something about those numbers really made her day.

Our Baytown friends will remember that Jenna was not easy to come by. After losing three pregnancies and then struggling through the first several months of my pregnancy with Jenna (I get notoriously ill when I'm pregnant), a friend at church told me "Girl, when this baby gets here we are going to throw a PARTY." And they did. I had a fabulous baby shower and we still have so many blankets and pillows that our sweet friends there made with their own hands. It usually takes two people to have a baby, but, with a lot of prayer, our entire church family in Baytown got Jenna here. That's something I'll always remember about our time in Baytown.

Here's something I wrote a while back about Jenna (with her age updated):

"Blue eyes, my baby's got blue eyes. Like a deep blue sea on a blue, blue day." -- "Blue Eyes" by Elton John

Jenna was born five years ago today. Eight-and-a-half pounds. A golden sheen to her head that promised blond hair. Blue eyes.

At least I tell people they're blue. There really isn't a word to describe the color of her eyes.

But I'll try.

I learned to scuba dive in 1993. And I learned something about it right off: scuba diving is a big hassle. So much heavy, awkward equipment is required for breathing underwater. The tank by itself weighs 80 pounds. Then there's the weight belt, which must be adjusted just right so you won't float to the surface or be stuck on the ocean floor. Then you have the BCD, the fins, snorkel, mask and wetsuit. Once you get all that stuff on, it's hard enough to remain upright, let alone walk normally.

But once below the surface, the oppressive gear becomes your key to the underwater world. You swim around weightless, holding out fingers as curious fish swim up to them. Your teeth clench around the regulator that, on land moments before, was uncomfortable in your mouth. Now it's the only way to get air into your lungs. The sound of your constant inhaling and exhaling is a reminder that you're doing something humans weren't made to do. You are living, thriving, underwater. The hassle, for the moment, is forgotten.

It took us a long time to get Jenna into this world. I got pregnant, then miscarried. Pregnant again, then blood one morning. Pregnant a third time, but then more blood. We started thinking adoption. Then I got pregnant again, and this one held. I got very sick, was placed on home healthcare, and then developed gestational diabetes. Then, one Thursday morning, the previous year-and-a-half faded as I finally looked into her eyes.

And I remembered the circle of light.

Thirty feet under the ocean's surface, it's easy to become disoriented -- to the point that you can lose track of which way you're supposed to go to reach air. As a scuba diver, you learn to look for light. Light means surface. When you find the sunlight piercing the blue mass in which you are submerged, you slowly swim toward it, exhaling all the way. Surrounded by varying shades of watery blue, the circle of light expands and seems to pull you toward itself. You keep swimming up, up, up -- until you think your lungs can't expel any more air. But the bubbles keep coming from your mouth, and you keep moving toward the light.

Then you reach it and you burst through it into air, light, life.

That's what color Jenna's eyes are.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


One kid down, one to go. Julia started 5th grade last week and Jenna is closing in on preschool week after next. Then I'm confident that this huge amount of work I've been getting will completely dry up and Ranger the Westie and I will be sitting around staring at each other all day. Because that's how life works.

Over the last few months, I've been processing this from a minister's family perspective: Viewing church as your church family vs. viewing church as your husband's/dad's workplace and seeking out a community of faith elsewhere. I'd love to hear thoughts from other ministers' family-type people.

BTW, I'll have an article in an upcoming special issue of Success magazine. Because writers are usually the last to know when their stuff is published, I'm not sure when it's coming out. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 14, 2009

16 years!

I married the greatest guy ever 16 years ago today. What I remember about that day is burning up in my dress in the Beaumont, TX, humidity, the awe-inducing size of my hair (my hair was so huge, Chad had to say one set of vows to me and and then repeat them again to my hair) and how much we absolutely could not wait to ditch the reception so we could get to the hotel (oh, stop. You were no different on your wedding day).

I don't even know how to describe what an incredible husband, father, provider and supporter Chad has been to me and the girls. And not just during the fun times. Ever since I've been stumbling around in the not-so-wonderful world of clinical depression this year, Chad has not only been my rock, he has worked every bit as hard (and many days, harder) as I have trying to pull me out of it. There have been SO many days where he could have said "You're no fun anymore" or "You're not the person I married" and he would have been absolutely correct on both counts. But he has never left my side for a second.

Today I'm reposting something I wrote about our marriage several years ago:

I met Chad in the Bean at ACU one day at lunch. I was with a big group of people and we were sitting at a large round table. Chad was the only person I didn’t know and we ended up sitting right next to each other. He was from Alaska, he said.

Chad was a freshman, and I was a sophomore. He was kinda cute – all my friends said so – and he seemed like a nice guy. We tried to date for a couple of weeks, but it just wasn’t working for me. I was trying to take a break from dating. I had made several bad dating choices in a row and had decided to give that part of my life up to God, since I had made such a mess of it. I promised God I wouldn’t date anyone seriously for a year.

Plus Chad got on my nerves.

He was so nice. Really, he was. But he seemed to be trying too hard. I started avoiding him.

A school year went by. Then a summer. Then school started again. And there was Chad. Would I like to go out Friday night? Sure. OK.

I remember sitting on the couch with my roommate. “Aren’t you going to get ready for your date?” she asked. “It’s just Chad,” I replied.

Then we went out. We had a great time. I liked being with him. He smelled good. So we kept going out. We kissed. His arms felt good around me. They felt right around me.

“You know what I was thinking?” I said one night after we had been dating about three weeks. “I was thinking that I don’t want to date anyone but you.”

And that was it. We were a couple.

That year was fun. I was dating Chad, living with two of my best friends and working as a reporter for the campus newspaper. He came home with me for Thanksgiving and spring break. We had fun together. We kissed. A lot.

We had to be apart for that summer, while he went home to Alaska to work. In August, I flew up there to see the sights and hang out with Chad and his family for a couple of weeks. Chad, his sister Gina and I were all supposed to come back to Abilene together.

In happy, fun dating relationships, you would think horrible things aren’t supposed to happen. But that's not reality. While I was in Alaska, Chad’s sister Gina was in a car accident. I was standing in Chad’s parents’ kitchen when they got the call from the highway department. She was in ICU for two days before she died. What a nightmare. My head still gets swimmy when I think about those awful days. Did all of it really happen? Of course it did, but it’s still so hard to fathom. She was 19. She and Chad were only 11 months apart.

We went back to school without Gina – shattered over the loss that was too great for Chad to even talk to me about. It’s hard for me to write about this time because I don’t remember much. My brain has shut it out. I do remember crying in the shower every morning for months.

Then something happy happened. We got engaged. It was a relief to have a wedding to focus on instead of our grief. We got married on Aug. 14, 1993.

That was 12 years ago. A major career change, two kids and three miscarriages later, we’re still here. Chad is my best friend – the “other side of me,” as Michael W. Smith sings. He knows what I need when I’m too proud to voice it. He knows when I need a break from the kids. He washes dishes. He changes diapers. One morning, when Chad had gotten up early and our oldest daughter Julia had climbed into bed with me, I heard Chad in the next room, having his morning quiet time and whispering an earnest prayer. For me. How loved and protected I felt, hearing a great man of God lift me up in prayer.

Marriage isn’t always fun, they tell you in premarital counseling. And it’s true. One of the worst moments of my life was when Chad was holding me in our bathroom three years ago. I was losing our second child and it hurt – physically, emotionally – it was excruciating. But Chad was there, his arms still so strong around me.

The good times in a marriage are fun and make good memories. But the hard times are the ones that really solidify your relationship. That’s when those vows really mean something. It’s when you have the chance to truly cherish each other.

I’ve been asked when I knew I was in love with Chad. I’m not really sure. Love changes and deepens over the years until you’re not sure what “love” really meant when you said it early in your relationship. But I do have one memory. We weren’t really dating yet, but I was aware that Chad was not getting on my nerves anymore. I had to help with newspaper distribution after Chapel one day, but rushed back into the coliseum because I wanted to find Chad. He wasn’t there. I was so disappointed that it surprised me. I stood there, in the emptying coliseum, suddenly shockingly aware that if I kept running away from this guy, I could lose him forever. That’s when I knew that I always wanted him to be there.

And he is. And we still kiss. A lot.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I’m back. Mid-summer 2009 will be remembered as one of the crazier times of our lives. We went to Houston, Baytown, Abilene, Lubbock, Fort Worth and then back to Little Rock over the course of two weeks. We came back with a mother-in-law and a dog. The mother-in-law went back. The dog stays.

Ranger is a westie who belonged to our friends Brock and Sarah. Their son Brooks is getting pretty mobile and his wise parents decided that was enough excitement for their house. So they put Ranger up for adoption and we nabbed him. I haven’t had a dog since I was in high school, so it has been an adjustment. But he is so sweet and fun and cuddly and not nearly the trouble I thought he might be. He loves going places with us and one of our favorite things to do is to take him shopping at Petco. We’ve traditionally been cat people and cats HATE riding in cars. So putting an animal in a car who actually wants to go somewhere has been lots of fun.

Yeah, he's pretty great.

Also during our “let’s do everything at once” summer, my parents moved here. They’ve been here a week now. They live just a few minutes’ drive from us, which is great. My mom and I went grocery shopping together this morning. It was fun. (And she was SO impressed by my couponing skills. Saved $60 at Kroger, by the way.) And are we taking advantage of the free babysitting? YOU BETTER BELIEVE WE ARE.

And ten weeks this fall, I'll be going to another church on Wed. nights in Little Rock. That knocks me out of Refuge (our weekly teen activity), and I hate missing that, but I'm looking forward to getting to know some new people over at Fellowship. I'm also getting ready to teach the 5th and 6th graders at our church during the fall quarter. I really like teaching this age. They are fun kids, plus I get a chance to get to know them better before they move up into the youth group.

Now Julia is getting ready to start 5th grade next week, and Jenna will start preschool a couple of weeks after that. I’m staying busy with different writing projects and with the local chapter of American Christian Writers, of which I am vice-president. This means that if our president Lana Clifton is assassinated, I will immediately be sworn into power. So be careful, Lana! I’ve got enough going as it is.