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August 26, 2013

The First Day of School




Normally, I’m a yay-er, thrilled to send Abby off to school for another year. Yes, it’s going surreally fast, but it’s always good to get back into a routine. Plus, I love the fall and the start of school is the unofficial start of fall for me, despite the forecast in Texas.

This year is different. The joyful calm at home with Abby at school is completely overshadowed by the empty, screaming silence of David's permanent absence. Our house is too quiet. The weight of the silence is further crushing the hollow, constant weight in my chest. The void inside me continues to grow and spread like a cancer. I wonder when it will stop.

I was fine until Meet the Teacher on Friday. As Abby and I wandered the hallways, we passed the classroom that would have been David’s last year if he were able to attend. I remember last year seeing his little picture on the bulletin board outside the room and on his locker. That same picture now hangs on his bed where Abby placed it earlier this summer. Sadness sucker punched me Friday as I passed the classroom, so I found a private place to cry in the school full of people. I hadn’t cried like that in awhile. In fact, I was doing quite well up until then.

Since then, the grief is heavy. Today it continues to grow. Taking him to school for the first time was so exciting, for all of us. Abby was a proud big sister. David was excited at the new adventure, not to mention all the girls he got to flirt with. In addition to the joy that comes with my childrens’ joy, I got to experience the joyful reprieve of an empty house until I picked David up three hours later. It was our new normal, and those 9 weeks of David in school were without a doubt the best time we experienced as a family of four. I’m grateful for the experience, but it makes the absence of that “normal” all the more painful.

Today we woke Abby up in the traditional way for the first day of school, blasting “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 as we entered her room. It’s one of those accidental traditions that started in kindergarten. Now, it represents both a tradition of silliness and her brother. It, like so many things now, is bittersweet.

As this school year progresses and we learn what our new normal looks like, I wonder if I will ever feel “normal” again. I wonder what that will be like when I do settle in to our new routine. My new routine. I'm still stunned at this reality that continues to wash over me like an unrelenting tsunami. Today, I sit, in silence, letting the reality wash over me, waiting for the next break in the waves. 
 

 

February 7, 2013

I Hate Cancer

Cancer is something our family has not had to deal with up-close and personal like so many others.  Because of awareness campaigns (i.e. NFL players wearing pink for the month of October, the St. Jude commercials with celebrities, etc) I don't think there is a person in America who isn't aware of cancer on some level.  Taking it further, with social media we probably all know at least one person and maybe even a child who had to battle the beast of cancer and, in too many cases, lost that battle.  As I write this, I remember children who's lives were cut short because of this horrible disease - and that list is too long. 

I hate cancer. 

Today marks the beginning of Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) awareness week.  Some of you reading this may not be aware that there is such a week.  It may sound as trite as "Save the Albino Alaskan Husky Day", or hearing that someone received a key to your city for raising awareness about the need for larger trash containers.  There always seems to be something that someone is advocating for.  That's how I view it, at least.

Why should this awareness week be any different than the myriad of other days and weeks raising awareness?  What's the point of raising awareness anyway?
Here's why it matters to me, and I hope it will to you.

As awful as childhood cancer is, congenital heart defects are about 60 times more prevalent according to the American Heart Association.  After looking for reputable mortality comparisons between the two diseases, here's what I found:
  • "In the United States in 2007, approximately 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and about 1,545 children will die from the disease." Source - Cancer.gov
  • "During the period 1999–2006, congenital heart defects were listed as the main cause of death for 27,960 deaths." Source - CDC.gov
The CDC statistic does not specify an age range for the deaths attributed to CHD's, but it does state that "nearly half (48%) of the deaths due to congenital heart defects occurred during infancy (younger than 1 year of age)."  That comes to approximately 1,917 deaths per year of children under the age of 1 from congenital heart defects.  When you include all of the CHD deaths it comes to nearly 4,000 deaths per year. 

According to these statistics, more children die from CHD's each year than from childhood cancer.

How is that possible?  Why haven't I heard of this before David was born??  Why aren't more people aware of this? 

Simply put, I don't know.

Maybe the pediatric cancer community has a better PR team.  Maybe there's something more gripping about a child who was born healthy but becomes sick as opposed to a child who is sick from birth.  Maybe we are too saturated with awareness campaigns and we simply don't have the reserves to care about them all. 

I don't know. 

What I do know is that some things get us riled up and others don't.  It seems the more "tragic" the incident the more it gets our attention.  Third-world children who die at a rate of 16,000 per day from hunger doesn't have the same effect on us as 20 children who were killed in their classroom by a gunman. 

Why?

Both are equally horrible in their own way.  Why don't we care as much about the children dying in a different country than we do in our own?

The answer to that question, I believe, is also the answer to the question of why some types of childhood diseases get more attention and funding for research than others.  Until it's real to you personally and in your face, the way a beautiful bald little head or a Frankenstein scar on a tiny chest gets your attention, life simply goes on.  The busy day-to-day of our lives takes over and we don't have time to notice or give much thought to these children, be they bald, starving, or scarred from surgeries. 

I'm not asking that you drop everything and become a CHD or cancer or world hunger advocate.  I will ask you to, for this week specifically, consider the impact that a heart defect is having on a family right now and see if there's something you can do about it.  The emotional, financial, and spiritual toll it takes is beyond comprehension.  Go love on these families as we are commanded to do by God when He says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  If you don't know where to start here are some ideas:
  • There are great national non-profit organizations that minister to families and support research, like Whole Hearts Foundation and Mended Little Hearts.  Make a donation.
  • Check to see if there is a non-profit hospital near you with a cardiology program that you can donate to for research funding.
  • At any nearby hospital with a cardiology program you can bring some food or blankets or gum or any kind of care package to the families in the waiting room.  Include a short note or scripture for encouragement.
  • Buy a parking pass or meal voucher for the week at a nearby hospital and ask the social worker in the cardiology department to give it to a family in need.  Include an anonymous note that states you are praying for them and their child, and follow-through with your prayers.
  • Donate blood, or better yet coordinate a blood drive at your job or in your community.  CHD children use a lot of blood products following surgery.
  • If you're crafty, sew blankets for the hospital to give to their pediatric patients.  Those hospital blankets can be scratchy.  We received some blankets in the hospital that David still uses. 
Do something this week for a CHD child and family.  The best way to raise awareness for congenital heart defects is to make it personal.  Associate 3-dimensional faces with the disease.  See what their battle ground looks like in the hospital.  Then encourage others to do the same.  Next week or month, do the same thing for a cancer child and family.  After that make a donation to World Vision or sponsor a child. 

The bottom line is we can't continue to be blind to the suffering of others, regardless of what that suffering looks like or where it comes from if we claim to be followers of Christ.  Go out and put your faith, your emotions, your beliefs into action.  Do something.  God will use it in ways that you may never know, but trust that He will use it.  We are the soldiers.  He is our King.  Go and represent Him well!

January 25, 2013

Dreams

I'm a person who has vivid dreams.  I can recall with great clarity the specifics of the nonsensical madness that runs through my head while I sleep.  My dreams are usually nothing more that a strange or funny story to tell the next morning, but sometimes there seems to be more to them.  I don't believe in analyzing every dream, but I do pay attention to underlying themes in recurring dreams.  With that being said...

I once heard that when there is a car or transportation device in your dream it represents your life.  If it's big, small, broken-down, etc. and who is driving the vehicle all represent feelings about where you feel your life is going.  I've had a lot of recurring car dreams lately.  Sometimes I'm driving, sometimes someone else is.  The cars come in all different shapes and sizes.  The specifics of the dream are really unimportant, but I try to remember how I feel in the dream as the situations play out. 

Recently in a dream, Justin and I were driving along Pohick Road in Springfield, Virginia, one of the places I lived as a child.  Pohick Road is tree lined with many twists and curves.  We passed the familiar entrance to the Newington Forrest neighborhood where I attended elementary school.  A few curves later we passed the back of my old house, which was slightly visible through all the trees in our backyard that lined Pohick.  We wound past many familiar settings and I shared memories with Justin along the way.  Then, we got to a point on the road where it was different.  I no longer recognized the once-familiar path.  It changed dramatically, and an interstate overpass suddenly cut through the trees.  Cars raced past through a now dangerous intersection that didn't exist before.  Immediately I felt lost. I didn't know where I was, but even worse, I didn't know where I was trying to go in the first place.  I completely lost all my bearings. 

This dream occurred a week or so ago when I felt lost, to say the least.  I was not spending quality time in my Bible or with God each day.  I stayed busy for the sake of staying busy.  My coping strategy of fun projects turned unhealthy before I knew it. 

After my dream, I knew my lost bearing was Jesus.  I knew without him I had no compass, purpose, or security.  He felt distant to me, but it wasn't because he moved.  I drifted/ran away from him in my frustration and fear, and in turn I was scared and confused. 

How many times do we see this same story in the Bible?  Our church has a daily Bible reading/devotional called Join the Journey and we're reading through Genesis right now.  It's amazing to read that Abraham, considered one of the most faithful men in the Bible, tried to do things on his own when God's timing seemed slow.  He struggled with waiting and uncertainty, too, yet God still considered him righteous because he believed in God's promises.  The Israelites turned from God countless times, and it grieved God because he loved them.  He knew the best thing for them was closeness and intimacy with himself.  When Israel repented and turned back to God, he welcomed them with open arms.  I am also fortunate to be welcomed back with open arms through the blood of Jesus.  I rely on God's grace to choose God daily.  Without him I am lost.   

Something I need help learning again and again is that I can't let David become my central focus.  God must remain in my sights at all times.  Sometimes God's in there concurrently with David, Abby, Justin or something else, but God must always be there.  He is my bearing.  Without him I feel the jolts of David's ever-changing condition more violently.  With him, the jolts are cushioned.  Thank you God for always welcoming me back! 

Amen, and sweet dreams!