Category Archives: Marriage

One Night Away

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I asked my husband for one night away. Not together, not for an event, not with friends. One night, by myself, to be completely alone. No kids, no husband, no obligations, no noise. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my family. I love the noise and the chaos and the constant chatter, driving, and planning that go along with raising three gifts. But ever since our youngest came on the scene, I’ve realized how desperately the introvert in me needs space. Quiet. And sleep.

For Christmas, he presented me with a gift certificate to the Ritz, just 3 miles from home. Our family knows this hotel well; my parents, sisters, husband and I have all used it for various get-aways and business meetings. To me it is comfort and escape, at an arm’s reach. No, I didn’t need to travel far, but I did need to find an evening I felt comfortable to retreat alone. The real value in the gift was not the money, but my husband’s offer to stay home alone with all the kids, doing all the parenting things that at times take a village, and freely say “Go.” This husband of mine? He is the gift.

So, here I sit in a quiet, peaceful room, overlooking the buzz of the evening commute 15 floors down and writing for the first time in months. My daughter asked “What do you write.” Not much anymore. I need to get out of my head and onto paper. My goals for this solo retreat are to write, to sit quietly, to pray, to sleep (I hope), and to return to my family ready to refill. But that’s tomorrow. For now, it’s just me.

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That’s Not Fair

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“That’s not fair!”

“Well, life isn’t fair.”

As a child, how I hated this conversation between my parents and me. Probably as much as my daughter hates the exchange these days. I usually respond with “Life isn’t fair, but things work out in the end.”

I don’t think she believes me. Who am I to blame her? Life isn’t fair.

Our days are full of unfairness. Sometimes slight – like when a colleague takes another’s lunch from the office refrigerator. Sometimes heart wrenching – like when a leg is broken, a tumor is discovered, and a wedding is postponed.

Life. Isn’t. Fair.

My mom and I were at the church, meeting with the wedding coordinator one last time before the big day, when my cell phone rang. It was his best friend calling, the one who took him skiing for the weekend. The last thing I had said as they piled into the car was “Whatever you do, don’t let Frank break a leg!”

“Hey Brian,” I answered. “Having fun?”

The hesitation on the line spoke before he did. “Frank broke his leg.”

In the quiet sanctuary where a bell choir was soon to perform our processional, my disbelief rang out loud and sharp. My fiancé was broken, in pain, and separated from me by 300 miles of mountain road and a winter snow storm. Life isn’t fair.

Back at home, my father put on his fighter pilot bravado and confidently announced the wedding would go on as planned. Still reeling from a death-defying fall my sister had taken on her own honeymoon three months earlier, my parents were too shaken to face another wedding tragedy. My brave dad opened the box of wedding invitations and carefully began adding the stamps. He prayed for Frank and laid his trust before God. All would work out, this we knew.

A week later, Frank and I sat in his hospital room as the orthopedic oncologist explained the details of a “giant cell tumor.” It had been sending warning signals for several weeks. In fact, Frank had planned to see a doctor after the ski trip to complain of pain in his right knee. But the fall made that appointment unnecessary. The tumor had grown outward from inside his femur, reducing the bone strength to that of an eggshell. It didn’t take much to crack, so the speed and force of his fall on the ski slope crushed that section of his leg bone. It would have to be rebuilt. And it would take months.

With the doctor’s news pounding in our heads, we talked over our options. February 28, the wedding date we had so carefully chosen, was only weeks away. Frank was still in the hospital, awaiting his first of several surgeries. To secure the leg bones from moving while the femur began to heal, an “external fixator” would be installed. You’ve seen the barbaric contraptions; sometimes called “rods and pins,” this would jut out of his leg, extend from upper thigh to lower calf, and keep his leg perfectly straight. For six weeks. Pants wouldn’t be able to cover it. Walking with crutches would prove too painful to cross the room, let alone walk down the aisle. There was no question. Our wedding would be postponed. We held hands and cried for all that was broken, all that was unfair.

On the weekend of our intended ceremony, Frank went under anesthesia again, this time to remove that wretched contraption and all traces of the tumor that caused so much damage. For twelve hours, I paced the halls, kept our families informed on the phone, and prayed for the man I had already committed to love through sickness and health.  Finally, the OR nurse said he was ready for a visitor in the recovery room. But, we weren’t yet married; I wasn’t his wife. And so his mother went to see him.

Life isn’t fair.

Over the next several months, Frank fought his way through more surgeries, pain killers, and physical therapy to strengthen his leg and give his knee range of motion. We rescheduled our wedding date to late summer and looked forward to celebrating under the bright August sun. One sunny summer afternoon, he asked me to join him at PT. He went about his usual exercises for a bit, then asked me to wait just across the room. Ever so carefully, he took a step, then another, and another, each with a perfect gait. Since the early spring my fiancé had kept a secret from me. His goal through all of the painful physical therapy was to walk, unassisted and without a limp, down the aisle with his bride.

Life isn’t fair, that much we know. But when you try to make the most of it, it really does work out in the end.

Husband and Wife

A memory that will be with me always. Frank took my hand, escorted me from the church, and exclaimed, “We did it!” August 2004

 

 

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More than a Number

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I wanted it to be more than a statistic. More than the ugly number that states 1 out of every 3 ends this way. The odds surrounding the survival of my baby were dizzying. Every third known pregnancy ends in miscarriage. Half of all pregnancies don’t survive, even though most women never even know they are expecting. At age 40, my chances for a live birth are even lower. We knew the odds going in, yet we tried anyway. We prayed, talked, and sought answers for months before even attempting.

Four years ago, my husband and I walked out of the silence and shame of infertility into the hope-filled world of reproductive therapy. Our first child had come to us so easily, we never expected to face several years of “trying,” only to have the doctors confirm the heartbreak: we were unable to conceive again naturally. In fact, the doctors aren’t sure how I was ever able to conceive our first child. Together with this husband of mine, whom God gave to me in perfect union, this man who in every way completes my heart, we were unable of creating life in my womb. Medically flawed. The knowledge that our union could not produce that which it was designed to created compatibility insecurities and stress. Yet, no amount of “you just need to relax” suggestions were going to fix this problem. Weekend get-aways weren’t quite the same for us. Sex is a wonderful thing in a marriage, a really wonderful gift. But prescripted sex every other day for months on end – even with a spouse who keeps you coming back for more – can begin to lose its luster.

With the new truth facing us, we could have counted our daughter as our miracle and moved on to raising an only child. But we felt pulled to try anyway. We prayed over the controversies surrounding In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), the process of introducing a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm in a dish, waiting for it to develop into a live embryo, then transferring it into her womb. As Christians, this science-driven method of creating life can raise questions. Yet we believe that God’s desire for us is life and relationships. If our family was to be blessed with another child, God would still be in control of the conception, no matter what method we used. And so we pursued. To be honest, I was terrified and ready to quit before we began. If it weren’t for my husband’s bravery, my first visit to the reproductive endocrinologist would have been my last.

In the months that followed, I obeyed the doctor’s instructions perfectly, injecting myself daily on schedule, sitting for repeated blood tests and sonograms, and generally feeling like a science experiment. My body helpfully produced a large number of high quality eggs which resulted in a fair number of living embryos. Babies. After our process was complete, and several weeks later we learned I was indeed pregnant, we were able to cryopreserve just two remaining embryos. Two future babies. Frozen in time.

Fast forward a few years to our now family of four. Two beautiful daughters fill our lives and hearts with joy. Is it selfish to desire another child? With two healthy children, each a miracle in her own right, how much more can we ask of God and science to produce for us? Yet we do so greatly desire a larger family. We spent months debating the pros and cons of “trying again,” something that can provide fun recreational intimacy for most couples. For us, we knew it meant it different level of intimacy – weeks of intramuscular shots, more tests, and this time, the anxiety of thawing our embryo with hopes it would survive long enough to be implanted in my womb. After many conversations and tears, we embraced the idea together and set out for a new round of IVF, completely committed to the life we were going to bring into the world.

And yet we didn’t. My pregnancy, the embryo we fell in love with, the idea of another child in our family, failed. Only a couple weeks into it, I suppose I could count myself among the millions of women who never realize a life is growing within and just move on. Except with me, with anyone facing infertility, it’s different. If I was going to subject myself to the pain and raw exposure of the process, I had needed to fully wrap my mind and heart around this child, to be prepared long before it could grow in my womb. As much as I loved my first two babies in utero, this child was mine. Then it was gone. My pregnancy and I are nothing more than a statistic, 1 in 3 women who suffer miscarriage.

I have joined a sisterhood, a sad sorority no woman wants to pledge. Our song is hope.


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The Unwrapping Continues

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I knew what I wanted for my 40th birthday a year in advance. Several months before my celebration, I was elated to receive the gift I had asked of family and friends, and embraced it with wonder and joy. Together, many of the people closest to me sent me on a mission trip to Honduras. What I gained through that gift was so much more than an experience or a cool trip, but a new perspective on life, a view of the world beyond my own.

So now, on the eve of the “big 4-0,” I’m left remembering where I was a year ago, emotionally and spiritually. I had never traveled to a third world country, never faced immeasurable poverty up close and personal. I had never wrapped my arms around an orphan. I was celebrating my 39th, never thinking I would soon be attacked by fire-ants while playing frisbee, cook rice and beans for dozens of hungry children, and fall in love with an unwanted, abandoned child.

When I received the gift, I slowly, carefully peered inside. Throughout the months following, I’ve checked back inside from time to time, toying with and chatting about the memories, but keeping it all locked where it is safe. It’s only now, that the real value is beginning to show.

My husband is taking his own journey and traveling to Honduras next month! I am thrilled to share the places, smells, sights, and faces with my partner in life. I know what he will experience, and I can’t wait to hear about it from his perspective. (I’m guessing fewer tears and less hugging.) Most of all, I am excited for him, for the impact these children will have on his heart, for the love and compassion I know he will feel for the nationals.

When I landed in Honduras, I immediately realized the second 40 years of my life would be very different than the first 40. The first proof of that is finally coming to fruition. My crazy college boyfriend, my adventurous backpacking-across-Europe pal, my stuffy business-suit-wearing husband … he’s going on a mission trip. And that is the greatest gift of all!

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New Years Day found our little family hiking along the Potomac River. Just a few miles from our home, dozens of trails offer us opportunities to escape the urban and suburban life we lead and witness nature up close and personal.

As we four trekked through the hills and our cheeks reddened with exertion, our little family worked so well together. Meredith, age 6, climbed the rocks and fallen leaves with ease. She scurried up the hillsides and zipped around corners like she was born into this. At not quite 2, Audrey ambled along – sometimes walking, other times riding in the jogging stroller, and often taking the best route – on her daddy’s shoulders.

After a great climb, picnic lunch, and decent down a slippery path, we paused for breath and a family photo. In the woods alone, we settled for a group selfie. I stretched my arm to its length, but Frank’s is longer. So we squeezed tighter as I handed him my phone. Huddled tight, we smiled for the shot. We fit, just barely.

Back at home, I posted the family profile photo on Facebook, tagged Frank, and smiled at our little family of four. Sitting on the couch together, with his arm around me, we couldn’t help but swallow back something bittersweet in that shot. We still fit. Our hearts cry out to outgrow that profile picture frame, but right now we still fit.

When, Lord? And how?

Sink or Float

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I often wonder how I’m doing at this whole parenting gig. It’s not easy, we all admit that. Aside from our children’s outward behavior, there isn’t an easy indicator if we are doing anything right. Are we succeeding or failing, winning or losing, floating or sinking?

I’ve definitely been floating this week. I volunteered to teach the science discovery class at our church’s Vacation Bible School. With 70+ kids trying the hands-on experiments and learning from yours truly, I’ve felt a little supermom-ish. My oldest is so proud to have her mommy teach and loves being my little helper at home as we prepare. When she gazes at me with those wow-my-mom-is-so-cool looks, I can’t help but float.

But tonight was a little different. My little one had an -ahem- incident in the bathtub. A right of passage with our kids, apparently. When our older was about this age, same thing happened. One moment she was happily splashing in the water, the next minute I heard myself screaming “Help! There is POOP in the bathtub!!” And there I stood, motionless. Paralyzed until my Knight in Shining Clorox could race into the room and take control of the hazmat situation. You see, if there is one thing on earth I don’t handle, it’s poo. I can change my own child’s poopy diaper from necessity, but it ends there. I certainly do not clean poo from a bathtub.

I have paid the price in ridicule for five long years. My husband loves to laugh at the vision of me, standing over the tub with a big poo floating past our clean baby girl. Ha. Ha. Ha. Not my best moment. Sink.

It got me again tonight. The little one was happily splashing in the tub with her new (fatal flaw #1) bath toys, a gift from my mom. I turned away (fatal flaw #2) to grab my camera. I wanted to capture the moment. When I heard the tell-tale little grunts, I whipped my head back around fast enough to cause whiplash. Since my husband was not yet home, I instinctively knew there was no use in yelling for help. I grabbed the baby, confused, yet happy to waddle down the hall dripping wet, and did what any other clear-headed mother would do in this situation. I called her sister in to see. We giggled and promised to NEVER make fun of the little one for this. Then I took that camera in my hand, snapped a picture, and sent a one-word text to my poo-cleaning husband. “Hurry!” Sink.

Once I had composed myself, we walked to the other bathroom where we both showered to wash away all thoughts of the icky incident. The poo? We left it as-is until her daddy could clean it up. Float!

Tow Truck Date Night

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My husband and I went on a date last week! With little ones at home, we use up most of our “date nights” at required functions for business, school, and church. A night on the town for just the two of us is a rare treat. This night was no exception. We drove through the city, felt the late night urban buzz, and saw the monuments by moonlight. Odd that this evening, like many of the special times he and I have shared, also included a tow truck driver.

Earlier in the day, my husband’s beloved 10 year old Jag overheated. Summers on the East coast are brutal, with the regular forecast being “hazy, hot, and humid.” It’s all a person can do to not melt into a puddle of sweat by 9:00 am. The 100+ degree heat indices take their toll on everyone and everything, including cars. Especially older cars, something for which my guy has a fondness. Like a child who reaches out to wounded animals, he is drawn to cars that need TLC. At least this Jaguar, his “impractical sculpture,” is in far batter condition and looks nice compared to some of the others he has loved.

When we met in college, he parked his old grey Cougar next to my shiny red Honda with its stick shift and bucket seats. He loved to whip around our little university town in his automatic car with the American engineering. I loathed that boat and offered to drive my zippy little Japanese car at every opportunity.

By the time we made the crazy love-fool decision to spend a summer driving cross-country, we “upgraded” to his father’s ’84 Grand Marquis. This twenty-year old monstrosity bore the scars from the acid rain crisis, with peeling grey paint across the hood, roof, and trunk. But it worked and had a cavernous trunk to hold all our belongings for an 8-week adventure. In fact, it worked quite well until we hit the Pacific Coast Highway 40 miles south of Tijuana, Mexico. That’s when it just kind-of stopped along the highway. Well, not kind-of. It stopped. Dead. We flagged down a tow truck driver who, though already burdened with another couple of unprepared gringos, jump-started the “Merc” and suggested we head back north to the US border. We heeded his advice and drove away, laughing at the silly Americans who needed a tow truck in Mexico!

Yes, those silly Americans. Just. Like. Us. We spent a long, terrifying day fighting a dead alternator in a foreign country. Every time we used power in the car, the battery died hard and fast. Turn signals. Power window controls. Brake lights. It all drained the battery, requiring us to throw the car in neutral and rev the engine, hoping to restart the car without requiring a jump. Soon enough, all that revving also drained the gasoline, causing the gas level indicator to light up. Lights, power, dead battery again. After more than 16 kindly folks along the highway jump-started our dead battery, we limped to the US border, but not before the Merc gave one last shudder and died. In Mexico. We literally pushed the car across the border into our homeland where we could call AAA and a tow truck driver.

Fast forward many years (and several more tow trucks) to a Jag on the outskirts of the city, waiting for its own ride. I headed downtown to retrieve my husband from a very long, frustrating day. The tow truck driver didn’t know his way around the city, so we had to meet in a nearby town and lead him back, caravan-style. As he carefully pulled the Jag onto the flatbed, I watched my husband in amazement. Exhausted, disappointed, beaten, but never defeated or cross, he amicably chatted with his new pal, one of dozens over the years. Then he climbed into my trusty Japanese minivan. We drove home from our impromptu date night, laughing and retelling our many car stories. One more adventure under our belts, one more tow truck story for the rosters, one more evening spent with my best friend, learning to face life with grace and laughter. Now that was a great date!