Happy First Birthday to Jack and Lilly!

By Kate Morrow

Jack and Lilly Morrow, born at 28 weeks gestation, turned one year old on September 14, 2018. 

Dear Jack and Lilly,

I will always remember your birthday as the scariest, yet best day of my life. You came into this world in a whirlwind and have been strong, courageous, and brave since day one. You have been through more in a year than most have been through in a lifetime. I am absolutely honored to be your Mommy and as I reflect on this day, I am filled with nothing but pride and joy.

You have changed me so much this past year and in ways I never expected. On your birthday last year when you were born at 28 weeks, I couldn’t understand why this happened to our family. I asked God “Why” so many times. Why did this happen to me? Ashamed, I spent a lot of this past year continuing to ask why and jealous of others who had such a joyous entrance into motherhood— beautiful and snuggling their babies in their hospital beds. I couldn’t get those happy images I longed for out of my head.

But, as you grew, I grew, too. I started to understand, accept, and love our beautiful story. I found reason and purpose— word by word, line by line, page by page. As our story came together, I realized it is the most beautiful story I have ever read.

Today, I confidently now know God gave me you for a reason. He gave me you and our experience to build me. To strengthen me. To make me a rock solid, warrior. You taught me what it means to be strong and courageous. It is this courage that has helped me become the best version of myself possible.

Your courage has given me strength to be brave so much this year when I really needed it. It gave me strength to keep going on our darkest, loneliest days during the NICU and isolation. It gave me strength to resign from a ten-year career and know that a career doesn’t define you. It taught me how to take a leap of faith and not be consumed by what others thought. It taught me to be brave for those around us and how to bring others joy and make them smile when I was absolutely losing it inside

Your birth story gave me purpose. For the first time in my 33 years of life, I have found my calling and I am using our experience to help others. To advocate for women and babies in our situation. To make a difference. To empower others. I feel absolutely alive when I talk about our story and see that it brings others joys and comfort.

Our experience has shown me what an amazing world we live in. The amount of friends, family, and even strangers who came together to pray for us, love us, encourage us, care for you, and just hug us was humbling. I still continue to be in awe by the love that surrounded us. I am so grateful for each and every single person—for sharing with us and allowing me to overshare somedays. I couldn’t have gotten through this year without our village. I could spend every minute of every day thanking them and it wouldn’t be enough. It taught me to take refuge in family. I have a deeper love and connection with all of our family, especially your Daddy. He continues to amaze me. Your strength and courage definitely comes from him.

You have made me realize I cannot plan. I used to be a worrier, full of anxiety and full of creating perfect plans. I’ve learned this past year life can be messy. It goes unexpected. I have learned to go with the flow and I have never been happier.

But most of all, your courage taught me how to be strong when we lost your Poppy and my Daddy. You are absolute miracles. Science only does so much and then there is God. Your medical success is God’s work. You are living testimony that there is a wonderful Father in Heaven and because of this, I know, without a doubt, that Poppy is resting gently in His arms and watching over us.

The day you came into this world so early, your birthday, I accepted that I could potentially become a Mommy to children with disabilities, special needs, or ultimately a Mommy to two angel children in Heaven. It was also this day that I committed myself to making sure I did everything in my power to help you become the best version of yourselves possible, whatever that version may be. Because, darlings, no one is perfect. You have exceeded my expectations in every single way possible.

I no longer ask God why. Instead, I thank God daily for writing the most beautiful story ever— a story I could have never written myself. A story that I would not change for the world. Our story.

You are everything I ever wanted. Everything I ever dreamed. The best book I have ever read.IMG_1537-1

I love you. I love our story.

And most of all, I love being your Mommy.

Happy Birthday, Jack and Lilly!

Love,
Mommy

 

Happy (I think) birthday!

By Jeanne Reynolds

I hope I’m not offending anyone here, but what’s up with these super-extravagant birthday parties for children? Even infants and toddlers who don’t know what day it is, much less that it’s their own birthday, are being feted like royalty.

A tattoo bar for a 3-year-old. Vegas-style showgirls at a bar mitzvah. Petting zoos of exotic animals. I’m not making this stuff up, although believe me, I wish I was. And that doesn’t even include the celebrity baby bashes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

birthday-cake

Whatever happened to regular, simple birthday parties for children: half a dozen youngsters, those cone-shaped party hats with the snap-prone elastic, a couple games of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and drop-the-clothes-pins-in-the-milk-bottle, some cupcakes and ice cream, and off you go. All done in about an hour, not counting the sugar-fueled hyperactivity and nap-deprived tantrums later in the day.

And please, invite other children — not the entire extended family, neighbors and anyone else who can be guilted into gifting the oblivious youngster. Yes, your offspring is incredibly adorable, but children’s birthday parties are for … well, children. (OK, grandparents get a pass.)

Now adult birthdays are another matter. April is major birthday season in our family, and I say you’re never too old to celebrate being above ground another year. Both my husband I have birthdays this month. However, the celebration usually consists of taking the day off work, a round of golf, dinner out at a nice restaurant and several cards (our cats are big on greeting cards for every occasion). Nary a unicorn in sight. And the only petting zoo will involve the aforementioned felines.

Milestone birthdays get a little extra treatment, especially those sneaking up on three digits. My mother-in-law turns 90 this month and we expect a couple hundred well-wishers at her drop-in (don’t worry, it’s not a surprise party like my father-in-law’s 90th last year). With that kind of crowd, we’re springing for a caterer, but there won’t be any caviar or edible gold whatevers. Unless you count pimento cheese.

Still, I wouldn’t mind if someone brought a unicorn.

Through the Eyes of Love

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Mom is turning 85 in a couple weeks. My siblings and I, our spouses and assorted offspring are using the occasion to gather from three cities in two countries for a mini-reunion. It’ll be the first time we’ve gotten together that doesn’t involve a funeral in many years. So, long overdue, and likely to be a lot more fun.

Mom isn’t too Internet-savvy so I feel pretty sure I won’t blow a surprise by telling here about the birthday box. A couple months ago, I wrote and emailed a bunch of far-flung family members and friends, inviting them to send a card, letter, photo or email to celebrate her birthday. I’m putting these in a large decorative box I got at the Dollar Store (hey, it’s really pretty — don’t judge) that we’ll present to her during the trip.

I haven’t opened the sealed envelopes, but the notes that came through email I kind of had to read so I could print them out nicely. Which gets me, finally, to why I’m talking about this.

I’ve learned things I never knew about my mother. One of them is how many people think she’s a ton of fun and admire her brave spirit and sense of adventure. Well, OK, it’s her 85th birthday and nobody is going to send the written equivalent of a bouquet of dead roses, but still.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I appreciate about Mom. I bake great cookies because of her, and nobody outdoes me with curling ribbon and a pair of scissors. Weekly trips to the library as a child instilled my love of reading, which I think has everything to do with my love of writing. Classical music and Broadway show tunes are — thanks to her — part of my repertoire, too.

But reading about her solo trip halfway across the country to meet the family of her brand-new groom who had just shipped out to Guam, or the stories she made up with my cousin Rob about the unidentified couple in a mysterious family photo, helped me see a new side of her.

I guess this must be a little how parents of a wild child feel when they hear the teacher or his best friend’s parents rave about how well-behaved, polite and helpful he is. Huh? Are you sure we’re talking about the same person? I mean, this woman can drive me nuts, rendering me speechless with some of things she says, her alternate-universe “memories” and her rapid changes of plans.

Mom will probably still drive me batty sometimes (and no doubt I’ll return the favor). But this experience has encouraged me to look at her a little differently. Maybe I could try taking off the daughter glasses now and then, and seeing Mom through clearer eyes — eyes of love.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Birthday Wishes

By: Jeanne Reynolds

By the time this posts, I’ll have only a few days left … in this decade, that is. Then my age will begin with a new digit. This is a REALLY. BIG. BIRTHDAY.

It’s weird to think the time I have left is half or less than the time I’ve already spent. (If you didn’t follow that, don’t worry, you’re getting older, too.) What I mean is, according to actuarial tables, my family history and my own state of being, I may have 30 years left – 20 good ones, if I’m lucky – to do some of the things I’ve always dreamed of.

Which made me think, what exactly are those things? I don’t want to call them a bucket list, because God willing and the creek don’t rise I won’t be kicking any soon. But here are a few dreams I have yet to realize.

I want to …

  • Drink dry rose in Provence and real Champagne in Paris.
  • Spend a week in Tuscany seeing everything … or nothing.
  • Make a hole in one.
  • Publish the children’s book I first wrote when I was 9 years old. (There’s a hippo in it, but I don’t want to tell you more and spoil the ending.)
  • Learn to paint well enough that I’d actually hang one of my pictures on my wall.
  • Be able to touch my toes without pain in my hamstrings.

There are some others I could add, like riding an elephant, seeing the pyramids or reading every book Alexander McCall Smith wrote, but I’m OK either way (and I’ve already jumped out of a plane). Still, it’s kind of a short list and even I have to admit it’s a bit self-oriented. So I’ll add two more:

  • Remember never to take for granted the kind, gentle, romantic man who is my husband.
  • Continue learning what God’s plan for me is and for what special purpose he has put me here.

Speaking of God’s plan, yeah, none of us knows if we have 30 years or 30 minutes left. Which means why wait for this birthday or any other to get started on my dreams? I put a yoga class on my calendar for this week (that toe touch thing).

It’s small, but it’s a start.

How a Mixer Changed My Outlook

By: Azure Stilwell

This month I celebrated a milestone birthday. I turned the big 4-0h! It was a great birthday complete with 40 e-cards sent from my husband. My extended family chipped in to get me a Kitchen Aid mixer. I’ve wanted it for years but I could never justify spending that much money on a mixer, so it was a wonderful surprise.

It actually got me to thinking about why I was so afraid to purchase something that I obviously wanted for a very long time? Why should I feel the need to justify a purchase to anyone outside of my immediate family? I think I worry too much about what others think. So, for my next 40 years I am going to try and not worry so much what others think of me and focus more on my wants and needs. I might even learn how to make my own pasta with my brand new Kitchen Aid mixer! The point is, I don’t want to spend years wishing I had something but being too embarrassed to buy it because of its cost – especially when I know I will get tons of use out of it. It’s funny how wisdom really does come with age. 🙂

Celebrating 40

By: Chaunte McClure

Amid my excitement about turning 40, I created a short list of ways I wanted to celebrate. I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I usually don’t make a big deal out of birthdays. That’s just the way it was in my family, but I’m changing, because now I have a greater appreciation for life and I’m grateful for every single day, no matter what’s packaged in it.

During my thirties, darkness seemed to hover over me; even when there were rays of sunshine, they seemed to quickly find a hiding place behind the clouds. Many days it seemed I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but it was just a shadow and I’m still walking – walking in victory.

So, yes, I ought to celebrate and enjoy life and so should you. Go places you’ve never gone and do things you’ve never done. It’s my desire to accomplish both every year. This time, I went to DR, but you don’t have to travel to a Caribbean nation. I wanted to, in honor of the big 4-0.

Here’s a peek at what I did:

Flying High

parasailing

While relaxing on the beach and hiding from direct sunlight under the resort’s palapa umbrellas, I had an impulse to fly high. I watched other tourists take flight and from below,  it looked so fun. My husband didn’t even take me seriously when I said I wanted to parasail. After inquiring about the cost, he hurried back to the room to get money before I changed my mind. There was no turning back though. This 40 year old had the audacity to sail through the air while attached to a boat. I guess if I was really daring I would’ve gone solo, but the tandem ride put me at ease. I was a little nervous on the way up, forcing myself not to look back for fear of having a nervous breakdown. Once we got to the highest altitude, I was fine, even looking down to see what I could identify below in the beautiful, clear blue waters. If you ever decide to give it a try, remember, it’s mind over matter. Just enjoy the flight and the views!

Getting Dirty

celebrating 40

We also had some dirty fun while riding the countryside trails in a dune buggy, splashing through mud and squinting through the occasional dust clouds. It certainly was an interesting way to see the authenticity of the Dominican Republic, passing modest, colorful homes, the cutest kids waving hello, farmland, and makeshift roadside stands while making stops at Macao Beach and a natural cave. Minus the fumes we inhaled from the other dune buggies, this was an awesome experience. By the way, ladies, no need to shampoo or curl your hair before this ride.

Horsing Around

horseback riding

I expressed interest in going horseback riding a few years ago, but I never really pursued it. Fortunately, it was an activity offered with one of our excursions. After saddling up, I was praying the horse didn’t detect my anxiety or take off galloping around the ranch without the rest of the group. Thankfully, they were obedient to their trainers. While making our way around the ranch, somehow, perhaps because of the peaceful ride, my mind drifted to the 23rd Psalm. In between hearing the Spanish dialogue between the two guides, I kept thinking about the shepherd and green pastures. I never made the connection between it all, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me in the form of a sermon, or maybe a blog entry.

Making Memories

celebrating 40

That vacation is in the books, but it was fun making memories and sharing some of them with you. I have one more month in 2016 to celebrate turning 40 and four more before I turn 41.

I’m fabulous at 40, and I’ll still be fabulous at 41. Oh, I had a birthday photo shoot, too.

Turning 40

By: Chaunte McClure

Milestone birthdays tend to generate excitement among individuals and this one was no different for me. Last year this time I was looking forward to turning the big 4-0 and I was making celebration plans for 2016.

On my to-do list was to take a trip out of the country. After a few months of deciding where to go, my heart was finally set on the Dominican Republic.

In October, we took to the skies for about a four-hour flight to the beautiful Caribbean Island for some time to unwind, celebrate me and learn more about a different culture. Hurricane Matthew had me on edge a bit because I thought he would rip through DR and force us to cancel our trip. Not so! For six days, I got to soak up the sun and make new memories.

Domincan RepublicDomincan RepublicNot all of the Dominican Republic is attractive. Resort life keeps your mind on R&R, blocking the reality of what life is really like on the island. We spent most of one day exploring the countryside, where Dominicans live and work.

Domincan Republic

They work for very little, I might add. According to our tour guide, on average, they make about less than $400 per month. Because of tips, resort employees usually earn a little more annually. Teachers are on the higher end of the scale earning about $900 monthly.

Domincan Republic

One of our tour stops was at a public school tucked down a dirt road where sugar cane grow several feet high in nearby fields.

Domincan Republic

For the first time since I was a child, I got to taste sugar cane. And like this vacation, it was sweet!

I’ll share more later this month.