When we bought this Shoebox of a house and the 40 acres around it, we knew that eventually we would need to grow the house to fit a family. We started with just the upper 900 square feet of house finished. We carpeted the basement bedroom and living room just as Gideon was born. And we have gorgeous blueprints for a very simple but perfect addition that would add a garage, mud room, and the holy grail second bathroom on… eventually. Many of you also know that 9 years ago, we dismantled a red barn, labeled it, and stored it in an old semi-trailer in the side pasture.
It’s still there.
Funny thing is, my husband is in construction and STILL could not in any way shape or form pull the trigger on the addition or the red barn project. After a few years, I kind of caught on. HE WASN’T SURE. And if he’s not sure, he doesn’t make plans.
I finally called him on it. I asked him what he was waiting for… and he drove me to this property 10 miles from our home. An old barn sat at the top of a hill at the end of a storybook driveway. The house was long gone, but pieces of foundation gave a glimpse of what was. I knew immediately that we could bring that farm back to life. There was just one problem: it was not for sale. It was not for sale and the deed is held by 7 siblings… grandchildren of the original owners. Those seven siblings are not interested in living on the farm anymore, but some of them were not ready to let it go. For two years, we wrote letters, made phone calls, and built dreams on possibility.
And they said no.
Or at least, not right now. Remember? You remember that.
I figured this would be the final green light for the Shoebox addition. I figured we would grow TexasNorth like the goodyear farm that she was: as needed and as able. As a military kid who didn’t have a permanent address until high school, I love the fact that all three of my children have known only this house as home. I would be fine here. We could raise the barn, build a small classroom, and make it happen. Absolutely.
In June, Curt asked me to drive by an address 10 miles in the opposite direction. Understand, please, that Curt looks at property like I make dinner: basically everyday and so much so that no one really notices any more. Trolling platte maps and property listings is a hobby and one that I steer clear of, especially since the building dreams on possibility situation. I don’t hear about land for sale or who’s passed away or which farm is splitting after 100 years of family ownership. I can’t test-drive cars and walk away without feeling immense guilt. Curt knows not to talk to me about property unless he’s 99% serious about following through.
So, when he called and mentioned a house down a dirt road… I sighed. I wasn’t sure if my heart could handle it. I waited a couple days and then swung by with a van full of groceries and half-asleep kids.
The address did not take me to the top of a hill like before. It was hidden down a dip, through the trees, and over a small creek. Around a small circle drive, a bright blue house popped up and across from it- a perfect red barn, ready and waiting for animals. I drove around the circle drive twice. I did not let myself get out or walk around. I’m that kind of dreamer.I stayed in my seat, put the van in park, and peered over the edge of the dashboard for a good 10 minutes.
Gideon looked around from his back seat. “Us needa move here, Mom.”
“You think, Buddy?”
“Yeah. Us needa put our stuff on a trailer an’ move here.”
“Well, we’ll see, Buddy. We’ll see what happens.”
What happened is we put in an offer, and they said no.
And we waited for months while nothing happened.
And their realtor called and said we should try again.
And we tried again and they said yes.
We bought the farm. A hundred-year-old farm with a hundred-year-old blue house and protected wetlands and a standing red barn and an abby full of farming nuns behind us. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
We will move in June after school lets out. It will change nothing with school or church, but it will change everything else, absolutely everything else. I will need the next 6 months to wrap my brain around it.
And that old red barn we dismantled? She will be put back together in a year’s time. Maybe you could join us for that. I’ll make you an apple pie.
It’s 8:30 on Wednesday night and you are somewhere over Minnesota while I type, headed home. Your job doesn’t ask you to travel much, but we miss you when you are gone. The herd always knows when you are gone.
[Y’all go ahead and click on that link above and refresh your memory… I’m warning you: it ain’t pretty.]
Two years later, we married and spent our first nights together at the Amway in downtown Grand Rapids.
This year, on your birthday, we’ll be at the Amyway again- for a marriage retreat.
It’s as if every part of our relationship up to this moment has been leading to this weekend!
I hope I don’t screw it up.
Also, I hope there’s room service at some point.
It’s been twelve years since we first met in California, nine years since we married and started sharing a bathroom, seven since our first kid and me dragging you out to the country, and five since the cows joined us in the pasture. How are you feeling about all of that?You’re (soon to be) 36. You’re a successful project manager known in Michigan and beyond for being calm, focused, and extremely adept at excel spreadsheets.
You’re a father to three kids. THREE! What in the world, Curt? What were we thinking? We weren’t thinking. It’s too many kids. Together, we juggle the three of them well, I think. Actually, let’s face it: Abby takes care of herself so really we just deal with the older two. Your patience, your ability to stay un-affected, and your complete devotion to peanut butter sandwiches on Saturdays makes you a rockstar dad and counter-balances my I HAVE NO PLAN plan to a perfect degree.
I do not know a harder worker who can push himself so far for so long without complaining or faltering. It is so incredibly… annoying. Seriously.What is my role here? Realism? Evening out the curve for our kids? Someone has to cook, I suppose… you are terrible at that. Cooking and ironing.
Not that you’re not an excitable person. People still talk about the night around the fire when you looked up an owl call on your phone and then had all of us sitting, literally, on the edge of our seats hoping right along with you that it would work and an owl would swoop down to join us. You’re enthusiasm is contagious. Owl calls. Truly.
I’ve watched you walk across a metal barn roof in the dead of an icy winter with no harness and no fear, and I’ve lived through about 800 cycles of research for the “next” thing: a skid steer, a car, a pair of shoes. I’ve watched you deal pragmatically with excruciating back surgery, kidney stones, and cavities. You go all-in, every time.
Your brain is a little scary. I think maybe it’s only numbers floating around in there. Numbers and engine parts. You calculate tire rotations and RPMs and speedometer accuracy to stay awake on long drives. You use Google Earth to figure exact linear footage of property for cattle fencing. You ask for maps of dirt roads and county lines. You explain frost cycles to friends over dinner, and make it educational and completely normal.
You will drive anywhere. Connecticut, overnight and back again with a 30-foot trailer and a friend? Sure. Kansas for a sale but we’re not buying? You bet. Texas for a 4-day weekend? Pack it up.
In Enneagram World, you are an uncontested 1– a stoic problem solver.
I am a 4– a creative, unique, emotional (and maybe a little lazy) spirit.
There is no logical or emotional reason we should be married or even friends.
Our marriage is the very definition of what is possible when two people with fall in love and let God fill in the cracks. There is no other way save Grace that an intense, focused, achievement-oriented guy would fall for and devote his life to supporting a gypsy of a girl who is constantly searching for solid ground.
Or maybe I found it.
Maybe you show me stability every day… that you’re not going anywhere (except maybe to Connecticut “real quick”), that you love me unconditionally (but it would help if I would not read so late into the night with the light on and page-turning), that you believe in keeping and honoring promises (so you’re kind of stuck).
It’s our first marriage retreat ever. On your birthday! At the Amway! I can’t wait. These past 12 years have been an absolute blur of life. We are not new to this relationship or parenting thing anymore. And rather than let this next stage of life run over us with eleven more years of rising and setting suns, we are going to attempt to be intentional about it. I am excited to sit down and make space to talk to you and pray with you and eat dinner with you. Alone (except for every one else attending). I’ll try to take it seriously. But, honestly, Curt… if there’s a budget portion or even a “where do you want to be in 5 years” workshop, I’m gonna need a Coke and some Cheetos. ALL THE PLANNING. LAWD.I’m sweating already.
Happy birthday, Love. You’re amazing. You are the best bonfire-builder, farmer slash engineer, sword-maker I know, and I am just so darn happy to have you on my team.
I pick you. Every time.
Except when I’m panicking and then I pick another 4 who will hold me through the commotion instead of mapping out a (ridiculously effective and efficient) solution grid.
That boy up there and I crossed off 9 years of marriage yesterday.
It is my greatest journey of discovery and sacrifice: to choose to love and be loved every day. I am reminded daily that this is the tangible proof of a story- THE amazing story– whispered in my ear so very long ago: I am loved so much, another man died to self in order to set me free.
Thursday night, I stood before 180 friends, family, and complete strangers and told Rylie’s story at the GRCS Circle of Friends dessert reception. Circle of Friends raises money for the Educational Support Services fund, which supplies staff and resources for all our special-needs kiddos in the Grand Rapids Christian Schools family.
It was my first speech in 15 years. I wore my fun dress and my fancy boots. It was an incredible opportunity to thank people who have changed our family for the better in the midst of great uncertainty, and it was a time to thank God for revealing Himself through my child. Certainly one of the better nights of my life, where everything seemed to work and, hopefully, for His glory.
What follows is the video and a full transcript of my speech that night; while I hate to see or hear myself on camera, I do believe it is worth it to celebrate the people that have surrounded us on this journey.
I hope, whatever your situation, that you hear my heart in the words below:
the body of Christ is incomplete without you.
• • • • •
Thank you so much for having us. Curt and I so appreciate any opportunity to have conversation with adults. Having conversation with people know what it is to love and live with a child with special-needs is especially sweet. Curt asked if I was going to talk about him in this speech and I said, “I’m sure.” And he said, “Well, are you going to talk about my big muscles?” And I said, “Well, NOW I am.”
Our family has a lot of special needs.
Curt, I know you’re nervous. Neither one of us is ever sure what’s going to come out of my mouth, but I promise you that I went over most of this and I think we’re good.
Before I start I just want to say that Carolyn asked for me to simply tell our story… and I’m happy to do that. I just need to clarify that while Curt and I are in this together, this is MY version of the story. My emotions, my memory, my processing. And it should in no way seem to reflect the extremely logical, spiritually balanced, and emotionally stable opinions of my husband. He is infinitely better with details and an absolute master of his emotions. I am neither.
We are so very different… but we do make incredible children.
The youngest is Abby- she’s 16 months. She’s been teething for about 12 of those months and she grew her molars first. That kid can hold her own. She has to.
Her older brother is Gideon. He is three. He is fast. And, he is usually naked. And, that’s really all I can say about him in public. I would love to trade stories with some of you when we are finished here. Maybe you can tell me what I’m doing wrong.
Our oldest is Rylie Joy. Rylie is 6 and a kindergartener at Rockford Christian. Rylie was born ten days late, and- other than us having to go in and physically take her out- my pregnancy and her infancy was lovely and perfect and unremarkable in the best way. She slept, she smiled, she sat, she crawled… and all at the right times.
She was not walking on her own at her 18-month check up, though, and so our doctor thought we should have things checked out… just to be safe. Two months later, Early On of Michigan came to our house and tested Ry’s gross motor, fine motor, and speech abilities. All three major areas. And, at 20-months, she failed every test.
And we were shocked, really, because she was FINE. She looked FINE. I didn’t understand how things could be so wrong so early.
We plugged in immediately to special services through Ionia Schools. In fact, 2 of those therapists are here tonight because- as often happens when you spend hours upon weeks upon years working with someone- they become family. Rylie’s progress to-date is in no small part a reality because people like Dana and Becky taught our family how to be a family with a child with special-needs. Your work is holy, and it is largely under-appreciated. Thank you and we love you.
Rylie has apraxia, which we’re all familiar with because it’s what adults have after a stroke. They have to re-learn daily skills and speech. But in children, there is often no known cause- no stroke, no trauma- and they don’t have the benefit of RE-learning skills. Their bodies have no muscle memory of performing these functions before, and so our children are literally and physically learning to hold a fork. Learning to sit without falling over. Learning to make an ‘s’ sound. Rylie is still learning to talk. She has never had any trouble getting a point across though. She is a storyteller and emotional communicator… like her mother. But words and language are easy for me. It’s what I do. My daughter has the same desire for communication, but she must fight to physically be heard.
It has been said that the pure joy that will come from a rescue and a ransom of a child’s life is probably the most satisfying thing you can imagine (Mike Dennehy). Which is beautiful and lovely and true and hard and possible… particularly if you are God and your son is Christ and your goal is to save the world. It is an entirely different story when we are talking about our own children… when you are talking about my child.
I think we parents of special-needs kids… we know what it is to ransom our children. Surely every child is the Lord’s, but we face that Truth a bit quicker than most parents. And it became clear to me the moment I found myself in a room with 12 other people, each assigned to a different part of Rylie’s education and well-being… doctors and therapists and coordinators and liaisons and aides and principals and teachers… I realized that I could not be all of those 12 people. For her to have any chance at the best God had in store for her, I would have to ransom her. I would have to give her up.
There’s a lot of talk about needing a village to raise a child. It inspires pictures of tight community, shared burdens, and corporate worship. We love it because it’s beautiful to enter into parenthood with other families and walk the road together. But, community is hard because it involves real people with real flaws… and most of us only use that village when it is convenient or for short times of great need.
As parents of special-needs kids, a village is not an idea or luxury. It is a necessity. A terrifying necessity for me, a mom who is an ugly crier and the last in line to ask for help. Y’all, I am terrible at community. I’m an introvert who makes incredibly awkward first impressions and sometimes even worse second-impressions. Enter God, who would ask me to rescue and ransom my child… and make me do it by entering into and trusting life with other people.
Apparently, God would be using Ry’s disability to work on me a little bit.
A year ago, we began the search for kindergartens.
Now, our family lives in this strange no-man’s land of an address.
We pay Kent County taxes.
We are districted for Ionia Schools.
We go to church in Rockford.
I shop at the Greenville Meijer.
I go to the Belding library and Lowell’s Goodwill.
So, when it came time to look for schools for Rylie Joy, we found ourselves within 15 miles of 4 school districts and 6 potential schools- and that was being picky. We emailed and phoned all of them… shopping, really, for information on how each school used their special-education money and resources.
One- and only one- school called us back and asked if we would come in for a meeting. We met the kindergarten teacher, the special services coordinator, and the principal at Rockford Christian early one morning before, I believe, even God was fully awake. We talked for more than an hour about everything from curriculum to the Tigers to what makes Rylie laugh.
At the end, as bells were bringing students into the halls, the principal stood to leave. “Whatever you decide, I want you to know we love Rylie,” he said- and then stopped as his voice caught. “and we would love to work with you in bringing out the best God has planned for Rylie.”
Now, I have since learned that Eric Burgess cries a lot. Bless your heart, Friend. It is my favorite thing about you, followed closely by our mutual good taste in sports and music. While Rylie’s story and God’s potential in her IS beautiful, I know that Eric feels this way about ALL his students and staff. My child is not more special than any other kid that walks through his doors. She is the SAME... and after years of being different, it is no small joy to be the SAME in someone’s eyes.
It was an incredible moment for me. A decisive moment. I knew in an instant that Ry would be safe here, that she would be loved here, and that she would be challenged here. And I knew that I had to give her up.
This would be my price. My ransom. My sacrifice. I would give her up. Education was going to be far more expensive than I ever imagined… not in terms of discipline and money and budgeting, but in heart.
My COST? My cost is in trusting and loving the village to help me raise this child… to give her every opportunity to be the person God intends her to be. I pay every day- in the giving up and the giving over.
Rylie has thrived at Rockford Christian. I could tell it was a good fit immediately- mainly because she was coming home with WAY better hair than when she left in the morning. I mean, what magic is this? My child who does not allow a brush to touch her head is coming home with double braids, buns, high ponytails. I don’t know who you hair-fairies are, but God bless you.
Rylie receives state-funded speech and occupational therapy through the Rockford Public Schools 4 times a week. They come to school and Ry has one-on-one sessions with her therapists. Rockford Christian then takes those goals and exercises and expands them to fit into every minute of Rylie’s day. With Karen VanStright at the lead, there are 10 staff- funded by the Educational Support Services Fund- at Rockford Christian that work with over 40 children like Rylie who need extra help. TEN extra STAFF passionate about kids like my kid. Ten staff who are constantly looking for ways to make education accessible at every angle, for every kid. Staff who join us at doctor’s appointments to get information first-hand, staff who look up alternative therapies, staff who hang Rylie’s pictures on their walls.
Those staff are the hands and feet of the Shepherd. They seek out those that would otherwise be easily lost. Those that are harder to teach. Those that are difficult to understand. Those that have emotional and over-involved parents. You are the staff who offer my child an education in a safe, exciting, and loving environment. Teaching my child that she is not only WELCOME, but EXPECTED. Our children are welcome everywhere these days. Kids with special-needs can be found in every Meijer aisle, McDonald’s play land, and Sunday school class… we are welcome everywhere. Of course. But to be EXPECTED… well, that is something entirely different, isn’t it?
“Of course she can come. It’s not too hard. We’re excited.” That’s what they said that morning… about my kid. Which was, in a word, liberating. As a parent, I had been feeling the exact opposite of that sentiment for months… losing ground and sanity at an alarming rate. But you were ready. If I was willing, you were ready.
Rylie loves school. She loves it. She generally leaves the house in tears (we talked about the hairbrush thing, right?) but walks through the doors with a smile. She goes to gym and music and recess… just like everyone else. The extra staffing at school allows Ry to spend the majority of her time in the classroom with her peers instead of in a more secluded resource room. With the help of Karen’s staff, Rylie’s school day looks remarkably similar to her other classmates, despite a wide gap in communication and, *ahem* attention issues. She has to communicate with her friends, she has to sit through circle time, sometimes she even has to go to the principal’s office… just like everyone else. But she has breaks. She has an aide. She has extra tools to help even the playing field. You made the school… fit her. I just, well… I didn’t even know that was possible.
School systems, both public and private, are overwhelmed with funding and staffing and curriculum issues. The Educational Support Services fund is an example of what it looks like for a community- a neighborhood, really- of like-hearted people to say, “We can make this better.” It is a grass-roots effort to give our specially-abled kids every chance at discovering their full potential in school and every day life. You looked at a difficult, threadbare situation and said, “It’s not too hard. We’ve got it covered. We’re excited.”
The Educational Support Services fund helps over 400 students in our Grand Rapid Christian schools. That’s 400 kids with families that want nothing more than for their child to be loved and challenged and an active part of the body of Christ. Supporting the fund does so much more than simply add staff or resources to our schools- it ministers to the family standing behind that child. It tells a family that the body of Christ is incomplete without them. Imagine. Being flawed, but being needed.
It is a universal desire.
The Gospel of John, chapter 9, tells the story of a blind man. And everyone wanted know why he was blind. Who’s fault… his parents or his own? Jesus told them that the answer was neither. He was blind so that the works of God could be revealed in him.
No family wishes for special-needs. Life is fraught enough without the added troubles of exceptional emotional and developmental and physical delays. Therapy and IEPs and medications and specialists and waiting rooms. There is a desperately ugly, lonely side to special-needs.
But great struggle often allows for great perspective. Without Rylie, I would not understand that a savior can come in the gift of a child, that community is not always painful, that surrender can be satisfying. Were it not for my child, I would not know the joy of hard-earned progress, that most strangers can be trusted, and that a smile speaks every language. I would forget that my God knows the pain of seeing his child suffer, and that Christ fought to be heard his entire life. Were it not for my child, so much more of God would be a mystery. But He has been revealed in her. And, He will continue to do this until Christ returns. She is flawed, but needed.
I have given you my greatest gift, my child, and you have treated her with dignity and love and grace.
To you who show your support in time, in funding, and in praying for the ESS… thank you. You are changing families by equipping our schools to minister to all shapes and shades of God’s children. For all the kids receiving love and therapy and education because of your generosity, I say thank you.
This year, Tuesday, there was that whole election thing going on… so, you know. Hard to compete.
In 2004, we lived just outside of downtown at 650 Kellogg, the same house Curt had lived in his whole life. Curt worked for Wolverine Building Group… where he’s worked since college. I was a nanny and a part-time ropes facilitator at Camp Roger… which would soon swing into full-time. We got Abe (our enormous horse of a labrador retriever) just a couple months after we were married.
We married at the neighborhood church… Eastern Avenue CRC, with stained-glass windows and wooden pews. That Saturday in November was warm and sunny, like God knew half our visitors would be from Texas and California and a true Michigan November might kill them. Our ceremony took approximately 17 minutes. We both carried some college debt into this arrangement, and I brought along my little s10 pickup truck to share the driveway with Curt’s Toyota 4Runner. My jeans had holes in them and Curt wore black Doc Martens to work.
A lot has changed in 8 years; a lot has stayed the same. We moved 30 miles out of the city one month before Ry was born. Curt still works for Wolverine. I stopped full-time work with when I was had Rylie, so it’s been 6 years since my W2 has read over $50. We have 3 kids, 30 longhorn cattle, 20 chickens if the raccoons were kind last night, and Abe is still truckin’ along. He is, by far, the most consistent thing in this family. I drive an Odyssey now, like the rest of America with children under the age of 10, and Curt has upgraded to a grown-up car that cannot climb sand dunes on a whim. We are debt-free minus the house and property. My jeans still have holes in them, but Curt wears big-boy dress shoes to work now. I am a better cook than when we started, and Curt is less obvious about being bothered by dust.
That’s Sugar standing guard there in the back. We moved, like, 87 times for this photo and she’s in every shot.
OH MY WORD, it has been the hardest, most ridiculous, most fun, most maddening thing I have ever done… this marriage thing. This living with a boy thing. This sharing everything THING. Hard. But worth it. I would not, could not, change a single, blessed thing.
What do you remember?
How did you meet us? Did you run track with Curt like the rest of West Michigan? Do you remember Curt talking about the California girl from Texas? Do you remember me telling you I was getting married? Have you only known me AFTER marriage… as in, you call me KATE and not Katie? I would love to know where your story meets our story.
You remember the story about my first kiss? Surely. SHIRLEY, you do. I’m laughing and crying into my keyboard as I type this. Dear Lord, what an awkward time for me.
Leigh, beautiful blog-friend Leigh, has been doing a series called This Is How We Met. It has been such a blast reading other folks’ stories about chance or not-so-chance first encounters with their significant other. Today it’s my turn! Head over there and catch up. Start with mine, of course… because you and I are family. FAMLEE. And then read the rest of them. And then come back and tell me how You met Yours.
I’ll get you started:
Curt and I met, like most couples in the Free World, at a women’s retreat. A large, overnight ministry women’s retreat.
That is absolutely true. That February 2002 weekend was the Young Life Women’s retreat near San Diego, and I was the host… which is a fancy way of saying I collected the money and made sure everyone had towels. Kevin and Curt came down to volunteer and help me get some side-work done in-between me racing to find toilet paper for the front bathrooms. Women’s Retreats are serious about their toilet paper and paper towels. Men’s Retreats, not so much.
So, I was busy and single and 25. Of course, I was meeting quality men left and right… youth ministry and YoungLife in particular are GREAT for that, but they all came on Friday and left on Sunday. I lived on a virtual island of awesome… solitude.
It is so. stinkin’. FUN. to celebrate with you people. Truly. Thank you for all the cheers Thursday. I’m due December 20. I’ll go a week early for a c-section. We will not be finding out if Little is a he or a she beforehand… so we’re all in the same boat here except I get the night sweats and you get the laughs, ok?
It was March 15. I thought, to be quite frank, that this would finally be the day I ended up on national news for locking my children out of the house, booking a one-way ticket to Jamaica, or accidentally (?) poisoning dinner. I was dangerously close to needing an emotional intervention and possibly some physical restraints. I emailed friends. I cried. I gnashed my teeth.
The emails poured in… “hang in there”, “parenting/wife-ing is a marathon not a sprint”, “do you need me to bring you a Dr. Pepper?” God bless you all. Everyone.
Exactly 1.5 hours later, for the first time in 2 years due to pregnancy and nursing, I started my period.
To you of the ‘stronger’ gender who do not know this disphoria… this absolute mania that comes along with the abillity to grow A LIFE IN YOUR WOMB… yes, it is a blessing. An honor. And, every month, you think you are absolutely losing your mind for no apparent reason other than the entire world hates you. Every. Single. Time.
Content that I was not destined for an early check-in at the loony bin (this time), life carried on and even, I dare say, got better.
Until sometime later when The Husband returned home from work extremely cheerful. He was whistling (which I loathe) and hug-gy (which I discourage) and generally jovial (which is… annoying). As he chewed his rice (loudly) at dinner, I silently considered kicking him in the knee and running out the front door. He smiled sincerely, “Rough day?” *sigh*
I realize, I am a JOY.
This odd and specific rage was remotely familiar to me and I pushed back my chair to take a deep breath, refill my drink, and check the calendar. I was shocked to realize I was more than a week ‘late’… though I hardly thought things would be back on track so soon after a 2-year biological hiatus.
As he cleared the table, I excused myself to the restroom where I located a lone pregnancy test in a blank wrapper at the very back of the cabinet. Three minutes later, I had one blue line in each window. But- no box. No instructions. No key to the puzzle.
I stomped into the kitchen. “I think I’m pregnant. I’m not sure because this test is old and I can’t remember the rules, but I think I’m pregnant.”
Curt, still holding a plate, was stunned. “Excuse me? What does this mean? This line… this negative line is a POSITIVE test? What does this mean?”
Days later, I called my conscience in Texas. “So, I might be pregnant but the test I took didn’t have any instructions. What’s your gut?” Ever the sanity in my life, she instructed me to go to the store and buy another test. “And then call me immediately.”
So, I did… because by this time I was nothing if not curious.
Twenty plus three minutes later (with a 4 year-old audience), I was staring at a faint positive.
Twenty plus FOUR minutes later, the 4 year-old emerged from the bathroom with bare buns and the extra pregnancy test.
“Did you use this?” I asked.
“Mom. On. Me. Pee Pee. Me.” she replied.
Ry’s test was negative, just to be clear.
Nearly one month after the first questionably positive test, I called my OB to set up an appointment. The nurse asked, of course, when my last period was… which I absolutely knew to be March 15. “Well!” she replied, “Usually we hear from folks sooner! We’d like to see you sometime this week since you’re already 10 weeks pregnant.”
Yes, well… there’s a story there. Some denial and some procrastination and also some other minor complications. But that is neither here nor there. Sometimes, this is just how it happens.
I confess I took one more test the day before my appointment out of complete and total fear that I would show up and be 100% NOT pregnant and then have to explain why I thought I WAS. I took the third and final test alone and without anyone knowing.
It was positive immediately, and -alone- I smiled whole-heartedly.
Little, you punched the air and did a flip when the ultrasound shed its light on you at our first appointment. You’re going to fit in here just fine. Take your time and grow strong. We cannot wait to meet you!
We had children, as many of you did, because it was the next natural step. We were blessed that it worked fairly easily and we were prepared for the basic social responsibilities of shelter, food, safety, and education. We figured they’d be pretty cute (we were right) and that we were above-average in our ability to handle stress (we were wrong). We knew we would pray for them and take them to church. We knew that we wanted kids.
I don’t remember discussing the “yes, but WHAT ARE THEY FOR?” part of kids… the “big picture that gets you through the mud” part. I subconsciously assumed the usual: kids teach you about God, kids keep the world going, kids pay for your nursing homes. Kids are necessary and lovely and hard.
But then Rylie was born. And then Rylie was broken. And I began to question the point of such heartache. Why have kids if it is going to be THIS HARD? Is it fair to Rylie? Is it fair to her brother? Is it fair to us?
And I became afraid. Afraid of doctors. Afraid of having more kids. Afraid of anger. Afraid of therapy. Afraid… that I could not do it and I would fail. I would fail Rylie. Afraid.
I am not, as you may think, a strong person. I am not gifted in patience or passivity. This past year with Rylie has brought me to my knees both spiritually and physically as I begged for answers and rest. Clarity and help. Motivation and a supernatural heart. Why wasn’t it coming more naturally? Wasn’t I made for this?
What was I missing? What in the world was I missing?
I had to back to the beginning.
I expected Rylie to be born… and I expected Rylie to be fine. I expected to deal with ‘girl’ emotions in junior high and heartbreak in high school. I expected to right the few wrongs of my childhood, teach her to ride a bike, and to make handmade Valentines for her Kindergarten class. She would grow up, possibly start a family of her own, and continue the circle.
I did not expect for her to be broken.
I watched my child sit through hours of intense speech therapy drills last week. I watched her perform over and over again, stumbling through language that is so easy for me. On the last day, I heard the woman demand, “Say KNEE! KNEE.”
Rylie, distracted and head down, impulsively yelled “KNEE!” She looked up, put her little hands to her little mouth, and grinned. And then she clapped. And then she yelled again, hopping in her seat. “KNEE! KNEE! KNEE!” She has never been able to say that before. I can’t wait to show you the video. It’s remarkable.
Watching that miracle from behind the glass mirror, I realized my truth: Rylie is NOT broken. She is the very image of God. God, who knows what it is to hurt. What it is to be misunderstood. What it is to have people define you by their fears. What it is to love unconditionally. Rylie is a lot of things, but she is NOT broken.
Her story does not stop at her diagnosis, and, therefore, neither does mine.
What is Rylie for? She is for redefining norms. She is for healing old hurts. She is for second-chances. She is for seeing God in a tiny little body, fighting to be heard. She is a messenger. She’s a game-changer.
I had it all wrong. And, I’m sure I will again. But I am certain that I would not have learned this lesson without my child. Not so effectively. That’s what she is for.
And I am not afraid anymore.
I am a lot of things, but I am not afraid.
Some brilliant quotes from email answers you sent in on the ‘strategy‘ post:
I can say that a good reason for having kids is WOW you really understand uncondonditional, overflowing, heart-gonna-burst-it’s-aching-so-much love. This parental love is so different than familial love or romantic love.
I see the worst of life everyday at work, and it is only though trust and faith in God that I have hope that my kids will be okay in this crazy scary world full of all the wrong choices.
I still have no clue what I want professionally or in some ways personally either! I applaud any and all who choose to be parents, there is an honor and a love that you deserve for taking on what is such a huge responsibility, and risk to your heart and soul to leave yourself vulnerable to a little life that can bring so much joy but also so much terror and fear through all that can go wrong in the world.
I heard a saying once, and I know I won’t get it right, but it was something like, “Children are proof of God’s hope for the future.”
Why would God call us to do that? First, to bring him glory through the using of our gifts in his kingdom. But secondly, because it is the hardest, most selfless (when done well…yikes…need to remind myself of that ALL the time) thing I will ever do. It reminds me of how God doesn’t respond to me when I mess up, and reminds me of how I should treat others when they sin, err or fail me. It is a huge lesson in humility, in dependence on God, and in self-sacrifice. It reminds me of the book, Sacred Marriage, and it’s principle: what if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than happy? Challenging stuff, especially in our church world today.
I am sitting here typing this with a house full of kids (well actually 2 are at school which is a beautiful thing) and for the first time in 9 years I am thinking, why did I have kids, because they don’t clean, they cost a ton on money, and half of time I’m not sure I want to claim them as my own—and surely, it isn’t proving what a wonderful person I am–NO WAY. So, I guess it has to come down to God. I had kids because God made me. I didn’t plan it–He did. He made me desire my husband and created this really strange and excitingly wonderful way to make them. And then He held me in His hands as I held them in mine–and he hasn’t let me go yet, so I haven’t let go of mine.
God’s plan for me and having kids was different from my idea, but has humbled me to not always knowing what He has planned for me. I was given a child in an unhealthy marriage and unable to have children in a healthy marriage. It is hard at times to understand the reason behind that. Having [my son] was not planned and when I think back to the circumstances it is truly a miracle. I do know that having him has taught me true love, great joy and some of the deepest pain and tears. The level of each of those emotions cannot be matched in any other relationship.
I can only imagine how much more I will want children once I am with the person that I want to have them with. I mean my goodness… They’ll be these true, living, breathing symbols of love and commitment and a marriage covenant and thinking about that makes me giggle.
All you have to do is love this baby and teach him about Jesus.
We wanted to have kids so that there would be more nice people in the world. We figured that we are both nice, we would be nice to our children and therefore they would probably be nice also. So far I think that [our daughter] is a positive addition.
It was such a shock, in fact, that family and friends came from across the country to witness the 20-minute ceremony. Some crossed state lines for the first time in their lives. Some bought dresses for the first time in their lives. Some wore matching socks for the first time in their lives.
It was a very special occasion.
Curt is very much my compliment… very, ah, stoic and logical and black/white. I tend to lean towards passionate and creative and improvisational. This combination has led to some knock-down, drag-out fights… but also to a whole new world of understanding. We have this farm because I am quick to make decisions and very convincing in the ‘it will be good!’ category. We have a working budget because The Boy understands numbers and can see the future. We go together. It’s the rule.
I like you, Curt. Thank you for meeting me at the altar.
A long, long time ago… in the depths of a lonely California winter, my best friend from high school sent me a phone book. It was my local, hometown phone book. Awesome, I thought. Just what I need.
Woe to she who does not believe in the power of random greatness. As I read the card for explanation, I began to smile. And then I started laughing. And then I started jumping up and down.
You see, the newest edition of the phone book had come out and she, like ya do, began to look up all the people she knew. And there, there in the ‘S’ was my family, of course. But not just anywhere. We were the Header! We were the start of a new column! Our name was in bold at the top! How many times in your life can you say that???
I was so excited that I called my brand-spankin’-new boyfriend, Curt, and told him everything.
And he said, “I don’t really see what the big deal is.”
So, I took a picture and I emailed it to him.
And he said, “I still don’t really see what the big deal is.”
I should have ended it right there, Folks. But I didn’t. Because I believe in people. Someday, he’ll understand me like you do. You understand, right? Dang.
Hey! I'm so very glad you stopped by! This is where I process life with 3 children, 25 longhorn cattle, 5 chickens, one dog, a super cute husband, and a habit of losing my keys by untangling words and feelings into stories. Grace, peace, and much, much love to you today.
A Circle of Quiet, L'Engle
Five Smooth Stones, Fairbairn
The Book Thief, Zusak
The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Smith
The Killer Angels, Shaara
East of Eden, Steinbeck
The Power of One, Courtenay