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Mixed Media Self Portraits

When Mark travels for work we don’t do much. That can be tough for the kids, but without him here to drive us and to push me around long distances in my wheelchair, we just aren’t really capable of getting out. I try to plan special things for when he’s away that break up the time and give the kids something to look forward to. We almost always order pizza with all the topping he won’t eat (hello olives and peppers!), we rent movies, and come up with activities we can do while we are huddled in. Today I’m sharing with you a fun idea we copied from another family, and had so much fun doing it.

First I took a picture of each kid (and dog) against a white wall in our house. Then I printed them out in black and white, set out our crafting buckets, and let the kids get to work. The rules were there were no rules. They took scraps and stickers and colors and every creative thing they could rummage, and transformed their pictures into works of art. I did some with them, and we truly had the best time giggling and getting our creative juices flowing. The pictures are proudly displayed on our kitchen wall, until the next thing we come up with!

Try it yourself! It’s great fun for kids and parents alike!

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Enough

I’m lying in bed as the last light of day seeps in the bottom of my bay windows.  The plasticky smell of oxygen whispers against my pillow with every breath, and I count how many times the back door chirps open as the kids run in and out to grab things for the box fort they are making.  They are soaking in the warmth the summer evenings still offer, even though school is back in session.  We have just wrapped up a whirlwind adventure of a summer vacation, and as I lie in the comfortable quiet I find myself wondering if it was enough.

We planned big.  There was hardly a week that we were not out traveling or exploring or trying out some new adventure.  We knew it was good and our family needed it. At the beginning of the summer we talked about shifting our focus to the memories and the legacies we were creating of our time together.  We definitely made big and wonderful memories, but I’m left troubling over the mundane. It is easy to make memories when it’s fun and exciting, but are we making good memories in the grind of every day?  I try to think back on my own childhood and remember the small moments.  I want my children to reminisce on our dinners around the table, braiding hair in the mornings before school, and snuggling in for a book before bedtime.  I want them to remember these things because these are the things that feel so inherently me. It will be easy to remember the thrill of a concert or the awe of a canoe ride, but I hope the kindness and love and adoration I have for them seeps deep into their souls so that when they think back on the days of packing school lunches and rubbing backs in my bed they will be overcome with the remembering of the safety and love that was there. We may still have a wild adventure or two, but for me, I’m going to be focusing on these little moments and making sure they count far into eternity.

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Summer Lovin’

Every summer for the past few years we have started off the break making a “summer bucket list” of things we want to do during summer vacation. Some things are big, some are small, but the main idea is to be intentional about using our time. I am a homebody through and through, so I would be perfectly happy snuggled in my nesting place with my tribe. I have wanderers and adventurers though, so we try to plan some exciting things to venture out and try while we are free from school routines.

This summer we crammed in more than we usually do, trying to check off some unique things that I either haven’t done or likely won’t able to in the future. It has been a blast. I have dug deep for energy and stamina to hang with my people, and while the nights find me collapsed in an exhausted heap, it has been exhilarating to taste so many joys this summer. We stretch me out, hydrate, medicate, and wake up again to take on the next adventure.

From staying in pajamas all day and doing sidewalk chalk, to concert hopping and driving to new destinations, we are creating a beautiful bucket full of the exciting and the mundane of sweet summertime. What is on your bucket list this summer?

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you may have already seen some of these, but enjoy the pictures of some of our adventures!

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

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July 14th

Today we remember those last moments we got to know our Ellianna. We were thankful this week of her anniversary to get to be in Colorado to celebrate her mighty life.

Our months with Ellie brought us so much love, we aim to always pass that on and continue to let her life make an impact on others. It’s not always we get to be in her hometown, so we took advantage of being able to continue her legacy here. Since we don’t get to shop for our little peanut we went shopping for another little girl who needed love and encouragement:

Looking for things to bless a baby girl, we were overwhelmed with the small reminders of our little one. Purple with rainbow stripes couldn’t have more embodied all that we remember.

When I looked for a card, we immediately saw one not only with the little Piglet that she was known for, but the quote on the front was the same as is written on her headstone. I melted at the tender reminders that God knows exactly what our hearts need.

We packed up our bag of love and headed up to Ellie’s NICU. Tears brimmed as we embraced one of the nurses who has become a lifelong friend. We asked her to choose a family for us, and she knew just who needed the encouragement. Standing in that familiar hallway, we got to meet the mother of another baby girl there fighting for life beyond the hospital doors. It was evident that God had placed her nurse on just the right day that a weary mama needed the love and hope we had to share. There we were, getting to exchange hugs and a gift of love because of the short and mighty life of our little girl. I will never stop being thankful.

After the hospital, we headed to the cemetery to remember. I know many people don’t see the point in visiting the cold hard stones, but for us it’s a tangible place where we can open our hearts and express our sorrow and joy as we remember the moments where we stood between earth and eternity and gave our girl back to the arms of the One who holds her. It’s especially helpful for our other children as they bring tokens of their love and remembrance for her. Little Colby had chosen a special shell on the beach of Florida for his big sister that he brought with him all the way to Colorado. We enjoyed a beautiful stormy sunset as we each wrote notes to our girl and then lit them, sending them floating into the sky.

We are truly blessed to have gotten to be Ellie’s family. She has changed us in ways we all needed, and we will forever be grateful for every day she was with us. We will continue to find ways to share the hope we have, and spread the love she gave us, until we meet again.

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Home, the Place Where I Belong…

My tribe and I are elated to be spending some time in our old stomping grounds, Colorado Springs. Mark had to travel out here for work, so we made him drag us along! There is so much good to be found in the bright sunny skies and horizon full of majestic, towering peaks. This is our place.

We have seen so many friends this visit. So many. There are still more we couldn’t even squeeze into our days, but we have dearly enjoyed each heart we’ve been able to reconnect with during our time out here. Old friends are the bestest friends.

My little people have enjoyed days full of swimming, playing with friends, visiting their favorite spots, and then snuggling in for crafts, movies, and massage trains. It has been a wonderful break for our hearts and minds, and we have found joy in our minutes.

Our visit is too short to fit in all the goodness we left behind here, but our love tanks are full as we wrap up a wonderful week packed with sweet memories. Thankful for the Giver of such gifts.

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An Open Letter to my Grieving Friends

Dear Mark and Stephanie,

You have just joined a club no one ever wanted to be a member of. How I wish no one has to wear the label of grieving parent. It’s one thing I wish we didn’t have in common, but because we are both here together, I’ll be here.

When you walk slowly out of the hospital into the sunshine with empty arms, wondering where to go from here, I’ll be here.

When guilt creeps in and tries to make you question your decisions, I’ll be here.

When you walk by her bedroom door and break down at the sight of all that was hers, I’ll be here.

When you struggle through all the “what-ifs,” I’ll be here.

When you numbly stumble through the surreality of laying her to rest, I’ll be here.

When you have to put your own grieving on hold to help her siblings in their grief, I’ll be here.

When school starts back up and her backpack still hangs on the hook, I’ll be here.

When people ask you how many kids you have and you struggle with what to say, I’ll be here.

When her birthday rolls around and you’re ripped apart by her not growing a year older, I’ll be here.

When the days and months and years tick by and your grief ebbs and flows like the ocean waves, I’ll still be here.

I will walk with you when you find new memories that make you smile, and I will sit with you when the sadness is too crushing to function. I’ll support you as you forge through the future, finding a new kind of normal. I will help you remember the good times, and I will never stop saying her name. I will be here as the landscape of your life takes on a new shape; one that you never hoped for or imagined, but one that is now reality. I will be here as you bravely pick yourself up and keep going, with all these precious pieces tucked away in your hearts. When you wake up each morning still a member of this new club, I will be here.

All my love,

Hannah

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Red Footie Pajamas

I distinctly remember my first time visiting the childrens’ unit at Cedar Springs Hospital. I was new to the city as an EMT, and while I had run my fair share of adult psychiatric calls, this was my first child.  Actually, in my naivety, I didn’t even know there was such thing as a psych unit for kids up to that point.

There I was, walking into the building for a boy under the age of 6 with an arm injury… thinking he must have been the son of someone who happened to be visiting.  I’m certain there was an audible squeak of my boots stopping abruptly against the hard floor as I turned the corner to find the entire wing of the building occupied by children of various ages. A staff member began rattling off the details of how he fallen out of bed, and my mind was searching for the inexplicable reason that he had been sleeping in a tasteless wooden bed in a duplicated room with hard sterile floors instead of tucked into the shelter of his parents’ hugs and kisses in his own familiar bedroom.  I was silently trying to piece together this mystery when another staff member ushered my patient into the hallway; a dark-haired little guy, hardly taller than my hips, padding silently in red footie pajamas.

That night I learned one of those hard life-truths that you don’t learn little by little; one of those truths that smack you in the face like the concrete-sting of a belly flop into icy water.  Though I lost that bit of innocence on that call I still had many questions bouncing around between my mind and the soul that stared out at me from those young brown eyes.

It wasn’t long before running psych calls for youngsters wasn’t unusual for me.  I ran the frantic 9 year old who pleaded with his grandma to give him one more chance after tearing apart the whole house.  I ran the 15 year old cutter who had run away from home, and the 13 year old boy who successfully took his own life.  I saw a new world of confusion and pain and I struggled to understand it.  There were those who were vocal about their opinions; it was easy to assume that a lack of parenting or responsibility had created this brokenness, or that these were just bratty children needing firmer discipline.  While I was never one to say it out loud, I suppose in some ways I thought the same thing.  I wondered if the guardians were just tired of dealing with the hard work of parenting, and wanted to pass the adversity off to someone else.  I wondered if these kids felt so invisible that their gashes and outlandish displays of defiance were the only means left to spark some flames of attention from the people they craved it from.  While I refrained from joining in the open toxic banter of judgement, I still pondered these questions because some things you just can’t understand until you’ve tasted them more personally.

Fast forward several years to my own boy standing at the dawning of teen-hood.  Two parents who loved him unconditionally, a stable home in which all his needs were met, a routine of discipline and appropriate freedom, and yet his soul was changing, darkness clouding his once crystal blue eyes. Despite all the good things in his life my young boy had experienced tragedy that he was never meant to have to bear.  His normal had been ripped and shaken by such affliction over a short amount of time his soul halted in shock from the uprooting of all he knew to be true and safe.  So began this terrible and frightening battle of his entire being trying to reconcile things that his young soul was not created to understand.  He learned to build impenetrable walls to guard his bleeding wounds from further pain.  He forced himself to not feel so that he would never again know the devastation of a hurting heart.

Somewhere between watching his destruction from an utterly helpless distance, and screaming helpless tears into starlight night after night I came to understand the full story of that boy in the red footie pajamas.

It’s not for anyone to judge why these kids are the way they are, because the truth in all of them is that at some point they experienced a hurt that was more than they knew what to do with.  There are insecurities and scars and genetic dispositions, and I guarantee you not one of these kids suddenly woke up one day with a desire to be angry or dangerous or out of control or truthfully, an outcast. There is a world of hurting young people who need not our judgement and our assumptions, but our understanding and our unbiased desire to reach out to them and help fill those gaps and holes that created their unbalance to begin with.  What would the world look like if all the adults stepped up to give the attention and meet the needs that these kids so desperately need met?

It is with greatest sincerity that I say thank you to the adults that have stepped in, or even been forced in, to stand in the gap for my son.  I get it, I do.  I know that your 25th patient contact of the day is exhausting.  I know that you came in not feeling well to begin with, or with your own trouble going on, and yet you still showed up to give of yourself to help my boy, and so many others, with his healing.  I know that in the big scheme of things, the little issues these kids are making monstrous seems so outrageously ridiculous that’s it’s tempting to give a shoulder-shake of reality.  I know that after a long day, 2am was not the time you felt most compassionate when you had to get up and deal with a new admission, or a meltdown,  or a half-hearted suicide attempt for attention, or an all-out brawl.  I know that there are a lot of days you wonder why you chose this, or you think about moving on.  I know that it may seem thankless and pointless some days, and that you may question whether you are even making a difference.  The truth is you are some of the bravest, most selfless, most compassionate people to walk this earth.  This world does need you, and you are making differences, even if they are tiny baby ant steps.  In our universe, those ant steps are huge.

So thank you for what you do day in and day out; for the sacrifices you make and the things you endure so that every story has a chance at a happy ending, and that every hurting young heart that crosses your threshold knows that someone fought for them, even the boy in the red footie pajamas.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

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Home Calls

This is a bunch of pictures… and would you believe this isn’t nearly all of them, AND there were some occasions I forgot to even take a snapshot?? Truly though, in this case a picture is a thousand words to see the joy and excitement these babes of mine got to experience.

. . .

We had an incredibly wonderful opportunity to visit our homeland over this past few weeks. When the hubs had to go back out to Colorado for work again and the kids realized they were out of school for this one, they started begging for all of us to come along. I honestly did not have high hopes that my energy levels would keep up, or that my pain and muscle spasms would survive the 18 hour car ride, but as time grew near it was obvious how much their little hearts needed the joy and sunshine this trip would bring, and I stopped seeing obstacles and decided it was absolutely worth digging my deepest to make it happen.

We had a outstanding time. While the man of the house worked and stayed up in Denver, the kids and I shacked up in a hotel (yay frequent travel points?) in Colorado Springs, and we packed as much as we possibly could into every day. We started with a trip to the grocery (hallelujah for actually knowing what aisle to find things on for the first time in a year!) and settled into our home base where we could easily retreat to cook, eat, rest, play games, and cool off in the sparkling outdoor pool.

It was glorious to actually be able to feel the sun on our skin again, and to breathe the thin, dry, mountain air. The brief rain showers were worth dancing in because they were fresh and actually cooled things down. Lightening bugs are cool, but my goodness how we’ve missed the sun and the beautiful mountain peaks.

We packed our days full of visits with friends from sunup to sundown, even having some camp out with us in our crowded hotel room to stretch out the hours spent together. It did my heart such good to see my little people squealing with treasured friends, young and old. We visited as many as we were able, and still felt like we needed another week or two to see everyone we wanted to! We did the best that we could, and resolved it would have to happen again some time.

We visited our favorite parks, restaurants, stores, friends’ houses, and met up with neighbors, teachers, therapists, and dear friends. We were so exhausted each night, but never enough to keep us from rising with the sun to do it again. Our friend tanks were filled, our smile muscles given an excellent workout, and our bodies kissed with new sprinkles of freckles.

We got to see some of my family on both ends of the trip, and meet up with some sweet friends from California. We worked in some epic favorites like Leon Gessi’s pizza, BJ’s ice cream, Lava Land, Casa Bonita, and Denver Biscuit Conpany.

It was a ton of work, and loads of fun, and not without pain and exhaustion and some pinching and poking in the car… but it was epic and amazing and worth every sacrifice. The car ride home was a little bit quieter; contentedly tuckered out little people dreaming of their adventures… in between waking up and breathing too close to each other’s space, but all in all it was good. So good.

Leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!