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To Know

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When I was a freshman in college, I sat in that big lecture hall in Jenks at Gordon College and walked through the Old Testament with Professor Hildebrandt. I have not thought of his name – or even remembered it – since graduation until this very moment.

Professor Hildebrandt introduced me to the idea that there are different types of “knowledge.” There is the knowledge that is based on simple information: as in, the knowledge of facts in an trivial sense. I know the world is round. I know there is a big rain forest in South America that is vital to our planet’s health and survival. It is facts, theories, testing. It is all cerebral.

Then there is experiential knowledge – also called a posteriori or empirical knowledge. This is knowledge that can only come from first-hand experience; via interaction with the fact. I have empirical knowledge of what it is like to be a woman, a mother, a lawyer. I have empirical knowledge of things lately I never wanted to know.

One night last month, I felt under attack. It was three months to the day Johnny left this earth. Other issues and conflicts and bad things I couldn’t control were swirling around in our world, attacking us from every angle. At 10:30 in the evening, the wet air filled with darkness, I sat on the front steps to my house with my husband beside me. My eyes swollen with tears.

I said to him, “I didn’t want to know.”

What I meant was, “I didn’t want to experience. I didn’t want to have this first-hand information and interaction with this stuff that is so dark. I didn’t want to have undeniable information about the sin around this world. In my own neighborhood. In my own town.

I thought back to before he died. There was so much I didn’t know. I didn’t know what went into planning a funeral when the person made no arrangements beforehand. I didn’t know how much a funeral cost. I didn’t know the feeling of grief in your stomach that prevents you from wanting any food for days. I didn’t know how long it took to do an autopsy. I didn’t know how all this would happen. I didn’t know how it was supposed to happen. I didn’t know how to find a burial site. I didn’t know how much they cost. I didn’t know how to tell people and who to tell and the order of things.

Over his years of addiction, there were so many things I didn’t know that I know now. I sometimes look back and feel downright stupid for the things about which I was naive. Simultaneously, I long for that naive girl once again. I didn’t know you can overdose and not die. I didn’t know the signs of drug use. I didn’t the progression of the disease. I didn’t know you can’t believe or trust an addict. I didn’t know addicts lie to themselves as much as they lie to us. I didn’t know they would blame us when we didn’t believe or trust them. I didn’t know I would buy it. I didn’t know it was a disease. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know that prison wouldn’t be the worst thing. I didn’t know I would wish he was in prison. I didn’t know how he would disappear when the drugs were in his life. I didn’t know how much some people lie.

I hate lying.

I wish I didn’t know. But now this knowledge is knit into me. Over the last several months, countless people have told me, “I don’t know, I can’t imagine what this must be like.” I immediately respond, “Good. I wish I didn’t know, either.”

But too many of us do know. We know now and replay and retrace the steps every day, thinking, “What could we do differently? How could we stop this? How did I miss this?’ And we will never get a chance to find the answer. The one thing we would give our very lives to know, we never will.

 

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day.

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Top Five Baby Products for the First Year

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When I was pregnant, I looked at a ton of baby product lists. “Top 10 Baby Products You Didn’t Think To Put On Your Registry,” “The 5 Baby Products You Don’t Actually Need,” “The Bare Essentials Minimalist Baby List.” I saw them all.

After my son arrived, I watched YouTube Videos particular to each developmental age. “Baby Favorites for 3-6 Months,” “Baby Essentials for 9-12 Months.” And it was all really helpful, but a little overwhelming. What do I reallly need?

Now that my son is almost a whole year old (sob, weep, cry), I have a twelve full months’ experience under my belt in the products he actually used all the time. These are the baby products that pulled their weight during every developmental age, every time. Some times, their purpose changed, but they were still extremely useful.

So, if you are about to have your first baby and wondering, What the heck will this kid love for a whole year? This list is for you: the top five bare essential, ride-or-die, useful for 365 days baby products for your son or daughter’s first year.

 

1.  These two books: My First Busy Book and Goodnight Moon.

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These are the first books my son loved. As for My First Busy Book, where do I begin? This book is amazing. First of all, it has Eric Carle illustrations, which are perfect – colorful, whimsical – perfect. It is the first book Theodore actually looked at when he was just a few weeks old (that is because there is a mirror on the first page, but hey, whatever). Every page is so simple, but opens up the possibility for him to enjoy it and engage with it in new ways all through kindergarten. There are questions on each page prompting you (the parent) to ask questions and dialogue. It has textures and flaps. It is just the kind of book my tactile little boy needs. Get this book. (Shout-out to Aunt Rebekah for hooking us up with this.)

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Goodnight Moon, in the board book edition, is soothing and simple. Every other page is a color image of the whole room, and then a black-and-white picture of a single object in the room. When we get to the colored pictures, Theodore slaps his hands on the page and stares at every detail. Now that he’s a little older, I think he is starting to piece together the fact that those little black-and-white objects are in the colored pictures. He is looking for them! This book is a classic for a reason, and in my opinion it is a must-have in your collection.

2.  Muslin Swaddles

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You can get these from tons of brands, the most common one is Aden + Anais, but as long as they are 100% cotton muslin, you are going to get the same effect. They come in tons of prints and patterns, too.

Why are they so useful? In the beginning, you can use these as swaddle blankets, covers on your car seat and stroller, nursing covers, and spit-up wipes. Later, you can also use them as impromptu pack-n-play sheets, a ground cover for a play area, a security blanket, a light summer blanket, and so much more. The bottom line is that these blankets are super light-weight and soft, and also BIG. They are crazy easy to clean (so you don’t mind using them as a burp cloth) and actually get softer the more you clean them. They roll up really small to easily toss in your diaper bag to do the work of about seven other products. They are just one of those strange things you think, Why do I need a piece of muslin? And then suddenly you don’t know why you wouldn’t.

3.  Wooden blocks/My First Blocks by Fisher Price

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These are two versions of a similar toy. We have both and use both, but I think they serve similar purposes.

Wooden blocks are a great toy for toddles, too, but Theodore loved to play with them since an early age. He chews on them, and slobbers them up. I stack them up, and he knocks them down. I pile them in a small basket, he dumps them out. And soon, he’ll start stacking them up for even more ways to play. The blocks I have were from my father’s childhood, but you can find them every where these days. I also love teaching him the letters and pointing to the pictures on the side. What makes these toys so great: versatility.

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The first blocks toy is another classic for the same reason: versatility. I tried packing this toy away, thinking he would get tired of it, but no other toy engages him like this one time after time. He lifts off the lid and pulls out every single block. he bangs them together to make noises. We pass them back and forth. And now, I’m teaching him how to put them through the unique holes. We got this on sale for five dollars, and it has provided far more than the price tag required!

4.  Fruit Silicone Teethers

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Babies start teething at all different ages, but their discomfort from teething can start long before that first tooth breaks through. Plus, around four months, babies start putting everything in their mouths (taste is one of the five senses they are using the explore their world).

Theodore has had a few teething toys, but the one that he loved most at first, and still loves today, are these “fruit-on-a-stick” style silicone teething toys. The stick is very easy to hold, even for young babies, which gives them the independence you both love. They can be frozen for even more relief, as well. Every different fruit has interesting textures and colors, and the bottom even has a few more textures to ease sore gums. Finally, they can easily be attached with a pacifier clip to keep them from dropping to the ground. These have been a go-to for eight months in our house, and I don’t see him losing interest in them any time soon.

These are a version (the only ones I can find) that are made in the USA.

5.  A ball

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One of Theodore’s first favorite toys (which he still loves now), was a rattle O-Ball. It is a gift I like to give most new moms, because it is really easy for a baby even a month old to hold, and basically it feels really cool to see your newborn “play” with their first toy.

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After that, I found a set of three soft balls at Marshalls for less than ten dollars, and they have been a hit with this kid! Not only do they help encourage him to move and work on his gross motor skills, he just finds them really funny. He literally laughs picking them up and flinging them around, and he can’t do any damage with them (yet) because they are so soft. These ones are small enough for him to hold, and have slightly textured grips on them to make it even easier. Every time he finds these in his toy basket, he loves throwing them around and chasing them all around the living room.

These are the kind of toys he will love even when he’s a toddler or preschooler, so they are well worth the few dollar investment!

What were your child’s most-loved and most-used products from the first year?

– D. E. Barbi Bee

Blueberry Mania

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We bought our house in December of last year.  At the time, the landscaping was nothing to be thrilled about. The backyard was grey and wet, and trees were being scaled by vines. There was a row of blueberry bushes that did not look alive, let alone fruit-producing. We more or less ignored them, so as to not get our hopes up.

When spring came around, you can imagine our surprise when the blueberry bushes (all five of them) sprouted leaves, then blossoms, and then tiny berries! Every week – like magic, as nature always seems – since the beginning of July, we have been drowning in plump, sweet, sun-warmed blueberries!

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Right now, I have about 3 pounds frozen in vacuum bags. I have another 5 pounds in the fridge as I write this. We have given away just as much as we have kept. And still more are coming! I estimate we have gotten at least 25 pounds so far this year.

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Theodore is thrilled, as he suddenly has his favorite food in endless supply. He often lunges out of our arms to grasp as the blue pops in the bushes as we walk past.

After freezing, eating fresh, topping yogurt, filling pancakes, and everything else we could imagine, I finally admitted it was time to face my fear and settle into the reality: I had to make jam.

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I love the idea of making jam: it is a cost-efficient way of storing the extra harvest for future months and years. But notwithstanding my desire to connect with the New Englanders and farmers of ages gone by, I was scared to death of this process and refused to bite the bullet.

I don’t know what scared me most. I had visions of exploding jars and molding sauces for some reason. It was built up in my head as an extremely delicate science experiment I was bound to foul up.

But this Sunday, with seven or so pounds of blueberries sitting on my counter and no idea of how else to make use of them, I spontaneously dove in.

My father-in-law Tony and sister-in-law Katie happened to be over our house that afternoon. Tony/Dad lent me all the expertise and confidence I needed. Katie wrestled Theodore so I could concentrate. Massimo cleared the counters.

I decided to start small – just a few jars – in case this went all wrong. I looked at this extremely un-intimidating recipe for guidance: a two-ingredient refrigerator jam. What could be easier simpler than that?

But my dear father-in-law, Tony, wouldn’t settle for refrigerator jam. It could go bad! Okay, so, a word on Tony: Tony hails from a little-known culinary hot spot called Italy, and happens to be a professional chef. He grew up with farmers and women who cooked bread every week and stoked a fire all day. His favorite things in the world are his family and talking about the food of his childhood: grape leaves dripping in natural syrup from the raisins stuffed inside; barrels of fresh fruit sunk in the rivers and lakes to keep fresh; stealing salami hanging from the rafters; rare treats of ice cream cones and sodas; and the “lazy summer meals” made of buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto. He has a wealth of knowledge that I am only beginning to absorb. As often as we can, Massimo and I love to cook with him or hear recipes from his childhood, to maintain the heritage and keep the memories alive for all of us.

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Antonio Barbi and his first grandson, Theodore Antonio.

So on this particular day, in his passionate, fantastical way, Dad/Father-in-Law/Nonno/Tony made canning sound so easy. After all, his mother and Nonna would do it all the time, out of pure necessity. He stood there in the kitchen and told me, mouth slightly frowned, hand gesturing along, and bottom lip pushed forward, “Just put it in the pan, add some water, and sugar, and let it cook down. You put it in the jars, put on the lids, and heat them again. That’s it.”

Easy!

[You have to hear this story with his hand acting out all the steps as he speaks. Sprinkle the sugar = delicately but decisively rubbing his fingers together and gesticulating them in a circle over the imaginary “pot.” Also he has a thick accent. For example, that afternoon we saw a small toad in the garden and I swore he was telling me the animal looked like he should be named “Todd.” (“It’s a Todd! It’s a Todd!”)]

Off I went. Recipe thrown out the window. Just following my gut and my father-in-law’s ancestral knowledge. Just a quick Google search to make sure I sanitize the jars long enough and that was all.

I dunked the small mason jars and lids (three, because I was advised by Dad the product will go down to about half it’s original volume), in a large pot of water and boiled them for five minutes. They were removed. “Lay them on a clean towel.” – Dad. Ok.

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I poured two pounds of blueberries in the pot. I added one and a half cups of sugar in. (Haha, at this point I was still considering the recipe.)

Then – a moment. My instinct told me to improvise and I had to listen. Almost without thinking, my hand grabbed the cinnamon and sprinkled a light cover over the contents of the pot. What are you doing? I wanted to smell it together, that was all. I had to do it.

I cooked it on medium. I mashed it a little with a potato masher to help break the skins, and basically stirred constantly. Eventually I pulled up a stool to sit while I stirred my precious concoction. Easy!

After probably 45 minutes, the blueberries having completely broken down and unrecognizable from their original state, I gave up on it ever becoming “thick” and resolved at least I would have blueberry sauce.

(Dad would have given me the advice I needed,and told me it will thicken once it cools, but he had run down to the restaurant to get something. So I was flying blind now.)

I poured the sauce into the clean jars (over a plate, so as to not stain my towel too much). It turns out I should have done four small mason jars; that would have been perfect. But the last bit I simply put in a pyrex dish and said we would use it right away.

I filled the jars as high as I could. I was following my gut and it felt scary but exciting. There is something about not using a recipe. It makes cooking more of an act of creativity, rather than following instructions and procedure. It uses a different part of your brain and I thrive on it.

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I secured the lids tightly and brought the pot of water back up to a boil. This was a perfect moment to taste some of this sweet delight. I let tiny drops cool and tasted – it was amazing! The spicy cinnamon balanced the sweet sugar and tart berries. It was summery and autumnal at the same time. Theodore licked the wooden spoon, as all children should do when their parent is baking. He was obsessed.

The portion in the pyrex dish was a really good “control”, because it allowed me to watch the texture change as it cooled. Much to my surprise and delight, over the next hour the jam cooled to an actual jelly-like consistency! I couldn’t believe it worked! My instinct, yet again, was right.

I cooked the jars, submerged in water, for about ten minutes (I forgot to start the timer, so I went long on this part), and removed them. Sure enough, POP! went the lids. My experiment continued to work out.

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Dad came back and was extremely proud of my results. I was now disappointed I only made three jars, but it just means I get to make more again soon!

In a matter of a few hours I went from too many blueberries and an unnecessary fear of exploding glass in my kitchen, to three jars of jam and the specific brand of confidence that only comes from believing in your creativity.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

P.S. Shout-out to Michaela Pesce for suggesting this post! Readers, send me any suggestion you have for posts, I love it!

 

What is the music like in Heaven?

36759298_2138347296178730_4116625569376894976_n.jpgI took this picture on Monday, when I couldn’t stop thinking about Johnny for no apparent reason.

I left work early, and I almost didn’t stop. But then I did. I got out and walked around and yelled at the dirt and the sky.

I took these pictures to remember what this place looked like at this particular moment. We are working on finalizing his headstone, so this wooden cross won’t be here forever.

I looked at this picture over and over since, and that tree, to the left: it is so overwhelming. It is incredible to stand under, breathing in its sap. Johnny would have loved this tree, no doubt. That massive pine.

But then I looked at it again, and suddenly the third verse of “In Christ Alone” came to my mind:

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again.

How the disciples – how Mary – must have felt when Jesus’ body was in that grave for three days. They thought it was over. It was sealed. It was done. Cut down in his prime, at the height of his ministry. I now understand how they felt.

I love that song, “In Christ Alone.” It has the weight and subject matter of an old hymn. In fact, I often look for it when flipping through my antique hymnals. But it was written in 2001, though timeless as it already is.

That got me thinking about the music in Heaven. Do you think there are songs they sing in Heaven that we don’t know yet? Were they singing “In Christ Alone” in the presence of God before it was shared with us here on earth?

What is the music like in Heaven, anyway? I often pictured numerous languages and styles being played over each other, but are there even lyrics? Or melodies? Or is it so overwhelming, the love, that it just bursts out, incomprehensible? Or is it silent, with the sound of future, endless, eternal glory and magnificence ever-approaching, humming in the distance, but barely audible at all.

I have never had to consider Heaven the way I have in the last three months. I have never considered with this depth what happens to those who die and didn’t profess and believe in the name of Jesus; that was unspeakable.

But I think about it now. I think about how everything I think about Heaven is probably wrong. I think about what pop culture says of heaven: a field of puppies and endless ice cream without gaining weight. I think about how pathetic our versions of eternal Glory are.

To be honest, I’m frustrated by Heaven. I’m frustrated at how idolatrous humans are that we conceive the notion of paradise as completely revolving around ourselves. And every time I think I’ve figured something out, and feel a little connected to Johnny because of it, I instantly rebuke myself, knowing I am wrong.

Deborah, your mind is so small compared to God’s wonder. You can’t even imagine it.

I think I’m wrong right now. I think this is a huge stumbling block for me at the moment and the Deceiver is exploiting my curiosity. I know the Lord wants to draw us close to Himself, but my demand and desire for perfection first is getting in the way.

I know all of this, and yet, I still can’t stop thinking what the music is like in Heaven.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

Happy Birthday

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Happy birthday to you.

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Happy birthday to you.

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Happy birthday, dear Johnny.

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Happy birthday

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to you.

 

Happy twenty-fifth birthday, my brother.

It would have been such a great birthday. Twenty-five is a good one.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17

These fifty days

In the last two months, I have lost three family members. Actually, in the last fifty days, I have lost three family members.

Three phone calls.

Three deaths.

Three funerals.

There is so much that goes along with all this, I hardly know where to start. So I’ll be spewing my feelings and thoughts to the outer space inter-webs. Here I go.

The first was my grandmother, my father’s mother. She was old, I don’t know if she was “elderly,” but she had lived her life. The strange thing was, she wasn’t supposed to die first. My grandfather learned last year his heart valve was failing and he was suffering from blockages in his veins and arteries. The surgery to repair this was very risky, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to even bother. The doctors told him he may live two years without doing the surgery, and the longer he waited, the bigger the risks.

So last fall, he and my grandmother visited us in Connecticut, seemingly out of nowhere, and got to meet their great-grandson, my son Theodore. When they were about to leave, I asked them to come visit our apartment, so I could see them one more time. We had a lovely visit and took photos. I thought it could be the last time I saw my grandfather, so I savored their laughter and presence. I hugged them tight and said good-bye on September 11, 2017.

On Friday, April 13, 2018, I was getting ready for work when I got a phone call from my mother. She was upset. She said, “Deborah, I just got a call. Grandma Devenney is gone.” At first, I couldn’t even process what that meant. She went on a trip? I have learned these last two months that your mind can trick you to protect you. It is an eerie feeling.

I learned what she meant and collapsed in grief. Out of nowhere! She was fine! How could this be?

That morning, my grandmother had woken up early like every other day to get about her work. She went to put on laundry before going on her swim, when she had a stroke and collapsed in her apartment. My grandfather found her an hour later. That was it. Instantaneously, she was gone.

I was heartbroken. I went to work just to say I was leaving. My eyes were like buckets filled to the brim; at every wobble and nudge, water splashed over the sides.

That was it. She was gone. I could hardly believe it. My poor father. My poor aunts and uncles. Out of nowhere. No good-bye, just a woman who was faithful to the end and went to be with her Savior. God called her.

The most curious detail of her death was the date: Friday, the thirteenth. Most people feared these days, full of “bad luck,” but my grandparents laughed at such superstitions. They were married on Friday the thirteenth of June. They loved that they had confidence in Christ and didn’t have to worry about such trivial things like, “bad luck.” That was ridiculous. They had Jesus, what can bad luck do?

On Saturday a week later, we loaded up the family and traveled to Quarryville, Pennsylvania. Everyone was coming to the funeral. We were all supposed to see each other at my grandparent’s anniversary party on June 9, but we were getting together early instead to lay my grandmother’s body down. I saw my grandfather, who was stoic but noticeably lost. He did not talk much, which was unusual for him. But he was still grandpa.

My parents stayed behind for an extra day, but we left Monday to go back to life. I had closure. I was sad, especially for my father, but I was happy she was with the Lord and lived a life worth admiration. She was a beautiful woman, to the very end. She was faithful to the end, and I was so honored to know her.

I went back to work Tuesday. On Wednesday, I spent the whole day at a conference learning about wills and trusts. On Thursday morning, I drove Theodore to my parent’s house before work. After getting him set up and saying good-bye, I got in my car.

Something prompted me to look at my phone that morning, Thursday, April 26. Massimo was at home getting ready for a big trip to Cape Cod to show his guitar to a luthier. Maybe I wanted to check on him? Maybe it was just the Hold Spirit. I got my phone out of my bag. I had a missed call and two text messages.

Massimo’s text messages said his brother, Johnny, overdosed, his mom was on her way down there and he was nonresponsive. Massimo said he didn’t know what to do, as in whether he should go to the Cape or not. I understood he wanted to be there for his family, but it seemed strange to me. What would he do? Johnny had overdosed so many times, why would this be different? But Massimo already knew it was different and didn’t want to admit it. And my mind was protecting me by tricking me.

I called Massimo back, right there in the car. I said it could be hours before he knows anything, and he should go. He could always come back if he needed to. Massimo still didn’t want to admit it. And my mind was still blocking the truth. We prayed for Johnny on the phone. I ran inside to quickly tell my mom, brother, and sister in law to pray for Johnny and I didn’t know anything else.

It took nine minutes to drive to work, and I was already running very late. I shuffled in and let my bags drop to the floor in my office. My phone was in my hand. It rang. It was Massimo. That was when I knew.

It was too fast. If Johnny was being taken to the hospital, there would be so much going on, no one would have a chance to call, and I wouldn’t hear anything for a while. This was way too fast. Bad news travels fast, I have learned.

I answered, watching the last bit of hope disappear entirely. “Deborah,….” “Yes?” “I’m sorry…..” He broke down. I fell to the floor, screaming. My office staff was stung by my crash, and came to me.

I didn’t know what to say, so I told him how much I loved him and that it would be okay and I was sorry. I said I was coming, and he said he was going to his parent’s house. Pat closed my office door and I called my mom.

“Mommy?……. He’s gone.” My mother gave a moan like I had never heard. She saw a storm coming, and couldn’t stop it. I could hear her heart trying to cover us all and stop this pain, but it was coming and she knew. I told her to please watch Theodore for a while and we’ll get him later, but I was going.

Patty drove me to my in-laws. The rest of the day was a stream of people and crying and calls and texts and becoming someone I had never wanted to be. It was cloudy and awful. The day was awful.

We planned his funeral and found a grave site. The wake was May 2 and the funeral and burial was May 3. Johnny was twenty-four years old. No one is prepared for that, even though his mother imagined it over and over during the years of his addiction, she still wasn’t ready to plan his funeral. It was beautiful and horrible and there are so many things I could say about it, the internet itself isn’t bit enough. But it happened and that was that. The week after the funeral was good, as good as it could be. Mother’s Day was awful and ushered in an awful week. The next week was a little better, the following was the best and worst. We went camping and I wished Johnny was there. He was supposed to be there, and had been there with us in the past.

I thought about all the things that changed in one year – one year. We go camping every Memorial Day weekend, ever since I could remember. The same place, the same meals. Last year I was pregnant with a complication-free pregnancy and thrilled because I just found out my cousin Lauren was pregnant, too. We were waiting any second for a phone call that my brother’s baby was coming. His wife was due with my parent’s first grandchild, and we were waiting for news all weekend. Phones were fully charged at all times. My sister was engaged to be married in August, and had just worked on packing her apartment to move to Germany after the wedding. She told me about how her fiance was doing at the military base. The year ahead looked busy, but exciting. Life and excited expectation were everywhere.

Fast forward one year. I had a scary pregnancy and delivered a four-and-a-half pound baby. It that turned out fine, but was stressful. My brother and his family have been all but stuck in the United States for a two month visit which turned into a year thanks to the government’s paperwork management. My sister did not get married, and in fact is no longer with her fiance at all. She did not move to another country. We have just buried my grandmother and my husband’s brother in a two-week span. This year was not what we expected at all. I have not decided yet if it was better or worse, but I have learned not to make plans.

On Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, over the grill outside his camper, my father said to me, “You know my dad is having his heart surgery Tuesday, right?” I said yes, and we paused. We both knew what that could mean, but didn’t want to say it out loud. His heart was not working properly, it was failing. I knew it wasn’t good because they scheduled the surgery much sooner than was discussed in the past. So we paused and let the moment pass, without acknowledgment.

On Tuesday, we learned the surgery went well and grandpa was in the ICU for recovery. On Thursday, my twenty-eighth birthday, his heart was shocked to try to get it back into rhythm after the surgery. He got through that and was doing well.

On Saturday, June 2, it was my niece Luciana’s first birthday. We had lots of family come up and had a huge party. It was beautiful and joy-filled. Luciana loved it.

On Sunday morning, I fed Theodore and fell back asleep with him by my side. Massimo got up early to bake a birthday cake for me. We were going to my parent’s again that afternoon for a graduation/birthday party. My phone rang.

I first thought it was the pastor, telling me I was supposed to be at church already for worship team. But I saw that it was my parent’s house and my mind again tried to protect me. Why do we have to talk about the plans for this afternoon? It’s just a small party.

I answered. It was my father. His voice gave it away. “Well, my dad…” I don’t remember the rest. He was gone. I knew it. I was getting the message more quickly these days. I learned how this went.

I didn’t cry right away, not until I hung up the phone. Out of all the times I had to do this in the last fifty days, this one was the most expected. My grandfather said his heart wasn’t feeling right all day Saturday, and he told the nurses he thought he was going to see his wife soon. They did everything they could, but he bled into his stomach and his heart kept pumping but he soon left this earth and entered heaven.

I told my dad how much I loved him and that his parents were so proud of him and his siblings are so lucky to have him. I said how nice it was that his parents did not have to suffer and they wanted to be together and they were. He kept saying, “They get to be together for their anniversary,” over and over.

We went to church and then to my family’s house. We all mourned and did the routine: calling everyone, eating gifted food, looked through pictures, telling the story over and over. It was like a dream. It felt so familiar. But my mind was protecting me, making it feel like a memory instead of the present.

On Saturday, June 9, we will once again wake up early and get on the road and go to a funeral. Fifty days ago, we were planning on gathering together on June 9 to throw them a sixtieth anniversary party. Instead, we will lay my grandfather’s body down next to his bride. They are already in heaven, which is getting crowded. They are with so many others we know and love. They are in God’s glory, living the life we could never dream of.

While their bodies are buried, their lives have just begun. I am left here, having buried three loved ones in fifty days. My heart is so close to my skin I can feel it. I am raw. I think I have gotten dehydrated from crying, if that is possible. I am tired. I am tired of people being sorry. I am tired of trying to convince my mind they are really gone. I am tired of being at the center of all this love and emotion. I tired of the guilt and the love and the sadness. These fifty days…. I am out of words.

 

 

 

I could never do that

I have often heard mothers of adoptees say one of the weirdest comments people make to them is, “Oh, I could never do that! You are amazing!”

It is strange to them because they do not see themselves as heroes, doing anything out of the ordinary. They are mothers. They are struggling. And they are amazing, but not for the reasons you think.

The same goes for foster parents. “I could never do that, it’s so hard!”

The same goes for working moms. “Wow, I can’t imagine. What a tough job!”

The same goes for stay-at-home moms. “Whew! I would go crazy. That is too much for me.”

People act like someone living a life different from her own is something impossible. As if the person called to that life is somehow special, a superpower, extra-human, and living with some alien-like strength they could never obtain or fathom.

It is not to say that the lives we lead are not difficult, nor that we are not worthy of some kind of acknowledgment of our hard work. The strange thing about it is that we are not heroes. We are not super strong. We are blessed and gifted and strengthened by our Lord.

One of the most commonly misquoted verses in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 10:13. People often summarize the passage and tell you, with a good heart, in a time of need, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

It’s nice, but that is not what the verse says, or even what the verse means. What people are trying to say is that you, on your own strength, can and will get through this storm.

I know people are trying to be nice, but it is wrong. It is the opposite of the truth. God will give us and allow us to be subjected to more than we can handle. It happens all the time. And it doesn’t mean we are weak (although we are), it means even the strongest can’t do it on her own. That’s the whole point.

When we are weak, he is strong. We would never lean on his strength unless we were given more than we can handle.

Isaiah 40:29 says, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

Isaiah 40:31 says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…”

Exodus 15:2 says, “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”

So are moms of all kinds and lifestyles probably trying their darndest and working really hard? Yes. Are they heroes for that hard work? Yes. But are they doing on their own? I hope not. We can’t. We will fail. I will and do fail. It is only by God’s grace he can patch together any good out of my shortcomings. It is only by God’s strength that I can endure the storms. When I feel like I can’t do it anymore, when I am doing much more harm than good, the Lord gives me peace. He reminds me that it is not me. It is a shower of mercy.

I could never do that. I think to myself.

No, you can’t. The Lord whispers.  I can.

D. E. Barbi Bee

 

Thank you for the laugh lines

This summer, on June 30, Massimo and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. It feels like a big one. And I can’t believe it’s already been five years, but I can’t believe it’s only been five years.

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Married for 30-ish minutes.

We have lived in different places, transitioned to multiple jobs and I graduated law school. We have a baby, for goodness sake! We have a whole new person in our lives because of our years together.

I am different. He is different. I was very, very thin when I got married. Not unhealthy, I was just twenty-three and I was thin. I was younger. I didn’t have these lines around my eyes and mouth. I didn’t have acne scars from my pregnancy hormones, nor did I have this extra fat and stretch marks, let alone the five-inch scar above my womb from giving birth.

I am different. He is different. He is thinner and more fit now than when we married. And his hair is shorter. And he has some gray hairs peeking out. He looks older. He was twenty-one when we got married, so he should look older. He is more confident, more refined. He knows more about who he is and doesn’t worry so much. He has bags under his eyes from getting up every night to get Theodore back to sleep. Even his wardrobe has changed from when we got married.

Every time he points out another sign of his aging, another gray hair or something, he says it like it a bad thing. And for a moment – just a moment – I am sad, too. Not because he will become less handsome or lovely, but because I know our time is short. People say they don’t want to marry young, but I look back and I am disappointed I had to wait until I was twenty-three! I know that was the right timing for us, and God’s plan needed us to do more individual work before we got together, but I couldn’t wait to have all the time I could with this man. I love our team. I love our family, and knowing we are aging reminds me it will not last forever. We have a short time together. And that makes me sad.

But then, after the moment, I am met with pride and honor. Pride I get to watch this man grow older. Honor to stand by his side and count his gray hairs. The fine lines on my face are from all the smiles and laughter he brings out of me. The stretch marks and scar on my stomach are from the child we brought forth together. The weight changes and wardrobe adjustments are from the many season we have endured together.

The truth is, I want to watch all his hairs go gray. I want to watch him wear out his jeans, and buy new shoes. I want to have photos of us every year, each year with slightly more wrinkles and slightly more mature eyes. No one is entitled to grow old with his or her spouse. No one has a right to die before their children. No one has the unalienable opportunity to outlive her mortgage and reach retirement age. Every single day is an undeserved blessing. Every wrinkle and scar that comes with it are the keepsakes, the tick mark on the wall to count how long we have been given this gift.

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Thank you, my Lord. Thank you for the perfect, vacation-like days when we have napped in the sunshine or soaked in the rest and peace. Thank you for the days of hard work, when we went to bed exhausted and dirty, proud of a long day of productivity. Thank you for the every morning, when we wake up thrilled at the sight of each other.

Thank you for the days we couldn’t wait to be over, when we anticipated some relief around the corner. Thank you for the battles. Thank you for the scars. Thank you for the fights. Thank you for our flaws. Thank you for the fire. Thank you for the days I wish I could take away, to ease our pain. Oh, how I wish I could make them go away. But thank you any way.

And most of all, thank you for the laugh lines.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

Wheels and wheels

I thought stages were like steps

one after another; after one, two

But they are wheels;

spinning faster, then slower.

They stop and start.

I want this ride to end.

I want to accept, except I don’t.

I know when this is over, you will truly be gone.

For now, these wheels make me forget.

For it is a dream.

You are coming back.

You are on a trip.

You are in Florida.

Something horrible happened but it will be back to normal soon.

There are still four of you.

Massimo still has a brother.

Dad still has two sons.

You are away but you’ll be back.

Goodnight.

See you soon.

I’ll keep riding for a while.

 

 

It is IUGR Awareness Day!

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Eight months ago, I had never heard of IUGR. In fact, when my sister-in-law had to be induced before her due date because of a failing placenta, I am ashamed to say I thought the doctors were wrong. “Why would you take a baby early who isn’t growing well? Shouldn’t she stay in longer?”

Well, things have changed – a lot! I have learned about as much as I, a layperson and mom of an IUGR baby, can learn in the past eight months, ever since Theodore was diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction. In honor of this day, to celebrate these strong babies and remember those who we have lost, here are ten things you should know about IUGR:

  1. IUGR refers to a condition in which an unborn baby is smaller than it should be because it is not growing at a normal rate inside the womb. A baby who is “just small” is called Small for Gestation Age (SGA). The difference is an IUGR baby should have been bigger, but something intervened (infection, injury, genetic condition, bad placenta, poor nutrition from mom, etc.). An SGA baby is just a small baby. Both are usually smaller than ninety percent of babies their age. (More on the confusion over these terms here. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, but they are not the same.)
  2. IUGR is common for twins, and mothers with certain health conditions or lifestyles. However, there are TONS of possible causes and most moms never know what caused their baby’s IUGR. Sometimes, nature just fails and the placenta wasn’t healthy; importantly: it is no one’s fault.
  3. For those of us who do not know what caused our IUGR, we worry a lot about whether this will happen if and when we have more babies. There is a lot of conflicting data on it, but it certainly can happen. Which is scary.
  4. Many of us find out about IUGR during pregnancy, by going to all our regular prenatal appointments and through ultrasounds. Some of us do not find out until delivery. Which is why it is super important to go to all your doctor’s appointments when you are pregnant. Important.
  5. If you know someone who may have IUGR, please be supportive and helpful. It is not helpful to try to convince the person there is no problem, the doctor’s do not know what they are talking about, and the ultrasound was probably wrong. These could be true, but when you hear there could be something wrong with your baby, you have to be extremely cautious and careful. Supportive and helpful things are assisting the person in getting the nursery ready early, supplying preemie size diapers and clothes, coming with her to her many doctor’s appointments, and lending her food and help if she on bedrest.

29103580_10205023656706854_5369735055075877304_n6.  So an IUGR baby is small – so what? Like just about all health conditions, the outcomes for IUGR babies cover a broad range. Some babies are born perfectly healthy and go home right away with no problem. Some babies are lost to the condition. Some babies have some catching up to do in the size department, but are otherwise perfectly healthy. Some babies have on-going complications and require medications, hormones, or therapy to help them grow and overcome other issues.

7.  We are pretty sensitive about our IUGR baby’s size, because he or she can be small for several months to several years. So if you ever see a baby and are shocked at his or her size, please don’t ask if the mom feeds her baby. Please don’t joke that she must be wrong about the baby’s age. Just say how cute he or she is. We don’t mind hearing that, ever.

8.  IUGR babies are usually delivered earlier than their due date. Some because there is an emergency. Some go into labor early on their own. But some of us have to be induced a few weeks early because the statistical risk of still birth increases after 37 weeks for IUGR babies. Basically, our baby is probably starving inside our bodies, and at 37 weeks he or she is healthy enough to probably be fine outside (with medical help, usually), and will even thrive because he can get lots of clean oxygen and nutrients outside. On the other hand, leaving the baby inside until the due date or later could cause significant injury to the baby, or loss.

9.  Many of us have c-sections. Again, either because of an emergency or because the baby is too small to handle labor. Not all of us, but many of us. Personally, I do not see my induction and c-section as a failure or that I’m not “woman enough.” I am incredibly proud of what God allowed me to do: bring my son into this world. It is not my fault my baby was tiny. It was not my fault his little body could not tolerate labor. I am truly grateful that my baby is safe and healthy and I am, too. Was it my first choice? No. But every mom, whether unconscious during delivery or having a medication-free birth, does the same thing in labor: she is doing everything she can to get her baby here safe and sound.

10.  Finally, though they are small, IUGR babies are tough. They are tiny warriors that do incredible things. They may not all make it, but they are all fighters, through and through. And we are crazy proud of them.