Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Four years

Four years ago today I started the day in a drug induced haze, a stupor.  My senses were dulled and heightened all at once.  I couldn’t will myself awake to speak or to open my eyes, but my hearing was impeccable, enhanced even.  Hushed conversations in the hallway outside my room sounded like shouting.  The hurried footsteps echoed in my head.

I was in a hospital room.  The same one I entered about twenty-four hours earlier to deliver a baby that had died.  The drugs were supposed to make me get some sleep, and they did, but fitfully, teetering on that edge between waking and sleeping with the unwelcome side effect of hallucinations thrown in for bonus. 

The sheer horror of the prospect filled my mind for hours when I first realized what I would have to do.  As if the trauma of being told you have a baby inside of you whose heart is no longer beating was not enough, a few hours later, after we had gotten home to let the tragedy sink in,  the doctor called to talk to me about next steps.  “Ashley, you’re going to have to come back in to the hospital to deliver your baby.  We can do it in the next several days, you can choose when.  I want you to think about this while you decide:  I want you to seriously consider holding your baby and saying goodbye to him.  Think about it.  Pray about it.”  As I hung up the phone with probably one of the kindest men to ever don a white coat, I told Jeff what he said.  “He said that we need to think about holding him and naming him.  He actually encouraged us to do that.  Seriously?” 

I had never known anyone closely who had a late term miscarriage or a stillbirth, so this was all new to me.  The only frame of reference I had was an ER episode where Carter and his finance have a stillborn baby.  I remember the anguish of watching that unfold; the agony of the women delivering a baby who didn’t cry.  And if memory served me right, Carter’s fiancĂ© wouldn’t hold the baby.  She stared at a quiet crib in the corner of her darkened hospital room, but she wouldn’t hold him. 

While my mind was certainly not at its optimal functioning level in those days, I had enough sense to know I would never get one moment of this experience back.  If I decided not to hold our baby, then I would never get to change my mind once we left that hospital.  So we did it.  It wasn’t easy, but honestly after going through labor for twenty-six hours, it felt natural.  It felt right in a really wrong situation. 

And later that day, I went home.  You hear this phrase over and over when you have a miscarriage or stillbirth; Empty Arms.  That trip in the wheelchair from the hospital room to the car was that phrase exemplified.  I knew the looks you got when you had a little pink bundle in your arms and a smile on your face as the nurse wheeled you out.  I did not know the looks you get and the feeling of just wanting to close your eyes and just get out of there when they wheel you down with a teddy bear in your arms where a swaddled baby should be.  I don’t really recall much of what happened over the next couple of days other than looking for a place to bury our baby.  That and feeling like every person I encountered who was going on with their lives was  living in ignorant denial of the fragileness of our lives and the miracle that any of us actually make it to birth. 

Those days passed and with the help of my loving family, and most especially the light that came in the form of a little two year old girl who didn’t understand what happened and expected her life of laughter and joy and walks and playgrounds to continue.  So I followed her lead and slowly waded back into life with the rest of the world, with all of the people who could actually watch TV at night and chitchat about weather and car tires. 

And it went on from there.  

Nothing major happened to break me out of my sadness, I just slowly grieved differently, less publicly, more quietly, more in the inner places.  

Four years ago my lens was shifted with a jolt.  Reality, religion, truth, faith, trust, dependence, and love shifted mightily in the earthquake of losing a baby.  

None of those things have returned to their original place in me, but I trust that I am better for it today. 

That the place of my wounding has been and will continue to be the place of healing for me – and others too I pray.  Genesis 50:20.  

That through the storm, I had to decide whether I would white knuckle myself to the familiar, jump ship and give up, or get out and walk.  Matthew 14:28-31

Even today, I’m still learning and processing and trying to figure it all out.  And where I stand now is a place where I can say I am thankful for what this atrocity brought to me – that new lens.  One that is not nearly so sure of itself, but much more confident in my uncertainty.  One that doesn’t assume I have any idea about someone else’s story – their motives, their heart, their hurts.  One that is more likely to press in and ask, even when it is uncomfortable.  I am not yet to the point – nor do I know if I will ever be as I walk this earth – where I have fully accepted losing our baby boy, but today I believe I am four years further down a road that I trust will take me where He is leading.   

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sing it

 I read this article with interest on a couple of different levels.  First of all, I have two daughters who adore Taylor Swift -- and I apologize to all of you for mentioning her so often lately, but I promise for each time I mention her on the blog, I hear her name at least 2,127 times at home.  Second, I have three daughters.  The thought of the coming day when they'll "hate" me doesn't sit well with me.  I may have said that I hated my mom once or twice in my teen years, but I never meant it and I don't think I acted as though I hated her (most of the time?  Mom?).  In fact, a large part of what ran through my head when making decisions as a teenagers was wondering what my Mom would think of my choice.  That didn't keep me from making really poor choices, but I think it kept me from making even more poor choices.

All of that is to say, I think there is a pressure and expectation that is spoken, unspoken, sung, photographed, and written about in our culture that tells teenagers that it is cool to hate your parents.  And if Taylor Swift is a small tick in the opposite direction, then I'm happy to read about it and even happier to play her music for my girls.

Since I've already alienated anyone who doesn't want to hear more about my children's love for Ms. Swift, I'll go ahead and post this video from our ride in the van the other day with the girls singing.  FYI, they are both convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they each sound "just like Taylor Swift."

Friday, December 02, 2011

Guess . . .




At 15 months, one week, I think Camille beat her big sister Charlotte by a matter of days.  Let the wildness ensue; they are all mobile on two legs now!  

Thursday, December 01, 2011


We started reading Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree Advent Devotional with the girls at dinner on Tuesday night, and I'm praying that we'll be able to continue that all the way to Christmas.  I'm hoping that it will help foster some anticipation in them for the coming Christ this year as we walk through the Christmas season.

In case you were worried, they need no help at all anticipating the coming Santa.  So, I thought that reading through this devotional each night could help bring us down to the reason we celebrate this holiday.

As we've read through it the past two nights, I have tried to make sure to ask them questions about what I've read as we go, whether it be to make sure they understand a word, or to make sure I explain it to a six year old and three year old in words that they might better grasp.  And, as an aside, it's been an interesting scene at our dinner table, Charlotte sitting on my lap, Camille banging on her high chair tray, Caroline with Oreo in hand -- but through all of that I'm reminding myself that in all likelihood they will not remember the words I say and read during this time, but more likely is that they will remember that we took the time to do this.  

The devotional last night was entitled "Life begins as a love story."  As I read the line, "But it was the affection of God that made all his children (Prov. 8:31)," I asked Caroline if she knew what affection meant.  At first she wasn't sure, so I prompted her by saying, "Affection is like love."  She responded, "Oh, yes, yes!  Affection is like opening your heart."  As she said it, she moved her hands across her chest and outstretched them to the sides of her body. 

Whoa.  Opening your heart - beautiful and poignant especially considering the context last night. 

And, by the way, a way better explanation than mine, thankyouverymcuh.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Dear Charlotte:

Today you turned three.  It is cliche, but I can't believe you're only three -- I feel like you've been part of us for so much longer than three years.  You came into our lives in the wake of a tremendously sad time for me, and I suppose God knew what he was doing because you came into the world full of joy and light.  I needed all that you had to give so much.

That thread that runs through you life hasn't changed; you enter a room and light it up.  You are the epitome of joyful.  You live life fully.  You are confident.  You know what you want and when you want it.  "No" doesn't sit well with you.

You are all girl.  You dress up from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep.  You hate pants and will wear a dress even if it's freezing cold outside.  You hate jackets.  Your smile is heavenly and makes my anger and troubles fade quickly.  You know this.  You are strong-willed.  And that will serve you well in life (when you're older).

You love your sisters.  You look up to Caroline so much and imitate her words, actions, expressions, and moves.  Although the past 15 months have been tough on you as you've slowly relinquished your role as the baby in our family, you keep watch over Camille and make sure we know if she needs anything.

You talk a lot.  As in All.  The.  Time.  You love Barbie movies.  You want us to get a cat.  With "tiny wings."  You love mermaids and fairies; they are "your favorite girls."

You are smart.  Your knowledge and wisdom and perceptiveness amaze me daily.  You love for us to read books to you.

You love to play.  Barbies, princesses, Little People, our nativity set -- they are serve as instruments for your incredible imagination.

You love your Papa and me well.  Yesterday morning you climbed into bed with Papa after you woke up and snuggled close and talked about your love for your family.  Your goodnight hugs are legendary.

Charlotte-girl, you bless me daily with your love and the lessons you teach me  You are helping me to be a better parent as I'm stretched to guide and love someone who is so different from me.  I admire so much about you and pray daily that God would give me the grace to help you grow more and more into who He made you to be.

Happy Birthday my sweet girl!


Monday, November 28, 2011


I heard an interview with Francis Ford Coppola on Fresh Air last week.  I'm not a huge fan of his -- and by that I don't mean that I don't like his work, I've just never really known anything about him.  This interview was really riveting though, and really piqued my interest in his work and him as a person.  In the last part of the interview he gave me an enormous surprise when asked about advice to young filmmakers.

His advice to a man?

Get married. 

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised, but his words really took me aback. I suppose my surprise is at least partially due to a Hollywood stereotype that includes disdain for marriage -- or maybe more accurately, disrespect for marriage.  Not that the rest of the country respects it all that much better than Hollywood does, but at least from the outside, there seems to be a pervasive flippant attitude about marriage amongst celebrity-types.

In the interview, Coppola goes on to explain that marriage makes a man a little more responsible and aspire to a more settled life.  At least it did for him.  Whether his experience extrapolates to the rest of society is an open questions, and a good one I think.

His advice to a woman, however?

Don't get married.  Because then you'll have a man wanting you to sacrifice for his career.

So, I suppose for the refreshing-ness of the first bit of advice, he throws in a little status quo too.

Marriage so often gets a bad rap, so his take on it was really refreshing for me to hear.  And marriage is hard, without question.  But marriage is also a blessing, and it was good for me to hear that from an unexpected place.

The interview lasts about thirty minutes and you can find it here.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Our little singing turkey

Charlotte and Camille had a Thanksgiving performance at school last week and, as always, it was precious.  Here are a few pics of our little Turkey singing her heart out.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

small thanksgivings

"In this counting of thanks, one thousand gifts and more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life... and I testify:  'life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time. Little nails and a steady hammer can rebuild a life...'" - One Thousand Gifts

I read this on Ann Voskamp's facebook feed this morning and it was yet another brick in the wall of true gratefulness that God is building in me.  Earlier in the week, I read the following quotation: "you can't be grateful for something you feel entitled to."  It hit me hard.  

I like to think I'm grateful for all that God has blessed me with, but reading something like that shows me how much I take for granted.  How much my heart and mind quietly smolder in ungratefulness.  The times I think I don't deserve what I'm getting -- and not in the thankful way.  I'm too often entitled.  Ungrateful.  Unthankful.  

Ann's words remind me that in naming the seemingly small gifts that inhabit each moment of my day, I rebuild the life I tear down by taking all of it for granted.  

So today, while I am thankful for the big things in my life, I am keenly aware of the small blessings of life:  
1.  picking up popcorn off of the floor after a night of watching a movie on the couch with two of my girls 
2.  greenbean casserole stained baby shirt
3.  toys scattered all over the floor
4.  a very large pile of laundry waiting for me.  

P.S.  Here are a few of those big things I'm thankful for.  Happy Thanksgiving!  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Handy Tip

I've been meaning to share this incredible life tip for a while now and I haven't gotten around to it.  So, here goes! 

And maybe incredible is too strong, but it has been helpful in the grocery-shopping-meal-planning part of my life. 

My friend Allison introduced me to her weekly meal planning system when I was in Nashville a few months ago.  She writes a week's worth of meals down on large index cards.  So, for one week, she would have a listing of five or six days of the week with the planned meal for that night written next to the day of the week.  She keeps a notebook of recipes that she can reference for each of those cards.  As she's complied a pretty hefty set of weekly meal index cards, she can just re-use that week in a month or two.  That way, once you get a good set of meals down, you can draw from the stack for any given week and grocery shop pretty easily to prepare.

And if I've totally lost you at this point, accept my apologies.  I'm not known for my crystal-clear explanations.  Actually, I'm more known for my wordy, convoluted explanations.

Taking some liberties with Allison's weekly meal-planning method, I decided to use a three subject notebook instead of the cards.  One subject serves as Allison's index cards; in it have several sets of weekly meals set out.  Another subject is where I write my grocery lists.  Yes, I write grocery lists.  Please do not judge.

The last subject is for list for my twice monthly trips to Target.  I will inevitably decide I need something from Target right after I've gone there, so the list there makes sure I don't forget over the course of almost two weeks.

And there you have it!  Though you wouldn't know it by looking at my word count and extended explanation, this system has really simplified and de-stressed my meal planning and preparing process in the evenings.  I just open up my notebook and see what I've scheduled for the week and get cooking.  When time is precious in the evenings, my appreciation for all things simple and anxiety-free goes beyond words.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rearview Mirror

Smiling faces singing Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift, and Toddler Nursery Rhymes at the top of their lungs.

The oldest picking up a toy for her baby sister without being asked, provoking a big belly laugh from the youngest.

A not-quite-three-year-old rolling her eyes at a red light saying, "This is ridiculous!  Come on cars!" (Hello conviction!  Good to see you there!)

As we're driving home just as it's getting dark, that same girl saying, "We better get out of here!  It's getting spooky out there Mama!  But no one get us in this van, right?  No, no, no, don't say 'You got it!, say 'Yes, Charlotte, no one get us in here.'"

Watching a six year old lean over to whisper in her two year old cousin's ear, and watching both of them erupt with laughter.

Sisters holding hands.

A first grader, just out of school, eyes bright with joy, telling me all about being "super fast" on the playground at recess.

Three unspeakable blessings filling my mornings, afternoons, and evenings with everyday delight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

And so it begins . . .

On the way to school this morning Caroline formulated a Christmas list to send to Santa, and one on Charlotte's behalf as well. 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

New Kicks

Last week Caroline asked me if she could get a pair of boots, and Caroline rarely asks for clothes or shoes, so I made a point to honor her request this weekend.  She tried on several pairs at one store and didn't really love any of them, so we headed off to try another store.  We found a few pairs that she wasn't overly excited about, but when I showed her "the pair," she lit up.  A huge smile came across her face and she said, "Yes!  Those are the ones I want!"  She tried them on; they fit perfectly; they looked good and we were off to the check out line (where incidentally, we had to add a couple of pink scarves to our loot).

We headed over to the dollar store a couple of stores down before we left so that she could spend of her own money that was obviously burning a hole in her purse.  She picked up a giant coloring book and a box of new crayons for a grand total of $2.18 (bought with mostly nickels and dimes).  As we were holding hands walking to the van, she said, "Mama, I think this is the best day!  And we are going to look just alike with our boots and my new scarf."  Hearing her say that and watching the smile on her face It made me think that it was the best day too.  

Friday, November 04, 2011

Never grow up

We've been listening to A LOT of Taylor Swift in the Beck family lately.  In the van, in the kitchen, in Caroline's room - chances are if you are a fly on the wall of our lives right now you'll hear "Speak Now" at some point in the day.  Taylor (I'm sure she wouldn't mind me calling her that) has a song on that album called "Never Grow Up."  And as a side note, whether you like Taylor Swift as a musician or not, the girl can write a song.  "Never Grow Up" is a really sweet tribute to the inoocence of being young, the burning desire kids have to grow up and take control, with a reminder to take the time to enjoy this moment in life - for both parents and kids. 

One line that gets me every time says "And don't lose the way that you dance around in your pj's getting ready for school."  I immediately picture Caroline and Charlotte with tousled hair, bare feet, and rosy cheeks from a night spent under the warm covers dancing through the kitchen with early morning light peeking through the blinds, Taylor Swift (ironically?), Justin Bieber (or as Charlotte calls him, "The other Taylor Swift", but that's a whole other story!) playing on the CD player. Camille is bobbing up and down, clapping and "singing" to the music, usually with a bottle in hand in her high chair, watching these two girls she looks up to in every sense of the phrase. 

There is so much life that happens in moments like that and it does make me want to tell them to never grow up.At the same time, my response to Taylor's song, is that I long for my girls to grow up, and grow up well, and experience these little moments of their own.  It's a much-needed and wonderful reminder that even though part of me wants to keep them small enough to curl up on my lap in the mornings, the other part of me desires so much for them to find their own beautiful lives to live well.  And for Jeff and me to have done the job God gave to do for them: helping them to become who He made them to be and teaching them first to love Him, love others, and choose joy

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Baby surgery

In two senses, our sweet girl had "baby surgery" last week.  She got tubes put in and her adenoids taken out after a few months of some rough ear and sinus issues.  While I really feel torn about putting a baby under general anesthesia, I have no qualms about the outcome of the surgery. 

Camille had a rough few days after the procedure, running a fever and generally a little under the weather, but since the weekend, she's been fantastic.  I've written before about what a wonderful disposition Camille has.  She's easy-going, loves to laugh, and moves seamlessly from one situation to another.  So while the change in her has not been profound, it has been noticeable.  She seems a little happier and A LOT more verbal.  And that fact hasn't gone unnoticed by her sisters.  Today in the car on the way home from school Charlotte said, "Mama!  Tell Camille to stop singing with this song!  Me not like her saying "La, la, blah, blah!'"

Our little girl is doing great, growing more curls (ah!), and going on her way stealing my heart more and more each day.  

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

And a little more Halloween for you

Last night the girls had a great time Trick or Treating in the neighborhood with friends.  Caroline was Rapunzel once again and Jeff joined her as Flynn Ryder.  After a mishap at school with her purple tu-tu, Charlotte couldn't be the purple fairy again, so she was "wedding girl" in a Barbie wedding gown.  Camille was our precious baby ballerina again.  

I love these girls!  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nice 'Stache

Where oh where have we been?

So I'm returning from yet another blog hiatus (and a completely unintentional one).  The girls are good and, like always, it will take me a few posts to get caught up on the pictures and stories that I've failed to get on the blog over the past few weeks.  Working backwards makes the most sense to me, so here goes on what we did tonight!

I took the girls and a friend to Trick or Treat on sorority row at LSU.  The weather was perfect, and I really enjoyed it being on Sunday this year instead of Wednesday.  Rushing to get everyone ready after school and work can be a little overwhelming, so I appreciated it being on a weekend for the first time since we've been going.  Caroline was Rapunzel, with a wig that was not kid friendly.  Charlotte was a "purple fairy" with a pair of wings that was not kid friendly. And Camille was a ballerina with a wholly kid friendly ensemble.

The girls had a great time being out there, getting candy, playing games, and then of course eating some candy along the way.  It always seems a little odd when I say it, but Halloween is the holiday that I have some of the fondest memories of from growing up.  It was a holiday that meant spending time with a lot of my family, the weather was usually great, and it is a quintessential kid-holiday - walking the neighborhood with friends and family and getting candy.  So, even though it's not Thanksgiving or Christmas, it makes me happy to make some of our own happy memories with my own girls for this holiday.  And for good measure, we'll be back at it tomorrow night in our own neighborhood.