Sunday

Yesterday, I nervously walked into a church for the first time in many, many months. Sunday mornings have become my refuge, my only time of the week that I am truly alone. I love people, and especially my people, but too much consecutive time with people makes me twitchy. As an introvert who doesn’t like to feel needed all the time, I feel a constant tension. It’s a pull between passionately loving my children who feel like an extension of my heart and body, and the internal voice that screams LEAVE ME ALONE!!! when I reach my limit. So for the better part of a year, my Sunday mornings have been about solitude: writing, reading, sipping hot (not re-heated) coffee while being still, and occasionally listening to a sermon podcast while folding laundry. All things I think Jesus would approve of, by the way.

But still, I miss church. I miss the routine of it, the familiarity of hymn and scriptures being read aloud, and the sense of community. I’ve been so hesitant to “go back” though, because really, I don’t have anywhere to go back to. My physical distance, as well as my theology, has shifted since I was going to church regularly. I find myself longing for the church style of my childhood, which may just be a longing for nostalgia of a simpler time- the hymns, the organ, the doxology and benediction. And for some time, I’ve desired to be at a church with women leading worship- I’ve been at churches for so long where such is forbidden, and I long to be somewhere where that is not the case.

So somehow, maybe through divine intervention, yesterday I walked into the little Presbyterian church I attended in my preschool years. While I don’t remember specifics from that time, except for one anxiety-inducing Noah’s ark performance where 5 or 6 year old me was cast as a turtle and told to shake my bottom (nope), the sanctuary felt familiar. At the time, my mom was the choir director at this church, and yesterday as the choir sang, I pictured her leading the choir in their long robes (I haven’t seen choir robes at church in forever!). The people were so kind and welcoming, and the predictability and familiarity of the service was peaceful.

Part of the sermon was on doubt, and the legitimacy of questioning, and doubting. I appreciated this because of where I am right now. I never ever thought I would struggle so much with doubt at this point in my life- doubt about what I believe as well as how to continue on as a “doubt filled believer” as Rachel Held Evans puts it. I’ve seen memes posted berating people for leaving the church because the church is full of hypocrites. I don’t think this is why most people leave the church- it’s not why I left. I left not because of hypocrisy, but because of theology. I don’t want to pour my life into a place that doesn’t affirm women in leadership, or LGBT inclusion, or speak out publicly and loudly about issues like racism, the refugee crisis, or violence. I don’t want to attend church where Biblical issues aren’t nuanced and different interpretations of scripture aren’t welcomed for discussion.

I don’t know where my spiritual and church life is headed, or if I’ll go back to that little church. I’m trying to give myself the grace that Jesus has given me. I know he is patient, and faithful in this painful, yet hopeful process.

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Christian and Progressive: Yes, Franklin Graham, I Can Be Both

Hey Christians- you do know they think we’re assholes, right? Yes, they: the rest of the people in this country just trying to live their lives, but who are constantly berated because their lifestyle, political views, or religion don’t fit in the box labeled “Christian”. They want nothing to do with a belief system that preaches love thy neighbor, but in practice, only if that neighbor looks like us, lives like us, agrees with us and worships the same God as we do.

Franklin Graham, one of the loudest and most recognized evangelical voices and unapologetic Trump supporters, boldly declared on Thursday that someone with a “progressive” label cannot also wear the label of Christian.

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Excuse me, what?

I’m a Christian. For my entire life, I have been taught a Christian is a person who accepts the gift of grace given to to them by Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, and therefore lives their life according to the teachings of Jesus.

Did I miss something? Is there a verse in the Bible that voids my ticket to Heaven if I vote for a “Progressive”? Maybe it’s in Two Corinthians; I need to check.

But seriously, I consider myself progressive and vote for progressive candidates not despite being a Christian, but because of it.

I vote for politically Pro-Choice candidates because protecting life should be about so much more than being pro-birth. How is criminally punishing a woman because of a choice she made for her body spreading the good news of Jesus and his message of forgiveness and mercy?

I vote for candidates in favor of healthcare for all, because of Jesus’ example of healing the sick and disabled, and touching and ministering to lepers. How is denying human beings lifesaving and preventative medical care simply because of their inability to pay in line with what Jesus would do?

I vote for candidates in favor of common sense gun laws and regulations, because Jesus said Blessed are the Peacemakers. Jesus never said to arm yourself with an assault weapon thats only purpose is to kill.

I do not vote for candidates just because they are Christian, because Christians aren’t the only people who do good and make positive change in this country. Jesus himself told the story of The Good Samaritan, and spoiler alert, it wasn’t the religious leaders who were the good guys.

If calling myself a Progressive gets me kicked out of the Christian Club, then consider this my resignation. I am fed up with professed Christ-followers using Jesus and their moral beliefs to continue the toxic othering of their neighbors.

I have to believe that although Franklin Graham may be one of the loudest (and most obnoxious) “Christian” voices spouting off the nonsense that Progressive and Christian are mutually exclusive, there are plenty of people shouting just the opposite. May our voices collectively drown out all the bigotry, exclusiveness and falsities that are ruining the reputation of Jesus Christ.

Come on Christians, let’s not be assholes anymore. 

Life Lately

I have barely written here this year, and I miss this space. The truth is, I’ve had quite the vulnerability hangover for months now and every time I sit down to write something vulnerable here, I just chicken out. Perhaps that’s for the best though, at least right now. But, there is quite a bit going on, both mundane and meaningful, and I wanted to document it here, if only for my future memories.

  • THANK GOD IT’S FINALLY SPRING. Seriously, I have never been so aware of how the change of seasons affects my mood, and my children’s moods. With the warmer weather (but not a billion degrees yet), we have been outside constantly, and am loving it. Charlotte got a new bigger bike, and Nolan learned to pedal, so they are zipping around the cul-de-sac hours a day with our neighbor besties. friendsEasterbikeZac
  • I have been writing quite a bit over at Houston Moms Blog. Speaking of vulnerable, I wrote a piece a few months ago that got a lot of attention and inspired some really good conversation. It’s titled Why I Won’t Raise My Children in the Purity Culture That Raised Me. And, as I do, I have totally deep-dived into the topic since then and have already written part 2, 3, and 4 in my head (only half kidding). There are SO many layers to this issue and how it’s impacted my life. The good news is I’ve discovered I’m not alone- there is a whole community of people who are questioning the purity culture that raised them.
  • I have a new nephew! Baby Leo was born last week to my brother Peter and his beautiful wife Janice. He was born 8 weeks early, so has a long road in the hospital ahead, but he is doing as well as he can being so premature. They are in Australia and have never felt farther away. I can’t wait to hold this little guy when they come visit next fall.

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  • Last weekend, I participated in my first political protest/rally: March For Our Lives Houston. I (a mother with small children) marched with my parents, my parents’ pastor, a 4 year old, a 16 year old high school student, and a good friend and her son who was the March coordinator for his high school. This little group represents the reach of this particular issue: people from all ages and stages of life are affected and want change.  The issue of gun control is really nuanced: we can debate all day long about the 2nd amendment and an individual person’s right to own guns, and which guns. Most of the people marching yesterday don’t want to take away that right- we just want laws in place to ensure that a person’s right to own a gun doesn’t supercede our children’s right to attend school without the threat of being murdered in their classrooms.I realized after the March that not only do gatherings like this give us an opportunity to exercise our 1st amendment right, but they also allow us to (literally and figuratively) bump up against people of all different walks of life. There were Christians, Muslims, and atheists, old and young, conservatives and liberals, students and teachers…all packed in tightly on the streets, yet walking peacefully. It was a really profound experience. Since one of my platforms has been getting people to think about what the term “Pro-Life” really means, I decided to make my sign with that in mind:
  • Me and Kylame and parents

 

  • I realized I never wrote here about our appointment with Grayson’s Mito doctor to discuss his genetic results. We already knew the basics from our visit with his first neurologist, but found out that he is only the 12th person in the world to be identified with the gene defect, and the only in the US so far. He will still be treated at the Leigh Syndrome clinic, and we can still identify him as having Leigh Syndrome, although it’s not classic Leigh. We had the little kids’ blood drawn last week to test to see if they are carriers, and we’ll get those results in about 6 weeks. They were rockstars for the blood draw (poop emoji band-aids and lollipops helped a lot). blood draw
  • Grayson gave us a real scare on Monday. I was pulling into work and got a call from his principal that he had just had a seizure and that they had called 911. Apparently during the seizure, somehow his airway had gotten completely blocked and he had no oxygen and turned blue. Both the school nurse and principal told me later that it was the worst/scariest seizure they had ever seen (not the seizure itself, but the blocked airway). Thank goodness, when they paramedics got to the school he was breathing again and checked out ok. We took him home and I held him most of the rest of the day. He has been fine the past two days, but I know everyone involved is still really shaken up. Grayson’s PT wrote an amazing guest post for Houston Moms Blog today about her job and included Grayson in her post. Heather

How’s your life lately?

Letters to Nolan: Two and A Half

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Dear Nolan,

Happy half birthday to my silly, handsome guy! Today you are two and a half, but you have been “correcting” me all day saying you are five and a half. You want to do everything Charlotte does, so it’s no surprise you want to be her age too.

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Nolan, you are in a sweet spot right now. You are in one of my favorite stages- you are talking in paragraphs (no more guessing what you want!), can follow most directions, and are starting to do more “big kid” things. I no longer have to hover over you at the playground- you want to go “Higher! Higher!” on a regular swing. You are sleeping in a big boy bed, like to listen to picture book stories (not just board books anymore). And you are just so, so cute and funny right now. My favorite story from the past week is when I tousled your hair and said “Hi Little Guy” and you very indignantly said, ” I am NOT a little guy. I’m Nolan. I’M A MAN.”

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As independent and opinionated as you are becoming, you are still really sensitive. You love to be held, cuddled and reassured. Your daddy or I still rock and sing to you before bed. When something scares you, you let us know and want to be held tightly. You give the best hugs and high fives.

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As I said before,  you want to do everything Charlotte does. This both delights and annoys her.  You spend half your time carrying around princesses and wearing your sister’s pink shoes, and the other half playing with your trucks and turning sticks into weapons. You also love Grayson and lately, have been so sweet to him. You’ll hug and kiss him when he gets home from school, and one of the highlights of your day is “helping” him off the school bus.

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Nolan, you are such a sweet, busy, precious part of our family. I love you so much and am  already loving two and a half!

Love,

Mommy

Unexpected Answers

Today is Rare Disease Day- I should have done more to raise awareness, like change my FB profile picture or share facts about rare diseases all week. But, I didn’t, and my excuse is I’ve been slightly overwhelmed by the rare disease that we live with all 365 days of the year.

Ironically, this morning, on Rare Disease Day, we got some potentially huge news about Grayson and his disease.

Six years ago, in 2012, Grayson had a vial of blood drawn for a big genetic test. He was a year and a half old. At the time, we had no idea what Grayson “had” and all I wanted was for that test to give us answers. Tell me what to call it. Give me a name for the collection of symptoms my baby struggled with and a reason why he wasn’t meeting any milestones. It didn’t happen.

The results of that genetic test came back inconclusive. Grayson had some genetic variants (as do all of us) but none of them could specifically be labeled as disease causing. It was so disappointing at the time, but eventually we all but forgot about it. Grayson was clinically diagnosed with Mitochondrial Disease, and a few months later, after an MRI of his brain, with Leigh Syndrome. So we finally had a name.

At first, the diagnosis of Leigh Syndrome was horrifying- all I could focus on was the “terminal” label that comes with it. It took several years of processing and grief, but eventually I had peace, even comfortability, with the diagnosis. I made friends with other Leighs families, got involved in support groups, and formed excellent relationships with his doctors. And last year, 2017, Grayson had an amazing year. He went the entire year without a hospital admission except for a surgery he had in April. He was thriving in school, and making progress in therapy. We were coasting.

I’ve barely thought about genetics in several years. We had a diagnosis, Grayson was doing fantastic, so finding a genetic cause for his disease just wasn’t something I thought or really even cared about anymore.

A few weeks ago, all that changed. I had just dropped the little kids off at preschool and pulled out my phone. I had a text, email and voicemail from Grayson’s original neurologist that had ordered that genetic testing all those years ago. I hadn’t spoken to him since 2012 (we stopped seeing him when we started seeing the Mito specialist, who is a neurologist as well). The basic message was “New Findings on Gene Test- please call”.

I called his office and they immediately transferred me to talk to the doctor. If you are in the world of medically complex kids, this does not happen. You don’t just get put through directly to a doctor. But he had big news and wanted to be the one to tell me.

Basically, geneticists have reclassified one of Grayson’s gene variants. This variant was previously classified as benign, but has now been reclassified as disease-causing. So, this means that after 6 years, we finally have a genetic reason why Grayson is who he is.

This morning, we took Grayson to see the neurologist to go over the report and get a better understanding of what all this means. He used a lot of big words and it was hard to piece together some of what he was saying, but I think I have a basic understanding of the current findings. I googled the disease (Hypomyelinating Leukodystrophy Type 9) when I got home and the list of symptoms and the timeline when they show up is exactly what we’ve seen with Grayson. There are specific things like, “Spasticity, more apparent in the lower limbs” ,”nystagmus”, “onset in the first year of life”, and “thin corpus callosum”.

What I don’t know is what this means for what we call “it”. Does he still have Leigh Syndrome as well as this new diagnosis? I don’t know. We have an appointment with his Mito doctor next week so we will know more then. This will impact our other kids and their future reproductive decisions because there is a good chance they are carriers of this mutation. I also don’t know what this means for Grayson and possible treatments, or his life expectancy. I feel like this “answer” has now just flooded me with even more questions.

Regardless of what diagnostic label is on his medical chart, Grayson is still Grayson. Before anything else, he’s my son- my perfect 7 year old little boy who captures the heart of everyone he meets.

Letters to Charlotte: 5 Years Old

 

Dear Charlotte,

Happy Birthday! You are now a whole hand! This birthday has been much anticipated; we have been talking about you being 5 and your birthday for months now. We celebrated you with a unicorn-themed party with your whole school class and a few close friends at your favorite kids gym. You are most looking forward to this coming year because 5 is the age you get to go to Kindergarten- and now that countdown has begun!

Charlotte, at 5 years old, you are sugar and spice, stubborn, confident in what you want, but also tenderhearted and sensitive. You play hard, and rough, but also love delicate, beautiful things. You love to create, and spend hours each day at the kitchen table, drawing, coloring, and fastening things together. You love to write words, and I’ve never spelled out so many things in my life. You have really good number sense, and I hope that math is something you will love in school rather than struggle with.

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You have definite tastes when it comes to, well, everything. We made it through the first few years of your life without you having much an opinion about clothes, but all that has changed. I pick my battles most of the time now, as you develop your own sense of style and autonomy about your appearance. You love music, and have a special love of early 90’s pop. You love bread, fruit and cheese, and only eat meat very reluctantly. Let’s just not even talk about vegetables.

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Right after Christmas, you decided you didn’t like being upstairs all by yourself and chose to move in with Nolan and share a room with him. We got your bunkbeds and it’s worked out very well. You have always wanted to be close to your people, and sleeping is no exception. You and Nolan are quite the pair- best frenemies. The love you two share is intense, and leads to intense interactions all day long. We’re working on it. You love Grayson, but still struggle with questions about him and how he fits into your world.

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Admittedly,  you and I butt heads a lot. I love you so so much but you also make me incredibly frustrated at times. I struggle with disciplining you but at the same time having a lot of grace for your big emotions. You bring up big emotions in me too, and we are both trying to figure out to handle those emotions in the context of our relationship.

Charlotte, you are beautiful, smart, funny and have so much potential to change the world. I have so much hope for you, and I hope this year is the best yet. Five!

www.nbarrettphotography.com

Love,

Mommy

Photo Cred:: Nbarrett Photography

Reflections on 2017

I love a year-end recap, and this year I decided to use Tsh Oxenreider’s year end questions to reflect on 2017.

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

The highlight of my year was having my writing picked up by some major media outlets and having two blog posts go viral. It re-ignited my passion for writing, especially for an audience and feedback. This also was something that was just for me, apart from being a mom, which I really needed.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

After last year’s election, I began the painful process of deconstructing my faith, which has left me full of doubts, questions, and anger, but also optimism and hope (mostly after realizing that there are a LOT of people going through the same struggle).

Related: leaving our church (due to distance from our home) and trying to figure out what church is going to look like for our family going forward was equally challenging and painful. We are still right in the thick of this challenge, and I honestly feel lost and bewildered by it.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

I devoted all of December to reading, and have fallen in love with books again. This month, I read 13 books. I doubt I’ll be able to keep up that pace the rest of the year, but I’m excited to replace a lot of my social media time with books in 2018.

Also, back in August, my friend Kyla and I went to a Hamilton sing-along and I actually did karaoke (several songs!) for the first time ever. It was definitely the most fun I had in 2017. I get to see Hamilton twice this spring and I know it will be one (if not the) highlight of the coming year.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

I’m not particularly enjoying the stage of parenting I’m in right now. I always assumed I would really like the toddler/preschool years with my kids but the days start so, so early and the hours drag on and on. It’s been challenging to meet them at their (emotional, cognitive) level without giving in to anxiety and frustration.

5. Pick three words to describe 2017.

Pivotal, Transformative, Distressing

 

7. What were the best books you read this year?

Fiction: This is How it Always Is, The Hate U Give, Small Great Things, Little Fires Everywhere, The Last Mrs. Parrish

Non Fiction: Just Mercy (this one absolutely wrecked me), Of Mess and Moxie

8. With whom were your most valuable relationships?

My friends who are both brutally honest with me, and yet also compassionate. I know I’ve pulled away from a lot of people this year (especially this fall); it’s definitely been a season of introversion and some isolation.

The hardest relationship transition this year was my brother’s family moving from Texas to Tennessee. I miss them tremendously, and am still grieving the loss of my children growing up with their cousins in the same city.

9. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

I transitioned from being a full-time SAHM to a part-time working mom. I work outside the home while the kids are in school, and at home in the evenings on editing for HMB. I love my jobs and wish I could lean in to work more- currently trying to figure out how to make that happen with the logistics of our family.

10. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

I don’t worry about money as much as I used to. It’s always a concern, but I haven’t freaked out and lost sleep about it lately. I’ve learned the world doesn’t end when I have to carry a balance on my credit card or take out a loan to pay for something we really need.

And maybe that speaks to a larger place of emotional growth: letting go of a lot of guilt. This definitely stems from my faith deconstruction- freeing me from a lot of the worries and shame of my childhood and young adulthood about messing up and not being good enough.

 

11. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

I don’t know how much I “grew” per say; as I said before there has been a lot of tearing down, and of throwing away, and I’m just beginning to pick up the pieces and figure out how they more authentically fit back together.

12. In what way(s) did you grow physically?

The biggest thing I did physically for my body this year was a Whole30 in June. I’m glad I did it, and the biggest thing it taught me is that I am capable of discipline in areas like eating. Now, to be honest, I have not retained any of those habits, and December I have been anything but disciplined…so time to break out the breakfast shakes and vegetables in January.

13. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

I’ve learned that personal growth, successes, and challenges often have consequences with real relationships. I’ve learned to grieve lost and failing relationships while at the same time moving forward. I’ve learned I have a lot of empathy and righteous anger for injustice towards groups of people, but can be impatient and dismissive of the feelings of people who I am close to, yet disagree with (working on this is one of my goals for 2018)

14. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

My children have changed so much this year and it’s been a wonder to watch them grow and learn. My favorite parts have been seeing Grayson thrive at school and have such wonderful relationships with his teachers, nurses, and therapists, Nolan learn to talk (he never stops and is absolutely hilarious) and Charlotte learn to write (for some reason it just absolutely amazes me- I can’t wait for her to learn to read!).

The most enjoyable part of my outside jobs are doing creative work that has zero to do with parenting (other than my editing job which is editing blog posts about parenting- ha ha) with interesting, funny people.

15. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

My work at home was immeasureably more challenging than my outside the home work. These last few months, battling anxiety, anger, and frankly, boredom, has been really hard. And daily, I feel like I’m failing miserably, especially in keeping a semi-put-together house. I just finished Jen Hatmaker’s Of Mess and Moxie yesterday, and it had a great chapter on parenting and “success” that gave me a much-needed dose of perspective.

16. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

Definitely social media (isn’t that everyone’s?). I’ve learned so much from such intelligent,  articulate people though (especially on Twitter), but could definitely stand to cut way back on my mindless Facebook scrolling.

17. What was the best way you used your time this past year?

I’m really proud of the time and energy I spent writing about and speaking out against the Republicans’ attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Although much of this time was spent in frustration, fear, and anger, I believe I did my part for my own son and family as well as other families who stood to lose so very much had those attempts succeeded.

18. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?

I’ve learned so many things this year, but probably the thing that has taken up the most space in my brain is the systemic oppression of certain groups in our country, and how I have participated and benefit from some of that oppression. It’s been sobering.

19. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2017 for you.

From Jen Hatmaker (because she words it better than I could):

“That early version of yourself, that season you were in, even the phase you are currently  experiencing- it is all good or purposeful or at least useful and created a fuller, nuanced you and contributed to your life’s meaning, but you are not stuck in a category just because you were once branded that way. Just because something was doesn’t mean it will always be.”

Happy New Year!