Monday, December 28, 2015

The Joy of Giving

I find myself ruminating on the stories of Christmas, of the memories my children are making and how I will tell the stories of our life each year. This year, as I'm experiencing Christmas with our family, I find myself thinking of another family -- my brother's friends, Jamie and Daniel, who lost their son in a tragic accident a couple weeks ago. This morning in church the connection became clear. I'm thankful for this space where my mind and heart try to make meaning of my thoughts, observations and experiences.
Since we travel for Christmas, the King family always does Christmas, just the four of us, a little early. We kicked off our Christmas week with the experience of a carriage ride in Fredericksburg.

We came home to a pot of chili and the chance to have our family Christmas of gift exchange, and this year, I noticed with poignance how both Molly and Anna Cate were so excited to give gifts they had chosen for us at their school's Holiday shop and share gifts for each other they purchased with our help.  
We have tried to focus on gifting experiences this year -- Molly chose to treat Anna Cate to an experience of the movies and Anna Cate chose to treat Molly to an experience of bowling. 

Both the girls were gleeful in their  opportunities to give to each other, and to us, gifts they picked out. As I watched their pure joy in giving gifts, I thought how this is the story of this year's Christmas: they are discovering the joy of giving. This is a big deal. 
 Molly gave me a beautiful necklace with a dragonfly on it, which I see as a representation of my beloved yoga studio (Dragonfly). Yoga has helped me in indescribable ways deal with the fears and sadness I've experienced with uncertainty surrounding BJ's health. 
Anna Cate gave me bath salts and soap, and I appreciate her noticing how I treasure relaxing. I think about the volunteers it takes to create experiences for my children to pick out gifts with gratitude. 

 Molly's teacher also helped her create special Christmas gifts for her family, like this mad lib.  I watched with awe her come home from school and tuck gifts under the tree for her family. She was so proud. 

As our Christmas has led us to Tennessee, we have continued to experience the joy of family Christmas together and most importantly, the gift-giving experiences.   I've also kept in the back of my mind and on the front of my heart, the Heard family, who are experiencing Christmas in the face of such loss; Douglas and Becki told me more of their story, so I sought the story out  (on social and news media).  

I'm reminded of just how powerful the act of giving can be.  Below is Jamie (and Daniel's) story of how giving has provided comfort in the darkest of moments.  No scene around a Christmas tree of unwrapping gifts can speak more clearly to the power of giving than this. Below is a post detailing Jamie's story of her son and the comfort she has felt in giving in their unspeakable moment of grief. 

Jamie Heard with Daniel Heard and 2 others.
It’s ‪#‎willywednesday‬, which means I’d normally be searching through the images on my phone to find just the right picture of William to post on Instagram. So it is with tears in my eyes that I share this part of Willy’s story with you today. 
When I first arrived at Williamson Medical Center and saw William, he had no pulse. Daniel and I held each other and cried as the doctors came and told us that they would give him one more round of medicine, their 11th attempt, to try and get his heart working. Within moments, his heart had begun to beat again. 
William was then taken to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital where we spent the next three days. He never showed any sign of brain activity and as hard as it was, we knew early on that our little boy was in the arms of Jesus. I prayed for him to “go home” as soon as I saw him there because I didn’t want him to suffer at all. It was painful to see his perfect looking body lying there in bed and know he wasn’t ever going to wake up. 
We later realized just why his heart came back to life. We spent the next few days holding William’s hand and running our fingers through his perfect, sandy blond hair. Friends and family came from all parts of the world to say goodbye to our sweet boy. We wouldn’t trade those two days for anything and we are so grateful for that time with his precious little body. 
After sitting in a meeting with the “what’s next” guy at the hospital, we realized another reason why William’s heart started beating again. He presented us with the opportunity for William to become an organ donor and we immediately felt led to do so. The thought of our son being able to help someone else have a new chance at life gave us a feeling of hope that something good was going to come out of this tragic situation. We began praying that God would allow William’s organs to benefit someone in need of help. 
We were thrilled to hear that his heart had been matched and an OR time was set for Monday morning. It meant so much to me that his sweet little heart was going to keep beating. Daniel and I were able to spend several hours with William that morning snuggling and loving on him. We watched as the medical team performed some last tests on William’s heart to make sure it was healthy. It was perfect. We didn’t want to let go of our boy that morning but we prayed that he would be able to give life to another child. Little did we know that hundreds of strangers were praying for our family as a little girl in Chicago was desperately waiting for a new heart. 
The next day, through a friend of a friend, we learned about sweet Ava Martin, a one- year-old who had been in the hospital for 111 days awaiting a heart transplant. We wondered if she could be the recipient that we had prayed for. We found a news story online from the night before that detailed her heart transplant journey. Her parents, Brian and Amie Martin, were interviewed and the joy on their faces was priceless. We began to piece together a timeline. The same day that William’s heart was removed from him, Ava received a new healthy heart. The couple was interviewed and explained how they were praying for a family that in their darkest hour chose life and that they would honor that life everyday. We felt a joy after watching that video that I didn’t think it would be possible to feel for a long time. A true answered prayer. 
My girlfriends and I began to search Facebook for more information about Ava. We researched blood types that were compatible in a pediatric heart transplant. One by one, the pieces of the puzzle came together. I was hesitant to believe that we could have identified William’s heart recipient so quickly, but something told me that Ava was our match. After finding Ava’s mom on Facebook, I decided to send her a personal message. I could tell from the video what a kind and compassionate believer she was and I just had to reach out to her. 
Amie got right back to me and we spent the next few hours sharing our stories with each other. We sent pictures and videos of our kids. Before long, we both knew that little William’s heart was now beating strong in sweet Ava’s body. That same heart that Daniel and I prayed over before he went to surgery was the same heart that Amie and Brian said was, “The most beautiful sound in the world. Your gift of life, your son’s gift of life.” It was an answered prayer for both of us. I was so thankful for such a positive distraction amidst our incomprehensible pain. God is so good. 
This past week we have seen Ava make tremendous progress. Leading up to the transplant, she had been on a ventilator for about two months. She is now breathing on her own. Her color has returned and her parents tell us that her hands are warm to the touch. They are now discussing discharging Ava from the hospital in the near future. Praise God! 
For the many people that have been praying that Daniel and I would feel comfort and peace, please know that we have felt God wrap his arms around our family. In the midst of overwhelming sadness we are comforted by the fact that sweet Ava lives because of William’s strong heart. Yet, our hope is not in Ava, but in a God that meets our every need. Even in the most difficult circumstances, we serve a God that is faithful and grants us peace, a peace that can ONLY be found in Him.

When I read of how giving has provided this dear family peace, comfort and the loving embrace of God in such darkness, I am reminded of the meaning of Christmas. It seems this joy for giving, made manifest in the strength of the Holy spirit and the grace and beauty of a mother and father who gave in the face of loss,  reveals the story of Christmas for the family of mankind. 
"For it is in giving that we receive" - Saint Francis of Assisi 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


On Sunday evening, my dear friend Norah and I hosted a Christmas pajama party for the preschool and kindergarteners of our church family. It was a small crowd, but a wonderful event, mostly thanks to the thoughtful planning of our children's minister, Erin Silver.  Erin is one of those women who is so beautiful on the outside, you are a little taken aback by how her inner beauty outshines her physical beauty. She had crafts and food and meaningful activities planned, and always has time to love on our children while parenting her own brilliant, precious toddler, Davis. It was a great event, and at the end of the evening she sent me this email retelling a part of the story of Sunday night involving her son Davis and Anna Cate, and I wanted to share it here on my blog where I seek to keep the stories of the things I want to remember about of my children.  The words below are from Erin. 

A Lesson in Grace and a Preschool Christmas Party!
 Each year the children’s ministry plans a handful of Christmas activities for children and families. This year our preschool party was hosted by Norah Pence and Sarah King and was filled with fun crafts, games, and food. This was also a pajama party so children dressed in pajamas of all colors and fabrics enjoyed one another’s company on this December evening.  The highlight of the preschool party was the book exchange. Each child brought a wrapped book and then got to choose a book from under the tree that they would get to take home. Each child drew a number and waited their turn to pick a book. Next, it was time to open the books and reveal the treasure that got to go home with them. All was going as planned until my son decided he did not want the book he had chosen. Envy of other books took over his two-year-old mind and his tired body gave into a full on tantrum. As someone coordinating the event, you can imagine the embarrassment I felt that my child was acting in such a manner. After a good 10 minutes he was still upset but I refused to let him pick another book because that seemed like a reward for bad behavior. I often base my parenting choices on what lesson will be learned from the situation and it seemed like this lesson in “getting what you wanted after throwing a fit” was not the lesson I wanted to teach. I found myself sitting on the stairs trying to reason with a two year old who wanted a different book when Anna Cate King (an older sibling helping with the party) approached us. She asked Davis if he wanted to switch books with her. Davis wiped his tear-stained face and with a smile said “yes.” She then proceeded to sit on the stairs and read it with him. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to let him swap books. After all, what was this really teaching him? If you cause enough of a fuss you will get your way? But after I thought about it, I realized that this was a lesson I wanted to teach him, a lesson in grace. You see Davis did not deserve to get his way after acting out, but Anna Cate wanted to extend grace. She knew that there was something she could do that would heal a hurt or ease the pain of someone else and that is exactly what she did. God’s grace has been extended to us through Jesus Christ. Not because we deserve it, because we all fall short, but because God loves us that much. I certainly don’t always make the best parenting choices but tonight I learned a lesson of my own. Grace is a wonderful thing that I often take for granted. Each time I read this new book with Davis, I have an opportunity to talk about grace with him. Grace that he received from Anna Cate and grace that we all receive through Jesus. May this advent season be filled with grace and love and may I remember that some lessons are best learned through children! 

Erin Silver 
Minister with Preschoolers and Children

“It's not the law of religion nor the principles of morality that define our highways and pathways to God; only by the Grace of God are we led and drawn, to God. It is His grace that conquers a multitude of flaws and in that grace, there is only favor. Favor is not achieved; favor is received.” - C. JoyBell C

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Humility and Growth

Yoga intentions: Growth and Humility

Image result for yoga quotes on humilityImage result for yoga quotes on humility
I love seasons, and almost all my habits reflect the shift in seasons.  My job is seasonal! My taste buds change from tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer to rooted vegetables and pumpkin pie type things in the Fall, to chili and chocolate chip cookies on snow days and warm soups on the rainy days in between.  My workouts also change by the seasons -- I love crisp runs in the spring and Fall, sweaty playground or driveway workouts in the summer, and in the winter, I spend my sacred workout time in hot yoga.  Lately, I've been doing yoga more than anything else, and where I go to hot yoga, I pick up an "intention" for the practice. Just last week, I picked up the word "humility," and a few days later, I picked up "growth." In moments of clarity, usually at yoga, I realize growth is truly just the shrinking of need for credit, approval, accolades for myself, so only in true humility will I grow.  I have had some interactions lately where I seek to please others and all too often, I need to explain myself, but lately I'm starting to realize that my job is to be, to love and to accept.  It is so futile to worry about receiving love and acceptance, and in the process, I grow.

The Season of Thanksgiving
Our family enjoyed the first time we've all been together for the holiday weekend! Both sets of my Bates family made the trip from Centerville, Tennessee to Fredericksburg. The girls were so excited that we started menu planning and cooking several days in advance.

 I love everything about Thanksgiving, and while I know the truth of the first Thanksgiving is not exactly represented in the myth we've created, I love the myth, too.
 Molly's class dressed up as First Americans on Monday and Pilgrims as Tuesday. Her teacher had students pick their "First American" name to reflect their personality. When I suggested, "Sassy Sister," Molly quipped that she didn't want Mrs. Welsh to know she was sassy.

The family arrived on Tuesday and after an evening together, the girls stayed home while the adults visited some Virginia wineries. Daddy had NEVER done a wine tasting, and of course his experimenting with it was a tad entertaining, a tad embarrassing -- a little like growth and humility.

 Douglas and Becki are experts at Virginia wineries.

And the next day, thanks to Mom bringing up some food she prepared and froze, we hosted Thanksgiving. 

 The tables were mismatched and the decor was a mix of hodge podge and children's craft.

 But the company was a good mix!
 We made a holiday moscow mule in these fabulous copper cups.

 Both the little and the big things make me happy.  I like the cocktail and copper mugs as party favors -- my mom needs a posed picture.

The adults had cocktails and the kids had each other. 

A funny story about the name crafts. The girls got frustrated, so Daddy Doug finished them up.

And then, in the blink of an eye, or a couple days' worth of decorating and organizing, seasons shift.

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. -Norman Vincent Peale