Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Reflections

Being immigrants to Missouri, indigenous to Indiana, we have travelled for almost every Christmas of our wedded bliss, with the exceptions of the year when all (5) of the children had chicken pox, and a year or two where we stayed for Christmas itself but drove home immediately after (which does not count). Some time in the last two years it has begun to dawn on me that we are too many to visit cold places with small houses for longer than a few hours. We've stayed at a hotel the last couple times,which is a stretch with 10 kids, and does not feel like Christmas.

So this year, we stayed home.

Really, really staying home. Not going this afternoon, or tonight, or early tomorrow morning. Not going for New Year's. Staying. Put.

But packing for a road trip has been part of Christmas for so long, I have had a hard time shirking that perceived responsibility. I feel like I need to pack, to have everything ready to leave behind for days on end, like I have an unanswered stress that I am ignoring but is sure to bite me in the butt any moment.

On the other hand, we have really just focused on our own 'little' family this year, and I must say, it is delightful. We were deliberate about what we bought, what we ate, and how we spent our time. Sigh.

For example, we had a (for us) Grand Christmas Eve Banquet. We used our Christmas dishes, for the first time. There are only eight, so not everyone got one, but it was still festive. We used our silver table service that we received as a wedding gift and almost never get out. It was the last time we will have enough, unless we supplement, as we have 12 place settings, and next Christmas there will be 14 of us. We put the entire setting by each plate also, which was a new experience for all my people, who I mostly require a choice of 'fork or spoon' for each meal. The Dave Show, who is three, ate only mashed potatoes, but used every single utensil to do it.

No hurry to unwrap, no hurry to clean up, no place to go, no one to see or please. Get out each game, each toy, each new project. Each person's special gift a success: Anne's electric experiment set, Claire's djembe, Ben's Ticket To Ride game, Joel's pipe cleaners and needle nose pliers.

Mary learned in one present the joy of opening one and grieved the rest of the morning that they were not all for her. Each gift was exciting for exactly 2.6 seconds. We WILL, next year, elaborately wrap stuff we already have for whoever is 1.

Each year we (mostly I) write a letter from Santa to each or all of our children. This started as a thank you note for the cookies when I grew up. My Dad always wrote the letters. I still have them. They were a once a year praise report, Angela, I'm so proud of you, you're doing a great job with school, swimming, music, whatever, your mom and dad love you very much, keep Jesus as the center of your life, I see you have a new driver's license or keyboard or engagement ring . . . That sort of thing.

So we have done a similar thing. I don't know if it has meant much to any of our kids yet. But this year as Dad read it, each child lit up when he said their name. It was pretty cool.

My gifts were both replacements for something I already had and broke, practical kitchen things, but my real present is Leah, our newly adopted daughter. I held her most of the morning, tearing up at times, still in so much disbelief that my Father has allowed me to be her mama. She is the sweet spot in my family, the treasure I barely dared believe I could have.

Even today, I am aware of the marvelous young woman who not only gave birth to her in incredibly difficult circumstances, but then chose to selflessly give her what she believed was the very best life for her. Such an honor for us. Such a burden, but I will not carry it alone. Each day, I will offer my amazing daughter to the One who formed her in her mama's womb. Each day I will lift both mama and daughter to Him for His care and protection.

At this time of year, I am always aware of what Mary may have gone through, carrying a Baby that was unplanned, by the world certainly deemed unwanted. But she said YES to God, in a way that I hope is similar to the way I have said YES. I know the world, family, friends, do not always see my YES as wise or responsible. Especially now, having brought a baby into our family in a nontraditional way, at great cost, with another baby on the way, and then to learn that he/she might be an especially undesirable to the world kind of baby, the kind that so many would find appropriate to choose not to have, especially now, I think about Mary, and Joseph, and Jesus, and the shame and foolishness they might have felt.

But I am nestled here. I don't know what God will do with me. I hope that even if no one is drawn nearer or changed, if my children don't choose to serve Him the same way, if I am only ever a fool in the eyes of all man, that I may at least give honor to His Name.

I love Christmas because at the moment of the fullness of the wretchedness of man's decision to be his own god, when the world was completely desperate for an Answer, that God sent It in the most unlikely Form to the most unlikely host in the most unlikely place and told the most unlikely people about it. The Christ left all power, all glory, all authority, all knowledge, all wisdom, all honor and became a Baby, born to a young, unmarried but betrothed woman in a shameful way, in a podunk town in an animal shelter, laid in a cow's cereal bowl. The angel and then angels gave a great symphonic heaven-sized proclamation to the stinky dirty reputation-less shepherds (who would listen to them?). Really, this is the Desire of Nations? Really, this is the Peace we've been waiting for? Really, This is the One creation has been groaning for? That's all You've got? No wonder the pharisees were thrown off.

I'm an underdog like that. I am not polished, my hair is gray, I don't wear make up, I hate shopping so most of my clothes are hand me downs. My children also are not stellar performers. We are not impressive, as a lot. We are not winning spelling bees or other academic contests. We are not setting athletic records.

I'm trying to teach my children to be kind, to obey, to know God, to hear His voice, to work hard when they don't feel like it, to value people more than things, to be good stewards of themselves and their stuff, to care for the weaker and smaller. Trying. I'm not even doing a great job of it.

My daily list of good intentions is mighty, my corresponding list of things accomplished is feeble at best. How does the King of the universe find my offering pleasing, how does He call me lovely and faithful? I HAVE NO IDEA.

But I am confident of this one thing: that He Who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it. And since He has walked here, and been there and done that (He had a set of 12 to disciple, just like me), I feel safe in trusting Him with me, with them.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


It's funny that someone said that beauty is only skin deep. What a bunch of malarky. Beauty exists on so many levels. I have a book that I'm not smart enough to read called 'The Evidential Power of Beauty' that basically makes the case that the beauty that exists everywhere in the universe is evidence of a Creator.

Not my point.

I'm typing this while holding my newborn daughter. Her lineage is a combination of African American, Portuguese and something else. She is beautiful. Her every feature is perfect. Her long fingers, her eyelashes, her amazing eyes, her silky black hair - absolutely breathtaking.

We said yes to her without having any idea how stunning she would be. But her beauty was a given because she was designed and crafted by the same Guy who made masterpieces such as Niagara Falls, the Redwood Forest, Lake Michigan and the Rocky Mountains. He made the stars also. Flowers, some too small to readily see. If God makes a teeny tiny flower so small that no one ever notices it, is it still beautiful? Oh yeah.

Last night (10/20/2010) I had the honor and privilege of holding the tiny fingers of a newborn baby who happens to have been given 47 chromosomes in each of his cells, a condition we call Down's Syndrome. He was beautiful. He was very obviously crafted by God Himself, knit together perfectly from the moment he was conceived.

And his beauty is not only as deep as his skin. It goes all the way to his heart, to his spirit. It is hard for us to comprehend why God does what He does the way He does it. This boy was not a planned intended desired pregnancy. God invaded the space of a couple not wanting children anyway, and made a child that something like 92% of couples who find out they're carrying one will choose to end his life.

What is beautiful? We live in such a skewed world when it comes to beauty. We paint our faces and color our hair and cloth ourselves in such a way as to feel beautiful. But beauty is active. Beauty is living. Beauty is way more than skin deep. It goes all the way down to, well, to the uterus.

Come uh come uh down dooby doo down down . . .

Breaking up is hard to do. For 39 year old chromosomes, that is. Specifically the 21st chromosome.

This post (originally written in late October, 2010) is part of my private Down's Syndrome pregnancy blog. Private until we're ready to tell the world that we are preparing for the possibility of our baby, due in February, arriving with a spare chromosome.

Prior to a few weeks ago, to be really honest, I've mostly ignored this pregnancy. For one thing, I've been very focused on the baby at hand, the one we adopted on September 30th of this year. Also, for the 8th or 9th time out of eleven pregnancies, my placenta is right out in front, so I don't feel the baby move until he/she is bigger than that placenta, which happens around 22 weeks. So he/she hasn't really been on my mind as much as would normally be.

Until recently. A few weeks ago, on Monday, October 18th, we had our "big", routine ultrasound at my ob's office. It was fairly quiet, but nothing alarming. The ultrasonagrapher couldn't get a good view of the face, heart, and, when we asked if everything she could see was looking ok, said the kidneys were enlarged.

Normally, my husband leaves at that point. I go to the waiting room and get called back when the doc is ready to see me. This time (for some unknown reason that I call 'God') the nurse said, "Oh, you can come on back, we have a room open," and even though it meant being late for a meeting at work, he stayed.

Our doctor, with whom we go back 13 years and 9 kids, explained that our baby not only had enlarged kidneys, but also had a femur and humerus that were on the short side, which he said meant we had 1 hard (the femur) and 2 soft markers for Down's syndrome. We could wait a month and have another look, maybe the bones would grow, kidneys shrink, or we could do some more testing, Level 2 u/s, amnio, it was up to us.

Initially, we said we'd wait. It didn't seem to matter. But then the research set in, I made some phone calls, and there were questions, and, well, suspense. We decided there was nothing to lose by going ahead with the Level 2 ultrasound.

Last Thursday, 10/28, going into the level 2 appointment we understood our odds to be 1:11, but that was us working it out over the internet. During the appointment we learned that our femur and humerus were within the range of normal, and our baby's kidneys were still enlarged. She talked to us about needing to have monthly ultrasounds, talking to our pediatrician and letting him know we had a strong possibility of Down's, and said that the baby looked very healthy, with no big organ problems.

Then Brian asked his big question, "Knowing what we know now, what are our odds?" She said, "You're not going to like this, 50/50." She went on to tell us that the nasal bone was not convincingly present, and that she felt they had had a pretty good look.

Later our pediatrician told me that 99% of Caucasian babies without a nasal bone have Downs syndrome.

I have moments of being teary eyed, but the truth of the matter is that God has been making a baby in my tummy for 5 months, and He is either using 46 chromosome cells or 47's. Whichever He is using, I'm going to call what it "good".

Initially, I was overwhelmed at another battle. At dealing with what people will think. We are already on the lunatic fringe. We have given birth to 10 kids, just adopted another of a different race, while pregnant, and now this. Are You joking God? The name we have chosen for a boy: Isaac, meaning laughter.

I also feel a David-like strength rising up in me, "is there not a cause?" my spirit seems to say. The percentage of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down's syndrome that are aborted in our nation is in the 90s. In Australia I read that it is 98%.

I'm nervous about my own inadequacy. Even though I call myself the amazing supermom, the reality is that I fall way, way short of even my own expectations, let alone other people's. I'm just barely getting by, hoping that if we focus on the majors, the other things will fall in place. (Kind of a 'seek first the Kingdom' sort of thing).

I feel defensive when people want to pray this away. One of the first songs I had in my heart after we got this news was "Don't wish it away." (Elton John - I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues) (The second was probably, "This thing is eating me alive," from Toby Mac's song Start Somewhere). I believe if God is making us a 47, we would be ridiculous to ask Him to change mid-stream. As ridiculous as to ask Him to change the gender or turn a singleton into twins. Sure He could. But who knows better? Me? no. I have nothing in my heart that wants to pray for God to change what He's doing. If the Creator has spent the last several weeks creating a masterpiece with 3 copies of the 21st chromosome in each and every cell, then that's exactly who I want to give birth to.

My children and I all went to a 40 days for life prayer stand in front of our local neighborhood Planned Parenthood abortion clinic last week. We had our little adopted sweetie with us. I thought about how, years ago, I took my oldest young'ns to do the same thing, and at the time, it felt like a powerful testimony, to stand there with my little ones and pray for women to choose life. Several months ago, we did the same thing with our gang of ten. This time was way more significant, holding a little one whose mama chose life for, and sacrificed so much to give it to her. But the thought of standing in that same place next year with my dozen blessings, and call each one 'beautiful', especially one who most of the world and some of the church would feel ok about terminating, well, I long to do that.

I long to show the world the beauty of the Lord in each of His gifts. Babies with 47 chromosomes are a beautiful gift. I hope people will see our little one and choose life.

But more than that, because that isn't really the focus of our life from day to day, I am excited about me, and my husband, and our other children, learning more about who God is and what He does through this exciting new leg of our journey. I'm saying yes. Yes to whatever You're making. Am I ignorant of what it means to have a child with Down's syndrome? Absolutely. Am I foolish to trust a God I can't see? No chance. He's faithful as the sun. More faithful. He MADE the sun. And He is making a perfect miracle in my uterus.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

I have often described my life as being like one of those Chinese acrobats that spin the plates on the sticks and are constantly on the move trying to keep each one going. At least, at my best, my life is like that. I'm not at my best right now. I'm trying to get some plates spinning and hearing others crash to the floor. It's winter, I'm matching socks, because children need to wear socks, and they are downstairs making clay figures instead of doing math, and the kitchen table is about a foot deep in empty cereal boxes and half full cereal bowls each containing about a cup of milk. I'm trying to get my act together (not altogether together, just more together) regarding meal planning, just to the point of not wanting to punch anyone who asks me after 4:30 p.m. what is for supper. Trying to plan meals. Make a big grocery trip, and break the grocery budget (and my husband's spirit) in a single shopping trip. Meanwhile the laundry is growing a smell, no wait, my husband who has worked so hard all week providing for his family, is attempting to organize our small tattered army into a movie watching, laundry sorting machine (which, incidently, only works when they've already seen the movie). I respond, as I'm sure any grateful wife would, by melting into a pool of insecurity and self pity.

Certainly there are hormones at play here. Sleep deprivation. Genuine overwhelmedness. And there is the customary attack by the enemy that comes each time we are about to welcome a new treasure into the storehouse, that goes something like this: you can't handle the children you've got - what are you thinking, having another.

I reach out through God's gift to humanity, the World Wide Web, to my sisters in faith, those other godly women who have many children like I do, and find that, either they have achieved a level of relative perfection that makes me crumble further or their "big" families consist of 4 or 5 or 6 kids. All the advice out there is either too high for me and I cannot attain to it, or it would have been very helpful about 6 kids ago.

Like Bilbo, feeling like way too little butter scraped over way too much bread, how can I do it all, meet the needs of the teenager doing geometry (I liked geometry very much, 27 years ago, but it is going to take all the conscious thought power I have, pulled away from everything else for me to enter your world and really understand what you're doing, let alone help you - is it worth that?), and the kids learning to read, and the one trying not to poop in his pants, and the ones who just did; to keep up on the laundry, the dishes, the food prep, and the character training that so desperately needs to happen (The phrase in Prov. 31, "the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" is a constant state of being!), not to mention all the plates that I've long since ignored and allowed to come crashing to the ground (weight loss comes to mind, song writing, anything that falls under the category of taking care of myself)?

So what is the answer? How do I pay Peter and Paul and all the other apostles? How do I meet the needs of husband and children and be the woman of God I desire to be?

The answer may disappoint you. I don't. My best friend told me something I sometimes forget but always come back to. He said, "come to Me, all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest for your souls. My yoke is easy, my burden is light." I put laundry and dishes in the same category as the poor - you will always have them with you. I have One I have to please. One I live for. He pays Peter, He pays Paul. He takes care of my children, my husband, and me. He will show me what to focus on today, right now. He will give me, and all those other people, everything we need.

His strength is PERFECTED in my weakness! He is greatly exalted when I lean on Him completely. He is not impressed when I perform well, but He is pleased when I hide in Him. I am poor in spirit. I'm rejoicing.

I'm sure I've written this here before, but I scoff at the phrase "God won't give you more than you can handle". No, no, no. God will absolutely give you more than you can handle. But He won't give you more than HE can handle. He is more than enough.