Officer Commendations

Remember when we had a shooting, so the kids started asking lots of questions about the police?  And how the children responded by making a video about privilege, prejudice, and racism?  And so we, as parents, responded by inviting the police into our neighborhood so the children could meet them and talk with them and ask questions directly?  It was such a good experience for the children, and for the neighborhood community as well!  So much so that the officers who came got commendations from the City of Tulsa, and we were invited to City Hall to help the Mayor give their awards!

We also were able to present our book, Keeping Kyrie, to each of the city council members as well!

This camera man was so kind to the children, taking time to entertain them before the meeting started, letting them see how the camera works and really make them comfortable before the evening began.  We really appreciated him!  Kudos to this team, I think channel 6.

You can see what a charmer Alex was the whole time.  The meeting was getting ready to start, and the council lady and someone else came to ask us if we had any questions before it began.  Alex raised his hand and loudly asked, “Where can I go to pass some gas?”

Sigh.  So close, buddy.  So close.

Then the mayor came, and Kirk was excited to meet him since they are “twinkies”.   Kirk is very proud to be the mayor’s mini-me, and told him all about wearing a suit to school on free dress day.

Mary and Kirk handed the awards to the officers, and even Anber was brave enough to go up there!

We are so grateful for these officers, and their kindness in taking time to connect with the children of our neighborhood community!  We really appreciate them!

Thank you, city of Tulsa, for letting us learn about city council tonight!

Lighting My World

Our family has been doing the #LightTheWorld Challenge, with guided ideas for service in preparation for the Christmas holiday.  It’s been good for us, given a new way for us to experience service as a family, and been a way for us to share online – not in a show-off kind of way, but in a testify kind of way, for our friends who don’t always understand (or agree with) our faith tradition as mormons.

Today’s challenge is about “healing the sick”, and that seems a little funny when I spend my days at the hospital already.  It could mean all kinds of things, but it will for me mean being more present in my work, and more focused on the needs of others in my work rather than only what is easier for me.  It’s a tricksy thing to be a chaplain, when hundreds of patients could use all the time you have, and wanting to give so much but also being taught to pace yourself.  These are lessons I need at home as much as at work, so I am sure that is part of why I have been assigned this role.

It’s a fine line to care well for six little ones who could use up all your time and energy easily, when you are also supposed to be caring for a husband and a house and yourself.

Our house is hilarious.

For those who don’t know, here is the house story:  we have a five bedroom home in Bartlesville that we are trying to sell.  We loved it, and it was close to Nathan’s parents, and it was near half of our children’s bio-families, and the school was excellent.

But we did not have work.

For some reason, in Bartlesville, no one would come to Nathan’s events.  Or any community events.  It’s weird.  They, as a community, complain about there not being anything to do, but no one comes to events.  They don’t go to the symphony, they don’t go to community center events, and not to fundraiser events.  Nathan is a theater man, and it’s hard to do theater without an audience.  It was heartbreaking, because we had big plans for Bartlesville.  Really big plans.  Theater big plans.

Besides this, I was working for a counseling agency through which we had brought a satellite office to bring better quality care to the Bartlesville area.  I loved that company.  I missed a lot of work when Kyrie would be hospitalized  out of state, and they were very patient with me, in part because I was with them from the beginning, and in part because that’s the kind of company they want to be.  But for me to be off work also means being away from active patients, which is a tricksy thing because I want my patients to have good care, so I was keeping a low profile and not adding new patients until Kyrie was more stable.  As these patients got better, I did not replace them with new patients.  The agency told me to take my time, because they understood Kyrie was more important than work hours.  In the meantime, the governor slashed budgets for mental health care, limiting the number of hours I could work and how long I could see my patients and all kinds of things, and it was really gross.  Then I got a text from HR that I had been deleted from the files because I was too expensive to keep on books without me seeing more patients (even though I was not being paid and had already lost insurance benefits, obviously).  They said I could come back when I was ready, but who wants to go back after getting a breakup text?  I had worked there almost eight years, so I am glad it was a smooth transition, anyway, and it coincided with my having to go back to chaplaincy residency, anyway.

That left us in need of work, and an hour away from the hospital where my chaplaincy residency was.  We also needed to get Kyrie closer to the children’s hospital for emergencies, and specifically felt prompted that a time would come that we would not have 45 minutes to get her to the hospital in time to help her breathe (which has since come to pass, so I am glad we were close).  The final kicker was that we struggled to get Mary a certified interpreter for school, but did not want to send her to the Deaf school where she would be gone from us all week.  They had not let her read her scriptures, or journal, or keep any books with her, and she had been exposed to some rough stuff on the bus – not to mention trying to build attachment with a child adopted from foster care while sending them away for most of the week.  It just wasn’t right for our family.

All of this meant that we had almost two weeks to move, with no warning at all.  There was a sign language immersion elementary school in Tulsa near the hospital where my residency would be, and we had two weeks to find a house in that district so all three second graders could go to school together.  The down side was that it was clear across town (by the river) from the deaf and communication disorders preschool where the younger three need to go (Happy Hands, which is in Broken Arrow).  But we could drive the preschoolers, while the second graders had to live in the district to get them all in there together.

That gave us two weeks to find a house and move.

And so we did.

There were three homes: one was for sale and over three hundred thousand dollars, one was for rent and not finished or safe for the children, and this house that we moved into just in time for school to start.

It’s so tiny!

We had to move the children into triple bunks and put most of our furniture in storage so that we could fit into this little house.

Now, when you walk into our home, you almost don’t have room to get in the front door.  Our dining table fills the entire front room, squeezed in between the piano and the china cabinet.  The buffet separates it from the kitchen, which is full of food storage shelves.  The third bedroom has been transformed into a “play room” to be sure the children have enough play space, but it’s small with a dresser for the children to each have a drawer for underwear and sock, plus two shelves of board games and books and papers that have been barely unpacked but not exactly put away yet.

Because life happens.

We have squeezed as many of the baby’s medical supplies into the tiny laundry room as we can, between the backdoor and the dryer that doesn’t work, and her oxygen concentrator is wedged between the piano and the pew next to the dining table.  That pew seems covered in clothes all the time, because there is no place for winter hats and gloves except the window sill, and we have the children lay our their next day’s clothes before supper each night so that we are ready when morning hits so quickly for so many of us sharing one bathroom!

The buffet has our tiny Christmas tree that Nathan made on it, plus a trashy tray of plastic silverware and paper plates and cups since our dishwasher doesn’t work, either.  There is a box of whole grain goldfish and the last of a bag of skittles, left from Alex’s baptism, and loose papers that look messy but include their daily chore chart and sticker chart for good behavior because there is no where to hang them up.  There is a mattress box between the cello and china cabinet because we are waiting on one more piece to put that one away, and the floor is covered with toys and books because Kyrie is at that two year old stage where she likes to pull everything out and carry it around but can’t quite put it back exactly yet.

There is also always, always food on the floor under our table because Kyrie can’t always swallow, so she often sucks the flavor out of her food and then just drops it.  We are training her to put it back on her plate or give it to us instead, but she’s not quite there yet.  She also just starts throwing food when she is done, if you aren’t fast enough moving her plate when she says she’s finished.  So we sweep, and the second graders sweep, but we can’t always keep up with her every second.

So this house?  Not my favorite season of living, and we all feel a little crowded.  But we are safe, and warm, and in the right school district.  I am close enough to my work that I can run to the school when I need to, or meet Nathan at the hospital if the baby has an emergency, or be home quickly when work is over and it’s my turn to pick up children from wherever.  The rest will work itself out over time.

Moving unexpectedly, not having work for six months, and all the extra medical expenses took it’s toll.  I can’t imagine how hard the last two years would have been if we did not have the counsel we do to be prepared, to have food storage, and to use our resources to provide for our family.

And the community?  So many have been so kind and helped since first being flown to Cincinnati with Kyrie, and our battle to keep her breathing ever since.  Last night, friends from Owasso just randomly showed up at our house with a box of meat, and two sacks of clothes to pass on to our children.  Someone left money on my desk at work before Thanksgiving, and I used it to buy the extra supplies we needed for Kyrie’s tubes and things for their school.  We raised two-thirds of our goal for our medical fundraiser!  Yesterday someone gave money to the bishop to give to us, and it was exactly what we had prayed for that morning for the next doctor appointment.  Another friend brought us dinner last night, and it was so good!  Kirk has glasses again, and Mary has new batteries for her cochlear implant, and we are almost on our feet again.

We have won other battles, too, through prayer.  We won an appeal with home health, and got more tubes and tapes covered by Medicaid, and that’s approved for the whole next year!  We also won the appeal for Kyrie to get her RSV shots all winter and Medicaid pay for that.  Home health also finally won the appeal to adjust how many tubes and feeding bags we get each month, so that we aren’t having to re-use supplies and can keep things sterile for Kyrie so she isn’t re-infecting herself.  These are huge things!  Life-saving things!

None of this is just about being in crisis today.  It’s about long-term plans for caring for six children with special needs, including one in ongoing medical crisis.  That’s why Nathan and I focus on “seed” projects that keep earning money while we work on new projects, like the book we wrote.  It will keep selling, even though we aren’t writing it anymore, and we will work on new things in the meantime.  Then those things will also keep earning money on their own, while we are working on new things still.  It’s always going to take extra projects to pay for all the services and things they need.

But we do regular work, too, because the every day needs are real!  Nathan got lots of copy to write from the catalogue he used to write for all the time, to help them during their busy holiday season, and he provided for us in that way.  He had a reading for a new musical, sent in some new plays, and has a musical being produced in Philadelphia next year.  He also gets royalties from songs he has written ages ago that are often used in choir competitions, so it’s fun to see them all over YouTube.  Besides that, his violin album on iTunes is still selling, and that helps a lot.  He’s working so hard!

My chaplaincy residency goes until the end of May, which is perfect timing for the children getting out of school.

But I also start a second job today with a second hospital near our home.  It is also very close, and actually just down the street from my residency, so that makes getting there from one job to the next super easy.  This job is a counseling job, doing what I used to do at the ER on weekends in Bartlesville.  It will be most every evening, plus a weekend rotation, so even when my residency finishes in the Spring, I can still be home with the children during the day when they get out of school.  It’s perfect, and Nathan and I will finally have insurance again.  This is a huge relief.

It will also give us access to a gym again, for the first time in three years!  That’s exciting!  I don’t know yet how to make time for that to happen while both of us are working so many jobs and taking turns with the children, but it’s a start.  It’s perfect timing, especially since I almost have my hair all grown back out since the last round of chemo, even if it’s not as thick as before and much more relaxed and a whole lot more grey.

That’s our life here, and how we found ourselves in what the children call “The Little House in the City”.

I like being by the river, and I like being close to work so I’m not away from home just because of being in the car, and I like having my children in the school that is right for them.

We are a little crowded in this house, but it’s been like camping, and an excellent experience for attachment.  That maybe has been the best thing, and maybe why it was our season in this little blue house.  I will forever be grateful for this place for that, no doubt.

But regardless, the point is that I feel that in some ways it is me who has been healed.  I mean to say, our family has been healed.  By our friends, by people from church, by so many in the community who have supported us and helped us in so many ways.  I am grateful, and have felt lifted up in these darkest hours of our life together.  There have been angels amongst us, and I will never forget it.

I will try, today, to find some way to bring “healing” in some tiny way to someone else, because that’s the challenge for today.

But I will know it’s possible because you have done it for me.

That’s how we are angels for each other, maybe, in this season as we herald the Savior’s birth.

“Hark!” the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn king!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild –
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations rise!
Join the triumph of the skies!
With angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
“Hark!” the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king”.

#LightTheWorld with Family History

The Light the World challenge today is family history love!  We invited Grandma and Grandad to share family history stories, and let the children show off the research they have done so far on their biological families!  We also gave Kyrie’s family names to our friend from India, to get help learning how to pronounce the Muslim Pakistani names.  We are learning so much about family!

Audiologist Day

When your mom can’t hear, and you collect your children from the pumpkin patch, you sometimes take them to the audiologist just like other parents take their children to the eye doctor or dentist, just to be sure everything is okay.





We know Mary can’t hear, and Kyrie’s hearing aid will be in soon, but I am glad to know these four are doing great on hearing!

They got to play legos while waiting their turn, too!

We Need One Another

We need one another when we mourn and would be comforted.
We need one another when we are in trouble and afraid.
We need one another when we are in despair, in temptation,
and need to be recalled to our best selves again.
We need one another when we would accomplish some great purpose,
and cannot do it alone.
We need one another in the hour of success,
when we look for someone to share our triumphs.
We need one another in the hour of defeat,
when with encouragement we might endure, and stand again.
We need one another when we come to die,
and would have gentle hands prepare us for the journey.
All our lives we are in need of others,
and others are in need of us.

~ Litany from the Order at Worship

That was from Chapel this morning, but it was really powerful to me as I reflected on recent studies with Alex in preparation for his baptism, and my own personal studies in the practice of kindness.

Nathan doesn’t have to practice being kind.  He just is.

But I’m practicing.

It is one of those days where I feel light in my again, after these dark years through which we have endured.  I am grateful.  It has been a long time since I woke up smiling.

I don’t mean the past handful of years were bad; that’s not what I mean, and I really wouldn’t trade them for anything.  But they were, in all honesty, very hard.  They tore apart who we thought we were, through us into the refiner’s fire, and then spit us back out again into cold snow.  That’s what it felt like at the time, over and over and over again.

But we did not lose faith, and we did not fear, because we could see the bigger picture.

We knew we were made of eternal things, and that God was making eternal beings of us.

Slowly, every so gently, we see the unfolding eternity even now, even in the midst of battle, even in the small moments of life where we are all so much better than a year ago, or even yesterday.

Kyrie cuddles with her blanket in the mornings, and is very adamant about having it with her.  Nathan and I were discussing this, confused by her obsession, though impressed with her capacity to go “fold” it up and put it on her bed when she really was ready to be up and dressed and go have breakfast.  It finally hit us the other day: attachment.  She’s the only child we’ve had from the beginning, growing up with healthy attachment.  The blanket thing?  That’s normal, and a sign of healthy attachment developing.  What a strange experience she will be as long as we have her with us!

This came from her teacher yesterday:

It made me cry when I opened up the message and read that.  It made me so happy!

I love those two so much.

We have had Kyrie far longer than anyone told us she would live, and once again she has pulled through weeks of crisis to give us days of “normal” toddlerhood.  She tells us when she needs to go potty, has learned to say owwww-weeeeee when she is hurt (or wants attention), and speaks in full sentences now.  She signs while she voices, hugs her brothers and sisters, and next week will officially be twenty months old.  I can’t believe it!

We have learned from her not to take a single moment for granted.

And what moments we have now!

We have normal family dramas, but they don’t overwhelm us anymore.  We have normal sibling squabbles, but we aren’t drowning in them anymore.  We have development issues and interactional practice and learning moments as normal as any other family, but most of our time together is happy.

It’s good.

It’s peaceful.

Except, you know, for that time yesterday morning where everything was so perfect they even got skittles on the way out the door, just before Alex and Barrett got in a fight.

But we left them to finish their business, and know how they handled it?

They came to the hospital and gave a lesson to the chaplains about how to get along with others, and why family is important, and how the choices we make impact the kind of consequences we experience.  They sang a song, and hugged the chaplains, and we practiced an increase in love by inviting them for some brisket lunch with the chaplains, which the boys thought was heavenly!  It was so good for us, and sometimes I am in awe of the place we have come to when I know the journey we have already endured.

The children have endured much, even with us.  Moving is always hard, and expensive, and so much work, even if for very good reasons.  We had to get the baby closer to the hospital, and the last two times we took her to the ER we may have lost her if we hadn’t been so close.  So we know we followed the prompting that was very much real, and we are grateful.  We have also seen Mary and the younger three blossom as they are free to express themselves at school in full access language through signing, and what a delight it is to me to watch Kirk and Alex be able to communicate in only sign to me and the girls as well.  I can’t tell you the difference in their affect and interactions since being in these schools that have been so good for them.

It’s been hard, though.  We are still waiting on our Bartlesville house to sell, and the baby has had surprise expenses, and moving without any warning (literally happened in two weeks) was expensive, and Mary needed new batteries and Kirk needed new glasses and they all needed new mattresses, not to mention real life.  It was a challenge, especially when we take into context that these expenses remain with us as long as the children continue to grow and thrive.  It’s not just bills to pay; it’s their existence.

But Heavenly Father is faithful to us, and we continue to have sufficient for our needs, through our very hard work and the generosity of so many.  Our GoFundMe page for the baby’s recent round of expenses and travel to the new doctor that has helped so much is almost to half our goal!  That’s amazing!  Besides that, people have sent us QT cards to get the children to and from preschool all the way across town, we got the baby’s things one day at a time while still getting coats and shoes and scrambling for long-sleeve uniforms.  Always what we needed came, just enough, and we know these were angels helping and giving and providing because of so much love.  Kirk got his glasses, Mary has new cochlear implant batteries, and we are almost there for what we need for Kyrie.  These are miracles to us!

Know what else are miracles?  Coupons!  Someone gave us vouchers for the car wash, and we got the van and car cleaned out for the first time since summer!  I could not be more thrilled!  We also keep being given pizza vouchers for a nearby pizza place, so I take the kids there often on the night before the day I start my 24 hour shift at the hospital.  Last night we got free kids meals at Chick-Fil-A!

We have moved from a five bedroom house into our tiny house at the river, but we have the whole river to play.  We will keep watching for a home to settle in near Mary’s school, but for now it is like camping and the kids are having blast while Nathan and I learn so much.  It’s really been good for us.  A friend told me this morning that we will look back on these days and cherish the memories, and I have no doubt of it.  We have not wasted a single moment, not take any experience for granted, and live every day so grateful for our children and our family beyond what there are words to express.

Each night I kneel before my Father who is my God, and say my thanks for another day with Kyrie, for another day with each of the children, for another day with Nathan, who is the love of my life.

Last night we ventured out to the Christmas lights at Rhema, and it was a beautiful night.  We wanted to go while it was still warm, and the children were so good!  We laughed and played and enjoyed our time together, without any trauma reactions or acting out or mean parents.  All of us did well, and it was so symbolic of how far we have come, what we are learning, and how much peace we have been given as we continue trying.  There are not words enough for me to say how full my heart is, and how happy I am, and how glad I am, even though I am so very aware we are all so human and still learning.

We are also excited to share more miracles unfolding:

First, the book has been accepted into a ton of publishing fairs for the next year, as well as nominated for more awards from this year.  This is so exciting!  We are also grateful for those who continue, a little at a time, buying books to donate to other foster/adoptive parents or the handful of parents with babies like Kyrie.  These families send their thanks in notes full of tears and hope.  Thank you for this!

Next, one of Nathan’s musicals is being produced in Philadelphia next year!  How exciting is that?  He and a different composer are working on another new musical, too, and that one just had its first table reading.  This is huge, really, especially when you consider he did this while caring for our family, while staying with the children when it was his turn while I was at the hospital for chaplaincy training, while editing our book, while moving our home one load at a time every day for a month, while working another job writing copy for another company, and while working numerous community events and positions to help change the world in the ways only Nathan can. Besides all this, we have been working for two years on founding a non-profit organization to help families like ours who have medically fragile children with everyday life not covered by insurance… and yesterday found out that our 501c3 status was finally approved!  It’s official!  We are using Fractured Atlas as our umbrella agency, since our fundraisers come through theater and experiential events, so they cover our legal and financial and board pieces as well.   So company matching grants and other donations will go to Fractured Atlas but be earmarked for our company Seven Lively Arts.  Nathan has worked so hard on this, and I am so proud of him!  I know he is so very humble, but I want the world to know how hard he works to provide for our family and to help care well for the children.

The other big news is that I have officially accepted a position with St. John’s Hospital to help develop the BAT team here like we did at Jane Phillips.  The BAT team is the behavioral assessment team, of course, and we respond to crises in the hospital and in the ER and all the mental health issues referred to us, and then help those patients get inpatient where they need to go or referred to outpatient counseling.  This is really important to me, because when people are in crisis they need good help and safe help, not bad practitioners or waiting lists.  So I am super excited!  I will finish my chaplaincy training, so this job will be evenings and make for some long days as I work until midnight everyday and some weekends.  But I will finish chaplaincy about the same time as the children get out of school, and so I will be able to be home with them all during the day all summer!  It’s really another miracle for our family.  I will be able to home with them while also helping pay for the expensive medical care, but still maintain summer home school, fun outings, and keep chores done so that the children can play and eat in the evenings – which are their favorite activities with Papa anyway!

Fourth, it may not make any sense to you, but for us it is one more Kyrie miracle: we finally got her approved for RSV shots through the winter.  RSV is bad for any baby, but it could easily and quickly kill her.  The vaccine is very expensive and a monthly shot, so also requires home health to give it.  Medicaid denied her, and we have been battling it for two months.  The pediatrician insisted on it, the ENT insisted on it, and the Pulmonologist insisted on it.  We finally just got word that she has been approved after the appeal, and I cried then, too.  The nurse told me, “she may have a chance to see Springtime, if we can keep her healthy this winter.”  So I don’t know how to explain it well, but it’s huge for us, this miracle, one among so many, and one more that made me cry.

Know what else makes me cry?  A girl who puts on a snowman hat but pulls it sideways so that she can be a unicorn.  She is so funny!

This is our family, who needs each other, just to get through today.

We had a lot of hard things happen, our family.

The deaths of both my parents. Miscarriages. So many foster children, which was hard work even when the children liked us and responded well.  Cancer.  The work of transitioning into adoption and the drama of all the adoptions finalizing.  The challenges the kids came with, and the challenges in ourselves we didn’t even know we had until we got the kids.  The medical crisis of Kyrie, where we hold our breath everyday – every moment – while we wait to see if she is taking her next breath or not.  It has been a roller-coaster full of emotions, with hard things and scary things and painful things.  It has at times, even been awful.  Terrible, really.

But it has not been without purpose.

And it has not been without hope.

We are not with out hope.

We know in whom we hope, and why we hope, and how hope is even possible when life can be this hard.

We know what – who – is the true miracle.

 

When I woke up smiling the last few days, I realized it was because we have each other.

I always used to wake smiling, even as a baby, but when Nathan and I got married, life happened.

Or, rather, death happened, and there was so much of it.

Losing both my parents, and all our pregnancies, was way harder than I knew at the time – and I thought it was hard when it was happening!

But the recovery was slow, with every new crisis like another sucker punch.

Slow or not, recovery is happening, and it feels good.

Christmas feels good, even with a tiny tree older than Nathan but perfect for his crafty personality.

Needing each other feels good again, instead of needing to cocoon while the pain was so great.

I even started texting my brother and his wife and Nathan’s sisters every day, because we are so far away, and so much has happened, and I realized how much I miss them.  We have had no drama between us, but there is disconnect without intentional connection, and I needed them back in my life.  I am not very good at it anyway, but I can say hello.  Or share something.  Or ask something.

Already I learned more about their lives than I ever knew before, and I feel badly about the time that has slipped through my fingers while I was grieving and then sacrificing and then surviving.

But that’s part of our own restoration and return to health, that kind of reaching out again.

Because I am really lucky to have good sisters, and really lucky my brother will still respond to me even though just last week I let my password expire at work and then spilled juice on the keyboard and now someone am locked out of my printer.

But we need each other, because we are family.

And it feels good.

Like love.

Like happiness.

As if that was the plan all along.