I inherited a box at work today, and this was inside.
That, my friends, is older than pagers.
What were we in, like fifth grade or something when we moved from the big floppy ones to those?
Guess what else is ancient?
Today is my 41st birthday, and it’s about time I grew up into my own age. I have been waiting for this my whole life! I am officially middle-age, assuming I make it home on the iced up highways tonight. If I don’t, then my middle-age was in my very early twenties, and I’m going to be pretty upset about pretty much wasting that.
But this? Forty-one is glorious, with every single grey hair earned. I can tell you which ones came when my mother died, and which ones Alex gave me, and which ones grew as Anber screamed that first year. I can tell you which ones came in on that first helicopter ride to Cincinnati, and how random gray hairs turned into patches of gray as I have lost everything trying to pay for that baby ever since.
Fostering wasn’t as hard as paying for fostering, and I think there should be some kind of humanitarian program that helps support those who are willing to foster – like somehow matching them with sponsors who don’t want to foster but believe in the mission and want to help those who do. Three and a half million dollars, that’s what it has cost so far to keep Kyrie alive. My brother and I were talking about it today. Medicaid has paid for about half of that, and another fourth is in appeal. But the rest was a house, and then another house, and double jobs and little sleep and every anxious moment worth it for that precious face.
I mean literally, the face they keep reconstructing as they rebuild that airway to keep her alive.
Anyway, we found a new foster placement (without medical issues) who came with almost nothing usually, cost about $800 just that first week alone if we also got them church clothes, not counting school supplies or winter coats. We had 85 of those in four years, plus the teenagers who were about $1500 (without spoiling any).
Know what is even more expensive? Being off work because of court dates for foster care or babies who get life flighted all the time. That’s the part no one talks about, how your expenses just skyrocketed but you don’t actually have any income to pay the regular stuff, much less these new crises.
I’m not complaining. I just mean I’ve earned some gray hairs that way.
But I’ve also had cancer, twice, so I’m grateful for any hair at all. I don’t care what color it is. I earned these hairs, and they are mine, and they are numbered.
Mary’s are prettier, all beaded up today, but mine are numbered, too.
I know, because there are not as many as there used to be!
The very hairs on your head are numbered.
~ Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7
I’ve thought a lot about it, why my hairs would be numbered. I especially thought about it back when I lost my hair and had nothing but a bald head – which, by the way, is really cold. You have no idea.
But I think it’s more than just inventory. I think it’s about how well He knows us, and how much He loves us, and how in-tune Heavenly Father is with our very needs.
I relied on priesthood blessing so much during those difficult years, after my father died and then my mother was killed, and then the miscarriages, and then fostering, and then cancer, and then Kyrie. Priesthood blessings kept me alive, I know it, as much as they offered comfort and gave instruction. They gave me hope.
And sometimes it seemed, in the temple and in my dreams, that other kinds of blessings came from the other side of the veil.
So maybe I can pretend that each gray hair came from one of those blessings on my head, where the divine deigned to meet my mortal self.
My gray hairs are evidence, or testimony, of those experiences.
They are the signs of my tokens of obedience, when every bit of life force was spent out of me in sacrifice for what was the right thing to do, for obedience to promptings, for meager attempts at consecration.
I am so very mortal, though, and it has wiped me. I have lived on hospital food – at work or for Kyrie – for three years, and haven’t slept much in as long as all that, and my cardio workouts have consisted of wrestling preschoolers. My body gives its own evidence of that, not in a self-shaming kind of way, but in a I-have-done-my-best-with-where-I-found-myself kind of way. My back aches from four years of other people’s babies, from bending over hospital beds, from doing CPR on my daughter.
Oh, and that time I fell on the ice a year ago and cracked my spine and broke four ribs.
That, by the way, is why I am still in my office typing instead of going home just yet, because of that new ice-phobia, which as it turns out, is part of getting older.
I also know we get more financially anxious as the next hospitalization looms over us.
Even though it’s scary, it’s easier to worry about money than worrying about when your daughter is going to die.
And because I can’t do anything else about her, besides what we have done and are doing, then I focus on what I can do.
Or writing book.
Or selling tshirts.
And, of all things, being grateful.
I can process all the traumas we have endured, and make sure the children have a good palliative care therapist, and I can honor our struggles by processing them here like a grownup – even if I don’t have any interest in perfect picture taking or fancy giveaways or guest blogging.
Because I am exhausted.
And maybe I am snarky, partly because of coping (survival) skills and partly because of personality style and mostly because mortality.
But it is also true that I am so very grateful.
I am grateful for my husband, who is exactly perfect for me. He is good and kind and gentle to me. He doesn’t yell at me or abuse me or oppress me. He is tender, and wise, and those magical violin hands are the same ones that bless my head anytime I ask and lots of times when I am asleep.
I am grateful for my children, and their biological families, and the family that we have become. We navigate the same developmental waters as everyone else, plus extra issues because of their medical and trauma issues, but they are amazing kids and just the thought of them makes my heart swell with tears in my eyes for the joy they are to me.
I am grateful for provision, especially the house we found and the home we have made here. It has been a safe refuge for us, and I so grateful. I pray heaps of blessings on the family that found it and the family that let us move here and those who helped us.
I am grateful for heat and electricity and water. I am grateful for groceries, and boys’ haircuts, and conditioner for my daughter’s now beaded hair. I am grateful for foster support agencies with clothing closets, miracle gas cards that come in the mail, and even a car with no heat that brings me to a job I love with people who are good and kind and safe.
I am grateful for friends I never get to see, who know me and love me still. There are friends who share with me a love for my Father and my God, and friends who share other gifts I need to learn to be a better person in this world. There are friends who know what it is to grow a sick a child, friends who know the gut wrenching pain of raising other people’s children, and friends who connect with me right where we left off in those rare moments I finally get to see them.
I am grateful for doctors and nurses and specialists and therapists who are kind to my children, patient with me, and who believe in miracles – but also respect our efforts at comfort, and are prepared to hold our hand through that when the time comes.
He will not break a bruised reed,
And he will not extinguish a smoldering wick.
~ Isaiah 42:3
I am in a bruised reed and smoldering wick kind of season, and not just because I turned 41 today.
And while I do not at all blame God for all we have endured, I do understand He has used it to teach me things I never would have understood otherwise.
And I still trust Him.
And I know He will not break me.
Driving home on the ice might, though, so before I leave I send Nathan the kind of text that you only send five years after a jeep and a semi squashed your mother.
I’m headed home. The roads are bad, but security tells me it’s clear enough I should be fine. If I’m not, don’t make them keep doing compressions and don’t keep me plugged in. Let me go. I’m a chaplain. I know.
Plus, my parents have been waiting. You know we have work to do. It’s their turn.
You know all my passwords. Give David Funk our tax refund and he will take care of our insurance. Use the same funeral home we used for mom. Bury me down the street and the kids can wave on the way to the playground. Kirk can help you figure things out if you need, and ask Adam for help if you get stuck.
Don’t forget my name.
And know this: that I love you, that you were the best thing ever to happen to me, that every bit of searching was worth finding you. And that I will help you every way I can, and you will feel me, and you will hear me. And that you can do this, even though it’s awful, and even with the children.
And know that I know Heavenly Father is real, that the Savior is real and resurrected, and that the Spirit guides and corrects and instructs and comforts. I know the church is true, the Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know the priesthood was restored, and that we have temples again, and that we are sealed for all eternity.
He will roll his eyes at my dramatic response, and he will call me to be sure I am okay.
But he will know it’s not drama, or some kind of threat or death wish.
He knows that’s how my mom died, so I know how real death is.
He knows that’s what I have been doing all night, helping people as they pass away and then holding their loved ones who scream for it not to be real and then cry because they realize it is and then panic because they don’t know what to do next.
That’s chaplain life.
And I don’t want Nathan to panic, tonight or forty years from now. So sometimes we practice it, like I teach in my grief trainings. There’s a plan. You will be okay. Figure it out one piece at a time. We will see each other again.
I’m not dismissing the heartbreak.
I’m talking practical things, like a fire drill, or like one of those old floppy disks.
And Mormons are very good at being prepared.
And turning 41 is an excellent time to go over everything.
So that’s what I tell him before I drive home.
And while I drive, there is a fantastic piece of perfection playing, Haydn’s The Oxford, and I forget I was even anxious about the ice because there isn’t any.
It’s just gone, and the roads are fine, as if I didn’t spend all night doing traumas in the ER because of it.
And then when I get home (I am now home safe, by the way), it will all seems silly and unpleasant, like Barrett crying from the cold when he ran outside without shoes after the smoke alarms went off while making his birthday burgers.
And we joke and laugh about how of course I got home fine, because Heavenly Father has never let me off that easy.
We push the dumpster to the curb, then, because that’s as real as life gets.
And I check my voicemails: the Bartlesville house can’t have its open house until we turn the electricity back on (twinge of grief for my children’s hospice that I can’t open right now because of budget cuts), and the yellow house won’t sell because it needs paint and carpet (which we cannot do), and we can get our van back next week if this and this and this.
It’s exhausting, especially for a bent read of a smoldering wick who turned 41 today.
But none of it matters when I see my daughter in her bed breathing (sleeping with her eyes open all creepy like, the way her half-sister does), and when I check on all my other babies cozy in their beds, warm against the cold outside.
Because we are safe.
And they are loved.
And everything’s going to be okay in the end.
So happy birthday to me, on this day we celebrate my formidable choice to come to earth and endure all this nonsense.
Nathan says it’s my fault. He says that when we had all that pre-Earth training, they passed out papers for people to mark which kinds of experiences we needed to have on Earth to learn and practice what we wanted and needed to grow more like our Heavenly Parents. Our choice in it had to be something like that, he says, because that’s what agency is all about, he says.
The problem with you, he says, is that you checked ALL the boxes.
Happy birthday to me.