amelia · birthdays · clinically isolated syndrome · writing

A Six Year Milestone (for Amelia’s Birthday)


Dear Amelia,

Today you are six.

Once upon a time I marked these milestones pretty well with blog posts.

Well, I hit one and two and three and four… but there’s a noticeable gap for last year. I wonder if someday you’ll ask me why because you’ll have forgotten.

I’m not sure I want you to forget.

One year ago today, on your fifth birthday, we drove home from the Children’s Hospital of Alabama after meeting with a neurological specialist. We still had few answers and more questions.

You were just giddy that when you got home Ellie was here with her Gigi and had brought pizza and cookie cake and a big, giant balloon.

I remember your laughter the way I remember all the tears you’ve shed since the day of your very first scan. But, while I don’t want you to remember the trauma of an emergency CT or the IV or even the two days spent at Scottish Rite, what I do want you to remember is how very, very loved you are.


God told Moses to build an altar. A remembrance. A place to never forget the deliverance.

Your little life is my milestone in so many ways. You are my altar. My place where I laid it all down and gave it all over and you have taught me to sacrifice in so many wonderful ways.

Having you gave me the courage to believe I could stay home. But on your first birthday, the bank was closed and Daddy lost his job. By the time you were two, you had loved me through the unexpectedness of baby brother, and when you were three? You were all sass and sweetness with a big, beautiful smile. At four, you were content home with me after your little school had to close, and you let me savor all the little moments.

I didn’t even know I had this picture. I think you’re two.

Then you approached five and all my fears came to light.

But even in the worst times, you never stopped smiling. Your tears always dried and that blithe little spirit returned.

But sometimes, that’s taken a little while.

It’s been the hardest part of recovery, you know. The times that are darkest are when you’re not my sweet, laid-back Amelia. When you’re struggling without the words to name your own fears and this erupts in tantrums and stand-offs and screaming when I leave you at the door of kindergarten.

One of these days I’ll make a collage of all the pictures I have where you’re dancing in the rain wearing a bathing suit and waving a frilly umbrella.

The doctors think maybe we’ve turned a corner. You’re stable, they say. Maybe, maybe never you’ll be 100% well, but then again, is anyone ever fully well? Aren’t we all weak in some way? Yours manifests itself in the stiffness of that not-so-little hand that grips mine as we traipse the steps to clinic at UGA.

You cling to me for dear life, because by the end of the day, you’re tired and balance is just one more challenge you’ve learned to compensate for.


You hold me tighter.

And, baby girl, I’ll never let you go.

Happy Birthday, Amelia Hope!

birthdays · madelynne · motherhood

10 Things I Haven’t Learned in 10 Years of Motherhood

I would have thought by the time she turned ten, I’d have been a bit of an expert.

Motherhood? Got it.

Yeah, right.

Instead, last Friday she turned ten and I ran myself ragged trying to please everyone ten times over and maybe I was successful. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself and we’re never really a success at this motherhood gig because the world doesn’t measure success with the immeasurable.

There’s no way to tally up points and determine if I’ve got it right after ten years because every new day is a journey and a milestone and another twenty-four hours that might mean I’ve gotten it wrong all over again. Rewards are in the form of tight hugs and sleepy kisses and late night whispers of “I love you” that come after the day is done and the tempers lashed and the mess ups just keep piling up.

But they are sweet when they come.

I took Madelynne and four friends camping for her birthday. We hiked the gear in, pitched a tent (Joshua helped), and spent nearly twenty-four glorious hours in the woods with perfect fall weather. Except for the brief 11 p.m. rainstorm that wasn’t on radar so we hadn’t put up the rain fly over the tent.

Yeah, ten years of motherhood and endless rainy camp outs and I’m still not getting it right. But she told me I was the coolest/bravest mom ever.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s just true that I’m the craziest mom ever.  I do know this. In ten years of motherhood, what I haven’t learned often seems to far surpass what I have.

I jotted down this list the morning of her birthday when her daddy made homemade cinnamon rolls and I wrote in her Letters with Mama book and tried not to have a panic attack.

10 Things I Haven’t Learned in Ten Years of Motherhood
I haven’t learned how to keep my temper.

I haven’t learned how to keep their rooms clean.

I haven’t learned how to say no. 
Actually, I can say this to my kids. Just not to everyone else.

I haven’t learned to remember a diaper stash for the car.

I haven’t learned how to cease amazement with each child at each new development.

I haven’t learned how to make time stand still so I can savor the moment.

I haven’t learned how to know my capacity.

I haven’t learned how to give each of them enough of me.

I haven’t learned how to keep my insecurities from influencing theirs. 

I haven’t learned how to believe I’m doing a good job.

The only lesson I’ve really learned in ten years of motherhood is grace. Pile upon pile of grace heaped up after the hard days, the bad days, the I’m-unfit-for-motherhood days. The saving grace of motherhood is that each day is a new day. A new day with no mistakes in it. 
So in ten years, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got that I know is true everyday. The other is what I’m still learning, still trying, still hoping. 
But on Sunday afternoon, do you know what I whispered to the mom with two close in toddling age who run her ragged and stretch her limits? 
It gets easier. 
And it does. So maybe I’ve learned quite a bit in ten years after all. 
birthdays · joshua · marriage

You’ll Always Be Enough {especially for his birthday}

Today is your birthday and we’re both 34 years old and feeling it in the arms and legs and hands that tangle together in a second-hand bed you bought to be big enough for us and four dark-eyed babies who, no matter their age, still crawl in to snuggle on early mornings.

Last night the baby fell out of his bed, and I put him in ours, tucked safe between us with his damp curls and belly-splitting laugh that was mercifully quiet at 2 a.m.

You bought that bed even when I figured it wouldn’t fit in our room just so there’d be room enough for them all. Even though you don’t like to share your sleep with nightmares about crocodiles and a four year old’s snores.

Sometimes I feel like we’re so far removed from that pair of naively starry eyed twenty-year-olds that I’m not sure we were ever really there. But we have friends who remember us from that time, friends who were there when you first brought me cough drops in that light booth of the old EH Young Theater, people who aren’t at all surprised that we’ve grown up to raise four kids and learn to love each other in new and different ways.

Sometimes I miss being that young with you.

But I never regret that we’re slowly, patiently growing older together.

Time thinks it’s flying by, and I measure it in moments of childhood that I never want to end. I’d freeze it here, you know, right here, with a terrible two and a baby girl on the verge of double-digits. I’d stop and never let us get a second older, just let us revel in the here and now that is the wonder of parenthood and adulthood and never-ending mortgage payments.

But you wouldn’t.

You see the gift in the moving on. In the days that are far, far ahead in our future when we’ve held them tight and let them go and are settling back into a routine of just us.

I think you wonder if I’ll find you enough. If, after the days of mundane mothering are over, and I have hours to fill without the constant company of one who is half-you and half-me, if I’ll be satisfied with just the company of you.

When I was only twenty years old, you were plenty company enough. I pretty well imagine that come twenty years from now–

I’ll be happy to have you all to myself again.

Happy Birthday with all my love.

birthdays · Friday Five · · motherhood

How She Gave Away Her Birthday Cake and Gave Me Joy {Five Minute Friday}

On Fridays this community of prayer warriors and sleep-deprived mamas and funny college students and thoughtful friends takes one word and writes without editing, without backtracking, without over thinking for five minutes.  Sometimes we cheat a little, like me today, because I needed about 8 minutes to get it all out. But Lisa Jo knows all about grace, so she lets that slide at least once.

So go all in and try it out.  What’s your five minutes of JOY look like? 




I picked her up in a drizzle off a forest service dirt road 8.5 miles from Amicalola State Park and the headwaters of the Appalachian Trail.  She and her grandmother–my feisty and fearless mother–had hiked south from Woody Gap, a 21 mile stretch over a mountain in the rain that forecasters had said for three days would end tomorrow.  They were tired and cold and wet and it was her birthday, so instead of finishing one more night on the ground in the mud with poptarts and ramen noodles, I loaded them up in the mud-splattered F150 and drove back down the windy mountain to the lodge at the state park.

I had met them early to bring her a birthday treat.  A footlong ham sandwich with black olives and a cookie cake because I didn’t make it to the bakery for key lime cupcakes. Everyone I met on my drive through the misty forest knew her name. Every hiker I gave a peanut butter sandwich to had met the 8 year old with a pack and a grin so wide it made another tooth fall out on the second night in.  Everyone knew it was her birthday.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the lodge, she bounded out with more energy than someone who only weighs 50 pounds and carried 15 pounds on her back for three days should have. It was her birthday and she couldn’t wait to share it.  She asked if she could give cake to the workers.  I told her it was her cake and she could give it to whoever she wanted.

So she did.  After a dinner from the buffet, we cut up that cookie cake and plated it on salad plates her baby sister kept fetching from the bar. She walked all around that sparsely populated restaurant and my shyest child asked folks if they would like some cookie cake because it was her birthday.  They were a little astounded. A little flustered at the thought of saying no.  A lot joyful at the idea that a child could exhibit selflessness.

Most of the time, she can be a bit difficult.  She’s stubborn and strong willed and makes me question everything I do, but when she decides to be a giver, she’s all in. It’s her joy language, her heart song, her words without saying a word.

It’s her gift and she unwrapped the beauty of it for me on a foggy evening in the mountains on her eighth birthday.

Also linking up with Beauty Observed. Check out her beautiful photography!

birthdays · · motherhood

Learning Lessons from My Strong Willed Child

Dear Annabelle,

I’m going to need you to come back home.  I know you’re loving hiking with your Marmie on the AT even though it’s wet and cold, but I need you here.

You’re my strong-willed child, for sure, but it’s that strong will of yours that’s teaching me lessons of eternal value.

Did you know that since you’ve been gone, bedtime routine hasn’t happened? It’s because you’re the one who likes order, while the rest of us, apparently, are easily distracted.

I’ve been thinking, too, about how much you love for things to be fair. I’m trying to help you understand that life just doesn’t work that way, that there will always be things that are not fair and that we cannot fix, but have to learn to live with.  Right now, Madelynne thinks it’s really unfair that you are hiking by yourself with Marmie, but I bet you think it’s really unfair I bought her new shoes.  You’re helping me learn not to apologize for when things don’t work out the way we want, and you’re inspiring me to let you learn early on, as hard as it may be, that life just isn’t fair. I don’t want to set you up for the expectation that it is.  I’d rather you get hurt a little bit now, while I’m here to hold you, than later when you’re older and not used to handling all of life’s unfairness.

You’re teaching me that if I want you to learn how to react appropriately, than I have to model that for you. I had a tantrum myself on my recent birthday because unfair things happened, but my reaction only made the situation worse. That’s never what you want to do, and I’m seeing so much of myself in you lately, that I want to help both of us learn now, that our responses to life’s little hiccups say a lot about our deepest beliefs.

You’re teaching me about those beliefs too. You aren’t my child who wants feel good faith. You want concrete, real evidence and you want literal understanding of everything you’re being taught. That’s hard when we’re talking Christian theology and Baptist doctrine to you because you’re only eight years old  today and I’m thirty-four and certainly don’t (and never will) understand everything.

But you’re teaching me how to talk to you in a way that lets Jesus do the work.  Sometimes I want to push you to tell me those words we learn in Sunday School about inviting Jesus into our heart, but you tell me that words and water don’t make you clean, Jesus does. And I can’t really argue with that.

So I dig deeper into the Word and read passages like this:

4-7 But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.

Galatians 4:3-7 (The Message)

You have such a hunger to know and understand that I don’t doubt the Holy Spirit is working with you.  And when you commit to something, you’re all in, which makes me so excited (and a little scared) to imagine the great things God has planned for your life. I just hope your little heart continues to understand that you don’t have to be imprisoned by laws and rules because Jesus makes you free.

By far you are my most compassionate child. I’m still holding on to the idea that you might be a lawyer who seeks to right social injustice someday, but for right now, you just want to make sure everyone has a Christmas present and if I make muffins that there are some extra to take to your teachers. You believe in crazy, outlandish, uninhibited giving–because you are just like your daddy in all the best ways.

I love you my strong-willed eight year old. You challenge me most everyday, but you’re making me a better mother and a stronger person as I learn that real strength comes with the willingness to say I can’t do it all by myself.

Oh, and since I’m a day late on this birthday post, I’m going to have to write another one about how I brought a you a birthday cake and you gave it away. A love like that deserves its own words.


birthdays · faith · giveaways

Birthday Wishes with 163 Design Company

I wore it like a talisman all those long days and nights that went by impossibly quick slow that last week of last year into the first days of a new beginning.
Jennifer, who was my roommate at Allume, and shares more than just a corner of this big internet with me, offered them up as gifts to us when we first spilled our luggage and our hearts onto beds in that hotel room in Greenville back in October.
It is well with my soul.
It takes courage to offer up those words.  It takes courage to make a little piece of yourself and hope others love it and buy it so you can pay the bills but share it so you can know it means something.
The first time I choked on those words I was a senior in high school sitting in a church pew of First Baptist holding a hymnal with shaking hands and mourning the death of a girl I used to run the side streets of town with for cross country practice, a girl I’d known for as long as I could remember, a girl who should have gone on to live a longer life than just nineteen short years.  It wasn’t well with my soul then.
But I grew up and I opened my heart more to faith and I saw the peace that passes understanding on so many whose souls were well.
And I want that.  A well soul.  
I’m 34 years old today and it’s taken me this long to learn and become well with the idea that I am not well. I am broken and scarred and flawed and made in the image of God. And everyday I get to choose to live in grace and forgiveness and joy so that all will be well–
or I get to choose not.
And let me tell you those days of choosing not, those days of choosing despair and self-deprecation and dilemma over delight, those days will eat through your soul and leave you with nothing.

So, everyday I’m trying and somedays, I wear my necklace because I need that little tangible reminder that 

Since it’s my birthday, Jen is letting me give one of these beauties away to you!  And since she’s super kind, she’s offering up another one as well, so today’s giveaway will have two winners, which is perfect because she and I share hotel rooms and mom fears and coffee love and husbands who are recovered from perimyocarditis (how crazy is that?!?) and first names (yep, mine’s Jennifer) AND February birthdays. I tell you, no one but God could have crafted together a bonding like ours.
If the It Is Well piece doesn’t speak to you like it does me, perhaps you’d like this one?
It reminds me so much of Jennifer because she does seek to Glorify God in all she does whether it’s handcrafting these beautiful wooden necklaces (read about the process here) or designing prints and art to bring a little nautical joy to your home or blogging about ending the slavery of women.
If you’d love to win one of these, here’s the super fun widget from Rafflecopter.  Enter as many times as you want and give me a birthday gift? Share this post even if you’re not interested in winning. Thanks so much!
And if you are yourself or know an expectant mother, send them over here to enter the giveaway for a free newborn session to honor my own baby girl’s birthday. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway//

birthdays · motherhood · school

More than Flowers (What May Brought)

So it’s occurring to me while I’m working on a (hopefully) profound post about how I need to slow my life down, that I haven’t done a lot of casual blogging lately about what’s been keeping us so busy.  May is marching on by with its cold snaps and thunderstorms and heartaches too big for words, but here’s a bit of what we’ve been doing.

Gus turned one.  I didn’t even write about it. I wrote this the week before and the week of I was busy with this.

That’s the incredible Mrs. Gibson and her talented students and crew.  Blessed that she allowed me back in the school to help with the annual spring musical.  I almost missed teaching that week.  But then I came home to this and remembered why I left.

We named our children like dwarves last week: Sleepy, Whiny, Sassy, and Screechy.  Guess which one she is?

We’re digging the CSA that’s started up in the past few weeks.  Now I just need a more expansive repertoire of what to do with collards and turnip greens.

Oh, here she is again.  Joshua wants to know why we’re not marketing her so that at least one college education is paid for.

She likes to dress herself, can you tell?  Tomorrow is her last day of preschool this year.  Insane how fast it goes.

That’s my sweet friend Shanna giving Gus his first haircut. I almost cried and she told me I’d be fine.  This from the woman who had to let someone else cut her baby boy’s hair because she didn’t think she could do it.  Love you Shanna!  Thanks for making sweet boy look good.

It’s been field day and field trips and general chaos around school these past couple weeks.  Glad I get to hang with my big girls sometimes!

When I was teaching, we used to have faculty meetings and brainstorm how we could move some of the craziness out of May.  Yes, please.  Let’s figure out how to do that.