Love Showed Up: Held Up and Held Together

Last week I introduced a new series here entitled “Love Showed Up: The best of People on the Worst of Days.” The idea here is that the best thing we can do to defuse grief clichés is to share stories of times in our lives when everything fell apart and we were loved well and held closely.  

Today my dear amazing friend Jillian Burden is kicking off the series for us by sharing a story from her life that will leave you breathless but hopeful. Simply put Jill is one of my favorite people on the planet, she’s classy and thoughtful with a faith that challenges and encourages me in the best of ways.  Let’s read this story and store it up in our hearts as an example of holding together our loved one in seasons of falling apart.

Six years ago this fall my mom was on her deathbed. She had emergency surgery on her abdomen in late August and then aspirated waking up from anesthesia. Aspirating damaged her lungs and she had to be put on supplemental oxygen as she recovered in the ICU. Her condition worsened.  Soon she had to wear a big black mask that forced air into her lungs. Then she was put on a ventilator; first with a breathing tube down her throat and then directly into her trachea. Her blood saturation levels dipped dangerously low. She was transferred to a larger hospital. She went into an induced coma. She got sepsis. She lost almost all her muscle mass. My dad called me at college twice to come home and say goodbye to her; her doctors didn’t think she was going to make it.

This went on for months. Hellish is the best way to describe it. I continued with my education, driving back to Ontario from my college in Michigan with my fiance at every available opportunity. I lived as normally as I possibly could, but every minute of every day had a terrifying footnote under it: *Your mom might be dead.

When I called my dad from my dorm each night, adrenaline rushed through my body. What would he say? Was she any better? Was she worse? Was she still alive?

And how was he? My brother? My teenage sister? Were they eating? Working? Going to school? How do you continue living when your wife or mom is dying?

I felt like I was falling apart.

Here’s what kept me together: community.

From the moment they learned that my mom was sick, my community was there. My friends, my family’s friends, my home church in Ontario, my Bible college peers and professors in Michigan, and my relatives all over the world reached out to put their hands on me and hold me together.

At first, they prayed. Then they started bringing meals to my dad and sister still living at home in Ontario. They offered to drive me six hours from my dorm to my mom’s ICU room. They paid for the gas. They cleaned my parents’ house every week for weeks on end. They raked leaves. Pulled weeds. Shoveled snow. At school my professors changed due dates and gave me extensions. They asked how I was doing. Friends and family gathered time and again in the ICU waiting room to sit with my dad. With my siblings. With me. They brought pizza. They prayed. They made small talk. They were quiet.

As my mom crept closer and closer to death, my 300 person bible college together with my parents’ church and friends and family from around the world fasted and prayed for two days. My inbox was flooded with words of support. Someone we knew in Jerusalem placed a prayer for my mom on the Western Wall. At the end of the fast, I stood in a circle among dozens of my peers and took communion. When we had all chewed our bread and swallowed our wine, each student came one by one to embrace me. I left wet marks on their necks and shoulders from my tears. I was so scared, so sad, so sick at the thought of loosing my mom. But I was never one thing: alone.

My story has happy ending. After those days of prayer and fasting, my mom slowly began to improve. Her damaged, infected lungs, began to heal. Her blood saturation levels improved. Her sepsis subsided. She was weaned out of her coma. It was late October- two months after her original surgery- when my dad was finally able to tell her what happened… and how much time had past since her last memory. Unable to speak because of the ventilator she simply mouthed the word, “Wow.”

On November 1- her 48th birthday- she was able to sit up for the first time since August, with the help of a giant sling. Her doctor- who had only weeks earlier described her as “the sickest person in Canada-” called her a medical miracle.

Mom on her birthday.

She was eventually transferred back to a smaller hospital near my parents’ home where she was weaned off the ventilator and started physical therapy. At this point, my fiancé John and I were planning to get married in the hospital (so my mom could be present); I remember watching her barely able to turn the page of a wedding planning magazine. She was so weak.

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As she healed and we approached the wedding, our community gave their love and support as generously as they had in her weakest hours. My hair stylist aunt came to the ICU with her scissors and combs in hand to give my mom’s short-hair gone shaggy a trim. A coworker of my dad baked up a cupcake “tree” to serve as our wedding cake and my mom’s best friend cooked up a spread of appetizers for us to enjoy with our dozen or so guests after a short ceremony. My childhood pastor agreed to officiate and the church secretary designed and printed a stack of special programs just for the event. My greenhouse-owning cousin made us boutonnieres and corsages while her parents uncle drove a van filled with poinsettias all the way to the hospital so we could decorate.

In Dember my mom had been moved out of ICU to a long-term recovery floor and we used the floor’s community room for our wedding. The night before the wedding, we set up chairs with an aisle down the middle and went home to rest. While we slept, the nurses on my mom’s floor covered every chair with a white bed sheet and hung Christmas ornaments on the back. It was beautiful.

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On January 2, 2008 I stood outside that hospital community room with my mom and dad, waiting to walk down the aisle after them and get married. My mom smiled at me from her wheelchair as the CD wedding music began to play. She stood, shakily, and held on to me for support as my dad wheeled her empty chair down the makeshift aisle. Then, to the surprised and tear-filled eyes of our friends and loved ones, she took hold of my dad’s arm and, slowly but surely, put one foot ahead of the other…. and walked.

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 Six months after my mom took those first feeble steps, John and I had a big party to celebrate our marriage with all our friends and family, outside those hospital walls. We laughed and cried a lot that day; for us, for my mom, for our family, for our friends… for our whole community who collectively held us up and held us together through

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that last year. We were finally able to fall apart, but this time it was only in the very best of ways. After dinner as the music played my brother took my mom out to the center floor and- surrounded by the loving hearts and glowing faces of our unfailing community- she danced.

 

 

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Jillian Burden loves nothing better than hearing and telling great stories. She chronicles her own story of adoption, infertility, faith, family life and her journey to joy over at her blog addingaburden.com

If you’re interested in guest posting for the “Love Showed Up” series, I’d love to hear more.  Get in touch with my via email, I’m leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Our “Yes but not yet” Adoption Journey (a guest post at Adding a Burden)

Gods will is never completely clear to us while we’re still treading dirt. Yet, we cannot deny that we catch breathtaking glimpses of it now and then.  I may never be fully aware of the thousands of reasons behind our time in Oklahoma, but I have a pretty good idea that one of them centers around adoption.

A lot of people talk about adopting someday because it’s a neat idea, yet a small percentage of them pursue those words into reality.  We were always a couple who talked about how cool “maybe someday” adoption would be. Then we spend our time in Ada in a close knit group of adopting and fostering families and went from maybe… to when?”

Alongside those friends my fuzzy visions of adoption took on faces and names which came with a hearty dose of the realities of the adoption journey with all it’s paperwork and fundraising, all it’s highs and lows.

So today I’m over at my dear friend Jill Burden’s site today writing about our “yes but not yet” adoption journey:

I’ve read somewhere that if something makes you cry, it’s because your heart is
connected to it. It’s part of it and within whatever it is lies a resonance you shouldn’t
ignore.

This concept perfect fits my heart for adoption. I can’t talk about it without crying and I
can’t relay my friend’s stories of adoption joy without tearing up. I often envision our
future family portraits on the mantle and they have a couple more children in them, and
they’re not necessarily ones I gave birth to, and I love that.

I’m currently not in the process of adoption, but I wish I was. I am however an adopted
Aunt to an 8 year old Ethiopian boy named Fetinet and my daughter started calling him
her brother without any prompting from us. He comes over on days when his school is
closed and he’s so comfortable in our home that he bosses my kids around a bit, but
that wasn’t always the case.”

To finish up please head on over to Jill’s space and while you’re at it follow her on all the social medias.  

Mom Hack (from picky to licky)

DSC_0642-1 Today I’m excited to share a guest post from one of my favorite people, my friend Jillian Burden. Jill and I met in college and I remember being amazed by her from day one, she’s stunning inside and out. She’s on my short list of people I want to go out for coffee with, because she laughs deeply and listens so intentionally. 

Jill and her husband John brought home their first child, their Son Artem, in November shortly before US / Russian adoptions shut down.  I love being on the mothering journey with Jill, even if from a distance, her joy and love for her son and orphans world wide are contagious. So without further adieu… 

I just love food. I love the way a toasted piece of sourdough soaks up the savory flavors of tomato basil soup. I love the creamy/sweet contrast of goat cheese and red pepper jelly on a thin, crisp water cracker. And I really love the sweet and salty slurpy wonderfulness of any kind of peanut butter and soy sauce noodle dish. I’m not a natural born talent in the kitchen, but I’ve taught myself to cook because I need a means to get to the end of delicious food.

Not only do I love to eat food myself, but I love to cook for others. I think one of my love languages is feeding people. So you can imagine that as I stood on the precipice of motherhood, I had grand visions of cooking beautiful dinners to be enjoyed with great thanksgiving by my hungry children.

And then my husband and I brought home a picky eater. We adopted our two-year-old son Arie three months ago from Moscow, Russia and he survived Thanksgiving through Christmas on cheese, bananas and multivitamins.

Our pediatrician assured me this was normal and that it could take up to 16 “tastes” of a new food before we’d actually get him to eat it.

Turns out though, sixteen tastes is a lot. Especially when you’re wiping them off a chin or a bib or a floor for the tenth day in a row. Actually, wiping food that was spit out from our son’s mouth was something of a victory because most of the time he’d guard his tongue by pressing his lips together like an oyster hiding a pearl. Short of forcing a spoonful of yogurt in his mouth, I had no idea how I was going to get sixteen tastes in there.

I won’t lie; I was feeling a little desperate.

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I guess genius sometimes lives in desperation because therein I found my answer: food licking.

It started off with, “Hey Arie can you stick out your tongue??” (Yes- he’s two; he can definitely stick out his tongue) and progressed to, “Watch Mama lick this berry!” slurp slurp slurp “Isn’t that funny??”

Sure enough, he started giggling and licking. Little does he know, licking is the same as tasting. Over the next few weeks, small licks became big licks, and big licks became nibbles, and nibbles became bites!

Arie licking

Unintended consequence: first time we baked together, he licked the dry ingredients.

We’ve moved from a list of two acceptable foods to about 20. We’re still licking too, so here’s hoping that list continues to grow!

There’s my mom hack: teach your picky eater to lick her food. I hope the licks turn into bites for you too!

MOM HACK BREAKDOWN
WHAT– Teach your picky eater to lick her food before rejecting it.
WHY– Because just getting one “taste” in her mouth is one step closer to getting her to actually eat it.
TIPS / HOW- After she takes a couple licks she has to eat it or put it aside, otherwise you might have a lick-fest on your hands. And that’s just bad manners. 😉

DSC_0013Bio: Jillian Burden is an adoptive mother, blogging about her adoption & parenting journey and all the blessing, lament, joy, and conviction that happen along the way.

Check out Jill’s writing at her blog
Follow Jill on Facebook
And on twitter here

PS If you’re interested in sharing a mom hack let me know by sending an email my way!

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