First Face I Wanna See (A Trisomy 18 story)

Trisomy 18

Me with my Isabel

Today is my Isabel’s ninth birthday — June 13.    It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since that morning.

It’s a birthday I celebrate quietly, in my own heart.  Usually my mom will give me a card.  But otherwise, we go about life as usual around here.   Because Isabel’s  having her birthday party with Jesus, not with us, as she has every year.

But I do celebrate and remember.  Isabel was born with Trisomy 18, a chromosome disorder that is labeled “incompatible with life.”  And for her, it was.  She lived  for five weeks, in the NICU the whole time.  Those were probably  some of the hardest weeks of my life, but I don’t regret them.  She was a beautiful girl to me, tiny at 4 lbs. 6 oz., with a weak little cry and a head full of soft dark hair.

For a long time, it was hard to think about her without crying.  But the Lord was good to us and blessed us with two little boys after Isabel, besides the two girls we already had and loved.   My life has been very full and happy.  I am no longer sad every time I remember my tiny little girl.  I do miss her and think of her often, wondering what it might have been like, having her here with us.   Sometimes, when I’m mentally accounting for my kids, doing the usual “One, two, three, four — OK, got ’em all” kind of check that moms do, I get this nagging feeling that I missed someone.  And then I realize it’s because I do — miss her.

What I love, though, is knowing that it was not for nothing, birthing a child into this world who could not survive.   Soon after her death, when I was crying out to the Lord for an answer to WHY this had to be, He spoke to me, and I’ve never forgotten what He said.  “This world is not your home,”  He reminded me,  “But it is your birthing place.”   We are called, all of us, to great things — to love, to serve, to create.  To delight in the Lord and in each other. Those callings aren’t just for here, for this time, you know.  They’re for eternity.    Isabel has a future, a plan the Lord designed just for her.  She’s an interesting, productive, happy person.  But had she never been conceived here, on this earth, during this time, she’d have missed out on eternity.  And we’d have missed out on her.

Right now, I don’t know her.  I don’t know what her personality would have been, what sweet little quirks, what different ideas she’d have had.  But I will.  For all eternity, I get to know her, to call her my daughter, to hang out with her.  That’s a gift I would never refuse, despite what it cost us in tears.

Later this month, I’m going to write about the fight that Trisomy 18  parents have been waging — the progress they’ve made since we first heard of this disorder.  It’s been really interesting to watch over the years, and in many ways, encouraging.

But today, I just want to rejoice that one day, I’ll be on the other side of time as well.  And after Jesus, Isabel’s is the first face I want to see.

Our Trisomy 18 baby

Isabel Anwen


What They Did Right

This week my parents celebrated their 36th anniversary.  Yay for long and happy marriages!

J. and I will be celebrating our own anniversary in a couple of weeks (14 years — holy cow,  I’m getting old!) Naturally during those years, we’ve had our ups and downs.  Sometimes we look around for examples, couples who have weathered the storms well.  Usually we come back to the same two people –Mom and Dad. ‘Cause they’ve got the marriage thing down.

I started thinking back to my childhood, wondering — what did they do right?  They faced the same challenges everyone else did — money issues, health problems, kids who kept wanting to eat every day– you know, the usual.  And, since Dad was a pastor, technically, my siblings and I were supposed to be crazy-wild hellions, bent on embarrassing our parents. So there’s that worry.

For the record, all three of us made it to our thirties without any major catastrophes.  Personally, I think we’re all pretty awesome, but I might be a little biased.  🙂

You know what our parents did right?  They loved each other.  A lot.  Like the starry-eyed, smoochy-smoochy, giggly kind of love. The fiery “I will take you down if you hurt her” kind of love.    And all three of us knew it.   We had no doubts that, come what may, those two planned to stick with each other.  It was just a fact of life, an unspoken foundation to our lives.  I thought it was normal.  When I got married, that’s totally what I expected.

And guess what?  It’s totally what I got — because I expected it.

That’s the gift my parents gave me.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.

God and Me and the Leaning Tree

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  — Phil. 4:6

About a year ago, a giant oak tree fell from my yard into the street. Right in the middle of a sunny day, with no wind or rain — it just fell.

This is AFTER half of the tree had been carted away.

When we first bought our house, we loved the cool, shady front yard.  Most of this shade (and, as it turned out, an insane number of leaves every fall) came from the oak tree.  After we settled in, we noticed that the tree looked like it was… leaning.

Anyway, the tree did not bother us at first.   It just made the yard more interesting.   After a few years, though, my dad came and stood on our porch, studied the angle of the tree, and said “That tree is dangerous.  It needs to come down.”  My dad is very smart about these things.  I trust his judgment.  So I started to worry about our tree, thinking maybe we should do something about it.

Only, we didn’t have any money. It costs a lot to safely cut down a tree as big as that one, in a neighborhood as crowded as ours. My husband was unemployed and in school at the time, and the tree was just not a top financial priority.  It couldn’t be.  Feeding the kids pretty much comes first.

For a while, I just stressed out every time the wind picked up. My active imagination went into overdrive — what if it fell on a passing car? What if my kids were playing on the sidewalk and  it came down? What if it destroyed one of the parked vehicles across the street and we were liable? I tried to calm my fears, telling myself it had been leaning like that a long time and had not given us any trouble, not even when a tornado/microburst touched down and twisted off the top of a tree two doors down. And anyway, what could I possibly do to fix it?

The root base was taller than I am.

Then it occurred to me to ask God about it. One afternoon, I walked over and put my hand on the bark. I told God that I would prefer that the big oak just stay put for a long time. But if it absolutely had to come down, I asked God to take care of it, to bring it down Himself, safely — because He knows how to do that.

I prayed that prayer every time a storm came through, every time I drove down the street and cringed at the tilted look of the thing.  I prayed for over a year.  And then I tried to forget about it.

Last April, Jason and I went away for the weekend together for the first time in three years. The oak tree fell while we were gone. According to my neighbor, nothing was happening weather-wise — just a pretty spring day, full of sunshine — when suddenly with a creak and a gigantic bang, our tree gave up the ghost for good. It landed squarely across a normally busy street. It came down on the exact spot where, minutes before, our babysitter had loaded my kids into her Jeep and driven away.   No one was home.  No one was hurt. No property was seriously damaged, although the entire block lost electricity for several hours, and our sidewalk acquired some serious dents.

View from the street.

By the time we got home, the street had been cleared, and friends were busy with chainsaws in our front yard, stocking up on firewood for the coming winter.

My kids thought the remainder of the tree was awesome.  It provided a unique playground for them in its various shrinking stages throughout the  year.  All that’s left now is a big bare circle in the front yard.

You might wonder what the testimony is here.    It was a natural occurrence, right?   But I know what I asked my Father to do for me. And I know that He did it. And not only that — but He made sure I wasn’t even around to freak out when it happened. Isn’t He great?

What’s left.


Melodia Gitana - Casol square silk scarf - Twi...

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The woman in the car ahead of me wore a scarf of some sort on her head, and that’s what I noticed.  It was tied casually  at the nape of her neck, as though she anticipated a day of heavy housework.   I absently studied the vibrant colors while the rest of my mind concentrated on what lay ahead of me for the day.  I liked the scarf, and thought to myself, “I wish I could get away with wearing something like that.”

About that time, she turned her head, and I got a full view of her face.  The first thought I had was, “Oh, she’s foreign.”

And then I wondered, how do I know that?  What made me think that?  The woman didn’t look particularly different from many other regular Americans around here.  And the scarf wasn’t worn in a way that indicated a foreign background — really, she could have been just any woman having a bad hair day and deciding to be done with it.    I didn’t really have a clear idea of what sort of foreign I meant.  But I knew.  Something in the look of her eyes, something in the set of her face.

I started thinking about that idea, of people or things being foreign, not from around here, wherever “here” happens to be.   When I meet people who are truly “foreigners” to this country, I can usually tell.  It’s not  the look of the person.  Goodness knows, I have plenty of students who, despite their varied backgrounds, immediately strike me as being “American”.   It’s because they THINK like Americans.   But I also have students who, despite the fact that their names sound American and they dress like all the other kids, look out at me with “foreign” eyes.  Usually these are kids who were raised in some other country and have come here later in life.  They view the world through a different lens, a different filter.

“Foreign”   elicits two different reactions from people — either it’s intriguing and draws people in, or it’s scary and keeps people out.   Sometimes we experience both sensations at the same time.

At this point in my thoughts, the Lord reminded me that technically, I am here on this earth as a “stranger in a strange land.”  Believers are to be a peculiar people, a people foreign to the world they live in.  But when it comes down to it, which kind of foreign are we?  Are our lives beautiful and intriguing, so joyous and so different from the ugliness around that we are noticed and sought out?  Or do we barricade ourselves in our own communities, eying the neighbors with mistrust  and causing the people living nearby to fear what they do not understand?

Or, do we even look foreign at all?  Do we look on the outside like we might belong to another country, but actually think and view the world exactly like the people around us?   Unfortunately I have noticed that sometimes, that’s been the case in my life.  In my quest to be accepted, there have been times when I have put my godly heritage behind me, acting like I’m embarrassed by my different background.   But that’s not ultimately what I want.   As difficult as it may be to live in a different culture, I don’t want to forget where I’m from, and who my Father is.

Which kind of “peculiar” have you seen from believers?  What kind of foreign are you?

Are You Smarter than a 5th Grade Textbook?


Image by JodiWilcome via Flickr

People who write textbooks seem to specialize in complicating simple things.

Tonight, I spent an hour helping my 5th grader with her math problems.   While she worked on those nasty 3-digit multiplication problems, I browsed through her textbook,  growing more annoyed by the minute.   Now, math is not really my thing.  But language is.  And the overblown, unnecessary language of the textbook world drives me crazy.

OK,  imagine that I’m 10 years old.  I am working hard to  understand the process of long division, multi-step multiplication, and those dreaded word problems.  I look to the book for help.  It tells me, first, that I need to understand the problem.  Uh, hello, that’s the whole point — I don’t understand it.

Then it says I have to analyze the data.  Which part is the data?  What does analyzing it  involve?

Next I plan the strategy.   What do you mean, strategy?

After I muddle through my strategy, voila, I solve the problem.  Because the first 3 steps helped me do that.

And after all that hard work, I evaluate the result. I’m 10.  I don’t know exactly what evaluate means, and I’m not sure that I actually have a  result  anyway.

By now, I have forgotten why I’m thinking about this  in the first place.  And I feel like maybe I accidentally dropped in on my vocabulary class.

So what’s the problem here?    Why do we care more about objectives and standards vocabulary than about communicating a real skill?

Then again, I guess it’s really important for kids to understand educational jargon.  We do want them to pass those end of grade tests, after all.

Pardon me, your roots are showing.

A scanned red tomato, along with leaves and fl...

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I’ve been thinking about our lonely tomato plant.   This summer we were given several small tomato plants for the kids to nurture.  We had great hopes for them.  I’m not really sure why — if you dig too deeply into my past you’ll find an ugly history  of plants that perished from neglect.  That’s exactly what happened to 4 out of the 5  innocent little seedlings we were given.

The 5th one  made it.  My boys carefully set it in an old flowerpot at the base of our deck.  Their sister, who is actually good with living green things, watered and cared for it when the rest of us forgot about it.  It quickly climbed the deck railing and stood proud and tall.  We watched with anticipation, hoping for juicy red tomatoes to throw in the salad. My daughter tied it to the deck so it wouldn’t fall over.  I examined it every now and then, checking for the yellow blossoms that promised fruit.

The fruit never arrived.  All summer that plant sucked nutrients from the soil and grew taller.  Not one tomato did it produce.

To be honest, I didn’t think much about it.  I ignored it every day on the way to the van.  Visitors to our home stopped to admire it, and the kids thought it was neat.

One day my sister-in-law, one of those people who have big gardens every year, walked by and said “That thing isn’t planted deep enough.  It’s not going to produce anything that way.”  I looked.  Sure enough — that impressive, tall tomato plant just barely dipped its toes into the dirt .  My little boys, unattended by a knowledgeable adult,  just stuck it haphazardly into the flowerpot and threw a little soil on top.  It had no foundation, and yet it grew, and it gave the impression of being beautiful and useful to us.

That little seedling  was full of potential.  It could have been a top-producing, award-winning tomato plant with the right care.  But it was planted by young, enthusiastic boys who did not know how to root it properly.  It was watered by a girl who cared about its well-being and nurtured it, but didn’t realize it needed a deeper covering where it really counted.  And it was ignored completely by the adults of the family, who only stopped by to admire the potential every now and then, and then let the kids take care of it.

After a while, it began to yellow.  Daddy walked by one afternoon, pulled it up, and threw it in the trash.  So much for great potential.

I walked away thinking of the way I raise my children.  I’ve got to do more than haphazardly stick them in the Word of God and expect them to grow, their toes barely dipped under the surface.    I have to do more than admire their splendid potential in the Lord.  I have to uphold and support the loving, enthusiastic people who have a passion for watering their souls. I have to ask people with wisdom to tell me when our roots are showing — and not be offended when they do.


Here I am.  This is me.

I am strangely at a loss for words to introduce my blog.  What does one say when entering this online world of words?  Those opening sentences are the only ones coming to mind –they’re part of a song that keeps playing in my head, only I can’t remember the rest of it or where I heard it.

So for several months I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a blog, mainly to motivate me to write for an audience on a regular basis.  The last ten years of my life have been  full of small children, so my writing skills have gotten rusty.    I’ve been doing a little scribbling on the side, sketching out future stories, jotting down snippets that catch my attention — but no one reads any of it, so motivation to carefully choose my words has been low.  And, as every good writing instructor knows, purpose and audience really define the boundaries of any well-crafted piece.

Last night when I sat down to work on setup, I was faced with choices.   What should I call my blog?  What theme should I choose?  How do I want to present myself?  I spent an hour trying to come up with a name that no one else had laid claim to.   I’m a little late in the game to use some of the word-lover’s choices — “Sometimes Use Words”, or “Wordhoard”, or even “What do you say, dear?”

I was disappointed about that last one, since it’s one of my all-time favorite picture books for the kids — all about manners.  It could have had so many uses as a blog title.  What do you say, Kristen?  What are your thoughts?  Or alternately,  What do you say, dear, when life presents you with all kinds of different challenges?  The correct answer is . . . “Thank you.”  The answer to everything, as I have learned, really is gratitude.  (Thanks to my own parents for continuing to drill that into my head, even after I thought I was grown up enough to forget it.)

In the end, I pulled out a book I’ve been reading lately.  It’s called Words, Words, Words, by David Crystal.    In it, he describes quirky things about the English language.  He mentions a guy back in the 1800’s — can’t remember his name right now — who wrote a dictionary of English and included only words that were of Anglo-Saxon or Germanic origin.  Apparently he had a thing against our borrowing words from other languages.  He made up words to replace them.    One of my favorites was “gainrising” for “resurrection”.  So I wondered if maybe I could borrow one of his words for my blog.  “Onquicken” meant “accelerate”.  That caught my eye for this reason — in my own life, the pace has quickened, things are changing, moving forward.  One of my goals is to press down the pedal a little harder in areas that I have let go.  My writing, my fitness, my teaching.    It’s time to stop coasting and purposely move forward.  Time to accelerate.