Monday, December 13, 2010

Joseph's Christmas Story

As a stay-at-home Mom, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to unexpected knocks at my door, and generally don't open it. For some reason, I made an exception to this rule when a young man knocked on my door last week.

I was busy going about my day, wrapping the many Christmas presents and finishing up my holiday to-do list when the doorbell rang, suddenly. I looked out the window to find a young, clean-cut man in his mid-twenties, wearing baggy pants and a red and white striped polo button down shirt. Against my usual precaution, I felt compelled to speak to this young man. I opened the door, just a few inches and stuck my nose through the crack. "Can I help you?" I asked, not really wanting to buy whatever he was selling, but still feeling an urge to speak with him.

"Don't worry, Ma'am," he said with a big grin that told me he had been the class clown in school, "It's just a crazy black man on your porch. Nuthin' to worry about."

I immediately liked him.

He introduced himself as "Joseph" and showed me an array of extremely over-priced cleaning products that he was peddling. I indulged him as he worked through his demonstration. Afterall, he cleaned my porch windows and some of the mold off the sidewalk. When he was finished explaining why I couldn't let him walk away without first investing nearly $200 into apparently the best cleaning products available not-on-the-market, I opened my mouth to say "no thank you" and instead asked him, "What made you want to do this for a living?"

Joseph's voice lowered, his eyes softened, and he smiled. "Ma'am, I have a two-yr-old son I need to support. I dropped out of high-school so I couldn't find a good job. I went back and got my GED, but this pays the bills for my son. I travel to 25 states a year, but I try to get back to see my baby as often as I can." He pulled out his cell phone and flipped though an array of pictures of the sweetest little curly-haired boy with chubby cheeks and a big toothy grin. There were so many pictures of Joseph and his son together, it was obvious he cared deeply for this little boy.

Curious now, I asked him if it was hard to be away from his family for so much of the year. Jospeh laughed and said, "Yes ma'am, it is, but I call him and when I can't talk to him I read my Bible. That helps keep me from being lonely."

My ears perked up at the mention of a Bible and the pastor's daughter in me kicked into high gear. Joseph did not exactly look like the Bible-thumping type. "Do you read the Bible often?" I inquired.

"I do now, ma'am. I only became a Christian a couple years ago. You see, I used to be heavy into drugs. I was a gang-banger, a member of the Bloods." He raised his sleeves to expose a mosaic of knife wounds, gang tattoos, and violent images, many of which referenced the infamous street gang. I closed the door an inch or two. Noticing my reaction, Joseph backed up a foot or so. "You don't have to worry, ma'am. My violent days are over. I was raised in southern Louisiana. My Daddy ran off and my Mama did the best she could. I got mixed up with the wrong kids and started doing drugs. The Bloods came along and made me feel like I had a family and a place to belong. I thought that was cool until my girl got pregnant. I didn't want my kid to go through what I went through."

He paused as if he had said too much. By now, I was out on the porch with him, the door closed behind me. He had such gentle mannerisms, it was difficult to imagine him as a drug-pushing, gun-toting street thug, but the physical scars were beyond proof and the emotional scars wore heavy on his face as he told me his story. "What happened to cause you to change?" I asked.

"Well ma'am, my baby mama told me I had to get right with God and get clean or she was gonna take my baby. I didn't care about her God and I didn't want to leave my 'friends'. Then, Katrina hit. The dump I was living in was completely flooded. You couldn't even see the roof because it was covered in water. I lost everything I had, which wasn't much. I decided to leave the Bloods after that." Joseph said all of this matter-of-factly as I struggled to place myself in his shoes.

"Forgive my naivete," I told him, "But you're the first gang-banger I have ever talked to. I thought you couldn't leave a gang without getting killed or having to look over your shoulder all the time." I instinctively peered down the street, as if to confirm there were no low-riding muscle cars with dark tinted windows rolling up behind us.

Joseph laughed out loud. I think he found my ignorance amusing. "Yes ma'am, that's sometimes the case, but after Katrina, all my boys just left so I left too. I Never looked back. My girl and I went up to Andover, KS, for a while. She's got family up there" We bonded for a minute over both of us having lived in central Kansas and knowing some of the same places. Jospeh continued with his story, "While we were in Kansas, my girl dragged me to church. It was some non-denominational church and I thought there would be dancing and rolling in the aisles. I did not want to go," he said with conviction, "but she said I had to get clean or lose my kid. So I went."

"What did you think," I asked him, hooked on his story.

"Well, ma'am, at first I thought they were freaks, but then something in me started listening and I started wondering about what my life might be like if I had happiness like these people. The third time I went, the pastor came up and prayed for me, put his hands on my shoulder, and told me Jesus loved me. I started to cry. Man, I felt stupid. Gangtas don't cry. But I did." He hesitated as if to see if I wanted him to continue. I did.

"That morning I asked Jesus to come into my heart," he continued, "and I got myself checked into rehab. I've been clean ever since and that was two years ago. I keep my Bible with me when I travel and I try to read it every day. I don't always understand what it says, but I try to live by it. Jesus changed my life. I have these tattoos to remind me where I'm from and the Bible to remind me where I'm going."

He was so passionate when he spoke about his salvation, I was very moved by his story. Stealing a line from a movie, I said, "I find this hard to say without sounding condescending, but I'm proud of you, Joseph. You can make a difference in someone else's life now."

"I'd like to go into ministry," Joseph said, "but I'm not real good at school and I've gotta work. I don't know how to make a difference. So I just keep on for me."

I looked at him a minute. I wanted to say the right thing. "Joseph, one day during your travels, you're going to run into another young man or woman who is at a crossroads in their life. Perhaps they will be facing the same dead-end path you were once on. You're going to be able to roll up your sleeves and show them that you have walked in their shoes. You will be able to identify with their pain. You will know exactly what to say and how to say it to reach them in the place that they're in. That's a gift. Embrace your tattoos and your scars. They are a part of who you were. Turn them into tools to use for Christ. You don't have to have a seminary degree to reach people for Jesus. In fact, you will be able to reach into much deeper, darker places than people like me ever could simply because you've been there yourself." He watched me, listening carefully. I felt we were connecting.

"Joseph," I went on, "someday, you will be to someone else what that pastor in Andover, KS, was to you. You will be the somebody that someone else credits with getting their life right with God. Cling to that and don't let opportunities pass you by."

His eyes welled up slightly, and he held out his hand to shake mine. "Thank you for saying that," he said quietly. "That gives me hope."

By now, more than 30 minutes have passed by. I fumbled for my wallet and handed him $40 for a single over-priced bottle of cleaner, which does actually work quite well. "Good luck," I said as I shook his hand. "Thank you, ma'am. It was a pleasure talking with you," he responded, politely.

With that, Joseph turned and walked down my sidewalk toward the next house, hitching up his saggy jeans and toting his bag of cleaner. He turned briefly and waved goodbye with a smile. As he turned his back to me, I noticed a small, thin black leather-covered Bible tucked safely in his back pocket.

I will probably never see Joseph again until we meet in Heaven, but I have not stopped thinking of this young man and what he has overcome. I have prayed for him several times since our meeting. I hope that some day, he will be able to use his past to help another, because in that act will come true healing for Joseph.

Friday, December 3, 2010


This is the season to reflect and be thankful, is it not? Thanksgiving and the Holiday rush is my favorite time of year. Maybe it's my age, the fact that I have children of my own, or perhaps a combination, but in the past few years I have been more reminiscent around this time of year than in years past. I have so many wonderful childhood memories of the Holidays from my youth. Most involve looooooooong road trips to Kansas City to visit my extended family. I used to look forward to those trips SO much! Mom (a health nut), never let us eat sugar. But on road trips, she would pack a paper grocery bag full of M&Ms, sugary cereals, licorice and other goodies. We could get into that bag and eat whatever we wanted to and we didn't have to ask! It was like a little slice of culinary heaven for the three of us kids.

As a mom, I can only hope that my own three will look back fondly one day and smile at memories that we are now creating for them. My family's traditions have transitioned from road trips to the lot of us gathered around the TV watching National Lampoons Christmas Vacation while simultaneously quoting every punchline in unison. Good times. It's so much fun to see my kids' faces light us when we go see their grandparents for the Holidays and it's equally as entertaining to see my parents interact with my children as grandparents.

One BIG reason to be thankful this season is that we just got word back that all of John and Jossilyn's test results came back normal! Praise God! I finally got my act together and scheduled the tests, and now that is behind me. Jossilyn has been improving steadily as she has aged and seems to be normal now. We still need to get answers for John's condition, but I am so thankful that Hirschprungs and CF have been ruled out as causes.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for our family! It means so much to me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's Up with the Kids...

After a five-month absence, I am returning to my blogging world. C'mon... you know you missed me! There is a lot to say and I really don't want to sit here all night typing it all, so I will begin with the most important information some of you have been wondering about and I will fill in the rest in the days to come.

What's up with my kids?

Those of you who are friends on FB have seen several postings over the past few months requesting prayer for John and Jossilyn regarding some medical testing they were to undergo. I did not elaborate on the reasons, and only a handful of you actually know. I'm ready to explain...

Loooooooooong story short, John has dealt with unexplained gastro-intestinal (GI) issues since birth which we have seen numerous doctors for over the years. Basically, he has no natural urge to stool. His body is unable to tell him when he needs to go. We have always been told that he would outgrow his difficulties or his problems were psychological (?!?). It never seemed like a huge issue to me – I mean, it's just a poop problem... right? I had planned to take him to a pediatric GI in Cali, but then we moved and it just got shuffled to the back of the list.

Then we had Jossilyn.

The day she was born, she passed her first stool while I had her diaper off and my Mom and I happened to notice that her rectum prolapsed when she pushed. I immediately said to my Mom, "She's not normal, either." As the days and weeks went on, it became painfully apparent that Jossilyn was unable to stool without assistance. I won't elaborate on that. Over the next 4-5 months, this became a daily ritual. As soon as we sensed she was becoming uncomfortable, we took her upstairs and "helped" her pass her stool. This process often took half an hour or more.

In the first few weeks of her life, James and I also noticed that Jossilyn was extremely raspy when she breathed. She always sounded congested. The pediatrician assured us that c-section babies often have residual fluid in their lungs since they don't pass through the birth canal and that raspy sound would soon clear up on it's own. It didn't. She is still quite raspy.

After several doctor visits, our pediatrician concluded that having two children in one family with similar GI issues was not a coincidence and that there was some testing needed. We finally saw a pediatric GI doctor who determined that most likely John and Jossilyn have two different issues. One possibility for John is a condition called Hirschsprungs Disease which requires a very invasive surgical fix. In Jossilyn's case, however, the specialist agreed with my pediatrician that there is a definite possibility that she has Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

I broke down. The life expectancy with CF is the late 20s. It is a life-altering, ultimately life-ending, disease that would rob my daughter of a normal life. I couldn't even let myself entertain the possibilty. So I went into defense mode. I withdrew. I stopped answering the phone, emails, and texts. I stopped blogging. I didn't put myself in any situation that would require me to talk about it because then it became real.

I know the chances of her NOT having CF are just as good, if not better, but it's gamble I'm having having trouble taking. As it stands right now, I am supposed to call the Children's Hospital in Houston and schedule both John and Jossilyn for CF and Hirschsprungs testing, but so far, I haven't made the call. I'm scared. It's hard to admit, but I'm terrified. As long as I don't make that call, I can keep on pretending that they are fine. They probably ARE fine, but something is causing their issues and I don't want that something to rob my children of their lives or of rob me of my children.

So there you have it. That's what is going on. I'm still not great at talking about it. But I have always been honest on this blog and that shouldn't change now. If you have questions, I will try and answer them, but really, I'm NOT ready to face this yet.

Want to help?

Please pray first and foremost for my children's health. Secondly, please pray for the strength for me that I need to see the testing through. I know that the sooner I have answers, the sooner we can start treating them. I know that. BUT... I waited 34 years to have a daughter and, if by chance she does have CF, I want ONE year to enjoy her without an expiration date hanging over my head. So just pray. Please.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Life with Miss Jossilyn

Miss Jossilyn is now 10 days old and is just the apple of this entire family's eye. She is our little diva, our princess and the light of her Mommy and Daddy's lives. We love her. The boys have taken to her very well – especially John who was equally nurturing and adoring when his baby brother was born. Matthew has more of a "take her or leave her" attitude, but shows interest if and when he wants to.

My days are a blur of feedings, feedings and more feedings, while sandwiched in there somewhere I somehow manage to get the kids dressed and fed for school as well as a few other household chores. I'm healing up nicely from the c-section, but still in some pain. I bruised really badly from the surgery, which I did not do last time. The bruising is almost as painful as the incision! But I'm doing really well overall, and I'm working to get Joss settled into her Baby Wise
routine, as well as finding my own rhythm with three kids. We'll make it!

Jossilyn is proving to be a very easy baby! (I'm holding my breath until we're at least 3-4 weeks in.) She is
super laid back! So much so, that it's hard to believe she came from my body. I'm anything but laid back. She just goes with the flow and lets us hold her or move her around and she's completely unfazed. She has such a sweet personality (from what we can make of it at 10 days old) and loves to snuggle and be held close to the chest. She only cries when she needs something or if she needs a little extra help getting a bubble out. She loves to be rocked at night during nighttime feedings and her little eyes stare up at me while she's eating. As tired as I am, I can't help but stop and be awed by this little miracle that I prayed and longed for. She is absolutely precious.

My Mom stayed with us the first week and helped out with the boys. They were loving having Nonnie all to themselves! When Jossilyn came home from the hospital, they still demanded she read to them, even though her hands were a bit full. =)

When Jossilyn was 3 days old, we walked over to the park behind our house so the boys could play. She didn't mind being outside, but she hated the wind. I mean hated it.

We gave her her first bath. She did
not care for it. At all.

Birth Story…(sort of)

Welcome little one!!!! Miss Jossilyn Claire made her entrance into the world on Tuesday, February 16, 2010, at 10:26 am CST. She weighed 8 lbs. even and was 19.5" long with an APGAR of 9.9. She could not be more perfect!

Most of you were aware I had a scheduled C-Section which had been scheduled for about 4 months. It was supposed to be at 12:30 pm CST. The hospital called me on Monday and asked me to be at the hospital by 9:30 am on Tuesday because my Dr. wanted to move the C-Section up to 10:30. Okay, no problem… they could move it up, just so long as they don't push it back. =)

Later that day, I got a phone call asking me to arrive by 9 am, but they didn't say why. Okay, no problem. So Tuesday morning, Mom, James and I dropped the kids off at school and headed up to the hospital. at 9:01 am, as James was unloading the car in the parking lot, I noticed I had a voice mail. It was the hospital asking me to arrive by 8:00 am because they wanted to do the section at 9:30 am. WHAT?!? We raced upstairs and as soon as the elevator doors opened, a nurse quickly asked, "Are you Dr. McDonald's patient?!?" Uh-oh. Turns out I was first on the docket and the whole OR had been waiting on me. Too bad they didn't clue me in on that a bit earlier(!).

I was prepped in record time and within 30 minutes, I was back in the OR getting my spinal. They gave me both a spinal and an epidural this time, but I forgot why. Last time I only had the spinal. We had begged an pleaded with the anesthesiologist to allow my Mom int the OR as well as James. I was pretty worried about James' ability to stay vertical during the procedure and I knew my Mom could. (She watched and photographed my entire section with Matthew!) He was really nice to bend the rules and allow her in! (They told us that
never happens, but they liked us, so the thought they would try it out.) Later, the anesthesiologist would tell us that was the first time he had bent that rule and that we had made it a very positive experience for him. Awesome!

While I was getting my anesthesia, Mom and James suited up in the hall. James would later admit he was incredibly nervous, though he was super strong for me and hid it well. =)

James would later tell me that when they finally brought Mom and James into the OR, Dr. McDonald had already started operating on me! Unfortunately, due to door placement, they had to walk right past the gaping hole in my abdomen to get to the refuge of the tent in front of my face. James said he got a little queasy, but Mom thought it was super cool. James immediately hid behind the tent, but Mom stayed off to the side so she could get a good view of the procedure. She took some awesome photos, but they are a little graphic, so I decided not to post them. However, here I am during the section. I got pretty woozy and nauseated this time – that didn't happen with Matthew – so I look a little drunk.

Jossilyn's first cry was such a miracle – they always are! She sounded so pitiful and I wanted to hold her so badly, but I was dry-heaving and they whisked her away so fast to get her vitals and clean her up that I had to ask the nurse if she was for sure a girl… I didn't get to check! After numerous people assured me that she was, in fact, a
she, I relaxed and waited for them to hurry up so I could see her little face. It was worth the wait!

She has a full head of medium brown hair that is about an inch long! She has James' feet, hairline and mouth, my eyebrows and dimples, and her Nonnie's nose. She is perfect in every way! She came out looking like Matthew, but 48 hours later, she was (and still is) the spitting image of John as a baby. She looks so much like John that sometimes it throws me off a little. Here are her first photos…

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tomorrow, Tomorrow…

It's here! Tomorrow is the BIG day! I am so excited and anxious at the same time. I'm not really nervous about the C-section. My last experience was a very positive one. I'm just nervous about all the change and adjustments, and worrying over what if something happens to me... yada yada yada. But I know I'm in very good hands and lots of people will be praying for me and little Jossilyn (whom I think will not be that little).

The section was moved up to 10:30am CST, and I have to be at the hospital at 9 am. I will Facebook a picture as soon as I get out of the OR. I can't wait to share my little GIRL'S face with all of you!! I won't be able to blog until I get home from the hospital, so until then, look for pics on FB.

Until tomorrow…

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seven Year Olds are LOUD

This past Sunday afternoon, we had John's seven year old birthday party at a local place called Stomping Grounds. (Think McDonald's playscape on crack.) It was a relatively small group of boys – only about 10 total – but my oh my were they loud. We were the last party of the day so the place had mostly cleared out by then tail end of our party. It wasn't until the kids were stuffing their faces with pizza and cake that I realized that the deafening roar we had all been enjoying just moments earlier had subsided. It dawned on me that our 10 kids had been comprising the better part of that roar. Good heavens. I cautioned James that while the boys yelled, whooped and hollered, little girls shriek. Loudly. In very high pitches. He looked scared.

Here is a sampling of the party…

I have been getting some requests for updated pics of Scooby, so below are a couple new ones of him. He's nearly 70 pounds and still growing… albeit, not as rapidly. He's a handful and a discipline nightmare. We are working on it, but suffice it to say that a rambunctious, awkward, 70 pound puppy is a lot of work. And by a lot, I mean full time job. On Dec. 20, we had Scooby's "manhood" removed in hopes of slowing him down a tad. It didn't. In fact, only three things have changed; he eats more ravenously now than before, my Dad now refers to him as "Scoobette", and his flatulence is now officially unbearable. I mean toxic, noxious, deadly unbearable. The vet says we have a good six-month wait before we see any slow down from the surgery. Lovely. I frequently tell Scooby the same thing I used to tell John when he was wailing from colic… "It's a good thing you're cute!" (And Scooby
IS cute!)

Lastly, I leave you with a sweet pic of John and James on a lazy Sunday afternoon and an adorable shot of my sweet niece, Allie.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Year…New Look

Last year, I unveiled a fresh, new look to the blog, so I thought I might do the same thing this year. After all, our family has undergone so many new changes over the past 12 months, that it seems fitting to celebrate 2010 as sort of a new beginning for our growing family as we start life as a family of five, back in God's Country (aka: Texas).

I have to tell you that last year, I paid a blog designer to create the look for 2009. While it was really nice to be the "client" for a change, I had a hard time forking over $75 for a design I know I could have done myself. I am a gifted graphic artist, after all (*wink wink*). =) There was, however, one giant obstacle standing between me and financial blog freedom… I don't know html. I'm not a programmer and my strength is not in multi-media. I am a print media guru. If it can be printed on paper I can design it. But if it needs to be on the web, uh-oh.

Over the past 7 years of freelancing graphic arts, I have relied heavily on my web designer friends to meet the html needs of my clients, as they have arisen. However, with blog design becoming a new and blossoming opportunity for freelance, I figured the time had come to buckle down and delve into the unknown world of primitive html and figure out how to get a blog from "here" to "there". So… this new blog look is my first attempt at creating a blog from scratch. I hope you like it! I'm hoping to become more adept at manipulating the code so that maybe I can branch out into blog design as another avenue for revenue. Be sure you scroll all the way to the bottom so you can see the cute little page footer I added down there. =)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Nursery at Last!

Master procrastinator that I am, I finally finished the nursery! With a "little" help from James, of course. =) The only thing missing is the rocker/glider, but it has been ordered and should be here before the end of next week. I was going to wait until it came in to post pictures, but my very life as been threatened by my own sister if I don't post pictures NOW. She scares me a little, so I am going ahead and posting rocker/glider-free pictures so you will just have to use your imagination. The rocker will go in the corner where you currently see the bouncy chair.

The color scheme was carefully planned out since I intend to convert her room to Strawberry Shortcake when she becomes a toddler. This way, we don't have to repaint! Genius, I know. =) Let me know what you think!