Christmas “letter” 2009

[more hyperlinks to be added soon–stay tuned!]

So I started to write a Christmas letter . . . only it ended up being four pages long . . . so because I am guessing that most people don’t care that much about the intimate details of my life in the last twelve months (and yet, I still feel a strange compulsion to share those details!), I figured I would put the longer version up here and try to do a “Twitterized” summary for the hard copy.

Of course, it’s December 22nd and I’ve not even STARTED writing my Christmas cards, but that’s another story.

Here is my 2009–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As I think back on this year, a fragment of a song keeps coming back to me “Time it was, and what a time it was” . . . I don’t even know if that’s taken out of context, but it just seems to fit . . . what a time it has been . . . what a year I have had! And yet, on Thanksgiving, I sat in church and realized that I am filled with gratitude, despite what this year has brought, and not the least because I still have so many reasons to count myself blessed. And if nothing else, I have had many, many experiences this year that fit nicely into the category of, “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh!” So here, for your reading pleasure, is my year in a nutshell. I am also scattering pictures of some of my favorite kids throughout . . . as one of my greatest joys this year has been being an “auntie” to so many lovable kids. Enjoy!

January . . . oh, I can barely remember January. After my beloved godbaby, Elijah, was in the hospital the week before Christmas with “failure to thrive” (oh, how we hate that term! look at the picture at the end of this post and ask yourself if that looks like a baby who has failed to thrive?!), severe reflux, and what was eventually diagnosed as “laryngomalacia” (his larynx was just too soft, and causes him to be rather rattle-y.), January consisted of waiting for his surgery to be scheduled. And probably a lot of spitting up . . . it’s hard to remember now, but those first four or five months of his life were a constant puke-fest.

Elijah, at about 3 months, looking like an angel in his hospital attire.

February – On the 11th, Elijah had a surgery called a Nissen Fundoplication, in which the top part of his stomach was wrapped around his esophagus to relieve his reflux, and had a feeding tube inserted. I honestly do not know how a parent can handle their kid being sick . . . it was heartbreaking to me to see him in pain, and I’m “only” the Auntie. I spent one or two nights in the hospital with Elijah and his momma . . . the first night, his other auntie Sara and I took turns standing over his crib, stroking his hair to try to help him feel better, while his mom got some much-needed sleep (like all of us, I think Mona was a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing).

Mona and Elijah trying to get some sleep in the hospital

I could go on and on about Elijah, but I don’t want to bore you to death . . . if you want to read the whole saga, you can see it at his Care Pages site. You will need to register for the site if you haven’t used it before.

March was quite a complicated month. An impromptu high school reunion was planned on Facebook, and I decided to attend it, since this would mean that I could also visit my father. On Saturday night, I spent time with old friends; on Sunday afternoon, I spent several hours with my father, not knowing that this was the last time I was going to see him. On March 31st, after almost a year of battling his cancer, my father passed away at the age of 69. For the second time that month, I found myself traveling home to New York.

April—en route to my father’s funeral, I got a call from my brother Kevin and learned that my beloved godfather, Steve, had passed away, one day after my father had. Uncle Steve’s death, unlike my father’s, was sudden and unexpected. However, the timing felt strangely providential, as my brothers and I were able to be with our mother’s side of the family after some difficult interactions at my father’s funeral with my stepmother’s family. April was a bit surreal, to say the least.

In May, two of my oldest and dearest friends, Max and Rosemary, traveled some 800 miles to help me with my own personal “Clean Sweep”/decluttering project. This was probably one of the most difficult things I had ever gone through, but somehow I survived this long-overdue event, and to this day I am trying to live a life with much less clutter and “stuff”. After the hard work was done, we had a blast visiting local “attractions” (think Tulip Time) and going to Chicago overnight. Despite the difficult beginning, that weekend stands out as one of the highlights of my year!

June was a difficult month emotionally. Although I didn’t expect anything from my father, and knew he would leave everything to his second wife (to whom he was married for 21 years), I was not prepared for the ugliness that ensued.

In June, my other godbaby, Donovan, turned one year old.
Handsome little guy, isn’t he?

June also brought the unexpected death of Nathan, a young man from my church, who was a week or so shy of turning 20 years old. His mom has been a good friend and ministry partner of mine, and the entire family was/is well-loved in our community, so it was a huge blow to so many of us. I still remember him at random times and tell myself, “I can’t believe he’s gone” . . . I am grateful, knowing that we will see him again, but it’s still not easy, and I know that his family is still walking around with this heavy burden, especially at the holidays. If you’re the praying type, please pray for his parents, Cheri and Greg, and their four surviving sons.

July came around, and somewhere along the way I made the decision to go ahead with ankle surgery on my left ankle. After having had a fusion done on my right ankle 19 years ago, with great results, it was almost a no-brainer. Almost six months later, I am still confident that the results will be worth it, but I admit that I am getting tired of the slow process.

In mid-July, I met my two brothers at Cedar Point, a huge, amazing amusement park in Ohio. We had a blast, but I also got confirmation that it was the right time for this surgery, as I could barely walk the next day. On July 29th, I had the (outpatient) surgery—formally known as a “subtalor fusion”.

my lovely foot. Yes, I got screwed—twice!

August consisted of me sitting around my house and watching a LOT of TV. My dear friends Jacylyn and Tracy would occasionally come and fetch me for a brief outing, but being non-weight-bearing on my left leg took a lot out of me. Towards the end of the month, I returned to work, just in time to touch base with my boss before she left on maternity leave.

my first outing after the surgery was to Alyssa (left) and Alanis’s
third birthday party. I love these little princesses!

September . . . ummm . . . nothing really significant, I suppose. My boss had a baby boy, and I continued to work and to deal with being one-legged, so to speak. Ummm . . . I had a Tupperware party . . . Elijah had his first birthday . . . that’s about it.

In October, I had three appointments with the foot doctor. First appointment: “Okay, start trying to put weight on the foot.” Second appointment: “Okay, I know it’s not comfortable, but you definitely want to start putting weight on the foot.” Third appointment: “Wow, your foot is swollen. Have you been putting a lot of weight on it?” Um, YES–you told me to!

The verdict: the screws in my heel were causing my pain and swelling, but because the fusion wasn’t quite complete yet, they couldn’t be removed. I was given the “lovely” gift of having another month of not putting weight on the foot. Go, go Speed Racer!

“Speed Racer”, as I dubbed him—my knee walker that has been my
constant companion since the end of July.
This is actually Speed Racer III—they’re not very sturdy at all.
Or maybe I’m not supposed to let my friends’ kids play on it?!

October also brought a health scare with my brother Michael . . . he had pneumonia and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, some of that time in the ICU on a ventilator. He is doing better now, and has even stopped smoking, so that’s a good thing. Again, I found myself grateful, as many around me in the ICU were facing a more dismal situation.

November found me scrambling at work, and very much feeling my supervisor’s absence. Preparing for a huge missions conference called Urbana, I found myself missing my boss and her attention to detail. I spent the month being non-weight-bearing on the ankle again, but the “good” news was that I got an extension on my handicapped parking permit . . . and suddenly, everybody wanted me as a Christmas shopping partner! Who knew?!

December is here . . . and once again, I am frantically trying to get a Christmas letter out . . . have started walking on the foot again, but it’s definitely painful. (and great fun in snow and ice! I was blessed in that we didn’t have really cold/snowy weather until this month.) The two screws that are in my heel will come out in early January, and I’m hoping for some semblance of normalcy beyond that . . . both in walking, and in life in general.

I hope that all of you are feeling the hope of this season, in spite of whatever adventures you yourself may have had this year . . . and I wish you all the best in the year ahead!

Elijah today. Is he happy about Christmas, or what?!

so much confusion . . .

Max once pointed out to me the incongruity of my having posted this about Mona, immediately followed by this.  But if nothing else, this past week helped me to see that the kind of person that Mona is tends to bring out these kinds of conflicting emotions.

Add to this the fact that we are working with a lack of sleep and a lot of raw emotions this week to begin with, and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that things got ugly today.

I don’t know how much more to say, but suffice to say that I am torn, yet again, and utterly confused about how to approach this whole thing . . . it’s difficult right now because this time Mona crossed the line, even for her being Mona, and I just can’t see any way to justify or excuse her behavior/words in this situation.

I wish boundaries were the easiest thing in the world to figure out. I wish that I always knew the right thing to do in situations like this.

I especially wish I hadn’t fallen in love with that baby.

I didn’t know what to say . . .

As much as I am FIENDING to snark about the arrival of the 18th Duggar, at this moment there’s something else on my mind . . .

I’m at the hospital with Mona and baby Elijah . . . spending the night so as to give her a break from the every-three-hour feedings and to keep her company. Sara is heading off to Boston, so I’m settling in for the weekend.

Our nurse tonight just came in a moment ago, while Mona was sleeping, and asked, “so are you from her church?” When I said yes, she must’ve said something about “it’s great that you help her out” or something along those lines–the kind of thing that people say that ALWAYS makes me cringe. I think I responded with, “she grows on you” (ain’t it the truth!!!!!!!!!) and something about being rather fond of Little Man as well . . .

Then she said, “Does she have a lot of people who help her out?” I stammered answering that . . . said something about, “well, yes . . . and there are different people involved with her older boys”–I’m not sure where it went from there. The nurse proceeded to say something about how that was a wonderful church family . . . which of course I couldn’t disagree with . . .

but here’s the thing. I struggle mightily with the whole concept of my relationship with Mona, particularly with the fact that the relationship is almost always perceived by those who see it from the outside as an unequal one .  .  . with me as the “helper”. And I don’t WANT it to be uneven. I don’t WANT to think that I’m in this just so that I can pat myself on the back and say, “look at me! I’m such a good person!” I hate hate hate hate HATE when anybody so much as says two words to me about what a good friend I am to her . . . as if there was absolutely no balance–as if I was doing all of the giving. I already struggle with the fact that, in some very real and tangible ways, there IS an imbalance of power. I struggle, too, with the fact that I can’t trust my own motives . . . I am very well aware that it is quite likely that everything I do for Mona, I do out of some pathology.

I don’t want to be told that I’m some kind of saint when I’m really just screwed up. I don’t want to feel like I can’t trust my own motives, but who really ever has pure motives in doing good anyway?

This is the thing I struggle with the most when it comes to my life with Mona. And I’m not sure I’ve figured out the answer yet.

One question haunts and hurts
Too much, too much to mention
Was I really seeking good
Or just seeking attention?
Is that all good deeds are when looked at with an ice-cold eye?

(“No Good Deed”–from Wicked)

Elijah is here!

and he is a beautiful, perfectly healthy little boy. A huge blessing after all we’ve been through . . .

Obviously, I have been up to see the baby (kudos to Max for pointing out the inconsistency of my announcement that I was cutting her off days after an earlier post extolling her virtues!), but I’m still struggling with how to navigate with LoserMan. For now, though, we are thrilled to see Elijah face-to-face!

“But today God is real/and the clouds are below us.”


I am not good about cutting people out of my life. well, I suppose that’s a lie. I am perhaps a little bit TOO good at it sometimes. A better way of putting it would be that I don’t take lightly the idea of making that decision.

I still struggle mightily with a decision I made eight years ago to end a relationship with a friend who had become like a sister to me. For years, people had been telling me that she wasn’t good for me, and yet I held on, probably because her three kids had become like my own kids, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not having them in my life.

When it came down to it, though, she had failed to stand up for me at a crucial point, and that, combined with my continued discomfort with her parenting style, meant that I had to make that choice. It’s NOT an exaggeration to say that at the time, I needed to concentrate on keeping myself alive. But cutting off  that friendship meant that I was cut off from her children as well. There’s no provision in the law for “friend joint custody”–even grandparents are put through the wringer when they want to see their kids–and although I half-heartedly tried to reach out to them, it was years before I saw any of them again. (Thank you, Facebook!) When I did, one of the kids reamed me out, a reaming I know I deserved, but despite the fact that I will always regret having walked out of their lives, I still maintain that I “had” to do it.

This doesn’t, however, make it any easier to live with myself.

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself in a situation where I was the “cut-off-ee”, so to speak. What was hard for me in that situation was that the friendship was severed with very little explanation, and when I pushed for an explanation, the one I was given was entirely vague and not at all satisfying of my confusion, anger and hurt.

So I then put myself into a different category–“Sure, I’ve cut someone out of my life, but I was very clear on the ‘why’ of it at the time. I would NEVER do that and not explain to the person why I was cutting them off.”

(But, while I know that is the truth, it doesn’t help me to feel any better about myself for making those choices. Plus, if you include my on-again, off-again connection with my father, then it’s not true that I’ve never cut someone off without a full explanation. No matter how much I would like to believe that I’m not “that” person, the fact is, I really AM that person. But who among us ever wants to admit that we are what we despise?)

So why am I bringing all of this up now? Because I’ve now made a decision again to cut someone off. This time, it is definitely clear WHY I did it, and this time, I’m able to keep the person’s kids in my life. In fact, I’ve been trying to help the kids get through the hurt and pain they’re experiencing as a result of the bad choices their mom has made, the same choices that have driven me to what may seem to be a drastic decision.

The problem is that the old adage, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” seems to be in play here.

She is my friend . . . my sister . . . and she is at the tail end of an extremely risky pregnancy, with her own life and the life of her baby at risk. And I can’t trust that she will make the right decisions, that she will care for herself the way she ought to.

But I can’t stand by and watch.

I can’t fall in love with this baby.

I can’t be around this man who has done NOTHING to earn the title “daddy”.

I need her to know that this is NOT okay. and while I despise “toughlove” techniques and anything behavioral, I don’t know any other way to get the message across to her. I had made it clear to her (before I knew that there was a baby involved) that I would NOT be around if he came back into the picture. I am standing by my word . . . but it is very, very hard to do.

I miss her.

I worry about the baby. and about her.

My heart is broken for her sons, who are acutely aware that she is choosing this man over her own children, and to be honest, my heart is broken for myself as well. That my friendship means that little to her . . .

I keep thinking “Stockholm Syndrome“, and maybe that’s what’s going on here. I know she’s scared, and feels alone. but I also know that she doesn’t value herself enough to know that she deserves so much more.

And that breaks my heart more than any of the rest of it.