Dear Dad

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If you're a long-time reader of Elm Street Life, you've probably noticed that blogging has been very sparse since I went back to work as a nurse. Admittedly, my life is pretty full these days. Besides being a wife and mom, I'm away at the hospital for 25-30 hours every week caring for patients. Still, I've made excuses for long enough not to blog. I miss this space. I miss making space: space to chronicle, to reflect, to wrestle. Whether or not anyone reads this blog, I need to be writing. 

With that said, the original intent of this site was to chronicle the life of our family. Under that heading, my dad celebrated a big birthday this summer and the best gift I could think to give him was one he'd given me time and time again: a handwritten letter on a piece of yellow legal pad paper. I wanted to share what I wrote here to remember these words years from now, but also for you to catch a glimpse of the man I get to call Dad. 

Dad and me on my 12th birthday, with the letter he wrote me for the occasion
Dear Dad, 

It's your birthday, and it's a big one. As I've pondered the thirty years I've gotten to spend with you so far, I see a clear theme in your life. From the time you were a tiny little guy wielding a not-so-tiny accordion, it was apparent that you were talented. Gifted, even. Grandma tells me you were smart as a whip, and I believe her. Since then, you've spent your ministry and career behind the piano, and thousands have marveled at your gift. You've produced countless records, you've played at Carnegie Hall, you've won a Grammy. You've had a musical career that most only dream of.

But there's something rare and beautiful about how you've chosen to steward your gift. You easily could have gloried in your own abilities to make yourself great, but you've chosen to use them to lift others up and make them great instead. The definition of accompaniment is this: "a musical part that supports or partners a solo instrument, voice, or group; something that acts as a complement to something else." As an accompanist, you allow singers to excel, giving them complete freedom because you'll be there to back up every note. As my dad, you've done the very same thing. You've provided accompaniment to my dreams, nudging me into the spotlight and doing everything in your power to make sure I shine. 

One of my favorite things about you is that you're a dreamer. Beyond that, you've never made me feel silly for any of my dreams. Instead, you've done everything in your power and with your words to make those dreams a reality. 

When I was seven years old, I saw an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood where Mr. Rogers interviews a drummer. For a fleeting moment, I set out to be a drummer myself. When I told you about it and asked if we could go to the music store, you didn't even flinch. You just hopped in the car and took me to Sam's for a pair of drum sticks and a practice pad. 

When I was thirteen, I took up an interest in photography and desperately wanted to take pictures at a graveyard when the sun rose. You woke up at the crack of dawn (literally) to chase me around the wet, dewy, falling down graves in search of that perfectly backlit shot. 

At age sixteen, you handed me the keys to the car. You also handed me some exorbitant cell phone bills, but I won't go there. Most of what I remember from this time, though, was running track and cross country. Throughout all of those years, I can't remember a single race you missed despite your busy travel schedule. As we'd line up on the starting line, my stomach full of butterflies and my head full of doubts, I'd sift through the crowd with my eyes until I found you. Your face was always glowing... and the race hadn't even started! Your steadying presence was all I needed to be ready to run.

At age eighteen, you and Mom drove me to Waco, Texas and dropped me off at my dorm. I'm sure you probably thought, "Couldn't you have picked somewhere a tad closer to home?" but you never said it. You supported every change-of-major and even a change-of-school and wrote every check without ever making me feel unworthy of the sacrifice.

At twenty two, you walked me down a candle-lit aisle to forever with the love of my life. You didn't just relinquish me to his care with a trite, "Leave and cleave!" You welcomed Shawn into our family. Just the other day, Shawn was commenting on how easy and supportive you are to work with as you produce his first album, and once again, I marveled at how rare and how wonderful your relationship with your son-in-law is. 

At age twenty six, just hours after Liam was born, you flew in from being out of town and walked into the room with a smile I'd never seen before: a smile reserved for a grandson. Seeing you hold my most important little dream in your arms for the first time... I'll never forget it. 

At age thirty, just the other day, I'd worked a string of difficult shifts at the hospital as a nurse and had written about it on my blog. The next day, you called me simply to say you'd read it with Mom and you were so proud of me and the way I lean on the Lord in those stretching moments. Those words would have meant a lot coming from a friend. They would've meant more coming from my husband. But for the little girl's heart that still beats inside my chest, they meant most coming from my dad. 

I've been far from a perfect daughter (Hello, tattoo! Hello, complete disregard of curfews!). But the way you've forgiven quickly and fully, the way you've fueled my dreams, the way you've cherished me and cared tenderly for me for 30 years is just a glimpse of how my heavenly Father must see me, and that brings me to my knees. You are steady as a rock, and have been a firm foundation for my waves of emotions. I never hear you complain, even after days of difficult travel. 

You've given me countless priceless gifts: your clear blue eyes, the love of a well-crafted letter on yellow legal pad paper, and the example of what it means to faithfully follow Jesus. I have a much clearer picture of who He is because of who you are, and I'm thankful that one day, we'll see Him with unveiled faces, together. 

I love you, Dad. Happy birthday!

Heaven, in Liam's words.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yesterday while Lanie napped, Liam and I played tea party in the living room. He served strawberry tea and we talked of Heaven. I admitted that Mommy's heart has been heavy lately because of how broken and sad our world is, but that we have great joy ahead if we trust in Jesus because he has promised to make all things new! All the sad things will become untrue. All the broken things will be mended. 
When I talk about Heaven with Liam, I want him to know it's a real place. Though it's better than the grandest fairytale, it isn't fiction. And for the first time, it seemed to finally click. Liam began to picture our future and wrap words around it. Poetic words. He imagined all the sad and scary and wrong being made right and whole again by Jesus himself. I sat behind my camera and cried because his words brought such peace to my fearful heart. Here's what he said: 
"So in Heaven... hippos won't growl at you? And owls will not swoop at you? And when you touch a light bulb, you won't be burned? And pirates won't be mean? And water will be soft like a blanket? And trains will stay on their track? And snapping turtles will obey? And dinosaurs will know God? And mosquitos won't bite you? And I can bring my helicopters and my Lightning McQueen? And I won't have to take a rest time? And the best part is that Jesus will be there and we can talk to him? I want to go to that country and live there." - Liam, age 3.5
 Oh Liam, I want to go there too! Your faith bolsters mine in deeper ways than you know.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

If I haven't mentioned it on the blog, Shawn has spent the summer working hard on the recording of his first album. It's called Justified and will debut at the end of September. (I'm so proud of him and can't wait for you to hear it!) Most of the recording has been done in Nashville - the vocals, the band, the strings, and now the mixing - so he's taken several trips over the course of the summer. For one of the weeks, the kids and I got to join him.

We've lived in Raleigh for three years now, but I have to be honest: Tennessee still feels like home to us in a lot of ways. When we arrive in the Nashville area, we take a deep sigh of relief. The lush landscape and gorgeous trees! The smooth roads! The friendly people! It's not like we live in terrible conditions in Raleigh (at all), it's just different. It's warm, familiar, home. 

As it always goes, we didn't get to see all of our friends we hoped to see. But we did soak in the time with family, enjoy a handful of beautiful sunsets, and let the kids run barefoot in the grass.

My parenting prayer.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

These photos were taken on our happy family vacation last month on the eastern coast of North Carolina. "Vacation," of course, is a loose term with a preschooler and a toddler in tow, but we savored the family time away from our normal commitments and work.

Our babies are growing like weeds. Liam is quite intelligent at 3 and a half, using words like "exasperated" and pulling things apart just to put them back together again. His energy is endless and consumes most of our energy as parents. I must answer 100 questions a day. His enthusiasm for life  is contagious. This fall he'll start soccer, and I think it'll be a great fit. 

Lanie (18 months) is sweet as pie, sings "Holy, Holy" on repeat, and toddles around with her belly about 5 inches ahead of the rest of her body and some sass in her step. Just her presence brings our family so much delight.

Even at this stage, it's so easy to play the comparison game in parenting. What preschools should I consider? Are we reading to them enough? Am I planning enough brain-stimulating activities? Do we spend enough time outside? It's exhausting. 

This morning, I read through Colossians 1 and was convicted and encouraged by the Holy Spirit to hone in on what truly matters as Liam and Lanie's parent. I plan to memorize this so that in those moments where I question if what I'm doing is enough, I can remember these words that bring truth and life. 

From Colossians 1:9-12:

Liam and Lanie,
"We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light." 

What a prayer! What hope! When I bring myself back to Scripture and find such a clear picture for what we truly desire for our kids, it's easy to cast the other things aside. Just this morning, I watched Liam gently brush Lanie's hair, and I heard him ask if we could help the homeless person on the side of the street. I watched Lanie pick up her toys just as I'd asked. I'm beginning to see tiny seeds sprouting - gentleness, kindness, self-control, love, joy - that show me that Jesus is bearing fruit in their lives. 

Life as mommy and nurse.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

If you have a toddler and a preschooler at home like I do, I don't have to tell you that our days are packed. From the moment Liam and Lanie are awake, we're juggling the day like spinning plates, shuffling between play dates and storytimes at the library and Costco runs and trips to the park. When we're home, we manage nap times and snacks and attempt to keep our living room (and really, every room) from looking like a war zone. Let's be honest: life with two little ones often feels like a war zone. There's pushing and crying and spills and tantrums and stinky diapers... all at once. There have been times I've run into my bathroom and closed the door to just have a couple minutes alone, only to hear two little pairs of feet tracking right behind, begging for Mommy on the other side of the door.

On the days that I work as a nurse, our babysitter arrives 30 minutes before I have to leave so I have a rare, uninterrupted few moments to put on my scrubs and mascara and gather myself before the next 9 hours begin. On my 12-minute drive from my house to the hospital parking garage, I often sit in silence. I take deep breaths and even think a few complete thoughts during the quietest part of my entire day.

A few minutes later, the elevator doors open onto the fifth floor. There's always a flurry of activity on the floor, whether it's a family member standing at the desk with a grimace on her face or a psychiatric patient screaming out from his room. I work on a busy medical floor where all of my patients carry a different diagnosis and diverse needs.

Just the other night, I had a particularly heavy patient load, with patients whose rooms were spread out on every corner of our unit. I dashed between rooms, delivering medications, repositioning patients in bed, wiping sweat from my forehead. One of my patients was nearing the end of her life, her bed surrounded by teary-eyed loved ones, as I monitored her oxygen levels and did my best to kept her comfortable. Another patient was vomiting violently. Another had just been transferred from the ICU and had multiple wounds that had soaked right through the dressings. My fourth and final patient - a mostly independent woman who was there to receive IV antibiotics - called out to the desk and told the secretary she needed to see her nurse right now. So I finished emptying a bucket of vomit, made sure my dying patient was still breathing, and hustled down to the end of the hall.

I could feel the heat of her anger from the door.

"You're exactly who I wanted to see," she fumed.
"How can I help you, ma'am?"
"How am I supposed to eat this sandwich? It's dry as cardboard."
"I'm sorry about that, ma'am."
"Well, can't you at least get me some mayo?"
Take deep breaths, Whitney. Deep breaths.
"No, I'm sorry but we don't carry mayo on the floor and the kitchen is closed."
"Well then HOW am I supposed to stay here with this kind of care?"

Her face was burning bright red, ready to shoot smoke out of her ears like a cartoon. And I, standing next to her bed, was either about to laugh or about to cry.

After I sent the nursing assistant to try and remedy the issue, I ran into the supply closet for a fleeting moment to bury my head in a pile of split gauze and keep from crying. I knew she was just complaining about mayo, but with serious issues going on with my other patients and an exhausting day with my kids, I was done. I couldn't handle one more question, one more demand, one more putrid smell or sticky spill. I sighed heavy. I. Can't. Do. This.

And that still, small voice (or, the Holy Spirit) whispered back: "You're right."


My head snapped back as I was hit with truth that, nope, of course I can't do this. I can't do it alone. This load is far too heavy and the needs too great for any one person to handle it all without Jesus. And as trite as that may sound, it's what my soul needed to hear in that moment. It's what my soul needs to hear more often than I'd like to admit. I need him. Every. Hour.

Practically speaking, what does that look like? For me, it looks like seeking Jesus. Seek him in the morning, even if it's 5 minutes in his Word before you hear your little ones calling out, or a few minutes on your knees, asking him to bless your perspective on the day ahead. Recognizing you need his power, his wisdom, his strength is just the first step. Resting in his finished work on the cross is the next. There's a peace that can only come from being in constant communication from him, and it's something I miss out on all the time. One of the very best practical things I've done recently is to be more intentional about memorizing Scripture. I'm working on Romans 8 right now because it's so foundational to our faith, and also so comforting.

In those moments when it all feels like too much, the Lord draws this out of my memory bank and slips it into my heart:
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." - Romans 8:18

As a nurse, I bear witness to so much suffering. The 22-year-old newly diagnosed with HIV, a life that will be presumably infection-ridden and cut short. The 45-year-old mother of two whose breast cancer has metastasized to her brain. Hard, gut-wrenching stuff that begs the question, "Why, God?"

But I also catch glimpses of his glory that will be revealed. My children's lives bear witness to God's glorious creativity and joy. Some of my patients wait patiently and cling to hope in God even in the most dire circumstances. I'm a witness to some of the most beautiful, resilient souls housed in bodies that languish in hospital beds. I see miracles every single day.

Hug a mommy today. And if you know one, hug a nurse. If you're reading this and you fit both categories, I wish I could reach through the screen and hug you right now. Your callings are downright demanding in every way, but I believe the Lord has given you these holy tasks and has prepared you in every way for them. If he wasn't with you and for you, you wouldn't still be standing.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. - Psalm 68:19
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