Say “Cheese”

My family have always lived quite a distance from each other. From Georgia to California, Wisconsin to Texas…we have spanned the states for as long as I can remember. My grandmother was the anchor for the family. She lived with her oldest son, my dad, here in Texas for many years. Her daughter lived in the Atlanta area and her youngest son lived in Irvine, California.

She would jet off to see her other children several times throughout the year. She was always a proper lady. She prepared for her trips by giving herself a fresh permanent and would done her Sunday best for her travels. She carried matching avocado green luggage  and would insist on arriving hours before her flight. These were pre-cell phone days too…so there was no texting anyone that she arrived or had a delay. She simply relied on them to be there and to find her every time. Her last flight was one month before she passed away at the age of 89. She was a spunky lady. But more importantly, she always put her family first and made every effort to be there for them.

When she passed away in 2003, our link to the extended family disappeared. Her absence made it very clear how much she kept everyone connected. Over the years, though, we have all found our own ways of keeping up with each other. Thank goodness for social media!!!

Six years ago, one of my California cousins moved to Texas to go to college. Since she was only an hour and a half away, we found ourselves texting and spending time together. I have LOVED having her close! We have kept each other abreast of all the family gossip and happenings, talked endlessly about our similar professions, and shared stories about our grandma. It’s the kind of connection to my extended family that I always craved.

I was thrilled when her parents and younger sister decided to follow her to Texas, making it their home in 2017. I adore that my son knows them well and loves spending time with them. They dote on him like grandparents which is something I cherish. I do believe my grandma is smiling down on us every time we are together…she would be so happy that her children and grandchildren are connected.

So three weeks ago when my aunt and uncle from Georgia came to Texas for a visit, we all congregated in Waco for a reunion. We easily fell right back into conversation, laughing at stories about our crazy dogs, reminiscing about their childhood, and sharing the woes of health concerns that arise with aging. The day flew by and left me longing for more time together.


At the end of the day, we gathered together for the obligatory picture. We laughed at how my grandma never liked to have her picture taken and how that angst continued in my aunt. We chuckled at how time had changed everyone’s appearance. But in all the razzing, you could see that the bond between the siblings ran deep. They held onto their goodbyes that afternoon, stopping and starting several times on the way to the car, savoring every last minute together.

I am ever-hopeful that having the majority of my extended family now in Texas will lead to more time together. It’s just good for the soul.


“Families are like branches on a tree. We grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one.”



Today is a monumental day for Young Ben because he’s taking his very first test! I was relieved it was a spelling test. If I was ever good at anything in school, it was spelling. I was hopeful the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

I felt reassured when I saw the list included all the color words…red, blue, green, orange…you get the idea. In theory, these words seemed like an easy start because they’re familiar. He quickly read the flash cards that I dutifully made. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had a proud mama moment that included a brief daydream of him standing on the stage winning a spelling bee.

*Record scratch*

I then realized the words were written in their matching color <insert eye roll>.

Anyway, we devoted time to those words every day this week and I can say, with conviction, that he was about 50/50 on those words. Turns out that the color words are actually pretty hard to spell because you can’t sound them out.

Go ahead, give it a try…

Blue becomes bloo

Orange turned into orunj

Purple morphed into prpl

In the end, I had to get pretty creative to help him remember how to spell some of them. I’m not ashamed to say that I tapped into my boy-mom potty-humor to achieve this. How you ask…well, the words yellow and brown have more than just the “ow” in common…they are also the colors of pee and poop…which go together too. I really hope he shared that gem with his class!

“So there you go.” It was reminiscent of the father from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding trying to explain that all words are rooted in Greek. 

Like Mr. Portokalos, I was stretching it a bit. Whatever works!

I pick my kiddo up from school in an hour. There will definitely be a stop for ice cream on the way home…even if he totally bombed the test! I want him to know that he’s brave to face this next step in his school career and that even if he only spelled his name right on the test this time…he will eventually know how to spell his colors along with many other words. And if not…there’s always spell check. 

PS – in 4th grade our bonus word for our spelling test was 45 letters long. I got it right on the test and I can still spell it today…pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis… it’s a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust, common in mine workers. I always knew this word would come in handy at some point!



I spent the weekend of August 23rd, 2003 at my grandma’s bedside, holding her hand, reading her favorite Psalms, combing her hair, massaging her hands with lotion, and just simply sitting in silence with her. The final leg of her journey had started just three short weeks before with a hospitalization that lead to hospice care in a nursing facility. I knew I didn’t have much time left with her, but when I said goodbye to her on August 24th, I had no idea the end would come just twenty-four hours later.

On my way home from work, while I was riding in the shuttle to the off-site employee parking, my mom called me. There I sat, surrounded by strangers, hearing the crushing news about losing one of my very favorite people in the whole world. You see, she was more than a grandma to me…she was my kindred spirit. She moved in with my family in 1985 when I was in the second grade and she became my third parent. She was there for all the birthday parties, all the talent shows and games, all the homework and tests, and the many crushes and teenage woes. She watched me graduate from high school and college and was there, front and center, to see me get married.

One of my very favorite things to do with her was to go through her drawer full of pictures in her room. We would sit on her bed while she would tell me stories about growing up on the dairy farm in Wisconsin. Memories of living in Chicago with her sister’s family and meeting my grandpa when they both worked at Walgreens. How she and my grandpa moved around for his job and all the homes that she loved. Her eyes always lit up when she talked about my grandpa. And although he had died many years before in 1977, you could feel how much she loved him still. I was named after him (his name was Donald) and according to her, I had his “baby blues.” I think there was something about me, beyond my name and my eyes, that reminded her of him. I like to think so at least.

It’s hard to fathom that she has been gone for fifteen years now. Oh how I wish she could have met my son! I think he would have reminded her of my grandpa too…his sense of humor and big personality, his eyes and his smile. I think he would have been the apple of her eye.

There is so much peace in knowing that she is reunited with her love in Heaven. I miss her something fierce, but I take great comfort in knowing that I will see her again someday.

“Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same.”

-Flavia Weedn

Papua New Guinea

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the summer that I spent living with a tribe in Papua New Guinea. It was the summer before my senior year in college and I was quickly realizing that I needed to figure out what I was going to do with myself after  I graduated. I was intrigued by the idea of being a tribal missionary, so I decided to go immerse myself in it and attempt to discern (with all the wisdom a 21 year old can muster) if this was really where God wanted me to be.

I met up with 30 strangers in LA and jumped on a plane with them for our trek across the ocean to Papua New Guinea. We landed in Port Moresby, the capital of PNG and our last taste of civilization for six weeks. I was struck by this bustling city that felt like a step back into the 70’s. During this layover I realized this was our first baby step into an unknown world to many of us. We got on a puddle jumper from Port Moresby to Goroka that would take us further away from any resemblance of familiarity. This was evident when I noticed, 10 minutes into our flight, blood-tinged water dripping from the overhead baggage compartment onto one of the guys in my group. I pointed to his shoulder with a horrified look on my face. He stood up, way more calmly than I would have, and opened the compartment above him, where he found a plastic grocery sack with dead fish. Apparently the national sitting next to him had gone fishing that morning.

Star Cab.jpg

In Goroka, after more than 20 hours of traveling, we all crammed into the back of several pick up trucks for an hour long ride to our final destination. As we rode down the dirt roads, into the highlands area of PNG, I was overcome by the presence of eyes watching us. That’s when I noticed, all along our route, nationals peeking through the trees at us. Tribal in every sense of the word…spears in their hands, some with their faces painted, women who were topless, and every one of them barefoot. During that ride, I was smacked in the face with the gravity of the situation. I was 8000 miles away from home, my closest friends were total strangers and I was completely disconnected from everyone I knew…it was 1998 after all and no one had a cell phone nor did we have access to email right away.


And that was just day one of my crazy adventure into deciding if I was cut out to be a tribal missionary! Obviously, I recognized pretty quickly that although I love a good adventure…this particular one might be a little too much adventure for me. I survived my six weeks there and I came away from it with a gratitude for even the simplest of extravagances that we have here in America (like ice cubes), an appreciation for the beauty of other cultures, a keen awareness for the many unreached people in this world…along with a few good stories.

“Ai bilong yumi mas lukluk i go long Jisas.”  -Hibru 12:2

 “Keep your eyes on Jesus”  -Hebrews 12:2



My Dream Job

Fifteen years ago today I started my dream job. Landing that job as a child life specialist in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was not an easy feat. It took me two full years after I graduated from college to get an internship. And then eighteen more months to take my certification test and pass it. Once I was fully eligible to be a child life specialist, it took me seven more months to find a job. It was a tedious process to say the least! But…four years and thirty-eight days after walking across the stage, I started my dream job!

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Photodisc—Getty Images

Looking back, I can see how green I was on that first day. Sure, I had already worked in several other jobs since graduating and I had matured some as a young professional…but I walked into this job ready to conquer the world and completely unaware of who I was up against.

You see, my job, as a member of the medical team in the NICU, was to advocate for family centered care and developmental support. Seems like a fantastic benefit, one that many hospitals touted as a favor to the patients and families they serve. However, when you add the human side to the sciency world of medicine, you can come up against some big barriers. Which is why there is a whole profession dedicated to promoting psychosocial care.

Doesn’t sound like it should be that challenging, championing opportunities for children in the hospital to continue developing and playing and for families to communicate their wealth of knowledge about their own children. However, in doing so, it requires the medical world to slow down. It means timing procedures around nap time. It means orchestrating a team of professionals to get a baby out of bed for a parent to hold. It means letting the child choose to watch during a blood draw even if they cry while doing so. It means trusting a parent when they say, “my child’s heart rate drops aren’t because he has a heart problem, it’s because he’s pooping. And I know this because I sit here by his bedside all day long.” (true story).

I knew, before heading into this job, that there would be uphill battles. I had read about the challenges our profession had faced during the campaign to become part of the medical world. And I saw, firsthand, my internship supervisors throw down with team members to promote the very best, well-rounded care for patients.

When I walked into the NICU on June 23, 2003, the air of skepticism was thick. I was following a string of short-lived child life specialists who decided that unit wasn’t their gig. Maybe it was the population? Maybe it was the team? It’s hard to say what made them stay for only a short time in that NICU, but their brevity put me in a tough spot. Not only did I have to convince the team that child life services were essential in NICU care, but I also had to prove that I was worthy of the calling.

Immediately, processes had to be adjusted. Expectations reset. And relationships fostered, not only with the staff but the families also. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really responded well to someone new on my turf telling me what to do. And I wasn’t really polished enough at the tender age of twenty-six to communicate confidently what and why something needed to happen. Needless to say, there were a lot of ruffled feathers in the beginning.

But over time, I found my groove. I figured out what I was good at and the staff learned how to use me best. Seamless would not be a word that I would use to define my years in the NICU. “Challenging and rewarding” is typically what I say when people ask me about that job.

When I look back at those years, there were many defining moments for me as a young professional that left me encouraged and reassured that I had pursued the right field.

Moments like…

  • When a nurse, who had given me a lot of angst, called from her next job to tell me how much she appreciated all I did.
  • When a doctor recognized how swaddling a baby and offering a pacifier during a blood draw could help her stay calm.
  • When another doctor actually read my chart notes, trusted my assessment and ordered occupational therapy for the patient.
  • When the team listened to my research and agreed to change the visitation policy for families.
  • When I was the first person called to offer support for families when a baby died.
  • When siblings I had prepared could walk up to a bedside in a critical care unit and explain all the things they saw.

I’m certain that I would approach that job differently now. Maturity, other professional experiences and motherhood would make me a very different child life specialist today. Some days I think about going back…but most days, I’m just fine “child life-ing” my own kid. Heaven knows he needs a little decreased stimulation and firm touch to bring him down a notch.