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.

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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.

Happy Birthday Donald Duck!

I saw The Today Show post birthday wishes to Donald Duck this past weekend and it made me think back to my first trip to Disney World in 1984. I was in first grade and my parents took me and my sisters out of school for a week to go to “the most magical place on Earth.” We trekked across country in our brown station wagon, hauling the pop-up camper behind. We stayed at Fort Wilderness, the campground at Disney, and it was equally as magical as the park itself. The antithesis of the theme park, the campground was quiet and serene, surrounded by tall pine trees and a slower pace. Every morning we would hop on a tram that would transport us to the Magic Kingdom. It was while we were waiting for the tram one day that I lost a tooth spelling “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I”.

I remember walking down Main Street, U.S.A. towards Cinderella Castle, soaking in all the people and rides and sounds…oh the sounds. The constant music piping throughout the park of all the familiar Disney songs. It was all so cheerful and grand and enchanting! I remember riding ALL the rides too. Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain, and It’s a Small World. It was magical at every turn! And the fireworks over the castle were breathtaking! It was all so surreal, making it difficult to decide what was real and what was fantasy. The whole experience stirred up all of the emotions a seven year old could handle.
One afternoon at the daily parade, there was a special birthday celebration for Donald Duck. He was turning fifty that day and all the characters sang a special song as they danced down Main Street. Donald Duck was at the end, perched high on a float that looked like a giant birthday cake with candles. He was smiling and waving to the crowd. In all the excitement, I found myself choked up. Not because I was happy to see him or excited that it was his birthday. But rather, torn up over the fact that he was old and would die soon. My sweet, little, seven year old self could not fathom life existing far beyond the ancient age of fifty.
Here I am now, a mere nine years away from “deaths door” myself. I expect it’s time to take my kiddo there so he can experience the wonderful world of Disney without having to push his folks around in wheelchairs!
Donald Duck Birthday Parade

Lakes & Pools…Surgery & ER

We are one week into summer…and what a week it has been for The Boy!

Day 1 – Cavity-free check up at the dentist! I’m such a fun mom…scheduling a dentist appointment on the first day of summer! Teehee.

Day 2 – Mt. Playmore. Again, trying to be fun mom, I carted the boy to this huge indoor playground so he could run around like a monkey and what does he want to do?! The arcade. So I indulge him, because it’s the 2nd day of summer, and I get him a $5 card (big spender). He blows through that in the blink of an eye before realizing that none of the games he chose will lead to any sort of prize. And because I’m a sucker…I put another $5 on his card…which lead to a foam ninja star and two plastic lizards. He then claimed that “all the other kids got 5 prizes”…which I know is a story because there are only a handful of kids there and he hasn’t actually talked to any of them. I quickly deducted that he was just being an ungrateful punk and I’m instantly annoyed about spending $10 on three little toys that probably cost $.15 to make.  We redeemed the day with pizza at 600 Degrees and then we helped sort clothes for the uniform closet at school. Haha! Who drags their kid back to school on the 2nd day of summer?! ME!!!

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Day 3 – Local pools opened! When I asked my kid what he was most excited about this summer, he answered “swimming!” And he’s proving to be a true Texas kid too…a natural swimmer who could stay in the pool ALL DAY if it weren’t for those darn “adults only” swim breaks. And, of course, that break happened about 10 minutes after we arrived. So he sat on the side, incessantly asking, “can I get back in now?” Inevitably, when the lifeguard blew the whistle after the 15 minute break, he got back in and then immediately announced that he had to go to the bathroom. 🙄 Once he got back in, I’m pretty sure we didn’t see him surface, except to take a breath, for the rest of the evening. We closed down the pool that night…which probably won’t be the last time that happens this summer.


Day 4 – Hanging on the lake with his buddy’s family. He rode on the tube by himself and got his first sunburn of the summer! When we arrived to pick him up, it was obvious he was living his best life that day…his buddy’s grandma feeding them endless cookies and marshmallows, a box full of vintage action figures to play with, and getting to use a pocket knife without an anxious mama breathing down his neck. And as expected, he sliced his finger with said pocket knife…which apparently is a rite of passage in a young boy’s life.


Day 5 – Pre-op tour at the children’s hospital for his surgery on Day 6. Again, I’m such a great mom…scheduling all the fun things for the first week of summer! We had big plans to visit the local children’s museum after our tour, but an acute stomach ache half way through our tour landed us in the emergency room instead. He never complains about anything…so when he doubled over in pain and couldn’t walk on his own, we decided to err on the side of being overly cautious since he was due for surgery the next day. We were in and out in under an hour with an official diagnosis of “he needs to poop” and sent on our way with a Fleet enema. Fun times!


Day 6 – Surgery Day! Pretty sure I win the award for signing my kid up for the lamest start to a summer! We fortunately got bumped up on the schedule which meant he didn’t have to be NPO until 4pm that day…just 2:30pm instead. We did pass our time that day with loads of Jello Jigglers. Who doesn’t love a Jello Jiggler?! All went well with his surgery and he loved riding the big wheel back to the OR!


Day 7 – Day 1 of post-op recovery and limited activity for 7-14 days. If I had a 2” incision on my groin I would be wearing pajama pants for days while binge watching Netflix and enjoying my narcotics high. However, by 8am he had already chased the dog, climbed on the counter for a cup, and hopped up and down on one leg to prove he was tough. If he could have gone swimming and ridden his bike…which you know he also proposed yesterday…we would have officially broken all the post-op rules in the first 24 hours. And there was no pajama wearing for this kid…it was jeans and a belt all day long which makes me just cringe thinking about it.

The other kids in our neighborhood start their summers today. We got a head start on them in days…but we’ll be behind slightly on the fun. Something tells me that we’ll catch up though!