Saturday, September 29, 2012

Key of Z

When I was a little girl, we lived in Richmond.  On the top floor of a house on Idylwild Court. Abby was born while we lived in this house.  We got a puppy while we lived there too.  I tasted sweet tea for the first time in the kitchen of the basement neighbors, and played in the creek in the backyard with my Barbies.

I remember getting a cassette tape while we lived there.  Katherine and I shared a room, I think, and we had a tape player.  I don't remember actually being given the tape, but I know I couldn't sleep without it.

Larry plays the piano.  In the mid-nineties he had somehow recorded a two-sided cassette tape for my sister and me, which we would play whenever we laid down to sleep every night.  Religiously we listened to this music, so if we didn't play it, we couldn't sleep.  I remember the first few tracks by heart.  Inevitably though, I'd fall asleep before side "A" was ever finished.

But I'd wake up as soon as the cassette player clicked and flipped the tape over to play side "B".  Similarly, I have the first few songs on the second side memorized.  To this day, I'm not sure I ever stayed awake long enough to hear the end of the tape.

This music was night music.  It was not to be played in the day time, it was meant for sleeping.  This music was our lullaby.  Our gift.  And a very intrinsic, innocent part of my earliest memories.

Later, when cassette tapes were no longer common and Katherine and I had our own bedrooms on Long Avenue, Larry gave us CDs for Christmas.  New sleep music.  New lullabies.  And the same thing happened... to this day I am not sure I have ever heard the end of the CD.  Sleep somehow finds me halfway through, every time.

A few weeks ago, I can't remember quite when (but it might have been while I was in the hospital having Judah), Larry told me he was at it again.  He was creating new lullabies.  A new generation needed sleep music.  My little boy and my little nephew.

Last night Larry called.  Friday night, his social schedule is more crazy than mine has ever been.  So when he called and asked if he could come by, I suspected two things.

And I was right about both.

Something inherently similar to Aunt Liv's quiet, snuggle time in the mornings... we all crave alone, uninterrupted time with these little boys.  A still apartment, no others vying for cuddles, no one talking too loud, nothing specific to be done.  Just a sweet sinking, deep breathing, warm baby, same heartbeat.

And the lullabies.

I wouldn't listen to the new CD while Poppy was here, because I knew I'd cry.  But once he left, Liv, Judah, and I curled up on the couches, and we listened.

I woke up three hours later, Judah hungry and stirring quietly like he does.

I hadn't heard the end of the CD.

Friday, September 28, 2012


When I was seven months pregnant, I moved into a new apartment.  Part of my unconventional nesting included finding a whole new nest for me and my son.  The small cubic space I lived in before was just not going to cut it for two of us.  No matter how small we were.

So I found a new apartment.  With an extra bedroom.  I called this bedroom the nursery, but it only held boxes and bags for months.  The "nesting" I needed to do revolved much more around logistics, necessities, time management, than valances or changing tables.  But at the end of the summer, due date approaching, we finally put together this nursery.  This small space for this small new person.  Teasing, now that it was set up, Judah would decide to come.  Ready or not.

As I set up the nursery, I would occasionally notice when we were lacking something important.  I would move things around, until I figured out the functionality of the room.  Knowing myself, I rearranged until the room no longer caused me stress.  I folded and refolded, stacked and separated tiny, baby clothes until I knew what was where.  And then I did it again.

Due date was just around the corner and I walked into the room and noticed one last thing, one intrinsic piece of this nursery was missing.

Judah had no books.

I distinctly remember being read to as a child.  All the way through the early years of high school, part of our every day curriculum at home was Tamera reading to us.  She still reads to us now, whenever she gets a chance.  But then, when we were younger, it happened on a daily basis.  Eventually she would get a job as a librarian, but even in the years before she would return from trips with stacks of books two feet high.  In our family, we cherish children's books.  In our family, this is how we learn our words.

Closer to term, the books started piling up in Judah's room.  Essentials.  There were clearly more people than just the Long Avenue women who knew what my boy needed.  Board books, paper backs.  A box of books from Amazon, ordered from Bosnia.  The classics are stacked on an old end table in his nursery.  Some of my favorites include,

Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.
Where the Wild Things Are.
Guess How Much I Love You?
Goodnight Moon
Love You Forever

Yesterday was a bad day.

We have those, every once in a while.

Olivia and I went for a walk and my once-strong body was worn out from two laps around the park.  I get this deep sense, as I test the limits of my new body, that after recovery I will be stronger than I ever was before.  My baseline has changed, if this can make any sense at all.  My starting point is leaps and bounds ahead of where I started years and years ago when I decided, chose, to take control of my body.   I am anticipating hitting the pavement again.  Craving some heavy weights, rapid heart rate, and good sweat.  Hell, I'd settle for a good stretch.

Too bad right now a walk in the park makes me feel like I'm falling apart.

This physical "exertion" contributed to my exhaustion last night.  Emotions contributed to the other 95%.  I found myself eating chinese food on the couch with one hand, watching a new episode of the Big Bang Theory, bemoaning my sore body, while Judah slept fitfully in my lap.

My mind kept returning to the stack of books in his nursery.  Kept thinking about my sister's story about reading to my nephew and the way he stared at her, listening intently.  I didn't anticipate my son reacting this way.  But I was overwhelmed with the need to start teaching him now about story.  The same way he will watch my face and learn how to smile, he will listen to my words and learn.  If not how to tell a good story, he will learn how to live a good story.

So I went to his nursery and picked up a stack of paperback books one of my old friends brought us after we got back from the hospital.  I turned the television down, cradled Judah back in the crook of my elbow.  And opened up a thin, red book called Corduroy.

As I expected, my voice put Judah to sleep.  But I kept reading.  With every page I thought maybe I would stop.  Maybe I would start feeling silly. But... as it so often happens... the words of a book meant for children pulled at my heart.

"The store was always filled with shoppers buying all sorts of things, but no one ever seemed to want a small, brown bear in green overalls..."

"I didn't know I'd lost a button..."

"Could this be a mountain?" he wondered.  "I think I've always wanted to climb a mountain..."

"This must be a home," he said.  "I know I've always wanted a home."

And I sat there.  Tears streaming down my face.

Judah smiled in his sleep, then furrowed his brow, then raised his eyebrows -- all with his eyes closed.  I do think he could hear me after all.

And I cried for a little while longer,  feeling like a small bear who's missing a button.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Purest Form

There is a sort of hurt, settled so deep down and buried you can choose to live above it.  Breathe deeply.  Avert your eyes.  Let it settle like sediment at your feet, swirling like eddies.  To look would cause too much pain, to acknowledge it would be like releasing the dammed waters.  So you rise above it.  It becomes a part of you, nestled under your arms, lingering like old perfume behind your ear.

You can live with this sort of hurt and still experience the most immense amount of joy.  Actually, to be able to feel immense joy, the pain might be necessary.  

It might be inevitable.

I prayed.  Asked.  Begged, even.  

For a different kind of story.

For those so called desires of my heart.  

But that is not how my story will go.  

That is not how it was meant to be for me.  

I held Judah close, his face snuggled in a space between my collar and my chin.  A space hollowed out for him.  A space I hope always fits him somehow.  I think may I can grow.  I think life may stretch me, so no matter how big he grows, I may be his safe place.

And I whispered thank you.  Even though no one was there to hear me.  

Two weeks old. His eyes are changing color.  And his umbilical cord is about to fall off.  His head is growing, so his hair looks like it's thinning.  The baby soft skin on his hands and feet is peeling off, and every single day he spends more time with his eyes wide open. Staring.  Absorbing.  Learning.  Sometimes he smiles in his sleep.  And grabs my finger with his not-so-small hands.  

Thank you.


What then, will this story look like?  

The hurt is still there.  A tender, aching place I can find when I breathe deeply enough.  A hope, deflated.  Like so much saved room, laying empty and unfulfilled.  

There is a space I fit.  And I've been praying ever since I found it.  I've cried over it, walked away from it, always returning.  Always missing it.  I found myself there, again, on Tuesday.  Feeling as though the levees had broken and if I breathed just too deeply, I might be wracked by the weeping.  I had known, somewhere deeper than I wanted to dig.  I had held my breath, waiting, bolstered against the pain.

But it came anyway.

Much like a contraction.  

A wave of pressure and escalating pain.  Rising.  Intensifying.  Instinctually, you stop breathing.  Your shoulders tense, tighten.  And you push at whatever your hands can find -- as if to keep the hurt from finding you.

But you learn, too late sometimes, the only way to survive it -- the contraction -- is to breathe through it.  

How, I continuously wonder, can you feel such pain and joy at the same time?  

How can our testimonies be so full of hurt, making way for joy, and yet in the middle of it we forget the purpose.  They are the strongest of us, those who breathe through the pain, knowing life and peace will find them.


And it’s right there at the beginning….

and it’s quite something….

how even at the sharpest edge of things, there are wings (Voskamp)


I wonder, now, where we go from here.  

How will our story be written, what will the road look like?  

How long will it take before I look back to this day, understanding all this we had to wade through?

Everything works out for the good.  The desires of our heart.  The promises and encouragement are abounding, but I am not sure my heart believes them yet.  Not in regards to this.  

My heart has swollen, stretching to occupy the unmatched love I feel for this small little boy.  This small little boy who is mine.  

One day I will tell this story and today will not be the end of it.  There will be some conclusion, and there is some redemption waiting to happen.  A circling back around, a wrapping up of things, just like a good story... Intertwined and built up and connected in a deep and intrinsic way.  

There is this I hope for, but dare not say.  

I settle back and watch the stories of others, trying not to compare.  Trying not to be jealous.  Rejoicing with them as they rejoice in their marriages, in their homes, in their dreams come true.  All stories are different, she said.  

And I just nod quietly.  Just hoping mine is one worth telling.

Stare quietly into his eyes, blue transforming into gray then brown.  A soul in its purest form**.  Perhaps, my story will be about making his story worth telling.  Perhaps my desires will never be met, but I can pour myself into his life.  Into raising a good man.  

A good, strong, lion of a man.  

**Not my words, but the words a friend used to describe his first encounter with Judah: "Amazing to see a soul in its purest form".

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Better Place

I am a mommy.

One week later, I'm finally sitting down to write the words, which have already written themselves on my heart.  And I wonder, even now, if I can do this.

By this I mean, 1) write a blog with a baby in my lap.  2) Put my emotions into words.  3) Write without crying.

He's perfect.

8 lbs 5 ounces.  21 1/2 inches long.  Born at 6:05  on Thursday, September 13th 2012.  After fifteen hours of labor.  Six hours of throwing up.  And one hour of pushing.  

I arrived at the hospital with Larry on Wednesday night.  Scheduled for an induction, because my OB was leaving town my 41st week of pregnancy, I drove myself to the hospital.  Just like I'd been threatening all year.  Induction started at 3 am, later than planned.

And by 3:30 AM  I was laying in the hospital bed, TV playing quietly in the corner, Larry half sleeping in the reclining chair.  The monitors were keeping track of me, keeping track of Judah.  The IV had already left a bruise.  The ice chips weren't cutting it.  So I lay there, in this place of uncertainty, feeling like I was 13 again.  But I reminded myself, quietly, I was not 13.  I had a name for this.  This imposing, towering barrier between me and what I needed to do.

Quietly, I began to pray.  I cannot get my mind in the right place.  It was this simple thought, which triggered the progress.  One mighty swing to the solidness of the wall.  Where I was, was not the right place.  Where I'd let my mind go, wallowing in the discomfort, the pain, the non-traditionalistic nature of it all... was the wrong place.

So I needed to get to a new place.

And somewhere between 3 AM, beeping monitors, ice chips, and my water breaking... I found it.

I found my place.

A place, which looks much like the culmination of all my years.  Strengthened by all my hurt, the weight of a heavy, baby boy, and the burden of both empathy and judgement.  Bolstered by two stainless steel rods and a backbone, tried and tested by a lifetime of challenges... overcome.

Because that is, after all, what I do.  And that is the business of the One I love.


So by the time real contractions began, I had found my place.  In between counts of four and fixated eyes, I began to hollow out a place within myself for what was about to occur.

Somewhere between my heart and compressed lungs and a big, baby boy whose face I hadn't yet really seen.

Sometimes, I've found, it takes pain to make us feel truly alive.  Most of the time, it takes a measure of pain to carry us over into the greatest beauty we've ever known.


I had had every intention of doing it alone.  Kicking people out of my room when the pain got to be too much.  When too many body parts were starting to show.  When my patience was running too thin.

But around the tenth hour, I started changing my mind.  

And on this side of it, I know I didn't change my mind because I couldn't do it alone.  I do most things alone.  Most pain, I ride through quietly.  If I had needed to, I could have finished laboring on my own. Cleaned myself up after vomiting, asked them to the monitor so I could watch my own contractions.  

But I didn't have to.

And at 6:05pm, after figuring out how to push, after repeated affirmation I had chosen the right OB, after looking at my mother and telling her... she could stay... 

They laid a screaming Judah on my chest.

Most of the time, it takes a measure of pain to carry us over into the greatest beauty we've ever known.


So I got to help my own mother check something off her bucket list.  She was there to help her first born give birth to her first born.  

And twenty minutes later, I got a text that said simply, "are you ready for poppy?"

I can count on my one hand how many times I've seen Larry cry.  Even so, I know what the onset of his tears looks like.  When the curtain pulled back and he stepped around it, the tears I had not cried at delivery starting welling.  I swallowed them, not quite ready to start the flood, which I knew was brimming just below.  I knew, once I let them start, a whole year's worth of tears would pour out of my body.

So Poppy met his second grandson.  Potentially the only one to carry on the Vaughan name.  

The sisters came next, and Abby whispered, "he looks like a little lion..." with enough awe in her voice to stir every angel in the room.  


Now there is a big baby boy laying in my lap, hands folded on his belly, lips pursed and brow furrowed as he sleeps.  

One week later, I am still absorbing every bit of what has happened.  Finding my cup is not big enough, deep enough, to hold all, which is being poured in.  

I understand not just a few things, much more deeply than I ever thought possible.  

And I am really only one word, one yawn, one deep infant stare away from the deluge of tears.  


Who knows what God has brought me through this child I have prayed for.  

My gift of praise.

My little lion man.

My heart is too full to express any more of this, I feel.  

But things have fixed themselves.  

And this place I find myself, is the place where God is.  

As if He'd been waiting there for me -- calling my name from there.  Come, Anna, see what I have for you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Story of Us

I just can't seem to make the words fit.

They're here, on the tip of my tongue.  But somewhere between the swelling and the fatigue and the crib sheets, the words get jumbled. 

I put his room together.  Finally let go and let myself begin the nesting process.  A putting together of pieces.  Very much unlike the other women and mothers-to-be around me, but nevertheless all my own.  Like so many building blocks, a puzzle...

So now there's a changing table.  And a crib.  There's tiny little boy clothes in hampers and baskets.  There are small socks and an abundance of blankets.  Scattered throughout my home, yes... our home, are lions.

He has a big name to live up to.  Big shoes to fill.  A deep, strong prophecy spoken over his life.

And he will be here in a few days.

Just a few days.

I find myself in a strange place today.

I find myself at the end.

Here we are.


Two days before I found out I was pregnant, I wrote:

Sometimes we wait for the right time for the right thing to happen.

When all along, the whole idea was to surprise you anyway.

And surprises never happen like that.


I don't know if I can do this or not.  I don't know if I will be a good mother -- or if it will come as naturally to me as it did to my sister last week when this small little boy was born.  

I don't know if I can juggle being a single mother and finishing my last semester of school.

I don't know if I will be able to be two parents at once.  

I don't know if I will be able to pay all my bills.  

I don't know if I will be able to raise my son to be a good man who remains in awe of the small wonders of the world and loves people...

even when they fail us.  


I made it through the 18 weeks of nausea.  Through the titled uterus, which made it hard to hear his first heartbeats.  Through the break outs and the flat hair and the pulled muscles and the weakened immune system.  

There were no insane cravings.  No 2 am runs to the grocery.  Just dragging myself out of bed that first trimester, to walk to class.  Staying up late to write papers, hiding under sweatshirts.  Living off wheat saltine crackers there for a while.  

I ate a lot of red meat and a lot of cheese.  Took myself to every doctor's appointment.  Avoided caffeine for the better part of the year -- but not entirely.  I miss sushi and tuna, though.  I heard my son's heartbeat and saw his face, by myself.  Late in the term, my hands started cramping up.  The nightmares, however, were there from the very beginning.  Vivid, terrifying, every time I closed my eyes.  The echogenic intracardial focus.  

I remember I held my breath until 12 weeks.  Sure that something would go wrong... sure I wouldn't be able to carry a child.

I named him by myself, before I even knew he was a boy.

We thought we'd call him Jude.  

But he has taken on his own name.  He told us, somehow, he is Judah.  A lion.  A gift of praise.  Given a name meant for me, meant for my mother, had we only been boys.

And so I sit, taking a snapshot of my life today compared to January 13th.  

I have a new testimony about God's provision.  To add to my testimony about His voice.  And His plan.  And His love for risks and a good story.

I walk into Judah's nursery and it is brimming.  Stacked.  Piled.  Folded.  A nursery, which had been empty in May is now overflowing.  

A new apartment. 

A new job.

A car.

I also know more about the character of God than I may have ever been able to articulate before.

Because, you see, people have disappointed me.

Consistently for over a year now, people have been breaking my heart.  Not just one, good, clean break.  But a splintering.  Repeated offenses.  They have judged and cursed and abandoned.  They have cast me out.  They have called me whore.  Liar.  They have called me dangerous... selfish.  Damaged.

And through it all, the character of God was what remained the same.  Faithful and consistent.  No "buts" about His love.  No stipulations.  A gentle, steady voice saying He knows what He's doing, He loves me when others do not, and I cannot see what He has planned.  But trust Him, because He does.

Grace, tattooed on my wrist, never meant more.  Because never did He say: "I love you and this little boy, even though you sinned" like so many others did.  He didn't say, "I will make something beautiful out of this, even though you made poor choices".  

What He said was, "I love you and this little boy and I have made this a part of something beautiful." 


If Judah does not come on his own, he will be here by Thursday.  Four days.  That's all.  

I need to do some small things.  Like install the car seat, pack my overnight bag, do another load or two of laundry... but basically everything is done.  

Everything is done, yet I still don't feel ready.  

But I don't think Judah's going to wait for that feeling to go away.  

What we are ready for, is to tell a new story.  

Ready to show the world what it means to be a family, to love, to overcome.  We will show them what resilience looks like, what diversity looks like, what faith looks like.  We will show the world, all those who doubted, what it means to love Jesus.  To forgive others.  And to wait, hope, pray... for the right people to enter our story.


That's what has changed.  This week, that will be what changes more than anything.


It's a story of us now.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Elijah David

I am an aunt.

I have a handsome 7 lb 2 oz, 19 1/4 inch long nephew.

Born on the first day of the month at 5:47pm.

I've never waited in a waiting room for a baby before.  I almost didn't go this time.  I knew my sister didn't want an overabundance of people crowding her and her little family on their first hours, days, together.

But I went.  After being awoken at 4:30 in the morning with a prayer on my lips.  "Come on, Eli," I found myself whispering.  "Today's your day.  We want to meet you.  Come on."  Thirteen hours later, here then he was.  With a perfect blend of my sister and our brother.  With hands like Katherine and Tamera's.  A head full of hair.

I sat, feet swollen, in the waiting room and just thought about how I'd never done this before.

Waited on a baby.

Or waited for someone to get out of surgery.

Or waited for news, which just wouldn't seem to come.

The waiting room became overrun, quickly, with drinks and phone chargers, and a fluctuation of Vaughans and Rectors and Rehnborgs and Penningtons.  The whole hospital seemed to undulate with our family, never fewer than three of us, and as many as twenty at one time.

Just waiting.  On this baby boy.

Everyone kept staring at me as I'd walk through the halls.  When was it my turn, they wanted to know. And I'd just shrug.  Eli had to come first.

That was the rule.

Eli had to come.  Be the first.  The first grandson, the first great grandson, on both sides.  The first nephew for all of his aunts and his two uncles -- one who was getting updates from the other side of the world.

Eli had to come.  And then we'd worry about getting Judah here.  It wasn't my turn yet.

I was there to wait.

I'd always known Katherine wanted to be a mom.  I'd seen her with countless babies over the years, watched her change diapers, heard her talk about her plans as a mommy.  But fatherhood is not something a lot of men talk about, before it becomes a personal topic.

I've known David for a long time.  Ten years now?  I'm having a hard time remembering when he wasn't part of our family.  But I'd never seen this David before.  He appeared in the waiting room every few hours.  Unshaven.  Saving his energy.  Acting like nothing had changed and then laughing when we pounced of him for not sharing important news.

So now they were both parents.

I spent a lot of my time in the waiting room thinking about how everyone kept telling David "you're a daddy now!", and the reaction my heart had to this statement.

Because.  I tend to think they both became parents a long time ago.

I think, maybe, you become a parent the minute another small life becomes more important than your own.

And for both my sister and my brother, that happened a while ago.

So Eli is here.  Elijah David.

A fifth generation.  A third member to a small family who lives in a town house down the street from me.

My parents first grandchild.  Their first grandson.

My first nephew.

Can't help but think, if we knew the joy and anticipation, which surrounded our arrivals into this world -- how people waited on us, celebrated us, and prepared for us -- how much differently would we live our lives?

If we knew how people had waited on us.