hourglass

Kairos > Chronos

Published Originally Oct. 7, 2011

Time passes by. . .

“Where has the time gone?” I say to just about anyone who will listen. “Don't get me wrong; I want my children to grow up (the alternative is unthinkable). I just want to know: Where has the time gone?”

It’s baffling. I can't figure out how my brown-eyed girl (born just yesterday), is today a young lady looking at colleges. Or how, overnight, I went from buying my little boy light-up Batman sneakers to shopping for size 15 Nikes™. And how--how in the world--did my baby girl get to her last year of middle school already, when just last night I was sneaking her ragged pink blankie into the laundry?

Where has the time gone?

I don't know, but I think I’m looking for it in the wrong zone.  In Greek, there are two words for time. There’s Chronos—time that is measured, ya know, chronologically. And then there is Kairos—time that is measured by experiences. Chronos dissolves into seconds, days, years. Kairos, though . . . Kairos remains.

Chronos counts birthdays by ordinal numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, . . . .  But Kairos thinks back to a ballerina party that blended over the course of chronos into a makeover session, a Firefighter party for preschoolers that ended as a pick-up basketball game for teenagers in the church gym, and a ladybug piñata in our backyard in Sanford, NC that exploded into one surrounded by teenagers in our Asheville garage.

Chronos sees the seasons come and go and checks off another year. But Kairos sees differently. Kairos sees the Queen of Hearts, Angelina Ballerina, and Thing 1, all with curly blond hair; a puppy, a robot, and a number of clowns, all making lots and lots of noise; a pediatrician, Hermione Granger, and Toy Story’s Jessie, all of whom were far more grown-up than they should have been. Kairos remembers . . . the ball dropping, its year changing in that chronos way all the way down; sandcastles washed away one year and built back up the next; trips to Houston, trips back home, & trips back out again. Kairos smiles remembering all the games of Barnyard Bingo, Blink, & Bananagrams; all the books we've read—from Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton to Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling; all the hours of Veggietales, American Idol, and Psych. And Kairos weeps, weeps as faded faces and sharp memories come to mind: Wayne, Paxten, Matthew, Caleb, Cliff . . . . Chronos, distracted by the clock’s ticking, the days passing, just can't keep up.

Chronos says things like, “How long’s it been . . .  .”

Kairos says, “Remember when . . . ?”

Chronos, nervous and fretful, checks its watch and marks days off the calendar.

Kairos flips through photographs and artwork, videos, mementos.

Chronos grows anxious.

Kairos becomes nostalgic.

Where has the time gone?

Chronos doesn’t know.

But Kairos does.

Kairos says, “Look around you. It’s all right here.”

little red church fbcw

The Little Red Church

Back in 2011, I wrote this little parody of the classic children's story "The Little Red Hen." From time to time, I pull it out for the children's sermon. Today's message was from Acts 2:42-47; it felt like a good time for a retelling of The Little Red Church.

Once upon a time there was a little red church. The little red church had lots of friends. She had friends who were very old. She had friends who were adults but not too old. And she had friends who were still quite young. One day the little red church needed to bake some bread to send to God’s hungry children. The little red church went to her friends and said,

“Who will help me bake some bread to deliver to God’s hungry children?”

“Not us,” said the very old friends. “We baked bread before, but we are tired now. We are too old to bake the bread.”

“Not us,” said the friends who were adults but not too old. “We are busy busy busy. We have work to do and families to care for. We can’t take time to bake bread for people in need.”

“Not us,” said friends who were still quite young. “We are too young to bake bread. We don’t even know how. We will bake bread later when we are older.”

So the little red church sighed. She could not bake the bread herself.

But soon, the little red church tried again.  Some of God’s children were sick, so she asked her friends,

“Who will help me visit God’s children who are sick?”

“Not us,” said the very old friends. “We have our own aches and pains to worry about. We cannot go visit the sick.”

“Not us,” said the friends who were adults but not too old. “We have too many appointments to attend: not just for ourselves but also for our parents and for our children. We cannot go visit the sick.”

“Not us,” said the friends who were still quite young.  “We are not allowed to go to hospitals. We are much too young. We cannot go visit the sick either.”

So the little red church sighed. She could not visit the sick herself.

Before long, though, the little red church heard of another need: some of God’s children had just moved into town. So she asked her friends,

“Who will go and welcome God’s children who have just moved into town?”

“Oh, my, not us,” said the very old friends. “We have nothing to offer new people in town. They are young and we are old. We cannot go visit new people in town.”

“Not us either,” said the friends who were adults but not too old. “Perhaps you could have them come to our offices. Or hey! We know. Tell them to come to the Civic Club meeting next Tuesday at 7. We will welcome them there.”

“Not us,” said the friends who were still quite young. “Stranger Danger!”

So the little red church just sighed. She decided to take a nap. She was so, so tired. The little red church slept for a very long time.

While the little red church was sleeping her friends began to get worried. They missed the little red church. They missed her singing. They missed her laughter. And they even missed her questions.

The friends who were very old talked together and decided, “We may not be able to do as much as we used to, but we could surely bake bread.”

The friends who were still quite young overheard them talking. “We have lots of energy but we do not know how to bake bread. Will you teach us?”

And so the friends who were very old and the friends who were still quite young began baking bread.

Meanwhile, the friends who were adults but not too old talked together and decided, “It doesn’t really take too long to visit someone who is sick if you plan ahead. We are very good at planning. Let’s make time to visit the sick.”

And some of the friends who were very old overheard their discussion and some of them said, “We would like to go and visit the sick, but we don’t like to drive downtown. Could you take us with you when you go to visit?”

And so the friends who were adults but not too old and the friends who were very old, began to visit the sick together.

About the same time, the friends who were still quite young began discussing the new students in their schools. “We can welcome these new children even though we don’t know their languages. Let’s go play with them.”

And the friends who were adults but not too old listened and thought, “We can welcome these children’s families too. Let’s have them share a meal with us.”

And so the friends who were still quite young and the friends who were adults but not too old began welcoming strangers.

In the little red church's yard, children were playing and laughing. In her kitchen, people were cooking and eating; in her sanctuary, people were praising and thanking God for gifts of hope and healing.

And so (naturally) the little red church woke up.

 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Acts 2:42

amazing grace lyrics

Amazing grace: Settling a troubled soul – Baptist News Global

This piece appeared first as my July column for Baptist News Global. You'll find the full text at the link below.
Source: Amazing grace: Settling a troubled soul – Baptist News Global

When I stepped onto her hall, I could see her slippered feet just outside the door frame of her room. In her wheelchair, she rocked heel to toe, toe to heel, back and forth and back again.

“Hey, there,” I said, crouching to her height and attempting to push her chair back so I could get into the room. (Imagine a 5’4” duck wearing jeans and a tie-dye T-shirt pushing a wheelchair backwards; you get the picture.) I managed it, then pulled a stool right up next to her chair so I could speak directly in her ear. Nonagenarian ears aren’t especially known for their acuity, you know.

She does not know me; when I began my job at her church, she was already at the point of needing care. . . .

Read More

depression stereotypes

Depression: Beware the Stereotype

Over the course of one week, I learned of two individuals who took their own lives. Both were successful people, according to cultural standards. One a lawyer, the other a business professional, both were married with children and both enjoyed the admiration of their respective communities. People would argue that these two "just didn't seem the type."

Yeah. See that's the thing. There is no type. Depression doesn't care one bit who you are or what you do.

Depression creeps in and lies to you about your value as a human.

  • "You're just an imposter. One day, people will find out that you are really just not that bright."
  • "You can't keep faking it forever. Eventually, people will figure out that you are a mental case and they will stop loving you."
  • "Your family thinks you are loveable, but they are wrong. You're not."
  • "They'd totally be better off without you."

Depression doesn't shy away from professionals who have been trained to recognize its deception. It gives no exemptions to the social worker, minister, therapist, physician, or life coach. Its lies are raw and uncensored.

  • "The advice you give may work for other people, but you are beyond help."
  • "Keep telling people how to treat mental illness if you want; that won't fix you."
  • "Look at you with your great treatment plans and therapeutic compassion! How cute. If they only knew what I know about you, they'd be laughing in your face right now."
  • "Other people can get better. That's because they are better people than you are. You are not as valuable as they are. You're just not."
  • "All your clients, parishioners, or patients? They can find a much better advocate than you. You cannot even keep your own self sane."
  • "They'd totally be better off without you."

Look, I don't know the answers. I just know that depression doesn't care if you are red or yellow, black or white. It doesn't care about your bank account, your social standing, your dress size, or your IQ. Depression is about as selective as cancer is: cancer doesn't sort through a list of traits and accomplishments in order to determine who will be afflicted; depression doesn't either.

I don't know why depression kills some people and lets others--like me--live. There is no equation, no formula, that I've found that makes sense. Until that answer is found, though, let's talk about mental health in a way that promotes understanding, not judgment. Let's refrain from oversimplifying complex questions with uninformed responses that just come off trite, dismissive, or even downright mean. Of course we don't know everything about mental illness, but we know this: when depression ends in suicide, it's a tragedy of inconsolable proportions. Even the most enlightened comments will rarely be welcome in the midst of such devastation. So let's just keep our mouths closed and our hearts open. Because nobody is the type to get depressed. And so is everybody.

 

Mitch Graduation 2017

Graduation ceremonies: why being there matters

Allie 2017The 2017 graduation season has been an eventful one for the Lawrimore family and friends. First to turn the tassel this year was our soon-to-be daughter-in-law who received her undergrad degree from UNC. As for high school, we have two nephews, one niece, and our daughter’s boyfriend graduating.

It’s a big year. And I won’t make it to all of the ceremonies (two happen at the same time on the same day), but I’ll do my best to get to most. Those graduates who I don’t get to see in person will know I wanted to be a part of their day. They will know I am not casually dismissing this moment in their lives.

Now, I love graduation ceremonies. I don’t even mind bad ones. Wait. That’s not exactly true. There is one exception: a 2016 graduation ceremony Jake graduation 2016I attended at a “Christian” school was so offensive that it required every iota of self-restraint I possess to keep from opening up a great big can of Aunt Aileen all up in that place. To be fair, I was already ticked off at the school because I felt they had done an awful job of educating my beloved nephew. As a whole, they missed the blessing of his uniqueness, his gifts, his potential. (If I’m completely honest, I’d concede that a good bit of Aunt Aileen had already been spilled in these judgmental halls that, by their infinite ineptitude and unmerciful demeanor, had in essence been using the name of God in vain. But I digress.) Anyway, the graduation for less than 40 students lasted for over two hours. Not much fun for Angry Aileen.

Still, I’m glad I went. In fact, I would do it all again to be there when my nephew graduated. Totally, completely worth it.

georgetown university 2016In general, though, I love the pomp and circumstance of graduation. I love the academic regalia of the faculty, the students in caps and gowns, the formal presentations. But even if I couldn’t stand that stuff, I would attend graduations. You see, I believe that it is positively irrelevant whether or not I enjoy the graduation ceremony. On that day, at that moment, it’s not about me; it’s about the graduates.

Let’s say I’m attending a graduation and I don’t like the speaker. Or the music. Or even the institution where the ceremony is held. Maybe it’s the experience that is unpleasant. The seats are uncomfortable; it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet; or the ceremony is way too long and if someone had just thought this through, for goodness sakes, we could have been done a long time ago.

It doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters: it matters that I’m there. And it matters that you’re there too.

UNC Addison 2017By attending graduation, you are saying a number of things. First, you are telling your beloved that you care about transitions. High school graduation is the first major transition for these kids since they left home for kindergarten. It’s a big, big deal. By being there at the moment of transition, you are saying to the student, “You are not making this change alone. You, graduate, are not being thrown out of school, into a black hole of uncertainty all by yourself. I am right here with you.”

Secondly, you are telling the graduate that you will be there for endings, not just beginnings. You will be saying to them, “You know how you are concerned that the friendships you’ve made over these last years will end? Know this: your relationship with me? It is forever. I will still be your sister, brother, uncle, aunt. I will still be your mother, your mentor, your lifelong friend. I know it feels like everything familiar is ending. But I’m not. I’m here. I will always be here.”

ACRHS Graduation 2014Thirdly, you are saying, “Your celebrations are my celebrations. When you succeed, I delight.” Sure, these graduates will have other—probably (hopefully) more significant—accomplishments over the course of their lives. Celebrate those too. But graduation offers a unique opportunity to celebrate the completion of an extended task. Finishing that which we have begun is an important habit to develop and maintain. By attending graduation, you are saying, “Finishing things matters. This is a big deal.”

Finally, you are saying to your graduate that inconvenience will never be your primary concern when it comes to milestone moments in that student’s life. So what if you had to drive all night to get there? Who cares if the experience isn’t exactly pleasant? You are there to witness three things: the processional, the graduate’s walk across the stage, and the recessional. Everything else is just extra.

It’s true: I love graduations. But I love the graduates more. So I’ll be there in the audience, watching for my graduate. And when I make eye contact with my beloved, I hope the message is clear: “You matter to me and I will always be here for you. Always.”

fbcw upside down

Ready or not, church, change is coming – Baptist News Global

“You know that trick where a person pulls the tablecloth off of a table set with fine china, leaving everything standing as if it hadn’t been touched?”

This was to be our final staff meeting as a team. Dr. Jim McCoy had been at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, N.C., since 1997; his retirement meant the coming Sunday would be his last as our pastor. Our administrative assistant was expressing her feelings regarding the inevitable . . . . (continue reading at Ready or not, church, change is coming – Baptist News Global)

first baptist greensboro nc baptist women ordained

Changing #thingsonlychristianwomenhear – Baptist News Global

Recently, social media was abuzz with the hashtag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. If you haven’t followed the conversation, you might want to peruse some of the comments. I have heard most of the things listed, particularly since I was ordained in a Baptist church in December 2010.

Lucky for me, I was raised by parents who taught their children that persistence and conviction can overcome most obstacles. See, even though my father was a Southern Baptist preacher, I was encouraged to ask questions when I was a child — even (maybe especially) if they were about Christianity. Thus, if my siblings or I heard something at church or elsewhere that did not ring true, we felt free to ask our parents.

I should add here that there is a slight possibility that our parents over-taught this principle of independent thinking as we didn’t always exercise the self-control necessary to wait until we got home to state our opinions on things. (Mother suddenly started teaching teen girls’ Sunday school when my sister and I wound up in the same class. Coincidence? Probably not.)

Anyway, because of all those questions, all that examination, I’ve found the Bible to be a fountain of truth and the church to be a place where I can get to know God and God’s people better. To this day, I love being at church and delight in Bible study. True story.

Yet, #thingsonlychristianwomenhear included remarks that are all too familiar to me. Some of the things folks say to me about my vocation make me laugh. For example, a number of people have responded to the knowledge that I am a pastor with shock, asking, “Don’t you believe in the Bible?” I’m always tempted to respond, “Well, I won’t be turning over my handmaiden to my husband for the purpose of procreation, if that’s what you mean.” But employing a great deal of restraint, I refrain because that’d just be mean and would fix exactly nothing; so, I say something like, “I do believe in Holy Scripture; that’s one reason I questioned God for 20 years before I agreed to all this.”

I’ve also been asked lots of times, “How does your husband feel about you being a preacher?” The response ever on the tip of my tongue is, “Well, my first husband thinks it’s just great!” (I’d leave out the little detail that my first is also my only husband.) Instead I say, “Actually, my husband and I feel that God called us together: me to go into the ministry and him to support that journey.”

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the pain that comes from #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. The one that really frustrates me is: “We just aren’t ready for a woman in the pulpit.” OK, I know it seems innocuous at first, but I typically hear this one from churches who actually think they affirm women in ministry. On the one hand, I get it: churches have split over much less. Shoot, I’ve seen church conferences dissolve into fisticuffs due to a change in the family night supper menu.

Here’s my question to you, though: Do you ever plan on ever being ready? If not, then for heaven’s sake (literally), be honest. Just say, “Here at this church, we do not believe God calls women to the pastoral ministry; we believe God only calls males to this task. Therefore, we never intend to recognize your ordination as legitimate. That’s who we are.” Yes, it’s harsh; but it’s direct and truthful, unlike the previous, passive-aggressive non-response.

On the other hand, if you aren’t ready, what are you doing to get ready? Do you have women leaders making announcements, reading scripture, or passing the offering plate? Do you have women on staff? If so, do they have opportunities to participate in pastoral care or preaching? By the way, I’ve known a number of Baptist churches who, while they boldly declare that they absolutely do not believe in women preaching, will have a woman in the pulpit to “share a testimony,” or “bring the message.” Somehow by changing the verb, they’ve sanctified the behavior; and listen: I give them credit for trying. At least they are allowing God to speak through feminine voices.

Me, I don’t consider myself a real flag bearer for women in ministry. I just know without a doubt that God — demonstrating supernatural perseverance through two decades of denial — called me into this vocation. And, as it happens, I’m not a male. Go figure. Plus, I was not at all “ready” for this journey. But, by grace, God didn’t call me to be ready; God called me to be willing. Once I surrendered to God’s direction, the path to readiness miraculously presented itself.

Church, you don’t have to be ready. Just be willing. Then, together, we can change the tone of #thingsonlychristianwomenhear from one of judgment and ridicule to one of mercy and grace.

Originally published as

Changing #thingsonlychristianwomenhear – Baptist News Global

Me and mother

Not Just On Mother's Day

 

Published on: May 13, 2009

There's some stuff here you might not get as it pertains to my family directly. The first one you must get though so I'll tell you. The earliest memory I have of my mother is of my brother's birth. All the books said, "When you bring the new baby home, let dad bring the baby in so your arms are free for the one who was the baby up till now." (That would have been me.) So when Mother came in first, after being gone from home for a week, (I was 3 and 1/2) I was supposed to run into her embrace. I didn't. I met her (probably with my hands on my hips) and said, "Where is my brother?" Mother had a good laugh at the psychologists who did not know everything after all. Okay, one more. To amuse me during laundry time, Mother let me (ahem) teach her how to fold wash cloths. She was a very slow learner. I had to show her over and over again.

Not Just on Mother's Day

I remember . . .
arms free just for me,
laundry lessons, “See?”
“Big G, little g. What begins with G?”

I remember . . .
Skating:
“Slide your feet, follow me.”
Baking:
“Make each cookie the same.”
Praying:
“In Jesus’ name, amen.”
I remember Mama.

I remember . . .
“Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow.”
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
“Somewhere over the rainbow.”

I remember . . .
Watermelon, fresh cut
Strawberries, fresh picked
Ice cream, fresh churned.
I remember Mama.

I remember . . .
“Dearest folks,”
Handwritten notes,
Paper pills with handwritten quotes.

I remember . . .
Coupons: “by-one-get-one free,”
Substitute teaching, (even GT)
Sand dollar birds on a tiny tree.
I remember Mama.

I remember . . .
A late night crash: “He’ll be okay.”
The itch that would not go away.
A circle send-off: “We love you, Jay.”

I remember . . .
“It’s better to love, no matter how it ends.”
“Go take a shower, you’ll feel better then.”
“We’ll be happy to have you, no matter when.”
I remember Mama.

I remember . . .
The freedom in our family,
“Be who you are. We love you that way.”
The shelter of your shoulder,
“Come to Mama, that’s right, do what I say.”
The meaning of every message,
“As long as we’re together, it’s a really great day.”

I remember . . .
On Mother’s Day,
every weekday,
Saturdays and every Sunday.
I remember Mama.

And with full and grateful heart,
I rise up and call you blessed.
(Proverbs 31:28, paraphrase)

cranesbill-141576_640

Depression: momentary respite can offer welcome relief

When I’m depressed, it’s almost like I feel guilty when I experience moments of cheerfulness. It feels as if I am lying or something because in fact, I don’t feel better. Underneath, I still feel the all too familiar, overwhelming sadness gripping me. So if I have a good day in the midst of a depressive episode, or even a good minute, it feels inauthentic. There’s this nagging emotional pull reminding me that the present moment is fleeting and that the sadness is waiting, lingering just on the other side of the laughter.

Can you relate? If you’ve struggled with depression, I bet you know what I mean. But if you have loved ones who have been depressed, my guess is that this sounds completely ridiculous to you. Why would someone fight feeling better? That doesn’t even make sense.

Nope. No it doesn’t. But that’s not what’s happening.

Think of depression as a separate entity from the person; let’s call it Bob. When Bob is visiting me, my feelings range from flat (best case) to despondent (worst case). When I am feeling flat, occasionally something will make me smile or even laugh. Now you might witness that and think, Bob must have moved on! What a relief for Aileen! Yet I know that Bob is actually just taking a quick nap. When I laugh, my brain—which is a terrible liar when Bob is around—says, “Hey stop that! You’ll wake up Bob!” which, naturally, wakes Bob.

This maddening cycle has frustrated me throughout my relationship with Bob. Recently though, I discovered another metaphor that seems to fit this scenario a bit better.

My epiphany moment occurred in the midst of a coughing fit. I’d had bronchitis, or some proximity thereof, for over a week. This is not unusual for me; I’m prone to bronchitis. If I get even a slight cold, it tends to go right to my bronchi (which I just call my throat, but whatever). Sniffle one day, hacking cough the next. It’s always been that way for me.

Anyway, I was coughing my ever-loving head off, so I did what I always did: I reached for my throat lozenges. Of course these are no cure for bronchitis, but they do offer a temporary reprieve from the constant coughing.

Do you see where this is going?

See, I realized that if I could think of the depression in the same way as I do bronchitis, those so-called “inauthentic” moments of happiness could stand in the place of the cough drop, offering welcome (albeit temporary) relief from a troublesome condition.

Think of it like this. Imagine I’m in the midst of a depressive episode. Still,, I manage to get myself together and get out of the house. But just as I find myself enjoying the moment, Bob starts screaming.

“HEY! Settle down! You’re sad you know. This is not real! You actually don’t feel happy. This is a lie. Get back to being sad like you’re supposed to be!”

So I just respond, “Chill Bob! I’m just taking a little cough drop therapy. No big deal. I know you are still here and are not leaving any time soon. It’s just a cough drop. That’s all.”

And Bob relaxes a bit. He’ll get all stirred up again; this is only a temporary fix—a momentary respite as it were.

When I thought of it this way, I found a number of cough drop remedies that work for me, giving me more moments of relief. Also, unlike actual cough drops, the more I enjoy the moment, the longer the moment lasts. Of course, Bob is persistent and refuses to be ignored; but I just keep putting him off a few minutes at a time. It works.

So don’t deny yourself a break from the sadness just because it feels like a lie. It’s just a cough drop. Pick a flavor you like and enjoy it. It’s really okay.

Serena Spirit: Journeying with Anna Kate

“This is fun Mommy!” Anna Kate, dressed as Princess Jasmine, held tightly to her brothers’ hands. (She wasn’t wearing her leg braces; they didn’t match her royal garb.) With her plastic pumpkin swinging from her arm, Anna Kate headed to the next house, dragging her brothers along.

International adoption had always appealed to Mark and Traci Willis. They had two biological sons; still, they longed to bring home a child from far away. They enrolled with an adoption agency and eventually received a referral for a Russian baby girl. Their boys, Connor and Lane, then four and seven years old, anxiously awaited their little sister’s homecoming. In June 2003, thirteen-month-old Anna Kate Willis came home.

“Meet our little serena,” Traci said to Dr. Amy, the pediatrician who had treated the Willis kids for years. (Serena is Russian for princess.) “We’re excited, but concerned,” Traci began. “Anna Kate has some physical delays. She’s over a year old and she can’t sit up, much less crawl or walk.” Dr. Amy watched Anna Kate as she listened to her mommy. “But she surely is feisty. We’re amazed by her determination, by her spirit.”

baby ak

One of the first pictures of Anna Kate in the US

Dr. Amy completed her examination, agreeing with Traci’s concerns. “She’ll need to go to the Developmental Evaluation Center (DEC) for a thorough assessment.” She paused, her brow furrowed. “And, her head is small.” She wrote her diagnosis on the office form. “But, you know, she’s spent the first year of her life in an orphanage with minimal attention or affection.” Dr. Amy’s voice brightened. She reached over, caressing the back of Anna Kate’s head. “Let’s just see what a loving family can do for her.”

“Microcephaly.” Traci typed the word into the search engine. She had deciphered Dr. Amy’s writing and wanted to learn more. She glanced over at her brave little girl and back at the screen. “Microcephaly: a medical condition in which the circumference of the head is smaller than normal because the brain has not developed properly or has stopped growing.” The condition could cause mental retardation, convulsions, and worst of all, shortened life span. And we were only worried about her crawling late, Traci thought as she processed the overwhelming news.

“Anna Kate is significantly delayed developmentally,” Mark and Traci learned at the DEC. “Her gross motor skills are at the developmental stage of a child less than half her age.” The DEC prescribed weekly physical therapy and referred her to a pediatric orthopedist. “Have her brothers rough house a little with her,” the orthopedist told Mark and Traci. “That will help her muscles develop.”

willis three

Anna Kate with her bros on her 12th birthday, May 2, 2014

“Cool!” Connor said when he heard the news. “You mean just by playing with her, we can help Anna Kate get better?”

“That’s what the doctors tell us.” Traci watched as Connor got on all fours and crawled over to his sister lying on a blanket.

“Come on Anna Kate! Let’s wrestle.” Connor often kept her company but had previously resisted physical play.

“Be careful,” Lane warned, “Be gentle with her.” Lane, the firstborn, was extra cautious with his little sister.

“Oh, she’s tough, aren’t you Anna Kate?” Connor rolled her over into a bear hug as Anna Kate giggled in agreement, embracing her playmate.

All that love and attention must have made a difference. Because, although Anna Kate was still classified as microcephalic, her head circumference showed an increase each time it was measured. Her muscles were becoming stronger too. However, at two years old, despite leg braces, ankle surgeries, and physical therapy, Anna Kate was not walking. But she wasn’t giving up either. “She’s got quite a temper,” Traci often said, “but not about her disabilities. When she falls, she just tries again. And again. It’s remarkable really.”

“Developmentally, she is still way behind in her motor skills,” the DEC technician said at her 2004 appointment, “but let’s talk about her verbal skills.”

“Mommy, what are verbal skills?”

“Exactly!” The technician laughed.  “We would expect Anna Kate’s language skills to be delayed because she was born prematurely in another country. But she’s been here only fourteen months, and her vocabulary matches that of an American-born child several months older than she is. Anna Kate’s cognitive functions are advanced too. You’ve got a bright little girl here.” Ecstatic, Mark and Traci celebrated by explaining the news to their very curious serena. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Amy made it official, “Anna Kate’s head circumference is now within normal range!”

anna kate and horse

Anna Kate and her horse Houdini, April 2017

Months ticked by and Anna Kate kept trying to improve her motor skills with what appeared to be little progress. Doctors mentioned a possible diagnosis of cerebral palsy. At two and a half years old though, Anna Kate took her first independent steps. She walked on tiptoes, shifting her weight clumsily from side to side—but no doubt about it, Anna Kate was walking. With a proud smile, she walked across the room from her Daddy into her Mommy’s arms, “I did it Mommy, I did it!” Her brothers rushed in offering hugs and high fives while her parents breathed thankful prayers. “I do it again!” she said turning back to her Daddy, arms open wide.

Even so, it turned out that the doctors had been right: later that month, in November 2004, the cerebral palsy diagnosis was confirmed. Anna Kate remains determined though. It’s as if she fought her way out of a far-away orphanage so that she could have a chance at a full life. When Anna Kate first came home, her feisty temperament hinted at the depth and strength of her spirit. In time, she showed not only a fighter’s grit, but also the joyful expectation of a seasoned victor.

“Look at all my candy, Mommy!” Anna Kate held out her pumpkin for inspection, but didn’t wait for a response. “Hey, bros,” she called to her brothers who were only steps away. “Wait for me!” And off she went, a serena on tiptoe, to join brothers who were waiting to hold her hands.

First published May 2014
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