Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life is a Gift

This weekend while visiting Josh's family, Susie and I were able to attend a baby shower for Josh's cousin Lisa.  She was expecting her first baby, a girl, and they planned to name her Arayah (which means ray of hope).  This baby was a big surprise for Lisa and her husband Shawn, who found out they were expecting after she was already midway through her second trimester!  She's had to scramble to get ready for the baby's arrival.

Sadly, this morning as we were leaving for home, we found out that Lisa was going in for a c-section and that the baby would be stillborn.  Arayah had her cord wrapped around her neck four times.  Lisa was able to see and hold her baby even though she was no longer living.  Our hearts just break for Lisa and Shawn, as well as Josh's whole family.  

It is difficult to understand God's timing with this.  Arayah had no prenatal care for her earliest weeks, but was just fine until just two weeks before her due date.  Lisa just had her baby shower, and now at home has stacks of new baby girl things that she surely hasn't even had time to organize quite yet, to remind her of her loss.  It feels like God gave this gift and got their hopes up and then took it away.  

But I DO know that God is good.  He gives and takes away.  He holds all things in His hand, and works all things together for good for His children.  I am praying now for "a ray of hope" to shine in the hearts of Lisa and Shawn as they mourn their loss.  Hope in God's grace and goodness.  Hope in Christ to sustain them as they journey through these extremely difficult days.  Praying for the nurses and doctors to be kind and gentle and understanding.  Praying for many friends and family to pour out their love to Lisa and Shawn now and in the months to come.

And I realize more than ever that life is a gift.  The months that Arayah lived in Lisa's womb were a gift.  The hours, or days or years that any child lives is a gift.  We must solemnly consider how often we take life for granted, how easily we assume that everything will be just fine.  We presume upon the Lord.  Please take a moment to be grateful for the life God has given you -- the years you were able to spend with the loved one you've lost, or the years you continue to enjoy with a small child running circles around you.  We are not promised tomorrow.  And yet, with our hope in Christ, we can hope for all eternity!  

On that day when Christ has come and made all things right, we can say "O death where is your sting?  O grave, where is your victory?"

But for now we feel the sting.  Please join me in praying for grace for these hurting parents.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gretchen Learns to Ride a Bike, and Other Lessons -- Chapter 3 in My Life Story

Chapter 3 in telling our childhood tales at Mommy's Piggy Tales is supposed to be about 1st grade or 6 years old.  One big lesson that stands out to me at that age was getting my first bicycle and learning to ride it!

I can remember clear as day the diary entry I wrote about buying my new bicycle.  I wish so much I still had that diary (or any of my childhood journals, but sadly during my insecure junior high years I trashed everything that embarrassed me, including my diaries!), but I'll have to recreate the entry best I can here (it's been a few years).

Dear Diary,

Today I went to buy a new bike.  We went to Johnny's Toys.  I looked for a special bike, and I got one that was pink and gray named the Sea Princess.  I chose it because it reminds me of going to Hilton Head Island and it has sea shells on it.  I am going to learn to ride it.

Love, Gretchen

Imagine this entry filled with some misspellings and you'll have the gist. :)  It was as though the heavens opened and a ray of light shone down on that bike when I came upon "The Sea Princess" -- pink and gray with a couple of shells on the frame and a nice big banana seat.  Oh yes, this was the bike for me!!  I remember Nate and Anna got bikes around the same time as I did and none of us knew how to ride them yet (yes, at 6 it was time to learn!).  Nathan's bike was sporty -- yellow and black and very cool.  It was made to do cool tricks with!  Anna's was called "Dusty Rose" (I believe) and it was a sparkly purplish color.

My mom was determined that we learn to ride bikes all the way -- no messing with training wheels.  She felt that we would get dependent on the wheels and not really learn to balance.  So she took us into the yard (so it wouldn't hurt so much when we fell off) and started us near the top of the slope that went from the street down into the yard.  She'd start out holding the back of our seat, running along with us shouting "PEDAL!!! PEDAL!!!!!!!!!" and then at some point let go.  She taught Nathan first that way, and then me and then Anna.  I remember tumbling a few times, but Mom was right, as long as I kept pedaling, I would stay up!  It didn't seem long before we were all 3 riding around everywhere.  

Another lesson from around this time was learning to say goodbye.  My Uncle Gene was my dad's younger brother, and my favorite uncle.  This picture here is of Uncle Gene with my Aunt Pat and my cousin Sarah.  He was so much like my dad -- fun and funny and great with kids, and Anna and I loved it when he would pretend our braids or ponytails were handles on a motorcycle.  He'd make all the noises, tickling our neck "putting in the key" and drive us around.  Uncle Gene had a brain tumor and our family prayed for him every single day.  I can't remember how hard that must have been for my dad, but I do remember when they told me that Uncle Gene died.  He had 2 kids -- my cousins Geoff and Corrie Beth (Corrie was really really little still), and our whole big Benzing family was so so sad.  I remember driving to the funeral in Kansas and seeing Corrie Beth dressed up at the funeral dinner afterward.  I remember as we spent the night before the funeral I had a terrible dream (it seemed terrible to me at the time -- which is why I remember it so vividly) that a robber stole a cup from me.  It was just a kid cup, but the robber was really scary and I was so sad the cup was stolen.  I went to my parent's bedside and told them my dream and asked "WHY did Adam and Eve have to sin????"  Looking back, I must have been processing a lot of thoughts about sin and death.  The sinfulness of humankind was becoming quite real to me.  Before Uncle Gene even died, I had asked my parents if Uncle Gene was scared to die, and one of them told me that yes, sometimes he was scared to die, but when a Christian faces death, they are given grace from Jesus to be able to go through it.  I remembered those words so clearly 25 years later when I sat with my family at my mother's deathbed, knowing with a certain peace that God was pouring out a grace on my mother to face her death.

I don't have any "school" memories from first grade, because my Mom was almost a "nonschooler" when it came to the early years.  Nathan, Anna and I all taught ourselves how to read really young (I do not remember not knowing how -- I only remember seeing words and knowing them), and Mom would read aloud to us all the time.  We also took fun "field trips" -- which we didn't even know were field trips, they were just part of our fun, learning world.    When we began more official text-book type work the next year, we were in no way behind, and after a few hiccups in 2nd grade math, I was cruising along just fine.  I can't imagine having the freedom to teach my kids that way, but I'm honestly so impressed by my mother, not being intimidated to do what she felt was best in an era when homeschooling was almost unheard of!  She must have fought a battle on all sides -- people wanting to know why we weren't in school, and her own motherly tendency to compare us with other children (what mom doesn't fall into that trap?).  Mom was really quite a minimalist in her demands on us, which might make many people cringe!  But I can tell you that looking back, those idyllic years of exploration, interesting books, tasting new foods from Jungle Jims (a grocery store) and wonderful hours of read-aloud were precious indeed. 

Favorite Illustrators

There are some children's books I could just look through over and over, admiring their illustrations.  For picture books, the pictures tell as much of the story as the words, and are made truly precious when the artwork speaks for itself.  I love many, many classic illustrators, and quite a few new ones as well, but here are 2 of my favorites.  I am currently building my collection of these 2 illustrators -- someday I'd love to have everything they've done!  

1. Eloise Wilkin -- who doesn't know the chubby faces of Eloise Wilkin's children?  Her Golden Books in the 50's 60's and 70's are classics that generations have grown up with.  I have collected a good number of her timeless books, and in fact, I chose the Eloise Wilkin Baby Journal to use for a baby book for Susie, which has illustrations from several of her "Baby Dear" series of books.  I simply adore her chubby baby faces and joyful life-like actions of the babies.  

Another favorite from Wilkin is The Wonders of Nature.  May I recommend this book for some summertime outdoorsy exploration?  When I look through this book I want to be 8 again, wandering through the woods on our property in Wisconsin -- fishing in the river, finding deer paths, making forts in the trees and never ever hearing cars go past, just the rustle of the leaves all around you.  Today's children are often hurried from one activity to the next, involved in so many sports, lessons, playdates, etc. to "improve" them that they miss out on good old dirty fun.  Reading this book with your little ones and then getting out in the backyard or local park to explore (forget the weather! Just go out!) would make a wonderful summertime activity.

My all-time favorite Eloise Wilkin book is sadly out of print, We Help Daddy.  I am on the hunt to find it for Susie (yes I could order a used copy from Amazon, but I'm hoping to come upon it at Half Priced Books or something).  I have very old memories of being read this book by our babysitter and she changed the names of the boy and girl in the story to Gretchen and Nathan (my brother and me).  The next time my mother read us the book (correctly), I said "No!  Their names are Nathan and Gretchen!!"  I looked and looked at the picture of the little girl (whose name is actually Sue -- that's why I want it for Susie) watering the plants with her little watering can and thought it looked to be the most fun chore I could imagine.  Maybe one of these days Random House will reissue this favorite -- We Help Mommy is available, so why not this?  Is it too gender specific to suggest that helping Daddy involves outdoor chores?  Gasp! Heaven forbid. HAHA!

2.  Gyo Fujikawa -- her pictures of children are much more comical and cartoonish than Wilkin's, but classic and endearing in their own way!  Susie got her Mother Goose collection when she was first born (from our friend Barb), and Oh What a Busy Day collection for her first birthday (from Aunt Emily).  I believe these are both reprints of books from the 1950's (or perhaps a bit later), but they are beautifully done.  Her Babies book was an early favorite of Susie's, and the first book Fujikawa both wrote and illustrated.  She was ahead of her time illustrating books with muti-racial babies and children in the 1950's, which is one reason why her illustrations still look so fresh and new.  I did not grow up with these books (that I recall), but when you look at her pictures, you feel like a child again!  I could sit and page through the collections over and over exploring the expressions of the children in them.

It may take me quite a bit longer to collect everything Gyo Fujikawa has done, since I've just begun, but I'm up to the task!  I think I might try to get this one next:  A to Z Picture Book.  It looks like another one I could page through for hours.

Who are your favorite children's book illustrators?  Can you even narrow it down to one or two?  I'm linking up to Feed Me Books Friday at The Adventure of Motherhood, so check out other great book recommendations there!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Early Memories Part 2 of Chapter Two

After I finished writing my preschool/kindergarten post for Mommy's Piggy Tales, I kept remembering more and more memories that I had left out of the post.  So, this may be less than perfect, but I decided to go ahead and write part two!  

One special thing for me took place when I was four.  My cousin Janet, who was quite a bit older than me was getting married and she asked me to be her flower girl.  ME!!  I was sooooo flattered and excited.  I got to wear a fancy dress and carry a flower basket and be with the pretty bride!  I was actually kind of shy in these early years (if you knew me now you'd never believe it), so the thought of everyone watching me and talking to me didn't really appeal, but I shelved those thoughts and focused on the pretty wedding.  I remember Janet sent my mom a swatch of fabric from the bridesmaids dresses, and when my mom pulled it out of the envelope, we were just ecstatic. It was PURPLE!  So my mom bought a very traditional 80's cotton print with tiny rosebuds on it in lavender for my dress and she and my Grammy made it.  The sleeves were VERY puffed and when I tried on just the top part, I even felt pretty in it then.  My brother Nathan came in when Mom and Grammy were pinning me and said that I looked like Bo Peep -- which I totally took as a compliment.  Bo Peep is pretty, right?  She's got that dress and bow and everything!  The absolute BEST part about my dress was that the skirt was so full, it was a complete circle.  My mom took me to Olan Mills to have my picture taken in the dress, and I posed sitting on the floor with a large circle of skirt around me.  Mom braided my hair and then crossed the braids over my head and tucked in flowery combs -- which is the way I styled my little sister Abby's hair for my wedding in 2001!  That cross-braid style was also a fave for me in college, where I liked people think I had hair like Princess Leia.  

Another really special event for me also took place when I was four.  I got my ears pierced!  Looking back, I was pretty young, but I remember wanting to get them pierced for quite a while, and having to wait.  One day we saw a little girl in a restaurant who was about my age, and I pointed her out to my mother.  We had a serious conversation about the possibility of me getting mine pierced before Janet's wedding.  And that is what we did.  My mom made it a big occasion for me.  We went to the jewelry store at the mall, and she chose gold ball earrings for me.  I remember that it REALLY hurt, but mom suggested that if we went to get ice cream I wouldn't be able to think about my ears hurting!  She was so clever.  By telling me the ice cream was to get my mind off it, she did just the trick, because I knew my ice cream was medicine for my pain!  I picked raspberry ice cream and I remember so vividly the tart taste of the ice cream and the stinging in my ears.  Not long after that, my mom took Anna to get hers pierced too, and she chose the same earrings and same flavor of ice cream that I had.  Mom really was amazing about making things even for us.  It never dawned on me that I waited until I was four to get my ears pierced, and Anna was only two!  Mom did well to prevent us from being primadonnas -- we might have played princess, but we knew reality!  There was more than one girlie girl on the planet. 

The Christmas before I turned two, we all got the chicken pox.  Looking back, I wonder how on earth my Mom dealt with it, being pregnant with Anna and having two tiny ones so sick!  And my cousins got them, too (Robbie and Rachel), so we went ahead and got together at Christmas anyway.  There is a great picture of us all spotty lined up by the tree, but I do not know where that is.  Here is another picture of Nathan and I that year with my cousin Geoff.  He was a couple years older and must have already had them or something, because we could not visit my Benzing family that year at Christmas because there were SO MANY cousins, and too many had not yet gotten them.  It must have been a sad Christmas, but since I don't remember it, I counted myself fortunate to have gotten the chicken pox so young.  Now that I'm a parent, I cannot imagine how sad it would be for Susie to get chicken pox at Christmas and having to keep her away from her cousins!  

Back then my Grandma and Grandpa on my dad's side lived in a house "out in Morrow", as it was referred to, which was on the property of a Girl Scout camp!  They did not live there long, and I have infinitely more memories of the house they lived in for years and years after that, but I remember how log cabin-y the house was, and the player piano we'd watch and listen to in wonder.  Grandpa often had Girl Scout cookies on hand -- which was a big bonus to us!  I have jillions of cousins on that side of the family, and we had so much fun running around outside there.  I distinctly remember sliding down the metal cellar doors over and over like it was a slide.  Who needs a playground?  Kids will improvise!  I'm posting this family picture at that house from 1983, which would have been the year I turned 5.  This is just a small fraction of the big Benzing family!  

Here's a closer picture of me, perhaps from the same day, wearing a Strawberry Shortcake dress Mom made matching for Anna and me.  This dress is just like the popular pillowcase dresses that are all the rage today!  Man, Mom sure was ahead of her time!  We loved those Strawberry Shortcake dresses!!

One thing you'll notice I have no memories of in my preschool and kindergarten days is school!  My mom had been a teacher and was a pioneer back in the early '80's homeschooling her children.  She was pretty free with us in the earliest years -- no sitting with seatwork, no boring, repetitive, pointless activities.  Just lots of good books and reading and DOING and learning!  I'll say more about my schooling experience in the next post -- it was wonderfully unique and enjoyable, just like the rest of my golden early years.

Early Memories and Birthday Traditions -- Chapter 2 in My Life Story

I'm a bit stumped on how to write chapter two in my life story, since chapter one was such an intense story.  At Mommy's Piggy Tales we are writing 15 parts to our story, and this chapter is supposed to be preschool or kindergarten years.  There is no one outstanding event in those years for me, or a cohesive theme of smaller events, so I decided to post some of my earliest memories and some of the birthdays I enjoyed.  

In my last chapter, I referred to my brave and loving mother, and many of you praised her in your comments.  Thank you so much for doing that.  I neglected to share that she passed away last year right before I had my first child, which is why my childhood stories I heard from her are all the more precious.  I won't take time here, but if you would like to read a few other posts I wrote about Sue Benzing, please click on the "My Mom" label I have at the end of this post.  I couldn't continue writing without putting my memories in their current context (does that make sense?).

You may not believe me, but one of my earliest memories is being in a crib, which is pretty darn early, because I got my first little sister Anna before I turned two, and I moved into a big girl bed so she could have the crib.  I remember when Anna was born we went to visit my mom in the hospital.  The memories are very vague, but I recall being in the elevator going to see her.  My mom told me that when my brother Nathan and I were waiting for our baby to be born, my parents would say "it will be Anna or Nicholas", so when we left with Anna, we cried, wondering where Nicholas was.  We thought we'd get both of them, I guess!  

The next big event in my life was breaking my collarbone.  I was sharing a room with my brother so Anna could have the nursery, and sleeping in a big girl twin bed.  I remember that room so clearly!  It had 1-2-3 curtains (which I'm certain my mom sewed) and gingham wallpaper and a hard wood floor (which is good for toys!).  I fell out of my bed in the middle of the night (I was not quite two), and cried, of course, but calmed down and went back to sleep.  The next day, my mother was dressing me, and I would cry when she moved my arm!  Turns out my collarbone was broken!  I guess that's what happens when babies fall out of their beds onto hard wood floors, haha!

When I was two, I got a riding toy in the shape of a shoe.  Our driveway was at an incline (street at the top, garage at the bottom), so we would take our trikes, big wheels, or shoe, as it were, to the top of the driveway and would fly down the hill.  The shoe did not have pedals, but it didn't need them!  I could just pick up my feet and WHEEEEEEE!  We must have spent hours a day running up and riding down.  Same concept as sledding.

I sucked my thumb until I was four, and people often asked me what flavor it was.  I thought it was SUCH a dumb question, but I came up with a response so they would leave me alone, and I would answer "chocolate".  Similarly, I now tell people Susie's thumb tastes like strawberry when they say "does it taste good?"  Side note -- my teeth stayed straight. . . so I have a hard time worrying about Susie sucking her thumb.

My mom made us a special birthday cake every year.  I do not remember very many birthday presents, but I do remember what kind of cake we had.  She made a yummy whipped cream frosting for a round 2 layer cake that looked thick and a mile tall to a small child.  Sometimes the cake had a number candle, sometimes it had gumdrops decorating the top (or around the sides), I think it once had a plastic train for my brother's birthday, but the cake itself was the same shape and kind.  And birthday parties meant my mom's whole family came over, and pretty much hyper play time was the order of the day.  This first picture is of my 2nd birthday.  Someone had given me gum, and I was quite enjoying the gum, but not sure how to blow out my candles with gum in my mouth!  In a (soundless) home video, you see a hand reach out for me to put the gum in.  HAHA!  Classic!

Here is another birthday picture, this time, my third.  You can see my sister Anna in the background being held up by her big brother!  So funny!  The other kids are my cousins Robbie and Rachel.  I love how we (the big kids -- hee hee) are so dressed up, while poor baby Anna is already in her jammas!  For whatever reason, I remember quite a few birthday celebrations taking place after church at our house.  This cake was especially decorated with gumdroppy fruit slice candies!  

One time on my birthday, I got to go to "Johnny's Toys" which was a local toy store in Cincinnati and pick out something from the birthday room.  I think I may have been 4 or 5, but I can't remember.  I do however, remember the TOWER of toys in that room, all wrapped in the same red and white striped wrapping paper.  What to choose?  You could only get one!  The shelves seemed to groan with red and white packages, and I blindly chose . . . a clown doll.  It was okay, but maybe not a girl's dream come true present!  

Gretchen age 5
However, there was one year when my dream DID come true!  What on earth could I have wanted more in 1984 than a . . . CABBAGE PATCH DOLL?  Oh me, oh my, we wanted wanted wanted those cute things.  My mom caught the fever with us because she thought they were adorable, too.  And hard to come by for a while there.  That's why, when we came upon a whole slew of them in a store right before Anna's birthday, Mom told us each to pick one out.  Anna would get hers for her birthday, and we'd have to wait until our birthdays came.  Anna picked a red-haired braided girl named Maude Marcella, and I found Catalina Jackie who was wearing a ruffly blue dress with a pink rosette.  Nathan chose a boy Cabbage Patch (Geoffrey something).  When May 15th came, and Anna had her birthday, there was ADORABLE red-headed Maude at her party, and I was soooooo jealous!  I had to wait until July 26th to get my turn!  The next day, Nathan hatched a plan (he was much like his A-team hero, Hannibal).  He and I would rake the yard (it was freshly mowed) without being asked and then request our dolls early (his was super early, his birthday wasn't until January).  I don't know if the sight of 2 little kids trying to earn her favor caused my mom to cave, or if she was planning all along to let us have them early, but she agreed to let us open our precious dolls that day.  I can still remember exactly how it felt to hold a new doll for the first time after she was finally freed from her package (remember those early oddly shaped Cabbage Patch boxes?  The top was smaller than the bottom, so you had to open the doll from the bottom.).  Those Cabbage Patches were our hands-down FAVORITE toys for many years.  I am so sad that I do not have a picture of me with Catalina to share with you here. 

Those were my preschool years!  Not a great deal of happenings, but that is how life goes, quite often.  I remember a good number of golden days and fun at home with my parents and my siblings.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Reading for ME!

The other day my husband asked me if I were going to read another Charles Dickens book this summer.  That has been my tradition for the last six summers or so, but I honestly hadn't thought about my own summer reading yet this year!  We've had 3 straight weeks of CRAZYNESS with travel, VBS and Josh's summer class, so I don't really feel like I've moved into summer mode yet.  I am, however, looking forward to a few pool days, and hopefully some afternoons of reading outside (I am not one to hate the heat. . . I wait all year for it!).

So I decided I would pick up The Olde Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, which I started last summer, but did not finish (as a new mother of a newborn, I kept falling asleep every time I went to read a few pages!!).  I jumped back into the story, and was surprised how much of the story I instantly remembered from reading it last summer.  I just love the female protagonist (which is rare in Dickens), and am already quite bound to her plight!

I picked out this book shopping in a bookstore right before Susie was born, and just LOVE holding a good paperback and reading it.  However, if you are interested, here is a link to a free online edition of the book.  I would personally suggest buying books from brick and mortar bookstores, but that's just me, old fashioned and sentimental. . . like the book I'm currently reading, I suppose. :) 

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Eaglet

Today I'd like to recommend a little book called The Eaglet by Jim Elliff which is a simple yet powerful story of the gospel. I was reminded of how much I loved this book this week during VBS, when the younger classes read it in their lesson time on the night they learned about Salvation.

A baby eaglet that lives in a nest above a deep gorge is told not to try to fly from the nest, but gives in to the temptation to try to fly and be independent anyway (which is a great analogy for Adam and Eve's sin in the garden). The eaglet is plunging
to his death, unable to rescue himself, because his little wings are not nearly powerful enough to save himself. The eaglet cries out for help and the father eagle suddenly swoops down and saves the eaglet. What a beautiful story of salvation! It makes me so thankful for my great God who rescued me when I could not save myself!

My friend Caffy Whitney (wife of Don Whitney, who has written many books on spiritual disciplines) is an excellent artist, and she the artwork for The Eaglet. You can click here to download the entire book, or just the illustrations, if you wanted to use them to "tell" the story yourself. I just love it when you find a good resource for FREE! Of course, if you want to buy this book, you certainly can, it is incredibly inexpensive! Here is the link for ordering information.

I am linking up to Feed Me Books Friday over at Adventures of Motherhood, so check it out for other children's book recommendations!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

My name is Gretchen Brooke -- Chapter one in my life story

This is chapter one in my life story, which I'm linking up at Mommy's Piggy Tales, where we're writing 15 parts to our story.

As I began to think about how to write this first chapter of my life, I was overcome with sadness thinking about my mom. Looking at the tiny pictures of frail, newborn Gretchen makes my heart long for and hurt for my mother. I was a baby my parents waited and waited and prayed for, and yet when I finally came, there was sorrow mixed with the joy. Let me tell yo
u what happened.

My mom and dad prayed for a child for 7 years of their marriage, and the Lord answered their prayers by giving them my brother, through adoption. When he was only 9 months old, my mom found out she was pregnant with me! Here is a
picture of her pregnant with me and posed with my brother Nathan and Aunt Pat. From what mom told me, her first pregnancy was fairly easy, though coffee made her a bit nauseous (I know because it made me sick with Susie, and Mom told me how she once had to turn away from a coffee commercial!). I arrived exactly a month before my due date, after 30-some hours of labor (in the midst of Pete Rose's hitting streak in 1978, my dad has told me). The pages and pages of paper documenting Mom's contractions my dad referred to as "wallpaper for the baby's room" because there were so many! Finally, the doctor did a c-section, and I was born, 6 lbs, 2 ounces (amazingly, my daughter Susie was 6 lbs 2.7 ounces!!).

I'm not sure how quickly my condition was discovered, but pretty soon they could see I was born with a congenital heart defect -- a narrowing and lengthening of the aortic valve, and I was struggling for life. At 4 days, I underwent open heart surgery -- a clipping and mending of the valve, something that is almost never done anymore. As a child my mom told me stories about the tiny baby I was, fighting for life. The nurses called me "spider monkey" be
cause I was long and skinny -- and spirited. They had to tie down my hands so I didn't pull the needles out of my head, and I would kick and kick and kick the one leg that was free -- dressed only in a diaper and one sock. Oh, I am so thankful I have these memories of Mom telling me these stories! How frightened my poor mother must have been! I can only imagine the fear related to watching your tiny baby go through something that drastic. On this day last year, my sister in law went through something similar as her newborn had exploratory brain surgery. I spent the day clutching my newborn Susie and praying through my tears, my mind fathoming how Kari could be feeling for her child to have such a surgery. That was my taste of my mom's experience -- not the same, I know, but even that close was incredibly intense!

I chose one of my favorite pictures of my mom holding me to post on here. Because of the situation surrounding my birth, there are very few pictures of me as a newborn, and even fewer of my mom with me. But this picture is dated 8-1-1978, which would have been the day after my surgery. Mom is feeding me a bottle, but I know she was a dedicated nurser, so I imagine this was breastmilk that she had pumped (though I'm not sure). How glad she must have been to be able to hold her new baby! She herself would have been recovering from her surgery (I know how that felt!), and probably dealing with the hormones and the real emotions as well.

Though I can't quite relate with the depth of her experience, I can relate with some of how she felt -- she was 31 when she had me, and I was about to turn 31 when I had Sus. She had been married for over 8 years, and I celebrated my 8th anniversary in the hospital with a newborn in my arms. She had prayed for a child, and I did the same, for many years. I know how much my mother cherished her children, and I feel the exact s
ame way about my wee girl.

My parents chose the name Gretchen Brooke for me (and my last name was Benzing -- amazingly enough, my pediatric cardiologist was named George Benzing! We were distant relatives). If I were a boy, I would have been Nicholas (they kept that name on deck for the next 3 girls as well, but never got the chance to use it!). Gretchen was chosen because I have an ancestor in Germany whose name was Margretta, and Gretchen is a form of that name. I think my mom must have just liked it. Brooke was after a dear friend of my mother's, Brooke Riddle. She had taught in public school with Mom, and was a godly Christian woman who knew how to open her home and make everyone feel right at home. Mom made sure I knew why I was named after Brooke -- she did have an extraordinary gift for hospitality. . . and still does to this day! I always loved Brooke Riddle, and loved my name as well.

The last picture I'm sharing is of the day I finally
came home from the hospital. I'm laying my Aunt Sandy's lap, and my Aunt Kay is sitting on the couch next to her, holding my cousin Rachel. I just love the way Mom is crouching by the couch talking to Sandy about me. It reminds me of those early days with Sus, and sitting on the couch with my sister Abby, enjoying the tiny newborn in every possible aspect!

I received excellent care at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and continued to have good reports from Dr. Benzing throughout my life. My heart defect never slowed me down participating in sports in childhood, or in my adult life, carrying a baby to term and going through labor. What a mighty God we serve who can not only heal a frail tiny baby, but strengthen the hearts of their parents to trust in Him as they helplessly stand by and watch. I saw this last year with my nephew Sawyer, and know it was true for my parents as well.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Road Trips and Audio Books

If you, like me, think of a summer-time road trip as the perfect opportunity to listen to audio books, then this post is for you! I fell in love with "books on tape" (which I STILL accidentally call audio books all the time!), one summer in college when I would listen to whatever I could find at the library during my commutes to my summer job. At that time, I most enjoyed non-fiction audio books read by the author (still my favorite way to hear a biography), and now I have also found that I equally enjoy fiction read by a performer.

Last week, I ended up driving alone during part of our trek (we had 2 vehicles -- long st
ory), and I was ever so glad that a co-worker had given me The Book of the Dun Cow to listen to as I drove! I haven't quiet finished the 7+ hour CD set, but this classic tale is just phenomenal! I would hardily endorse this book as a good family-time read aloud for older children, or, get the audio book for your family road trip! In case you aren't familiar with this 1970's Book of the Year award winner, I'll give you a bit of the storyline. The book is set during a time when God had the animals rule the earth, and kept Wyrm (who is a Satan-like figure) in bondage in the depths of it. The animals can speak and they are unknowingly Wyrm's keepers. The animals live together in farm-like settings, and the rooster is the leader of each coop. The animals are very real-to-life in their day-to-day activities and character traits. For example, the hero of the book, Chauntecleer, is prideful, somewhat snobbish and vain, and somewhat comical (like a rooster), but is also a truly good leader who sacrifices himself to protect the animals in and around his coop. Wyrm is able to influence another coop up-river from Chauntecleer, and the story builds to a dramatic good-versus-evil struggle to the end. The story is loosely based on one of the Canterbury Tales, and does an excellent job painting God as sovereign over His creation. I'm just loving it.

Here are a few other audio books I have enjoyed in the past:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke -- a good choice if you are driving coast to coast or flying around the world. This baby is 32 hours long but absolutely totally and positively worth it. This link will let you download this book for just $7.49!! Wow! I paid the full price for the CDs back in the day.

John Newton from Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken -- wonderful biography that brought me to tears at certain points. Because the author deals honestly with Newton's sinful pre-conversion lifestyle, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this one for the whole family. Perhaps older teens and adults.

Classics of the Christian Faith narrated by Max McClean -- this box set is a collection of historical works including Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, Jonathan Edward's famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and others. Because each individual work is shorter, I would recommend this for a shorter road trip. What a great way to read these important works that can otherwise be a bit tedious even for adults (a favorite for me is Martin Luther's "Here I Stand" speech -- I've listened to it over and over).

1776 by David McCullough -- I listened to this one the same year as I visited Fort Ticonderoga in New York. Did I mention I love audio books where the author reads his own work? David McCullough has such a gift for writing AND reading his history books.

Here are a few audio books I have on deck, ready for the next road trip:

God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew -- excited to hear this biography!

The Cross and the Switch Blade by David Wilkerson -- this one looks good for a family to listen to together.

The Brother's Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky -- at 19 hours, I'll need a nice long trip to listen to this classic!

Do you have favorite audio books you think I should check out?