VOL FOR LIFE Lessons

Love. Math Skills. Patience. And UT Football. These are the things my husband, Eric, brings to the parenting table. I admit when I started dating Eric at the University of Tennessee, I wasn’t a huge football fan. I went to the games, but I really only cared about if we won because that would dictate how fun the parties would be that night. Fortunately, we had a full nine months of dating before the season started so that he could bring me around.

Little did I know that his (and now my) love of UT Football would be a cornucopia of life lessons for our children. 

Vol For Life LessonsHere are 7 Vol For Life lessons for my kids:

  1. Tradition is important. UT Football isn’t just a game. It is a TRADITION. I married into a family that is steeped in this tradition. If it is a Saturday and the Vols are playing, you are there cheering until you are hoarse the next day. We planned our wedding around the school calendar for the teachers, the harvest for the farmers, and the UT football schedule for the inlaws. Our Saturdays in the fall are reserved for the Orange, White, and Family. Watching and cheering on the Vols has given an opportunity for our oldest son, Ethan, to have a special bond with not only his Daddy but his Papa too. He loves to watch the game and ask a million questions so that he knows the ins and outs of how the game is played. UT football is a tradition for our whole family that will last a lifetime. Whether we win or lose, we don’t lose our tradition.
  2. My All.  We give our all for Tennessee. We don’t just roll into the parking lot right before the game. No. We warm up with a big tailgate. Make a mad dash to Peyton Manning Pass for the Vol Walk. Watching Ethan’s excitement as he brushes fingers with Coach Jones and all the players he idolizes on the field makes the huge crowd worth it. We tear up as we sing the alma mater, nearly come out of our skin with excitement as we watch the Pride of the Southland Band form the Power T, cheer wildly when we see the team storm through the T, sing Rocky Top at the top of our lungs, devour Touchdown Dogs, and third down for what like no one’s business. And we don’t just do this for the “big” games. Every. Dang. Game. And that is what you gotta do in life. You can do it halfway just to get through or give it your all and really live.
  3. Teachable Moments. Sometimes when you are giving it your all, you encounter people who take a whole different meaning to that saying. The week before the first game this season I had been talking to the kids about alcohol. I was trying to explain to them that when you had too much, it would cause you to make bad choices. When we were tailgating at Nissan Stadium, Ethan and I witness a man who was stumbling around and singing “Rocky Top” at the top of his lungs up and down the parking lot. At 10 a.m. I looked at Ethan and said, “Son, you remember when I said too much alcohol can cause you to make bad choices?” He answered, “Yea. You mean you can act a fool.” Bingo. Bless that man. I am sure he thought he was giving his all for Tennessee, but I am fairly certain he wasn’t standing by the time the game started four hours later. All kinds of lessons of what to do and not to do at games.
  4. Celebrate the wins. I was spoiled when I was a student at The University of Tennessee in the late 90s. We were on a great winning streak. We expected to win. We haven’t had a season like that in Ethan’s lifetime. Ethan was the only one in the family that could make the Georgia game because of other commitments we couldn’t get out of. It’s ok. He didn’t need us. He just met his Papa at a Truck Stop off the interstate and rolled on to Rocky Top without us. I was so glad he was there to experience that win. I had tears rolling down my face when I saw the players sitting on the wall in the end zone with the fans. They deserved that win and were basking in its glory. When I finally talked to Ethan a few hours later, I could still hear the excitement in his voice. It is important to take the time to celebrate the good times.
  5. Don’t let Defeat defeat you. Ah, there is always that other side of the coin. And unfortunately, we have had more experience with this side than we would like. That is the way life is though. Sometimes we work our butts off, think everything is going to go our way, and fail. And it sucks. And sometimes it isn’t fair. It is a really hard concept for a 9-year old boy (or even a 37-year old man). We can get mad when things don’t go our way. Sulk. Hang our head in defeat. Get ready to just throw all our plans out the window. And sometimes you do have to get your mad out. Last week after the loss to Bama, Ethan was heartbroken and spittin’ mad. We gave him some alone time. When that wasn’t enough, we had him run some laps around the house. Then my husband gave him a stick and told him to go hit a tree. (Laisseze Faire parenting at its finest 😉 After all that is said and done, we have to dust ourselves off, learn from our mistakes, and prepare for next week. But back to #1. Tradition. You don’t turn your back on your team.
  6. No one is perfect. There are eleven players…people…humans that are on the field. Not a one of them are perfect, but we expect them to never make a mistake. Every kick that is missed…reception that is dropped…ball that is fumbled. No one wants that play to be executed perfectly more than that player. And that player? I will blink and Ethan will be the same age as him. They are still kids growing into men with the pressure that I could not even begin to understand. They are going to make mistakes because they are human. The key will be for them to learn from the mistakes and practice to improve just like in real life. And we have to learn to not be so hard on others.
  7. It’s all about CHARACTER. Ethan has no less than six Peyton Manning jerseys (UT, Colts & Broncos, of course). Sure he is an amazing athlete, but he is an even more phenomenal man of character. I am proud to see Ethan wear his number on his chest. I gladly plastered a Fathead of Peyton on his bedroom walls. I am thankful for players like Joshua Dobbs who works his tail off on the field and in the classroom. Oh how he wishes he could have a Dobbs jersey!! Darn NCAA rules!! 😉

So now we are faced with a real grown up sized problem. The next game is Saturday night…in Lexington…on Halloween. It was a time of serious contemplation in our house. Travel 3.5 hours to Lexington to cheer on the Vols? Or Trick or Treat.

Dun Dun Dun!!!!!

Agony. Tears. Then…free candy won out. That is the great thing about tradition, we have a lifetime to cheer on the VOLS. But I am on borrowed time of having kids who still want to be kids.

And Ethan is dressing up as his other fav – Jalen Hurd.

Growing a #VFL

How Michael Myers Helped Me Through a Hard Time

How Michael Myers Helped Me Through a Tough TimeNothing like a good old Halloween marathon to make me nostalgic for my days with newborn babies.

Wait. What? How does Michael Myyers make you think fondly of sweet babies??

You see when I was younger I loved me a good horror movie. The scarier, the better in my opinion. I watched that majority of it through my hands or a blanket up to my face, but I still loved it. I loved to scream at the idiot, half dressed girl, “Don’t go in there!!!” I loved to jump and scream even if I knew it was coming. I laughed and laughed at myself for being so scared. And I always liked being surprised when there was a twist in the story.  “I did NOT see that coming!!”

Eventually, I grew out of my scary movie phase. Maybe it was because I had an Ethan, Ella, and Matthew to keep me up at night. I certainly didn’t need a Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, or Leatherface to keep me up at night too. Or maybe it was just that I saw Saw. Ha ha ha ha. Saw Saw. But seriously, Saw is the scariest movie I have ever seen. Now I can’t even watch a commercial for Annabelle without losing sleep.

But I digress.

I will always get a smile on my face anytime I see a Halloween marathon on TV. You see back in October of 2006, I had 2 sweet babies that I had to leave behind in the NICU. Unlike most new mamas, I couldn’t rock my sweet babies in the middle of the night. I had to leave my heart in the NICU 20 miles away.

But there was one thing I could do. I would set my alarm for every 2 – 3 hours, and I would pump breast milk that would help my very frail babies grow strong. As you could imagine, it was exhausting to pump so often around the clock. I would wake up, call the NICU to check on the babies, then I would hook myself up to the pump like a cow. In order to keep myself awake and entertain myself, I would turn on the TV. Since it was late October, I could always count on AMC to have an all night Halloween marathon to watch. At my midnight pumping, I would watch Halloween. My next one I would catch the end of Halloween II. As the sun was starting to rise, I would catch part of Halloween IV. (It worked out well that I missed Halloween III because everyone knows that is the worst!!)

My poor husband, Eric, begged me after one night of Halloween marathon to please, please not watch Halloween at night anymore. He had nightmares and heard the theme all night in his sleep. Do do do do do do do do. After getting very little sleep myself, I only felt a little bad 😉

Thinking back, that was one of the hardest times of my life. I was exhausted. Between getting my strength back from being in the hospital for three months, to delivering twins, living in a NICU all day, and pumping around the clock; I was beaten down physically. Not to mention the emotional toll of everything! Being separated from my babies was agony.

But God. God helped me through the very difficult time. He helped me find humor in the midst of it. He healed my heart so when I think back to a time filled with Halloween and tears, I would only reminisce with a smile.

Maybe you are going through a Halloween time. Have faith and cling to God. Some day you will be able look back, hopefully, with a smile.

John’s Legacy – Guest Post by Clair

John's Legacy

If you missed Clair’s first post, get caught up here.

October 2015

It’s been over a year since we lost our sweet John in the last moments of his delivery. I was told early on that he probably couldn’t survive without being fully reliant on me.  That scenario proved to be exactly what happened. We will always cherish the hours we got to spend with him after he was born, and the pictures provided to us by a Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photographer.

God truly blessed our family, and we were able to keep moving and looking ahead. On August 10th of this year, our sweet Lucy Cate was born, an 8 lb. 11 oz. healthy baby girl. As I write this blog, she is snuggled up against me sleeping.

So where am I these days with the loss of our sweet boy? What has God shown me? FAITH

The first time I went to see my grandmother after we received John’s diagnosis and prognosis, she gave me some advice that changed my way of thinking. You see, my sweet grandmother had a healthy baby girl. Later she experienced two miscarriages and the loss of her daughter who was born prematurely due to a fall. I can’t imagine what a difficult time that was in her life. Yet until this point, I had never even thought about her grief. She ended up with four healthy children, twelve grandchildren, and to date, eighteen great grandchildren. What a lucky woman, right? What a charmed life. But when she was not so far from my own age, she was relying on faith to get her through a difficult time.

So back to the advice. My sweet grandmother looked at me and said, “Sometimes we think things are going to go a certain way, and they don’t, and it’s hard. But it’s just like it is.” What some might consider harsh words changed the rest of my pregnancy. It was hard, but it was part of my story. My faith would get me through just like hers did.

I began to look at the many women in my life who had weathered hard times in different ways.  Their faith was something they all had in common. They never stopped believing; they just kept moving. I think we so often want to dwell on what’s happening right now and say, “Woe is me.  My life is so hard!” But have faith. God truly has a plan for you. Look at your parents, your grandparents, and you will see where faith played a role. When you feel stuck in a difficult time, look at the difficult times that others have pushed through and the blessings they found on the other side.

I will look back at this time in my life, and hopefully, be able to bless others with the fact that I had faith. I kept going. When my other children are old enough to truly understand John’s story, I want them to see that their parents trusted in God. I want to pass down this legacy of faith. God has a plan for me. God has my sweet John with him. God is good.

Clair and her husband Rob’s faith through such a heartbreaking time has been such an inspiration to me and everyone surrounding them.  Their faith gave them God’s peace and strength in the midst of a tumultuous situation.  Clair’s grandmother was very wise.  We are not guaranteed a smooth road on our journey; however, through our faith, God can help us not only keep going, but find His peace.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:7

Baby John, Guest Post by Clair

Baby JohnAside from my wonderful family, I thank God daily for the amazing girlfriends He has blessed me with in my life. In particular, I have a group of ladies that I have a book club with from church. Even though we have only read 1 – 2 books in the last four years, I know that God smiles down on our time together. You see we didn’t realize it when we started meeting in my playroom every other week, but God had handpicked this core group of 8 women. Over the years we would all share the bond of infertility, miscarriage or loss. He knew that we could support, love, and pray for each other like no other could.

My friend, Clair, went through a devastating and heartbreaking time last year when she was pregnant with her son, John. The strength and wisdom that she displayed was simply inspiring to everyone around her. I am so honored that she is sharing her story of how God sustained her through such a difficult time. The below is what she shared on her personal blog last year. On Thursday this week, she will share her insights she has gained in the last year.

Monday August 4, 2014

I have been considering returning to the blog for a while now, obviously I took an extra long break because I’m just not the best about blogging. A few weeks became a few months and then it just seemed too long. But, as many of you already know, we are expecting baby number three in just a few short days. While I’ve been pretty private about things for the last few months, lately I’ve been feeling like I should share my thoughts on the impending arrival of John.

John is due on August 24th, but we are expecting him to arrive this week. We found out in March that this sweet boy has Trisomy 18. At the time, they couldn’t tell us anything about how long we might have him with us. The timeline was anywhere from losing him sometime during the pregnancy to him living for years, but we always knew that most likely we were looking at a very short time with him. Now, it seems that the time to meet John has arrived. As of now, he’s still hanging on, but with some pretty serious issues that they found a few weeks ago. From what we understand, they do not expect him to live long at this point.  We are just hoping to say hello before we have to say goodbye.

After months of processing this information I know this…if there is one job I have as a mother to my boys, it’s to teach them about Jesus. It’s to help guide them so that one day they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It’s to help them grow into strong Christian men. It’s to help get them to Heaven. And now, with John, I’ll skip a lot of those steps, but I know he’s going to be in Heaven.

Do I want him to be here with me? Absolutely! Am I going to be so sad to lose a child, a person that I’ve loved and felt and carried since I found out about him in December? Of course. We pictured our lives with three boys under 4. We were preparing for the madness of a new baby along with two toddlers. I can still imagine these three boys growing up together, and I know it’s not going to happen. But something even better is waiting for John. He gets to skip all of the growing pains and mistakes of life. I get to see him again. I have years of hard work ahead to help mold my boys and hopefully to help lead them to make the decision for Christ. John is already going to be with Jesus. I can’t possibly ask for anything greater for my child.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly how Heaven works, and I won’t know until I’m there. But I like to think that John is going to meet my grandfather, who he’s named after and who I’ve always wanted to meet. I like to think that Celia, my aunt, who I’ve missed for the last three years, will be there waiting for him. She absolutely loved babies, and she loved me. Now she can love my sweet boy when I can’t be there. Not that he will even need anyone else there at all because John will finally be whole in the arms of Jesus, and that is the best love of all. I wish I could keep him here with me, but I’m excited for him to be with Jesus.

I know that the next few months are going to bring a wave of emotions. I know that I will have happy times and sad times. Good days and bad days. I know that I need prayers more than I ever have. But on the days when things are really tough, I can remind myself that he is in a better place than I can even imagine.

Two Hospitals in Three Hours – EEEKKS!!

Today we visited two hospitals in less than three hours.  EEEKKS!!

One visit was planned.  The other was…not.  Lemme explain.

Last weekend we had a combined birthday party for our three children.  They are all October babies, so we thought having a costume party would be a blast.  We decided that instead of asking for presents, we would ask for donations.  We asked the children to bring donations for the Centennial Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  We did this for several reasons:

1.  The Centennial NICU has a very special place in our hearts.  My twins were preemies and spent their first 5 weeks and 1 day of their life there.

2.  We thought it was important to teach our children the importance of charitable giving.

3.  We didn’t want any of the guests to feel like they needed to buy a present for all three of my kids.

4. We spoil them enough; my kids don’t need one more thing in their room!!

Today we loaded up 48 receiving blankets,12 bibs,12 onesies, 2, sleepers, 6 of the tiniest most precious pants, and over $100 in donations for the Centennial NICU.  The nurses were over the moon excited about the donations.  We even saw a nurse that was in the unit when Ethan and Ella was there, and she remembered them!

Southern Lady Mama - nicu donations

We had such a good conversation on the way home about how God wants us to show His love and help take care of His people.  They also had a lot of questions about my time in the hospital.  Ella asked me if I was scared.  I answered, “I was but God blessed me with such a peace that just isn’t possible without Him.  We had hundreds of people praying for me and you!”  It is amazing to me that God used this situation to not only strengthen my faith, but also as a way to teach my children about His love and faithfulness. They have a very real example about how your faith can give you peace in the worst of times.

We were home from the hospital for about ten minutes when my youngest, Matthew, hit his chin with his handlebars on his Razor scooter.  Hospital #2.  3 stitches.  It was a rather uneventful visit with the inevitable long doctor wait for the stitches.  After he had enough of the waiting, he started counting (quite loudly) “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi,” then sighed loudly and exclaimed, “Oh for Pete’s Sake!  This is ridiculous!!  1 Texas, 2 Texas, 3 Texas….”all the way up to 100 Texas 🙂

I feel so blessed that God gave me these three babies to raise to love Him, care for His people, and for Pete’s Sake – laugh.  Like A lot.

Miracles Born – Book Excerpt from “Full Heart Empty Womb”

In case you missed the letters leading up to this, you can find them here,here, and here 🙂

Book Excerpt from “Full Heart Empty Womb”

October 17 – Welcome to the World

The next morning they had me attached to the fetal monitors for awhile. I was borderline delirious because I hadn’t had any real sleep in almost 48 hours. I was also still in an enormous amount of pain. Lying on my side for the monitoring was excruciating. They were starting to talk about delivering again because the babies were not responsive. There was a constant stream of tears running down my face. They still had a strong heartbeat but they were lethargic….much like their mommy.

My OB came in to visit me. She was immediately alarmed when she looked at me. I told her about the pain. She asked me if I minded if she checked me for dilation. She checked me and I was four centimeters dilated. It was finally time to have my babies. My tears of pain and agony turned to tears of relief and happiness.

We sprung into action again. The phone tree was activated. My dad had just gotten on a plane to Chicago so he boarded a plane home as soon as he landed. My sister, Amy, made plane reservations to fly down later that week. Everyone else hopped in the car to drive to Nashville.

Within no time at all, the anesthesiologist came to administer my spinal tap. I remember he kept trying to get me to hunch over a little more so he could get it in the right spot. I am pretty sure I had a smart aleck reply about not being able to hunch over much more with my huge belly!

I lay back in bed and waited for them to whisk me away to the operating room. Eric still paced the room with a crazy look in his eyes. He had been through the emotional and physical ringer the last couple of days too. He didn’t get much more sleep than me. I also cannot imagine how difficult it would be to watch someone you love go through so much pain and not be able to do anything about it.

I was wheeled into the operating room with happy tears running down the sides of my face. I had made it. Praise the Lord for giving me the strength to get through the last eleven weeks.

There was a crowd of about 20 people in there. There was my OB and her nurses. The NICU staff was there with an incubator ready to transport the babies to the NICU after delivery. I had also consented to have some nursing students come in to observe the delivery. I guess I was a good learning case for them!

At 11:07am Ethan Brent Greer was born weighing a hefty four pounds four ounces. One minute later Ella Bailey Greer was born weighing four pounds. I didn’t get to hold or kiss either of them. I got a quick look at them in the incubator. They each had a nurse who had them bagged and was helping them breathe. And just like that they were gone to the NICU. And I immediately passed out. My work was done.

Final Thoughts

People may hear about my difficulty getting pregnant with Ethan and Ella and think I was pushing fate when we decided to go through fertility treatments. Maybe God just didn’t want us to have babies. After hearing about my struggles to just stay pregnant, they may think that we were still pushing something that just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe we just weren’t meant to be parents. It was a very bumpy road getting to here. Aren’t most of the roads worth traveling anything but smooth?

Today Ethan and Ella are healthy, normal eight year olds. They just started second grade. They have already been a blessing to our lives and to so many others’ lives. I can look at them today and see the potential that they have. Ethan is a little math genius like his Daddy and that makes me so proud. But it is his caring heart that brings me to my knees. Every night he prays from his heart for several people. I listen to his heartfelt prayers and know that he is straight from God. He tells me he wants to be a doctor or go into the military. How many lives will my baby save because we were brave enough to fight for his?

Ella has a love for reading like her Mama. She is always asking for five more minutes with her book before bed. But it is her nurturing heart that brings tears to my eyes. Since she has been in preschool she has always had at least one special needs child in her class. Ella always gravitates to them. She never looks at them as different. She just wants to be their friend and help them. She tells me that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. I can see her being a special education teacher like her Aunt Sharon. How many lives will she touch because we didn’t give up on hers? I also know without a doubt that she will be a wonderful mother. How many more generations of children will come from us because we didnt give up on our family?

Ethan and Ella then and now

God was at work in our very bumpy road. He never guaranteed us or anyone a smooth road to parenthood or anything else for that matter. This bumpy road taught me so many lessons that made me a better mom, wife, and daughter in Christ that I would never take for granted.

It is hard for me to read this and think this all happened nine years ago.  The memories are still so fresh.  Now the tears are happy.  Little did I know that this was just the start of my journey.  With my 20/20 rearview mirror vision, I am thankful for my very bumpy road and the ability it has given me to relate and encourage women.  If you know someone that is dealing with infertility or has in the past, please share “Full Heart Empty Womb: How I Survived Infertility … Twice” with them.  It may be just the encouragement that they need on their very bumpy road.

“Today Should Be Your Birthday” Letters to Ethan & Ella – October 16th

In case you miss the first two letters, you can find them here and here.

October 16, 2006

Let Me OUTTA HEREDear Ethan and Ella,

I am trying so hard to stay strong for you. I didn’t sleep a wink last night because I was in so much pain. My nurse told me that it was her goal this shift to get me in the delivery room. I feel so conflicted. I am excited to finally meet you, but I know that you still need more time to develop and grow. But I am just in so much pain.  I am praying for strength.

I have a whole team of doctors that take care of me. They have one mission – keep me pregnant for as long as they can so that you can grow. They have hammered it into my head that every day that I stay pregnant is four less days that you will be in the NICU. The last eleven days I have been on an IV of a drug called Magnesium Sulfate to help slow the contractions. All the other drugs have lost their effectiveness. I thought I was on the highest dose. When the doctor came to see me this morning he increased my dose once again. I will not get to meet you today, and I am so sad.

I have never cried or complained to any of my doctors or nurses the whole time I have been here. Today I cried. I cried because I was disappointed. I cried because I was in so much pain. I cried because I was exhausted. I cried because I felt guilty. How selfish of me to want you to be born any sooner? I begged the doctor to at least give me something to settle my stomach and help me sleep.

Daddy didn’t even go to work today. He didn’t want to leave my side. I am so glad he stayed. Unfortunately the sleep meds didn’t work on me. Instead of making me sleep they just made me delirious. I would nod off for a minute then jolt up and feel like I had to go to the bathroom. By the afternoon I couldn’t even walk to the restroom without his help.

Four less days in the NICU…..Four less days in the NICU…..Four less days in the NICU….

Can’t wait to see you,

Mommy

Stay tuned tomorrow for an excerpt from “Full Heart Empty Womb: How I Survived Infertility … Twice” when Ethan and Ella were born 🙂