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the scariest day of my life


Ten years ago today was the scariest day of my life. Waking up my two-year-old daughter at 5:00 am, getting her ready, and heading out the door felt like pure torture. She didn’t understand where we were heading to, even though I had tried to explain it to her. My husband and I drove to the hospital in near silence – both of us handling this extreme fear in our own way. {I wish I knew then what I know now about breathing techniques to calm nerves – it would have been extremely helpful.} I don’t remember too much about arriving, checking in, etc. My first vivid memory is having to hand over my very confused and upset baby to the nurse, who kindly let her take her stuffed animal with her, knowing she was heading into a very serious operation – open heart surgery. They were about to open up my baby’s perfect body, put her on a heart lung machine, and perform a very rare operation fixing two defects in a completely new way – it was beyond agony. My husband and I barely talked for the next 4-5 hours during the operation. I remember eating in the cafeteria at some point, but that’s about all.

When we got the call that she was out of surgery and doing well, the weight became so much easier to bear. All we wanted was to see our sweet angel – and know that she was doing okay. However, the rest of the afternoon, evening, and into the next morning were not an easy patch of time either. She came out of her anesthesia extremely thirsty and full of fighting energy. They tried about five different medications to calm her down (which freaked both of us out so much – questioning what sort of drug concoction were they putting into our two year old?!)… but none of them worked – they only seemed to make her more anxious. She stayed fully alert from that afternoon well into the night – and only dozed a couple times – all the while begging me for water, which I couldn’t give her. We tried letting her suck on a damp sponge so she wouldn’t ingest too much liquid, but even that made her cough – her esophagus was not ready to swallow after having the oxygen tubes down her throat. I just sort of bent over the railing of the hospital bed and laid my head next to hers and patted her where it wouldn’t hurt – telling her I loved her and that everything was going to be okay. I kept telling her she would get water soon. Do you know how hard it is to reason with a two-year-old who is extremely thirsty? It wasn’t an easy task. Somehow we made it through that night.

She was such an amazing trooper during her hospital stay. We played with stuffed animals, took naps, and even walked around the intensive care unit with a little purse and princess phone. I had to be her advocate while in the hospital – realizing that sometimes doctors order tests that are not necessarily needed. I asked them to wait on another bronchoscopy – her fluid from her lungs wasn’t clearing as fast as they wanted. However, they were going to have to put her under anesthesia again for this, and I did not want that to happen if at all possible. It turned out that I was correct – she cleared up on her own. She was potty trained, and the nurses kept wanting her to be in diapers. She wasn’t having it! So we had them bring a little portable potty for next to her bed. This little lady was so much happier. At one point she got tired of the drainage tubes and pulled them out – I never saw a nurse react so fast! Apparently this is very dangerous, since infection could have been a result. Luckily they fixed her up really quickly and we didn’t have any bad effects from that snafu.

Six days later, she and I left the hospital – I had been lucky enough to have been able to stay with her the entire time. They even didn’t fuss about me sleeping next to her in her hospital bed. On the drive home, I realized that a gigantic weight had been lifted from my shoulders… an actual empty spot in my consciousness where the built up fear and anxiety from this impending procedure had been. What a relief to have this behind us now – and all had gone well!

Her recovery was swift. We actually had to try to keep her less active – as she wanted was to play, run around, and be her usual self, almost immediately. I vividly remember her walking around the neighborhood about one or two days after coming home – she wanted to be outside with all the kids – and my neighbors were shocked! This was only a week and a couple days after a major operation!

This experience changed me. I have a strong perfectionist streak in my personality. Going through this health challenge with my child – it brought me to a new perspective on EVERYTHING. I can’t really wrap words around it – even today. I just know I am forever adjusted, and I 100% believe it was in a good way.


A good quote that explained how I felt preparing for and going through with this scary life event: “Just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean you aren’t brave. Being brave means doing what you have to do, no matter how scared you feel.” (from Franklin Goes to the Hospital

Mom - Suzee, I just read this… I remember how scared you were…and as your mama I so wanted to comfort you but none of us knew what was ahead and I had no words, just hugs. Thank you, God, that our precious Eva is such a fighter and that her doctors and nurses were so capable and well prepared!!!
I remember the day I came over to your house after Eva’s surgery When I rang the doorbell, that little stinker came running to the door to answer, full of energy. I was both amazed and grateful at the same time.

{new} thoughts on messiness

Having always been somewhat of a neat-nick, I have thankfully gotten over my desire for perfection. However, I still would love to have a home that reflected my personal cleanliness level. A thought I had the other day changed my perspective instantly. As I was {somewhat resentfully} cleaning my house, I was thinking, ‘someday I will live in a clean house’. My mind immediately carried that thought forward ~ when this ‘someday’ would be… Realizing in that moment that the only time I will ever live in a house that doesn’t need endless picking up is when I no longer live with the people I love. It stopped me in my tracks. Woah. I like living with these people ~ like thinking of not living with them makes me dizzy and sad. I definitely would appreciate new habits that make less continual mess ~ but I will take a bit of chaos for this chapter of my life and try to see it in a new light.

beautiful mess


a thank you note to Luna


photo credit: David Carlile (aka, my brother)

Dear Luna,

Hey there! I’m a bit belated in writing this thank you note, but I have not forgotten. When I first heard of the party you were throwing on September 27, a total lunar eclipse of a supermoon, I knew for sure that I’d be attending, especially since the kids on our cul-de-sac were planning to all come together to watch. Then, disappointingly I realized we’d be missing the start of the party due to the fact that my daughter had band rehearsal, which she couldn’t miss. Luckily rehearsal ended early, and as we were driving home we kept trying to get a peek of your spectacle. We got quick glimpses (which took our breath away because your new look was so unique and we hadn’t know what to expect)… and were looking forward to joining our friends for the rest of the party. Our route quickly became a journey of understanding that this drive was part of the party you had intended for US to experience.

photo credit: David Carlile

photo credit: David Carlile

photo credit: David Carlile

photo credit: David Carlile

As we drove, we saw them ~ hundreds of people who also wanted to share your special night with you. They lined the hilltops which overlooked valleys ~ pulling over their cars, walking, or riding their bikes just to glimpse your ever-changing reddish glow. (I so badly wish I had my sense to take a photo of their silhouettes.) While en route to OUR party, we also got a call from my brother’s wife to let us know they had driven to a great spot to watch you in your glory … so we pulled over with them for a few minutes to share in their excitement ~ my niece giddy and jumping and squealing with excitement. There too, were hundreds of others who had come out of their cozy abodes to wonder at you. The sense of belonging to a greater family filled my heart. After leaving my brother’s family, we drove on towards home. As we entered our own street ~ there they were ~ more “Earth family” members (aka our neighbors) ~ joining in the marvel at your special treat for us. Kids on our street brought out their large telescope, others just stood and stared, and shared, and smiled, and oohed and ahhhed… Your red beauty, your magnificence, your watchful eye changing before our eyes ~ all of us sharing in this together and touching our souls so deeply ~ it was such a gift! For this I thank you. For this gift of belonging, for this gift of understanding that our little lives are truly part of a much bigger, much longer story ~ I thank you. I will be remembering this Earth party fondly ~ and sharing what I learned that night.

photo credit: David Carlile

photo credit: David Carlile

You are magnificent. I enjoy you every time I see you, but thank you for dancing with the sun on this particular night, and getting all dressed up for us to wonder and see you again with fresh eyes. Thank you for bringing us out, bringing us together, and reminding us to look up, and outside ourselves, from time to time.

In wonder & appreciation ~

an open letter to Malala

Malala theater

Malala ~ an unexpected blessing entered my life early last week… someone invited me to attend a pre-screening to your upcoming film He Named Me Malala (opens in theaters in New York and LA on 10/2 and nationally 10/9). I truthfully didn’t know much of your story, other than that you had won a Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out on behalf of education for girls in a region that had moved backwards on that issue. Expecting to be touched at a gut level of what an amazing girl you are ~ I was definitely not disappointed. However, I was truly surprised at the gentle, soft, normalizing depiction of how you (and your father) spoke bravely amongst extreme conflict and danger. Your film shows just how “average” you are ~ silly arguments with your brothers, crushes on boys, disappointing grades at school, and shyness when addressing certain subjects. I wonder, where do you feel your bravery came from? Did you always feel empowered and brave? Do you feel your parents simply don’t limit your ability to express yourself? Did you somehow know instinctively that if you didn’t speak, no one would? Most of us get caught up in the “what ifs” ~ how did you move beyond them?

About your father ~ how blessed you are that he ‘never clipped your wings’ (from his TED talk)! What do you think makes him able to view the world through his own lens ~ not the lens of the perceived majority (or at least the current rulers)? He chooses to see you for the magnificent person you are, and always did from the moment you were born. And your mama! She doesn’t share too much with us, but it’s so evident that she also embraces your choices and purpose in life.

What most amazes me about you is your quiet resilience. Even after being shot in the head and nearly dying, you choose not to feel hatred towards your attackers ~ not even a “quark” of anger. That says so much! You can see it is the mental illness of the movement backwards, the constricting and dangerous nature of the extremists in your homeland that needs to be dealt with ~ not the actual humans who carried out the attack against you (well, they should be personally held responsible also, but possibly not hated for their inability to see their flawed and cruel actions).

I’m the curious sort… so the question I am left wondering after seeing your film is, do you feel that most people in your home region believe that girls’ education is important and valuable, but they are just too fearful to speak and/or act out in opposition of the extremists? Do you feel that your viewpoint is the norm there, or the exception? Are you speaking a truth shared by many, or are your ideas new and a teaching message instead?

Malala 3
I’m also a mama (thus a female!) of two beautiful girls. I just cannot imagine their (or my) possibilities being so restricted by a mania of a distorted selection of people in power. How deeply that must affect you and the other females from your homeland! It makes me so baffled to wonder how treating half of the population with such disregard can be accepted by so many.

It’s funny ~ I sort of expected to be blasted by a loud, in your face message of “look what Malala did” in your film ~ and that’s not at all what I got. I got a soft message, whispering in my ear saying, “Suzee, if she can speak, so can you…” We are ALL enough. We ALL have voices. Thank you Malala for whispering to me, and not shouting. May peace reign again soon in your homeland. May girls and women be valued for their magnificence ~ and may they be allowed to attend school, and carry out their lives as they wish with purpose and without fear, and most importantly with voices that can be heard and faces that can be seen.

Peace to you and your family Malala. May your strength to speak out continue to inspire all of us for many, many moons.

: Suzee

P.S. On a completely different note, I just LOVED the art throughout the film! The subtly in which the past events were so keenly depicted by these paintings-come-to-life was such an amazing touch! The artist in me wants to have a whole other discussion with the person/people responsible for that aspect of the film.

Want to dive deeper?

On the kindness of strangers…seven months later


This, by no means, is the best picture I’ve ever taken. It won’t win any awards, the kids don’t look extra cute, it doesn’t even necessarily tell a clear story. It’s just a picture of some smiling people standing on the side of the road.   The little girl is holding something, but what the heck is it?  In any case, this picture is proudly displayed in our home.  Not a single member of my family can walk by it without smiling,  perhaps even touching it, pausing to reflect on what happened that day.  You see this picture was taken just after one of the most traumatic moments of our kids’ lives.

In this picture, my Razzie is holding our beloved cat, Candy. We thought we’d just lost her forever.  And those guys with my kids? They are two of the three heroes that saved her.

Here’s the story.

While driving across country on our move from Georgia to El Paso, we stopped for gas and lunch in Natchitoches (pronounced Nackaditch), Louisiana, on our way to Dallas, TX, to visit family and friends. The cars were full of gas, the kids were pottied and fed. Just as Ellie was closing the van door, Candy somehow did some master ninja moves (she’d been agitated on the drive), wriggled herself from her harness,  jumped out of the car and darted down a storm drain!

The kids were in a panic (really, ZZ was screaming), Steve and I embarked on Operation Save Candy.  I ran into the Burger King so they could call Animal Control and Steve started investigating where the drain tunnels led, and hopefully ended.  The good news: the drains didn’t lead anywhere and it most likely Candy would come back out where she entered.  The bad news, the “Animal Control Guy” told us that poisonous gasses could possibly be down there and there’s a chance she wouldn’t survive. Nonetheless, a nice guy named Larry stopped to help, and was able to pull the lid off the drain so it was easier to see what was going on down there. He said he had nowhere to go and he was going to see this thing out with us.  The “Animal Control Guy” told us that “if” Candy was alive, she’d most likely come out…eventually.  My sweet husband noticed that hotel you see in the background and had already decided that worst case, we’d get a room and take shifts.  A plan was in place.

We’d also happened to stop by a spiritual store in New Orleans, so the girls were busy praying to Jesus,  as well as using the Make-A-Wish  and Come-To-Me potions we’d purchased in there.  They were desperate, folks.  ZZ was still crying and Gus was advising everyone to stay calm and be patient.  Solid, that kid, he’s solid.  Fast forward forty-five minutes later, all of us were still sitting outside the of the drain and Mr. Animal Control remembered he’d rescued some kittens that happened to be in his truck.  He also had a cat grabber that he reassured our children multiple times wouldn’t hurt candy if she happened to make an appearance.  The fast food restaurant workers came out periodically to get updates.

A little back story here.  Candy had only been a part of our life for six months, since Christmas Day, to be exact. Nope, she wasn’t a present from us.  There was no plan for a Christmas surprise on our part. Unbeknownst to us Razzie had asked for a “real cat” for Christmas, but knew that since that was highly unlikely realistic stuffed animal cats would be great, too.  We may have helped Santa out a bit with those stuffed cats, but it turns out that Santa had his own surprise.  Just after midnight on Christmas morning, I went to take out the trash and there was an adorable little kitty at our front door. We took her picture, told the kids about how she came to wish them a Merry Christmas, only to have her return Christmas morning as we were opening presents.  And that’s how our Candy joined our family, a real Christmas Miracle, we like to believe.

Anyway, back to Candy and the drain. There we were, almost an hour later staring at the drain.  Mr. Animal Control brought over the kitten and asked one of the kids to hold her near the opening.  Larry the Good Samaritan was still there, too.  And the cat grabber was in place.  And guess what,  in the shadows, that sweet gray face we know in love, faintly appeared at the edge of the tunnel.  We knew we had ONE chance.  We knew that if Mr. Animal Control didn’t get her on that first try, there would be no telling when she’d come out again.  And…success!!!  He grabbed her with his contraption and Ellie snatched her up and secured  her in the carrier right away. More tears.  Happy ones this time, and lots of them.

Sewer man showed up after the rescue and Mr. Animal Control left to go rescue more animals, so he’s not even in the picture and Sewer guy is, but I kind of think that makes the photo even better. Doesn’t sewer guy look happy?  We did get Animal Contol Guy’s name and Larry the Good Samaritan’s address and this week, seven months later, I’m finally sending the thank you notes from our littles and they are EACH getting a copy of this photo.

It’s been a long time and they may have not even thought about us or this rescue since.  But we think about it all of the time.  We are forever grateful. These guys, even the Sewer Guy, will always be heroes to us. Without the kindness of strangers, we wouldn’t have our Candy with us today.  So friends, go do something nice today, pay it forward, spread the love, you have no idea the lasting effects that your kindness will have.