Wednesday, November 25, 2015


We’re upon one of my favorite weeks of the year – Thanksgiving Week! It’s a short school and work week, there’s a plethora of delicious food and quality family time to be had, my birthday is generally thrown into the mix (depending on where the 24th falls in regards to Thanksgiving), as well as a traditional day of shopping with my mother- and sister-in-law on Black Friday. So, on this Thanksgiving Eve, I thought it appropriate to show a bit of gratitude for what I have and where I’ve been this year. Two-thousand-and-fifteen taught me some life lessons, as well as led me down a few rocky roads (that produced its share of tears along the way), but the journey carried me to a new destination – one of self-discovery, where peace, love and joy are present more in my life than ever before. And, I feel truly blessed.

My love
First, and foremost, I have a God that loves me despite my daily flaws, and a family that loves me nearly just as much as My God does! It’s hard to fathom being absolved of my daily shortcomings over and over again, and yet still being blessed with enormous grace, but that’s the God I serve. This year brought me face-to-face with some eye-opening moments of personal failure, yet My God knows my intentions, and he knows those are genuine, and for that, I am thankful. He loves me despite how many times I mess up, and he even sent his own son to the cross so I could live a life of liberty here on this earth he created. Pretty amazing stuff!

What makes me equally amazed is that My God loves and trusts me so much he gifted me a man that truly is my soul mate, and two boys that our love created together. We aren’t “perfect”, but my family-of-four is pretty fantastic. I have two children that believe in God, and know where to find him. They pray every day at their school, and at home, and are becoming good Christian beings. They are two boys who would rather be home hanging with their mommy and daddy on any given day than anywhere else. They know where their heart is most content, and where they are always safe and sound.

I have a husband who is my very best friend, and that makes me the center of his universe on most days, including on my birthday, when, every year, he plans a little something special that includes family and close friends. Yesterday was no exception! In addition to a new car stereo for my Toyota Highlander that is approaching 160,000 miles (me and my Highlander are “tight”…I will be driving her until she kicks the bucket!), he arranged dinner downtown at Joe’s Crab Shack for my family and our “besties”. It was a festive night of celebration. Jack Sparrow serenaded me to “The Birthday Song.” I’m one lucky girl.
All my "little friends" with Jack Sparrow at Joe's Crab Shack on my 39th birthday celebration.

My discovery
This year, I’m thankful to have discovered a peace of mind, body, heart and soul through meditation. I’d heard of the term meditation from many in Hollywood-and-beyond, who touted its therapeutic abilities. I had even known a few people through the years that gave it a whirl, but it was never in my realm of consideration. I was far too busy and harried with life’s daily demands to take time out for something like that each day, which in and of itself turns out to be counter-intuitive!

The basic act of meditation involves becoming present and aware of the now, and nothing else, which entails shutting down the constant chatter of the mind. Our minds truly can be our very worst enemies. I can attest that my mind has kept me vehemently stuck in the muck of the past, or has drawn me into a cycle of perpetual worry of the future, while my present continued to coast right on by without me.

I was first exposed to this our-mind-is-not-“us” way of thinking back in 2010 when I read Eckhart Tolle’s Practicing the Power of Now.  Although Tolle and his writings were reinforced by Oprah and her acclaimed book club, his teachings were far too “zen” for me. Not to add, how on earth do you achieve that type of awareness when you’re a full-time working mom of a few real high-maintenance off-spring? And, so I continued on with my multi-tasking ways in the counter-productive existence I was leading.

In 2012, during a time in my life when the pain of the past had truly taken hold of my entire household, The Untethered Soul drew me back to this mindset of finding enlightenment through the path of spiritual consciousness, by reminding me of that adversary I had deep within - “my mind.” By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, this read was powerful at a time when I truly needed something to just carry me away, like an old Calgon commercial. It proposed a practical perspective that made complete sense to me – it clarified how the development of consciousness can enable us to become present, allowing one to let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization. I read it and completely agreed with so much of what the author (and spiritual teacher), Michael Singer, suggested. But, again, life continued to “happen,” keeping me trapped within the grips of the constant chatter within. I knew who I wanted to be, but had such trouble finding her and staying within that moment.

Then, 2015 happened with one sign after another that led me into the grips of this mindful awareness thing and the acceptance of my mind for what it is – my very worst enemy at times! Since harnessing the power of meditation a few months ago, I have seen firsthand some of the positive impacts it can have. Aside for a deeper sense of appreciation for life in general, and a longing to be a better version of myself each and every day, I have also experienced physiological healing I never expected from my regimen of just a few short daily twenty minutes of spiritual meditation. After only about a month of meditation each day, I discontinued my daily 50 mg dose of Zoloft (for anxiety and depression) that’s been in my system for the better part of the last ten years (except for during my pregnancies); I am  back on a consistent workout regimen a few days a week that includes a combination of strength training at my gym and consistent 5k runs (often times without “my tunes”…I instead take in the natural beauty around me and focus on my breathing for three miles); and, I have less chronic aches and pains. But most importantly, thanks to the power of mindful meditation, I am currently far more focused and committed to daily prayer time with My God than I’ve ever been in my life. Additionally, I am far more aware of the patience I need to put forth in the presence of my boys and am trying harder with each day to be more available to them in mind, heart and soul. Talk about some Amazing Grace!

Jesus is My Peace mediation

My travels
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have partaken in God’s great earth in several awesome ways this past year. I visited St. Louis a few times for work (one of those visits included a “VIP” dinner on the field at Busch Stadium!), as well as one of my favorite states in our beautiful country – Colorado. I also enjoyed weekly excursions with my family aboard the Good Time’ing, where water therapy always takes firm hold of my soul and immediately drops my blood pressure in an instant! But, the greatest getaway of 2015 for The Murray’s actually occurred by happenstance.

This year was the celebration of 15 years of wedded bliss for Chris and I and we had that “once-in-a-lifetime,” all-inclusive family vacation planned to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. However, this over-committed mother failed to get the boys’ passport registrations into our government in time for our July departure. But, in God’s perfect way, he made it all up to us with a trip we will never forget down to Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast. We rented a Hurricane deck boat and traveled out into The Gulf from our home base in Cape Coral, and up to Sanibel Island and Captiva. We experienced dolphins, horseshoe crab and manatees in their natural habitat at several uninhabited islands along the way, and at the end of our days, docked the boat right up to our “borrowed” condo that some good friends lent us in the wake of my absentmindedness.  Although Chris and I have been all over The Sunshine State, this was our first visit to the southwest corner of Florida, and it turned out to be one of our most treasured vacations to-date! Yet another fantastic opportunity God proved to us that he works in very mysterious ways…when we least expect it!
Me floating in The Gulf right off the coast of Sanibel Island, FL aboard our rented Hurricane deck boat.

My works
I am genuinely thankful for the blessing of gainful employment and fulfilling careers for both Chris and I. As Senior Marketing Manager for a Panera Bread franchise that encompasses Southwest Ohio, I have had various glimpses of how lucky I am to have a career with a company that does the right things for the right reasons
…from the top of the “food chain” all the way to the bottom. For example, Panera Bread recently launched the Food As It Should Be campaign that emphasizes “clean food,” a transparent menu, and a positive impact in the communities we serve.

In my role with this brand, I have the opportunity to help the less fortunate through various outreach initiatives and events. Most notably, each September I direct an event called the Panerathon to Fight Hunger. This 5k / 10k event raises more than $30,000 in one day from the motivational deeds of nearly 1,300 others in the community, and is nothing less than inspiring! For as much effort as I put into this event each year, I gain all that much more back from the impact I know The Panerathon has on my local community's hunger outreach.

But, it’s not just what I do that makes me feel so blessed, but more importantly, what it allows me to do that makes me most fulfilled in my life. I'm field-based, so I don't have to sit at a desk...and moreover, my job is not the same from one day to the next. Not to add, I can be at school whenever my boys need me. I work from home several days a week, where in between conference calls, I can throw in loads of laundry, and vacuum, and go out in my neighborhood and run for 30 minutes.  Each and every day, I thank My God, for what he’s given me in this career with Panera Bread. This year, my brand enabled my self-discovery to occur, and for that, I am very grateful.

Panera sent me to a life-changing seminar in April (that coincidentally happened to be the week after we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord on Easter). It's here that I came face-to-face with not only my wretched “mind” during the three-day “Mastering Performance” conference, but My God in a near-tornado at the airport as I was attempting my departure back home. I never made it out of St. Louis that scary Thursday night.

I saw the wall cloud coming straight towards me right there in the St. Louis airport terminal that April evening. There was no place to go. The airline attendant left the gate counter in a hurry once he saw it. And, many others scurried to the center of the terminal. I saw a Tornado Evacuation sign at the restroom entrance, and contemplated entering it, but opted to hunker down right outside of it. With Chris still on the phone, I slid down the wall of the bathroom entrance, and prayed for my safety and well-being. That was the first time in my life where I felt completely and utterly “alone.” I thought  if this tornado rips through here, I know no one. Granted, my director, whom took the course with me that week, was in an opposing terminal, but most importantly, the ones I held closest to my heart and soul were hundreds of miles away. I could be blown away…right here and now. Or, in the least bit, torrentially blown into a nearby ditch with debris swirling all around me.

The weather passed by the St. Louis airport that night…by a mile or two. After a few hours,  I settled in for the night over two delicious glasses of Chardonnay and room service at a posh airport Marriott. I was emotional, and exhausted. It didn't take long to fall fast asleep.I was awaken several hours later with an urgency to meditate for the first time in my life. So, I did so, in my darkened hotel room. And, during that session, God literally spoke to me right there. I was called to bring a song by Matt Maher up on You Tube immediately afterwards…a song I’d heard of, but never paid close attention to – “Hold Us Together.”
And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I'll be my brother's keeper
So the whole world will know that we're not alone
This is the first day of the rest of your life...

This moment was what eventually broke me, in the middle of the night, alone in that hotel room. I recalled the terror I felt only a few hours earlier in that airport as I witnessed a wall cloud of darkness approaching me, only a few hours after the completion of three days that were meant to be what changed me. It was only me and My God alone in that St. Louis hotel room that April night. I felt HIS presence in the exact way he wanted me a way I would NEVER forget. Life would not be the same from this moment forward.

I boarded my plane the next morning with much anticipation for who awaited me back home. I would arrive a day later than originally expected, thanks to the storms. It was Friday, and we had baseball games, and family time planned for the entire weekend. I felt so sure of the new direction my life was headed. I would be “better.” Although I always knew he was there, I truly felt My God for the first time during those few hours when I faced impending danger all alone. And, after being kept safe, HE spoke to me in the dead of night.

I was home, and safe, and in the arms of the ones who loved me most. I was ready to take on a whole new world. I turned everything "off" that weekend. No email. No voicemail. No "connection" to the outside world, because the connection I truly needed to focus on was right there in front of me. My world seemed still...and just right for a few days afterwards. Then, the devil attacked in the form of another mom, who was hurting in the same way I had hurt for so many years...from the depths of her soul. I was blind-sided, and stripped of my dignity. I was brought to my knees just as quickly as HE had lifted me up just a few days earlier. It left me utterly discouraged beyond my wildest a way only the devil could produce. There’s no coincidence that this encounter occurred only days after my personal encounter with My God that night in St. Louis. And, I hope I can someday tell her about this time in my life, and what an amazing revelation it brought me, for it's in retrospect that we see our greatest growth. In the meantime, I pray for her every day.

Looking, back on the year, I know April was a turning point. I had the opportunity to grow both personally as well as professionally, thanks to that remarkable conference in St. Louis. I work for a company that wants me to be a better version of myself. This brand understands that if I'm happy, I am more productive, and if I am more productive, they are more productive. It's a win-win for all parties. I'm thankful for my company's "warmth" and the desire to make itself a more amazing brand with each passing year through its people that it helps be more amazing than we were the year before.

As for my husband, it’s been an exhausting career journey over the course of the nearly ten years he’s been striving to find his place. I always took his career for granted, as he was always the grounded one of the two of us. I never realized the foundation a man’s career has on his very existence until the crux of that existence was shaken in our household.

The road to this year has included three career changes for him since 2010, and much heartache and prayer. But, by the grace of God, he is back to the company he originally left Cincinnati Bell for in 2010, and his contentment in that career is what he’s been pleading to HIS GOD for many, many times over during the course of this career crisis for the last decade. He’s doing what he loves, and not only getting great accolades for his service and dedication, but getting paid more than he ever has to do something he truly enjoys. God had a plan for him this whole time. It’s amazing the road that’s brought him here…and only he can attest to that, but he’s finally “home.”

My holiday
The upcoming Advent and Christmas season is something I am looking forward to with great expectation and joy this year. There’s plenty of traditions, like shopping on Black Friday, family gatherings, and my boys’ eyes on Christmas morning, that I look forward to experiencing this year. I look back on the holidays with my family growing up, and no matter the heartache or stress we were dealing with, it tended to be put aside during the holidays, only to be replaced with good cheer and hope.

St. Nick is always a tradition I hold dear in my household. When both my boys were born, my Great Aunt Reik in Holland sent them their very own wooden shoes from the Amstelveen markets. Each year, St. Nick fills those shoes that they leave outside their bedroom doors with little goodies, and sets a wrapped ginger bread house kit next to those shoes. This year will be somewhat bitter-sweet, as my family not only said goodbye to Aunt Reik this past year, but her sister-in-law and best “girlfriend”, my Oma, just a few short months later. My "roots" are now all in heaven with Jesus. And, although I feel sad about this first Christmas without them here, I am thankful my boys have this tradition to once again experience on St. Nick morning that will carry their Dutch heritage far beyond the years their Great Aunt and Oma were here on this earth.

My household will light our first purple Advent candle this Sunday evening, praying for peace that surpasses all understanding this holiday season. We will give thanks for all God has given us this year with each candle we light the following few weeks, in anticipation for that day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with much celebration and hoopla in late December. For the kids it means a little something different than us adults, but it’s pretty awesome nonetheless.

My boys' 2015 Advent wreaths adorn our dining room table.

am hopeful for an amazing holiday this year.That’s what this season is all about – hope. Despite our struggles and heartache of the year, Our God wants us to have HOPE for what lies ahead. He wants us to wait with anxious, happy anticipation for the birth of his son, our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25th. And, that’s what Advent is all about – anticipation for the HOPE of our LORD. 

It’s been an amazing, blessed year for me and my house…and we will continue to serve Our Lord. Joshua 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Happy Thanksgiving, and a joyous Christmas season to all!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The best thing about a bad day: tomorrow.

As a mom, I always have the best of intentions. I start each new day wanting to be patient, supportive, loving and kind to my boys. And, I generally end each day wishing I had done a far better job at all four of these endeavors.

Before motherhood, I had such high expectations of everything I would be someday as "their mother."  Some of this was engrained in me by the heartache left behind after my own mom left us when I was a "tween."  I’m confident my Type-A personality also played a role in the kind of mother I hoped to one day become. The motives behind my intentions are neither here nor there. All I knew was that my someday-children would never doubt the love I would have deep in my soul for them. They would have great confidence knowing that “home” truly would be where their heart resides. My children would know they were loved – in the big ways and the small.
The simple acts my teenage girlfriends partook in with their moms regularly, like a short shopping trip to the mall, lunch on a Saturday afternoon, or a trip to the hair salon together were what laid the foundation for the “perfect” mom I would be someday. Little did those friends back then realize the kind of impact their relationships had on their friend who longed to have what they often took for granted. And, little did I realize how hard it would be to become that "perfect" mom I conjured up in my adolescent mind.

My life revolved around my sports when I was growing up. I played soccer all year round, and basketball and softball in between. There was one teammate in particular who I spent a lot of time with back then. We attended the same school and were on all the same teams. It was often tough for my dad to jockey both myself and my younger sisters' schedules, so I got to know her family quite well. And, I often longed for what she had with her mother. They shopped, they dined out, they did "girl stuff", but more than anything they enjoyed one another's company.

But, she wasn't the only one who seemed to "have it all" in my mind's eye back then.  Many of my team mates' moms were on the sidelines every Sunday for our weekly games. They weren't too busy fulfilling other life obligations to be in attendance for their daughters. And, they were present at the “game of all games." Sadly enough, my mom wasn’t there to see my team clench the state title in Columbus, OH that summer when I was in the eighth grade. Maybe she was at work? Or, there might have just been other things more important in her life to attend to. Whatever the case may be, as a nearly 40-year-old mother-of-two, to this day all I know is my mother was not there to celebrate one of my life’s greatest victories. My dad was there…he was a coach. My little sister was there…I don’t think she had had much of a choice. “Keeta” was there…my biggest supporter, and my confidant…because she wanted to be in attendance to support me. But, mom wasn’t there. And, her absence has lived in the pit of my gut my entire life.
I couldn’t wait to have kids of my own so I could take them out for ice cream “just because.”

Our relationship was severed when she left. And, it took me many years to trust her again. My mother was a wonderful woman that had babies too young. She floated through the first ten years of her adult life unsure of the direction God had planned for her. And, then she spent the second half of it gaining back what she had lost. When she was in her early thirties, she dropped more than 100 pounds, gained a little bit of confidence, and decided it was time to take on a new life, free of the chains she felt within the grips of our household. Granted, our home wasn’t the most peaceful of places. But as a kid, it’s all I knew. And, when she left, a part of me died inside. She left me to be the sister, the daughter, the wife, the homemaker, all in one fair swoop, at the ripe age of 12…and I was angry.

In the last few years of her life, we were blessed with the opportunity to make up for lost time. Even though we never truly had the mother-daughter bond I longed for, we had the chance to mend some of our brokenness. My 19-year-old sister had a young baby boy to care for, and we all three collaborated together to do what families do – we loved and supported each other through it. And, in the midst of that, I grew to “know” my mother in a whole new “adult” way. Seeing her nurture my baby nephew was comforting to my soul (a soul that still longed for her loving embrace). She poured out such unconditional love on that child that I don't believe she was ever able to provide to her own…the kind of embrace you receive that makes you feel completely protected and “home," no matter how old you are. 

I never truly let her back in, though. My heart wanted her friendship in a way that pained me as her adult child, but my mind just couldn't get past the abandoned child from years prior. Then, one day me, my heart and my mind ran out of time.

She left us for good in February of 2005. And, we left this world with her.

I became a mom later that year, and reality hit me like a brick. Losing her at the age of 48 to complications from a brain hemorrhage (only a few weeks before finding out I was pregnant with my first) impacted me as a new mother in ways I never knew existed.

I didn’t have the joy in my heart every day that I expected as a new mom, and I didn’t know why. And, although my baby didn’t sleep well at night, leaving me utterly exhausted and depleted, the darkness didn't lift during the day very often, and in fact lingered for months-on-end. There seemed to be no break from the intensity of my broken heart and soul. The guilt from this lacking, coupled with the grief of losing her, led to post-partum depression…not just once after the birth of my first, but a second time two-and-a-half years later when my second was born. And, the second time it nearly blindsided me. I was utterly lost in mind, body and soul. I missed her. I missed what we never had. I missed what we could have been. I was broken.
God blessed me with two healthy, beautiful boys, yet I had no joy in my heart to give them or my husband. It was a dark place to reside. Looking back on those days, I wish I could tell my younger self to just breathe. I would tell her that being a mom is the toughest job imaginable, but the most rewarding. I would tell her that “this too shall pass.” I would tell myself that even though today is a tough day, the good news is we have the blessing of tomorrow to wake up and try to be a little “better” than we were the day before. I would also remind her that not only are you grieving the loss of a mother, but the loss of a dream.  She was never coming back. She would never meet my boys. She would never get to see me be a mom. We would never get to be moms together. I gave no credence to the fact that this had crushed my spirit in unfathomable ways. It left me bitter, and broken during a time when all I wanted was to experience joy.

Now, ten years after first being introduced to motherhood, I can attest that it gets easier with time in many ways, but my heart is still tested to the core. I’ve done a whole lot of soul searching and healing. My faith has grown ten-fold as I’ve watched my husband and my boys and I mold and shape our own little family-of-four into that blessing I always longed for. And, I know for a fact that she’s proud.

The road traveled into a more mature and confident mother has not been without heartache and total frustration. There are many nights I’ve gone to bed just completely horrified with how I’ve conducted myself in the midst of my boys, let alone my God.  I’ve grappled with what I could have done or said differently in certain circumstances. My words of angst and irritation towards them often play out repeatedly in my mind. Ten years ago it was guilt because the joy was sucked from my soul. Now, it’s guilt because I’m not showing them joy through my actions and words. “Mommy guilt” never ceases, but now-a-days it ebbs and flows in more manageable doses.

I often think about her and wonder what kind of advice she would give me today. Would we have grown closer with the birth of my boys…she always wanted Chris and I to start a family. Would my boys enjoy time with their “MeeMaw” on her off-days during the week? Where would she take them, and what would they do? What kind of “little secrets” would they share? I would give anything to see her face light up and hear her contagious laugh at the sight of my two silly boys being who they are – her daughter’s rotten, beautiful offspring.

I wonder if my transition to motherhood might have been softened had she been around to lighten my load? Would I have had more joy in the wake of the births of my two children? Could I have better managed the load of being a full-time mother and wife in those early years? Would my marriage had not seen such depths had she not left this earth so soon? I often ponder these things. And, for the longest time, these questions hardened my heart. I would see so many others around me raising their little ones with the love and support of their own mothers, and I would get jealous, and bitter, and my heart would harden even further.
But, my God had a plan for me – a plan to help me rise above. He wanted me to make this mess a message. I reached a point in my not-so-distant-past when I loathed being angry and resentful for the mom that was taken from me entirely too soon, and from the dream that was ripped from my grips. I overcame the chains of my past, and the victim I’d become as a mother, and turned it into a victory. HE invited me to make those tests my testimony. And, so I did through Christ Renews His Parish at my church. This amazing program gave me the strength a few years ago to begin my journey of healing. Then, this past year I was able to experience another term in this amazing formation process at my church, and this time it touched my soul in ways I never thought possible. HE let me be a witness to his amazing grace and healing. Those tears I saw others pour out for me brought great redemption. Then, shortly after that experience drew to an end, my God blessed me with yet another opportunity (through an amazing employer) to discover the place within my hardened heart where tranquility lies…that peace with HIM that surpasses all understanding.

It’s only been in the recent few months that I’ve finally been able to lay my head down and be at peace with who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Each day I can be thankful for the life I’ve lived, and even more than that, be thankful that I can be a better version of myself for my boys and my amazing husband tomorrow than I was today. For with tomorrow lies great hope. I have a God in heaven that knows me, and loves me anyway, despite what I did yesterday, or the day before that. And, I have a mom up there with him that wraps her arms around me each night and lets me know “everything is gonna be okay” in a way she was never truly able to do here on earth. I know she’s there…sometimes she even comes for a friendly visit in my dreams. And, when she does, I embrace it.

I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a daughter. I’m truly blessed.  
Jesus is my peace Meditation:

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Birth Story: My “baby” is 10-years-old today!

“Are you sure you don’t want to try the forceps or the vacuum?” Dr. Z asked, after I had spent the better part of the past three hours pushing, grunting and contorting my body into unimaginable positions in an effort to release my first born from my pelvic cavity.  “During my labor I was determined to have that baby vaginally, since I’d spent so many hours pushing,” she continued on to me, re-living her own labor and delivery experience that thankfully ended in success for her. I, however, didn’t feel like that was in the cards for me.

Call it what you will. Mother’s instinct. Guidance from my own mother from above. Whatever it was, I knew this baby needed to come out, and it needed to do so in the very near future. I wasn’t in much pain, because I had received a very effective epidural. However, it was nearing 7:30 in the evening, and I had been laboring since 2:00 that morning. My body was utterly exhausted. But most of all, I could sense that something was wrong.
We opted for the C-section a few moments after Dr. Z's unsuccessful "pep talk". All the family came in and wished me well with lots of hugs and kisses and encouraging words. But, it was my dad’s face that I’ll never forget…I think he might have sensed something as well. He leaned over to kiss my forehead with tears in his eyes and said “I wish your mom was here to help you with this.” I knew he was referring to my grand entrance into the world some 28 years earlier. The similarities in how my mom and I carried our “firsts” were striking. My last few weeks of pregnancy with Connor played out just as my mom’s had when she was carrying me:  a rapid fluid gain towards the end and elevated blood pressure, leading to several weeks of bed rest. And now, the dreadful two words no first-time mother wants to hear: “cesarean section.”

Connor entered this world at 8:31 p.m. on November 13, 2005. But, he wasn’t crying. Why wasn’t he crying? Why wasn't my baby crying. Newborn babies are supposed to cry!

All of the sudden, all hell broke loose right there in the OR. The baby was rushed off out of my view. I looked up at my husband from my flattened position on the operating table and the fear in his eyes is something I will never forget. Then, tears began rolling down his cheeks as he looked beyond me at whatever they were doing with my baby on the table behind me. He just kept squeezing my hand harder and harder...the rest of him frozen in fear at what he was witnessing.

After several minutes, Connor was stabilized and rushed off to the NICU.

I don’t remember much about that night, other than the on-call pediatrician’s arrival at my bedside about 30 minutes later to brief Chris and I about the crucial next 12-18 hours for our new baby. Connor was down in the NICU all by himself with an air dome over his head and wires hooked up to his poor little 7 pound, 14 ounce body. The doctor explained that due to the stress of the labor, our baby had experienced a bowl movement in the womb, and had swallowed it. I read about the possibility of this happening when I was pregnant, but shouldn’t the doctors have noticed this during my nearly three hours of pushing?

Turns out, there were no visible signs during labor, because Connor was lodged so tightly into my birth canal that the meconium never passed out of me and onto the table. No one had reason to suspect anything was wrong.
After the pediatrician left the room that night, Chris and I wept.

It will be such a joyous time for you! That’s all we’d heard from many friends who were new parents- how wonderful of an experience the birth of our child was going to be. And there we were, alone in our hospital room without our new baby. All we knew to do was pray. And, so that’s what we did - we prayed together. We prayed for God to wrap his loving arms around our newborn baby and give him the strength he needs to make a full recovery. We prayed for peace that surpasses all understanding. We prayed for health and well being for our family.

When we were done praying like we'd never prayed before, Chris presented me with a beautiful necklace to commemorate the birth of our new little boy. And, then he promised me everything was going to be okay, even though I knew he was scared to death. That’s the last thing I remember until the next morning. My body, mind and soul were utterly shattered and drained.

Thank goodness for my persistence to endure a c-section, that I later realized was supported by my mother’s voice telling me what to do that night. A devastating outcome could have resulted in the form of oxygen deprivation, or severe lung problems had my baby boy been forced to endure a strenuous vaginal birth with forceps or a vacuum.

That next morning, the air dome was removed from Connor's tiny head before I even made my way to his bedside down the hall. I sat in my wheelchair with anticipation as the nurse untangled the wires he was still connected to and the little oxygen line, and slowly lifted him up and out of the warming bed, and down to his mommy. I wept when he was placed in my arms. He was so beautiful. He nuzzled up to me like he was right at home. And, I knew at that moment he was going to be okay. He came out fighting, and a fighter he remained!
Fast forward to exactly 10 years later. Connor Lee Murray is still quite the fighter – with his little brother, that is! My eldest is smart, and passionate, and believes in God. What more could a mommy want in her 10-year-old son?! I tell him often I’m confident his little soul crossed paths in heaven with his "Meema," as he was born only nine-and-a-half months after her passing. But, he’s not much like her at all…rather, he’s far more a mold of his “Papaw Denver” (Chris’s dad) – a “gear-head”, who “knows it all” (just ask him…he’s got an answer for everything!). Connor has a head made of pure concrete, yet a heart of pure gold. He's a very old soul.

Last weekend, Connor's daddy took him on his first “guys trip.” This getaway was something he started asking for nearly six months ago after watching his favorite Sunday morning program – Fisher’s ATV World, an adventure series on Destination America. He wanted to take a trip on his quad with his daddy for his big upcoming birthday. He also requested the presence of his “Uncle J,” his cousin / best buddy “Chappy,” his PaPaw Larry and “Captain Nick,” all of which are proud ATV owners and his riding buddies.
And, so they all headed down to Pioneer, TN last weekend for an ATV adventure at the Ride Royal Blue Resort located at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. They stayed in a cabin protected within the resort grounds, experienced mountain side vistas by-quad, as well as waterfalls, lots of mud, and even got to see a few elk in their natural habitat. With more than 600 miles of trails, and 200,000 acres of nature, Connor and “the guys” were in seventh heaven for a few days. Now, that’s what I call one fantastic way to spend a birthday!
Once back from a full day of riding on Saturday, and their Mexican birthday dinner spent “in-town” (complete with whip cream in the face for the “birthday boy,” albeit a week early), Connor called his mommy to tell me all about his day. I listened intently, secretly wishing I had been there to experience every bit of all the unadulterated fun they had partaken in all day long. He sounded completely exhausted, but utterly full of joy. I asked Connor if he had a good day. His response warmed my heart. “Mommy, today was the best day of my whole life!”

Happy birthday, Connor Lee Murray!