Better Smart Phone Photos!

Hey mom. I see you. I get it. You are running around day after day taking care of precious little people. The days are long, but the years are short. They grow and change so quickly. And life seems pass like a blur.

Looking back over my four years of motherhood it is hard to remember what my babies even looked like six months or two years ago. I scroll through the images on my iPhone with a critical photographer’s eye and cringe at the bad lighting and weird angles. But these are my memories, my children’s memories.

Over the last few years I have learned so much about how to take beautiful portraits for my clients, but I fail to capture you own family’s memories along the way.

During this COVID-19 season at home I have decided to change that. Lugging around my big DSLR is not super realistic, so I am taking what I have learned as a professional photographer and adjusting those skills to use with my iPhone! Let’s be real. My iPhone is with me 99.9% of the time! What better tool to capture my family’s day to day memories! I just needed a few tricks to improve the images I take on my smart phone!

I have composed this FREE GUIDE with my TOP SIX TIPS to taking better photos on your Smart Phone! These are tips that you can easily begin to use TODAY!

Just click the image below to download your free guide to better smart phone photos today!

better smart phone photos
free photography guide

Read more about our COVID-19 Season:

Positive Parenting Solutions

Cleaning Routines in Quarantine

Creating Routine During Quarantine

The MLP Mobile Presets!

take photos of your kids

Then…

I used to believe that I couldn’t get good photos of my kids unless I broke out the big DSLR, and for years it stopped me from capturing the memories of our daily life. I realized that I’d never capture my own family memories if I didn’t flip this belief and create a new one.

Now…

The other day I posted a blog about my Simple Guide to Photographing Your Kids, but today I wanted to talk about mobile presets!

Now I have taken the skills I have learned as a professional photographer and created a step-by-step guide to capturing better photos of your kids, AND created the MLP Mobile Presets!

The MLP Mobile Presets work with Lightroom Mobile, a FREE app you can download from both Apple and Google Play App stores! The presets come with simple step-by-step installation instructions, and you are ready to transform your mobile phone images and create a consistent feed on your own social media!

Documenting our family history…

I am now looking for opportunities in our normal day-to-day life to capture the joy of this season with energetic little ones! And I am so excited that I just started a new Instagram account (CLICK HERE to follow us @CurtisFamily2015) AND signed up for automatic Chat Books (CLICK HERE for my Chat Books referral link and get $10 off!!) I am going back through my camera roll and editing old pictures starting from four years ago when my son Isaac was born! I am so excited to document our family’s journey and continue to add to this digital journal for many years to come! AND with Chat Books I will have physical copies as well! What a fun way to keep up with every stage of my kid’s lives and how quickly they change!!

Want to know more? Click THIS LINK to jump to my shop!

Positive Parenting Solutions

Happy Kids

Positive Parenting Solutions is helping me to meet my 2020 goal of growing in my parenting skills! Like most new(ish) parents, I feel completely ill equipped for to raise my kids to be kind, respectful, responsible humans!

This month marks FOUR YEARS since I first became a mom.

Isaac’s birth in April 2016 was the fulfillment of a big promise from God that He would make me a mom! In the following thirteen and a half months He also added Annslea (13 at the time) to our home, followed by Pippa’s birth in June 2017. I went from being a new mom trying to figure out newborn schedules, to also raising a teenager, then to two under two! Throw into the middle of that an unexpected international move, and it was quite a lot of change in a short amount of time!

Four years into mom life and I feel like I am finally catching my breath and figuring out some routines.

The littles are both out of cribs and out of diapers, Annslea has her drivers permit, and the reality of how quickly time passes is hitting me hard! I want to make the most of our time together!

(Post Contains Affiliate Links)

A few months ago I discovered the online course Positive Parenting Solutions. During this time under the shelter-in-place order, I have had time to watch the first two sections of the course. And it is amazing!!

Let’s be real for a minute. I have control issues. I want my kids to be well behaved and do what I say without question. This is reasonable, right? Apparently not from the perspective of my toddlers who confirm my belief in the sin nature of humanity on the daily.

The tools that I am learning from Positive Parenting Solutions are helping me to empower my kids to make good decisions. Decisions to become contributing members of the family (instead of simply leaving a path of destruction in their wake). I still have moments that I allow frustration to take over, but overall I am yelling so much less and our home is becoming much more peaceful!

If you would like to check out a FREE class from Positive Parenting Solutions, be sure to CLICK HERE to register for their webinar! I promise you will learn some valuable tools, and I will earn a small commission if you choose to purchase the full course! This is a great way to help support our family on missions!

Cleaning Routines in Quarantine

Quarantine has been the perfect time to create new routines for our family! And today I want to share our new cleaning routine!

With having the kids home All. The. Time. I found myself having a harder time than usual keeping the house clean. I have had “create a chore chart” on my to-do list for months, but never seem to have the time to actually sit down and do it.

Until now!

I have searched and searched over the years for the perfect cleaning checklist, but have never found anything that really fit the needs of my own life and family. So this week I created my own! I have revised it over the last several days until I think I have it perfect… at least for our family!

Click on this image to download my full cleaning system!

I have created a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist that I now have taped on the inside of a kitchen cabinet. Throughout the day I check off what has been done! I love the feeling of accomplishment as I check of each item!

And let’s be honest. Not every task is checked off every day. But there is freedom in knowing that the task will be done the next day, next week, or next month!

I hope this cleaning routine checklist helps bring a little peace and order to this season of chaos in your own home. I know it has been tremendously helpful in ours!

Creating Routine During Quarantine

Creating routine during quarantine? Yep. You read that right.

Between spring break and the following school closures, my kids have now been home for two full weeks. We are all going a little crazy, to put it mildly! By mid afternoon my toddlers are quite literally bouncing off the walls, and let’s just say I am not handling it well.

One of my goals at the beginning of 2020 was to establish a daily schedule with regular routines and rhythms. Unfortunately with the busy every day life, this goal keeps getting pushed to the side for the sake of my business and/or ministry. I began to recognize that I was over extended in February, and Holy Spirit led me to release a leadership role at church as well as classes I was taking that would eventually lead to ordination. Letting go of “busy” has not been easy, and it is a process. But it has been necessary.

And now it feels like so much has come to a screeching halt in our world. COVID-19 has us spending the majority of our time at home and practicing social distancing. As an introvert this sounds glorious! Ha! But as a mom with three kids at home, it is resulting in mass chaos within the walls of our home!

So now is the time. Time to establish a schedule. Time to create routine during our quarantine.

Thriving instead of just Surviving…

Recently Katelyn James released a new YouTube video and blog post on “5 Tips for Thriving (Not Just Surviving) COVID-19” and I love her thoughts on this season of quarantine!

She so eloquent put into words what I have already been thinking. How can I make the most of this season? How can I use this season to focus more on my family? What do I have in my business that I can finally get done now that I have some extra time?

This sift in thinking actually has me EXCITED for the weeks ahead!

Creating Routine During Quarantine

Several weeks ago, my dear friend Nicole of Growing Me + Three wrote the blog post “Stay At Home Mom Daily Schedule“. I remember reading it and thinking “man, it would be nice to make that work for my family.” Yet, I did not take action on it.

But now is the time!

No more excuses!!

This is the season I become the mom that I WANT to be! This is the season that my home takes on the rhythms of order and structure that I long for!

Routine in quarantine

Resources

I wanted to share some additional resources that I have found and that I am beginning to use in our own home life.

  1. Positive Parenting Solutions: I LOVE good education! And this parenting resource is GOLD! I purchased this online course back at Christmas, but I have only made time to watch the first few lessons. This is the time to watch the full course and really implement all it teaches!
  2. Playing Preschool: Let’s be real. I have no idea what to do with my toddlers to keep them entertained, much less to TEACH them! Mother’s Day Out twice a week has been an amazing blessing, but is not an option for this season. It is time to dig into homeschooling my little people. I have purchased this amazing resources and I am so excited to jump in with Isaac and Pippa!
  3. The Ultimate Daily Routine Bundle: I have also purchased the Ultimate Daily Routine Bundle from The Military Wife And Mom. I especially love the printable routine cards for kids! I plan to cut them out and past to poster board so my littles have a visual checklist to go by.
  4. A Biblical Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak – for more on our response to the outbreak as a family and as a ministry.

We are in this together, even as we stay apart!

Ok moms! Who is in this with me? Are you ready to make the most of our quarantine? Are you ready to THRIVE and not just survive? Let’s get busy with creating routine during quarantine!

Let me know how you are doing in the comments below, and let’s cheer one another on!

COVID-19 Quarantine

The Beauty of Vulnerability: Part Seven

First Marriage – disappointment, verbal abuse, rape and depression

My first marriage had the outward appearance of a fairy tale, but that was far from the truth. I was trapped in bondage of guilt, shame, and self-condemnation. I looked to my husband for affirmation and was belittled and beat down with words. The guilt and shame would come rushing in when we had sex. I would cry almost every time, overwhelmed by these feelings. I continued to withdraw more and more.

Six months into our marriage I vividly remember my husband pushing me onto the bed and holding me down as he forced himself on me. Throughout the rest of our marriage he would simply wait for me to fall asleep and I would wake up in the middle of what should be an act of love and intimacy. As the years went on I slipped deeper and deeper into depression.

Alcohol and the affair

I believed that it was up to me to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I began making myself get out and do things with my husband, which meant spending time on the back of his Harley and going to bars and bike rallies. I believed it was ok because I was hanging out with the Christian Motorcycle Association folks… at least part of the time.

I remember one night at a bar with a group of our biker friends. One of the girls bought a round of tequila shots. I had never taken a shot of anything at this point and had only been drunk a couple of times on accident, never intentionally. As she pressured me to take the shot with the group, my husband glared at me with anger and said no. A defiant spirit rose up in me and I looked him in the eyes as I took that first shot. This would be the first time I set out to intentionally get drunk.

As I got to know some people and began to become comfortable with the environment I began to enjoy it and decided I wanted to learn how to ride myself. Originally it was for the practical reason of wanting to be able to ride for help in case of an emergency, but as I began to learn to ride I discovered a new level of freedom I had never experienced before. I became hungry for more freedom. I gained confidence I hadn’t known in many years.

Within just a couple of months I bought my own bike, and a short six months later upgraded to a Harley Sportster 1200 Custom. Each taste of freedom feed a spirit of rebellion in me. I began to seek attention from inappropriate sources and inappropriate ways. I was so hungry for male attention and falsely believed that flirting was innocent as long as I didn’t act on it. I could receive the attention that I craved without sacrificing my illusion of purity.

As I got deeper into the darkness of biker culture I began to have men proposition me. The first time this happened my husband was standing next to me and it was a friend of his that simply said “hey, want to go have sex?” I was shocked as my husband simply laughed it off. The second time I was at the Harley shop and as usual my husband was not by my side. He would disappear and leave me on my own. One of the mechanics that I had befriended flat out asked me if I wanted to have an affair with him. I was shocked that he was serious. I said no, that I was a Christian and believed that sex outside of marriage was a sin. I told my husband of the conversation at my first opportunity. His response was punishment and control, no longer allowing me to go to the Harley Shop. In my anger I told him that what made me mad was that I was receiving attention from other men that I should be receiving from him. He again responded with more control.

Time went by and the tension between us continued to grow. As more and more guys paid attention to me, my confidence grew and I began to fight to be free of my husband’s control. In the end I made the conscious choice to have an affair for the sole purpose of ending my marriage. I knew just enough about the Bible to know that this was the only Biblical way out (definitely a distorted view of scripture) and I knew it was a point of no return.

Looking back I can see that I had strayed so far from what little knowledge that I had of God and was living only for myself. I was living a life of sin and not concerned about the consequences. I was relying on “cheap grace” believing that I could return to God when I was ready… but the truth is that I had no idea how much the Lord really loved me. In my fight for freedom I only found myself in greater bondage to sin. I was perfectly aware of my sin, what I needed was revelation of His overwhelming love for me! I needed to know that I hadn’t gone too far for Jesus to save me.

The Beauty of Vulnerability: Part Six

This is part six in a series telling my own personal testimony. If you would like to read from the beginning, you can CLICK HERE to see all the posts in this series.

Girl Meets Boy at Church Camp

Camp Wesley Pines became a special place during high school and as a “goody goody church girl” I knew I wanted to work as a summer camp counselor as soon as I could. During spring semester of my senior year I applied and was accepted. Two weeks after graduation I packed my car and made the 45 minute drive to begin the next season of my life. It was a dream come true! As an 18 year old new high school graduate and summer camp counselor, I felt I had it all together.

I was excited about living in a community of believers, but the people I served with were not very different than the world. They would share Jesus with kids during the week at camp, but go out drinking on the weekend. While I knew this wasn’t right, I didn’t have an example of what true Christianity looks like in my like.

The first week of camp I began to get to know one of the lifeguards. He had lost his father to cancer the year before and we connected in sharing our experiences. He began to pursue me and I was excited by the attention. Looking back I see that I was craving the attention from a man that I lost when I lost my daddy.

As the summer went on we spent more and more time together. He bought me flowers and took me out on romantic dates. We met one another’s families and everything seemed so perfect. I knew that he was still partying with his friends, but he protected me and didn’t want me to get involved with that scene. I felt loved an honored by his protection. It was truly a whirlwind romance and by the end of the summer we were in love.

Dating/Engagement – Self-Righteous “Purity”

Camp ended and it was time to begin my freshman year of college. I was certainly not my plan to go to college committed to a boyfriend, but we were in love. He moved back to Starkville as a Junior at Mississippi State University and I moved to the freshman girl’s dorm on campus at Mississippi College in Clinton where a two hour drive would separate us. The day I moved in he had a dozen red roses delivered to my dorm, and the romance continued.

The first year was a sweet time of getting to know one another. We would stay up late into the night talking on the phone for hours and hours talking about our day, our classes, our hopes, our dreams for the future. We began to talk of marriage. While we were separated during the week, we spent most every weekend together. Either I would make the two hour drive to Starkville, or he would drive down and we would stay at his mom’s house just a half hour drive from my campus.

I was so excited to begin my freshman year of college, to begin this new life of more freedom and entering the adult world of making decisions for myself. I got involved in everything on campus that I could. I went through rush and joined a sorority type organization, I organized intermural flag football, I wanted to meet and know everyone!

I believed very strongly in purity before marriage. Sex was designed by God to be enjoyed in the context of marriage and I was determined to remain a virgin until my wedding day. Unfortunately I did not understand appropriate boundaries. The seeming innocence of a kiss and cuddling quickly led to more physical contact. The further we went, the harder it was to stop, and the more guilt I felt. I believed the lie that as long as we were not having intercourse that I was remaining pure, holy… but I couldn’t get rid of the guilt. I would cry and feel overwhelmed by shame. While he honored my desire to remain a technical virgin, there was a constant pressure to do everything leading up to actual penetration.

I began to go out, to hang out in college clubs and bars. I believed it was just part of the college experience, part of what I was suppose to do. There was a part of it that appealed to a defiant spirit in me, but I also thought I could enjoy a bit of rebellion and remain pure and holy, that I could live with one foot in the church and one in the world. I could go out Friday and Saturday night, go to church on Sunday and this was the normal Christian life. This was the example that I was seeing throughout the church. This was normal. But deep down I knew it was a lie.

I distinctly remember the first time I came across pornography on his computer. I was devastated. I was overwhelmed by guilt and shame. When I confronted him with what I found he blamed others – so & so sent it to me and I forgot to delete it – he blamed me for not having sex with him, for not meeting his physical needs. Eventually he asked for my forgiveness and promised it would never happen again.

Everything that was going on in my private life began to shake my confidence. The guilt and condemnation I was feeling overwhelmed me and I began to withdraw.

During the beginning of my second semester of my freshman year I began to pull back from my involvement in campus activities. I saw that I was living a double life and I no longer wanted to be divided, but I didn’t see it as a struggle between my spirit and the world, but as a struggle between locations. I made the decision to finish my freshman year at Mississippi College and transfer to Mississippi State. I believed that if we were in the same city, going to the same school that we would both be more involved, that we could be united more.

In May of 1996 we returned to Camp Wesley Pines as staff. This summer our relationship would begin to shift. There was a part of me that hoped to return to that place of innocence, but as the summer went on my confidence was more and more crushed. I began to feel more and more bondage in the relationship. I specifically remember a time when I was to share my testimony. I purposefully did not tell him so that he would not be there. It was a sweet time where I spoke on James 1:4 about losing my dad and finding joy in my trials. I shared my limited knowledge of Jesus and the Holy Spirit was faithful to use it for His glory. Without him there I was free to speak, free to share.

The bondage of sin tightened its grip on me in a gradual way. I was enticed in the beginning, but found myself in increasing bondage. Instead of experiencing the freedom I dreamed of, I was in a relationship that was increasingly becoming more controlling. When I shared my feelings of guilt and shame, he made me believe that marriage was the answer. That once we were married then we would be free to have sex and everything would be ok… that marriage was even the answer to the problem of his pornography addiction.

In June of 1997 we returned to Wesley Pines not as staff, but to direct a week long camp. It was during this week that he proposed and I joyfully accepted the beautiful diamond ring he offered… and I wholeheartedly believed the lie that this was the answer.

The Beauty of Vulnerability: Part Five

I am way past due in continuing my story. To be honest, I have been procrastinating. I have put it off because so many of the memories are hard. I have a lot of it already written, but there are gaps. There are parts that I still need to write.

This blog post is a continuation of a series started months ago. If you would like to start at the beginning you can click here for part one. Part two. Part three. And part four. Below is part five. Only Papa God knows how many parts there will eventually be… but this is one more step towards full obedience to what He has asked of me.

Losing My Grandfather: Death Strikes Again

During the spring semester of my ninth grade year of high school, I was once again spending time at the funeral home. It was a place becoming all too familiar.

To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened to my Pop. I know he never seemed to recover from the episode several years earlier, but my memories from this time period are foggy at best. All I really remember is spending several more days at the funeral home seeing family and friends, and yet another trip to the cemetery. This was becoming an all too familiar routine.

Goody-goody, self-righteous church girl/Grow up fast, having it all together, all the right answers

Boy did I think I had it all together in high school! I was in church every time the doors were open, including every youth meeting, event, trip or retreat. I served in leadership, helped with VBS and worked in the nursery. Religion was about keeping a list of what I can and can’t do, and of course staying busy with all the good things I could do for Jesus. In addition to all my church activities, I was also involved in the high school band, choir, show choir, play, several clubs at school, and was on the honor roll most semesters. My theory was that if I stayed busy enough I wouldn’t have to think about everything that had happened.

I was in a cycle of “go, go, go, go, go” then crash in sheer exhaustion. I wanted to do everything, and do it perfectly.

Dream of being a missionary doctor… desire to save the world

I’m not sure exactly when I lost the desire to be a dentist. Was it when Dad was diagnosed with cancer and could no longer practice? Or later when he passed away? By the time I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a doctor. More specifically, I wanted to care for babies and especially newborns. Even more specifically, I wanted to go to Africa and care for the babies and children who were dying of starvation and preventable diseases.

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but there was a missionary from Zimbabwe that spoke to my youth group. He brought pictures of Africa and talked about the work he was involved in there. I don’t even remember if he was part of a medical mission or not, but I know that was the moment the Lord put Africa on my heart. I had grown up seeing the news footage and commercials to adopt starving children in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, but this was the moment that I knew the Lord was calling me to have a part in His plan for the hurting in the world.

The Beauty of Vulnerability: Part Four

Losing Grandma – My First Experience With Death

It was the spring of my 6th grade year. I was in the middle of the joys of standardized testing. I remember the phone ringing in the middle of the night and waking up in fear. I left my bed and went to my parents bedroom where I found out that the call was to let us know than my Grandma, my Daddy’s mom, had died of a heart attack in her sleep.

This was the first person I loved to pass away. It was my first time to go to the funeral home, to a visitation, to see a dead body, to see a casket lowered into the ground, to smell the nauseatingly sweet fragrance of too many flowers crammed into too small of an area.

It would be the first, but certainly not the last.

Camp Wesley Pines – Summer Camp & Encountering Jesus

During the summer of this same year I attended summer camp at Wesley Pines for the first time. Wesley Pines is a Methodist camp in central Mississippi. While camp was mostly about meeting friends and having fun in the woods, I remember a moment during a devotional where I just knew that Jesus was real. I knew that the stories I had been taught were more than fairy tails. This would be my first encounter with Jesus.

A year later as I entered seventh grade I began to get involved in the youth group at my church. While I learned some about Jesus in church and in youth group, my faith was based on religion and works and not on a relationship with Christ.

Losing Daddy: The Day It All Fell Apart

October 20, 1990 – It was a Saturday morning. I was 13 and Greg was 9. We were watching cartoons in the living room as was our normal Saturday morning routine. Daddy and Greg were suppose to be getting ready to leave for a Boy Scout campout, but Daddy’s cough was really bad that morning and Mom didn’t want them going. Greg was upset and disappointed as any nine year old would be, and I was trying to comfort him.

The next thing I remember, Mom came into the living room telling me to go outside and wait for the ambulance. I remember standing in the yard when our neighbor Mr. Larry from across the street ran over. He had heard the ambulance call on his scanner and came over to see what was going on. Thinking back I assume he went in the house, but don’t remember clearly. I remember sitting in the sunroom of our house with Greg and the preacher’s wife from another house across the street as the paramedics brought Daddy through the house on the gurney. They were performing CPR and one was yelling, “Breathe Allen, breathe!”

I remember being so calm, gathering a few things to take to the hospital. I simply thought we would be there for a while. It never crossed my mind that my Daddy wouldn’t make it. Mr. Larry drove us to River Oaks Hospital and Greg and I were left in a small private office. I remember Greg sitting in my lap. He was still so small then and I had my arms around him. I remember him looking up at me with tears in his big brown eyes and said “I think our dad just died.” My reply was simply “I know.” No one told us, we just knew.

The rest of the day is a blur. I remember sitting on the sidewalk outside the emergency room while mom smoked a cigarette. Then I remember being home, sitting in Daddy’s recliner and the phone ringing. I answered out of habit, not even thinking about it. It was Andy Sumrall, one of my dad’s closest friends, calling to talk to Daddy. I think this was the first time I cried. This was the first time what just happened became real. I remember curling up on my bed with my journal and my teddy bear in shock. My daddy just died. He wouldn’t be there to see me graduate, to give me away at my wedding, to meet his grandchildren. What does a daddy’s little girl do when she no longer has a daddy?

The next few days were filled with family and friends, people constantly coming and going, bringing food and flowers, constantly surrounded by people both at home and at the funeral home. I remember driving up to the church for the funeral and seeing a sea of people standing outside. There was a large crowd of people who were not able to fit in the church. The church was completely packed and people were literally overflowing out onto the grounds. As we walked down the center isle to the front row I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love as we gathered to say goodbye to my daddy.

The service was truly a celebration of life with many stories shared

On the drive to the cemetery we strained to see the end of the line of cars, but we never could. It seemed to be an endless procession of family and friends. It was then that I realized what a great impact my Daddy had on so many people.

Journal Entry – November 3, 1990

I just finished talking to Elissa. I thought I had problems. She lost her next door neighbor to cancer about the same time I lost Daddy. I’ve held back the tears for so long while everyone was here. I can’t cry in front of people. And then when I was ready to cry, I couldn’t. I don’t know why, I just couldn’t. But tonight I cried. And I’m still crying. I can’t even cry in front of mom, I feel like I should be strong and not let her know how hurt I really am so she won’t worry about me. But tonight I cried in front of Elissa, and I think she cried some to. I feel a lot better now. About Dad that is. But now I feel like I need to help Elisa. If we have youth tomorrow night I’m going to invite her to come with me. I don’t know if we will have youth since our youth director just left, but maybe someone will lead it for us. I hope that by taking her to youth and praying for her and being her friend I can help her help herself to solve her problems. I hope that by leading her to Christ He can help her. She needs help, and I’m going to be here for her to talk to, to cry with or whatever. But I will be here and she will know that I care.

I honestly don’t remember this friend, but there is a lot from this time in my life that is fuzzy at best. As I have been reading through old journals I see that my heart was for others. Looking back I see that my outward focus was an attempt to take the focus off my own pain.

The Gulf War

I vaguely remember Operation Desert Shield through the blur that is the fall of 1990. Many from our local National Guard base were deployed to the Middle East, and many families in our community were temporarily fatherless. Somehow, in this brief season, I wasn’t alone.

January 16, 1991. We walked out of the mall and climbed into my dad’s red Jeep Cherokee. As mom started the engine, the voice on the radio announced the beginning of the Gulf War. Our moods turned from joyful to somber. We rushed home and turned on the television. There on the screen we watched the first of what would become daily scenes of war from cameras onboard US bombers and fighter jets. For forty-two consecutive days and night, coalition forces subjected Iraq to one of the most invasive air bombardments in military history.

The war was short, and victory came quickly. The atmosphere was filled with celebration as our troops returned home to American flags and yellow ribbons. All the other dad’s come home. Except mine. This time the yellow ribbons were a reminder that my dad, while not lost to war, would never come home.

The Beauty of Vulnerability: Part Three

Perfect Childhood

Once upon a time in a land far, far away…

The few memories I have from my childhood are the stuff fairy tails are made of. Loving mom who stayed home to raise my younger brother and me, and a daddy who truly delighted in me.

I’m the first born, four and a half years older than my brother Greg. So, while mom was home with my baby brother, I was free to go on adventures with my daddy whether it was to the grocery store, across town to my grandparents house, or a true adventure on the water. My favorite childhood memories involve being on the water with my daddy… letting the wind take us away in the sail boat, or looking for alligators as we fished. 

I was a walking contradiction from the beginning. I loved baby dolls, frilly dresses and ballet class, but I also loved to watch football and play in the mud! I was a strange combination of girly-girl and tom-boy. I was Daddy’s pride & joy. I remember going to Rotary Club Christmas parties and Dental Conventions with him as a young child and seeing Daddy’s beaming face as he showed me off to his friends and colleagues.

We lived in the suburbs before the suburbs where “the” place to live, but my parents drove us into the city each day to attend private school. Education was a BIG deal in our house. Daddy was a fourth generation dentist in practice with my grandfather who we called Pop. If I close my eyes I can still see the details of the office. The antique roll top desk where my Daddy took care of paper work, the large collector’s fishing lures on Pop’s desk in their shared office, the floor to ceiling windows on the top floor of the Medical Towers Building where I would stand and look down just to feel my tummy flip flop. I remember the picture of two-year-old me in a white dress with cherries on the front and the white bonnet that was on my Daddy’s desk, pictures of great-granddaddy May and his brothers that hung on the wall in the dental lab, antique dental drill, pictures from past dental conventions, so much family history that I didn’t appreciate at the time.

All I knew was that I wanted to be just like my Daddy when I grew up! I wanted to be a dentist and work with my Daddy just like he worked with his Daddy. I wanted to carry on the family tradition, not for the sake of tradition, but because it meant spending every day with my Daddy and what could be better than that? How could life possibly be any more perfect?

My memories from my childhood are few, but what I do remember was beautiful. It was perfect. The stuff fairy tails are made of.

When Everything Changed: Cancer Diagnosis

It was shortly after my ninth birthday in January of 1986. My brother Greg was only four and a half.  Daddy had spent the weekend at deer camp and hit his right arm on something. I remember it was so swollen that he couldn’t button the cuff of a dress shirt. I didn’t know it then, but he had lumps in his right forearm for many years, but his doctor said that they were just calcium deposits from his years of playing football and nothing to worry about… but that all changed very quickly. Within a few days he had the lumps biopsied and was diagnosed with cancer.

I don’t remember the time frame, but I know my parents flew to University of Florida in Gainesville to see a specialist while my Nanny and Papaw, my Mom’s parents, came from Alabama to stay with Greg and me. Mom and Dad flew home to talk to us about the doctor’s plan. I remember sitting on the king size bed in their bedroom at home when they told us that the doctors in Florida were going to have to amputate Daddy’s right arm in order to remove the cancer. He would then have to go for chemotherapy treatments monthly here in Jackson for the next year to make sure the cancer was completely stopped.

Mom and Dad flew back to Florida where Daddy had the surgery to amputate his arm. During the time that they were away I focused on trying to learn to tie my shoes using only my left hand. I wanted to be able to teach Daddy something when he got home.

While in Florida for Daddy’s surgery, mom sent the following letter to us:

Thursday, February 27, 1986

Dear Meridith & Greg,

We are here in Gainesville now. Today we got Daddy checked into the hospital. His room is on the 6th floor. Room #6411. By the time you get this letter his surgery should be over. Remember every night to ask God to take good care of Daddy. We miss you already and know you miss us. Please be good children and take good care of Nannie and Papaw for us.

Sunday, March 2, 1987

Your Daddy is so brave. He has been the best patient in the hospital. Today he has walked all around the hospital – outside – in the gift shop – the nurses can’t keep up with him! The doctor said he is doing so good that we will be coming home soon. He has done great doing things left-handed. He hasn’t asked me to do anything.

Dad got 40 balloons. They take up the whole room. He has also gotten 6 flower arrangements. We are going to try and bring home the balloons and maybe 1 of the flowers but we won’t be able to bring all of them.

Did it snow there? It got real cold down here but is much warmer now.

Daddy has the picture of you two up here in his room. All the doctors & nurses think you both are sooooo cute!

Daddy’s favorite nurse is a big fat black woman. She is so nice. She told Daddy if he didn’t go to sleep she would pick him up and rock him to sleep like a baby! Wouldn’t that be funny!

Well, better get this in the mail. We love you both more than anything in the world! I hope you are taking real good care of Nannie & Papaw. Give them a kiss and hug from both of us.

See you soon,

Mom & Daddy

(Daddy signed his own name)

Mom and Dad returned home and I remember meeting them at the small private airport in Madison, MS. I remember running to my Daddy and receiving my first one-armed hug from him. It was as if all my fear melted away as my Daddy hugged me. We drove home and were welcomed by the sight of a huge yellow bow tied around a tree in the front yard.

I don’t remember how long it was before Daddy began his chemotherapy treatments, but it was fairly short after returning home from Florida. Greg and I were pretty well protected from seeing the worst of all of that. All we saw was Daddy slowly loose his hair and the man who was so full of life began to look sick. He appeared to waste away.

I’m not sure at what point I realized that Daddy could no longer practice dentistry with only one arm, but I do know that he had already been teaching clinicals at the dental school for as long as I could remember. He hired Dr. Johnny Neely to cover his appointments so the practice continued.

During the spring or summer of this same year my Mom got a job at the local water park as the promotions manager. As a kid this had to be the coolest job a parent could ever have! It meant that I got to spend 99.9% of my summer vacation at the water park!

In August of this same year Pop (my paternal grandfather) fell out in the office while working on a patient who was also his primary care doctor. I don’t remember if it was a stroke or what, but I do remember spending days on end in the ICU waiting room where he was in a coma for what seemed like forever. He eventually came out of the coma, but never fully recovered. This left May & May Dentistry without a May dentist that could physically practice.