Monday, November 7, 2016

This Place, Your Home

Sometimes it's hard for me to get started writing. There are so many thoughts and words and emotions, bundled all together in a knot, and it's so hard to pull just one. And usually when I can manage to find one to pull, all the others unravel after it. So I've found, for myself at least, that the best way to start writing is to just START. You know... "Start at the beginning. And when you get to the end, stop."
Right now, there is no end in sight; I'm waist deep in trenches I never thought I'd be in, and I'm still watching this story unfold in front of me. 
Many of you may have followed along with the losses our family has been through these last few months. If you're unfamiliar, you can go on Instagram and search the hashtag #welovefoxhill. See, Fox Hill is a small "city" within the city where we live. It's also where Jeremy grew up, right across the street from his grandparents. And, this year, from April 29, 2016 to September 21, 2016, we lost both of his grandparents. Words can't describe what a hole this has left in our family, in our identity. In some ways, it feels like the ties that have been grounding us have been suddenly cut loose. 
What's worse, my youngest, Atleigh, has had an intense battle facing this loss. Before she even reached 8 years old, she's watched two people she was incredibly close to lowered into the ground. She's attended two funerals. She's placed flowers on two graves. She's witnessed her family, her safe place, struggle with sorrow and displacement and a heavy weightlessness that can only be described as grief. And she has suffered for it. More so than I would ever have imagined. She's developed a stutter. She's faced cruel comments from her classmates, and in some instances, school faculty, words like, "Spit it out", "Why can't you talk?" "You must not be very smart." She's developed anxiety, separation anxiety, fear over routines being changed, fear of CHANGE, period. Anyone who knows Atleigh knows that she has always been completely wide open. Not only does she embrace change, generally she is a catalyst for it. She sings and dances and does whatever she feels is needed to make everyone around her laugh. She is the quintessential class clown. 

Until this year. 

Those who follow my sporadic blogging also know that every year I do a birthday photo session with each of my kids. This year, Atleigh told me emphatically for weeks that she didn't want pictures. She didn't think she could smile "good enough". I didn't push her. I told her that was fine, even when it killed me on the inside. I told her if she changed her mind, that was fine too. I would never make her smile for photos if she didn't feel like it. 
And then, miraculously, last week, almost two weeks after her birthday, she told me she wanted to do the session. So I took her to Target and let her pick out an all new outfit (I don't know about all of you, but an all new outfit is a definite occasion for getting your picture taken, in my book). She chose the entire outfit on her own. Every piece of it was so significant to me, even if she didn't realize it. She chose a hot pink, glittery, floor length tutu that, to me, was a complete representation of who my baby really is on the inside. The shirt she chose says, "Never let anyone dull your sparkle." She chose a fluffy hoodie with the head of a unicorn, golden horn, rainbow mane, and all. In most stories, unicorns represent magic, innocence, purity and joy. And if anyone on God's green earth has the spirit of the unicorn, it's my Atleigh Naomi. Naomi: laughter, joy. Everything she truly is. And that outfit, while seeming small and coincidental to most people, was as holy to me as if God Himself had opened heaven and spoken to me, saying, "Your Naomi is still HERE. I see her. I hear her. I have not forgotten, I WILL NOT forget or forsake her."

I took her out for the photos. She didn't look at me a lot. She didn't smile a lot. A large portion of the photos are of her facing away or running from me. And that's okay. I'm okay with that. 

Later that afternoon, she was humming a refrain from a [completely moronic] Netflix cartoon- a refrain borrowed from Phillip Phillips's song "Home". I told her it was from a real song, and asked her if she'd like to hear it. As soon as I started playing it for her, all the hair on my body stood up. The lyrics say, 

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
'Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
'Cause I’m going to make this place your home

She asked me to play it for her, over and over and over. And so I did. 

And if I've learned anything from this season that we're in right now, this uncertain, unstable, fraught and frayed season, it's that my role is to be her home. Her safe place, more than ever. And to point her to the Safest Place that we are all invited to live in. She can always be found. She's not alone. I will make this place her home. 

Happy 8th birthday to my littlest love, my unicorn soul, my lioness spirit. Your Safe Place sees you. Your Safe Place is ready for you. This Place, your Home. 

{{Here are a few of my favorites from Atleigh's unicorn 8th birthday photo session. Regardless of the valley we're traveling through, I think this will always be one of my favorite birthday sessions. She is magic.}}

*All photos © 2016 Mary Smoot/@what_if_i_said*

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