Monday, November 30, 2009

Thankful in Munchkinland

Remember the story of The Wizard of Oz? It's the magical tale of a Kansas farm girl named Dorothy. Longing for something beyond Kansas, Dorothy finds herself transported to a place "somewhere over the rainbow." Carried away by a tornado, Dorothy's house finally comes to rest in Munchkinland, an enchanted place inhabited by energetic little folk who resemble elves on speed. Emerging from her battered house with Toto (a wiener dog with whom she has a semi-creepy relationship), Dorothy suddenly finds herself surrounded by rambunctious little people known as munchkins.

As a father, I feel I can identify with Dorothy. No, I've never been a Kansas farm girl. Nor have I ever donned a pair of ruby slippers, clicked my heels together, and chanted "There's no place like home" over and over again (except for one episode in college that involved a bet, a bottle of Jose Cuervo, and a really awkward encounter with the Chapel Hill police department). What Dorothy and I do have in common is this: We both know what it's like to occasionally find ourselves overrun and overwhelmed by needy little people. That's why I often refer to life with small children as living in "Munchkinland." You're constantly surrounded by little munchkins. Only, unlike Dorothy, there's no yellow brick road out of town... at least not for a few years.

And yet, despite the craziness and chaos that often reign in this suburb of OZ, I'm truly grateful for my time in Munchkinland. In fact, there's no place on earth I'd rather be. Sure, it would be nice to slip back to Kansas once in a while for a nap and a TV show that doesn't require counting to ten out loud; but truth be told, Kansas is just too quiet. While the madness of Munchkinland is sometimes enough to make me run for the hills, I always come back to the fact that my life is blessed and wonderful because of my beautiful wife and kids.

During this season of thanksgiving, it's especially fitting that I remember to be grateful. There was a time when Meredith and I didn't know if we would ever see the city limits of Munchkinland. Despite all our storm chasing, Meredith and I had a difficult time catching the tornado. Prior to our oldest child's birth, Meredith had three miscarriages. The first happened very quickly; Meredith miscarried just a day or two after we learned she was pregnant. The second miscarriage was the hardest. Meredith carried the baby for twelve weeks before we learned that our child had died. I'll never forget the experience. For the first few weeks everything seemed normal. We talked about the nursery. We argued over baby names. We wondered which Ivy League school the child would eventually attend. Then came Meredith's twelve-week check-up. When the nurse called her name, Meredith and I made our way back to the examination room. The nurse had Meredith lie down on a table, then ran a strange device over the top of her stomach in search of the baby's heartbeat--she couldn't find it. The nurses then moved us to another room where a specialist gave it another shot. She couldn't find a heartbeat either. Removing her latex gloves, the specialist calmly said, "I'll just be a moment," then excused herself from the room. A few minutes later the doctor entered to tell us what we already knew: Our baby was dead. Somewhere around the seven or eight week mark he or she simply stopped growing. After breaking the news, the doctor stepped out to give Meredith and I a moment alone. Saddened and in shock, I turned to my wife. Unable to hold back her tears any longer, Meredith broke down as she stammered the words, "I'm sorry." Eventually, I would cry my own tears of sorrow. But at that moment, all I could think about was how much I loved my wife and how much I wanted to comfort her. It broke my heart to see her so devastated. I rushed across the room to where she was seated, put my arms around her, told her I loved her, and assured her again and again that it wasn't her fault. Sometimes, bad things just happen. Sometimes, disappointments occur for no reason we can understand. Sometimes, mommies have miscarriages.

A few months later, there was a third miscarriage. Like the first, it was relatively quick. It wasn't as traumatic as the second miscarriage, but it was extremely disheartening and seriously challenged (but didn't destroy) our faith that we would ever become parents. Thankfully, God used friends in Atlanta to hook us up with a fertility specialist. He diagnosed some problems and performed a surgery that apparently fixed the problem. Meredith finally gave birth to our daughter, Emerson, in 2003. Not surprisingly, we decided to give her the middle name Faith.

And so, as I sat in church on Sunday listening to someone share about how grateful they are for their family, I took a few moments to watch my own little munchkins as they colored, fiddled with a toy, or did whatever else they could to remain quiet in the service. I thought about how fortunate I am to have them. It reminded me how important it is to take time to give thanks to God and to cherish the people that He has blessed you with. Even on its craziest days, Munchkinland is the best place on earth. So grab those little munchkins. Give them a huge hug. Play with them. Listen to them as they share with you Spiderman or Hannah Montana's coolest attributes. And allow yourself to enjoy the excitement of the holiday season as you stay close enough to your kids to see it through their eyes. Before you know it, the day will come when you'll wake up to realize that you're no longer in Munchkinland; your munchkins have grown up and headed off down the Yellow Brick Road to hang out with friends, date a guy (or girl) with tattoos, go to college, and so on. But for now, they're still munchkins. So hold them close, make the most of your time on this side of OZ, and give God all the thanks.

In the spirit of this Thanksgiving Season, here are ten more things that I'm thankful for:

1. Prozac (I don't use it, but it's good to know it's there)
2. My beautiful wife ('nough said)
3. The fact that even God hates Duke (Cameron Indoor Stadium is located on a site that used to be Sodom and Gomorrah)
4. Barack Obama's bailout plan (I was afraid that my kids and I wouldn't be taxed enough in the future)
5. Carolina basketball (because it represents all that is good)
6. My beautiful wife (it was worth mentioning again)
7. Good cigars (do I need to expound?)
8. My parents (for making the most of their own time in Munchkinland)
9. American Idol (because nothing says "wholesome family entertainment" quite like watching other people's dreams get crushed week in and week out)
10. Did I mention my beautiful wife?

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