Thursday, September 14, 2017

Looking Back One Year Later

Last year on the first day of the Bible study I attend, we were just starting up when the doctor's office called and told me we were having a girl and thus our child would not survive. My world crashed around me with that one devastating blow.

Today was the first day of that same study. The entire time I thought through this day 1 year ago, the month of funeral planning that followed, and the miracle with which God blessed us. Though I never tire of telling AnnLouise's story, this week it has been on my heart and mind even more. A week that could have been eternally imprinted on our hearts with pain is now a week in which I can share God's grace and mercy and shout from the rooftops that His miracles are not over.

It is still hard to remember those days of suffering. Last night at church and this morning at Bible study I shared the pain of walking into the funeral home to plan our daughter's funeral as she turned and kicked inside of me. Now I stare at her smiling face when she looks up at me from her crib. Bone chilling.

Sometimes it is easy to get stuck there, thinking of the heartache and bringing back the misery. But God never ends our story, our purpose, in misery. He did not do that with the Israelites. He did not do that with Jonah. He did not do that with His own Son. We see them in their misery. Oh, we see their sorrows and we see our own sorrows when we are there. But He didn't leave them. And He doesn't leave us. Even when the fiery furnace is so hot that our faces already feel the flames, He doesn't leave us alone in it. He stands with us. We may come out a little burned from the heat and a lot tired from the endurance, but God uses that to share Himself.

So while it is easy to get stuck in how hard things have been, I want to push past that and focus squarely on the love of Christ, the grace of Christ, the mercy of Christ. For us the other side of that pain was the sparing of AnnLouise's life. For you it may look differently. But for all of us, I can promise you one thing: it doesn't end here. We are assured that God uses all things for His good.

One year. As I reflect on this journey these are my top takeaways that God has taught me:

1. Miracles still happen. Big, small, seen, and unseen. Miracles weren't reserved for just Lazarus.

2. Get on your knees. It is easy to pray for something as big as praying for my child's life, but it is so hard to remember to pray for something as small as Henry having a good night of sleep.

3. God really does have a purpose, maybe even multiple purposes. When I met Cash, I was love struck immediately. However, when it came time for me to say I would move 600 miles from my family, well, that was a bit harder. But I was reminded last week that Cash and I didn't have 1 town or 1 church praying for us. We had 2 towns in 2 states and multiple churches in both praying for us. God allowed us family and friends literally all over the world. We were covered, no, SLATHERED in prayer.

4. You're not alone. Sometimes I got stuck in a bubble and felt so bad for myself and my little family. But it wasn't just the 3 of us going through it. We had mommas who were crying and praying for us daily. We had dads who had protected us our whole lives struggling with how to still do that. We had sisters and brothers trying to figure out the words to say to their own children. And we had those very nieces and nephews who ached at the thought of losing their cousin. We had friends, clergy, co-workers and bosses who wanted to give so much love and never knew how much that hug meant. We had doctor's offices who felt lost knowing they couldn't help. God was with us, we knew that. But looking back it is easy to see God shine through all of these people. Yet these very people were also going through our hurt. They may have hurt in their own way and dealt with it in their own way; but they were hurting nonetheless.

5. Be still. Be still and know He is God. Be still and maybe just listen to your friend instead of giving advice. Be still and quit trying to take control of a situation. Be still and quit going to the next big thing or the next big job or the next big house. Stillness is so hard, especially in a world where life happens at our fingertips and through our phones right here and right now. Just. Be. Still.

Thank you for all those who prayed us through this year. As I've said many times, I often could not pray for myself yet you prayed for me. I count AnnLouise your miracle as much or more than she is mine. Thank you. I am reminded of your thoughtful prayers and God's good, good grace every time I see that big, toothless grin.





XOXO,
Avery

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Irony of Prune Belly Syndrome

When we decided that Houston was our best option for AnnLouise's delivery, it was bittersweet. I felt like we would be all alone in this big city. Of course I wanted the best care at our fingertips, but I didn't think I would be able to handle the emotion of being so far from comfort. But of course, as God always does, He provided comfort in numerous ways.

Since AL's birth, we have been navigating another unknown. This one is even bigger than Houston. Receiving the news that our sweet girl has Prune Belly Syndrome was hard to digest. Even with a great medical team in one of the greatest medical centers on earth, we often felt alone in our questions and struggles. 

Prune Belly is rare. 1 in 40,000 are born with this condition. Of those few children it is expected only 50% survive past their second birthday. Some live a long, normal life. Some have a "mild" form of PBS and the next day are on dialysis. It is cruel.

Even more rare than Prune Belly itself is having a daughter with it. Less than 5% of Prune Belly survivors are girls. They are anomalies amongst anomalies. 

When my daughter was born, I went from being a mom who got to innocently play with her child at the park to a mom who was thrust into the world of kidney preservation, bladder excretion, and abdominal muscle development. I have learned the lingo for urology, nephrology, gastrointerology, physical therapy. I have sung praises when I saw my child blow out her diaper because that meant the miralax and her stomach muscles were working. I went from having conversations with moms about Mother's Day Out to wondering if I could ever trust anyone to keep my child and help her empty her bladder in order to prevent a UTI. 

Life changed. The moment I stood in the NICU and heard the words Prune Belly Syndrome, life changed.

With such a rare condition, it is hard to find a doctor who truly knows the ropes let alone folks in a casual conversation. Through this you often feel alone. Despite all the calls, texts, cards, prayers, it is easy to feel like no one on earth fully comprehends your struggles medically and emotionally. 

But last week a new world opened for us. After months of trying to find an excuse, I finally registered us for a Prune Belly conference in Dallas. In all honesty I was nervous to go. I was nervous as to what we may see or hear or learn. It is one of those things that sometimes you want to be ignorant because it is bliss. I thought about that. I really wanted to back out. But we went.

And it was the absolute most amazing week of our lives. 

PBS conference with our girl

Definitely one of the two prettiest PBS girls there!

Dr. Linda Baker and her team of doctors and researchers were there studying Prune Belly Syndrome. From drawing blood (which Cash brags he gave blood in a hotel room to a kidney doctor) for research to being examined by physical therapists, the entire study was all-encompassing. And for a mom with a prune belly child, it is exciting to know someone is finally researching this condition and trying to determine both a cause for it as well as how to make their lives better.

We learned from a multitude of doctors. I was so impressed with the direct access to them as well. Throughout the week if I was curious, I could just turn to Dr. Baker and ask her about AnnLouise and the various topic at hand. We don't have that now. Our urologist is great, and we adore him. He says to call any time. But he isn't usually sitting next to me for a week.

But on top of all the research and all the doctors, meeting the prune belly survivors and their families was one of the highlights of my life. It was an instant connection. Some of the older survivors talked about their childhood. Doctors told them they would never meet another person with PBS. Yet here they were amidst 47 other survivors. 

Patrick, a 41 year old survivor, serves in the Civil Air Patrol!
On the first night they held a dance party for the kids. We sat next to 2 younger families and immediately hit it off. It is one of those things. You don't even know each other's names, but sharing the diagnosis of PBS allows you to know their aches, their fears, and the worry that keeps them up at night. You know the feeling they had the moment the ultrasound turned dark. You can almost feel yourself in the room when the news came their child may not make it. You have wondered the same thoughts of "Will my child do normal kid things?" or "I hope I'm a match if my child needs my kidney." You have cried the same tears and grieved the same pain. The hospital may have been different, but the four walls closing in on you have been the same.

We met a lady named Jenn, a 34 year old survivor. AnnLouise was the only other female survivor she has ever met. In tears she held AL and said, "I see so much of myself in her."

Jenn and her man Miles were high school sweethearts!
Love this sweet family! 

AL and Beaux--Prune Belly besties!

Of course the girl is the one crying...but she got the boys to look. Ha
We met families from Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, New Jersey, California...all over the U.S...Canada, Mexico, Colombia, even Taiwan. Some did not even speak English, yet here we were knowing what they were saying.

One night they held a prayer vigil and read the names of those who had passed. Many of the names were babies who were born and died the same day. One of those names read was from last year, the same day we were set to have AnnLouise at 19 weeks. I gasped when it was read and buried my head into Cash's chest while I held AL tightly. 

Prune Belly Syndrome. The cruelest thing in our lives ultimately brought us some of the closest friendships. But isn't that just how God would do it?


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Heartbeat of America

One of my favorite things in the entire universe is waking up at my parents' house and enjoying the picturesque view with a cup of coffee. Then I like to check cows.

My parents would be the first to tell you I probably wasn't much of a farmhand growing up. A set of knees and elbows don't lend themselves well to manual labor. But as I've gotten older I long for the days of working cattle and just being on the farm. (Side note: For those of you from Texas, we call everything a "farm" where I'm from. You have a crop farm or a cattle farm. For those of you from Arkansas, people from Texas are very particular about a farm versus a ranch.)

I grew up in this little community called Jethro. Back in the day Jethro had a schoolhouse and post office, but that was way before my time. Now Jethro has a few family farms, access to the Mulberry River, a Pentecostal church, and nostalgia of hay meadows and friendly neighbors (half of whom are related). Every time we plan a visit back home, my mom asks what I want to do. Every answer has some version of riding 4wheelers to see the cows and the neighbors, and no trip would be complete without Mrs. Helen coming for breakfast at least once.

A couple of weeks ago we finally got to go back. It was the longest stretch of my life without being in Arkansas--6 hard months. Some may laugh at that, but I was having one of the most homesick spells of my life. Mom knew I was homesick something fierce, so she scheduled for their hay to be cut as we were getting into town. My heart exploded from the smell of freshly cut hay (one of my two favorite smells--I also love the smell of horse sweat).

During the week Cash and I took out on the gator by ourselves in what I would call the longest date we've had since having 2 children. We checked cows (well, we will say check loosely), rode around the farm, drove to the river, and stopped at the cemetery. It was at this stop that I realized so much of what I love today, despite now being 600 miles away, is because of this little community.

Oak Ridge Cemetery, across from JCC
My first time I ever voted was right there in Jethro, Arkansas, in the community building. At the time it wasn't even as nice as it is now. I remember a lot of older folks working the polls and people bringing in homemade pies for the workers. I remember a stove that helped heat the place. I remember voting for George W. Bush, and although my vote was only 1 of millions I felt a part of something so much bigger than me. (Who knew less than 10 years later I'd be living in his hometown? Smaller world than I thought.)

Jethro Community Center

Jethro Community Center

Throughout college I would drive home on election days and vote right there in the Jethro Community Center. I grew to love politics, and it is no doubt that that love was revealed while checking a ballot in a place most of America doesn't even know exists. Well, there and in my parent's living room where my dad and I would talk politics in great detail only to have my mom annoyed and frustrated by the 4th hour of Fox News.

Although I hold to the nostalgia of the Jethro Community Center, it is only one of thousands of places just like it. All across America folks are voting in churches, libraries, city halls, and fair buildings. Heck, my great uncle even had a barn that his community voted in. It's places like these that make up America. Places that even though they are so far removed from voter ID laws they don't even know why they became law, they still make their second cousin show ID because, well, it's the law.

It is the Jethro community centers across America that thousands of us go vote and collectively prove that democracy is not dead. That even with a difference of political opinion, we can still share a great homemade pecan pie. It is where little girls and little boys go with their parents when they vote and then grow up to love politics. Maybe they even become politicians who enact laws, or maybe they become stay at home moms who read books to their children about our country's history. It is a place that we get to share with those who came before us in a process that so many others have never had the freedom to do. It is all these little places that politicians forget exist that really make our country go 'round.

This year on the 4th of July we will gather at baseball games and parades and fireworks shows and be thankful for our freedoms. We may long for a departed soldier who is halfway around the world or visit one who came home in a way we had not hoped. No doubt we will unite in that this is the best country in the world only to go back to our differences tomorrow. America, what a funny country. The place where we debate politics on big stages in front of large crowds, yet the scores of those debates are settled in small towns with infinitely smaller community buildings with nothing but a person and a secret ballot to know what was marked.

It has become cliche and overused, but my gosh am I proud to be an American. Thank you to all those who paved the path for our freedoms yesterday and all those who still fight for them today.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Greatest of These Is Love

Y'all. I was cleaning up the house tonight and got into the nursery closet. I have all of the cards from both babies and kept saying I wanted to organize them, so tonight ended up being randomly selected.

As I dug into AL's side of the stash, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of love. I read through cards so many of you sent. I found contracts with the funeral home. I thumbed through books we were given about infant loss. These very things held us together during that difficult time.

I put my mind back there, to the place we lived in a mere 8 months ago. My stomach lumped to my throat as I heard AL in the living room with her dad as I read through these reminders of how close we were to not hearing those laughs or kissing those chubby cheeks.

I sat there in that little closet reminiscing too on the absolute love that filled our souls then and still does. Sometimes we don't realize how much a card or phone call or smile means to someone. But for me your words, your love, kept me going and gave me strength. And as AL came into this world, the cards and sweet gifts didn't stop. You all have loved us so well.

Maybe I've said thanks before, but I can never say thanks enough.

I get tired and frustrated. Sometimes I complain about checkups and blood work and prescription refills. I would do a lot of things just to get a nap. I may have even flipped out on the girl at the Wal-Mart pickup today because I absolutely did not want to go inside with 2 babies. I've told Henry too many times that I have household chores to do and I can't read a book right then. In the middle of the night my first emotion of being hurled from my sleep is not "Oh, how blessed we are."

But my goodness. How much was I reminded tonight of the loved poured on us? Love is the greatest gift God gave us. And y'all gave it abundantly (and you still do). Thank you.

AL says THANKS too for the love and prayers!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Walking the Green Mile

Finally we are headed out of Houston. It was a busy few days, and although we are thankful for the care it is time to go home. (Well, actually on to Austin, but then HOME!)

We started Wednesday at the pediatric dentist as AL's physical therapist noticed she has a lip tie. The dentist confirmed this and also noticed a tongue tie. So I got to help hold her down while the dentist lasered them both. I had in my mind this would be painless for AL. It wasn't. At all. It basically cauterized her. So I felt terrible about it all despite knowing it had to be done. That little baby has been through it already.

The next day AL had her first big girl ultrasound. Obviously they did a gazillion when I was pregnant and a couple in the NICU, but this is the first once since. She was such a big girl watching Paw Patrol and never had a care in the world. She is already such a sweet, calming spirit. Lord knew that we needed that.

Getting ready

No worries when cartoons are on!

Her nephrologist was very pleased with her progress. Her kidneys are growing well! Her right kidney is still good and the left is still dilated. But, hey, all you need is 1 so we will take it for now.

We had been concerned that she would need a low sodium diet, but based on her creatinine and electrolyte levels both the nephrologist and dietician said for now she can have a normal diet. This was great news.

I remember in college I went on a few dates with a guy who could not have sodium, and the more I thought about it the more I didn't think that was a possibility for me. So, obviously, relationship ended. But I felt so bad for this guy having to cook everything from scratch and never getting to eat pizza rolls. That sounds ridiculous, but it worried me with AL. I am thankful that at this point we are throwing extra salt on our chips at Dos Compadres.

As we got off the elevator we decided to pop our heads into the fetal center to say hi to Dr. Johnson, our Houston fetal specialist (and co-director of the fetal center) who first told us her condition was no longer fatal, and Blair, the sweet genetic counselor who saw us through the amnioscentesis and genetic testing (and even helped us find housing). Dr. Johnson had convinced us to deliver in Houston despite some talk that it may not be necessary, and every day of my life I'm thankful he did. We had some rough patches after delivery while there, but once I called Dr. Johnson he personally ensured we were well taken care of. (Sadly, McDreamy wasn't there yesterday.)

Dr. Johnson, our Houston fetal specialist

Blair, our Houston genetic counselor

This morning we had a checkup with urology to mostly discuss a possible abdominoplasty. While we had hoped this would happen near her first birthday, it looks as though we will keep monitoring and discussing until closer to her second birthday. He also talked with us about going to his clinic instead of the medical center and getting back to our NICU nephrologist instead of the one we were placed with after her hospital stay. For this we were thrilled!

I have lots of feelings about Houston. The medical center brings out the most emotion. Last time I could barely handle it, but this time it was almost therapeutic. I love Houston and I hate it.

Houston is too big for me. All the people on top of each other in a cloud of humidity just makes me feel disgusting. It is where we learned AL has Prune Belly and where I stormed out of the NICU mad and in tears. It is miserable.

But it is also where we spent our last days as a family of 3. It is where we were told officially God gave us a miracle and that AL would make it. It is where I made a friend in the girls at Magpies in Bellaire. It is where our children first met each other, first hugged, first knew how to instinctively love. In these ways I love that place.

The day we packed up our house in Bellaire to go home to Midland, I sat and cried. So much had happened. We had lived a mere 3 weeks in that house but our lives had been changed forever. It was our bubble and a time in our lives that stands out from the others. No comforts of home or friends with dinners greeted us when we brought AL into that little house. It was the place where the only people who knew our family of 4 existed was us. So when we go back and are in that life again, it is as if our normal life pauses and our Houston life comes out of a dream. I feel like I didn't just fantasize that it all happened. Our reality becomes real again.

On Thursday morning Cash took Henry to Hermann Park while I took AL to her ultrasound. As I carried her down the windy skybridge, I reflected on the other times we had been on the same walk. The first time I ever ventured down that long walk with her was as we walked in as 2 young, nervous parents going in for the induction. Then for a week I walked those halls without her. Those walls saw tears of sorrow as I left my baby girl in the hospital, tears of fear as we learned of her diagnosis, and tears of joy as we finally got to take her home. This time she and I walked in together again, and I felt God remind me of all the times He had been there on that walk with us. That walk, which used to be my green mile, is now my parade of triumph.

Walking the skybridge together again

Hermann Park
Picking up my stay at home dad from the park

Houston, until next time...

Avery Jane

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Love of an 11 Year Old

I'm sitting here tonight at a near loss for words. Eleven years ago today my niece Addison was born. I was excited to have my first niece...and not so secretly glad she missed my own birthday by a day. I had been sharing with her brother already, even though his birthday is 5 months after mine. To his Nana it would be my birthday but Braeson's 7 month birthday, so I got to share. You can imagine when Addi came along shortly thereafter, I hoped with all my might it wouldn't be the exact day. I figured my mom wouldn't even know I existed by then let alone bake me a cake.

Yet for 10 years I have shared a celebration with Addi anyway, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Since I moved to Texas nearly 5 years ago, Cash and I have gone to Arkansas every single year on Memorial Day weekend to celebrate our birthdays. Except this year. AnnLouise has checkups in Houston this week, so it just seemed daunting to travel that much.

To add to the non-celebration, Addi only asked for money this year. I kept begging her to let me get her something else, but she insisted on money because she "wanted souvenirs at the beach." I couldn't believe she had already gotten to the age where all she wanted was money. I kept wondering when did she get that old?

My mom hosted dinner for Addi tonight and had told me they really wanted to Skype with the kids if possible. So I called when we got a chance.

As we started talking and I "sang" Happy Birthday to Addi, she told us she may have lied a little bit about why she wanted money for her birthday. Okay, I thought, she wanted a computer or something. But instead of a computer or sewing machine or iPad, she told us she was taking all $418 she got for her birthday...

And donating it to prune belly syndrome research.

Just typing that my tears are uncontrollable. I could barely use words to finish our conversation.

Over the past few months I've been consumed with so many things that either were centered around how I was handling AL's diagnosis or frustration just on things out of our control. Yet here was my niece who was crushed when she learned AL wouldn't make it, who prayed for her so hard, who had crocheted a hat for AL before she was born, who drove to Texas just to hold the little miracle..and now she had spent these past few months preparing to donate her birthday money on AL's behalf.

In that moment I learned a lot about love. And maturity.

I also realized it wasn't just AL or me or Cash or Henry who was affected by her story. It had hurt Addison too. It had broken her heart and shown her a miracle all at the same time. While I felt all alone many days as I sat in a puddle of tears, 600 miles away was a little girl who hurt just as bad. The difference in her and I was that she stood up and did something about it.

Addison, I love you. Thank you for being someone I can look up to.

Addi and AL

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Truth About Things

Henry is back!! My boy went to Arkansas with his grandparents for 8 long days. Oh, I missed him. It is nice to hear his giggle again. I could totally do without the whining, but the giggles sure are great.
Playing with the goats at Aunt Sherry and Uncle Roger's house

Trying to teach Bumpy how to drive the gator

Basketball with Tyce

Chillin' with Braeson

Making Mac clean up his mess and telling her how to do it
While he was gone, we got to spend more time focusing on sissy girl. I don't know if I realized how bad I needed that. I got to ENJOY her instead of just keeping her alive. I got to learn how she likes to be put to sleep, her real nursing schedule, what her cries are. And most importantly I got to take moments and just watch her smile. That girl. Ooohhh. She's a soul stealer.



Sweet dreams

Sweet angel baby

I also had a revelation. Let me be very honest without judgment. This past week I learned that the number of kids you have equates to the average number of days you go between showers. 

Prior to children I showered daily. (Okay, like 6 days a week, but that's daily.) Zero children=zero days between showers.

Then came cute little Henry, my heartthrob. Once I learned that he really did not have to be held 23 hours a day, I was able to shower...some. 1 child=1 day between showers.

And then came baby AnnLouise, my angel. She doesn't just like to be held. She also likes to nurse forreevveerrr. By the time she is done nursing, Henry is ready to GO OUTSIDE! He basically is screaming that at me by the time she's done. Since I'm always balancing the two, I have a dilemma for myself: when Cash comes home for lunch, do I eat or do I shower? Of course my obvious choice here is to eat. So 2 kids=2+ days between showers.

On special days like today I got to choose neither eating nor showering. The kids were so good this morning (really). We were up, nursed, fed, clothed, and out the door by 9. 9! As I drove to the duck pond for a morning adventure, I was humbly bragging to myself when I realized I had zero idea the last time I showered. 

Then I thought, "No big deal. I'll shower when Cash comes home for lunch today! I will forego lunch for a good dose of Herbal Essence." Aside from the Jehovah's Witnesses soliciting at the park (what is that?! Why?!), no one in their right mind stopped to talk to us. The others took 1 look at a lady carrying a newborn while she wrangled a toddler on a leash and thought better about chatting it up. Not even when Henry all but tackled the dogs people were walking did someone attempt to even make eye contact with me. But not the Jehovah's Witnesses. They obviously saw I had small children because they shoved a child's coloring book in my one open finger. It did give me the false hope I didn't look too disgusting, so I decided to brave the shoe store.
This is a boy ready for an adventure.
Apparently kids grow so fast that they leave for 8 days and come back with toes curled in their tennis shoes and cry when you put them down to walk and start stutter stepping like they're on a bed of coals. When Henry started the hot potato dance in his tennis shoes this morning, I knew it was time. So off to Terry's we went. I got both kids out of the car, one in the stroller and one "helping me push", and walked to the door. Except when we got there it was closed. CLOSED!!!!! No warning. No reasoning. Just closed. 

As I pushed back a tear I told myself to just get in the car and get myself to Sonic for that overpriced crushed ice and it will be okay. In the interim Henry got so ticked at me for putting up the stroller that he decided running away was his best option. I may have had the cops called on me, because y'all, I didn't even care. I spanked his bottom right there in public. And he giggled about it.

I got all the way to Sonic when Cash called and offered to meet me at the baby store to check out shoes. We ended up just meeting at Dillard's and calling it a morning. The girl working the kid's shoes at Dillard's was obviously worried about working her way up the corporate ladder based on her customer service skills. We stood 3 feet from her the whole time and she didn't speak a word to us. She actually left at one point and the girl from the section over had to help us. Maybe it was me. Like I said it had been a minute or two since my last shower. 

As we were leaving Dillard's with 2 new pairs of shoes, I couldn't help but laugh that this morning when I woke up I didn't even know Henry had outgrown his shoes. And within 4 hours here I was at Dillard's with new shoes, 2 kids, my husband, and a really pitiful looking hairdo. 

We got home. Cash and Henry ate lunch while AL nursed. Somehow after Cash went back to work Henry got in his big boy bed and fell asleep without even being rocked. I realized I hadn't eaten, so given the chance I went to town on some leftovers and only had to hold 1 kid. AL decided she didn't want to take a nap in her swing...she prefers naps in momma's arms. So that's where we are. And. I still haven't showered. Maybe tonight. 

Avery Jane

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Closing of a Chapter

Three months ago I was at home with Henry when I got a call from Cash. I heard him shut his office doors, so I knew it was serious.

"Have you seen the news?"
"No."
"The company just announced that it is selling."

I sat in a state of shock for, well, going on 3 months now. During this time we have temporarily relocated to Houston, had another baby, brought said baby back to Midland, and made yet another trip to Houston for a check-up. While we had so much going on with AnnLouise, on our minds for 90 days has been the closing of a chapter, the end of an era.

learning the ropes with my favorite rockhound
It would be easy to sit here today and hang our heads about the pure sadness of Clayton Williams Energy selling. Instead we will reflect on our time and reminisce on so many incredible memories that the past decade has brought. CWEI was one of the last companies from the old wildcatter days, and much like the man at the helm the company itself was truly unique.

I can't talk about CWEI without talking about the culture. After 10 years Cash was still one of the young guys. Many people have spent the past 20+ years calling CWEI home, and it was obvious throughout the office that it was truly a home to most. The culture and family atmosphere was never discussed or pushed; it just...was.

Cash was blessed to work directly for a great man, Sam. When Cash was in college and went in for an interview to intern at CWEI, Sam's one and only question was, "How much do you want to make?" I think they settled on something like 10 bucks an hour, and that was the beginning of one of the most impressionable relationships Cash has ever had.

Sam with Henry at the 2016 crawfish boil
After two summers of interning, while Cash was back at UTA finishing his last semester, Sam called him and offered a full-time position. No questions. No doubts. Cash took it and never looked back.

The next decade brought fishing trips, ranch parties, deer camps, political dignitaries, tequila shots, and a couple butt chewings or two. If you know much about Claytie Williams, you know his persona is big and mesmerizing. He ran his company the same way. Nothing was ever small, and nothing was ever predictable.

The first year Cash and I were dating he took me to the annual Ranch Party for Claytie's birthday. I had never seen anything like it. Way down close to Alpine, Texas, Claytie had invited a couple thousand of his closest friends to his ranch. That year the main entertainment was The Oak Ridge Boys. I couldn't believe it. People mingled around the ranch listening to The Oak Ridge Boys in this private concert like it was normal. It was not normal for a small town schoolteacher like myself. It was the coolest thing I had ever done. Claytie brought in another band to play the dance that took place on the tennis courts (because why wouldn't you have a tennis court on your ranch?!). So all night we danced and talked and ate and drank.

Ranch Party 2011

the buffet at the ranch parties

Claytie doing Claytie things

Oak Ridge Boys at the 2011 Ranch Party

Barbara and I hanging with the ORB

another year, another Ranch Party
Ranch Party 2013

mariachi band--a must for any CWEI event

Clint Black at the 2012 Ranch Party
Another perk of the job was fly-fishing trips to Wyoming, although the mass of people was scaled down tremendously. Claytie flew a group up to Q Creek Ranch, a remote destination in Wyoming which he used to own. Once there the group would spend their days fly-fishing or prairie dog hunting, and the nights would be spent listening to stories about the good ol' days or to local bands, maybe play a few hands of poker, take shots of tequila, whatever the night may bring.

Cash and one of his brown trout

Q Creek Ranch

Cash and his rainbow trout
back to Q Creek Ranch for a deer hunt
In the fall Claytie would host a deer camp on one of his ranches where some employees would get to hunt the enormous ranch via old Land Cruisers. Their guides would be the "big dogs" of the company, the senior guys who had been with him for decades. Typically Cash's boss Sam would be his guide, and they would drive around all day looking for just the right one. At night they would bring in folks to pick guitars around the campfire and they would eat feasts cooked in the back of a chuck wagon by the camp cooks.


Sam and my FIL, Big Russ

Cash slaying those Texas mule deer

Sam guiding for Little Johnny
I'll never forget the days Cash would come home and say some big political figure had been in the office. It became so common to him that if it was "just the lieutenant governor" then he seldom mentioned it.

During the recent oil boom I never knew what story Cash would have that day. One afternoon I got a call from work that he'd be home late because he had to drive a local philanthropist home who took so many tequila shots (chased with beer) in the war room with Claytie that he couldn't stand up. Some days he would tell me about Claytie telling them to come into the war room for a meeting, but to enter they had to tell a dirty joke first. Once he even called and invited me to happy hour with him, his boss, and a couple of the engineers. When I got there, they had been there for some time. His boss bragged on him and the younger engineer saying they had just had a record quarter all because of those two. I was so proud of Cash for his hard work, and I knew this was the way things like that were celebrated at CWEI. However, this was much milder celebrating than years past. Afterall this is the CEO who once made a deal at the urinals in The Bar, so that acreage block was termed the Urinal Tract. That's how things were.
with Modesta at a Ranch Party
Every December Claytie would have Santa come into the atrium of ClayDesta where the kids could have their picture taken. Christmas parties of course were never what I had known in my past life, and like most other parties you could count on a mariachi band. That was typical Claytie--a mariachi band.

Henry's first time to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus
Oh, there were hard days too. Cash is the type of guy who is never too high or too low. He is just pretty laid back. So it caught me by surprise when I begged him one day for a story on a bad day he had had; I really didn't think the guy had bad days. The story started with a few of them having to call Claytie and tell him about a major mistake they had made on a well. And it ended with Claytie telling them to never call him with that kind of news again; instead just shoot themselves in the blankety blank head next time they do something so stupid.

Yet it didn't matter what kind of day he had, Cash loved working at CWEI. He loved that Sam threw him in on day 1 all those years ago and let him learn horizontal drilling by doing it and making mistakes. He loved Friday afternoons when Sam would say, "Hey, today let's go golfing instead." He even loved those mornings at 2 AM when the rig would call, and he would have to get up and start steering the well. It was not all fun and games. It was definitely a work hard, play hard kind of business. Cash loved it, mostly because he really loved the people he was doing it with.

Yesterday before his boss left he came in and gave Cash a hug. After 25 years Sam's life at CWEI came to a close. When Cash told me about saying goodbye to him, I just wept. After all the wells drilled and trips taken and parties enjoyed and meetings had, they ended with a hug. It is hard to watch your husband talk about saying goodbye to the person he respected more than anyone.

In our near 5 years of marriage I've often asked Cash if he would be willing to look for another job. "No. I am loyal to Sam." And he never did. Even when the company made paycuts across the board because the bust had hit them where it hurt, he never even considered looking. Until 3 weeks ago his only interview in his life had been the one where Sam's only question had been how much did he want to make. So today we close a chapter of our lives. We will forever hold these years dear to us as we reflect on a decade of memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Thank you, CWEI and all of your many people who became family to us. We love you. We will miss you. And we will always remember you.

Oh...and piss on Obama.