“Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 CEB)
Merry Christmas from The Jones Family!! May God’s abundant blessings be with you today and always!
I imagine many of you were like me when you were a kid when it came to being thankful…at least I hope so. In those days my thoughts of thanks came up approximately once a year – Thanksgiving Day. Yes, those were the days when I was forced against my will and my better judgment to hold hands with the family as we stood around the dinner table, which was bowed with the weight of all of the delights that awaited our salaciously salivating taste buds, and recall the things that I was thankful for that year. In those times I wasn’t thankful in the least bit and could not care less about what had happened over the last year. My eyes were on the turkey, stuffing, corn casserole, and the pies that lay before my eager eyes; my mind was on the Cowboy game which would begin shortly after the feast; and my heart was on…well, it was on myself and anything that made me happy at that very moment which clearly did not include allowing the food to get cold while I listened to my family drone on about health and happiness and all that other mushy-feely, happy goodness which we are taught to be thankful for whether we really felt it or not. Hopefully I am not the only one who felt this way…pat your turkey and cranberry stuffed belly a few times if you’re with me!!
Ahh, those were the days! I had the luxury and, in a way, the expectation to be as selfish and carefree as I could possibly be. Sure, I was being taught to be thankful and selfless and all that junk, but my elders always said that “someday” I would understand and since that someday was not expected to have arrived yet, I was more than happy to put off all of that selflessness talk until that someday arrived. C’mon, I know I’m not alone. You, over there half asleep on the couch while the game plays in the background and the women clean the kitchen …I know you feel me! (Hopefully the lady readers out there recognize this as a subtle jab at the men and not a chauvinistic poke at you!)
Well, as all parents are acutely aware, that someday comes and it comes with a vengeance.* And now that that someday has invaded my life, being thankful is not such a challenging task anymore. Maybe it was the struggle that Casey and I went through to get pregnant with Eliot and the subsequent struggle of keeping that pregnancy alive that taught us how to be grateful for the small things in life…you know, health, happiness, and all that junk. I remember asking my parents shortly after Eliot was born, “do you ever stop worrying over your kids??” The girl had not celebrated her first birthday and I had already fast forwarded to concerns of boys and sexual predators and abusive husbands and the dangers of college life and mean-girl cliques and…ok, I’ll stop now.
Or maybe gratitude is something that comes to all of us eventually, kids or no kids, as we face enough of life’s challenges and come to the sobering realization that life can be really, really, really hard and unpleasant and downright awful sometimes. Believe me when I tell you that when you face enough shouts from angry customers or red marks from hard to please professors and disrespectful comments from disrespectful people who are supposed to know better, you learn really quickly how to be grateful for those who approach life and humanity in the way that God intended…with respect and courtesy and love.
Call it maturity, call it parenthood, call it the lessons learned from the logic of life, if you like; whatever it is that brought me to this point in my maturation, the fact for me is that I now know that being thankful is something that should come very, very easily. You have heard us say it time and time again: we have had and continue to have a very good life and we have no reason to complain. But don’t people who have very good lives still have very bad things sometimes happen to them? And shouldn’t they have the right to complain from time to time? I mean, no matter how good life is, it is still life and life as we all know by now can be very, very, very hard…I think I said that once already.
It all comes down to fairness, I suppose. Americans love their fairness right? We pull for the underdog, we excoriate those who try to gain an unfair advantage, and the child born with a silver spoon in his mouth has much more to prove to the everyday American than do those born on the other side of the tracks. But to be honest, what do most Americans know about being fair anyway? When you consider that 45% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day (nearly 3 BILLION people!!!!!) while many Americans spend $2 nearly every other waking minute, how can we talk about fairness? What do we really know about being grateful? While we are in an uproar over new airport security measures that promise to delay us (oh, my!) and possibly embarrass us (the horror!) and the fact that Bristol Palin made it to the finals of “Dancing With The Stars” (conspiracy, I tell you!), children are dying daily of Cholera in Haiti, 1 million kids are sold into sex slavery every year, mothers in Africa are dying from a disease that is prevented by a 20 cent drug, and just yesterday roughly 7,600 people worldwide were infected with HIV, mostly among those living in the world’s poorest, most destitute regions where hope is something they know nothing of…by our definition of the word anyway. Given that contrast of ideas, I would have to say that when it comes to being grateful, most Americans are clueless as to what that word really means.
I count myself among the ranks of the clueless, just so you know. I have been accused of being a bit high maintenance and my accusers are more often accurate than they are not. I work hard to gain the fruits of my labor, yes; but how would I react if I woke up to a world that was drastically different from the one I once knew? How would I respond to a bank account that was wiped out, a refrigerator that was empty, and a car that wouldn’t start? How would I respond to God if he had chosen me or my loved ones for the “challenge” of dealing with a fatal, incurable disease? Truth be told, I do not know. Some have said that we responded very well to the quintuplet invasion and the change it brought to our lives, but I am here to tell you that there were times and there are still times today when our response is not nearly as gracious as it could be. How would you respond to these things?
There was a time when Casey was in the hospital waiting for the babies to be born and I was trying to maintain an income to handle the family’s needs, and time with Eliot was really hard to come by, and life was beginning to feel like it had become more than I could handle. The blinders of uncertainty seemed to grow tighter and tighter around our world every moment of every day and instead of looking forward to the birth of our babies with joy and excitement, I was beginning to suffocate from the lack of oxygen in my new reality. I was struggling and I was sinking; I was frustrated and I was scared. And then a thought occurred to me as I was pulling up to the hospital one day. What if I was thankful instead of frustrated? And what if I showed gratitude instead of showing fear?
It took me 10 or 15 minutes to walk from my car that day through the maze of halls and waiting rooms to get to my lady’s side in her new home, room 314 in the labor and delivery wing at Seton Medical Center. And during that time I gave myself a good talking-to…the people who passed me in the halls probably thought I was an escapee from the mental ward! I did not scold or chide myself; I simply made a list. I made a mental list of everything that I was grateful for…everything, big and small, that I could possibly think to be thankful for got an entry in the file. “I’m thankful for my beautiful wife, my amazing daughter, parents who love me, and Blue Bell ice cream. I’m thankful for sunshine and dogs and green grass and cold weather in the winter. I’m thankful for Christ in my life, for Riverbend Church, for Longhorn Football, Baylor’s Business School, and our troops fighting overseas. I’m thankful for music and art and the freedom to appreciate both even though I am terribly inadequate at either. I am thankful for those five babies about to enter my world and the amazing medical science that has made their survival possible. I am thankful for friends and strangers alike who have supported us all along the way and I am thankful for the critics and the grounding that they help us to achieve. I am thankful for being thankful, for being an American, and did I mention Blue Bell ice cream??”
The list went on and on and did not stop until I had reached Casey’s side. And the Ethan that appeared in that hospital room that day was an Ethan that had not been seen in awhile. Frustration had been replaced by optimism; fear replaced with hope; joy replaced misery…the joy of being thankful replaced the responsibility of being thankful. I discovered on that day, during that walk that the simple act of being thankful was a gift in and of itself and it too was something to be thankful for.
We have a friend who came into our lives when the babies came home from the hospital. She was one of the first volunteers to sign up for a baby care shift and she still comes today when her schedule permits. Casey and I both admire Michelle and her husband, Brian, deeply for their wide open love for life. Michelle is a hopelessly lost romantic and an infectious optimist with a very inspiring daily routine. Every day (almost), even on long, tough days like she has had recently with her new job, before she considers her day complete, Michelle sends out an email to friends and family titled “Gratitude List.” Sometimes long and dreamy, sometimes short and to the point, the email is nothing more than a list of the things in life that she is grateful for on that particular day. I love getting the Gratitude List at the end of my own day and I love the daily reminder that I am provided with by Michelle’s subtle urging – be thankful for all things, little and big, and be mindful of those things…every single day.
It’s brilliant, isn’t it? To turn something so simple, so ordinary, and so attainable to every one of us into something so uplifting, so communal, and so restorative…absolutely brilliant. God did this…for you, for me, and for everyone else out there. No matter where you are in life, no matter how rough things have gotten for you, no matter how many mistakes you have made or how simply unfair life has been to you, there is always something that you can be thankful for. Always…no asterisks, no parentheses, and no footnotes…simply always. And the mindblowingly simple act of remembering to be thankful for those things is the very thing which can help turn your whole world from something that is frustrating, fearful, and full of misery into something that is optimistic, hopeful, and full of joy. The brilliance is in the simplicity, the power is in the individual, the authority to make the decision is within…………you.
Happy Thanksgiving!!! God bless!!
*Side note: being thankful and unselfish is not merely reserved for the parents among us, though my experience tells me that there are but a very few blessed and fortunate souls who do not yet have children, but have somehow managed to learn the lessons of the grateful kind :)
**Side note #2: all of this talk of America being so abundant is not to say that we do not have more than our fair share of struggles and heartaches right here on the home front. Lord knows millions of Americans live in brokenness and poverty and disease with little hope of change. But the opportunities that exist in this country vastly outweigh those available to the world’s poorest individuals.
The Jones 8 and our little entourage made our way back to Riverbend Church yesterday to kick off the diaper drive they are hosting for us this month. Man, it was great to be back! We are really looking forward to the day when we can make more regular Sunday morning appearances, but yesterday made it clear that we are not quite ready for that! It took four adult helpers (thank you, Stevie, Michelle, Tricia, and Avery!) to help get The Fab Five primped, prepped, stuffed, and buffed for their big appearance on stage! Imagine getting five babies bottled, changed, dressed, fed breakfast, calmed, and buckled into their car seats in a little less than an hour and then you can imagine why it took so much help…and oh yeah, me, Casey, and Eliot still had to manage to get ready at the same time..aaaaagggghhhh!! In spite of the chaos, the event went great – Riverbend is always so good to us! We skipped their morning naps, but the babies did not seem to notice (no meltdowns and no crying on stage!) and Eliot played the role of Superstar Big Sis better than ever!
We are so grateful to Riverbend Church and the generosity of the congregation for making this happen for us!! We are proud to be associated with a church home that puts its faith into action all across Austin and around the world. Here are some of the other outreach programs Riverbend and its members did during 2009……
Riverbend’s motto is this: We exist to allow others to experience God’s love and grace, both on our campus and off our campus, reaching out especially to those who are bruised, battered, broken, and bored, and are looking for help and searching for something more. We have been members of this church for seven years now and it has been so awesome to join this church community in living out its commitment to Christ’s principles. I never would have guessed that we would have a need to experience first-hand, but now I cannot imagine how we could have gotten along without it!
For more information on the diaper drive, click here: Riverbend Diaper Drive.
I’ve been contemplating doing a post like this for quite some time, but I always held back for some reason. I often think a bit too much into things and that is probably what I am doing here (As a matter of fact, Casey just read this post and said that I’m laying it on a bit too thick so it looks like I’m up to my usual tricks…but onward I charge!). Here’s the deal…unfortunately, the responses to this blog and the way that we have chosen to live our lives are not always positive. And the cynicism that swirls around our story all too often finds its way into my inbox. It wasn’t unexpected, but it still isn’t much fun to deal with. And Try as I might, I often fail the “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never harm me” test that we all learned so well in elementary school! I’m guessing, actually I am certain, this blog post will invite more attention from the cynics and I guess that is why I’ve hesitated to hit the “publish” button on this post.
It has been our sincere hope from the day we started this adventure that God would use our lives to impact others, even in the tiniest of ways. Well I am here to tell you that this hope has not been in vain, as the following words will attest. Below is a small sampling of the words of encouragement, support, and inspiration that we have received since the adventure took over our lives. And as this story grows, it is our prayer that our inbox is stuffed with more of these stories, more stories of love and appreciation and of God’s touch on individual lives made possible by His creative hand in the beginning of these five tiny lives…
Thank you to everyone out there who has supported us, in words, thoughts or deeds. And most especially, thank you to those who have found inspiration in our story and have shared your story with us!
“I helped very little but gained so much from the miracle of the Jones family.” BJ
“It has been my joy to be associated with (the babies) and the rest of the family. You all bring a lot of joy to my heart.” FS
“I really am proud of how you are using your experience to reach others. Congratulations!” JP
“I truly look forward to my weekly visit and helping out with the Fab Five – they are angels from Heaven.” CS
“I think your story should be told. There is no way you guys would have got this far without your faith in God and each other. You are good people and will be an example to those that watch.” DB
“Little did I know that following the Joneslife, I would be spiritually uplifted. Your blog has reached out to me and reminded me of the morals and values that I was raised with. And although the flame to my light had dimmed over the years, reading your blog and following your story made MY light shine brighter.” VM
“You guys are a sweet family and are a great role model for families out there. I read this and think about how much you and Casey do – it really is an inspiring story.” BC
“I just wanted you to know that your faith has inspired me more than you will ever know. I was amazed by your strength as the babies were in the NICU and even more so when you were struggling in “survival mode.” Thanks for allowing me to experience your journey through your writings!” MH
“Your family has made a HUGE impact on my life as well. I am blessed to know the Jones and all the volunteers I have met in your home.” MT
“Thank you for making your story public with us Austinites from the beginning…I wouldn’t know you guys otherwise and the quints have definitely had a positive impact on my life! For that I’m so grateful to you and Casey for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity!!” JE
“They are always so thankful for the volunteers, but the little secret is that it probably does more for my stress level and happiness than they could ever know! I always leave there with a smile. The world needs more parents and friends like them.” MT
“We have been following your journey since before the Fab Five arrived and we love your tweets and blogs. It reminds us that no matter what we are faced with, trust in God and we’ll be ok. We have a daughter with special needs who is 6-1/2 so we often need reminding that all will be ok :)” ML from Australia
“Your children are absolutely beautiful! I can’t tell you how much my daughter and I have enjoyed watching them grow.” TG
“It’s been a joy to see your beautiful family grow, and your strength and faith is an inspiration to so many.” MC
“While I know ya’ll appreciate the help so much, please accept my thanks to you both for the time I get to spend with the quints. I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to get out of my daily “grind” and into their world. It is so refreshing to see their smiles and just watch them play, eat, sleep…and even fuss. Coming to your house gets me out of my trivial problems and reminds me of what life is all about. It is such a joy to spend time with them.” LG
“The last five weeks have been tough with a new baby but when I start to get down and feeling sorry for myself I just think of you and how strong you guys are and so committed to God and your family I perk up and have a great day!” LC
“I just wanted to you know your lives are touching many. Thank you for inspiring ours.” HH
“I believe you are touching people’s lives through this, giving people hope and inspiration…Again, thank you for your words…….I believe God is defintely speaking to people through you.” LM
“Reading today’s blog blessed my heart and brought tears to my eyes.” BJ
“Appreciate the transparency. You’re truly being a witness through your life events.” DY
“It just seems to me when I see that kind of outpouring of prayers and service that it is evidence that the whole thing is meant to be and that God is behind it all. Isn’t that a nice feeling?” JW
“I don’t know of a non-churchy way of saying it, but your faith as evident in all you say is an example and encouragement to all… and an example of the way a christian dude should treat his wife.” BS
“Every evening before Madison goes to bed, we say our prayers. Last night, I prayed and right as I was about to say ‘Amen,’ Madison cut me off and said, ‘Mommy, you can’t end this prayer yet. I need to say something to God.’ She continued with this: ‘God, I want to ask you if you can let me and Mommy have a party. Because the daddy of the quintuplets wrote that they had a party because they were thankful for their babies and because they lived through the first year. Well me and Mommy have lived through four years without Daddy and I am thankful for Mommy and that she is still here with me, so I think we should celebrate too’ Thank you for sharing your precious family with us, and more importantly, thank you for touching my daughter’s heart.” SM
I wrote this letter to the JonesLife volunteers to thank them for all they have done over the last year, but we wanted to share it with everyone out there who has been involved in even the tiniest way in helping us to survive and thrive in this, year one of the Quintuplet Invasion…
Dear JonesLife Volunteers,
Can you believe The Fab Five is turning one tomorrow?! We are so excited to celebrate their birthday with all of you! I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for what you have done for us over the past 12 months and in that regard I’d like to share a quick story with you.
As part of the filming for the documentary that is being filmed about our life with the five, I was being interviewed the other day when I was asked a question that I had not considered, only because to me, the answer was obvious. However, in answering the question, I realized that the answer may not be as clear to others as it was so in my head and in Casey’s thoughts as well.
The question was simple: “The birthday party…why are you guys throwing such a big party? Why are you inviting this chaos into your home…I mean, 100 people? Why would you do that?” And this was my reply…
Are you kidding me? This is a CEL-E-BRATION! I mean, think about the history of what a birthday celebration originally meant – it was a true recognition of the fact that you had survived in this world another year. This day and age we’ve lost the meaning of that because surviving another year, especially in America, is pretty much a given…it’s expected. But this day is different; this birthday truly is recognition of what these babies have been through and what we have encountered as a family in the last 12 months. Think about it, these five babies faced a life and death situation on the day of their birth. I mean, we never really questioned whether they would live or die, but if they hadn’t been born where they were born and been under constant care for nearly three months and been given the most advanced treatments that the gift of medical science would allow, they likely would not have survived. Truly, truly this is a birthday celebration like most families have not experienced!
On top of that, think about what this family has faced since the babies were born – the NICU days where they were strapped to every machine imaginable for their simple survival was not an easy thing to endure. The sleepless nights, the constant feedings, the complete upheaval of every aspect of our lives, the challenge to our marriage, the challenge to Eliot’s state of mind, the strain on our close relationships, the crossover from being virtually needless to being incredibly needy…those things are not easy to overcome in a lifetime, let alone a single year on the calendar! In spite of all of that, this family and this marriage is not merely surviving, we are thriving!
And, of course, this day is also a way of saying thank you. We are doing this not only to celebrate the babies, but also as a way to honor the people who have helped make our family’s survival a possibility! We have met some amazing people who have put their own lives on hold so many times and in so many ways just to help our family feel a slight sense of relief from the magnitude of all of this…change, challenge, stress, LIFE. There is absolutely no way we would be where we are today without the help of our family and the volunteers, most of whom were complete strangers before the babies were born, others we barely knew. This party is as much about thanking them as it is about celebrating the birth of our babies!
This party, this birthday celebration, this gathering is about so much more than cake and ice cream and a simple song. It is about God’s blessings and God’s gifts and about God’s guiding hand on these five tiny lives, on this family’s pulse, and on the hearts of the great many people who faithfully provided sustenance and rest and relief. Given all of that, how could we not celebrate? How could we not give back this one small moment to recognize what this period in our lives has been and what it could not have been without? I don’t see how it could be any other way…
So again, we say, “Thank you!” to all of the volunteers, family members, and friends who have helped us get through year one of the Quintuplet Invasion!! It has been a challenging year, no doubt about it, but more importantly it has been a fun year and a year of incredible growth – literally and figuratively! When we say we could not have done it without your help, you probably know better than us that we mean exactly what we say!
Ethan, Casey, and The Six Pack
I wanted to take a quick moment to thank a couple of ladies for their time, talent, and treasure in creating all of the photos you see on this site (the good photos, I mean!). Tracey Taylor of Taylor Made Portrait Studios and Elle Mendenhall of Ella Bella Photography are the ladies responsible for making these babies shine when the shutters are flying!
Elle Mendenhall heard our story through the media and contacted us about doing a session with the Fab Five. We loved her work and went back to her to do our most recent photos at the park! She is awesome with babies and comes well-prepared for keeping those little eyes on the right spot! She specializes in newborn photography, as you can clearly see! Her photos are the color photos you see on the site and that is her work above.
Tracey Taylor worked with us from the beginning (we had been to her before the pregnancy) and did all of the babies’ first pictures from the NICU and shortly thereafter with the whole family. All of the black and white photos you see on the site are from her studio. What a talent!
I have placed a little button on the sidebar of the JonesLife site – to the right over there – that links out to their individual sites. If you are looking to do family or baby photos, these gals will take care of your every need…check them out!!