One Year

The pulsing silence in my ears is synchronized to the bioluminescent firefly conversations in the trees. The weight upon my chest is heavy as I marvel at their splendor from my parked car. I am numb, and not quite sure what to do with myself, recoiling from the sadness that exploded into misplaced anger. I drive on, cringing at the memory of the blue vinyl chairs in that small little room tucked off to the side of the teal- and tan-tiled hallway. Many people, exhausted with worry had sat in those chairs in close proximity to the doctors and surgeons of their little girl or boy. Those four small walls have been audience to a sad collection of difficult conversations. It had been exactly 365 days, down to the very second, since William and I were in that room. It may as well have been yesterday; my hands gripped the steering wheel, my eyes angrily blinked away the mutiny of tears. All the “should haves” and “if onlys” threatened to latch tightly onto my thoughts, siphoning me of my peace. I shrug them off with a wince; my foot pressing the accelerator.

It had dawned on me that morning, as a merciless punch in the gut, that June 2nd was really Nora’s last full day. June 3, 2014 had only known her for an hour and a half. As I drove, I remembered how we had stayed awake through the darkness of the early morning hours, on into the first hints of daylight. We took turns holding and cradling the 25 pounds of sweetness she had left behind, marveling over her and memorizing her angelic little features. No more tubes, no more wires, no more alarms. How dared the sun come up without her?!?!

There is no way to fix the hurt, adjust the pain to make it more comfortable, or to make any of it go away. It ebbs and it flows, always there, yet pacified by the ever-presence of the Holy Spirit. I KNOW I will see her again, but I miss her. What a beautiful little life, precious little soul who I had the absolute honor of being Mother to. Seven hundred and seventy-seven cherished days that I will never, ever, ever forget.

And so the sun came up again this morning for the 365th time without her. Our hearts, they hurt, but they are also so full of the love that was left behind by a sweet little baby girl named Nora. Thank you, God for her beautiful, MIGHTY little life!

A butterfly for Ali!

A butterfly for Ali!

Also a huge thank you to our beloved family and friends who have come along beside us to carry this heavy burden of grief with us. A special thank you to Nila M., who has gone out of her way to covertly leave a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies on our front porch, or just a little something to let us know she was thinking about and praying for us. Without fail, on the 3rd of every single month over this past year she would bless us and put happy tears in my eyes with her kindness and generosity.  What a beautiful example to me about what it truly means to be God’s hands and feet. THANK YOU, Nila!

"Deez tings tickle!!!!!"

“Deez tings tickle!!!!!”

Thank you, prayer warriors for all of your treasured comments and heart winks, for all of your texts, phone calls and emails today and yesterday. We feel so very loved and comforted by all of the lives our sweet Nornor touched. God bless each of you!

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.
(‭Philippians‬ ‭2‬:‭1-5‬ ESV)

Company in the Void

A deep aching void has been etched into my soul; the space that used to be filled with squeals and happy babbling, the sweet smell of baby skin, soft fuzzy hair — now a vacuum. There is no one and nothing that can fully replenish that emptiness, but sometimes it’s just nice to have company there.

On December 31, 2014 a couple of completely adorable and very identical twin baby boys were born, Ari & Ezra. Their Mom, Melanie is the über talented photographer that captured the emotionally captivating shots of Nora’s birth. {I hate to keep referring to her just as “Nora’s birth photographer” because she is really so much more than that.}. Adjusting to life with two new babies was difficult enough without a frightening bout of RSV that landed one and then both of the babies in the NICU when they were just a couple weeks old. Mixed in to this chaos back at home were also a 5 year old sister, Nori, and a super-mega-high energy 3 year old brother named Nico. When they were all finally back home and under the same roof it wasn’t enough to just bring them dinner. I got that “nudge” to get up off my butt and go help them.

Before Nora was born, and we had no idea what to expect from one day to the next, Melanie had written to me by email. She heard about our situation through her high school friend — my sister Emily. Melanie offered to take the birth photos, which might be the only photos of our baby. I was extremely touched that Melanie was willing to get so close to what MIGHT be a very sad and somber occasion. When she had written to me, she was only 3 months removed from the tragic loss of her sister, Ali.

After Nora scampered off to heaven, two full years later, it should have come as no surprise that the very first grave plot we were shown was literally in arm’s reach of Ali’s earthly resting spot. I had had NO IDEA where Ali was buried until that moment — and about flipped my lid when I figured it out!!! Incredible Godwink, and such a consolation. It was as if God were reminding us that none of this was “by chance”.

After Ari & Ezra were back to health I offered to come over imposed my extra set of empty hands and arms on Melanie and her sweet “Bigs” and “Littles”. There’s no way to fully fill the void of my loss, but it’s been nice to have the company of these precious little bundles in it, and the comic relief of sweet Nori & Nico, and the friendship of their dear mama.

I was delighted to brush up on my baff giving skillz each week. How precious to watch their scrawny little bodies ease into a state of delerious tranquility as the warmth of the water cascaded over their soft baby skin. Each week they got bigger and chunkier, now almost busting out of the sink. All the chins and rolls present a bit more of a challenge. Melanie warned me that there might be “cream cheese” growing in the depths of those rolls! 😂

Gavin & Greta got to come with me one day and in the words of Greta, “It sure felt good to hold a baby again!”

And how sweet to watch my “big tough” 11 year old boy respond to these baby guys with such gentle awe. This precious interaction was restorative to his soul as well.

I know full well I could never ever, even remotely, fill or take Ali’s space. But I also know that if Ali were still physically here on this earth that she would be over at that house every possible second. I’m not a replacement, not a substitute – maybe I’m just company in the void too.

Getting SO big!!!!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
(‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭3-4‬ NIV)

Runner

It was a Friday night in March. Embraced by the warmth of my blankets, I lazily scrolled through my newsfeeds, my eyelids growing heavy. I was about to call it a night when a text came through. It was Kim Botto, my dear friend from church who had officiated Nora’s funeral and has helped us through our loss. A family from church had just been dealt the devastating blow of a prenatal trisomy 18 diagnosis. She wrote, “You would be the perfect one to reach out to them.”

I recalled our own first horrible days after Nora’s diagnosis. Although I did not recognize their names or yet know them, my heart broke for this family. I assured Kim I would reach out to Natalie the next day.

As I laid there on into the night I wished I could fast forward time for them to get them through these awful, anxiety-ridden days. Then I recalled the story of a butterfly cocoon from Streams in the Desert from January 9’s page (Jan. 9 was the date we received Nora’s diagnosis!!! Coincidence?!):

“I once kept a bottle-shaped cocoon of an emperor moth for nearly one year. The cocoon was very strange in its construction. The neck of the “bottle” had a narrow opening through which the mature insect forces its way. Therefore the abandoned cocoon is as perfect as one still inhabited, with no tearing of the interwoven fibers having taken place. The great disparity between the size of the opening and the size of the imprisoned insect makes a person wonder how the moth ever exits at all. Of course, it is never accomplished without great labor and difficulty. It is believed the pressure to which the moth’s body is subjected when passing through such a narrow opening is nature’s way of forcing fluids into the wings, since they are less developed at the time of emerging from the cocoon than in other insects.

I happened to witness the first efforts of my imprisoned moth to escape from its long confinement. All morning I watched it patiently striving and struggling to be free. It never seemed able to get beyond a certain point, and at last my patience was exhausted. The confining fibers were probably drier and less elastic than if the cocoon had been left all winter in its native habitat, as nature meant it to be. In any case, I thought I was wiser and more compassionate than its Maker, so I resolved to give it a helping hand. With the point of my scissors, I snipped the confining threads to make the exit just a little easier. Immediately and with perfect ease, my moth crawled out, dragging a huge swollen body and little shriveled wings! I watched in vain to see the marvelous process of expansion in which these wings would silently and swiftly develop before my eyes. As I examined the delicately beautiful spots and markings of various colors that were all there in miniature, I longed to see them assume their ultimate size. I looked for my moth, one of the loveliest of its kind, to appear in all its perfect beauty. But I looked in vain. My misplaced tenderness had proved to be its ruin. The moth suffered an aborted life, crawling painfully through its brief existence instead of flying through the air on rainbow wings.

I have thought of my moth often, especially when watching with tearful eyes those who were struggling with sorrow, suffering, and distress. My tendency would be to quickly alleviate the discipline and bring deliverance. O shortsighted person that I am! How do I know that one of these pains or groans should be relieved? The farsighted, perfect love that seeks the perfection of its object does not weakly shrink away from present, momentary suffering. Our Father’s love is too steadfast to be weak. Because He loves His children, He ‘disciplines us . . . that we may share in his holiness’ (Heb 12:10). With this glorious purpose in sight, He does not relieve our crying. Made perfect through suffering, as our Elder Brother was, we children of God are disciplined to make us obedient, and brought to glory through much tribulation.”

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.(Romans 8:18)

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Natalie and I have since met together for coffee a couple of times, shared pieces of our lives, our prayers of hope, and our tears of sorrow with one another. Tucked away in the dark warmth and safety of her mother’s womb is a precious baby girl. She is equipped with an extra 18th chromosome that she will use to bring glory to her Almighty Creator.

While I can’t physically or otherwise fast forward time for Natalie and her family, it is my honor to be able to cheer them on as they emerge THROUGH this present suffering of their lives and in to greatness!

A beautifully written account of Natalie & Will’s journey has been kept on their Caring Bridge page. I encourage you not only to visit it, but please pray for them and their treasured baby girl. Her name is Runner. The meaning behind her name is so perfect and so befitting, as her Mama beautifully illustrates in a touching letter to her unborn baby.

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This past Saturday our church embarked on #GoCincinnati — a church-wide endeavor to go out and bless the city and surrounding communities. Our family was assigned to help with landscaping at Imago Nature Preserve. While William helped erect a split rail fence, the kids and I helped clear out some planting areas and some trails.

While all of this was going on I was absolutely smitten with an adorable little boy who was working very hard with his Dad. He made several determined trips to the compost pile with his little red wheel barrow full of weeds. It was impossible not to smile every time I looked over at them and I even snuck a couple of pictures. I’m not really in the habit of taking pictures of “complete strangers” kids, but I just kinda couldn’t help myself!

We were encouraged to share our Go Cincinnati pictures on social media using the hashtag #GoCincinnati – so I posted a few on Instagram (@AleisaAK) including the one of the cute little boy with his wheel barrow.

This cute little guy at #GoCincinnati! :)

This cute little guy at #GoCincinnati! :)

I got a phone call from Natalie that evening. She had noticed on Instagram that we might have been at the same site that her husband and son had been working.

“No way!” I exclaimed.

There were several little kids on the site. I asked her what her son looked like. It was all adding up – and then I asked if her son had a little red wheel barrow with him…

“Yes! That was him!!”

Laughing, in utter disbelief, I asked if she had seen the picture I took of her ADORABLE little boy – which I had also posted on Instagram. She explained that she hadn’t scrolled all the way through the pictures yet and couldn’t wait to see!!

I had seen pictures of her family before, but I honestly did not at all make the connection!!! Because seriously — what are the odds?!?! This was so crazy!!!

Who, what, when, where, why and how would it even be possible for Natalie’s husband and son to be assigned to the same project we were??? Based on the sheer amount of people involved – there was absolutely no way to match people and families up with common interests, common prenatal diagnoses, or otherwise. (Yes, I checked!) Yet there we were were — working side by side to serve others, to serve God, and had no idea until after the fact!

Then I was “angry” ;) that this perfectly orchestrated opportunity for our families to connect had come and gone and we were all but oblivious! But now we have this serving experience in common now too. God definitely has His loving and watchful eye on each of our families — on ALL OF US.

That God would trouble Himself with these seemingly “little things” in our lives, imagine how much He must care about the BIG things!

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
(‭Luke‬ ‭12‬:‭6-7‬ NIV)

Please don’t forget to check out Natalie & Will’s Caring Bridge site. Your prayers are much appreciated!

ReachOut Pregnancy Center Banquet

In In August of 2014 I was asked if I would be interested in being the key note speaker for Reach Out Pregnancy Center’s 2015 fund raising banquet. I would be speaking on the topics of adoption and the experience of Nora’s prenatal trisomy 18 diagnosis. I was only 2 months removed from having said “see you later” to Nora. It was all still so raw. Could I actually get up on a stage and talk about that?? In front of PEOPLE?? Emotions aside — this was WAY out of my comfort zone! Perhaps it might come as a shock to you if you don’t know me personally, OR if you know me REALLY well – but I am quite the introvert. “What?? But she’s so outspoken on her blog!!??” I thrive in my quiet alone time where I am most creative, where I write, where I am energized and inspired. Being in social settings is often awkward and difficult for me, exacerbated by the instances where people take offense to my quietness and quests for solitude. “I used to think you were such a b***h before I really got to know you!” is a sentiment shared with me from time to time! I’ve finally gotten past the point of feeling like there is something wrong with me and embrace the fact that this is part of who I am. This is how God made me. With that said, I know that it’s not healthy to close myself off from community and friendships. So I force myself to step “dangerously” out of my comfort zone and interact with others (which I DO love once I’m out doing it) — and to get up on stages and deliver speeches now, apparently!!! I agreed to do this speech for Reach Out Pregnancy Center. I got hijacked by the Holy Spirit who spoke through my mouth and excitedly exclaimed, “Sure! I’d be DELIGHTED to be the key note speaker for the Reach Out Pregnancy Center fund raising banquet in May!”

If I’m going to get up on a stage and speak publicly about anything, you can be assured that it is something I am hugely passionate about and/or that my invitation for God to USE ME has been accepted.

The banquet wasn’t until wayyyyy next May which was “FOREVER” away – so I had plenty of time to put a speech together and practice it backwards and forward, weeding out all the “ums” and “uhs” and “ers” (almost). Then like 5 minutes later May 12th was upon us. 

“Not in my power, not to my glory – but YOURS,” I prayed over and over again as the banquet began.

I was doing just fine until the video montage was presented! I knew they were going to do something with my voice over and the pictures and videos I had provided… but I hadn’t seen it yet. It completely exceeded my expectations and was incredibly powerful. It took excessive, excessive strength not to completely fall apart watching it — and then to PULL. IT. TOGETHER. as I walked up onto the stage…

Perhaps one could say that it’s easy to choose life when you’re happily married and you have all of your finances together… or to continue forward when you don’t have a terrifying prenatal diagnosis attached to your pregnancy. 

It might not be easy to choose life when everything is completely upside down, but I have the right to say that it is not impossible either. Here are two “unplanned pregnancies” that I once regarded as absolute catastrophes. Two times I wanted to run screaming out of my skin and leave each “complicated mess” far behind.

Each of these “unplanned pregnancies” turned out to be extraordinary gifts. To such an extreme that I will climb out from my safe introverted little shell, up onto a stage in front of a crowd of people to share the beauty and blessed sorrow of these disguised treasures.

To quote Martin Luther King, “There is nothing to be afraid of if you believe and know that the cause for which you stand for is right. You are ready to face anything and you face it with a humble smile… because you know that all of eternity stands with you and the angels stand beside you.”

Happy Birthday, Nora

In the darkness of our bedroom the red glow of the digital clock changed over to 12:00 AM. The moment when yesterday transitioned into tomorrow, a new day, your birthday. The stilled silence of our sleeping house has gradually lost its raw sting. It still hurts sometimes, but buffered by time, the unnatural silence is no longer directly contrasted against the vivacity and sparkle that your life brought to our home. I whispered, “Happy Birthday,” to you and drifted off to sleep with memories of you and your impending arrival. I recalled the sensation of your sweet little skinny arms and leggies poking out from beneath my skin on the night before you were born, and how I wished you could just stay protected there forever.

It was a beautiful day, just as it was three years ago, the day you were born. I cried over your pictures, amazed by the sheer miracle of your life. The texts, emails and messages that periodically streamed through to me were such a comfort.

I was afraid to plan anything “outrageous” on your birthday. What if I was an emotional trainwreck? It was so hard to know how I’d actually feel until I was there in the day. As it just so happened we had the opportunity to go to a Natalie Grant concert ON the evening of your birthday. One thing I did know for certain is that I would definitely be giving thanks and praise to God for you. What a perfect venue to do that! Before the concert we visited the cemetery for a little dinner picnic and chased some “fuzz” around.

At the concert together as a family, we remembered you, missed you and loved you. The tears were on autoflow when Natalie sang “Held” ~

Two months is too little
They let him go
They had no sudden healing
To Think That Providence
Would take a child from his mother
While she prays, is appalling


Who told us we’d be rescued
What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
We’re asking why this happens to us
Who have died to live, it’s unfair


This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and know
That the promise was when everything fell
We’d be held

This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and
Let the hatred numb our sorrows
The wise hand opens slowly
To lilies of the valley and tomorrow

If hope is born of suffering
If this is only the beginning
Can we not wait, for one hour
Watching for our Savior

Greta and I were so thankful for the Kleenexes that were handed to us during that one!!! We were so very blessed and comforted to be in the company of people who knew about you, and who have followed along with us on this journey. We needed all of those hugs and words of encouragement.

The celebration of your sweet life continued on into the next day. Your Nana & Papa, aunts, uncles, cousins and Kellkell had planned to meet us at the cemetery. Your Kellkell got there first and as she was waiting there at your grave, a family was walking by with kids on bikes. What in the world are the odds that one of the children in that family would be named Kelly and the other Nora — and that the mom would yell out, “Kelly! Look at Nora!” Nora… who was popping wheelies on her trike. Is that what YOU’RE doing in heaven too?? Meanwhile back on earth – your Kellkell was beside herself! What a sweet “wink” from heaven!

As our car pulled up to the cemetery, my eyes welled up with tears. A giant bouquet of balloons that your Aunt Sarah had procured was shimmying with the wind. The tears continued when I caught sight of your Aunt Em. She had snuck in town undetected from Cleveland! Nana, Papa, Oma, Uncle Joe, Uncle Dustin, Uncle Dan and your cousins Gracie, Keira and Parker were all there. We all hugged hello and gathered around your little grave where we sang you your favorite song. Your Uncle Dan remembered how you would get upset when the song was over, so of course we had to sing it to you again just like we did while you were here. Even the birds joined in and LOUDLY sang to you!!

We released the beautiful bunch of balloons with messages attached and sprinkled pink sparkles on your grave.

Gathering back at our house where you once reigned supreme seemed only appropriate. A slideshow of pictures from when you were teeny tiny played on the TV throughout the evening. It’s crazy to think you started out so small. It was nice to be together, collectively missing your squeals and your silly little antics. We sang Happy Birthday to you again and blew out your candles for you.

Your cake was your favorite color and had LADY bugs and butterflies and baby bees all over it. It didn’t taste like milkies – so you probably wouldn’t have liked it, but It sure was pretty and we all thought it was delicious!

Nana & Papa and your aunts, uncles and cousins had this gorgeous shadow box made from some of your funeral flowers and your prayer cards. The petals and the flowers preserved beautifully. What a treasured way to memorialize you!  

Before the night was over we passed around a gold marker and we all wrote messages to you on a personalized Chinese lantern. We stood there under the quietude of the twilight sky and watched the lantern lift off into the heavens. We strained and squinted our eyes until you “caught” it and we couldn’t see it anymore.

You are the magnificent sweeping interlude that God unexpectedly conducted into the symphony of our lives. An unforgettable part of the melody that will resonate throughout the measures of time. We hope you had a beautiful birthday in heaven, little girl — with lots of baffs and trike wheelies! Happy birthday to you!


I have to give a shout out to Laurelbox — the company who sent a box of very thoughtful handmade gifts to us. They helped us to make Nora’s first birthday in heaven a special one down here on earth. We received a little bag of sparkly glitter (which was inspired by Nora) to sprinkle at her grave site, a delicious cake-scented candle, and the Chinese lantern with a gold marker to write on it. That was such a wonderful surprise, Denise!!! Thank you so so much!

Fuzzy

She had only been gone a few days. I took the big kids to the zoo in a desperate and hurried attempt to do something. Anything. It seemed like something “normal people” and “regular families” would do? The corner of Children’s Hospital suddenly jarred into my line of vision as we crossed the pedestrian bridge to the main entrance. I wanted to curl up in a fetal position, ball up in a heap against the fencing and just CRY. But instead I clenched my jaw together, quickened my pace to match the racing of my heart and looked the other way. The big kids, oblivious, walked beside me trying to decide which exhibit to visit first. It’s not that I’m in the habit of concealing my sadness from them – but there’s a time and a place nor did I want to project my negative connotations of the hospital on them.

It turned out to be a nice day, all things considered. We ebbed back and forth from spells of laughter to walking along in the new and indelible sadness that was now a part of us. As we sat eating lunch my thoughts drifted off to Shouldawouldacoulda Land. I had such dreams to bring Nora to the zoo. I reminded myself that my starry-eyed expectations undoubtedly were a far cry from the likely reality of it. Nornor was very much a “homebaby”. She tolerated her trips out here and there, but she was always happiest and most content in her “nest” in her familiar living room. Meanwhile, back in reality, a little piece of milkweed fluff drifted down in front of my face and landed right in the middle of my pizza. I really didn’t think anything of it at first, but it was definitely odd that it landed THERE — and so obviously. “It’s FUZZ!!!!!!!!!” Greta exclaimed. “Fuzz” was also the endearing term we used for Nora’s fuzzy hair.

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We loved to sniff her fuzz and rub our cheeks in it. It was so so soft and smelled absolutely delicious. I smiled through the tears that welled up in my eyes, and that’s how it began. From thereafter we began seeing the fuzz in obvious and sometimes unlikely places, but always with perfect timing. It’s not just limited to milkiesweed. It can also be thistle down and dandelion fluff. One of my favorite instances was in a park. I saw the “fuzz” first, and then 2 small children saw it and started laughing and chasing it. Our Kelly even had a piece hover in front of her IN the house right as a song came on that reminded her of Norns.

This piece drifted into my car window while at the cemetery ~
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A tickling of the silky filaments across my nose and lips can evoke the sweetest of memories… what it was like to love her, to breathe her in, her precious smell, her soft perfect babyness, the beloved texture of her own sweet fuzz!

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And then the more I thought of it, these little fuzzy reminders are analogous to that fuzzy little baby in more ways than just their fuzziness. Each encounter, story, video, picture, etc. of Lady Baby had a metaphoric little seed attached to it. Little seeds that took root in so many hearts. I look out across the field, my cheeks sparkling with tears at all of the beautiful flowers that Nora has left behind. Renewed faith in God, new friendships, heightened friendships, inspired pregnancies, and the heartfelt prayers that sustain us — THOSE flowers.

This is a cute and seemingly random shot of little Greta from the maternity photo session back in April 2012 shortly before our own fuzzy little dandelion graced this world with her presence, scattering sweet seeds all over the place ~

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We had fun with some milkiesweed pods in the backyard that we discovered in early November on a warm afternoon.

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FUZZ!!!! EVERYWHERE!!!!!

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For just as the ground produces its crops and a garden yields its produce, so the sovereign LORD will cause deliverance to grow, and give his people reason to praise him in the sight of all the nations.
(Isaiah 61:11 NET)

Reachout Banquet

Just in case you haven’t already see it on the Praying for Nora Rose Yusko Facebook page

This coming May I am honored to have been invited to be the guest speaker at the 2015 Reachout Banquet. Public speaking is certainly not one of my favorite things to do and goes against the grain of my introverted nature, but I know my accounts of LIFE and love trump my abiding social awkwardness. So… I’ve agreed to get up there and tell it!

If you are in or going to be in the Greater Cincinnati area, I would love to see you / meet you! :)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 6:45 pm Dinner and Program

To make reservations: contact@reachoutpregnancy.com

Please share!