Author Archives: Shannon

A Merry Christmas

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emmanuel

Our short, cute little tree is aglow with lights and our favorite decade-old ornaments… We let the kids totally decorate it themselves.  The mismatched stockings are strung along the banister, growing fatter with Christmas letters as the day approaches.  (Two of the kids reminded me again that they still don’t have their names on their stockings. Oops.)

Our Christmasy weather has come and gone and it feels like muggy Texas spring outside as I lean over the cluttered kitchen counter, trying to decide which fudge recipe I’m going to make.

The extra greenery we collected when we picked out our tree still sits in a garbage bag in the laundry room, competing with the growing mound of dirty clothes.  I was going to use all that greenery to make a pretty wreath for the door.  Oh well.  Now the only festive thing to greet our weary mail carrier is the sun-bleached, water-logged “Happy Birthday” garland we’ve left hanging outside since Jessa’s party the first of October.

We let our Advent candles burn late the other night, so most of them are a melted mess and I forgot to buy extras… And the freezer section was out of cinnamon rolls, which is our traditional Christmas morning breakfast… so add that to the recipes I’ll contemplate before finally deciding on the canned variety.

It’s all so wonderful!

I have been so blessed to be able to (mostly) let go of the Greeting-Card image of this season and embrace life.  Our life.  The mess and full schedule and dried up tree needles on the floor (since I keep forgetting to water the tree), and the staying up late and the crazy antics of kids who’ve had too much sugar – they’re all just signs that we’re alive!

But wait, there’s more!

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

And you who were dead in your trespasses… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us… cancelling the record of debt that stood against us. (Col. 2:13-14)

If you are overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) this Christmas…  If you’re tired or anxious…  If you’re burdened with a to-do list or a social calendar, or disappointed about everything this season is not – there is good news for you.  You’re alive.  And if you belong to Christ, you have an eternal hope that can be the lens through which you see all the imperfectness of this life on earth.

That is truly wonderful.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours.

 

 

 

Get Your Hearts Ready

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“Advent is for adoring Jesus”

Joy and Peace

We have just begun Advent!!  I LOVE this time of year.  And even though I have not been able to pull myself together and get any Christmas decorations up yet, we are enjoying our nightly candle-lighting and story reading as much as the kids are!  (See this post for what we’re reading).

But Jeffrey and I are also seeking to go a little deeper in our own personal devotion time this advent season, and here is a great way to do it:

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Desiring God (DesiringGod.org) offers two free resources available for download – each with 25 devotional readings (for Dec 1-25). You can find out more by going here.

Jeffrey read the first devotion (from Good News of Great Joy) to us over supper tonight, and it was a great conversation starter and catalyst for priming our hearts to tune into the real focus of Christmas.

Even with all the interruptions from little talkative people, and an animated baby throwing her spoon of sweet potatoes, I was able to glean a meaningful truth from the reading.

Tonight’s takeaway for me? We need to make room in our hearts for Christ.  And in order to do that, I need to de-clutter my heart: take a real inventory of the sin and complacency I’ve let build up, and see with fresh eyes how much I desperately need Jesus. And then he read this:

“Christmas is first an indictment before it’s a delight…”

That part really struck me.  We are all familiar with the delight of Christmas – you can’t walk in any store after October and not be thrust into the full swing of the holiday cheer.  But Christmas an indictment?  Huh?

I explained the definition to the kids: an accusation.  Being accused of a crime and having to go before the judge for sentencing.

Christmas is all because a Savior was born…. why?
Because we needed one!

Christmas is first an accusation of our sin and need of a Savior… and then it is a delight!  Because we couldn’t save ourselves and Jesus came and changed the ending of our story! Christmas is all about the Gospel. The Good News of Great Joy!

When we spend Advent preparing our hearts with this kind of message, Christmas takes on a new depth.  And we experience it with more joy!

So even if we haven’t decluttered the house enough to get the Christmas decor out of the garage, we can begin to make room in our hearts.

Do yourself a favor and let the elf sit on the shelf this year.
And pull something more important into focus for the next 24 days.

It’s not too late to do this!  Trust me, we’re already 2 days behind in our reading of Bartholomew’s passage, but we’ll catch up and it will all work out by Christmas.  (By the way, if you’re interested but you haven’t ordered the book, you can get it on Kindle for $2.99 here!)

Can you tell I really love Advent? :)  Our Advent celebration has never Pinterest-perfect.  But it’s always been worth it.  Jump in with us.  Let’s get our hearts ready.

What Grateful People are Made Of

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Happy Thanksgiving!   It’s the culmination of our tweets and status posts and IG selfies listing all the things that make this hard life sweet and good and worth it.

This is an exercise we do, right? And that’s okay.  It’s good to remember what we have and why we should actually be thankful – feel thankful – all throughout the year, not just when the leaves start dropping and the turkey comes out of the oven.

But – well I know this is true for me – being grateful seems to be somewhat of a struggle a lot of the time. For all the reasons I don’t even have to list here – because you know.

Jeffrey and I were talking about a few nights ago, and just a few people came to mind who seem truly, undeniably, grateful almost all the time.  It made me wonder how do they do that?   I don’t know, because it certainly isn’t something I’ve mastered yet.  But I know how to recognize one!

Seven Characteristics of Grateful People

  1. They are Content
    This is more than just looking around and taking note of all the good things in their life.  Grateful people have a depth of contentment in their own set of circumstances, in blooming right where they are planted and sticking things out for the long, long haul – without letting bitterness take root. And without looking at the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
  2. Their Focus is Outward
    When I talk to one of these Grateful People, they almost never talk about themselves or their own circumstances.  Instead, they are always asking about others, seeking to encourage, help, comfort, or come alongside me or others around them.
    They pray – really pray – for the needs of others as part of their daily life.  They give their time and energy to helping others .
  3. Their Strength is Upward
    I’ve witnessed these individuals giving their time and energy for others – not because they have it to give.  Some of them have health issues that cause pain or weakness in their body. Some of them work long hours. Some of them are helping to care for an elderly loved one several days a week.  Some have large households to manage.  But they focus outward and they give out of a heart that is somehow refilled supernaturally… and a Strength that is not their own.
  4. They Don’t Get Caught up in the Past… or the Future
    Admittedly this is where I get tripped up the most.  I try to hang on to the girl I used to be or the places I used to live… or I get antsy for the next season, the next adventure.
    But Grateful People seem to have learned how to leave the past where it is, and not reach their hand forward to what hasn’t been given yet.
  5. They Have Suffered
    This is more than going through a lean season and then being thankful for plenty.  This is more than having hope deferred and then having that prayer finally answered.  Every truly grateful person I know has suffered deep loss.  A tragedy.  A death.  A disease.  Or even a combination.  This is one Jeff and I can understand a little.  There is a sweet closeness to God that we have only experienced through suffering when we learned that our little Rebecca had Trisomy 13… and later when we had to say goodbye to her and walk our other children through that…. when you suffer a valley like that, the good gifts around you come more clearly into focus.  More cherished.  I have never been more grateful or felt more blessed than when we were in that deep valley.  Grateful people have truly suffered.
  6. They Choose Joy
    Grateful People seem to know there is only one thing they can really control in life: their own  response.  Their own attitude.  Grateful People have escaped the disease of Entitlement, and  they understand it’s a blessed broken life.  And they choose to be joyful in whatever moment they are living.
  7. They are Worshippers
    With each truly grateful person I know, this is really key.  I can’t talk with them for more than a half hour without hearing them talk about how the beauty or goodness or faithfulness of God.  Their life has a light about it that kinda makes me think of Moses coming down from the mountain with his face glowing.  You just see it them.  Even when you see the brokenness and weakness in their body or their circumstances, you see a light and a sweetness that only comes from spending time loving on God.

    After thinking about all this, it made me really grateful to have people like this in my life who are such genuine examples. I think I’m going to commit to praying for each one of them and see if I can come up with a way to do something thoughtful for them.

What do you think?  Would you add to this list?  Do you have someone in your life who shines with a grateful heart?  Share with us in the comments…

And… Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I hope you are well, and surrounded by those you love. <3

 

Keeping Advent Simple

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So we’re less than a week out from Thanksgiving.  I’m a stickler for not even mentioning the Christmas tree until we have appropriately celebrated Thanksgiving to it’s fullest- it remains one of my favorite weekends all year long.

But since we started celebrating the Advent season about seven or eight years ago, I have to at least be thinking a little ahead, since the season always begins shortly after Thanksgiving.

If you’ve never really celebrated Advent, don’t stress. I didn’t really understand anything about it until several years ago.  As we remind our kids each year, “Advent” means “the Coming” – and of course what we’re talking about here is the coming of Jesus Christ – the sole reason we celebrate Christmas.

The season of Advent helps us get our hearts and minds into a joyful expectation for Jesus.

So, there’s a lot out there as far as what you can use during this time to make it fun and meaningful for your family.  But I gotta be honest – for us it just works really well to simply stick with what we know.  I’m often tempted to get on a bunch of blogs I really like and see what’s new or what everyone else is doing… not to even mention Pinterest… but if I’m not careful I’ll get bigger ideas than what we can really attain right now, and I’ll end up making it stressful and hectic – which is the exact opposite of the atmosphere we want in our home during Christmastime.

We found a few things years ago that remain meaningful and traditional in our home – so let me share them with you:

 

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  • The Jotham’s Journey Series
    This is a series of Advent books written by Arnold Ytreeide.  There are four books (Tabitha’s Travels is not shown above), and truly you can go in any order.  You read one book per year, and each story is about a young boy or girl who has some kind of adventure (sometimes perilous or dangerous) and in the journey, the main character ends up hearing about the coming Messiah… and I won’t tell you what happens :)  Each story stands alone but each story is also interwoven into the others.inside

    Our family has LOVED these books.  Since you read a different one each year, it will be years before you will repeat a story, and it’s always just as enjoyable as the first time you read it.  The book is broken down into sections to be read aloud each evening leading up to Christmas Eve. Even our younger children enjoy listening (Jeff and I often want to read ahead), and we’re always sad it’s over at the end.

    Last Advent we read the new book that Ytreeide had just released, “Ishtar’s Odyssey” and it didn’t disappoint.  We read by candlelight around the table each evening.  At one point during the story, Ishtar enjoys some baklava.  The next day we happened upon a package of the yummy treat at Sam’s and brought it home so we could all enjoy some baklava during the next evening’s reading.  Our kids are still talking about it.  Our older kids ask to get these books off the shelf all year long, but we make everyone wait until Advent.

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  • Getting Ready For Christmas
    It looks like this one isn’t available on Amazon, except as a used book from other sellers.  Bummer. But if you can get it on time, and you have very small children, we found this to be a great beginning to celebrating Advent.  We first used this when Maggie and Lilly were ages 2 and 3 (and still have some of the sweet little homemade ornaments they made while going through this book).  And this year I’ll be using it with Olivia (4) and Carson (6)… and hopefully with Jessa in a few years. :)
    Each day leading up to Advent, there are simple pictures, a short reading, and a verse.  Each day also offers something to do with your child.  Some days it’s helping them with a homemade ornament; other days, it’s as simple as looking at the stars outside.inside-2
    This book is one our little ones have really enjoyed going through with us, and it’s a very stress-free way to begin celebrating Advent.  And this is a way for me to spend some quality time with my younger kids during the day during Advent season.  However, there are some readings in this book where I have to add a bit when talking with my kids in order to connect it to Jesus coming.  So just be aware of that.

These books, which we purchased years ago, along with candles, and sometimes desserts or hot cocoa are all we need to keep Advent season simple, memorable, and most of all, meaningful.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing for Advent this year, or how you keep Christmastime meaningful for your family. Tell me in the comments. I promise not to compare! :)

Here’s some pics from Advent over the years…  eek, they were so little!

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When We Feel Powerless

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I was up past midnight last night working on a blog post… but truthfully I’d have been in bed way before that if Baby Girl would just sleep.  Like, ever.

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This one.  We are having the hardest time getting her to sleep unless she’s on me.  And once asleep she doesn’t stay asleep long.

Last night- like almost every night – it was past midnight before she finally gave up the fight – literally.  She literally fights sleep, and us in the process. In the 6 hours that I was in the bed with my eyes closed, my sleep was interrupted more than six times. Not just the baby… our other kids will wake us up as well… can I have some of your water… my nose is stuffy… I can’t sleep… I had a bad dream… My leg hurts… Can I have another drink of your water… that kind of stuff is pretty routine.

So yeah, six hours in the bed, and awakened over six times.  This is the stuff Monster Moms are made of, you know? And I have to add that Jeff gets less sleep than this on a regular basis.

We really need a date night.  Or a retreat.  Or just a nap for goodness sakes.

Despite all our best intentions and lots of research and failed attempts at restful nights, our kids have historically just been terrible sleepers.

The list of things we’ve tried is long and pervasive and I won’t bore you with it.

This morning for some  insane, ridiculous reason, the kids got up two hours earlier than normal!  I got up feeling achy and cranky from lack of sleep.  This wasn’t the first or fifth or thirtieth time the kids had gotten up before they were supposed to and started playing and being noisy when they were supposed to be following a routine of getting dressed, making beds, etc.  In fact, it’s the third time this week. One of the perks of homeschooling is we get to be more relaxed, but one of the downsides to being a relaxed, laid-back family is that the kids often stretch that to the max and want to be free spirits when parts of the routine are really not optional (like they wish they were.)

I was frustrated and stern.  They were lethargic and discouraged.

As I stumbled like a zombie to the coffee pot, I realized I had a choice to make.  I could rant and rave and berate.  I could complain and whine and feel stuck in my circumstances.  I could bemoan the fact that these kids “never obey”, that I never get adequate sleep or enough free time or even just enough time for necessities.

OR… I could choose to have a better day than that.

I felt like there was nothing I could do to make things work.  I felt (and feel) like this is never going to get better. I felt powerless.  But the truth is I tell my kids all the time that they have the power to change their thinking… to change their attitudes… to change their day.  They really do, and if I tell them that, then I have to live that out too.

So I took my coffee and sat everyone down for a pow-wow.

“Guys, do you get up and dance in the pew at church or blurt out stuff to interrupt Pastor Dustin during a sermon?”

They all looked appalled and laughed a little “no,… no way”…

“Why not?”

They seemed to think it might be a trick question. “Well, … because that wouldn’t be right. That would be disrespectful,” one of them said.

“And we’ve been trained not to do that,” Lilly said.

“Carson, do you drive your cars down the center aisle during church and make loud ‘vroom’ noises?” I asked.

He hid his face like he would be utterly embarrassed to do that.  “no way!”

I started asking them more questions:

  • Do you take off your seatbelt – ever – while I’m driving down the road?
  • Do you practice handstands during a wedding?
  • Have you painted murals on our walls?
  • When is that last time you wore a diaper?

I started to show them just how much self-control they really do have.  Every day.  Hundreds of times a month.

So there is no reason they can’t use that self control to begin their day the right way.  And there’s no reason we can’t all use our self control to have better attitudes.

We all decided to start fresh and work together to make it a good day.

Has it been perfect? Nope.  We’ve had more than a few corrections and attitude adjustments – some of them before breakfast. Some of them my attitude.

But something in the back of my groggy mind clicked:

When I feel powerless, I’m not aiming high enough.

That seems counterintuitive, but when I feel powerless, it’s usually because I have my eyes on the day-to-day goals I’m trying to achieve, and it’s not coming together like I need it to.

 

C.S. Lewis said:

“Aim at Heaven, and you get earth ‘thrown in’;
Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”

Sometimes the day-to-day goals aren’t supposed to be the aim.  I’m looking at schedules and schoolwork and chores …. God is looking at hearts and souls.

When I’m looking at the daily grind around me, I start to roll up my sleeves and think I can do this.  When I aim higher – at cultivating love, patience, kindness, gentleness (in myself or my kids)- I realize this is a mighty battled waged in God’s Country. To survive this kind of battle I need a bow that retains its strength, and arrows that do not easily miss.  I need the perfectly weighted sword with a blade that never rusts.  I need a bit of healing cordial.

In short, I’m never going to survive, much less win the Spiritual battles without the Valiant Lion of Judah going to battle for me.

When I aim higher and the realm is not of this world, I have to rest in God’s doing the work – in His way.  And He never fails.

What does this look like? How does it work?  By constantly talking to God about it throughout the day… taking my frustrations to Him and asking Him to help me see things through His eyes… asking for His help to take my thoughts captive… asking for His help to be gentler when giving correction… asking for His help to know how to handle behavioral issues when they arise.  Looking past the actions and seeing hearts and asking Him to take those hearts in His hands.

So now I’ll go lay down the baby – who is currently sleeping in my lap while my computer is perched on the couch armrest – and hold my breath and pray she stays asleep.  I’ll spread out a large-family-size bag of frozen nuggets on a tray for my hungry tribe. I’ll pull an arrow from my quiver and adjust my aim a little higher.

And hope that between the battles, I can squeeze in a nap. :)

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The Sabbatical is Over

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Well, let’s jump right in.

I feel like I’m pulling out my old typewriter from high school, dusting it off, fiddling with the paper feed, trying to remember how to do this.  It’s been two years since Rebecca’s funeral and a year since Jessa’s whirlwind birth and 21 days in the NICU (after God saved us both through an emergency surgery at 32 weeks pregnant)- the major events which caused me to lay down my pen for a while.

Many times I started to pick it back up, but couldn’t find my voice.

Flannery O’Connor said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
And as a life-long journal-er, I’ve always been able to relate to that.

So here I am, after putting the kids to bed (multiple times), with a one-year-old toddling and drooling around the living room… and I type while holding her back from my laptop with my outstretched leg – because if I wait for her to sleep, I will literally never blog again.

Over the last year I kept thinking something profound would come to mind and I would have the perfect thing to say to you all – to reconnect – and bring my blog back to life.

But the perfect words never came.  And I realized perfect doesn’t belong here.

I named this space Our Blessed Broken Life for a reason.  There is always at least a little bit of brokenness in all of us.  Life is messy, and real, and really imperfect.

At least mine is, and I kinda like it that way sometimes.  Because in our darkest times the past few years, I realized there is a joy and a beauty and a closeness to God that has only come through suffering.  And through lots of mess and chaos and imperfection.

As Elisabeth Elliot said, “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”  I’m pretty much studying for my doctorate in that life course.  I bet some of you are, too.

The truth is, the last several years have left us tired exhausted, stretched, more gray up top, and feeling less like we know any of the answers.  And yet, we’re continuing to learn to extend grace when we don’t want to.

That patience is something you actually have to practice.

And that we can choose joy, no matter the circumstances.

Nothing profound.  Just life.

So I’m gonna line up my paper and try to load it in without any snags, and just get started drumming on the keys.  If you wanna join me, you’ll be more than welcome on the journey.

One thing I know: The sabbatical is over.

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Unexpected Journey: the story of Jessa’s Early Arrival

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As is the Hazleton fashion, I am late again today.  It was brought to my attention late yesterday evening a few days ago that it was National Preemie Day?  Who knew?  It’s so fitting, since the next day was the date that our baby girl’s birth was scheduled to take place, just one week before her due date of November 25th.

But I guess she is one Hazleton who has broken the mold of being late.

Since we were all celebrating preemies this past week, I thought it seemed apropos to jump back into blogging cold turkey and share our NICU journey.

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Remembering Rebecca

Here’s the very last photo of my pregnant belly, though we didn’t know at the time it was taken.  A few days after we honored Rebecca’s birthday, I started having contractions that just didn’t feel right. Rather than the usual braxton Hicks, these were progressively painful. After a few days of this happening off and on, I went in to our hospital on the morning of September 29 to be checked out and was sent home with an antibiotic for what the doctor on call assumed was a kidney infection.  I suspected it wasn’t and was concerned because I could feel the baby very low.  I was right at 32 weeks pregnant.

By supper time that evening, I had vomitted up the antibiotic and contractions came back more forceful and back to back.  I was in extreme pain and the Dr. on call still hadn’t called us back after we had called the answering service twice.  I had a feeling we just needed to get in the car and head to the hospital.

We would be very thankful to God that we did just that.

Jeffrey quickly got the kids and some essentials together and we headed out the door. By 11:30pm, the kids had been dropped off at our friends’ house for the night and we were en route to the hospital.

Back on the labor and delivery floor for the 2nd time that day, we explained to the nurse what had been going on.  After maybe half an hour of back to back contractions, she decided to admit me for the night and I was moved from triage to a birthing room.  For the next half hour she worked to get fluids started on an IV, got me to sign all the necessary paperwork “just in case” we had to have a cesarean, and started me on pain meds plus a medication to help stop the contractions.

After this was all finished, I began to feel the pain meds take effect and relaxed, ready to settle in for some rest.  The nurse walked out to get something and I shifted in the bed and immediately felt what I thought was my water breaking.

It wasn’t.  Instead, I was hemorrhaging.

I knew immediately that we would deliver the baby within the hour.

If we had stayed home any longer that evening, things could have gone very, very badly. We are so thankful to God for getting us to the hospital just in time.

The next 20 minutes or so was a blur of heightened activity.  Several nurses rushed about preparing me for emergency delivery.  The Dr. came in to explain that I was likely experiencing a placental abruption (the placenta becomes detached from the uterine wall). Thankfully I felt very much at peace.  The anesthesiologist came in and explained we would not have time to do a spinal tap and I would be put to sleep for the procedure.  Again, I felt immense peace.  Before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the OR, and Jeffrey was leaning down to kiss me.  I knew in that moment that it was a possibility I wouldn’t see him or the kids again.  Again, I felt peace, and for some reason I also knew that the baby was going to be fine.

Laying on my back on the table, I heard the anesthesiologist tell me he was going to give me some oxygen and put a mask over my nose and mouth.  I woke up briefly some time later in a panic but then was out again. I’m gonna pause here to say: that was NOT an experience I ever want to repeat.

Our baby was delivered safely.  Jessa Erin Mei was born about 2:30 am on September 30th, weighing 3 lb 14 oz, but neither Daddy nor Mommy were “present” to experience her rushed birth.  We don’t even know if she cried!

As soon as I began to wake up, I was aware of Jeffrey being with me, and was assured that everything was okay.

Hours later, I was awake enough to call the NICU and ask about my baby.  Of course I had family members there to tell me about her, but Jeffrey urged me to call them myself, knowing it would be a comfort to me. The nurse taking care of her offered to take a picture of her for me, since I wouldn’t be able to go to the NICU until the next day when I was able to get out of bed. A while later she came to my room and brought a picture of Jessa she had printed out for me on the NICU printer.  My baby looked perfect and beautiful and I thanked the nurse over and over.

And so our journey as NICU parents had begun.

The next day, as soon as I was allowed to get out of bed, Jeffrey wheeled me down to the Neonatal nursery and I was able to see and touch my baby girl for the first time.  She was in a closed bed and Jennifer, her nurse for the evening, lowered it so I could reach my hand in through the opening without having to stand up from my wheel chair.  She was so tiny and I wanted to hold her so badly.

Not even 24 hours old, she already had her breathing tube removed.

Not even 24 hours old, she already had her breathing tube removed.

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Having our “Special Delivery” meal after returning from the NICU.

For the next few days I slept as much as I could, used the hospital breast pump, and took milk down to the NICU to see my girl for every feeding except the midnight and 3am feedings.  My recovery seemed to be going more smoothly than any of my previous c-sections.  This was simply an answer to prayer. She was doing so well too, and moving through milestones faster than we expected.

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Five days after I had entered the hospital, it was time for me to go home (they had let me stay a few extra days to be near the NICU).  It was difficult to yet again be leaving the hospital without my sweet little bundle, just as I had a year ago when Rebecca was born, but this time I had hope that that day would come.

It was strange to be at home without our baby, but an amazing comfort to be able to call up to the NICU any time of the night to check on her.  Each time I called whoever was “her” nurse for the night would tell me how much milk she had eaten, how she was sleeping, pooping, or anything else I wanted to know.  In the mornings, while getting ready to leave the house, or while pumping, I would call and the nurse would tell me if she had gained any grams and how her bilirubin count was, and how her morning feeding had gone.

The morning after I had returned home, I went straight back up to the hospital and the noise of the all the monitors and alarms  inside the NICU was a comforting sound as I scrubbed in and put a hospital gown over my clothes.

For the next few weeks our church family stepped into action, providing meals for us, watching kids, and giving me rides to the hospital and back, since I wasn’t supposed to drive for two weeks after surgery.  Because of the sacrifice of amazing friends, I was able to be with Jessa every day for her 9am and noon feedings, and spend countless hours just holding her on my chest while she slept.   Our job was to feed her, love her, and watch her grow.  The NICU nurses were amazing. 

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On Wednesday evenings, we would drop the kids off at church to stay with friends while Jeffrey and I went on a quick “date” up to the NICU together.  This was priceless.  And on weekends, we would go to the hospital as a family.  Jeffrey would always let me spend the most time with Jessa while he and the kids took walks exploring the hospital and chapel, or they would camp out down in the cafeteria playing games or doing puzzles.

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The long days began to run together, and although we had so much to be grateful for, we were feeling the stress as well.  Every day I counted on Jessa gaining weight, which was her ticket out of the NICU.  So if a feeding didn’t go well, and she was too sleepy to nurse or finish a bottle, I worried she would lose weight.
And we were feeling the exhaustion of the daily NICU visits, and the kids being apart from me for half the day.  Most days, by the time we got back home, I was starving, it was time to pump store milk and then wash the pump parts for the next pumping… Many days Jeff would come home from work to find me passed out on the couch.  We were so thankful friends were brining us meals – we counted on that for survival.

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Then the day came when Dr. T told me quite suddenly and nonchalantly that she thought we’d move Jessa to an open crib.  I must have looked shocked because she kind of laughed and put her arm around me and asked if I was ready for that.  I knew moving to an open-air crib meant there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.  We knew she might initially lose weight, but that usually it wouldn’t take long for babies to bust out of the NICU once they moved to open crib.

One of her nurses who often took care of her at night would encourage me during my late night calls to check on her – telling me over and over that Jessa had really turned a corner, and it wouldn’t be long now.

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A few days after she moved to open crib, Dr. T found me in a waiting room outside the NICU, munching on an apple in between Jessa’s feedings.  She asked what I was doing and then paused for a few seconds before asking if I was ready to take my baby home!  We had thought it would be several more days, but because she had continued to gain some weight every day since moving to open crib, they were ready to do her hearing screen and carseat challenge, and send her home that day or the next!

An hour later, I was anxiously standing by watching her monitors while she sat in a carseat, testing wether her oxygen saturation levels would drop while she was buckled into her seat.  I held my breath for that hour and sighed with relief when she passed. Jeff took off early and we busily prepared everything for her to come home the next day.

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And just like that, our journey as NICU parents was ending.  Twenty-two days after she was born, we were finally bringing our daughter home – rejoicing for the miracle, b/c it was still five weeks before her due date!

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Finally being wheeled out with my pink bundle!

The kids were so happy to finally have their sister home, and I know it was an added sweetness to hold her, after having to give up Rebecca to the Lord just a year earlier.

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He is smitten.

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She has thrived since being home, and although we are experiencing many weary, sleepless nights taking care of our little reflux-y baby, she’s such a sweet blessing.

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Here Comes Spring

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We spent most of last year in such a fog that I find myself feeling like I’m waking up to March with a bit of dejavu.  Wasn’t it just last spring?

I love the few wonderful spring days we’ve had recently.  Warming us up from cold, wet winter… giving us a gentle respite before the harsh, humid summer hits.

The first quarter of the year has about flown by, and it’s been sprinkled with the good gifts from the Giver of Good Gifts.

Family field trips…

Eating out in Houston - and FREE ice cream!

Eating out in Houston – and FREE ice cream!

To the Children’s Museum.

Jeff built this molecular structure he thought I would recognize: caffeine.

Jeff built this molecular structure he thought I would recognize: caffeine.

I finally got my hands on something I’ve wanted to try for a long time…

Just Fiddlin Around

Just Fiddlin Around

I’ve been playing around with a few simple recipes from a place we miss very much…
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The two of us got away for a date night in Houston!

Me and my Floating-Head-Friend

Me and my Floating-Head-Friend

We had the blessing of hearing David Platt speak and commission some workers being sent off to the harvest fields…
Comissioning DateIt was epic.

God is kind.  So grateful for a gentle start to this year.

 

My ‘Normal’ Day

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I have thought so much about blogging.  And then never could bring myself to do it.  Since the bulk of my writing last year was about Rebecca’s short life, it was hard to make the transition into writing about ‘normal’ things here again.  Like that would mean we had forgotten.  Grief is a process.

But things have been pretty normal lately… or our version of it.

We normally wake up to some form of the same routine every day, which has us finishing school and some of our chores by lunch time.  But today I decided we needed something different.  We had been cooped up in the house for days on end, with dreary weather outside.  My kids were starting to climb the walls.  No, really.

Hey, Hey we're the monkeys

Hey, Hey we’re the monkeys

 

People say we monkey around

People say we monkey around

monkey3Since the weather hasn’t really cooperated with outdoor time, the kids have spent a lot of free time jumping on the mini-trampoline, climbing the doorways, creating things…

You're never too old for playdoh

You’re never too old for playdoh

"Hula-Girl" by Maggie Hazleton

“Hula-Girl” by Maggie Hazleton

Corn Husk Dolls

Corn Husk Dolls

Can I tell you how my heart leaped when one of my daughters came up with the idea of making corn-husk dolls when it was her night to stay up late?  Well braid our hair and call us Laura Ingalls…

Oh, and reading.  Lots and LOTS of reading.
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So, yes, I really needed to get our crew out of the house.  So this morning I woke everyone with the announcement that we were going to Chick-fil-a for breakfast!  Olivia, who loves CFA, promptly began yelling no, stomped her feet, and threw herself to the floor.  Yeah, she’s almost three.

The others got their buddy-teams together and got ready in record time and we were out the door.  CFA was nearly empty – yay! We enjoyed our breakfast and after everyone was cleaned up I actually let them go in the play place! (I know, my BFFs are both picking their jaws up off the floor.)  They had the whole place to themselves and I enjoyed a cup of coffee while making a grocery list.

After they played a while, I yanked lovingly coaxed everyone out and we put on jackets.  We saw Mr. Mike, our friend who owns the local CFA and he gave hugs to all the kids and sent us off with a gallon of lemonade because he and Mrs. Becky are just the BEST! They are so generous.  I loaded everyone up and we mustered up our cheerful spirits and good attitudes (mine included) to go next door to Walmart.

If you’ve ever seen our crew in Walmart, you know we kind of take up the aisle and we move kind of slow.  Everyone was *mostly* behaving, and by the time the 4th person asked us “are they all your kids?”  I answered
“Yes!  You know, I’ve never been asked that before!”
“Really?”
“No, I’m just joking, you’re the 4th person today.”

He was a sweet man who took it with a grin.  The woman next to him, picking out carrots said, “well, more power to ya.  I tell you what, after two I figured out what causes that and I put a stop to it!”

I wanted to respond with “well too bad you said no to all your blessings.”

But I behaved.

Earlier, when the younger (than I), more fit (than I) Mom with one youngster in her buggy walked by and gawked as she said, “man, you have your hands full!” I looked down at my kids gathered around me (only slightly because they’re gaining on me!)  I looked at their faces all peering at me. They had just heard someone (for the thousandth time) say that they were a handful.  And I asked them, “Is that a good thing?  Yes it is; we are blessed.”

Then another woman who had walked by during the “hands-full” remark came back around the corner quietly after the younger mom had left, and said, “My mom had eight kids.  I love to see big families.”  I love when people make those kind of remarks.

By the end of our shopping trip, half of the kids were using every last breath to tell me they were dying of thirst!

We checked out, got to the parking lot, loaded up, and pulled into the gas station.  Now, I don’t really like pumping gas because admittedly I’m spoiled and have a husband who has mostly pumped all the gas since we’ve been married.  And also…

Let me take a moment to address all you people who stand there pumping your gas and think that the ground right by your feet is a decent place to spit: it’s not!  It’s gross and inconsiderate.

Okay, I’ll go back to behavin’ now.

We made it home before the rain started again, and all these hands-full of kids helped me carry in the groceries AND put them away.

And you know what?  Not one of those culprits who were *dying* of thirst stopped to get a sip of water before skipping off to do their own thing before lunch.  Hmph.  I’m onto them.

I promptly began heating up a very healthy lunch of frozen corn dogs, apple slices, and baby carrots, and sent one of the kids to grab a stack of paper plates from our bulk stash from Sam’s.  Because yes, we care about the environment, so we don’t buy styrofoam.  You’re all welcome.

Alas, my courrier informed me we are completely out of paper plates!  I really don’t know how we’re going to function around here before we make another run to Sam’s Club.  Thankfully, I also have a stash of random leftover holiday and birthday paper plates.  So everyone enjoyed their lunch on the beautiful fall-decorated plates I’d been hoarding saving.  They felt extra special.

After lunch and table duties were complete and the almost-three-year-old was put back in her naptime spot a total of 47 times while I was writing this blog post, she finally fell asleep.  Just in time for the FedEx guy to pound loudly on the door for me to sign for a package!  Oh well, maybe the power nap will get her through the evening.

But now it’s time to get ready to leave for Spanish!  I wonder how you say “normal” in Espanol?

Adios, Amigos!

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Seasons

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It’s our first real ‘winter’ day!  It was in the 30’s when Jeff left for work this morning, and our old house is hanging on to the chill in the air, signaling me to put away my indoor flip-flops and pull out my sueded loafers for scuffing around on the hard floors.  (I’ll keep my flip flops within reach, though, because this is southeast Texas.  We’re due for at least a handful more days in the mid-seventies before January hits.)  I’ve loved the few weeks we’ve had of Heavenly weather, and I even got a few projects done out in the beautiful sun (like finally doing something with our blank, white mailbox).

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But I’m not made for cold.  Today has me pulling out fuzzy sweaters and making plans to spend my birthday money on a stash of my favorite coffee. (Mountain Mama Roasters – go ahead and google; they are awesome and I’m so proud to be an in-real-life friend.)

 

Seven weeks have passed since I last held Rebecca and it seems like six months.  It feels like it was a dream that didn’t really happen.  The last three nights I have had different versions of the same dream I’ve been having for weeks: that I am trying to nurse or bottle-feed a newborn baby.  Sometimes it’s a baby I’ve birthed, sometimes a baby that was just placed in my arms.  Most times a boy, last night it was a girl.  It’s always a good dream, one I miss when I am awake.

I am trying to joyfully accept this season, enjoying my two and a half year old as perhaps the last baby we will raise.  I trust God’s sovereignty, and although I’ve prayed He will allow me to nurse and raise another baby, that might not be His plan.  So getting to nurse babies in my dreams seems like a sweet little present from Him.

Last week was my 6-week appointment with my OBGYN.  I was prepared for it to be an emotional afternoon, as I anticipated being around radiant pregnant mamas, full of promise… or mamas toting around their newborns.  I brought a book to keep myself occupied while I waited. But I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I felt at realizing this may be the last time I sit in this waiting room for a visit related to pregnancy.  I never opened my book.  I decided to take it all in – if this was going to be the last time, I was going to experience it to it’s fullest, painful or not.  I stared for a while at the artwork on the walls, and watched mamas shift uncomfortably in their chairs, their hands resting on full bellies.  I took in the smell of the office, and the sounds of muffled conversations and feet shuffling and nurses calling patients to come to the back.  I smiled at the nurse while she took my blood pressure (and rejoiced that it was back to normal).  And after I’d received a full ‘bill of health’ from my doctor,  I  walked slowly to the checkout station and waited for the clerk to enter my information into the computer.

“Okay, do you need to come back, or all you all done?”  she asked, ready to schedule a future appointment for me if I needed one.

I paused for a second before answering, “I’m all done.”

She smiled.  “Then have a nice day.”

And just like that, it was over.  My final doctor’s appointment related to Rebecca was over.  I walked out of the office but wasn’t quite ready to walk onto the elevator that would whisk me down to the first floor and dump me out into reality again.

I didn’t want this chapter to be closed just yet.  I didn’t want Rebecca’s story to be done.  I walked over and sat down on some chairs by the window, away from the elevator doors and just took in the moment a little longer, looking out over the rooftop of the building next to us, and at the adjacent parking garage.

Too bad this poetic moment doesn’t have a better view.  I wiped a tear and took a deep breath.  I let the elevator escort me on to normal life again.

Normal life is in full swing at our house.  Our form of messy, chaotic normal.  We celebrated Jeff’s birthday last night with homemade sloppy joes straight from Pioneer Woman’s cookbook.  You know you’ve struck gold when you’re friend’s pre-teen boy is asking his mom to get the recipe from you.  Score.

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My Love

We stayed up a little too late letting the kids (all 13 with our two families combined) watch a movie while the grownups did grownup things… like hoot and holler while playing several rounds of Dutch Blitz.

In two days we’ll celebrate Lena’s birthday.  And we’ll have our first nine-year-old in the house.  Nine.  That means in only a year and a half I’ll have three 10-year-olds in the house.  Maybe this is a good season to embrace after all.

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Thanksgiving is coming, and we have so much for which to be thankful.  I just want these days to slow down enough for me to soak it in and scratch some of it on paper and spend the time properly thanking God for the blessings.

I’ve been asked to write out our story for a friend’s blog, and it’s one of my greatest desires to use Rebecca’s story, her life, to point to God and to open eyes to choose LIFE for their baby – no matter how specially and uniquely designed their baby may be.

So I think it’s time.  Time to sit down and pour it all out and then put my feeble scroll into the Shepherd’s strong hand.  He’ll know what to do.

So excuse me, please, while I pour another cup of “Costa Rica Tarrazu” from my thermos and crack my knuckles over the keyboard.

Cheers.