Sunday, December 22, 2013

These New Days

I haven't written in a few weeks because it's been difficult to put into words what the last month has been like since our sweet girl came back from the hospital. Having her in our home and in need of 24/7 constant supervision and care came as even more of a shock than all the other things that were introduced into our lives the moment she was carried through our front door.
Life has begun to settle into a tentative routine with her and our family is learning more and more what it is like to live with a family member who has special needs and is seriously ill.
She is quite the delightful little handful.
She requires constant supervision since her favorite game is to pull off her oxygen tubing and wave it victoriously in the air. She also delightedly grabs her g-tube any chance she gets and we are constantly pulling her shirt back down to hide it from her curious little fingers. This also gets her favorite toy into her hands to help keep her distracted.
She is smart. She is learning that if she fusses when we leave the room, we will turn around and come back to her. She is learning that crying will get her rocked. She is learning that if she whines in the dark we will sing to her at 1am, 2am, get the idea. She had already perfected the art of kicking hard enough that her toe probe flies off...much to her delight.
We have learned that most of these activities take place at night. : S
We are learning to be flexible, open, gracious to each other when the other half hasn't slept that night, patient, kind (in spite of the exhaustion) and that when we are reaching our limit that it's ok to say we need help.
We hit that point 2 weeks ago right after an ice storm hit our region of the south and we were isolated for over a week with no help whatsoever. When a person only sleeps every other night, sanity begins to crack.
We had spent the Sunday before celebrating Precious Jewel's and Luke's cousin Cody's birthdays. We'd met for the day to celebrate and just be together.
Nater Mater had brought his newest creation: a cardboard surfboard. He was convinced that if we took it down to the creek he could surf. (We had just watched Soul Surfer and he was begging to go back to the ocean and this time with his new "surf board" in tow).
His cousin decided she needed to help with the surf board decorations and added her flowery feminine touch.

We now have an 11 year old. It does not seem possible!! 

Cody's birthday is just 2 days after Precious Jewel's. Nater Mater is convinced that makes Precious Jewel older than Cody and I finally gave up trying to explain it all to him. 

Later that night we went to see the City Christmas Lights.
It'd been a long fun day and a certain 5 year old whined the entire time that his legs were too tired to take another step even though he had just stepped out of the car. I had all these grand visions in my head of beautiful pictures of each child set against a sparkly winter backdrop. What I got was this: A picture that I literally had to threaten their lives with if they didn't at least all sit on the same bench together so momma could capture this "happy" moment.
Children have a way of keepin' life real and parents down to earth. 

Sweet picture with the grandparents? I think everyone was just begging to go home.
 One day I will get to go to the town square and stroll leisurely around taking in all the Christmas lights. For now, I'll have to be content with the more drive-by light gazing stage that we're in.  
A little peek into our children's lives:
 Mr. Smiles came home from school that week and was so excited to share with Little Mermaid what he had learned about the candy cane. He sat sweetly on the bed next to our little girl and detailed out for her what the colors and strips stood for. He'd tell her a little bit, lick the candy cane and tell her a little more. She was enraptured by his attention and I think the smacking sounds as he worked that candy cane. But, his sweet heart shone through as he told her the clear message of the true Christmas story.

A couple days later we were hit with a rare early winter storm. It's rare for here anyway. I grew up in the Midwest where the first snow is commonly around Halloween. Here though, we don't get snow or ice until at least January or February. It snows so little that no one knows what to do with it and the world around us shuts down.
Now that we have our little girl, our concerns for loss of electricity are great. She is plugged into too many life assisting machines to lose any power. And considering that our electricity has been lost more than once when there was snow or ice was and is a great concern to us. We discussed with our agency and the State our options and came up with an action plan of what to do if this impending storm did hit us. As soon as we saw it moving in, the call was made and she and I were picked up and moved to a different facility where they had plenty of back-up generators to keep her safe.
I had this fierce determination that welled up inside me to keep her healthy and safe until we were given the "all clear" sign.
After arriving at the destination, there was an overwhelming sense of relief and I struggled to hold back tears all day. She was safe. I was safe. But Luke and the kids were at his parent's house without me and I missed them.
Honestly, the other ice storms where we have lost power have been a little challenging but fun at the same time. We made it a big adventure with the kids and without the distraction of electronics the kids got along better. Sleeping all piled up in the living room in front of a the fireplace added to the sense of adventure. We got a little sick of sandwiches and dried fruit, but it was fun. 
I came home exhausted 2 days later to a very icy and cold winter wonderland. The snow pants I'd bought all the kids 2 years ago finally got put to use and they still fit! (I'd bought them 2 sizes to big on purpose).
Later that afternoon, I took a teary-eyed Good Lookin' on a hike down to the creek. All the kids have struggled with our new total lack of routine. I didn't realize how routine oriented we all were until all our plans have constantly been pulled out from under us in the last 9 weeks. Each of the kids has responded differently, but Good Lookin' has his own unique and challenging ways of letting us know it's been rough. A mother/son hike down a slippery hill to the creek below is just what he and I both needed.
I love where we live. We see several bald eagles every day fly right over our back deck and house. The creek was quiet and peaceful and he and I just sat on the bank, not talking and chucking chunks of ice into the water and watching it melt as it floated away. A lot can be said in the unspoken. 
Our motto now is to make plans, but plan on them being changed and learning to be gracious about it all.
We are finally getting some help with her care. We realized when she had been discharged from pre-school that we couldn't continue all of her care and still parent our four kids without help. After weeks of sleeping every other night (I take one night to sit up with her and Luke takes the other) and then being snowed in for 8 9 days with no help whatsoever, I cracked. I told them we couldn't continue what we were doing unless we had more help in our home so Luke and I could simply get some sleep. Our agency specializes in children with special needs and has bent over backward to get us that help and get staff trained to work with her. This allows me to either sleep during the day while some else takes care of her and or I can get out and do the normal things that comes with raising a family with 5 kids.
Everyone who has met her falls in love with her. Once you get over the shock of all her equipment and needs and can look into her deep blue eyes and see the beautiful little girl behind all the disabilities, it is hard to not fall in love. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

With My Song I Praise Him

"The Lord is my strength
and my shield;
my heart trusts in him,
and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him."
Psalm 28:7
Yesterday was a quiet and reverent Thanksgiving full of family, cousins, laughter and some tears. Luke and I both felt a sense of reverence over the day as our 4 children and their 3 adorable cousins ran around the grandparent's house together. My sweet little niece shared a quiet moment with my Mother in Law snuggling into her neck and just being allowed to be held and gently rocked. I choked up as I thought of Little Mermaid who in the last week has returned to our home and is now deemed too medically fragile to travel anywhere outside our four walls. A caregiver had given up her day so we could spend a day with family down the road after the last 8 grueling weeks since becoming her foster parents.
It's been a physically and emotionally exhausting week and a half since her first release from the hospital and then she was re-admitted just 4 short days later. She is again back home with a sense of relief and at the same time a sadness. During her second stay we again met with her team of Doctors and her bio parents and it was agreed that she be assigned to Hospice-type Care within our home. A court order has gone through as to her care and what she will receive from now on and it brings us a sense of sad relief knowing that she can finally rest.
Our house has become a mixture of quiet reflection and intense crazy love since we fully explained to our children what this all means for our Little Mermaid. Waves of emotion ranging from rage to gut wrenching grief to curious joy have uttered from all 4 of them. Heaven is no longer a place in the clouds where cute little angels sit on fluffy clouds and strum their harps. It is is becoming tangible, real and beautiful even to the smallest of our family members. Questions such as, "Will she be able to walk mom? Could she run around outside like me? Can she play in the sandbox in heaven? She's never touched sand. Will she be able to fly? Can she teleport?! Will her fingers be straight and she be able to hold her toys? Will she finally talk? Will she know us when we get there? Can we still count her as our little sister even after she's gone and even though we never got to adopt her? Will she like dogs or cats better do you think?" Important and real questions from those others who have grown to love her. Death is now a passage to New Life. It is becoming a topic that brings up people past remembered and yet still loved. Heaven has become as exciting as Disney World and the Ocean and playing in the surf. It's tangible and real and the angels that live there don't float on clouds all cute and cuddly. They are mighty warriors greater than any Power Ranger and ready to do battle for their King. The topic of Little Mermaid's life and our role in her passage has dropped the Gospel which is that Jesus is the Good News and our ON.LY salvation onto our front doorstep in the most tangible and real way we could have ever imagined.
We've been asked if this is fair to our kids. We were again given the choice a week ago by DHS to step down as her foster parents. Again, we said we'd stay and fight with and for her. We had discussed it at length with our kids and each one of them were upset at the thought of her leaving our home even knowing full well she may not live more than a few months at best. They embraced the act of selfless love far quicker than Luke or I did. Do they know what hospice looks like? Yes,two Christmases ago we lost Luke's Grandma on Christmas Day. Hospice Care was a part of that. The Christmas before that it was his Grandpa. They know what this all means.
Luke and I are very pointedly learning in the midst of all of this what it means to truly be thankful. Circumstances cannot dictate our hearts. Circumstances right now seem unfair and life appears cruel when you look at the surface. But it's God's love and grace that shines through the hard walk. The grace and thankfulness for what and who He has brought our way has brought us a joy that all I can liken it to is childbirth. We may cry and groan under the weight and pain of it all but the end result is beauty and fresh life that can't be explained and are only really understood by those who've walked through it all. So can we say "thank you" this Thanksgiving? Yes, because Jesus is the author of life and has already defeated death. Death will not win.
So yesterday was a day to re-charge and re-fresh and let the stress that has built mountains on our shoulders slowly melt away for a time. We played games, watched the traditional Thanksgiving parade and ate the wonderful food Luke's dad had grilled (yeah, we grill for Thanksgiving).

Luke's parents had built a bonfire across the road for the later afternoon and the kids ran around playing in the wide open field laughing and rolling in the grass and running across a long sting of hay bales.

We ran home in the middle of it all and brought a heaping plate full of Thanks to the woman who sat the day with Little Mermaid and we pray that Jesus' love shined through. Last night we kissed our 4 goodnight and left them with cousins to have a sleepover at the Grandparents. We came home to a quiet house, handed a plate of Thanksgiving pies to our helper and said goodnight.
As I lay hear listening to the hum of Little Mermaid's Oxygen Concentrator, I feel a deep sense of tearful joy. Jesus is actively working and present in this home. It is something I have prayed and longed for and begged for. His presence fills every nook and cranny of this little home in the woods and I can honestly say that we are thankful for this unexpected journey He has placed us upon.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hands and Feet of Jesus

I am trying to figure out how in the world to write what I want to write and at the same time keep things confidential on the part of our new sweet little girl.
Honestly things change by the hour right now, so what I write may not even be entirely relevant tomorrow.
I'll start with two weeks ago. I had taken our sweet little girl to one of her first big Dr. appointments where I was hoping to get some more answers to the questions we had about her. Honestly, in the 3 weeks we had had her, we were becoming more and more puzzled with some things. It was during that routine appointment that she had "an episode" that resulted in a life flight to a Children's Hospital nearly 4 hours south of us. She had been fighting a little cold for close to a week and coughing a lot, but had been happy and alert and "talkative" the day before. 
Over the course of the next 48 hours, I met numerous Specialists, Nurses, Therapists and Case Workers who did their best to explain things to me. THEY knew her I found out. They knew her well and were very very concerned. Terms I had never heard before have now become familiar to Luke and I. I felt like an avalanche had just buried us and we was trying to sort through the rocky mess we were discovering.
BUT, something had also clearly and profoundly happened smack in the middle of this that left both Luke and I in a place of total, if not frazzled, trust that we were doing what God had asked us to do.
Many of you have asked in the last couple of weeks how my Vertigo is doing. God took care of that the day our little girl crashed on the Dr's table. I was not allowed to ride the helicopter and therefore had to follow it down in the car leaving late afternoon and not arriving until close to midnight. This was me driving alone, in the dark, through the mountains and on winding roads when I haven't more than driven to town and back. Soon after leaving my house and collecting my stuff, it became very apparent that my driving alone in the dark while still struggling with vertigo was not going to work. I began to pray. I have prayed for specific things before and some things have been clearly answered and many things have not. At least, not in the way I had asked for. This was different. For whatever reason God chose, the vertigo is GONE. It was gone the moment I asked while driving south to be with a little girl who was fighting for her life. Had I asked for it before? Yes. Had He answered it then? No. Is it gone now? Yes. His timing is perfect.
So what is happening now? I've had many people text, call, facebook, and e-mail asking how this sweet little girl who captures the heart of anyone who sees her is doing. How are we doing? How are the kids doing? Honestly, it is a very difficult question for me to legally answer. Sweet little girl would not normally have been placed in our home with what has since come to light. She will never live the normal length of life that other children live.
We have been asked if we want to step down as her foster parents. Both Luke and I know that they most likely won't find anyone else who will take her. Not at this point. We have also come to love her deeply. For whatever reason, God has placed her in our home. Is she aware? She is aware of love. She is aware of interaction. She smiles and squeals when you hold and talk to her. She laughs when you tickle her or when she knows she has once again ripped the oxygen tubing out of her nose when she isn't supposed to. She cries when she is scared or hurting. She "sings" along to music when it is played for her.
Our prayer, Our hope is that we can be a home that lavishes the love of Jesus onto a little girl who will soon be running and laughing and talking like the children around her. Only she will be laughing and talking in the arms of Jesus. We pray that our children will see it as a gift to give her some of the love she has lacked and to show her who Jesus is in their hands and feet. We pray that our children can see the Gospel lived out in front of them in their own home and that they will not experience trauma (not the same as sadness) but be able to be part of that very Gospel we try to teach them.
Does this scare me? Yes and no. The fear of what others think and judgment is more what I fear. That is more selfish. I believe God placed her with us, not as an accident, but for us to learn and our family to learn better what it is to be like Him.
Is this hard? It is the hardest decision we've made in a very very long time. It is not just Luke and I we have considered. We've taken into careful consideration each of our children. We've had to weigh in jobs, lifestyle, family time, relatives and our church. We don't know what it will look like.
For now, we take each day at a time and rely on His strength to carry us through.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Risk and Possibility

"Sometimes in life one has to take a chance. Without risk, there's no possibility. Without potential loss, no prize."

I had someone ask me shortly after we got Little Mermaid if it was wise to have taken her when we were still unsure of my own test results. And, that now that I knew what my own issue was, if I shouldn't take more time for me to heal. I wasn't sure how to answer that. None of us know what our future holds. None of us can say if we're even going to be here tomorrow. Why should some potentially bad news stop us from continuing on a path we've been directed down? None of my answers were conclusive yet and when they would be...well, we'd cross that bridge when we came to it...not quit as if already condemned.
When we got the call about her, we were given just an hour to decide. It was the day after I was given the devastating news that I either had a tumor or a life-long disease. Not IF I had either or, but that I DID have one of them. But both Luke and I knew that God had clearly led us down this path and that when we had started this leg of our journey He had been loud and clear that it was time to get started. We nearly had refused to follow His leading. Fear nearly kept us from being Foster Parents. Fear of experiences in the whole realm of working with at-risk children in the not too distant past. Fear (on my part) of judgment that we wanted to Foster Handicapped children. I've already had more than one person tell me that "normal" kids need families too. Why not take them? Ummm...because NO ONE wants them? Isn't that a good enough reason?
But taking anyone at that time was risky. We didn't know anything about her, how long we'd have her, if we could actually handle her, etc... We stepped out and said yes. And yes, we were more than taken aback when they walked in our front door with her. But can I say that after having her for just 3 short weeks in our home, that we are more blessed than before? She has blessed us! Our prize is her smile even when we're at the Dr once again or even waiting in the ER. Every nurse and Dr has been taken by her smile and sweet chuckle. Our prize is her laugh at our kid's antics when they're interacting with her. Our prize is that even though she has no recognizable sleeping pattern that we can figure out, she is at least singing happily at 3am instead of screaming. (Our 4 children screamed at that hour). It is very hard to get angry at a child who, even though everyone else is sleeping and she is not, is singing and laughing to herself in the dark. She is a happy girl. She is full of life. She is a creation of God just like the other healthy and mobile ones in our home.
Is it hard? My Lands yes!!! In 3 weeks, I've slept 1 night through. That is only owing to my sweet other half who slept on the floor next to her crib all night so he'd wake up to the sounds of her alarms instead of me. We take turns getting up with her at night. I get one night. He gets the other. But dear Luke has always had the gift of sleeping through a hurricane and sometimes I feel it's pointless to wake him up to go take care of one of our kids when I'm already awake. A couple of nights ago though I'd had it. It was his turn and he was in her room asleep on the spare bed and in his exhausted state did not wake to her coughing (she has to be suctioned). The first time I stumbled into the room my thoughts were kind, "oh poor guy! He's so tired! He can't even hear the machine or her right next to his head!" I willingly took care of her and walked back across the hall to our room.
Thirty minutes later was another story. "cough cough" BEEP! BEEP OF THE FRIEKING ALARM!!! I laid there for about 15 seconds waiting for him to hit mute on the alarm and take care of her. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Now my head is filling with "bleep bleep bleep @#$%#0@#!
This time I stomp into the room, hiss loudly for him to wake up, purposefully step on him and take care of her. I about gave the poor guy a heart attack. Yeah, it's hard and I had to swallow my pride the next day and apologize to him.
I had secretly hoped we would be given a Down's Syndrome Child. I swear they are walking angels among us and would fit in nice with all our kids. Down's Syndrome is not her issue. But she is just as sweet.
So I'm glad we said yes. I'm glad we trusted that He was in control and we took a leap of faith. I'm glad we risked it and said yes. Our children are learning to step up and take more responsibility. They are learning that even though someone may look or act different that they have just as much value. I am learning to be more compassionate towards my husband who has been so patient with me this entire last year. I am learning that even though a person, young or old, may be totally dependent on you far past they age they should be, but they can be one of the biggest blessings you'll ever encounter.
"Without risk, there's no possibility." I'm glad we took "the risk." We have a prize named Little Mermaid.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Little Mermaid and Life

It has been nearly two weeks now since I wrote about adding Little Mermaid to our family. Can I just say, she's taken us all for a sleep-deprived, wonder-filled, emotion-laden ride? She has us all wrapped around her crooked little finger.
we've taken a new look at things through her eyes. Little Mermaid is utterly delighted at being taken outside. I don't know if other than her ride to pre-school she has even seen the great outdoors. The leaves dancing in the trees and the light scattering through the branches light up her little face and deep giggles erupt from her round little belly. Birds twittering in the trees and the soft nose of our black lab on her arm bring squeals of laughter.
One evening about a week ago, our 4 kids were at grandparents so we could get a little break and I had gone out with my Sister-in-law for her birthday. This left Luke at home with Little Mermaid. He assured me he'd be fine and to go have fun. We're both getting this oxygen, heart-monitor, pulse-ox carrying equipment down but I was still nervous at leaving him home alone because I knew I didn't want to be left alone with her yet. I got a call about an hour later and I could hear her little giggles in the background. I could also hear birds. "Where are you?"
"Swinging" was his reply. My thought was "how in the world?" One: my dear sweet hubby doesn't fit so well in our kid's swings and two: how did he take her outside to swing with all of her equipment? But he had and she was in little girl-outdoor heaven. The beauty of nature is the great equalizer of all people.

We've also had some other big shake-ups in our life. You know the whole First Day of School post a couple of months ago? Well, the whole vertigo thing has never totally left. It is significantly better but I still have the sensation of falling over whenever I try and turn left. I can't walk across an un-even surface without intense concentration or I'll fall flat on my face. I went with Nater Mater to the Corn Maze a week ago and several times nearly took a face plant into the corn while walking through the maze with his class. As long as I'm concentrating on my feet, I do ok. I don't feel secure, but I do ok. Give me a flat surface like our own living room floor or sidewalk and I'm fine. Another weird part of this is sensory input. I CANNOT handle people giving me much of a hug. I feel like they are tackling me to the ground. This caused somewhat of a problem with Luke and I in the beginning. His love language is physical touch and right now my whole body screams "no hugs and no kissing! You're messing with my head!" It's been a bit of a challenge. We've had to learn that he has to hold onto me for me to give him a kiss or I tip over backward. Same with hugs. If my head is turned to the right, I'm fine. But if my head is turned to the left, he might as well be tipping me over as if we were swing dancing. My children find this all somewhat amusing. Nater Mater has been put in more than one time out for purposely running into me just to see me fall over. He may find it amusing, but I do not.
I had an ENT apt. 2 days before Little Mermaid arrived which left us in shock. The Doctor had refused to speak to me over the phone to give me the latest test results and insisted I come into his office for a consultation. I was irritated. He'd had the results for over a week and I just wanted to know what my latest test had shown and if it would give us any answers. The results were stunning. Either I had a tumor on my ear drum or I had Meneire's disease. Both were life changing. Both could be debilitating. I cried my way home and called Luke to tell him the devastating news. I had been getting better. I was just at this place where I was sort of stuck and couldn't seem to progress. How in the world was this going to fit in with our call to Foster Care? How was I going to work? What did this mean for our family? The ENT referred us on to another Specialist 3 1/2 hours south of us and said we needed to meet with him and they would be ordering an MRI to look for a tumor. I woke the next morning with a pit in my stomach and an ache in my chest wondering how I was going to function for the next 2 weeks before my appointment down south.
It was the next evening we got the phone call about Little Mermaid and we were plunged head first into our first Foster Care placement of a child with special needs. She was exactly what I needed. It took me the full two weeks until my ENT appointment to track down all her necessary medical equipment. I'd get up between 5 and 5:30am and start her feeding tube and meds. and breathing treatments so that I could get her off to preschool when the bus came for her at 6:30am. Then it was wake the rest of the kids, breakfast, making sure everyone was dressed and teeth brushed and we'd head out the door to take them all to school. As soon as I arrived home, I would get on the phone, grab her stack of paperwork and start making phone calls to track down all her providers, doctors, case worker, specialists and pharmacies to make sure that we could get everything to the house that we needed and that she was getting the care she was supposed to. It took all my time and energy while the kids were gone to school and I found the days flying past and hardly a thought of my ENT appointment entered my mind.
Luke and I also had a peace about the whole thing. How in the world was having a permanent issue with vertigo or major head surgery and the Fostering of Special Needs children going to work together long term? Neither of us saw it as functioning well for long, but we also knew God was not in the business of playing cruel jokes on His children and He had us and Little Mermaid exactly where He wanted. For now, that was good enough and until He directed otherwise we would continue on our path with her and take care of her and our own children to the best of the abilities He had given us.
Then yesterday the big day arrived and we found ourselves taking the long drive south in a heavy rain and fog. I could feel the fear like the heavy clouds around us threatening to barge it's way into my heart. Luke and I had prayed together that whatever the outcome we had put our trust in God and that we would accept the answer He gave us. (But could it please be different than what we had been told?)
Once again, in even the doctor (of whom there are only 3 in the State that specialize in this) we saw God's care and sense of humor. I have never heard a Doctor or Specialist use the type of language and analogies that he use to describe my symptoms and situation. He came in with all my reports in hand and then asked me to describe exactly what happened, the progression, and what I was feeling now. When I finished, he looked me scare in the eye and said, "I can tell you with almost 100% certainty that you don't have Meneire's disease and with 99% certainty you don't have a tumor. However, your dear drum is a hell of a mess and you have a long road ahead of you." He then proceeded to describe my ears like a "horses a** that when you poke it you're going to get the s*** knocked out of you." Luke and I stared at him rather incredulously and looked at each other like, "did he just say that?"  My bad ear was "like an old nag. She'll just look over her shoulder at you and continue eating her hay. She's got nothing left in her and has no idea what you just did to her. Your good ear however, responded to our testing like a good ear should. She'll kick you so hard against the back wall, you will take some time getting back on your feet."
Basically something, he didn't know what, caused the blood vessels in my ear drum to swell and severe inflammation of the ear drum. Then it all collapsed and I lost all blood flow to the inner ear. he called it a stroke of the inner ear but it's not actually a stroke. "This is the healthy stallion that you poked in the a**. He knocked the sh** out of you and it's taken you several weeks to stand up again. But when we tried to re-enact it all in the testing, your ear that took the hit is so massively damaged that it didn't respond and acted like the old nag. Understand?" Ummmmm, yeah. Your vivid analogies have made it perfectly clear.
Good news. I'm young enough that with therapy I should be back to base-line (normal) within 6 months to a year. "You got 5 kids. You can keep doing what you are doing. Just don't skip the physical therapy and this should NEVER happen again."
Huge prayers answered. We knew God had called us through the door of Foster Care. We knew that He knew the timing of my "ear infection." We knew that Little Mermaid had come to us in the middle of what seemed a terrible time and we knew that He would give us the strength to walk the path He was sending us down. It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, but I do know He has shown His incredible faithfulness in just the family and friends He has brought to us to walk through this journey.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

New Sister

The eyes truly are a window to the soul. A person may not be able to speak but a lot can be communicated through their expression. This is what we are beginning to get first hand experience with on the journey that began just 72 hours ago.
72 hours ago I had just finished my 2nd full day of guest teaching in the local school district where my kids are attending. I came home exhausted but happy that I had not only made it through a day filled with middle school students but I had enjoyed it. It had brought back fun memories of college days spent as a youth director's assistant to troubled teens. Middle Schoolers are still kids in over-sized gangly, out-of-control bodies. You can pretty much bluff your way through the day and maintain classroom control.
I was proud of myself for keeping my cool when 2 girls delightedly brought a fist-sized tarantula into the room with the expectation that I had all the zoo skills in the world to wrangle the thing from his applesauce jar home to his new aquarium. Ha!! Little did they know that I have a phobia of spiders that comes from walking face-first into one too many webs strung across my back door. I survived the transfer though and the continuous presence of 8 huge hairy legs that constantly crawled just feet from my desk the rest of the day.
That evening whole cooking dinner at home, God added another twist to our road. A road we've said yes too but have zero experience. A little girl needed a home and needed it NOW. They knew nothing about her except that she was special needs (the branch of DHS we have chosen to work in) and the case worker and a nurse would be at our house sometime that evening.
I'm sitting here now next to the crib of a curly, brown-haired little girl with beautiful eyes who is insisting on having a party at 1am. Luke and I have re-entered the world of newborn type exhaustion (that we do know). The room is dark except for the light of the porch shinning through her window and she is "singing" at the top of her sweet little lungs and laughing at whatever she is seeing here in the soft light of the room. I like to think she sees angels around her crib because I believe that little children like her have that gift to see what we cannot see and we can learn from them.
72 hours ago I went to bed in near tears not knowing what in the world we had gotten into and terrified I would break this little one. When they carried her into our house after dark that night with our own 4 sleepy but wide-eyed kids watching, our heart jumped to our throats. This was NOT what we had planned on. She was NOT what we had imagined when we said we'd take children with special needs. Sweet Precious Jewel never cracked a smile the whole evening the social worker and nurse were trying to show us how to care for her. I could see the tears threatening to spill out of her eyes and her biting her lip. This little girl was NOT what she had imagined either when we had talked about taking children into our home. We'd tried to prepare ourselves and our kids for being a foster home for special needs. Little did we know. This sweet little girl came with her own "hospital room" for a lack of better explanation. I have cared for several babies...all healthy. Neither of us had any experience with a child who needed constant monitoring and the sight of all her machines alone terrified us. As the tired and frazzled nurse explained how to work her various equipment and what it was for and as I furiously wrote "large gray oxygen box," "feeding tower," "pulse and oxygen monitor," and the list went on, my heart raced at the thought of them leaving her with us and how in God's green earth were we going to keep it all straight! The whole time she lay on the couch staring up at the kids with an occasion smile flitting across her tired little face and her eyes searching the faces and room around her.
Three days later I sit here in the dark of her room at 1am with a love that I didn't think I could possess for a child that is not mine and I do not now the future of. Do we know any of our children's futures or ours for that matter? I do know the verse that has become familiar to me over the years.
 Psalm 82:3
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.

This child hasn't had someone to consistently care for her. I'm not sure she has ever been held much outside of her daily pre-school. She has already won our hearts though with her sweet smile and little giggle. She may not be able to speak but she certainly knows how to communicate with the waving of her arms and legs and with grunts and giggles.
She is almost 5 but like a baby. The whirring of the machines that help keep her little body comfortable, the soft light of monitors that tell us if she is getting enough oxygen and that her heart rhythm is good talk to us in the dark. Her voice and theirs have become another familiar sound in our house.
She is like any other little girl. She likes pretty things. She responds to affection. She likes to play.
Precious Jewel woke up the next morning in tears and running a low-grade fever. My heart sank thinking of trying to care for our delicate new member and a sick one of my own. God knew. God knew that Precious Jewel needed a day with me and our new family member. The social worker had recommended that we call her current pre-school and ask to see the nurse who could better explain sweet one's needs. She has been attending that place for some time and they would be very helpful in learning how to care for her. I brought her and several pieces of equipment that I wasn't sure what to do with and drove with her and Precious Jewel to the pre-k. The office staff met us and the nurse hurriedly ushered us into the building and we spent the next several hours learning about our new daughter/sister. I watched Precious Jewel as the nurse spoke lovingly to our new daughter, laughing with her, chastising her for pulling out her oxygen tubes, helping her to hold a soft toy and speaking to her as if she had not been born into the world broken. The worry and stress that lined Precious Jewel's face began to fade and she scooted closer to her new sister and started helping her bat at the toys dangling from the play gym in front of her. God knew she needed to see all of what she saw to be able to step outside of herself and begin to understand. She didn't need a lecture that handicap children need to be treated with the same love and respect that other children are afforded. She needed to see that ALL children are precious no matter what society deems as "normal" and that when they have no one to care for them that they need the same love and affection as all the other children that have walked, crawled or been carried in our front door the years I have babysat. 
Yesterday, I took Precious Jewel and Nater Mater with me to a "local" gently-used children's store to shop for clothes for our new daughter. (I need to come up with a name for her don't I? How about Little Mermaid? She loves bath time).
God was definitely with us in just our shopping experience. The owners of the store were so kind and helpful when I explained what I needed (she came with the clothes on her back plus one extra sun-dress and the temperature had plummeted that morning from the day before being a sweltering near-90 to 40-some degrees). The owners wife was a former Physical Therapist and as she patted her own baby wrapped in the Moby Wrap on her chest, she talked to Little Mermaid as if she could answer right back. Nater Mater ran to the little play center to play with the owner's child and Precious Jewel and I pushed Little Mermaid around in her wheelchair and got our shopping skills flowing. Precious Jewel can shop! She expertly sorted through hundreds of items pulling out cute, trendy girl clothes an held them up to Little Mermaid's face. "Na, not the right color," or "that goes perfect with your eyes." Meanwhile, Little Mermaid batted at the clothes and "talked" and giggled to herself. She seemed delighted at all the brightly colored clothes hanging around her. Precious Jewel didn't seem to mind at all the different people's reactions when they turned down our clothing row and started at the wheelchair and curly-headed little girl with monitors and an oxygen tank bag hanging from the handles. Some people turned and walked away with grim faces, others smiled, some simply stared and hurried past. Little Mermaid and Precious Jewel were absorbed in the rapidly growing pile of pretty clothes. One exclaiming at a cute outfit and one giggling as it was waved in front of her face awaiting approval.
While talking to my mom later that day, she reminded me of something I used to tell her over and over when I was worried about what I would do with my life. I was never the brightest student on the block. Think B and C average and only passing Math because teachers had pity on me. I wanted to be a nurse, but you have to be at least decent beyond 4th grade Math (I am not) to go to nursing school. I wanted to be a Physical Therapist (once again it requires some Math) and work with children. I wanted to be a Teacher or a Social Worker and then after a heart-breaking trip to Africa while in college near the end of my under-grad studies to be a Family Therapist, I begged God to send me overseas to work with at least a handful of the millions of children who have no families. Working in a hospital with children with Spina Bifida, Club Feet, Hydrocephalus, Scoliosis, Cleft Pallets, Burns, Broken Bones, etc...I fell in love with the dark little faces that just wanted someone to hold and speak tenderly to them. I came back with a broken heart and what I thought was a door slammed shut in my face. Little did I know that was just a piece of His preparation for what I needed for now.
Many times being a stay-at-home-babysitting-country-living American I have longed to do more. I've had reoccurring dreams of my time spent in Chicago working with under-privileged youth mingled with the dark and dusty faces of Africa orphans. None of the dreams have ever made much sense but they do always leave me with a desire to make a difference and a longing to teach my own 4 healthy and privileged kids that there is more to this world than I-pods and television and the latest fashion. Luke and I have talked since before we got married about being open to foster care and adoption. But when we were plunged into parent-hood 9 months after our wedding and then again just a year later, the though of simple daily survival took my driver's seat. Luke began looking into adopting and foster care not long after Mr. Smiles was born. I said "no." That was a naive girl's dream that had been over-shadowed with the icy fingers of post-partum depression. There was no way I was going to open that Pandora's box when I could hardly handle my own.
But in the last 2 years God has gently nudged the dreams back into the forefront. And this time both Luke and I were feeling the tug at the same time. I had prayed for a husband who had a heart for the orphan an Luke had prayed for a wife who would love children that were not born to her. But we needed to over-come some obstacles in our own marriage and chip away at some patterns of selfishness before handed what we were handed this week.
My mom reminded me of my dream of nursing neglected and fragile children over-seas. She pointed out that I never had to leave the farm in the South but that all the experiences that I have thought were just part-time jobs and random experiences were really preparing us for who was carried through our door just 72 hours ago. I didn't need to go to Africa or South America to love on a child that no one wants. I just needed to be patient with God and He would bring the children to us.
It's been an hour and a half now. Little Mermaid is slowly settling back down. The whirring of her machines are making us both sleepy. I can hear her breathing softly and grinding her teeth in the nasty little habit she has. She's bathed, dressed in Nater Mater's green Hulk pajamas (because I forgot to get that essential today in my excitement over cute clothes), her little probe-light on her big toe slowly lowering back to the crib mattress. She seems contented that I'm simply sitting next to her crib with her. It will take teamwork to make this household of now-5-kids to run.
Good night Little Mermaid. You get to meet your new church family in the morning.

Friday, September 6, 2013


This past week it has hit me...little bits here and little bits there...but today it hit me like a load of bricks up the side of my head (which right now is still spinning).
I am officially in a new phase of motherhood. All 4 children are in school and for the time being I am not really working. THAT hasn't happened. EVER.
I realize that we are in the 3rd week of school, but honestly I'm still fighting the vertigo and it's all been about survival.
From the time Luke and I married I have either worked or had tiny ones running around my feet. Usually both. I worked a "real job" (Social Work) until Precious Jewel was born. Then when Mr. Smiles came along a year after her I began babysitting. I've done that ever since. It's either been my own or my own with an assortment of other tiny little feet running around the house. Every two years for the last 10 years there has been a new baby in this house. Four of my own and a crop of others that I called mine for the day. Most days I've loved having a group of little hands "helping." It's why I stayed home. I wanted to be home with my own kids and be there for their first words, steps, discoveries. One way to do that was by caring for other little ones. I love kids. I always have. Their questions, discoveries, funny sayings, they all leave me a happy exhausted. Some days they have just left me exhausted, but you get the point.
But Nater Mater started pre-K full time this fall and Precious Jewel has gone back to school. Last year at home with her was a precious one. Homeschooling with a toddler and infant left me more busy than I could ever have imagined, but at the same time I treasured those hours during the day with her. The choice to send her back is one I'll blog about at a later date.
I've been part of a mom's group since Precious Jewel was 8 months old. Every year I have checked upwards of 3-5 kids in childcare or bounced them on my lap while I listen to and talked with other moms. Today, I went ALONE. No one to check into childcare. No one to duck out of the room with me hoping they wouldn't see me. No one to peel like well-set super glue off my legs. Today was a pivotal turning point. I've heard mentors and speakers talk about enjoying this time while your children are still young. Honestly, in the midst of 2-3 in diapers, tantrums, endless nights of no sleep, sick kids, and scraping by to survive, I didn't really get it. THOSE years of your children not waking you for the 7 time in one single night seemed beautiful and waaaaay too far away for me to take seriously. Let me just get through this hour because the little person on my lap is hell bent on letting everyone know what an excellent set of lungs he was born with because I denied him a piece of candy.
But today I left the Mom's Group early because I had received a phone call from Mr. Smile's school to come and sub. I was excited. This is what I had wanted for this year. To be able to work while they were in school. Maybe finally get caught up a little financially. Pay for 2 kids in braces and save for a third child's surgery. Start saving for a car since the miles on ours is piling up. Have a decent amount of grocery money for goodness sake! (Babysitting allows you to stay home, but the pay is rather terrible). With Nater Mater turning 5 and begging for school, I felt comfortable sending him full-time with the others. I was excited to begin this new phase now that I've been able to drag myself off the merry-go-round of my couch and am feeling at least half-way normal. We need me to work. We always have and that is ok. But, today a new feeling welled up inside me that I hadn't expected.
I no longer belong to that "club" of mommies who have little ones rolling around their feet or dropping things onto the floor. There are no crushed cheerios crunching under my feet or banana crusted on the High Chair (in fact, it is now stowed in the garage). No one is screaming that "he pulled my hair or she won't leave my LEGOS alone or he's being mean!" This year my house is quiet during the day. This is the first time being sick that I've been able to rest and sleep and "recover."
But truth me known, I'm not sure I like it. I miss the sloppy kisses and the drive-by hugs. I miss the paint smeared on the table and the crunching of cereal under my feet. (Well, maybe I don't miss that). I miss the chaos and the noise that a house of many creates.
When they say that time flies or that you blink and the years a gone, they are right. I'm out of the baby and toddler stage now. A stage that has given me loads of gray hair, but a stage that I loved.
Gone are the sloppy kisses. Now I have to grab them while they roll their eyes and wiggle out of my grasp. The older two asked this year that I NOT walk them in the first day of school. "Mom, that's a little embarrassing." I did a double take. When did I become an old mom and when did they become to old to hold my hand? At home, those two still like to snuggle and tuck in, but in public I've joined the ranks of the moms who stand on the sidewalk watching their kids walk inside by themselves because mom is too embarrassing to be seen with.
Time marches on. Time is something that I haven't figured out. Is it an enemy or a friend? So, as I enter this new phase of parenting, I will remember I am blessed. Blessed to have been able to stay home while my children were little like I had always wanted. Blessed that I was given the opportunity to care for other little ones like my own and to give them a stable place to take first steps and discover new bugs and enjoy farm life. I've been blessed with the time I was given with them.
And now, I turn and look forward to the next phase. We are just 2 years away from Middle School. Someone want to serve me up some Prozac?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

First Day of School

First Day of the New School Year!

For those of you who know me via Facebook, you saw my post on the first day of school. Yeah, we'd rather not have another first day of school like that again. EVER.

Can I just say that maybe, just maybe, we weren't ready for school to start yet? Yes, we were more than ready for a consistent schedule again. Yes, all the back-to-school shopping had been done. Yes, outfits had been chosen, re-chosen, thrown out and then chosen again. Yes, we'd talked and prayed with each of the kids and each other for this new school year. Yes, everyone's stuff was placed neatly on the couch ready for the big day. Yes, I'd printed off my little First Day of School Signs so we could take our annual picture all lined up at the front door. We were the usual mix of excitement and nervousness yesterday morning. We were ready for the big first day of school and all the adventure that brings.

But, can I say I was not prepared for the level of exhaustion that has overtaken us all after a week at the County Fair. (We show animals and basically live there 6 days straight). I was not prepared for my ear infection to NOT be gone. This ear infection made it so that it was Luke and the kids at the Fair all week and me at home in bed trying my best to just keep my eyes shut so that I didn't puke all over the floor again. This ear infection that has made it impossible to even walk a straight line, let alone drive! I was not prepared for a tired 9 year old to drop a quart full of milk on the kitchen floor and that I would spend the next half hour before we were supposed to leave mopping up spilled milk and hundreds of tiny glass shards from the kitchen floor while the 4 year old wailed that he was too tired to eat breakfast. I was not prepared to not be able to help the 10 year old fix her hair for the first day of school because I was still on my hands and knees picking up glass shards and the tears that would bring. I was not prepared for the chain reaction that would set off with the 7 year old and the sobbing into his bowl of cereal that he hated school and saying he would never go and his begging to homeschool. I was not prepared to turn around when it was time to leave to discover the 4 year old had fallen back asleep on the couch and had taken back off his school clothes to put back on his pajamas and pull-up and was drooling on the couch cushions.

But, we made it out the front door. I tried to be upbeat and encouraging and telling the still sobbing 7 year old and now wailing 4 year old that they would love their teachers and make lots of new friends and it was going to be a great day! I never brought up the idea of a First Day of School Picture. Who wants a Facebook post with 2 sobbing kids in the photo holding up their First Day of School Sign? I eventually ended up turning on the radio to drown out their crying and concentrate on my driving since I still wasn't seeing straight.

Back to the ear infection: It has caused a nasty case of Vertigo. For those of you who do not know what that is (I didn't have a clue till it hit me), imagine yourself being on the craziest whirling Fair Ride or Roller Coaster you can think of, but never being allowed off. Yep, that's pretty much the sensation. I thought I was dying of some strange and nasty flu when it hit me last week. And it literally hit me. I was fine all day and then began to get this strange off-balance feel that within 2 hours had me squeezing my eyes shut and unable to walk without throwing up. Poor dear Luke had to carry me inside the house and I threw up all over his back and onto his feet. That is true love baby. When your other half still holds my hair up while I'm bent over his feet puking all over them after I'd just thrown up on the back of his neck and down his shirt. But he still held my hair and hands while I continued to spew all over him. He had to help me out to the car the next morning and my mom wheeled me into the Dr. Office and I was told there was nothing that could be done but rest and it would be better by the weekend. The lovely little shot that stopped the vomiting was a great relief. It has been over a week and I can at least walk a semi-straight line without holding onto someone for support but I was faced with the dilemma of getting all the kids to school yesterday.

Which brings me back to the first day of school. I made it with great fear and trembling and praising that it was still early enough for the traffic to not be it's normal out of control first day of school madness. I was so afraid of hitting another car or misjudging the depth perception (that's a huge issue right now) and crashing into the back of someone else. I slowed waaaay down before ever stopping and put a good 5-6 feet in front of anyone else stopped in front of me....just in case. I stopped the car at Nater Mater's Pre-School and told the other 3 to wait while I walked him inside. He was so cute. He has been at this same Preschool nearly every day for 2 years where we would drop off the little boys after school where their mom worked. He's been asking for 6 months when it would be his turn to get to go. Well, yesterday was the big day and was he ever ready. He walked right in, showed me his cubby, led me to the sign in sheet and then skipped over to the train set without looking back. I had to beg him to give me a goodbye hug!

Then I walked back out to the car with a huge sigh of relief and ready to take the others to their respective schools. Did I mention that all 4 kids are in separate schools this year? It's the way our District is split up. Two grades a building until you get to HS and you have to drive to ALL. OF. THEM. It means an hour in the morning dropping everyone off and an hour in the afternoon picking everyone up. I excitedly got back in the car and turned it on and....nothing happened. It was dead!! The car was dead! I still had 3 kids left to get to 3 different schools!

To make a story that has already gotten very long a little shorter, I called a sweet friend who also had a little boy in Good Lookin's school. She had called me the night before concerned that I was driving the kids to school and asking if she could help. I had assured her that Luke had put me behind the wheel that very night and after a bit of correction on the direction that I liked to veer the car rather warily said I could drive them the next morning to school. I told her I'd call her if I needed any help but not to worry. She sweetly came and rescued us all and we made it to all the other 3 schools with seconds to spare.

She then proceeded to take me to another Dr. appointment where I was again told that we'd just have to wait another week and if my balance wasn't better by then he'd refer me on to a Ear Nose and Throat specialist. He advised me to get help with the kids and be very careful with driving.

Thus began a flurry of phone calls to see who could help get the kids after school and then calling all the separate schools to inform them of what was happening and why none of the people on my pick-up lists were available to pick up my kids and why I was asking other people instead....on the First Day of School.

In the end, God was so gracious. I'm pretty sure that He killed the battery in our car yesterday morning. The more I rode around with my friend, the more disoriented and nauseated I became. I'm not sure I would have been able to get all the kids to school without either throwing up in my car or causing an accident or both. Then there was my friend who went out of her way yesterday to make sure that I was alright. I went back to her house and slept a good hour before tackling the task of how to get each child after school. She helped me figure out who was picking up each child where and who they would be brought to when. Everyone who helped out was kind and gracious. I honestly felt helpless and very humbled. It is not a position I like to be in but it was neat to see how the Body of Christ steps in when needed. Another couple friend of Luke's and mine came and jumped the car for me and let their house be the meeting place for all the other families to drop my kids off at their place. Then my friend followed me home to make sure that I could drive home alright and to help if needed. I honestly felt very blessed to have made it home safe and sound and all of us taken care of.
Luke's boss is letting him switch his schedule this week to a later start time. This way he can be the one to drive all the kids to school instead of me. And the same people who helped pick up all the kids yesterday are going to help the rest of this week so that I only have to drive into town and then back again to get everyone.

So, we are off to another School Year! Here's to more of that Adventure!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm Back!!

I don't even know where to begin. I haven't written a thing since last November and that was a feeble attempt at keeping everyone updated. I've tried to figure out how to fill in the last 8 months! I don't think it's possible, so I'll just start afresh.
I will say this has been another year of growth, seeing God's loving hand, developing and deepening friendships and learning what trust is really about. In the frustration of dealing with the kid's and my health issues, the loss of some income, and just trying to make it through my day before Luke got home so I could collapse in bed, both Luke and I saw God's loving hand and guidance. God was gently guiding Luke and I in our relationship and what servant leadership and submission needs to look like for us. He was teaching me how to be a mother when I had nothing to give because I felt sick all the time. He was beginning to open new doors for us while closing others.
While Luke and I were apprehensive on how we would make it through the summer without me working, He provided every step of the way...sometimes to the exact penny!!! I am learning to let go of control. I am a control freak! I like control. But God is ultimately the one in control of me, my husband, our family and our future. He knows what we need in order to be a light for His Gospel.
I am learning it's not about me. Even in the midst of depression or another discouraging day when I feel as if nothing has been accomplished, my children ate cereal for dinner, I yelled at them and was snarky to Luke, God still loves me. He's given me the strength to say "I'm sorry" (I hate saying I'm sorry) and given me grace in a husband named Luke.
I'm excited to be back! So much has changed in several areas of our lives. I'll have to keep writing and fill in when needed.

                                          Picture of the 4 kids and their cousins this summer