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.