Thursday, December 26, 2013

Too Much Commotion and a Lot of Courage

Paige, the youngest of our four children, was the only one we planned.  When I realized how overwhelmed I was raising three babies born in three I years, I changed my mind and unplanned a fourth.  But it was too late.  Paige was already on the way.
a couple weeks old
From the time Paige was born we knew she was an extra special girl.  A different personality from three older siblings, Paige has always been mellow, easy-going, happy and content.  As a newborn she often took four hour naps and woke up cooing and smiling.  
nine months old
In the chaos of raising three very busy and very opinionated toddlers and preschoolers, Paige was a breath of fresh air.  She reminded me WHY I love being a mom.  Peace-making and peace-loving, Paige was naughty so infrequently that we would laugh if she tried to throw a tantrum.  After one attempt at naughtiness I posted on Facebook, "It only took Paige 3 1/2 years to prove to us that she isn't completely angelic."
First class Paigey took for herself - Intro to Dance with Miss Cheryl
Paige is eager to please and much more timid than her boisterous, loud, and somewhat crazy older siblings.  New circumstances, new faces or new anything tend to intimidate and overwhelm her.  She does NOT like to be the center of attention, but is really witty, clever, and fun in situations where she feels comfortable.

Paige is now in second grade and her adorable personality emerges more with each year.  A little bit of a perfectionist, she likes do to things in a certain order and follow directions to a T.  She takes school very seriously.  She was selected to be Mrs. Clause in a Readers Theater that her second grade class was presenting to the parents on the last day of school before Christmas break.  Paige was really excited about being chosen to read the main part but anxious about being the center of attention.  
2nd grade
There was confusion surrounding the dates and times of the presentation that Paige was in.  Paige REALLY wanted me to be there and I didn't want to miss it.  At Paige's direction, I emailed her teacher to confirm that I had the date and time entered correctly in my calendar.  In the chaos of a very busy week I read the teacher's response incorrectly and went into the day of the presentation with the wrong time in my calendar.
She got all dressed up and we curled her hair.
Paige doesn't like to be rushed or hurried and gets nervous if we're late for things.  Knowing this, I left my house with enough time to arrive at school and be in Paige's classroom fifteen minutes before the show.  I didn't want to add any extra anxiety to her already revved up nerves.  

I walked confidently into her classroom.  Then stopped dead in my tracks and my heart sank.  The presentation was just wrapping up.  I got to hear Paige read one line.  She gave me a weak smile and immediately I started blinking rapidly in a feeble attempt to hold back the rush of tears.

the line I saw her read.
Paige and I went in the hall after the show.  I held my girl and cried.  Told her how I had been looking forward to it all day, praying for her, and how excited I was to see her shine.  She said, "Mom, I knew when I saw the time that we had it wrong in your calendar and that you wouldn't be there.  It's okay.  But can you stop crying?  It's making me feel like I want to cry too."

We hugged it out in the hallway then went inside for her class party.  I still couldn't pull it together so one of my friends scraped up the pieces of my battered heart, held my hand and whispered, "It's okay."  Talk about an epic fail.  

I was overly emotional the rest of the afternoon - fighting back tears every time I thought about letting my baby girl down.  But I got to join her for her class party.  I treasured every minute of making a snowman craft with her, then headed to the gym for the All School Holiday Sing-a-Long.  
class party and snowman craft
After school Paige and Alli and two of their buddies were signed up to do the Holiday Dance Camp.  All four girls were really excited to learn a dance routine that they would perform at halftime of the high school basketball game.  Until we got to the check-in line.  

I noticed that Paige had gone from excitement to apprehension in a matter of minutes.  I had to shove her toward her snack table with her friends.  A check in my spirit told me to not rush out the door and hang around a bit.  I'm so glad because moments later my Baby disintegrated in my arms.

Silent, shoulder heaving sobs wracked my baby girl's body.  Between gulps she told me, "It's too much commotion.  I can't start my Christmas break off with all this commotion.  I just want to go home."

So we did.  To regroup and pick up Big Brother and Big Sister.  Then back to Dance Camp, but only to watch.  It's all Paige could commit to.

Once we were there, she felt good enough to eat dinner with her buddies and even do two practice rounds.  When she took her shoes and socks off and started smiling, I thought we had overcome the dread.  But the chaos overwhelmed my girl and she was crying in my arms again.  "Take me home Mommy.  I don't want to dance."

So we went home.  Me, my Baby Girl, and my Big Kids.  We were all exhausted and emotional.  There was wisdom in Paige's desire to start our Christmas break with calm instead of commotion.  We crashed on the couch and snuggled - therapy for our tattered emotions.

When Curt got home from work we headed to the high school.  Again.  To watch Alli and her buddies dance during half time.  We got there early and as we stood around in the lobby waiting, I watched Paige's demeanor change again.  She took a couple deep breaths, blowing out deliberately slow and loud.  She squared her shoulders and announced, "Mom,  I changed my decision.  I think I want to dance after all."

Off we ran to the practice area.  The kids were still rehearsing and Paige's friends embraced her with the best-ever-second-grade-hugs and told her how happy they were that she changed her mind.  I waved goodbye and joined our dwindling family in the stands.
performance in the cafeteria
Halftime came and the hoard of kids flooded the gym floor for the cutest half time performance you have ever seen.  Alli and her friends in one section, comfortable with the spotlight and hamming it up.  Paige and her buddies, much more timid and clearly thinking through the moves, but dancing in front of a big crowd during halftime of a basketball game.The kids performed the dance twice more in the cafeteria so parents could get good video of their kiddos.

After the performance, Paige was beaming.  She gave me the biggest hug and said, "Mom, that took a lot of courage, but I'm glad I changed my decision."

I've been replaying the events of that day in my mind for the past several days. It's been a long, hard year for our family.  Some beautiful times, but some dark, hard times too.  I think we're all a little exhausted.  And really thankful that we've moved through the valley into a more relaxing, spacious place.  

Paige got it right when she rejected commotion and fought for calm.  And chose courage in the face of fear.  We could all learn from her.  

Thank you Baby Girl for setting the precedent for what has been a magical Christmas break thus far.  Mommy loves you!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hope... Blessed Hope!

My Mom - officially named Rhonda and affectionately called Ru by her friends - is one Tough Cookie.  In April she was laid off from her corporate job at West Coast Bank.  Shortly after her layoff she had a total knee replacement.  Medical Professionals say this is one of the most painful surgeries to recover from.
celebrating Ru's birthday (between surgeries)
In May/June, her knee got infected.  Surgery Number Two was a wash out to try to save the prosthetic.  She spent five days in the hospital while they waited to see what the cultures grew.  She came home with an IV pumping antibiotics to her heart (a PICC line) for six weeks. The antibiotics killed the two strains of bacteria from the first infection, but not a third strain that she most likely picked up during her second hospital stay.

Back to the Operating Room she went.  This time to remove the entire prosthetic and put a temporary knee in its place.  Another PICC line.  Another six weeks of antibiotics.  Intense pain.  Daily migraines.  Nausea.  Dread of infection returning.

My Mom was honest about her journey.  She didn't shy away from her fears and frustration, her desperation and hopelessness.  She  walked through each emotion,  Then gave it to Jesus.  Every storm and trial, she persistently came back to the foot of the cross - rolling her burden off on her Savior and trusting Him to write her story.

After each surgery, Mom attacked her rehab.  Learning to bend and walk again.  Fighting through intense pain and lingering infection to regain some independence and a sense of purpose, even though she KNEW more surgery was likely.

The temporary knee is supposed to be non-weight bearing but the doctor let her try to walk on it.  And walk she did.  The doctor couldn't believe Ru's high tolerance for pain or her strong will.  Through it all, Ru clung to the hope that this awful journey might be nearing the end.  When the cultures came back infection free, they scheduled Surgery Number Four.

On December 12th she had a revision of the original surgery.  If all went well, this would be the beginning of the end.  No more PICC line or IV antibiotics.  Just one more long road to recovery.  Then back to adventuring like Ru does best.  When her nurse asked her what her post-surgery goal was Ru quipped, "Run a marathon by June."  She's not a runner, but I guarantee she'll be out hiking again by June if that knee would just get better.

Terry and I sat in the waiting room while she was in surgery, watching the clock move slowly around.  And around.  Past the time when the surgery should have been completed.  Another rotation of the hour hand.  Then another.  Finally the surgeon came out to meet with us.  The replacement had been a success.  But there was a complication.  He nicked an artery when he was inserting the prosthetic.  She lost blood and he repaired the artery.  It was a complication, but she should be fine.

But she wasn't.  Ru's blood pressure plummeted.  And wouldn't return to normal.  Within hours they transferred her to the Intensive Care Unit to keep a closer eye on her and begin blood transfusions.  I was scared.  Really scared.  We put out a call for prayer.  "Please, please, please.  Drop to your knees and pray for healing."

My mom and I spent the night together at the hospital, slowly watching that life-giving blood drip through her IV into her body.  When I left early that morning she was improved slightly, but still looked pretty bad.

After I left, healing began. Within hours, her color returned and her blood pressure stabilized.  By the time we returned to the hospital that evening she was a transformed woman - color in her cheeks, spunky and full of dumb jokes.  Ru was back!  Her surgeon discharged her from the ICU to home.  A miracle in the making.

Ru's recovery from this surgery has been so different from the other three.  It's supposed to be intensely painful but she has no pain and is off all her pain meds.  She's walking around, only using a cane for her outings.  More small miracles that we've been rejoicing over.

Troublesome signs of possible infection started showing up in the past couple days.  Two trips to the urgent care and many conversations with the advice nurse yielded no answers and increasing dread.  We clung desperately to a shred of hope that maybe this wasn't infection.  But the on-call orthopedic surgeon thought differently.

When Ru saw him yesterday he was very concerned.  A man of few words, he very succinctly told Ru and Terry that it appeared her knee was infected again.  He wanted to admit her to the hospital for overnight observation with probable surgery in the morning, but she wanted to go home.  He agreed to let her go as long as she came back to the hospital this morning, prepared to have surgery.   On Christmas Eve.

I lost it.  How much can one person endure?  How much can one body endure?  When would this journey end?  I was scared.  And my faith was shaken.  I knew intellectually that God could heal my Mom.  But if I'm honest, I didn't believe that He would.  I cried my eyes out and resigned myself to spending Christmas Eve in the hospital.

In God's perfect timing, a subplot was forming.  My mom's baby sister Sandi had planned a giant surprise.  Last week she bought a plane ticket to fly out for Christmas.  Only Sandi and Terry knew about it because we're all so bad at keeping surprises.

Sandi was in the air flying here when my mom was at the hospital so Terry recruited us as Secret Agents.  Curt picked Sandi up at the airport and brought her to our house.  I jumped in the car and chauffeured her to my Mom and Terry's.

On the way Sandi and I hatched a plan that would let me capture Mom's reaction.  I walked in the door unannounced and said, "Hi Mom.  I brought dinner.  But I have a little more in the car.  I'll be right back."  Then I got Sandi.

We videoed the surprise.  Sandi's shriek of "SURPRISE!  MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and my Mom's heartfelt, emotion-filled response.  (Click HERE to watch the video.)

It was the EXACT soul refreshing gift we all needed.  We cried together.  Laughed together.  Held each other.  Before I left, we prayed together, asking God to hear our pleas for total healing.  No infection.  No surgery.  Just Christmas together at home.

Ru, Sandi and me
This morning I woke with dread and a heavy weight on my shoulders.  "It's Christmas Eve and my Mom's going to have to have surgery.  Jesus help!  Please.  We need another miracle."

And then I got a text from Aunt Sandi.  I had to read it twice to comprehend what it meant.

 "Normal CRP.  Therefore, highly unlikely an infection.  Blood count is up since last week too.  Will still wait for cultures, but doesn't think she needs surgery.  Almost certain no infection - sounds 99.9% certain of no infection.  He was shocked to hear she does not need pain medication at this early stage.  His demeanor yesterday was far different - trying to be nice but not optimistic.  Today was far different.  He is certain there is no infection."

We got our Christmas miracle.  I still can't believe it.  Thank you to all of you who dropped to your knees and prayed when we asked.  Thank you Jesus for saying YES to healing my Mom.

We know the story isn't finished.  There may still be some twists and turns ahead.  But for today we have hope... blessed hope that does not disappoint.  And I am so grateful.
tattoos Curt and I got this year - the verb form of hope in Hebrew.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

And His Mother Treasured All These Things in Her Heart...

Christmas is my favorite time of year.  I love everything about it, especially celebrating Jesus's birth.  This year the miracle of God coming to earth as a helpless baby is so fresh to me.  I've been reading and re-reading the stories in Luke chapter 1 and 2 about Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph finding out they were going to be parents and experiencing pregnancy together.  I've read with fresh vision their birth stories, naming their sons, and how their friends rejoiced over both boys' birth.

I remember so clearly my first pregnancy.  The overwhelming joy that washed over us when we found out we were going to be parents.  Savoring every aspect of pregnancy and life within my womb.  It was all so new.  So miraculous.

I REALLY wanted a daughter.  During my first pregnancy, I silently worried if I would be disappointed if the baby I carried was a boy.  I never said it out loud - not even to Curt - but it nagged in the back of my mind.  "I really want a daughter.  What would I do with a boy?  Please Jesus - help me to not be disappointed if it's a boy."

Then labor came.  Fast, furious, and WAY too early.  We were too naive' to know just how dangerous it was to be birthing a baby six weeks early.  A team of doctors and nurses filled the delivery room and peppered us with questions.  Shocked that we chose to not know the baby's gender, they cautioned that we should hope it wasn't a boy.  "Premature girls do much better than premature boys.  You can always hope it's a girl."  Even the doctors were rooting for a girl.

We prayed and I labored.  Then that beautiful, miraculous moment came - when the life within me breathed air for the first time.  The doctor held up a tiny little baby.  He screamed and peed all over her as she joyfully declared, "It's a boy."

I held my first-born son and wept.  And wept.  And wept.  How could I ever have thought I would be disappointed with this Super Preemie?  He was perfect.

The year of Grant's first Christmas I cried a lot.  I looked at my handsome boy in his button down shirts, cardigan sweaters, and lavender scented hair and bawled my eyes out at the thought of Jesus' crude birth.

How did a teenage Mary give birth without medical intervention?  In a dirty barn?  Was she scared?  How did she deal with labor pains?  Who would turn away a woman in labor? How did they clean Jesus up after he was born?  Did they have clothes for him or clean blankets?  How much did he weigh and how long was he?  What time was he born?  Did he have a little cone head and squished in face from labor or was he actually cute when he was born?  Did he sleep through the night?  Did Mary have postpartum depression?

This Christmas I'm emotional and pondering again.  My Super Preemie is now a Man Child.  Eating us out of house and home, growing out of everything he owns, and honing his God-given talents and skills.  Crazy fun, impulsive, loud and sometimes obnoxious, he's our only son.  The lone boy in a sea of sisters.  Who would have thought?

The end of Luke chapter two tell the only Kid Story about Jesus.  Jesus was twelve years old - like my boy.  He went on a road trip with his family and friends to Jerusalem.  But when they loaded up the caravan to go home, Jesus missed his ride.  Mary and Joseph were so busy packing up and taking care of Jesus' little brothers and sisters that they somehow missed the fact that he wasn't with them or their friends.

When Mary and Joseph realized Jesus was missing they made a mad dash back to Jerusalem to search for their boy.  THREE DAYS they searched before they found him.  I can't begin to imagine the depth of their panic.  Their fear.  Their Man Child was alone in a big city.  When they finally found him they let him have it then took him home.  I'm sure Mary hovered over him the entire journey home.

Last week we lost Grant briefly.  For all of five minutes.  He wasn't where we thought he was going to be.  It was dark.  And cold.  And we freaked out.  When we found him, we laid into him about communicating when the plans changed. "Dig that phone out of your pocket and let us know where you are for crying out loud!"  And then we hovered.  Hugged and kissed and hugged and thanked God that he was safe.  And warned him to never scare us like that again.  Then made him hug us some more.  Our Man Child.  Home safe and sound.

I wonder what went through Mary's mind when Jesus was missing.  Is he safe?  Is he cold?  Hungry? Alive or dead? I bet she prepared some pretty good "don't you ever scare me like that again" speeches.  I wonder if she even gave him any of those lectures?  Or if she just held her muscly Man Child tightly in her arms, buried her face in his dirty hair, and breathed in the smell of teenage boy.

The Kid Story in Luke ends by saying Jesus went home with his parents and was obedient to them.  "And he grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

Our Man Child is definitely growing in stature.  It seems like every day he looks a little less like a boy and a little more like a man.  We almost see eye to eye now and I've started borrowing his flannel shirts.  Growing in stature...

But he's also growing in wisdom.  Last night he told us that his science teacher is teaching evolution.  Our boy doesn't like it because he worships the Mighty Creator.  He's wrestling with how to answer the questions on his homework and on his tests.  If he writes what the teacher expects he feels like he's lying.  He wants a platform to speak the truth in a respectful way.  Growing in wisdom...

My prayer for my Man Child is that he will continue to grow in favor with God and with men.  That as he morphs from child into man, that the favor he seeks with God will expand to favor with those around him.  I pray I will have the courage to let him become the man God intends for him to be - a man who will help shape and change the world.

Luke says Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."  As a mother of a Man Child like Mary, I'm collecting treasures too.