Monday, November 5, 2012

L'esprit de Corps

My mom passed away fourteen very long, incredibly fast weeks ago. She died very early in the morning on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, to be exact. Ultimately, it was the metastasis into her spinal fluid -- Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis -- that did her in. She made the decision one Tuesday to have me call in a hospice agency to help care for her, and by the following Tuesday, she was gone. In the middle of a milky midnight, she parted with her mortal body and made her way Heavenward. What a brave soul.

I saw a friend a few weeks back, one I see primarily at baby showers and birthday parties, and she asked me if I was grieving well. "I don't know, I guess so," I said. In many ways, I think I might still be in shock, even these fourteen weeks later. I'm still waiting on Mom to call me, to ask about the mundane details of my day, to tell me about TV shows and catch me up on the latest gossip, to pick at me, to argue with me. Something. Anything. Being in full control of my faculties, I know the call isn't coming.

I just long for it.

She is especially absent here at the onset of the holiday season -- the savory, sweet days of autumn; the wonderful, wonder-filled days of joy and celebration -- they're different without her. Left behind is a tangible and painful void. No one bothered to inquire about kid Halloween costumes. Thanksgiving traditions for my children will be the ones James and I create on our own or with my in-laws. No longer will there be anyone needing a lecture about the possibility of being too generous at Christmas -- the lecture that Mom's heard and allowed to go in one ear and out the other for as long as I've had children.

Mom was missing from our recent Colorado vacation. After having traveled with us a number of times, it was odd to not even have to take her into consideration. It was also difficult to return to a location where I'd been with her just two years earlier. She was so healthy and ornery on that trip -- we had no idea that cancer was on the radar. We certainly had no idea she'd be dead a mere twenty-eight months later. I imagined all the ways we might have altered things had we known. It was bittersweet to build beautiful, new memories with my family while balancing the what-ifs of a while ago.

We weren't perfect, Mom and I, but despite the strain our individual brokenness often put on our relationship, we were always ultimately there for one another. I miss my champion, and I miss championing for her. I just pray that the days and the ways in which I served her were as much of a blessing to her as they were to me. Above all, I hope I served her in a way that pleases the Lord.

(Mom with her children 41 hours before she died...)

"Honor widows who are truly widows.
But if a widow has children or grandchildren,
let them first learn to show godliness to their own household
and to make some return to their parents,
for this is pleasing in the sight of God.

I Timothy 5:3-4

"Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
that the Lord your God is giving you."

Exodus 20:12

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brystol is Three!!

Our sweet Brystol turned three-years-old on Monday. It was a bittersweet day for me because my mom's health and strength had declined to the point that I had to cancel her playgroup party to take my Mom to see her specialty neurologist in Houston. Our friends were understanding, of course, but all day long I struggled with hard feelings -- happy to be available for and present with my mom, but sad that we'd gotten to that point so quickly and sad to miss my baby's big day.

Fortunately, we were able to make it back to the Metroplex in time to blow out some birthday candles (even if they were on a storebought cake) and to open a few gifts. The best thing about having a big family -- instant birthday party! Brystol had fun, but she did notice when we tucked her in for bedtime that her playgroup friends never came by. We'll reschedule that celebration for a less hectic time.

Cake and Presents

Instant Birthday Party

Special Time with Nanny

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Mom's health has continued to decline. Every day for the last two weeks, her symptoms have continued to progress dramatically from day-to-day. She is hardly able to walk anymore, and when she does, it takes every ounce of focus and strength. She's lost sensation in her abdomen and no longer has the ability to sense when she needs to use the toilet. Her ability to speak is diminished -- her speech is garbled and the volume of her voice is very low. We contacted her neurologist (a specialist in Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, the neurological comorbidity she struggles with) who increased the clinical trial drug she's taking to the maximum dose, but the increase in medication was no help at all.

She wondered if she'd had a stroke, and after a fall on Friday morning, she spent the weekend in the hospital. The MRI and a couple of other tests came back indicating no significant changes, so it was believed that her symptoms were related to the LEMS rapidly progressing. Though still in a very weak state, she was medically stable, so I checked her out of the hospital on Sunday and we high-tailed it to Houston for a Monday morning appointment with the specialized neurologist.

The doctor examined Mom thoroughly. She verified Mom has declined considerably, and she said there was a remote chance we were experiencing could be attributed to an extremely rapid progression of Lambert-Eaton. However, she strongly believes that this progression is a metastasis of the cancer to Mom's spinal fluid, a disease called Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis. The associated symptoms and the speed of progression are strong (nearly textbook) indicators. The neurologist requested the oncologist do a lumbar puncture to verify the diagnosis, but today he refused because the test is painful, risky, and unreliable, and even with an official diagnosis, there are no treatment options available to her. There are no other available treatments for LEMS (besides the clinical trial drug she's taking -- 3,4 DAP), and in her declined and fragile medical state, there are no additional treatments available for the Oat Cell Carcinoma. The time has come to hire a hospice care agency, which I will do tomorrow.

Prayer is our most immediate need. This is an intensely difficult time for Mom and for us. She's been feeling a bit isolated since leaving her roommate and moving far from her friends and coworkers. Helping her through that sense of loss is a priority, especially now. We need loads of all manners of grace and strength right now. We're swiftly being swept away towards the dark night of the soul.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread... for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." -- Deuteronomy 31:6,8 ESV

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." --John 14:27 ESV

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." -- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


My mom moved in with us a little under a month ago. She drove herself here, she walked in on her own, and she's been rapidly declining since. We've been aware of a steady decline, but we thought she was just really tired. She went out of town the weekend before she moved in. When she returned to the Metroplex, she expended all of her energy packing and preparing to move. Then she moved, and while she didn't personally do any lifting, she'd reached the point physically that doing too much of anything was taxing. Even though she was directing her moving helpers, doing that all day long was exhausting for her. Then, instead of spending the rest of her weekend hours resting, she did some unpacking. The following Monday, she had chemotherapy -- additionally exhausting -- then spent all of the next week working with her house helper to get the rest of the boxes emptied.

When all was said and done, she was absolutely worn out, and we thought that fatigue explained the changes we were seeing in her. We don't go out and do too much these days anyway, but in an effort to help her recover, we made it a point to stay close to home, but even with rest, she's continued to decline. Two weekends ago, we were able to leave her here at the house for a couple of hours while James and I took the kids to do some grocery shopping, and she was ornery enough to argue with me about something silly. By this past weekend, she'd reached a shocking level of immobility and couldn't be left alone at the house at all, the volume of her voice has decreased dramatically, and her speech is so unclear that it sounds like she's chewing on a bag of marbles. Yesterday morning, she could drink from a straw. This morning, she couldn't. By today, Wednesday, she can hardly be left to walk from room to room without a strong adult physically assisting her, keeping her and her walker from taking a spill. Even with constant companionship, she's fallen so hard and fast so many times today (and over the last few days), if she doesn't break something soon, I'll be shocked.

We knew that she would change here. We all knew she would die here, she would go through the process of dying here. It's not a surprise that she's changing, but it is a surprise just how quickly things are moving, especially since the scan she had a month ago seemed so good. She's so very different this month than she was when we went to Disneyworld in April. She's in such bad shape, there's no way we could take that trip now. The rapid pace of things make things so, so difficult. All the changes we've seen in this short amount of time is honestly stunning.

It's hard to be one of the "sandwich generation," simultaneously caring for both parent and child. Today, I had to make calls about homeschool co-op and home health care. I spoke to both an orthodontist nurse and an oncology nurse. I had to assist both my toddler and my mother in the restroom. I gathered my mother up off the ground after a fall just as I gathered up my little ones. It's difficult personally to both observe and adjust to the changes in Mom. It's challenging to walk my children through the changes, explaining to them what's going on with Nanny's health when I don't even understand. It's heartbreaking to sit with my still young mother and hold her hand as I explain to her that there is likely little that can be done now, this is probably the way things are going to be from here on, and that there's a very good chance we'll have to hire that hospice care agency pretty soon. It's hard to do it all alone.

Today, as I spent yet another hour talking to the insurance company about medical equipment, Mom made her way into the restroom without calling for me to help keep her upright. (She's fiercely hanging on to her independence, even if it means she's putting herself in danger.) I'd just been debating needs vs. coverage with the insurance liaison, explaining the physical changes observed in this short time, and defending a new request for hospital tables and portable ramps. I explained to the liason that she's falling now with some degree of regularity, several times a day now, and right in the middle of our conversation, we both heard a loud crash. Mom's leg muscles failed, and she fell so hard and fast, she destroyed the metal toilet paper holder before crashing to the hard tile floor and becoming trapped between the wall and the toilet. I tossed the phone to the side, lifted her out of her prison, and helped her finish her business before getting her safely back to her bed. It's difficult to watch her decline, to watch her struggle, to watch her hurt herself. In her heart, she's so strong and brave, but I know she's heartbroken having to rely so heavily on me. There's a certain sad look in her eyes every time I pick her up off the ground. And she apologizes so frequently, no matter how many times I tell her it is my honor and joy to serve her in this way.

By the time I got back to the liaison, I was in tears from the whole experience. When I picked the phone up again, she asked me, "Who helps you? Do you have family helping you?" Nope, no I don't. My mom's friend Cheryl is our biggest support, but other than that, it's really just us. All of our relatives live elsewhere, and they all have their own lives to live. It's cool, though. There's no obligation to show up here and to help out. Even if they were interested in helping, a few of my family members would come with so much of their own personal drama that it's a relief to me that they're far away. I'll lift Mom off the ground all by myself a hundred times a day just to avoid dealing with that brand of nonsense. I think what troubles me the most is that it seems so many of her friends (coworkers, church pals, CR sponsees, etc.) and relatives -- people she's always considered herself close to, people she's sacrificed for -- are so consumed with their lives that they don't even attempt to bother with brief visit or a short phone call. They're all just gone, not willing to deal with her dying, and that's what bothers me the most. It's that sort of thoughtless, careless, selfish behavior that I find myself having to check my heart about. Every part of this experience is work, and as in most hard situations, most of the works seems to be internal.

Though her isolation is frustrating, it's not entirely unexpected. I read On Death and Dying and Leaning Into Sharp Points before she moved in with us, and both authors prepare caregivers for this kind of isolation. The surprise again is just that it happened so fast. Writer Paul Kalina quoting hospice documentary filmmaker Jen Peedom writes, "'By and large, Western culture doesn't have processes for dealing with death... There's a funeral and then... after a month, friends expect you to get on with it and then avoid you [if you don't]. I think that we are afraid of death; it makes us feel uncomfortable and confronted and we're not given the support and structure.'" It would just be nice if there were more opportunities for respite and support. It would be even nicer if she didn't have cancer and we didn't have to deal with this at all. Alas, she does, and this is now our combined journey.

I'm taking comfort in God's word, knowing our family has taken on His charge to care for my Mom as her time on this Earth comes to a close. As we continue walking in obedience, I know He will continue to provide us with all we need whether it be supernatural strength, abundant grace, or durable medical equipment. Above all, may we honor Him as we continue to show mercy to one another here.

"And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' [Jesus] said to him, 'What is written in the Law? How do you read it?' And he answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' And he said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.' But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' Jesus replied, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?' He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' And Jesus said to him, 'You go, and do likewise.'" -- Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37 ESV

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." -- James 1:27, 2:1-10

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Event Cancelled -- More on the Bible Bee

Things have not improved for us with regards to the Bible Bee study. Lessons still take a lifetime, which the kids are now growing frustrated with, and I'm still no better at teaching them memory tricks. They've gotten a few of the scriptures down, but are having a hard time with others. I've added some silly moves (like they do with the songs at church), and while the kids think it's hilarious to watch me make a fool of myself for their benefit, it seems like it's only good for a laugh and little more. I was hopeful we'd be able to attend the local event to connect with other parents doing this summer study. I really needed some tips and advice, and the kids needed to see they're not the only ones (I hope!) whose Mom has no idea what she's doing. We were also looking forward to a little fun after all this work.

Unfortunately, the local event was cancelled at the last minute and tentatively rescheduled for the day that we're supposed to have a dress rehearsal (something else I'm confused about and needed direction on). At this point, I feel lost and beyond frustrated. My plan now is to put on the brakes. I should stress that the materials are fantastic and the kids are learning loads, they're just a bit intense (for us) for a quick summer study. We'll continue with our Sword Study, but we're going to devote only a couple of days a week to it instead of the whole week, and we'll get back to our regular method of study using the Bible Bee material as our foundation until we get through the book. In fact, I think this would be a great option for people who needed a good Bible curriculum to follow, even if they weren't interested in the actual Bible Bee. As for us, there's no way that we'll be ready for any kind of competition anytime soon, but that's okay. We've gained a great deal from the program, so I already feel like we're winners.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Little People for the Little Ladies

Playing with Little People is a favorite pastime for all the little ladies. We didn't have Little People when our big kids were small, but I snagged a set at a garage sale when I was pregnant with Brystol. Since adding two more children, I've added probably three more complete sets (more garage sale finds) and a few spare pieces and accessories. I modified our old TV cabinet, adding shelves for Little People houses, accessories, and storage bins. Every time it's opened, the ladies come running (or crawling) over to play. All three of them snag their favorite figures and play with (or fight over) them for a good long while.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Struggling to Study -- A Bible Bee Update

So, we've progressed with our Bible Bee Study. I don't know if we were just gung-ho to begin with, or if the lessons were easier, but the further along we've gotten, the more challenging things have become. Even if I'm standing over the kids, we can no longer make the "twenty minutes a day." I'm confident the change has not been in us -- at least not in anything we've changed or the way we're approaching the study. I think it's just a deep, progressive study that requires much more discipline than we realized (or wanted, at least during the summer). It also doesn't seem to allow any wiggle room for the things kids to in the summer, like go to camp or on vacation. We still haven't caught up from their recent week away!

The kids are troopers, not complainers, and so while the lessons are taking two or three times as long (even before drilling the memory verse cards), they're still enjoying it for the most part. Gracie says the lessons are long and there's a lot of writing to do, but they're still fun. I'm having less fun, though. I'm so busy helping -- and encouraging -- them do their work, then James and I spend time in the evening drilling stacks of memory verses. To me, this level of work is way more than I wanted for a summertime program. Maybe that seems awful to say about the study of God's word, but we generally approach studying the Bible in a bit of a different way.

We typically read aloud or do individual reading for personal study, but we go deeper by doing a bit of expository study, breaking God's word apart by understanding how it defines and describes itself. We don't struggle with reading God's word, or even understanding it. Where I struggle personally is teaching the kids how to hide the Word in their heart, or teaching memory tricks. I was hopeful this program would help me do that for them, but I don't think it's helped really. I think the program has just further exposed my teaching shortcomings, and has added pressure where we didn't want any. I haven't passed these frustrations along to the kids, though. We're still working with them, but we all feel grossly unprepared for a competition of any sort, and we don't know what to do to change or improve. I'm hopeful we can find some help at the upcoming local event, either from the event host or from other parents.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day

We celebrated our Fourth on the third. The little ladies are scared of big noises, and my mom is growing increasingly weaker, so I wasn't planning to go anywhere. However, James got off work early and graciously offered to stay home so I could take the big kids out to watch fireworks. "You need a night out," he said. Sweet man. While Daddy endured a Yo Gabba Gabba marathon, the big kids and I went to a nearby town for dinner and dessert, then caught up with friends to watch the fireworks show.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Moving Day for Mom

The master houses a hospital bed, and our game room holds a king. We have a full storage unit and an empty garage. Trucks have been loaded and are presently en route. Mom is moving in with us today.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Playgroup Summer Fun

The big kids are away at summer camp, so the little girls and I met playgroup friends at a nearby fountain for some wet summer fun. We arrived early and had the whole place to ourselves.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beginning Our Bible Bee Study

Our Bible Bee materials arrived recently, and we jumped right in. I was curious to see how the whole "2 cards a week, 20 minutes a day" thing would really work to "equip and encourage a lifestyle of investing in and living out one's relationship with Christ." So far, so good. We're studying II Timothy, a book that's very dear to my heart. We've had our share of suffering over these last few years, so to walk with my children through scriptures urging them not to be ashamed of suffering -- well, that's a joy. Additionally, the book instructs on how to walk through this life as a believer in Christ, it advises on issues of godlessness, it admonishes the verity of the Word, and it urges believers to preach the Word without shame or embarrassment.

We received a Primary level Sword Study for Gracie, a Junior level Sword Study for Bub, and two Senior level Sword Study books for James and I to follow along. We also received a parent manual, two Bibles, a rule book, and two packs of scripture cards for the kids to drill and practice. We ordered two music memory CDs in the Bible version we use (ESV), but the style of music is too unusual for any of us to enjoy or use regularly. Each of the Sword Studies, however, are contemporary and full of excellent instruction. They're laid out well with a variety of alternating activities in each lesson. Gracie and Bub are both attracted to the timelines and other helpful activities. I really like the way the books are laid out for them, and I can tell even this early in the game that they'll enjoy them over the long run.

My only complaint about the curriculum is this: registration is set up in such a way that prevented us from having the kids work in the same book. The divisions are based on age, not on grade level or ability, and that could prove to be a challenge for some. Though they're 18 months apart in age, Gracie and Bub have been at the same level academically for some time now, and we teach them at the same grade level. It's been a while since we've used entirely separate books to teach them anything, so getting back into that mindset and routine has proved to be a slight challenge for me. There's not a significant amount of teaching in this material per se, but I think it would have been nicer to have been able to override the system to move Gracie up to Bub's level, or to move Bub down to hers if that were necessary. Arranging competitors by grade level (as opposed to age) might be more effective method by which to group children according to their actual abilities. My children will do fine where they're placed, but we're on that age/academic line in our home where the difference between study levels is obvious and bears mentioning (in case some sort of override is needed).

Kiddos in Cool New Shirts

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Come to Me

Being a mother to many little ones is occasionally wearisome. Being the daughter of a dying parent is always heartbreaking. Being sandwiched between the two is unbearable at times. "Come to Me," a song by our worship pastor Michael Bleecker, has been a salve to me, like water poured on parched ground.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest."

Matthew 11:28

Available on iTunes on June 22.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Accidental Artificial Twinning: Our Experience with Pseudo-Twins

We recently invited some friends of ours to come share their adoption story at FAM, the Foster/Adoption Ministry James and I lead at our church. Jon and Christi told their story of adopting daughters by way of both a private domestic agency adoption and an adoption through the foster care system. They had a biological son, then a short time later, they decided to adopt one more child. They wanted to adopt a male infant from Ethiopia, but after God did a work on their hearts, they decided to adopt a sibling group of four older children.

As they told their story, they shared some of the inhibitions their social worker had before walking them through their international adoption. There was an issue with birth order being disrupted. There were also concerns about "artificial twinning," a term I'd not heard until they spoke of it.

"Artificial twinning, false twinning, virtual twinning, and pseudo-twinning are synonymous terms coined to describe... genetically unrelated children born very close in age (less than eight months apart) to different birthparents being raised as siblings by the same social/legal parent(s)" [Perspectives Press]. Alternately defined, artificial twinning is "an expression used to describe unrelated children in a family whose birthdates are less than nine months apart. These can be a combination of biological and adopted siblings, adopted only, step or foster siblings" [].

Accidental Artificial Twins

Richard Van Deelen, Executive Director of Adoption Associates, Inc., addresses "the problem" of pseudo-twinning. "First, the adjustment demands of both children happening simultaneously may overwhelm the capacities of the parents to cope and adjust themselves. Even in normal twin birth situations, the demands of providing for both babies can be exhausting and may require the help of friends and family." He contends that in an effort "to do the best planning possible for children" and "[to protect] children by facilitating healthy placements," artificial twinning should be avoided.

Artificial twinning seems to be more common in international arrangements, in older child adoptions, and in the placement of sibling groups, but it's a phenomenon that's typically frowned upon by "responsible" adoption professionals, particularly those dealing with domestic infant adoption situations. Adoptive parents who end up with like-twins are often deemed irresponsible and selfish. Adoption professional Patricia Irwin Johnston puts it this way, "pseudo-twinning is usually not a carefully thought through goal and it comes from self-centered thinking rather than baby-centered thinking. Most of the time it reflects parents’ nearly desperate need to regain control over their family planning and to 'get' a child. Would-be parents who have 'failed' in so many ways during [infertility] treatment are often unable to believe in their potential for success in becoming parents to an extent that allows them to think in the baby-centered way that is the heart of effective parenting. They simply don’t know about or understand the need for emotional and practical preparation through a psychological pregnancy unless adoption professionals take extra, careful time to explain the concept and its benefits to them." She continues, "parents of exceptionally close-in-age babies who protest that they didn’t do this on purpose (and many take this position) are kidding themselves. Adoption doesn’t happen accidentally in the way that birth control fails."

My Little Elleigh-Bean

We have a set of pseudo-twins in Elleigh and Piper, and while we didn't purposefully seek to establish a set of artificial twins, I suppose some would say it didn't happen by accident. We felt pressed by the Lord to adopt another child, and nearly as soon as we submitted to that idea and submitted our application, we miraculously conceived another.

My Chunky Monkey, Piper

Because we didn't halt our adoption, and because I neither miscarried nor aborted the baby in my womb, we purposefully created the like-twins we're raising. In Jon and Christi's situation, they felt the Lord leading them to intentionally embrace adoptions that would both disrupt birth order and create multiple sets of artificial twins. Before their adoptions, they were well-educated by their social worker about the challenges they might face, but ultimately, they moved forward holding fast to God's peace in their hearts. James and I sincerely weighed out all the scenarios we could imagine, and still, we didn't feel compelled to halt our adoption, despite our blossoming pregnancy. Both of our families sought instruction from God's word which reads, "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God," and for both of our families, God's promise came to pass: "Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5b-6 ESV, Philippians 4:7 NLT).

But what about sensibility? Aren't the experts experts for a reason, what with all their expertise? Sure, they are. Shouldn't we listen to them, then? Sure, we should. It is fair to say that adoption experts and child advocates honestly care for their charges and really want what's best for the children they come in contact with. They have history and experience, they know their stuff. I'm not saying we shouldn't consider what others have to say about our situations, particularly those with some sort of authority on the matter at hand, but I am saying as Christ followers, we are not to base our decisions strictly on human authority or opinion.

Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek first God's kingdom, so do that -- go first to God's Word, ponder His character, think about what would bring glory to His kingdom, consider His heart for children and families. The Bible says, "pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you" (James 1:27 NLT). In the Psalms, it explains, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain... Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:1, 3-5 ESV). In these scriptures and throughout the Word, it is clear that God is all for children and families and adoption. God is in the business of building homes and families. Rest in that as you continue seeking His plan for your life specifically.

If you're considering an adoption scenario that experts might disagree with, follow the instructions in Philippians and start praying. Before entirely embracing expertise associated with human experience, pray and still your heart to discern how the Lord would lead you. The central theme to both of our stories is that we knew that God was calling us to move outside of our comfort zones, to pursue situations that defied logic and superseded cultural reasoning. Sure, some aspects of these decisions are complicated. Jon and Christi would tell you that their everyday is not easy, and neither is ours, but I swear to you, I would not change one thing. We did what we felt compelled by Christ to do, and even on the days when we feel pulled a thousand directions, we can recall that tranquility and take comfort.

If you're considering an adoption scenario that experts might frown upon, ask others to pray for you, specifically that you might be filled with the knowledge of God's will. Colossians 1:9-12 describes believers praying for other believers as it reads, "And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." Having a support system of praying believers is a blessing anytime, but it's vital if you're planning to adopt, especially if your adoption might be complicated or non-conventional.

Because of the specific circumstances she was born into, had her birthmother not made an adoption plan, our baby very probably would have ended up in foster care. The whole situation is very complex, though none of us knew the extent of it at the time or relinquishment and placement. Because we were motivated by the peace in our hearts and not circumstances, we knew that this baby was meant for us. We loved her from the moment we laid eyes on her. We wanted to bring her home, to care for her, to protect her. It all felt very baby-centered, not egocentric as some experts might assume. But what if our primary motivation had been all of the extenuating circumstances, or what if the opinions of experts moved us instead of God's Word? Though I was eight weeks pregnant when we got the call for newborn Elleigh, would it have been preferential to ignore the peace in my heart, that supernatural knowing that this was my daughter, and allow her to slip into a state system of care just because she might one day feel the need to compete with a sister mere months younger than her? Or what about Jon and Christi's kids -- is the risk of competition so severe that it's better for them to languish in an Ethiopian orphanage than to live with a family that loves and cares for them? Personally, I don't think so. To me, that doesn't seem sensible.

I acknowledge that as children are going through developmental experiences simultaneously, there could be some issues, and these issues may be harder for some families to manage than others. In our home, diapers blowing out simultaneously is the worst thing that we've experienced thus far. Because we do have staggering nap times, we've adjusted our lifestyle a bit, but adjustments come with every new child whether they're spaced months apart or years apart. I personally think it's better for us that we're doing all the baby things at one time instead of letting one child move entirely away from naps and diapers, only to start completely over again. An even bigger change for our family is the fact that we went from being an average-sized family with one tiny child to a large family with three little ladies at once. It seems like more of the adjustments we're making relate to having five children than to having two so close in age, and our experience is common. Many people who aren't "experts," but who are living similar lives in similar families say the same thing -- artificial twinning isn't a big deal, despite the warnings to the contrary, and children often adjust and thrive, even with a same age sibling.

We've been warned it will get worse, that the baby phase is the honeymoon. "Just wait until they all hit puberty/start dating/get married," say the naysayers. We've considered those things, but we're not worried. The Bible says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV).

Will our like-twins resent us one day for their close spacing? I don't know. Today and everyday, I plan to point my children to Jesus as I care for and give each of them what I believe they need. Today and everyday, I will be thankful for the blessing they each are to our family as a whole. Today and everyday, I choose not to trouble myself with what may or may not happen tomorrow, resting in the confidence that God is in control both now and then.

Our like-twins are little babies right now, and though there are days that feel utterly exhausting, I genuinely love the way our story was written. Despite his aversion to like-twins, Van Deelen states, "On the positive side, a wise simultaneous placement will provide sibling companionship. There are also legitimate considerations like cost savings, reduced travel time losses, maximized time off from work for the primary caregiver, etc." There have been many advantages to having similarly-aged little sweethearts in our home, and I would not choose to do any portion of this life differently.

Linking To: Raising Arrows, Growing Home, A Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Far Above Rubies, Teaching What is Good, The Better Mom, Monday Musings, Works for Me Wednesday, Women Living Well, Big Family Friday, Heart 4 Home, Time Warp Wife, Encourage One Another, Gratituesday, Raising Homemakers

Friday, June 1, 2012

On Suffering

Today, my friend Amy linked to a podcast of our pastor's wife, Lauren Chandler, sharing her thoughts on God in the midst of suffering. Our pastor, Matt Chandler, was diagnosed with a brain tumor three years ago, and Lauren relays how prior experiences (miscarriages, in particular) prepared her heart for hardship and helped her personally and intimately know how she could rely on God during the storm.

I've often thought the same thing -- how our season of deep suffering prepared us for our current struggles. Dealing with terminal illness and being in "the valley of the shadow of death" is difficult still, to be sure, but I'm not afraid because I know -- I really, really know -- that God is with me, comforting me (Psalm 23). Actively, presently, right here by my side comforting me. How? Through His Word -- particularly His promises, chronicles of His character, stories of other saints that He's carried through dark and difficult times -- through personal prayer and worship, and by the loving actions and prayers of those walking this road with us.

The cancer in my mom's body is seemingly unyielding, but in Matt and Lauren's situation, the cancer is gone. Author Jeannie Allen interviewing Lauren asked, "How do you not live in fear [that is will come back]? What does it look like for you to take every thought captive and not go to the worst place?" Lauren replied, "[By] just being grateful for today, being focused on today, and realizing that the Lord has given me grace for today. Not getting ahead of myself, and not getting years down the road or coming up with a Plan B, but just trusting Him for each day because who knows what tomorrow is going to hold for any of us. We make plans like we did before and we just hold them very loosely."

Again, I relate to much of this. Though Mom's cancer is still present, though it seems to be moving to the point of chemo-resistance, and though hospice care is on the horizon, I have what I need, the grace I need, to get through right now and all of each day. When my sweet little Gracie collapsed on me recently, crying, asking why our lives couldn't be "normal," this was my response to her. This is our normal, and God is present here, giving us manna for this day and this day alone. When we get to tomorrow or to a month from now or to that dark night of the soul, there He'll be with what we need for that time, too.

I'm not saying that this journey isn't hard because God is with me. I'm sure Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego felt the heat of the flames they were in, though the Lord was present with them (Daniel 3). I've felt the pressure of being sandwiched between many children and a dying mother. I've been sad and weary, I've felt frustrated, I've lost my cool, I've shed plenty of tears, and I've applied thirty pounds of chocolate straight to my waistline over these last fifteen months. I'm absolutely, 100% not some kind of spiritual giant who has it all together, but though I'm human and I've faltered and struggled, "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [me] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Lauren continued by discussing God's sovereignty even in suffering. Though we may not understand why we're suffering, she reiterates the fact that there is such a peace in understanding that God is in control of all things, even the suffering we're experiencing (Job 1). She personally recognizes the limits of her understanding, of all of our understanding, and focuses on the character of God, reiterating that He is good (Psalm 136:1) and does what's best.

This is where our rest is -- knowing God the Father, really knowing Him. Looking to His word to know who He is and what He's all about rather than relying on what the world would say about Him. Looking to Jesus specifically to know the Father (John 10:22-30), understanding His character and mannerisms to understand the Father. No matter what we're facing, God is a kind and loving Father, present with us always. No matter what we're facing, "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

Forever Reign by Hillsong

Click Here
to listen to Lauren's thoughts on suffering.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Maybe One Day, Someday...

Things for my mom have grown progressively more difficult. Because of the movement of cancer cells to her brain, her oncologist was ready to end treatments when we saw him a couple of weeks ago. He even submitted us for a hospice referral, and I began interviewing agencies as we waited to see him. During the appointment where he planned to tell Mom that treatment was over, he conceded to another couple of chemo rounds because there was no clear evidence of tumor growth on the scans of her lungs. No shrinkage per se, but no growth. Even with a movement to the brain, he couldn't definitively say if her lung cancer had reached the point of being chemo-resistant, so two more treatments were permitted.

Mom immediately began infusion therapy, and while she managed the chemo well, she had the injection to increase her immunity and was nearly immediately bedridden. She couldn't stay awake for more than an hour or two, she couldn't speak intelligibly. She was totally out of commission from Saturday until Tuesday when we did an in-home hospice interview. She improved a bit over the next couple of days, and was able to visit with Bub, Gracie, and my aunt who was in town from Kansas. On Friday, though, she was sick again -- this time with a bug she picked up somewhere -- and was again completely wiped out.

By the weekend, she was no longer walking well and she'd grown increasingly more confused, and by Sunday night, her brain was misfiring again as it had done in November when she reacted negatively to brain radiation. We debated another run to the ER, but she was safe in her home and not hallucinating or trying to harm herself, so I opted to wait until morning to call the oncologist directly instead of spending hours and hours doing a history workup with a doctor entirely unfamiliar with her care. The next morning, after some debate with the oncology nurse about what we were experiencing, she was admitted to the hospital for testing and observation. In the end, it was determined that some medications were interacting, causing her blood pressure to drop to 87/59.

Tuesday, I was given the rundown of another new medication schedule, and Mom was released to go home. Since, she's been struggling physically, mentally, and emotionally. She's growing weary of all of this. She doesn't want to be sick. She's beginning to feel the weight of knowing she won't escape this, not without a miracle. She's losing her freedom. She feels she's become a burden to everyone.

As I think about all she's gone through, all she's going through, all we're all going through, I feel so sad. I personally don't have a problem with death, nor does she, but I would hate to lose my independence along the way. Watching her lose hers a bit at a time -- that's the hardest part to all of this for me.

Because of this loss of independence, she'll be moving in with us in a few weeks. The whole idea is very hard for all of us. Mom and I don't typically cohabitate. I moved away from home just after my eighteenth birthday, and other than a brief time James and I rented a room from her just after we married, we've lived apart for all these years. Sharing a home is just not something either of us ever wanted to do. Throughout the course of her illness, we've invited her to move in a number of times, but for all kinds of reasons, she wanted to stay where she was. A change in circumstances, though, forced her to devise a new plan, and after considering all of her options (even a state-run nursing home), she's coming here. She's worried about being a burden to me, and while she won't be that at all, frankly I am concerned about how it will all work out. I could use a few sun-stopped-in-the-sky Joshua-type miracles to get it all done right now, even before she moves in. Still, I know her coming to live here is God's plan for for our family, and I'm moving forward completely aware that while I have no special skills and am already totally sapped of strength, "when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). I'm counting on God to provide what we need to get through each day in a way that brings Him glory.

Regarding relocation preparation, we spent the weekend taking things from our garage (holiday decorations, clothes the littlest little ladies have yet to grow into, etc.) to a storage unit in order to make room for my mom. Today, I spent a few hours at her house boxing up and moving over some of her belongings. Some of her things will go into the storage unit, some things will come to our house. We have a limited amount of room, but we believe having many of her possessions under our roof will make her feel more settled here -- more like this is her home, too. Not just somewhere she's crashing.

But then there's that -- all these unimaginable aspects of her decline, all kinds of situations or possibilities that make this not-so-great experience even worse. This sorting and packing is a pretty awful part of an already challenging losing-freedom-and-independence process. When you've surrounded yourself with the same belongings for years and years, trying to decide what to squeeze into a small space, deciding what's really necessary for everyday living, is strenuous. As we emptied china hutches today, Mom told me she'd already gone through her closet to sort clothes for donation. She got rid of nearly all of her winter clothes because living to see another winter is very improbable. She doesn't need three coats anymore because even though one is dressy and one is causal and one is just cute, she'll probably be too dead to wear them. How is that knowledge not all-consuming?! How can one finite human mind be aware of a ticking clock and not just shut down? I don't know -- it's all just so much to bear.

I don't have any deep explanation for any of this -- we're simply trying to get by. We're in "survival mode," as they say. We're putting one foot in front of the other, getting from one meal to the next (if I remember to thaw something out, that is), moving from one appointment to another appointment, one treatment to another treatment, feeling thankful for the moments we have to spend together, even if they are strange and stressful. Maybe one day, someday, this will all make some kind of sense.

"But he said to me,
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.'
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake,
I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,
in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak, then I am strong."

-- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hello, Summer!

My sweet big kids have finished their fifth grade year, and both are officially "middle schoolers." I really have no idea where the time has gone. They completed the last of the computer work for their math curriculum this morning bringing the school year to an official close. After finalizing the gradebook, I dished out ice cream sundaes to celebrate. We then had a homeschool awards ceremony where I hummed "Pomp and Circumstance" while the kiddos (still in their pajamas) received homemade certificates decorated with stickers by their toddler sister. It was such good fun, and now our much needed break ensues.

Homemade Homeschool Awards

We are, however, not planning to take the entire summer off. We're going to try our hand at a bit of year-round schooling. The kiddos and I are going to work on the Bible Bee Summer Program. I've been struggling to teach scripture memory, so I'm super excited about this program. I've heard good things about Bible Bee as a whole, and I hope the program helps us all. The fun summer events planned for us are a real bonus. (Summer registration is open for only a few more days -- sign up now if you're interested.)

In addition to working on the Bible Bee, the kids will continue taking in-home piano lessons through most of the summer. They're also ready to begin working on the French and Spanish language programs we ordered from Bilingual Books at the Arlington Homeschool Book Fair. By the time the Texas heat is too much to bear (early July), I think we'll be back in full swing. My mom will be moving in with us by June 23rd, and the three littlest ladies are still on a fairly regular nap rotation, which means we will spend much of our summer right here at home. We might as well be productive, right? Plus, when extra math lessons are assigned at each "I'm bored," I think the kids will be quick to entertain themselves.

We took a last minute trip to Disneyworld last month, so we're not planning any travel this summer. Despite not having travel plans and working ahead on school, we'll still have a fun summer. We have season passes at Six Flags over Texas, so we'll spend a few days in Arlington. We'll also participate in some reading programs following the Mensa for Kids book list. We'll go to the lake and to the park. We'll do some craft projects. We'll ride bikes and take some long walks. We'll visit the neighborhood pool.

What are your summer plans? Anything exciting?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Double-Digit Gracie Girl

Gracie turned ten last week, and my friend Randi, party planner extraordinaire, stepped in during this very overwhelming season of life to help make her birthday super fun. Gracie wanted a rainbow-themed birthday party, and she had been scouring Pinterest for ideas. Randi incorporated all of Gracie's favorite ideas, and Gracie and her little girlfriends had a blast at her colorful celebration. In addition to enjoying fun decorations and eating yummy rainbow-themed snacks, the girls made gumball bracelets and visited painting stations for rainbow-themed manicures. They then played a hands-free game wiggling cookies from their foreheads into their mouths while Gracie's birthday music playlist played in the background. It was a simple and inexpensive party, but my girl had so much fun and felt so special. Thanks, Mrs. Randi!

A Rainbow-Themed Birthday Party...

for one sweet ten-year-old!

Happy Birthday, Gracie!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, Sweet Baby. Five years have passed since I held you in my arms. I imagine what life would be like with you here, life with another son. Would you be silly or studious? Would you enjoy your schoolwork, or would you be the class clown keeping us all on our toes? Would you be a fan of all your sisters, or would they be a bother? Would you be a bother -- an ornery little mess? What would today -- your fifth birthday -- hold for you? Would training wheels come off today, a milestone event marking a milestone birthday? How would you direct our day? So many questions never to be answered, so many longings never to be filled.

The time you were here, the time since you slipped away -- it all raced by. My sweet baby, I miss you today as I did that very first day, and my heart longs for the moment you're in my arms once again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter at Disneyworld

A recent brain scan revealed cancer has moved into my mom's brain. Because Oat Cell Carcinoma is so aggressive, she'll have Gamma Knife radiation very soon in an effort to keep encroaching symptoms at bay. The tumor cluster is right in her personality centers, so we've been warned about personality changes being one of the most significant risks of the procedure. Our response: head to Disneyworld.

We cashed in airline miles for flights, then booked a last minute trip to the parks. We booked the trip so last minute (less than 48 hours before arrival) that we weren't even allowed to purchase the meal plan (although paying cash for meals worked out to be cheaper for our busy bunch). My best friend Marcie planned to keep Elleigh and Piper while we were away, so James met her in Oklahoma City while I spent the day with Mom and the radiation oncologist hashing out last minute procedure details. Then, we flew away from home, hoping to afford Mom a bit of fun and distraction from the painful reality of her prognosis. We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, and we visited MGM Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hope Beyond This Life

A tumble early Sunday morning led to a large goose egg on the head and an ER trip for my mom. The ER trip led to a short hospital stay for observation, the stay led to various routine tests, and a routine MRI this morning revealed that the cancer my mom has been battling all year has made it's way into her brain. We meet with her radiation oncologist this week to see if there are any remaining treatment options available. Feeling especially thankful today we have hope beyond this life...

"If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive... For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

'Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?'

-- 1 Corinthians 15: 19-22, 53-55 ESV

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In the Gloaming

I remember lying in front of our console TV as a small child, absentmindedly watching old shows with my mom. She'd have me tune in to programs like Perry Mason or The Waltons as she'd do her sitting-down chores -- folding the laundry, for example. I was the little blonde-haired knob turner back before we owned our first remote control.

Personally, I rarely watch TV. I watch American Idol when in season, and I occasionally watch shows on Netflix or on demand when I absolutely have nothing else going on. I rarely ever watch anything in real time, not even Downton Abbey, a show I found on Netflix and would watch in real time -- if I bothered to discover when it actually airs instead of just setting the DVR to record it. The point here: TV viewing matters very little to me. However, like my mother, I prefer to fold the laundry while tuned in to something mindless, something I don't have to focus deeply on, but something entertaining enough to distract me somewhat from the awful, horrible, terrible, neverending task at hand.

During laundry time last week, I tuned to The Waltons just as my mother had me do all those years ago. Warm towel in hand, I paused on a twilight scene of children scampering about in a clearing while the adults lazed on a long farmhouse porch, resting after a hard day's work. The imagery was captivating, and I took special note when the grandfather referred to that slipping away of the day as being "in the gloaming." More clearly defined, the phrase describes the period of decreasing daylight from late afternoon until nightfall.

One year ago, my mom was diagnosed with Oat Cell Carcinoma, an aggressive, minimally treatable form of small cell lung cancer. The rounding oncologist at the hospital where she was diagnosed essentially told her to pack it in -- she'd have just a few weeks of life left, at best. I promptly gave that oncologist a stern talking-to, then researched and connected my mom with another hospital group and a more positive, more aggressive oncologist. A year later, she's still living.

In November, my mom began undergoing prophylactic brain radiation. Studies have shown the progression of this cancer to the brain will slow if the patient radiates in advance. Once the cancer has metastasized to the brain, there are no available treatments, treatments elsewhere in the body make no sense, and the patient is really in a period of waiting for the end. So, she began having the scary, risky brain radiation, and after her second treatment, she lost her mind. One minute, we were having a normal, lucid conversation; the next moment, she was hallucinating and trying to eject herself from my rapidly moving vehicle. While rushing her back to the hospital, I called a few people to say their final goodbyes before her mind was entirely gone, then I spent the evening demanding doctors hear me and treat her.

Hours alone with my waning mother and my nursing baby were trying. Woman at the end of life, baby at the beginning, and me, stuck in the middle of the press. I had to give orders for scary treatments that were necessary to ensure her physical existence, even if she was already gone mentally. As I tried to explain to my frantic, lost-within-herself mother all the painful things her care team was doing to her, the little blonde-haired knob turner within me reeled. Then, even after those hard choices, more than once her body responded as if it had had enough. Unconsciousness overtook her. I was certain she wouldn't last through the night. When she was finally physically stable enough to be wheeled from the ER to the ICU for more invasive care, I couldn't go with her -- nursing babies weren't allowed on the floor. I left the hospital certain I'd seen my mother alive for the final time. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Those hours with my mom that November night were some of the longest, loneliest of my life. James was with me at the hospital for as long as possible, but he had to leave to care for our children at home. All of our other relatives live elsewhere, but even if we were geographically closer, the reality is only two or three people would be bothered to come to the hospital and sit with me while my mom slips into eternity. Though she pulled through that particular experience physically and regained her complete mental capacity, it occurred to me just how quickly the end could (and likely will) come, how hard managing it all will be, and how my comfort even in this must come from Christ alone.

The first days after diagnosis were very overwhelming, just as all the days since have been. All of our conversations are peppered with final thoughts and final plans. Not once in this year has there been a day spent together that was just innocent and not full of intentional moments, and while intentional moments are good, they are intense. Every experience might be the last of its kind. We are in the gloaming, waiting for night to fall.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas (Audio)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore."

Psalm 121:1-8 ESV

Photos courtesy of Jen Hair at Wild Hair Photography

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Elleigh Turns One

Our little Elleigh turned one today. What a whirlwind of a year it's been! This little girl is still such an enormous blessing to our family, and we're so thankful for her. We had a family party with cupcakes and presents at home, and we'll continue celebrating with family over the next few days.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Hard on This Side of the Hard

One year ago yesterday, Valentine's Day, we had a home study done in the hopes that we'd be chosen to adopt one day, someday. I remember that day, how stressful it was, how we anticipated just the most awful experience of our very worst skeletons tumbling out of our closets. I remember wanting to make a pact with James promising to be honest, just not too honest, about who we are as parents, because man, we need grace. But in the end, I think that might have been our answer to "What kind of parents are you?" The kind that needs lots and lots of grace. Now, let me tell you about Jesus.

Four weeks later, we had a new baby. Six months later, we had another.

Over the holidays, we spent a weekend with my dearest friend, Marcie. We hosted a little get-together for her and her family in celebration of their new home. During the party, a friend of hers asked why we didn't consider adopting an older child. She knows our hearts are open to adopt again, and the gap in our family is glaring. (Our second child is a very mature nine-year-old, and our third child is as two as two can be.) For me, there is weight there, there was waiting there, there is no vacancy in that gap. It's full of babies. Full.of.babies. And it's full of the grace I needed to survive, and get off the couch, and breathe in and out, and care for the children I'd already been given, and take vacations, and have birthday parties, and try again and again and again for more babies. That gap led to a particular authority with which I can say, "Now, let me tell you about Jesus."

Yesterday, as the kids anxiously anticipated chocolates from their cupid Daddy, I just kept thinking of how our whole world has been turned upside down in the course of one year, how Love took the love that we had and multiplied it beyond our wildest dreams. When I took the kids to a homeschool Valentine's Day party and commented on how full my hands were, what a production it must be for me to leave my home, and how amazing it is that one person can carry that many diaper bags at once, I'd reply sweetly, but I just kept thinking, "I know! I know! Can you even believe it?! Now, let me tell you about Jesus."

This house, my arms, they are full of babies. Full.of.babies. Never-ending laundry piles cover my couch. Three sizes of diapers overflow the basket they're stored in. There are toys and books everywhere. Somebody pooped in my bed. I am exhausted, and hours after bedtime my ears continue ringing from the constant noise. Every day, I need that same grace to survive, and get off the couch, and breathe in and out, and care for the children I've been given, and take vacations, and have birthday parties.

But long division finally clicked. A symphony of armpit farts is one of the funniest things. Raspberries are a silly sign of discontent. Somebody else pooped in the potty -- finally. Maybe because of that weighty, grace-filled gap, I well know how blessed I am, even though it's hard on this side of the hard. And that grace -- it is constantly available. Thank you, Jesus.

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

-- Philippians 4:11-13 ESV

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fancy Framing

(In an effort to update my blog a bit more regularly, I'm trying out the Blogger app on my iPhone. Probably old news to most folks, but as I'm new to the iPhone, the app is totally new to me! Please excuse any typos or formatting errors.)

When we purchased our current home, we planned on it being an investment property. We got a fantastic deal in a growing community, so nearly five years ago, we were immediately set to make a profit. Almost as soon as we closed, the market tanked, and retail development in our area halted. Property values haven't increased, and the market -- particularly in our area -- has only gotten worse.

Despite that, we're at the end of our five-year plan, and our family has grown in such a way that we've totally maxed out our space. Sure, with some creative organization, and with the relinquishment of my hobby room, we could live here for a while longer, but we're far from church and friends, we're on the backside of road construction between home and James' office, and we want a bit more out of our "forever" home. The time has come to list and sell. The house isn't on the market yet, but it will be soon.

In an effort to make our house show better, we snagged a new-to-us sectional and chair at a thrift store, pieces covered with neutral, kid-friendly fabric that fit better in the space. We got them for a steal! Then, inspired by the Thrifty Decor Chick, I've been "shopping the house," pulling together pieces I already own and reconfiguring them in attractive ways. I'm most pleased with what I've done with the metal hanging rack I snagged at a thrift store for $7 four years ago. I hung it over an otherwise boring mantle, and I used it to frame a canvas of our most recent family picture. Antique books, a free clock, and clearance tchotchkes round out the display. This might be my favorite home decor effort to date!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Because You Can't Backdate a Baby (A Wrap-up of Sorts)

I'm notorious for backdating posts, setting aside my very busy life for a while to catch the blog up with all our goings-on. But you can't backdate a baby, or the finalization of an adoption, or the progression of terminal cancer, or the decision to begin homeschooling again, or Christmas. So, I won't. I'll allow the space in this blog to remain to mark the overwhelming spiral that has been my life of late, and here at the very end of 2011, I'll look ahead and plan to stay more in touch with the blogosphere, documenting our nonsense for all who care to keep track.

2011 has been a doozy of a year. James and I were discussing recently that this year our friends have taken it upon their sweet selves to bring us meals on five different occasions for entirely different needs. For someone who doesn't like to ask for nor receive help from other people, that might indicate just how overwhelming our year has been. For a solid week, I've been dedicating daily time to this post -- this one right here -- trying to bullet point all our year, but a week later, I was only able to list our year through June, so I ditched that effort in favor of this very quick update.

Our year was busy and overwhelming. We decided to adopt, we got pregnant, we were matched with a newborn seven weeks after our initial application, my mom got cancer and underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, I traveled to New York City with my friend Marcie, my pregnancy progressed and I indulged my insane nesting compulsions, I attended school full-time, I finished my degree with concentrations in English Literature and Sociology, we enclosed part of our game room to make way for baby, we spent a week in Florida with our friends Marcie and Tobey, we drove from Texas to Iowa to buy a Dodge Sprinter (a van large enough for our growing family), I continued to help lead the infertility/pregnancy loss support ministry at my church, we finalized Elleigh's adoption, we had a baby (hello, Piper!), we celebrated birthdays and holidays, we used season passes to a nearby water park, We traveled to Oklahoma and throughout Texas a number of times, I assisted my sister-in-law as she labored with my newest little nephew, my mom underwent prophylactic brain radiation and had an awful reaction to it (spending a touch-and-go week in the ICU), we traveled to speak on a parent panel at our adoption agency, we were invited to lead the Foster/Adoption ministry at our church, I began homeschooling Bub again, and then we celebrated Christmas. Whew. I know I'm leaving some stuff out, and even this is just the big stuff. This doesn't even begin to cover the neverending laundry pile that five children generate.

And that's the other thing: FIVE CHILDREN. Our Christmas card last year featured our little family of five. Five total. Now, we have five children! Our family has grown so much in one year's time that I couldn't even bring myself to go buy stamps for this year's cards. I chuckle thinking back to my 2011 resolution post, the one I posted right after a "failed" adoption. I wrote, "All along, though, as we've discussed and prayed about this specific opportunity for adoption, we've prayed for God's perfect will to be done. That is still our prayer. We're trusting her decision to parent is His plan, and in that, He has a better plan to satisfy the longing that remains in our hearts. We were sure hopeful, though, that a little set of sweet baby twins was part of His plan to redeem the years of heartache and loss... I'm hopeful 2011 will prove to be a year of growth and blessing in the family way." Clearly, I had NO IDEA what God had in store.

I still don't.

I feel hopeful here at the beginning of 2012. Though I'm in survival mode right now, still nursing constantly, still not sleeping through the night, I feel like there are good things on the horizon. Of course, there are those not-so-good things, too -- there always are -- but regardless of what's coming my way -- good or bad -- I know the Lord is constant and in control. We're open to more family growth, but we're very likely not pursuing another child this year at all. I need some sleep! We are hoping to sell our current house in favor of a "forever" house, but with the market as it is, that will take some serious miracles. Then, with regards to my mom, she still has cancer, and it's still considered terminal, but she's feeling healthy and her most current scans look really good. I'm hopeful she'll live through all of 2012.

Whatever the year holds for us, I pray your year is amazing,
full of all manner of good things.

Blessings to you and yours...

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