Thursday, February 28, 2013

22 + 1

Today I am 22 weeks and one day pregnant with our newest little guy -- the exact gestational age I was when I delivered our son Zachary nearly six years ago. Historically, this has been an emotional milestone for me, and today really is no different. In an average pregnancy (and really even in my pregnancies), there is nothing particularly threatening about being 22 + 1, but in my case, I just can't help but remember how one average everyday turned into possibly the most sorrowful point of my life.

Though the tears still fall when I read Zachary's birth story and recall his death, I am so deeply moved by the Lord's faithfulness towards me in those dark moments and beyond. There were sleepless nights and hard questions to ask, but He was there and waiting to wrestle. I remember reaching a time of such heartache and confusion that I could no longer find the words to pray for myself, and how the Lord met me there by burdening the heart of a literal stranger who had no idea of the grief I was in, yet who pulled my phone number from the air to call and tell me that she was praying for me. I remember reaching a point where every bit of it went on an alter, and the work of "trying again" was over. Though my suffering was intense and lengthy, He was there beside me all along, and I am so grateful. His word was truth in my life: "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).

The "Prom Pose" loses its luster when you're pregnant and surrounded by kid paraphernalia,
and your husband is too busy laughing at your ten-year-old photographer to have a serious smiling face.

And here I am now -- still so surprised to be once-again pregnant, and so amazed to be moving along nicely in this surprise pregnancy. For all intents and purposes, I am as infertile as I've ever been. Besides the placement of a transabdominal cervicoisthmus cerclage to assist in preventing late-term losses, I've had no fertility surgery, no procedure, not one thing done to rationalize the unexpected and explosive growth of our family. The single explanation I have is that we're walking out a real-life restoration of "the years the locusts have eaten" (Joel 2:25). While part of me wishes I had some answers to this change -- something specific to offer to other women with hearts broken like mine -- I am grateful to be on the opposite side of the abyss. A friend told me yesterday that she's been feeling very sad, missing friends (namely me) who are still busy with the baby stage, and while I wish my friend well, I wouldn't trade long, leisurely coffee dates for anything I have now. That's not to say things don't get hard and I don't enjoy it when the babysitter comes by, because they do and I do, but my season of unscheduled free-time has been overcome by pacifiers and poopy pants, and I could not be a happier woman for it.

"'Even now,' declares the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.'
Rend your heart and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing..."

-- Joel 2:12-14a NIV

"He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord."

-- Psalm 113:9 NIV

"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward."

--Psalm 127:3 ESV

Monday, February 11, 2013

Visit to the Perot Museum

We spent Sunday afternoon exploring the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Dallas. It's a state-of-the-art museum with interactive exhibits and a fantastic play area for the preschool set. All in all, it's a really nice addition to the Metroplex. Because it's a new attraction, and because we visited on a sunny weekend day, the place was packed. However, we snagged a surprisingly affordable charter membership before going, so we'll head back over there during special weekday members-only hours (when we'll likely share the whole place with preschoolers and other homeschoolers).

Climbing Through

Smelling "Skunk Poop"

Admiring the Tarantula Hawk Wasp
(before coming home to watch all the disgusting YouTube videos we could find about them.)

Quad Stroller Interaction

Building in the Engineering Exhibit

Playing Piano

Shifting the Continents

Experiencing an Earthquake

Mommy as an Exhibit

(My back was achy and my feet were still swollen after spending seven-ish hours at a gorgeous wedding and reception the night before, so the littlest ladies and I spent part of the day moving from bench to bench in the exhibit halls where people "admired" our large stroller, our larger family, and my ever-expanding girth. As an aside, only one person actually nudged his companions and pointed our direction.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Playgroup Valentine Party 2013

Brystol has been in a playgroup with the same bunch of six little friends for as long as she's been alive. Their mommies and I were all pregnant at the same time, so it's been fun to connect a couple of times a month over the last three years to play and visit and watch our little ones grow together. Brystol calls all her playgroup buddies her "best friends," and I really hope it stays that way for a very long time.

Since the initial playgroup was formed, two of the other mommies and I went on to add more kiddos to our families (both Elleigh and Piper fall in that second wave), and one of those same mommies and I are pregnant again right now. It'll be interesting to see if the second (and third) wave playgroup participants continue to get together even when the "original members" begin heading off to school.

Today was our annual playgroup Valentine party. As a simple craft, all the kids decorated white bags with crayons, markers, and Valentine's Day stickers. The bags were meant for the collection of Valentines, which was awesome because I completely forgot to bring containers for my girlies. After craft time, we shared some snacks. For my snack table contribution, I brought some chocolate-dipped marshmallows inspired by Pinterest. The original blogger raved that her marshmallow snacks were super-easy to make, and stated they took her "all of about 10 minutes" to put together. They took me a LOT longer than 10 minutes to assemble, and while my product was no where near as cute as the original, they were tasty -- that is, if you were able to successfully peel away the mini-cupcake liners I carried them in. Needless to say, not a snack I plan to make again anytime soon.

Valentine Party Fun

Playgroup Friends (minus two)

Playgroup Friends with the Freshman Class

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Happy Surprise: Awaiting Baby #6

In October, our family got a happy surprise. Though we were (and still are) actively waiting to adopt again, I'm pregnant! (Due early July.) We weren't trying for a pregnancy -- no medications, no timetables -- rather, we've just been extraordinarily blessed once again. After years of infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss, this new pregnancy came as an absolute shock. In fact, I still feel stunned, unprepared, and completely undeserving of such a blessing a large majority of the time. I am so very grateful.

We made it through the first trimester without any significant upsets. There were a couple of precarious appointments initially, primarily related to those early first sonograms looking for the heart beat, but the issues we had were related to necessary date adjustments and not to any poor development of the baby. My initial due date was adjusted by eight days, and now baby and I are measuring right on target.

Me at 18 weeks pregnant

Another fun tidbit: this baby is a boy! After a run of little ladies, it's finally time for a little more testosterone. A misread sonogram and a misread genetic test initially led us to believe this tiny one was another little lady, but my Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist both reread the genetic test ("Y chromosome indicated") and provided us with several clear ultrasonic images of baby boy parts. There's no denying it, and James and Bub couldn't be more thrilled! Now, if we could only decide on a name...

Waving Hello

It's a Boy!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Preparing Simple Toddler Valentines

With our Playgroup Valentine's Day party just around the corner, the little ladies and I put together some simple valentines for friends. Brystol chose to decorate some giant lollipops we picked up very inexpensively at a local discount store. We used our search engine to find a ready-made sheet of hearts, then printed them on light-colored card stock. She colored the hearts, then attached a little punched circle that read, "I'm a SUCKER for you, Valentine."

We easily could have taken things a step further by busting out the stickers and glitter, but since Brystol was content with simplicity, I saw no need to complicate things. My sweet girl was super excited to share these easy-to-make treats with all her "best friends."

Doing anything with these two little ladies, however, is anything but easy. Double the grabby hands and double the independent attitudes meant we needed something super easy and quick to make. I looked all over Pinterest for ideas I could implement with things I already had on hand, but I couldn't find anything easy enough for our needs. After pulling together some things from around the house, I had an idea that seemed somewhat unique (with "unique" now being defined as "not easily found on Pinterest").

Piper enjoyed a rousing game of chocolate keep away...

... while nearly-two-year-old Elleigh was tortured by the fact
that we all kept touching the supplies she suddenly deemed her property.

As for supplies, we used the same hearts printed on sheets of pink and red cardstock on which we wrote, "All our love, All our kisses... ♥ Elleigh & Piper." I cut them from the sheet leaving a little border around the outline. Instead of hand writing our sentiments, we could have possibly typed them up in Paint or by using a PDF writer. These little hearts would be simple to whip up with a Silhouette, as well (if you know how to use yours -- unlike me).

We used clear treat bags picked up on clearance, as well as some unopened bags of Christmas kisses -- also picked up on clearance. We sorted out all of the red and a few of the silver Kisses, leaving the green-wrapped Kisses for some St. Patty's Day treats.

Five Kisses packed in a folded treat bag, then stapled closed with a sweet little heart, and voilà...

a simple toddler valentine.

Friday, February 1, 2013

On Losing Contact and Losing a Friend

On Sunday morning, I got word that my dear, lifelong friend Denise passed away. Denise and I grew up together. She and her family moved in across the street from us when she was three and I was four years old. We spent years playing baby dolls and dress up. We dug in my sandbox or played on her swingset. We whispered a million secrets to one another during a thousand sleepovers. We even pierced our fingers and swapped our blood so we could be "real sisters."

Denise was a part of every one of my major life events. She was in my life when my parents divorced. She was around for every move, every school transfer, every life struggle and celebration. We've been side-by-side through movies, plays, and concerts. We vacationed together both as children and adults. She saw me through schools and international adventures. She knew about every boyfriend -- every happiness, every heartbreak -- and over Braum's biscuits and gravy, she convinced me to have a wedding instead of eloping when "the one" finally came along.

Denise was my most constant companion through 15 weeks of pregnancy bedrest when I was expecting Gracie, my first biological child. She supplied me in banana splits and painted the toenails I could no longer reach. Then, she stood at my delivery room bedside and coached me as well as James. Since our move to Texas eight years ago, she and I have traveled back-and-forth to stay with one another, and we've had loads of phone time. Denise was the single person in my life to share Christ with me, and though I vehemently disagreed with her religion at the time, it was her love and constant grace in the midst of my craziness that planted the seeds for my eventual salvation.

About four years ago, Denise had gastric bypass surgery. The doctor in her case did a really awful job, and she began growing sicker and sicker with no hope for reversal. Her husband (who had also had the surgery) had similar complications, and he had to leave his job to go on disability after developing a seizure disorder. Their lives changed drastically, and they lost so much in a very short time. In 2009, their losses led to a kind of despair that caused them to begin drinking heavily (something Denise had never done before), and she no longer wanted the same kind of contact with me. I don't know if it was depression or shame, but regardless of whatever drove her desire for isolation, the fact that I was homeschooling two children and had a newborn made it easy to honor her request for space.

I always thought we'd have time to catch up...

In 2010, because of her altered absorption, the drinking led to Denise developing a severe case of cirrhosis of the liver. I didn't know about it until her sister emailed me to tell me that Denise was on hospice and not expected to live long. Evidently, she'd gotten sober and had been on a transplant list for a few months, but when she relapsed, she was removed from the list and put back on hospice. In 2011, she was moved between family members across different states, and her moves coupled with the fact that we added two more infants to our family while I became the primary caretaker of my cancer-ridden, terminally-ill mother led to a total loss of contact. I kept thinking of reaching out, but I didn't. I made excuses, but the reality is I was afraid to face both her addiction and her mortality (along with dealing with everything else on my plate), so I made the choice not to press forward. Because of my selfishness and fear, I missed out on a sweet window of opportunity as I now know the whole time I was here in Texas making excuses, she was with her husband and daughter in Oklahoma, sober and in decent health. She relapsed in September 2012 and declined rapidly, dying January 26th, 2013.

The emotions I have about her death are complicated. I've loved Denise my whole life long, but when she needed me the most, I wasn't there. I know she asked for the space, but I should have pushed through. The eventual absolute loss of contact was totally my fault, and I'll forever regret it. I rarely look back on my life and want a do-over, but this is one of those circumstances where I would do things in a totally different way if I had the chance. Logistically, I'm not sure how much more I could have offered during that bone-crushing, exhausting time of my life, but I just let space and time overwhelm me, and I couldn't be more sorry about that decision.

Oh, to have been a better friend when it mattered most...

At this point, I feel convicted to never again completely neglect those I deeply love, no matter my own circumstances. Life is never too difficult for a short phone call or a card in the mail. Additionally, I feel the need to keep my circumstances in check and to continually cling to the cross of Christ so that I too do not slip away into a despair that leads to physical death. It astonishes me that the consumption of alcohol is ultimately what consumed the friend I could never convince to drink, and if a shockingly-altered lifestyle could take her down, it could take anyone down. Moreover, I feel a commitment to the eight-year-old daughter she left behind. I believe it's largely my continued responsibility to keep Denise's memory alive in that little heart. I feel that, at the very least, I owe it to Denise to be as crazy an "auntie" to that little one as I was a crazy friend to her mother. Most importantly, I feel it's my responsibility to have the relationship with her that makes Christ accessible and approachable, because without her mother, I'm not sure anyone else would have done that for me.

With Denise on my 7th Birthday (July 1983)

Roller Skating with Denise (September 1988)

Getting Gussied Up (Summer 1990)

Underwater with Denise (Summer 1991)

Camping and Swimming at Blue Hole (Summer 1991)

At the Amusement Park with Denise and her sister, Gloria (Summer 1991)

At Denise's 14th Birthday Party (March 1992)

Best Buddies (February 1992)

Masks with the Ladies: Teresa, Denise, and Mandi (May 1992)
[This was the summer Denise told me about Jesus in an unrelenting way...]

Celebrating Christmas with Denise, Gloria, and Matt (December 1993)
[My first Christmas as a Christ-follower]

Concert-going with Denise (November 1994)

My Bridal Shower, Denise at my side (July 2000)

Denise holding Gracie right after delivery (May 2002)

Denise holding the long-awaited baby Brystol (August 2009)

Denise's Memorial Service (January 2013)

Denise's Memorial Service (January 2013)

Denise's daughter with all her "Aunties" (January 2013)
Denise's friend Robin, me, and Denise's sister Gloria

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