Monday, October 31, 2011

Odds and Ends

Here's a fun, easy snack idea for children - perfect if you're spending the day studying teeth, or dentists, or oral hygiene, or James 3:5.  It's gluten-free, I think, but not Kosher (due to the gelatin in the marshmallows) and definitely not sugar-free.  :)  Simple to make - just apple slices and mini marshmallows.

We saw this adorable little camper the other day in the park.   I had to stop and tell the owner that it was the cutest thing I'd seen in a long time, and when I came home I told my husband that I've decided how I want to spend retirement some day.  Just give me a bed, books to read, paper to write, food to eat, something to knit, and an afternoon cup of coffee, and I think I'd be good to go for a long, long time. 

My mother and I have started making the dolls for the children of Kija's village.  Mom actually makes the most of them, but I collect the supplies and the girls cut out the faces so that she can sew them.  I find new remnants of fabrics at thrift stores, and really, I'm glad to find a good use for them.  My hope thru sharing about our projects is that you might be inspired or encouraged to find things that you can do or ways that you can reach out to share the joy (and new life!) that Jesus brings.

I've picked up a couple of books lately (again, with the thrift store!!!) which I think would make good discussion starters.  Having six sons myself, I've already found lots to consider, underline, and improve upon.  I'm not recommending the book - I haven't completed it yet, but I am interested in posting some of the tips/topics for discussion.  Anyone interested in this?

And lastly, this book interests me because within the homeschooling community we like to say that our young people are not "teens," but rather, "young adults."  I understand that, at least to the point of being forward thinking and aiming for the direction we want our kids to go.  We don't want them to waste the years of their youth in irresponsibility and rebellion.  We like to say that the term "teenager" wasn't used until the 1950s, and that appears to be true.  However, we also used to have no problem with sending children to work in coal mines.  In other words, we weren't always aware of the distinct developmental stages unique to each stage of childhood thru adulthood.  We are now, however, and they are valid.

Homeschooled or not, our children will go through physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and psychological stages as they mature from infancy to adulthood - just like every other kid.  Adolescence is a factual developmental part of life.  I feel that it is vitally important for each homeschooling parent to understand the stages and the struggles that a young person goes through.  We can not raise healthy and whole individuals if we ignore their needs during this time frame.  They may look like adults, but they are not, quite yet.  I realized while beginning this book that I've never seen a homeschooling book (or a book from a homeschooling company) which details the specific emotional, physical or psychological stages through which our children will pass.  We're pretty good at the spiritual side of things, but I think we tend to ignore the other, valid  steps of adolescence.  We so abhor the moral mess of much of modern teenagerhood, we tend to overbalance and like to think that we can jump our children straight from diapers to full adulthood without any struggles in between.  I don't really think it works like that, and considering that I have four teens right now, I'll admit that I have a lot to learn.  Is anyone interested in discussing/considering chosen topics from this book?  (I would just choose and post some occasionally for us to discuss.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts or anything else you would like to share in the comment section below!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Homeschooling: Distractions while reading out loud.

I try to give my young readers an opportunity to read out loud to me every chance they can. Sometimes, it's hard to concentrate when the baby wants to play and keeps closing your book. But this is school at home, and it's not like everyone can go to their own cubicle (or even room) to complete every task. I've been amazed over the years at just how well the kids are able to teach themselves to handle distractions, say hello to the baby, then get back to whatever it is they were doing. Not perfectly, not every time, but mostly - and good enough. So far, all of our kids are avid readers. I'll have to get back to you about the baby.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Care package for a sponsored child

A long time ago, I used to post pictures of our gift packets to Kija (my son Jake's sponsored child through World Vision.) It's been awhile since I've mentioned it, so thought it might be about time. :) If you are in the business of sending small care packages, perhaps you could leave a link or inspire us with some new ideas in the comment box.

I have a few governing thoughts regarding sending care packages to a small girl in Tanzania. Here they are:

*While I'd love to send her the world - World Vision has package size restrictions. Everything needs to fit into a 5x9 manilla envelope.

*Given that small parameter, I still try to find things that are "sharable." Kija is one of 5 children, and I like to keep it community based. This time, I only sent twistable crayons (won't break as easily, I hope,) a notepad (with tear out pages to share) and a pack of gum. Christmas is coming, and soon we will send another package - but this time we drew pictures and wrote letters. Nothing grand - just enough to let her family know that we are thinking of her.

*In that vein, I try to think of the interpreters, and make the letters fairly easy as they do written translation.

*I'd love to send a package a month - but do not want to overwhelm the staff. I usually keep it to 3or 4 a year. 

*I alternate simple packages with more elaborate. 

*I like to include something for the mama or dad - maybe a little sewing kit with thread and needles.  When you live in a mud hut, even the tiniest things are luxuries you aren't likely to afford.

*Often, the gifts are handmade. Some ideas are: a knitted cap, a new cotton dress (easy to hand-wash with non-wrinkling, fast-drying material,) a hand-made drawstring bag to keep things in, felt dolls. Last year I made her an entire family of felt dolls, with different sizes to represent each member of her family. The dad/boy dolls had different colored shirts/pants/shoes and a matching blanket for a bed. The mom/girl dolls wore embroidered dresses of differing colors. They, too had a matching bedroll. The mama wore the baby in a sling. They were so little, with the mom and dad around 4 inches tall and the baby only 1 inch tall. They all fit in the envelope, with a little room for some candy too. I like to imagine her and her sisters playing with the little dolls, sticking one in their pocket. (Yes, Jake's her sponsor, but we all love getting a package together for her. He's a 19 year old boy....)

*This year, my mother and I are making pillowcase type dolls (around 15 inches long) for Kija's entire village. I think that I will make her a new dress as well. We are also hoping to begin some sewing projects (simple little girl dresses/aprons for workers, they even need blankets for burying babies who have died - that is a sad work but what a beautiful way to minister - I think I want to do that) for Real Hope for Haiti. I'll try to post some pictures as we go along.

We recently received a picture and an update on Kija. She had grown much taller, but was much thinner too. Even though she wore a "fancy" dress, it was torn a bit and her skin was dusty. I hope that our gifts bring a little smile to her face - even for a small while. I always tell her that God loves her and that we do too, and that we are praying for her.

I wonder what God is going to do thru child sponsorship, in Kija's lives, and in ours? How will the world be different - because of it - in twenty years?

I am hopeful....
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What a deal!

I found another sticker carefully placed behind his other ear, bringing him to a grand total of .75 cents.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Parenting with humility

I hold my boy,
on my lap
right before his bedtime.
Daddy is calling that "It's time for a Bible Story!"
so I've got just one more minute.
One more minute to feel his weight in my arms,
to examine his bug bites and scrapes from the day's play,
a moment more to notice how well-defined his muscles and feet have become
as they dangle at my shins.

"You've grown, Ben-boy!"
Someday, you'll be bigger than mama.  Did you realize that?"
Someday, you'll be as big as daddy and Jake and Nick?
You'll be able to carry me, like I'm holding you, if you needed to.
Isn't that amazing?
Ben nods, happy at the thought of growing.

I squeeze him one more time,
stamping the memory upon my heart
of a sweet little boy that I can still hold on my lap.
My mind flashes ahead thru the years to the day that he may, indeed,
carry me
thru infirmity
or hold my hand down the stairs
like I sometimes do
for my own mama and daddy.

Knowing that someday
we will switch roles
makes me parent

One year pictures...and, just conversation

Thanks for all of your suggestions,
both on-line and in-life.
I'm so glad you took the time
to stop by or to write me a note.
I'll take them to heart
and see what works.
I will say that I'm not very good at "how-to" posts
regarding parenting, usually,
because each family is different
and each child is unique.
I think it is up to the parent to
learn who their child is as an individual,
and parent accordingly.
That's actually one our jobs, to know our children
and then to guide them according to how God created them!
There are also a million parenting how-to blogs available. 
I can point you to several if you wish.  :)
But I am happy to open my heart and doors
and windows and share with you things that have worked
(or not worked....) with my children and our family.

We've been busy around here
with company over the weekend.
I'm a lousy hostess, actually -
always have been.
I enjoy company but stress waaay too much
before they come.  It was a great weekend 
filled with good conversation.  We don't get to see Jeff's side 
of the family very much, so we were thrilled to
spend time with his brother Donnie and his wife, Shelley.
Their children are grown, but they were gracious to put up with our clan.  :)
I get kind of giddy when I have real, actual grown-ups
who are captive in my house. 
I may or may not talk too much.  :)
My Dad is getting ready to have another surgery, too,
so there is some preparation for that.

(Had to include this one.  :)  Love the expression on his face.  
He was sooo done.  Can't believe my little man is one year old.

Gabe still has eyes that are two different colors.
I wonder if they'll stay that way?  I'll have to let you know...
He's a pretty big boy, around 23 pounds.  That's bigger 
than most of my children at this age.
He's into EVERYTHING, I'm thinking he's going to be a climber, too.
Life is about to get hard FUN!  :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

A good life.

(Trying for a little "first year birthday shoot with Gabe while good weather held.  He was unimpressed.  Eventually, we got some good ones....I'll post those next time.  
These are just mama and Gabe.)

A little story from life to go along with the photos.  Totally unrelated, except to the concept of a "good life, rather, life well-lived."

One day last year Jeff was re-entering the hospital.  I don't know which time, or which procedure.  They all blur together.  I do remember what we were saying to each other.

I was very fearful.  Afraid that he would go in, and under a knife, and not come back out.
I knew there were no guarantees, that he could promise me nothing.  It was completely out of his hands.  We were people used to shaping our futures, or at least doing the best we could.  This place where illness had brought us - with no control over any area of life (health, finances, time) - was frightening.

I choked back tears, trying to be logical.  I'd done plenty of crying already.  How does that help a guy approaching surgery?

I said, "But what if you don't make it?  What then?"

He was quiet for a moment.
He swallowed, then said, "Well...then,  we've had a good life."

I looked into the most familiar eyes in my world, got quiet too, and nodded my agreement around the lump in my throat.

I saw his peace, and realized the truth in what he said.
(Of course, I still made him promise to fight this illness with everything that was in him.)

I said everything that I felt I needed to say to him at that time, I thanked him for all of the years and all of our children and for loving me and them so well.  
His calm acceptance and summation of our years brought me a measure of peace as well; 
and he lent me his courage.

He was right.

We've had a good life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The year that was - Conclusion: This one's for you.

I guess you can say that the other posts have been for me and my family - I just invited to you read along if you wished.

This post is for you.  These are the things I really want you to know. 

Part 1 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations
Part 2  - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 2
Part 3 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 3
Part 4 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 4
Part 5 - Provision
Part 6  - A second staph infection
Part 7 - Third hospitalization
Part 8 - Getting ready for my parents' surgeries
Part 9  - My father's surgery - part 1
Part 10  - My father's surgery - part 2
Part 11  - My father's surgery - part 3
Part 12 - Help arrives!
Part 13 - A child is born

I spent the first two days following Gabriel's birth quietly resting.  Other than attending to his needs, I didn't do anything.  The nurses were a little frustrated by this, they seemed to feel that I should be turning on the lights, sitting up more, walking the halls.  I'm sure they were worried about post-partum depression.  I didn't have that, I was just exhausted.  If they had known how I had spent the day before I gave birth, or better yet, the months leading up to labor, they would have surely understood.

Once home, things quieted down for awhile too.  (Well, if you don't count a boy's sprained ankle, my mother's pain crisis, and a severe cold that spread through the house...)  I was able to calm my mother by phone, and for the most part we simply stayed in as much as possible.  We were focusing on healing.

If I am honest, I was still upset at God.  No, I had not gone through the losses that so many have.  I suppose that in comparison I did not really have a reason to be angry.  To me, though, it was as if I was standing at Point B, looking back at the last few years (Point A,) shaking with the traumas we had been through.  I wanted to know why God felt it necessary for us to go through all of that.  We felt that we were doing our best to follow Him.  We tithed.  We submitted our desires (and even where we wanted to live) for the good of others.  We spent our lives in providing and caregiving and ministry.  We were almost debt-free, mortgage and vehicles included. (Although that is not spiritual, I want to convey that we were doing our best to be "responsible" people.  We've...uh....heard before that some people think that we are not, you know, with nine kids and a sick daddy.... so thought we would offer a disclaimer. )  We loved Him and wanted to serve Him with all of our hearts.  We were not concerned with status quo and material things, we were listening for the Lord's voice and calling in our lives - but it simply seemed that we could not escape the cycle of BIG BAD THINGS.

Up until a certain point, we simply accepted all of this with quiet hearts.  The Christian life is not supposed to be a ride on Easy Street.  We knew that.  We'd never expected "easy."  Our lives had never been easy.  At some point - and I think it was with Jeff's second staph infection, I became so overwhelmed that I lost my perspective.  I eventually stopped asking God for anything.  I knew that I could not manipulate Him, but also finally came to the point that I didn't believe anything good could happen, anyway.  Apparently this was our lot in life.  Perpetual doom.  My spirit was wounded.  It felt like I imagine it would feel to be separated from a husband that you loved more than life.  Quite possibly, it was post-traumatic stress.

My quietness finally ended; then came the vocal part of anger.  God and I were speaking again, but it was not necessarily pretty.  Sometimes, I just screamed silently in a hot bathtub.  (In a house crowded with children, it was difficult to find a place to process.)   "WHY did we go through this?  What was that all about?  You could have stopped this!  At any point You could have stepped in!"

And it wasn't just our traumas I was asking about, giving voice to.  It was the questions of the ages, in response to the suffering I saw all around me.  "Why such suffering?  Why evil?  Who ARE You, God?  What are You really like?"

And amazingly, astoundingly....

He let me do just that.  Like we hold our children when they cry and sometimes while they rage, God did that for me.  I know that we are taught that we are to never question God, never to be angry with Him, always walk in fear that we are offending Him.

But I did not offend Him.  He understood, and He just let me get it all out.  He didn't strike me dead.  He loved me like a good father would.

And He kept loving me, loving us, kept telling us that He loved us (often through our friends and people He had placed in our lives.)

Eventually, I (I want to say "we," for it is hard to know where one of us in this large family ends and another begins, yet I'm the one writing so I will speak for myself) began to breathe again.  Once the spasms of pain and anger began to subside, I began to see God's hand in our lives, everywhere.  It is not mere drama to say that I stood at the edge of the abyss and stared into the darkness, contemplating all that had happened and what it meant and where I would go from there.  The darkness, the flirting with the idea that God simply did not care and did not intervene in our lives hovered near for a time.  I looked it over and chose with cold, hard lack of emotion....who could live that way?  Not me....I could not continue to raise children without hope.

One day, while driving somewhere alone, it was as if the diamond shifted and I saw an entirely different side of our struggles:  What if all of this is not so much about "what we've been through," but rather "look at what He's brought us through!"

It was as simple as that, really, the shifting of how I saw things:  Yes, things were hard, but He never left us and there never was a time (even at the lowest point) where He had not been carrying us.

(*disclaimer: our difficulties were not actual "losses" such as some of you have endured.  I am certain that I would have required decades to grieve and rebuild if things had turned out differently, if Jeff had not lived or if our baby had not survived.  Those circumstances are much, much different and difficult and tragic than ours.  I have many friends who have endured great losses, and I know that the situations are not the same.  Even then, though, I have come to understand and believe that God carries us through the worst of times.  What it comes down it is this:  Whether we live or we die, we are His. Romans 14:8)

Gradually - life began to improve.  Gabriel grew fat rolls and Jeff regained full strength.  My parents healed from their surgeries, the pain subsided.  We began to sort through the emotional trauma that our children suffered.  We began to make changes, repairs in our relationships with our children, things that were lacking due to our being so consumed.  The winter is a time of dormancy for God's creation, and it was for us too.  But dormancy does not mean that nothing is happening.  Underneath the surface, God was moving and healing and restoring, awakening us to what the Holy Spirit was doing in our hearts.  Through all of this, He was growing us up and growing us deep.

I am most surprised to look at myself a year out and find that I have less fear and more hope.  Who woulda thunk it?

We learned a few more things through our trials:

  • God loves us.  Every one of us.
  • God doesn't fit our platitudes.  Some of our thoughts about how He works in this world need to be re-examined.
  • He isn't boxable.  We can try to define Him, but we can never completely do so.
  • Apparently, God is not as time-obsessed as we are.  Sometimes God works slowly - so slowly that it seems He's not really working - but He is.  We can have confidence in that.
  • God is much more patient than we thought.  Much more merciful.  Much more content with mess and untidiness and seeming chaos than we ever thought.
  • But through these things, He is always, always working for our good and redeeming us.
  • God does not cause horrible things to happen to His children.  He does allow them.
  • Whatever you may question in the dark, His character is good.
  • He is trustable with the things we can not understand or explain.  That doesn't mean that we can't ask or explore or doubt or that we won't grieve.  That doesn't mean that it won't be horribly painful at times.  Sometimes, our lives here just hurt.  We suffer.  We have horrible, unimaginable losses.  But big picture - either He is trustable or He isn't.  (He is.)
  • God will use our trials to mature us, to increase our spiritual beauty, our long-suffering - and even, our hope.  He will use our experiences to make us more valuable in His service, His Kingdom.  We become more useful to Him, to those around us, to those who go through their own trials.  Who better to hold your hand than one who has endured and persevered?  The friends who ministered the most to my bruised heart were those who had gone through the worst kinds of suffering there is.  Someone who has been wounded and endured knows how to stand by your side.
  • By allowing us to go through earthly trials, there is the potential that we will be allowed to see His redemptive work.  If we endure, if we will stand, we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)  We will see how He works in our lives, in our world, for this is His Story, and it is all eventually for His glory.  If our lives were always easy, where would the glory be?
  • The Church - the community of those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ - is still alive.  Divided in many ways, yes.  Problems?  yes.  Alive, compassionate when needs are made known?  Absolutely.  And in Christ - we are all united.
And in our family life, we
  • are so much more grateful for each new day.
  • are aware of the way time rushes, and how we must capture it with gratitude.
  • are closer to each other.
  • appreciate the gift that each child is.
  • want to make the most of our days - even if we have not accomplished much (workwise,) have we served Him and accomplished His purposes for that day?
  • have a strong awareness of His presence in our lives.
  • are more thoughtful, more compassionate.
  • are more outward focused, rather than inward focused.
  • love better, have more peace and patience.
  • foster hope, both present and future.
The trials were hard.  Sometimes, I still catch my breath with what I almost lost.  And yet, the work God has done in our lives has been so deep, life-changing, and long-lasting.  God's redemptive work was done, and is still going on.  We emerge from the rubble and lift our heads and hands high and proclaim that our God is our Deliverer, the One who is worthy of our praise.

We have been changed, we are grateful, and we will never be the same again. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Now he is One.

And we adore him.
Posted by Picasa

The year that was: A child is born.

Thank you so much for reading along as I've told my story.  Believe it or not, it's almost done.  This installment is lengthy, but I was determined to finish telling it.  You know that I have struggled to do so, but it has been such an important exercise for me.  There is healing in the retelling, in the sharing, in the honesty.  I am also "putting each part to bed for the long night," if you will.  It's recorded for my family, and I won't have to search my mind for how things were.  It's been examined, at length, and I can leave it alone and grow from here.  There's so much of who I am now, who we are as a family now, that comes from this time.  It reframed us, humbled us, built us.  Just so you know, this part below is long.  I wasn't about to split it into two parts, however, and make it seem even longer.

Thank you for being patient and for being willing to live in the tension with me as I've told this story, to see where I'm going with this.  Wait, I tell you, and see what the Lord has done and what good He has worked in our lives.  He is worthy of all of our worship.  Better to have gone through the hard times and to emerge hopeful and knowing Him better, than to have lived with easy, peaceful times all of our days - scarcely knowing Him at all.

Part 1 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations
Part 2  - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 2
Part 3 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 3
Part 4 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 4
Part 5 - Provision
Part 6  - A second staph infection
Part 7 - Third hospitalization
Part 8 - Getting ready for my parents' surgeries
Part 9  - My father's surgery - part 1
Part 10  - My father's surgery - part 2
Part 11  - My father's surgery - part 3
Part 12 - Help arrives!

One year ago today, I woke up very early for me.  I left the kids instructions for the day, left chicken simmering in the crockpot for supper, and climbed into my car at 5:30 a.m for the 45 minute drive to pick up my parents.  They both had early morning appointments with their surgeon.

Our baby was due in three weeks, but I was nervous.  I was about to embark on a lengthy and exhausting day, one where I would be away from home with two people with recent joint replacements.  My father was newly released from a rehabilitation center.

My brother and sister had returned to their homes and work hundreds of miles away.  We were back to just mom and dad and great-with-child me.

I was nervous about getting my dad down the 15 or so steps and into their car.   He still used a walker and wheelchair.  We did okay, though.  I pulled the car to the bottom of the steps and put a belt around his waist.  I held on tight to him as he descended.  He was unable to bear weight on his broken hip, but we made it.  Mom followed behind. 

We turned the car and retraced my miles, driving back an hour and a half into the city to the doctor's office.  It was October 6, and we admired the newly harvested fields all along the way.  It was a great harvest year, grain bins were overflowing.  The fields were beautifully golden in the morning light.

When we arrived at the doctor's office, I parked at the door, went in and got a wheelchair from the front desk.  I unloaded my dad, got him seated and feet adjusted, helped mom get out and got her started on the long walk to the office.  I got mom's purse, my purse, double checked for their medical cards, got the walker from the trunk, and began pushing dad's wheelchair into the building.  Just like traveling with kids, we had to make bathroom stops.  That presents a problem, right there.  How do you take two parents who need help?  How do you take your father into the men's restroom in a public building?  How can you possibly leave him alone with a newly repaired hip to dress and undress himself?  What if your water breaks while you are helping him and you are known to have short labors?  Would you take your parents with you to the hospital if you do go into labor?  Could you actually get them loaded back up in time and should you drive them yourself?  (I spent a lot of time thinking these things through and came to the point of laughing hysterically with the craziness of the situation.  I thought it would make a great movie scene - comedy of course.)

I am glad to say that I did not go into labor at that point.  :)  We made it through bathroom breaks, x-rays for both (which involved clothing changes), surgeon consultations, more bathroom breaks, carrying and loading everything back into the car, then pill time and lunch in the car.  (Taking elderly people places always involves remembering to take medications on schedules.  If they take lasix it also involves frequent bathroom breaks.)

Whew.  We made it this far.  My father's hip still had not healed, so he was instructed that he could not touch his foot to the floor for another 4 weeks.  He was discouraged.  He had hoped to find that he had improved.

My mother was still having troubles with pain medications.  They made her violently ill, but without medication she could not stand the pain.  The doctor prescribed different medication.

We stopped to take care of some errands on the way home.  My parents had been out of commission for several weeks, so they had many things they needed to tend to.  We stopped at the bank, at Dollar General, Wal-Mart, the pharmacy, another grocery store.  We needed to  make sure they were stocked up on easy to cook meals in the event the baby came soon and I was not able to come to their house for a time.  Load and unload.  Keep pressing forward.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

We got to their home, did everything in reverse.  Belt on, up the stairs.  Both parents settled in and groceries unloaded.  Everything sorted out just so.  Bedding and towels changed, support stockings changed and washed, laundry done (washer and dryer in the basement,)  a quick supper made, last bits of tomatoes and lima beans picked from the garden, a bowl of pecans picked up from under the backyard tree, pills sorted into boxes, mail gathered....farewells and then one more stop.  I visited the post office to try to convince them to deliver my parents' mail to their door instead of at their mailbox at the bottom of their sloping driveway.  I did not want my parents to ruin their surgeries with a fall.  The lady at the post office told me that they could not deliver to the door, it was the law.  (???) 

I needed to stop to get supplies for my own family - in case the baby came soon.  But I was simply Too.  Tired.  My back hurt so bad.  I didn't feel well.  I drove the same road for the forth time that day.  I arrived home twelve hours after I left.

We fed the children crockpot chicken (so thankful I had prepared it ahead,) did laundry (perpetually) cleaned up and got everyone to bed. 

We crawled into bed ourselves.  What an exhausting day!  I was so thankful it was over, so thankful that I had been able to get my parents in to their appointments and back home without going into labor.  The bed felt sooooo good, I fell asleep right away, around midnight.

Suddenly, around 2:00 a.m., a soft *pop."

I woke with a start.  Was that my water breaking?  I'd never experienced that before, as everyone of my babies have almost been delivered before the water broke.  I tried to convince myself that it was nothing.  More sleep....please. 

Within a few minutes I was talking to myself.  "Okay.  That's crazy.  If that was your water breaking, you know you have fast labors - like, you may only have an hour or so.  Get up.  Get ready."

I got up, and knew for sure that labor was getting serious.  I was so tired that I was not making good decisions at first.  I doubted everything.  I almost let Jeff sleep, thinking, "I know he must be tired.  I'll just wait a little longer."

I have to smile in retrospect as I watch myself in in last years' rearview mirror.  Everything was in slow-mo.  I figuratively smacked myself (again,) and said "You are in labor.  He needs to get ready.  Get him up."

So I did.  He may have been with me thru 8 previous labors, but he'd never been awakened by a sudden "we need to go to the hospital NOW" message in the wee hours of the morning.  (Guess we just needed something "new" to keep it interesting?)  I always wondered how he'd respond to that - it was very satisfying.  He jumped up, bewildered, began scurrying around but not knowing what to do first or what to take.  It WAS still three weeks early.

As for me, I didn't have a bag packed, either.  I was primarily concerned about giving birth on the way to the hospital - it was thirty minutes away.  I put towels and blankets into a laundry basket.  You never know, you know?  Don't mess around with a woman who has given birth 8 times before.  I was sure we could do it at home, but given my anti-E and anti-c isoimmunization the baby would really need to be assessed during delivery.  I needed to be at a hospital.  Jeff knew how fast I give birth....he was sorta nervous.  :)

So, we woke our oldest son and told him we were leaving.  We had him sleep downstairs on the couch in the event that any little ones awoke and needed anything.

We threw things into bags and grabbed a camera and keys.  I noticed that the crockpot was still on, and there was still a lot of chicken in it.  Ever a practical mom, I just *had* to take the time to put the chicken away.  In my defense, I knew the kids would need something to eat over the next few days.  :)  It is funny to me what we choose to do when we are trying to prepare (in the middle of the night) for a big event like this.  Yes, we are experienced parents - but you would have thought this was our first time having a baby.  We were the classic picture of new parents, running around in a panic.  In the end, we forgot my entire bag of bathroom supplies and the battery died on the camera after a few pictures.

We hit every bump and every red light.  I was still "miffed" at God but found myself praying as we drove.  Sure, I *could* give birth in a car, but oh, I did not want to.

We arrived just fine, and I experienced the fun of telling the desk attendants that I was in labor with my ninth child.  (You should see people MOVE when you say that.)  My sense of humor returned when I realized I would *not* be having this baby while under the supervision of some rookie police officer at the side of the road.  That is one of my worst nightmares.

I was whisked into a gown faster than you can say "Duggars on Discovery Channel" and we were ready for a baby.

Labor was short and sweet.  Within a very short time, I was holding and loving and then feeding our new little boy, Gabriel Joseph Johnson.  He was a much bigger baby than anyone of us anticipated.  I had only gained 11 pounds, and Gabriel weighed 8 lbs., 12 ounces of that.  I couldn't imagine how big he would have been if he had gone to forty weeks.

Gabe had low blood sugar at birth (I had gestational diabetes during the last couple of months.)  It took several hours to stabilize, but otherwise, he was remarkably perfect.  My health was good.  His health was good.  What a blessing.

When Gabriel was placed in my arms one year ago, the numbness began to recede and the healing began.  I started to feel again, began to hope again, to trust again,  to believe that things might not always be bad - that they might, in fact, get better. 

Peace - Shalom.  God works all things well.

If you want to read ahead a little bit and see some of our reflections on the lessons learned - here are a couple of posts from the past:

Monday, October 3, 2011

The year that was - Help arrives!

Part 1 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations
Part 2  - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 2
Part 3 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 3
Part 4 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 4
Part 5 - Provision
Part 6  - A second staph infection
Part 7 - Third hospitalization
Part 8 - Getting ready for my parents' surgeries
Part 9  - My father's surgery - part 1
Part 10  - My father's surgery - part 2
Part 11  - My father's surgery - part 3

And then, just like that, help arrived.

My older brother and sister arrived from Georgia.  They left their families and work behind and came to sit and stay and work and carry us all for a time.

My sister sent me home from the hospital, taking over all care for my father.  She was such an excellent nurse, much better and intuitive and stronger than I am.  (Also, she was not nine months pregnant.  That's always a bonus when you are lifting and turning and rearranging and helping a person with a broken hip learn to walk again.)

My brother took over care of the properties, completing heavy jobs that I couldn't even begin to accomplish.  He worked so tirelessly, making our parents' home safer and better equipped for their old age.  He transported our mother to the hospital to see our dad, which was a big deal as she was still in a lot of pain and still learning to walk with her new knee.

I went home to take care of my kids and spend time with them and to get ready for the birth of our new little man.  As you can imagine, it was such a relief to have the heavy responsibilities lifted for a time.  They came just in time, just when I did not know how we could hold on any longer.

Our dad was transferred to a nursing home.  We couldn't call it a nursing home, however, because that was for "old people."  He's such an independent soul.  He was there to heal from the broken hip, to "rehabilitate."  Thus, it was a rehabilitation center, and he worked incredibly hard to heal and gain strength in order to return home.   I really do know what he was afraid of.  He was afraid of entering a nursing home and of never regaining ability, of never getting to leave.  He was afraid of using up all of their money, of leaving my mother with nothing to live on.  We assured him that this was not the stage he was at - he simply needed to recover.  My sister was able to stay with us all for two weeks.  She did everything, took care of everyone.  Cleaned, cooked, shopped, dealt with nurses and medications, therapies, and wheelchairs that didn't work.

We all were committed to helping our parents stay in their own home.  I have immense respect for my siblings and the way we are able to work through the logistics of our parents' care.  I'm thankful that we do not fight, but rather work to find practical solutions to difficult situations.  They both care deeply and give of themselves to keep our whole extended family running, even though they live quite a ways away.  We are nothing alike, our giftings are not similar, but we are closer to one another than we were, even just a year ago.  They handle things that I am not equipped to care for.  I'm so thankful that although I do the day to day care that our parents might need, I am NOT alone at this stage of life.  My siblings are only a phone call away. 

We were not sure how our parents would heal from their surgeries, long term, but we were still hopeful that with the return of mobility they would be able to retain independence and good health for years to come.

Three more posts to come in this story:

  • What good things came from our tough year?  (Or, what I learned and how I worked through the anger and reconciled and gained a deeper love for God...)
  • Gabriel's birth story (The entire, exhausting day...)
  • Practical ways to help when someone you know is going through tough times

Left climbing

My garden is pretty much uprooted. It's time. It was a modest gardening year - nothing spectacular but enough fresh food for the table. I had a good harvest of...whatever these are. They are some sort of large decorative gourd - they range in size from 8 -14 inches.

The only plants left climbing are Christmas pole beans, cherry tomatoes and licorice basil.

I am always ready for the seasons to turn.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The year that was: My father's surgery - part 3

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9 
Part 10 

I have really struggled with writing all of this down.  I know I've communicated that before, but it is still true.  I am not sure why it is so difficult.  It just feels like a burden I'm carrying and trust me, I've thought about forgetting the whole series and deleting it, not putting it here for others to read.  I've had to force myself to continue writing.

This was just such a horribly dark time; physically exhausting and mentally and emotionally solitary.  

I don't like being so honest, really.  Honest feels ugly, revealing.  Honest doesn't mean hopeless, it doesn't mean faithless.  Honest just means you're a real person.  If you are me, honest means that you are afraid that people will think you are just being a big baby.  I don't like to be depressing.

But is there a place for "honest?"  I think so, particularly when we are not trying to harm anyone and when we have waited to be certain that we are accurately representing what happened.

Sometimes grief over hard times just needs to be honestly shared.  We need for others to recognize and acknowledge our sadness, or the difficulties we have faced.

I learned so many new things along last year's journey - more than I could ever hope to find time to write down.  Some things were very good - which I allude to and which I will share more of.   Some things were brutal, though.  (I'm equally stunned by both.)

I've learned even more starkly how sensationalist we humans are.  There was plenty of compassion when my husband was sick.  When my parents were sick, though, and troubles were compounded upon troubles, those trials seemed more easily dismissed.  A sick husband or a sick baby tugs on the heartstrings.  Sick old people?  It usually elicits a yawn.  Most people won't even bother to read about it.    

Old age is lonely; but caring for the elderly is a lonely role too.  I encourage you - if you know someone who is a primary caregiver for an elderly person, speak and do kindness for them.  Pray for them.  Hold their hand and cry with them a little bit, if they seem to need it.  Don't forget them! 

There were little indignities along the way.  The lady and her rude gesture were one, the day of Dad's surgery revealed a few more.

I've been involved in the care of the elderly for many years now.  Let me simply say without over-dramatization or inflation that getting old can be a terribly lonely and isolating process.  It is difficult to get good hospital care for the elderly, particularly if they are unable to speak for themselves.  We have good medical coverage for our elderly in America, that is, the dollars have been allocated.  Dollars don't equal compassion, however. 

My parents have spent their lives in the pastorate.  My mother cared for her own father when he was dying of cancer and cared for her mother as she dwindled away due to Alzheimers.  Both of my parents have made hospital visitation and nursing home visits a priority.  Even now, my father will visit the "old people" at the nursing home.  Never mind that many of them are ten years younger than he is.

But they live in a very small town.  They don't have many young friends.  Many of my father's peers have +
+died.  If they have not passed on, they are not able to get around much.

I was worried that my mother would not have anyone to sit in the waiting room while she had surgery.  To avoid her sadness and disappointment were this to happen, I called her pastor and asked if he would be able to come pray with her before her surgery.  (Small congregation - sixty people or so, total?)  He came, and I was so thankful.  During mom's surgery, I shared the wait with my father, her pastor, and an elderly aunt and uncle.

Prior to Dad's surgery, I called the pastor and left a message with the date and time.  For an elderly person from a small town, their church is their connection.  Their minister, present at a time of trauma or insecurity, brings a sense of comfort.  Without this touch, they feel a sense of loss, of disconnection.

The minister never came, never called.  I was heartbroken for my dad over this.  How many visits had he made to people who were having surgeries over his 86 years?  When his own time came, the only ones sitting vigil for him were a daughter and the same elderly half-brother and his wife.

I have not spent most of my married life around my parents.  We've only lived close for four years.  I'm not accustomed to this vigil sitting.  I did not feel comfortable spending hours sitting with my elderly relatives.  What would we talk about?  They'd had many surgeries themselves, struggled to shuffle around the hospital, became easily lost as they navigated the corridors looking for coffee or the restroom or food.  How would I hostess these old ones in a hospital waiting room?  What if they had an emergency themselves?  None of those things were real issues - I was simply uncomfortable.

I again found myself unready for this role.  Mothering, I knew.  Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary ages, middleschoolers, highschoolers - I had all of these at home.  I know how to care for people, how to "do," - but to sit and visit with them?  To be the primary family member present at a surgery, to hold power of medical decisions - this was heavy and I would have pushed it aside if I could have.

I remembered one recent visit to my fetal/maternal specialist's office.  I was lying on the bed for yet another ultrasound, and the tech and I chatted while she scanned the blood-flow to our baby's brain.  I was telling her about my parent's upcoming surgeries, and how I did not know how I was going to handle everything that was still on the calendar before our baby was due.

She stopped, looked at me, and said.  "You will do it.  You will do it, because you have to.  It will be hard, but you will make it."  She was an only child, who was responsible for her parent's care alone, so she understood what was happening.

Her words lifted me and sustained me.  I was pretty sure they were a direct message of confidence from God.  :)  They were exactly what I had needed to hear.  I could make it through this.

I thought of her words this day, and although I was pushing myself forward every step because of dread and anxiety, I took strength from them.  The Lord God was with me, with my parents, with us all.

My aunt and uncle and I took hands, and in the absence of a minister, we prayed over my dad.  He was so peaceful and accepting as he put himself into the surgeon's hands.

So, then, we waited.  We made small talk.  I refilled coffee cups.  We endured bad cable tv shows.  (I think that's the worst part about waiting room.  No right to change the channel.)  We looked through every magazine available.

And we waited.

I realized something new about the elderly, about my aunt and uncle, in particular.  At their stage of life, waiting vigil was about the last thing they were able to do for their loved ones.  They took this responsibility very seriously.  I could not persuade them to leave to eat, even though I knew they had medications they needed to take.  We who are young are often in too big of a hurry to do the waiting - at least I know this is true for me.  Give me something to fix and I'm fine.  Ask me to wait, and I resist.  I gained so much insight and respect for them and for their "waiting."  If they had not come, I would have sat alone, again.  No one should be alone at times like that.  People going through surgeries or traumas should have plenty of arms to hold them up.  If they are leaving this life, they should be held and lifted up in love - if they remain and return to health, they should know that there are loved ones waiting to welcome them back, praying for them throughout.

And we waited some more.

It was taking too long.  My aunt and uncle began to get agitated and worried.  They'd sat through many surgeries over the course of their lives, and they knew when something wasn't right.

I tried to allay their fears, to say that I imagined that the surgeon had gotten a late start.  They said, "No, Holly.  Something went wrong."

I tried to get some information, but no one knew why the surgery was taking so long.

Eventually, several hours late, we received word that the surgery was over, and the surgeon would meet with us.  We were taken to the same consultation room that I'd sat in twice for Jeff, once for my my mother.

The surgeon, a man I'd come to greatly respect over the months, entered the room.  His eyes were tired and bloodshot. 

"Your father made it okay through the surgery....but his hip broke when I was completing the replacement."  He gave us the rest of the details about his care.  I thanked him for his labor on behalf of both of my parents.

I helped my aunt and uncle find their way out of the hospital, called my mother to let her know that things did not go quite as expected, called my children to see how they were doing, called my brother and sister who were enroute and would be arriving later that evening.

I collected my things and my dad's bags and took them to the room he would be moved to once he was out of surgery.  By now, I knew the joint replacement floor really well.  I knew the nurses and they knew me.  They were getting a little sick of seeing us, I think.  :)

I waited in the dusk for Dad to arrive.

Once the nurses had wheeled him in and left the room, he slowly opened his eyes and called my name.  I wasn't sure if he was coherent or not.

What he was, was thirsty.  He'd not had anything to drink for almost 24 hours.

I leaned close, waiting for words of love.

Instead, Dad's first words post-surgery were:


He'd survived surgery, he'd survive this too, somehow.  I dug thru dad's bag and pulled out the precious Bubba.  He fell back to sleep without a sip, and I sat back to wait for my brother and sister's arrival.  I was exhausted, done for.  I held his head and stroked his wrinkled face and smoothed his grisled hair, noting that he needed a haircut.  I mourned his wrapped swollen hip and the awful bruises from the iv and blood draws.
This was too much.  I'd like to tell you that I handled all of this with grace.  In fact, that's the way I originally wrote this post.  Yet as I reread it, I thought back to how it really was.  In the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that I was angry.  I became angry with God - that after all of this, at the end of this horribly long summer, that we suffered this indignity of a broken hip. (I'm not excusing it, I'm just saying that it was there and that I had to deal with it.) How would I be able to take care of two elderly people with joint replacements that had not gone well?  How would we handle this when I had the baby?   I felt offended, as if wounded by an old friend.   I hated old age, trial, disease and infirmity.  It seemed like the series of unfortunate events, where nothing could go well.