Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Advent

Merry Christmas!

Today marks the end of Advent--a season of waiting. He is here! Immanuel; God is with us. 

Our church--the people we gather with every week--graciously and gently challenged us to be intentional about the season of Advent, this time of waiting. They encouraged us to find ways to pause in the midst of the hustle and bustle to prepare our hearts to receive the gift of our Lord. I was touched by what they had to say and moved to incorporate their suggestion of an advent calendar full of others-centered activities into our own Christmas traditions.

To be quite honest, the first year felt awkward. Emeline was only two and was more excited about the envelopes than the deeper meaning tucked inside. Shawn and I didn't grow up in a liturgical tradition, so reading Scripture, other readings, and singing (basically to each other) seemed silly at times--especially with a squirmy two year old. But each day we accomplished the activity. We did it seemed to be our final thoughts. But I knew there was something deeper happening--even if we didn't see it that first year--and I knew I'd string up the envelopes again the following year because I wanted to find it.


December 2nd: 
1st Sunday of Advent. As we anticipate the coming of Jesus, put out a stocking for Jesus.
December 3rd: 
Slip a gift into Jesus' stocking today, a gift you'd like to give Him this year.

As I pointed out everyone's stocking, I explained we'd be giving gifts to Jesus this year too. There was that moment when I debated whether or not to really get into Matthew 25 with a three year old. I looked her in the eye and continued, "Not everyone gets to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Emeline. Did you know that? Sometimes people get really hungry. But Jesus said, when you give food to people who need it, it's like we're giving a gift to Jesus." I had planned to grocery shop later that day. "What if we pick out some food for other people today and put it in Jesus' stocking?" 

She nodded, "Okay Mommy," and then went to play. Too difficult to gauge if it made sense to her.

At the grocery store, when I reminded her about those who are hungry, she picked out some corn. And then she said, "The babies need bibs."

"What?"

"I think we need bibs for the babies." 

I swallowed hard, looked at my two girls looking at me and said, "Yes. I think that's a wonderful idea." And right there, in the middle of a grocery store aisle, my heart found treasure. Not the kind of treasure that can be found on this earth. The eternal kind. The kind that allows the infinite to invade your space--just for a moment--and it's enough to make you long for it again and again. Nothing else satisfies. 

I found myself looking forward to each new day, each new envelope--how would God show up today? What would he teach us as we acted out in service? There's treasure everywhere.

December 4: Donate toys or blankets to Riley Children's Hospital 

"Here Mama, I think this will keep the babies company!"


December 12:  Joy does not waiver with our circumstances. 
Take time to sing joyfully to the Lord today as we prepare for the coming of Jesus.

"Joy to the world! The 'Lawd' is come!"

December 20:  Donate food to a local food pantry.

Through sleet, rain, and very big puddles, we made it to the food pantry. Emeline handed her small bag of canned corn, baby bibs, and a tub of white frosting with sprinkles to the lady managing the food pantry. And then three people, waiting for food themselves, helped us bring in the rest. 

I drove away shaking my head. I want to do something like this all year long. 

That's when my heart made the connection. Advent is about waiting. In December, the waiting is about the birth of our King who came years and years ago. But he is coming back. Each day of the year is its own advent--we're all waiting for him to return. To right all wrongs, to fill indifference with love, to squash fighting with peace, to undo every awful thing, to return everything back to the beauty and wholeness it was created to have initially. We sing "Joy to the World" at Christmas time, but it was actually written with his second advent in mind.


Joy to the World,
The Lord is come;
Let Earth receive her King!
Let every heart, prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing!
And Heaven and nature sing!
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing!

Let's celebrate and make merry today, but tomorrow, I don't want to forget that we are still in a season of advent. We are still waiting. I can do something like this all year long.

Let every heart prepare him room!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Emeline

Note: This is WAY overdue! This post has been sitting in the hopper for months! Better late than never?

We're six weeks post surgery and well into normal life--whatever 'normal' life is with two small girls--and I have yet to write about how this whole ordeal of open-heart surgery affected big sister.

A few weeks before surgery we began reading some books I had checked out from the library about hospitals and surgery. I found these to be most appropriate for Emeline: Franklin Goes to the Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois and Going to the Hospital by Vic Parker. The former addresses the emotional aspects of operations in story form while the latter supplied her with vocabulary for the experience and real-life pictures. Neither addressed the subject as though the reader's sibling were undergoing surgery, but Emeline grasped the difference.

Emeline slowly processed her sister's condition, upcoming surgery, and subsequent recovery in heart-wrenching yet beautifully intimate moments. Before surgery while playing or coloring or having a snack Emeline would mention "Sylvie's broken heart." These seemingly random comments were so precious to me as I was able to watch her process through this Big Idea. We talk about it for a few minutes and then she'd happily go back to whatever she was doing. Then Aunt Chandra and Uncle Alex came down to stay with her during our Pre-Op day at the hospital and through the first few days of recovery. Emeline had so much fun baking cupcakes and swimming but her mind still wanted to make sense of this experience. She would become quiet and make statements like "Sylvie is at the hospital" and "Sylvie isn't sick anymore." One day while playing, everything was Eme and Mommy. One night she asked Shawn, "Daddy, where's Mommy and Sylvie?" Again they talked through the familiar conversation. She replied, "They don't need to stay at the hospital. They need to come home!"

The first time she saw Sylvie in the hospital I held her and she about cried. Of course we had covered up Sylvie's chest, but the nasal cannula, beeping machines, and a non-responsive sister was overwhelming. After a few calming words from me, she settled down and finally said, "Hi, Sylvie Syrup!" with her classic spunk. And then, Sylvie turned her head toward Emeline and tried to open her eyes. I still tear up thinking about that moment. Fittingly, we then hung up the 'Sylvie Syrup' flower Emeline made for her.

Each night Shawn or I came home to play with Emeline, have dinner, and put her to bed. After being emotionally drained and physically exhausted from a full day at the hospital, frankly, I wasn't sure how I would make it through a few hours before bed time. Two year olds are full of energy and opinions; opinions that typically stray from what they need. But, she was so happy to see me, and I was so happy to see her, we literally laughed our way to bed time. What a treat.

Visiting the hospital became a normal part of her day and we found fun things to do. Red wagon rides, throwing pennies into the wishing pool, "working" in her Elmo coloring book at her "office" (a bedside table and a swivel chair--almost like Daddy's office!), eating al fresco on the Ronald McDonald House patio, and trying out all the toys in the Heart Center play room.

I'm so proud of how Emeline weathered Sylvie's ten day stay in the hospital. Surgery turned her life upside down, but she didn't 'act out' against anyone or anything. She began to understand there are others in the world who need help and care. For instance, for the first time, she volunteered specific prayers for others. On the night after Sylvie threw up and began refusing to eat and take her medication, Emeline prayed that, "Sylvie would keep her food down." Later, when we were home and Sylvie was fussy because of cutting teeth, Emeline would stop what she was doing, come over and sing her a lullaby or find her a toy. If she didn't like the first toy, she'd find her another.

Now, of course, as we have returned to normalcy I'd be lying if I painted the picture that life is all giggles and sharing and precious prayers. It's not. But I'm so thankful for how well Emeline responded to little sister's surgery and how we aren't dealing with any long-term, difficult, surgery-specific after-effects. I'm convinced we can attribute this to the many, many prayers said for us.

I'll say it again: there is still so much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guest Blogger

We're big fans of Riley Children's Hospital around here. This week I was a guest blogger for the Riley Children's Foundation Blog. You can read it here.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sylvie's Update 10/31/12

On Halloween, Sylvie had an echocardiogram and EKG to check the progress of her heart's recovery.

As you may remember, her surgery back in June repaired her heart defects. Dr. Turrentine patched a very large hole in her septum, the wall between the right and left side of her heart. This hole caused her oxygen-rich red blood to mix with her oxygen-depleted blue blood.  He was also able to widen her severely narrowed pulmonary valve. This was an answer to prayer--we prayed her valve would be spared and he would not have to graft in a flap which would guarantee a second open-heart surgery in her late teens.

After Dr. Cordes, her cardiologist, took a look at her recent echo, this is what he had to report:

A small hole remains near the bottom of the patch. We expected this. Surgeons have found that it is better to leave small gaps near the bottom of the patch because less stitches mean they are less likely to hit a nerve. If he had hit a nerve, she would have had a pace maker for the rest of her life. Thank God he didn't hit a nerve! The current hole is very constricted and a very small amount of blood is mixing.  Our hope is, that as she grows, this hole will close naturally, and this is our cardiologist's expectation. 

Secondly, her pulmonary valve, is still mildly narrowed and the valve is a little leaky. Again, we'd rather have mild narrowing and a small leak in her natural valve instead of a grafted flap (which could initially and then would eventually leak). As with the residual hole in her septum, we pray that as she grows, the area around the valve will widen and that the leak wouldn't worsen. 

Everything Dr. Cordes found was to be expected. Of course this mother wanted to hear: No hole! Valve is perfect! So the appointment caused an ever-so-slight dip in my post-surgery bliss as we were faced with the realities of a congenital heart defect, even one that is repaired.

But again, will I ever be able to fully express my gratitude for her life? A few months ago Shawn and I watched Something the Lord Made which chronicles the first doctor and surgery technician who pioneered cardiac surgery in the late 1940s. It's stunning to think that only a few generations ago TOF babies had little hope of living into adulthood.

But here she is; perfectly round and pink, proudly pulling up on anything she can find. If she struggles it's because she is strengthening her muscles, not because she can't breathe. My heart could burst I'm so thankful!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sylvie's Update 8/15/12

Last week we drove Sylvie back to Riley for her follow-up appointment with her surgeon. We were all lighthearted. Sylvie energetically looked around and smiled at everyone while we enjoyed her lapse in stranger anxiety. Life felt easy.

We walked back into the examination area and saw a framed butterfly print on the wall and one on the screen of a computer behind the desk. This actually surprised me. I didn't expect to see butterflies that day. What a great reminder that he still loves us--even when we think we don't need to be reminded of it. Additionally, we still need his support--even when life is rolling along and everything feels light and easy.

We quickly cycled through a weight check, vitals, and a chest x-ray; and then waited for Dr. Turrentine. He thought the incision site was healing nicely. When he leaned in to listen to her heart, Sylvie was spellbound. Shawn and I silently giggled because we had never seen her focus so intently on someone before. After listening a second time, he decided to take her off her aspirin. This is a relief. Grinding up tablets, mixing it with formula, and getting her to swallow it is not only a pain, but also a process that usually involved gagging or puke. 

Bottom line: she is progressing well!

Then we headed north to spend time with out-of-town family at Silver Beach in Michigan. With soft sand, a playground, beach volleyball courts, and a carousel it's ranked one of the top ten family-friendly beaches in the US. We highly recommend it! How lovely to celebrate with a brilliant blue sky, popcorn clouds, and a break from the heat. Here Sylvie is laughing at Emeline who is swinging just out of view.

The reasons to be thankful continue to pile up.

I hope I never rise from my posture of thanks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Doxology

I find myself humming this song these days: 

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below; 
Praise him above, ye heavenly host; 
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

It wasn't until I completed all the last minute tasks on the day we were discharged that I sat on the edge of our bed and took time to stop and reflect. On my dresser Sylvie's monitor once again softly hummed while Emeline quietly slept in her room down the hall. Full beds. Full beds again.

I sobbed. For the first time since the nurse announced we could return home the joy, the relief, the gratitude shifted away from laughter and smiles. Never before have I been more thankful that all four of us were together again, in the same house, at the same time.

The times of want help us cherish the times of plenty. 

I've never ended my day in this way--in utter and complete thanksgiving. The kind of gratitude that causes the most reserved and casual among us to fall upon knees before the One from whom all blessing flow.

I've spent so much time relaying prayer requests and endless details leading up to and through Sylvie's recovery. I would be remiss not to include all the reasons I praise him these days.

So many blessings...

a baby with a repaired heart
a big sister with a tender heart
my favorite, my Shawn who held my heart as we walked this road together
a carafe once again full of enough coffee for myself and Shawn on any given morning
the sound of Emeline playing in the tub upstairs, while Sylvie chatters on her blanket downstairs
Sylvie's small face in the rear-view mirror as we traveled home
affordable and available medications lined up on the window sill
Did I mention full beds?
giggles shared between sisters
meals brought to our doorstep
gifts for Emeline as friends and family remembered the toll of this experience upon on her
a surgery that happened as scheduled
excellent nurses Patty, Rebecca, Christine, and Tanya
Dr. Turrentine's able hands
patient and proficient Nurse Practitioners Aimee and Trina
too many butterflies to count
verses about strength and peace written on ribbon rings
a baby waking up at night
little hands in mine
little arms wrapped around my neck
"I miss yous" and "I love yous"
dirty diapers
dirty laundry created by busy, healthy bodies
play dates for Emeline
Corduroys
the spiderweb of lines that kept her alive post surgery...
watching them slowly disappear
the narcotics that kept her pain-free while she recovered...
no longer needing them for a smiling, happy baby
a scar
off the ventilator in the OR
watching two teeth appear
a fussy baby
the prayers, the prayers, the prayers!
a blocked tear duct that quickly alerted us to an ear infection weeks before surgery...
and a quick recovery thanks to early detection
Jessica, the mom who went before me and prayed us through it
sweet baby MEM and the hope of her successful TOF repair
no Tet spells!
the pediatrician who first heard her heart swishing and ordered an echo
our cardiologist who has walked with us through this confidently, patiently, and expertly
no unforeseen heart anomalies
a calm and easily consolable baby pre-surgery
experiencing the power within the Body of Christ
claiming the biggest, healthiest baby on the floor of the Heart Center as my own
living fifteen minutes away from the hospital
medical insurance
surpassing surgery weight
no complications 
typical development
living in a time when a TOF repair is available and rarely unsuccessful--this was not always the case
Dr. T was able to save her valve
no pacemaker necessary
gentler central line dressings for sensitive skin
encouraging emails and messages
text messaging as a link to the outside world
snacks brought to us while we waited
inexpensive cafeteria food
friends who sat with us
knowing how to pray for the parents sitting in the day surgery waiting room (difficult to miss from the glass elevators)
the Ronald McDonald House with snacks, drinks, meals, and a patio to eat al fresco
luxurious shower heads in the Ronald McDonald House bathrooms
pennies to throw into the pool
red wagons for Emeline to ride in
a hospital library
new, soft PJs for a second-born child
sweet reunions with Emeline every other night; we would laugh our way to bedtime
no infections
Purell to keep infections at bay
clear chest x-rays
a hospital playroom for Emeline
air-conditioned rooms for recovery
ability to afford the parking garage fees
enough vacation days for Shawn to be bedside
family to care for Emeline full-time
simple prayers for a little sister
Emeline's heightened sense of family
bottles that crowd my counter space and dishwasher
shared meals
scratchy hospital towels
100% oxygen levels
a sense of relief
the lightness of life post-surgery
finally hearing a clear, strong, beautiful 'thump' through the stethoscope

...and more that I am, sadly, forgetting

and many more that hindsight has yet to reveal...