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Friday, November 25, 2016

Gratitude

After a beautiful Thanksgiving, I am reminded once again by just how much I have to be thankful for.  God has rescued me - drawn me up from the miry pit, and set my feet upon the Rock (Psalm 40:2).  I am completely undeserving of his grace and mercy, and completely undone by his relentless love for me.

He is good. 

Always. 

He is faithful. 

Always.

He is for us, and not against us.  He never changes.

And yet . . .

In my human frailty, and my struggle against faithlessness, I have fought this past year to apply those truths to my heart.  Gratitude is elusive in the midst of hardships.  Oh, how I have begged Christ to make me see clearly!

It has been a challenging year for our family.  This time last year, we were facing the unknown of unemployment.  That period lasted for six months.  During which time, I watched my husband wrestle with despair, lack of health, and his (seeming) lack of purpose.  It is difficult to watch someone you love walk down a road you cannot follow.  This was an opportunity for me to come beside my husband and pray for him in a way that I might never have learned, if not for that period in our lives. 

God in his kindness, has always provided for us financially, and my children have never yet known what it is to wonder where their next meal will come from.  He made clear that He is our provider.  He always has been, and he always will be.

After the emotional roller coaster of going through multiple interview processes, only to be told that another was selected for the position, we wrestled together with the knowledge that God would provide a position in his timing, and for his glory.  This was not about qualifications, interview skills, or anything else.  If it were, only Nate would receive the credit for the position.  It was a daily struggle to consciously rest in that truth.

Then the whirlwind began of an accepted job offer, and relocating our family to a new city.  In the midst of this joy, God saw fit to bless us with another addition to our family.  Joy overflowing!  Although his timing is somewhat baffling to my sensibilities sometimes (okay, most times!), I was thankful for this gift.

In mid-July, Nate started his new position.  Because we had sold our home in a matter of days, the process of packing up the house and looking for a new home had to happen right away.  With Nate working in Milwaukee, that meant staying in IL with his parents during the week and making the 90 minute drive to and from work each day, and only coming home to us on the weekends.  The reality of single parenting full time, and packing up a house while dealing with morning sickness was heavy.  I am thankful for the people God surrounded me with during those weeks to encourage me, and challenge me.  Too often, I lean on my own understanding, and try to do life in my own strength.  I was reminded time and time again how weak I am, and how desperately I need Jesus!  He is gentle with us, and remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14).  I was shaped exponentially during that time in so many areas - character training is messy work.  Especially as an adult!

The time for closing on our home came and went, and as we still hadn't found a new place to live, all of our earthly belongings were put into a storage unit, and I moved in for (what was supposed to be) a few weeks with my parents in IL until we could get settled in Milwaukee.  We began the complicated process of searching for a home without knowing anything about the urban area we were relocating to.  With no personal connections, and no working knowledge of the surrounding communities, we were feeling overwhelmed.  Reality began to set in about the kind of home we would be able to afford, and after several weeks of searching, and Nate walking through many a home, we found one we thought would fit our family's needs adequately for the next couple years.

We made an offer, and unfortunately weren't able to take on the replacement of asbestos roof tiles.  Since the owners weren't able to come down any in negotiations, we didn't get the house.

A few weeks later, we found another home in a community even closer to Nate's office, that was very small, but had a double lot with a fenced in backyard!  We were glad for the prospect of having some outdoor space in a safe neighborhood, while still being close to everything.  We had an accepted offer, and then came the home inspection.  Our report came back with multiple disturbing structural issues.  The house was essentially an accident waiting to happen.  Since neither we, nor the homeowner could take on the repairs needed, we were very disheartened but decided it was the best decision for our family to walk away.

About a month later, while still trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy for our family, we almost stumbled across another home.  This home had so much beautiful character, more space, and was also in a good neighborhood.  The current owners had obviously maintained it, and there were several beautiful features we were thrilled to discover!  We immediately made an offer for just above asking price, and were pleased when they accepted!  We started to get the sense that the owners were going to be difficult to work with, based on little things that kept coming up during arrangements.  Still, we were encouraged to give them the benefit of the doubt, and as we were really looking forward to being a family again (and Nate was excited about only having a 20 minute commute!), we decided to push ahead and try to get through to closing.  We were scheduled to close on the home December 2, 2016.  We were thrilled to be in a home again by Christmas!  As it was, with that closing date, we would have been separated for 6 months, give or take most weekends.  About a week ago, we received word from our realtor, that the sellers, for their own reasons, were simply refusing to close on the home.  Our options were limited.  Either hire an attorney and take them to court, or take the refunded earnest money they offered us, plus a little extra to cover the inspection, etc, and walk away.  I honestly couldn't believe what I was hearing.  It felt like being in a bad dream.  It was baffling.  We prayed about it, sought godly council, and decided to start over . . . again.

To say that we were disillusioned by this point would be an understatement.  The morning after we decided to walk away, we received a listing for a house - not two blocks from the one we had just lost.  It was a far cry from the homes we had started out looking at - it practically gleamed!  Nate was able to schedule a showing for that same afternoon, and afterward was giddy with the prospect of owning it.  We made an offer right away, and we were amazed that this house could really be within our grasp financially.  It just seemed too good to be true!  A gorgeous home with so many updates, yet maintaining the integrity and character of the 1940's Craftsman style home.  By the next day, we had a verbally accepted offer from the seller.  We were thrilled - but remained cautious.  Their realtor came back and asked if we would be willing to provide one month of post-occupancy, to allow the sellers time to find a new home.  We agreed, and that left us just 6 weeks after moving in until the baby I'm carrying is due to arrive.  Two days later, the realtor informed us that the sellers had continued to have showings, and had decided to accept a better offer.  Though they had verbally agreed to our offer, because of the extra paperwork involved with the post-occupancy addendum that hadn't been mutually agreed upon and signed, they were free to entertain (and accept) other offers.  We were crushed.

Thanksgiving approached, and I struggled to feel thankful.  We are no closer to living together in our new city than we were in July, when we began our search.  This period of waiting, and being displaced, is wearying to our spirits.

And yet . . .

We are reminded so often that our joy and security are not tied up in a home.  Christ has been made more precious to us.  He did not promise us an easy life of earthly comforts, but he works in us for our eternal gain.  What could be more loving?

Thanksgiving day, I was driving up to meet Nate in Chicago, where we would be celebrating with our extended family.  I was feeling apprehensive about the drive, as I had never been to this particular house, and it was in the city.  Also, I knew that most of the guests - though relatives, would be unfamiliar to me.  I listened to Colossians during the drive, and this passage pierced my heart:

"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.  He has delivered us from the darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:11-14, emphasis mine)

Really, what else is there?  I have Christ living in me, the hope of glory!  I don't have a child with cancer.  I am not a widow.  I woke up this morning and drew breath into my lungs.  I was once in a deep cesspool of sinfulness, and he drew me out!  I don't want to downplay the struggles of the past year, but needless to say, my heart is filled with gratitude.  My focus has once again been redirected to Jesus for my joy and satisfaction, instead of looking to earthly things.  He is enough.  Wherever he has called me to go, he will be there. 

We would covet your prayers for us - for wisdom, and for patience as we continue to seek housing options for our family.  We have difficult decisions to make, and we want to honor God with all we say and do.  For we do not battle against flesh and blood . . .(Ephesians 6:12)

Grace and Peace,
Amanda

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Our Precious Blessings

In the midst of our crazy life lately, we have had some fun memory making moments too!  While we are hunkered down trying to make sense of our new reality (prayerfully short term), we have been looking for ways to make the most of our time here in IL too.  We have had lots of time to spend with both sides of the family, and lots of new experiences to share with the kids in our new surroundings (both in Milwaukee, and in IL!).

Recently, one of those fun experiences was a visit to Mom's studio in Chicago (Today Everlasting Photography), to capture some more recent shots of my growing and changing kiddos!  They are changing so fast, and every time they get their pictures taken, I look back and think "how can my babies look so grown up??"  :)


She's the one who made me a Mommy.  My ballerina, princess, ruffly-girly-all-things-pink-and-sparkly-loving, bug whispering, down in the dirt playing diva.  :)  At 5 years old, she's just started Kindergarten, and is learning to write, and will very proudly spout off all the continents and oceans of our globe.  I love watching the world through her eyes!


I love this kid.  My second born, curious about the world - with killer dimples that get him out of all sorts of trouble . . . ;)  He is sensitive and sweet, silly and super intuitive, and loves being a super hero.  Someday he wants to be a fire fighter, and he is constantly telling me all the ways he wants to help or rescue people someday.  Even though he's only 3, he takes his "job" of keeping Mommy safe very seriously.  <3


My sweet little Peaches.  Maybe it's because she's my third, maybe it's just her personality, but she's my little firecracker.  She's incredibly intelligent, is exploding with new vocabulary words every day, and her most favorite song in the whole world to sing right now is "twinkle twinkle little star".  Even though in her little 19 month old voice sounds much more akin to "tinkle tinkle".  She loves babies.  LOVES BABIES.  If we're out and about, and she sees a baby, she'll be a broken record trying to point said baby out to the rest of us for the foreseeable future.  ;)  She sleeps with multiple baby dolls, and carries them with her everywhere.


Speaking of babies . . . 


We have the incredible privilege of looking forward to welcoming another sweet little love to our family this coming Spring.  I am usually taken aback by the timing God chooses to use in my life, and this new little life was no exception!  While only 15 weeks past conception, this baby is already so loved - so cherished - so marveled at, and we are humbled that God would gift us with the task of shepherding and shaping another soul for his glory.

I often get the "WOW!  You sure have your hands full!" comment when out and about with my brood, and I always respond with "Yes!  Full of good things!"  :)  I never want to take this calling of Motherhood for granted.  My children are precious gifts, and even on the hard days, I am so incredibly thankful that they are my gifts to cherish and enjoy.  We are so full of joy, and so thankful.

Praise God, from whom ALL blessings flow . . . 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Letter to a First Time Mom

You've been on my heart a lot lately, first time Mama.  I've watched you nearly bursting with anticipation to meet this precious little one you've had the privilege of carrying these past months - and now that time is nearly here.  You've done everything to prepare that you could possibly think of: attended classes, read books, chosen names, purchased baby gear, researched all the "things", written up your "birth plan" and now all that remains is just to wait.  You dream, and try to remind yourself that you will in fact, meet this baby one day very soon, Lord willing.

So while you're waiting and dreaming, I want to encourage you with some things that I've learned along the way.  I don't claim to be an expert on anything, but I'll pass on what wisdom I've gained.  :)

Keep An Eternal Perspective.  I say this one first, probably because it's the most difficult.  When you stand before God one day to give an account for your children, He will not ask you whether or not you chose to vaccinate your children, whether they were breastfed, or bottle-fed, or whether you sent them to private school, public school, or home schooled them.  You get the idea.  ;)  Your calling as a mother is a sacred one: to raise up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord - for His glory, and for His purposes.  That, Mama, is your ultimate goal.  Period.  So when you are having a crisis over which carseat is safest, or whether you should be making your own homemade organic baby food instead of buying the kind at the store, remember your goal.  Pray, as Jonathan Edwards did, that God would "stamp eternity on your eyeballs".

Your Marriage Comes First.  You've just been given a new identity: Mommy!  Your family life will always look different from this point forward.  Want to give your children the very best?  Focus on your marriage first.  Before you were a mother, you were a wife.  Someday (I know it's hard to even imagine at this point - and probably will be when you're in the throes of potty training too . . . ) this itty bitty baby will grow up and leave home, and it will be just the two of you once more.  Marriage is hard work in the best of times, and there will be plenty of times it will be easy to put it aside because you're so busy with the baby.  Don't make that mistake.  Children are naturally self centered, and it's doing no one any favors to promote the fallacy that the world revolves around them.  Make a point to offer your husband the best, and not just the worn out leftovers.  Mentally plan ahead to when he comes home, so that you can engage with him.  Make time for intimacy - even if that doesn't look like it did before baby.  My kids never did well with a sitter when they were tiny, and you know what?  That's okay too!  Plan to get the baby down a little sooner one evening, and maybe even make a point to take a nap that day, so you won't be exhausted when your husband comes home.  Order dinner in, and make it a "home date" night.  Play a board game together.  Do something that shows your husband that you are thinking of him - a simple text during the day, making his favorite dessert, etc.  You are striving together to model for the world the glorious love between Christ and his Bride, the Church.  It takes effort, especially in the little years, but it is so worth it.

Take It With A Grain Of Salt.  Probably since the earliest time your baby bump started to make an appearance, everyone and their Uncle has been offering you advice.  One of my favorite phrases from an author I've come to respect is: "Eat the meat, and spit out the bones."  Your Mom, your best friend, the lady from church, and the well intentioned check out person will all have opinions and ideas about how you should be raising your baby.  But here's the thing; God gave this child to you.  He has given you the grace you need to raise this baby, and he will continue to do so as you trust in Him.  There are so many decisions that come with babies.  One friend may say co-sleeping is the only way your baby will feel secure.  Your Grandma Hazel may say that rocking the baby for exactly five minutes and putting them in the bassinet to fall asleep on their own is the only way to go.  Every child is different.  What works for your friend's baby might be something your baby hates.  It's your job as Mama to learn the way God wired your baby - and find what works best for your family.  The only standard you should be measuring yourself against is the one God has given you.  So take a deep breath, relax, and ask God to help you.  He is faithful, and he designed motherhood to make you dependent on Him, instead of your own strength.

Keep Yourself Fed.  While this is true in the literal sense, especially if you're breastfeeding, it's even more important in the spiritual sense.  You need God's word in your ears right now.  Get creative with your time - listen to an audio Bible while you're in the shower, or in your headphones while you're taking the baby for a walk.  I used to prop up my Bible on a nightstand or end table while I was nursing (especially since in the beginning, those sessions can last for a while!) and read out loud to my baby.  At first, yes, you feel completely foolish reading Psalms out loud to your newborn.  Do it anyway.  What has more worth?  God's Word, or "Goodnight Moon"?  Certainly, you'll be reading your fair share of sweet bedtime stories too in the years to come.  :)  Your baby is used to hearing your voice from the safety of that warm space beneath your heart - listening to you read is soothing for them, and helps you focus on the text.  You are exhausted, and your body is still recovering, which means your hormones are haywire.  You need the Truth in front of your face, and in your ears constantly.

Rest.  Really.  More than you think you need to.  This one is completely counter-cultural especially in our "I-just-had-a-baby-two-weeks-ago-but-I'm-already-back-into-my-skinny-jeans-and-ready-to-go-back-to-work" climate.  Your body is healing physically, you need time to adjust emotionally, and your baby will not benefit from a bleary-eyed sleepwalking Mommy, even if the house is immaculate.  Give yourself time.  As eager as you are to get back to "going and doing", stay at home and rest.  Enjoy this time, and give yourself grace to just be.  This time will be taxing enough on you without adding lots more activity.  Plan to use paper plates.  Ask your husband to take over the laundry for a while.  Resting is just as much of a discipline as being industrious, and is becoming a "lost art".  Find ways to make time for rest.  (This will become even more important when you have more babies!)

Hold Your Baby Loosely.  I don't mean that swaddling is forbidden.  ;)  God has given you this precious baby, and given you the awesome task of shepherding her little soul.  In the end, though, you are only stewarding her for a time.  One day, she will be grown, and it will be your task to "release the arrow" as it were.  Remember #1?  God has brought this little life into the world in His timing, for His purposes, and He loves her even more than you do.  Her life is His hands, and you can rest in that.  I used to agonize over the "what if's" with my first baby - "What if she stops breathing in the middle of the night, and I don't realize it?  What if we get into an accident and her carseat isn't tight enough?  What if she puts something poisonous into her mouth when I'm not looking?"  Remember that God has Sovereignly ordained every one of her days, and nothing on this earth can alter His will for her life. (Psalm 139:16)

Be Consistent.  Babies and small children thrive on predictability and routine.  Aim for the same "bedtime" every night.  Try to have naps around the same time every day.  Begin as you mean to go.  If you're not planning on having to spend half an hour rocking your two year old to sleep for every nap time or bedtime, don't get them accustomed to having it all throughout their babyhood.  Please don't misunderstand: rock your baby!  By all means!  Let Grandma rock your baby to sleep!  There is nothing that says you have to adhere rigidly to any kind of "method".  Just aim to be consistent in general with the lifestyle your family has.  This certainly applies as your baby gets older too.  Don't be wishy-washy in your expectations.  This takes a lot of work from your end too!  It is easier sometimes to ignore bad behavior because you're just too tired to deal with it for the umpteenth time that day.  Don't give up.  It is not wrong for you to expect a child to obey you.  Every time.

Let Your Husband Help.  I know this kind of sounds like a no-brainer.  I mean, you just gave birth, you're exhausted, and you can use all the help you can get, right??  Especially with your first baby, it is easier sometimes to swoop in because you want to spare your baby the discomfort of Daddy's somewhat less experienced hands than to listen to them struggle to figure it out.  He needs this time to learn and grow as a Father just as you are learning and growing.  Leave the baby with him for half an hour while you take a long shower.  Let him take the baby for a drive.  Let him find his way as a Daddy without you "coaching" him as tempting as it might be, or innocent as your intentions may seem.  My Mom has told me stories of when I was an infant, and she would be worn out after a day of dealing with a colicky baby, and my Dad would take me into the middle of the living room, sit in a rocking chair, and blast Rock & Roll.  And I loved  it.  It might not make sense to you, but let your husband be a Daddy in his own way.

Stay Humble.  This one is especially important.  It was so easy for me, before I became a mother, to judge other's children, or their parenting methods.  To roll my eyes and say "MY child will never . . . !"  In the body of Christ, there is no room for "Mommy Wars".  What God has called one mother to, may not be the same as what he has called you to.  You may never know the full circumstances behind another family's situation.
          You are going to make mistakes.  Lots of them.  Be willing to admit when you are wrong, and seek forgiveness.  There may come a time when you have burned dinner, the washing machine just broke, and your three year old darling just did something that you've told her a thousand times not to do, and you lose it.  Our children need to recognize that Mommy & Daddy are sinners too, in need of God's grace, just as they are.  Ask her forgiveness, and ask her to pray with you that Jesus would give you patience, and lovingkindness.  It is a seriously humbling experience to ask forgiveness from your three year old.  Ask me how I know.  ;)

Seek Wisdom.  Not just "ten steps to getting your baby to sleep through the night" kind of wisdom.  Obviously, you've been doing a lot of learning since you found out you were going to embark on this journey of Motherhood.  It never stops.  Parenting is a constant learning curve.  Once you think you have something figured out, you're moving onto some completely new and mystifying experience.  Hopefully your primary source of wisdom will come from the Bible, since God has so much to say on the matter, but certainly seek out practical wisdom from other sources as well.  Find a family in your church whose children are enjoyable to be around, or even a family who has teens who are respectful and honor their parents, and talk to their parents about the way they raise their kids.  Keep reading.  Keep praying.  Here are some resources that I have found to be valuable:

- Give them Grace - by Elyse Fitzpatrick
- Shepherding A Child's Heart - by Tedd Tripp
- Loving the Little Years - by Rachel Jankovic
- On Becoming Babywise - by Gary Ezzo & Robert Bucknam
- Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full - by Gloria Furman
- Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother's Heart and Hope - by Desiring God
If you're breastfeeding:
- The Nursing Mother's Companion - by Kathleen Huggins
For Family Devotions (you can start these when your toddler is old enough to sit through simple Bible stories!):
- Long Story Short - by Marty Machowski
- Old Story New
For practical advice on Motherhood, and generally Godly Womanhood:
Jessconnell.com
A good (and fun!) way to start your littles learning Scripture:
Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs

I am so excited for you as you begin this journey!  Motherhood is a refining fire, and through it you will continually be confronted with your own sinfulness, your need for Christ, the beauty of His abundant Grace, and the miracle of His love for you.  Nothing can prepare you for the moment when you first lay eyes on flesh of your flesh, and bone of your bone - when you hear for the first time a voice that has never been heard on the face of the earth before - and when you get to know the person God fashioned so exquisitely, in His image, for such a time as this.  Enjoy the journey, from a fellow traveler.  Congratulations, Mama!

Grace and Peace,
Amanda

Monday, July 11, 2016

Our Big News!

I once heard that when you look for growth, you find it in the valleys.  As breathtaking as the view is from the mountaintops, they are barren.  That has been true for our family as God has asked us to walk through this valley of unemployment.  As God has asked us to trust him, more than finances, more than the security of a job, even more in the uncertainty of the future, we have grown more into the image of his Son.  He has been incredibly faithful, gifting us with more of himself, and sustaining us in surprising, and unexpected ways.

Nate's last official day as an employee with Verizon Business was December 22, 2015.  It has been a long, wearying journey to finding a new job!  Preparing for interviews, then waiting with bated breath to hear back, only to be disappointed with no job, has been a very hard emotional roller coaster to get on and off of.  I am new to the corporate interview process, but apparently it is normal to go through two or three interviews  per job application.  Again, a very emotionally trying process!  Sometimes we would go more than a week between interviews.  So it could take over three weeks from the application process, to the final interview, and then the "we've decided to go in another direction" phone call.

At some point, I believe God put it on Nate's heart to begin searching for employment in Milwaukee. As strange as it sounded at first, (I mean, what is there in Milwaukee?  No family, friends, or church to attend . . . what's the appeal?) eventually the idea sounded intriguing to me as well.  After one interview "cycle" that fell through, he found another, better company to apply at.  The first interview went well!  Then the second . . . and then he was asked to come in for a third, face to face interview.  Certainly encouraging!

Only a few days after his in person interview, he received the phone call we'd been waiting six months for:  he was HIRED!

Immediately I started reeling.  Obviously Milwaukee sounded like a promising, exciting idea when it was only a possibility, now that it was reality, it began to sink in that we were leaving home.  I certainly had mixed emotions.  We were out of town when we got the news, so once we got home, it was full fledged chaos!  We wanted to get our house listed as soon as we could, which meant getting all the house "projects" or as many as could be managed, finished.

There was so. much. painting!  haha.  Nate patched up several holes in the walls, thanks to the dog and the kiddos, and we touched up or painted just about every single room in the house.  We also went through closets, moved a bunch of stuff that doesn't get used as often out into the garage, and went through "staging" the house.



We signed the papers to list it with a realtor, and the house went live July 5th.  We left with the kids and took a little hiatus up to Milwaukee, as I had never visited, and we wanted to get a feel for where we will be moving to as a family.  When you only see it as a dot on the map, it's pretty abstract.  ;) It was a whirlwind couple of days driving, driving, driving around the city looking at houses, and checking out neighborhoods, etc.  We did enjoy a little diversion time in the awesome hotel pool with the kids, and Julia's first time in a big pool was a success!  That girl is part fish, I think!  :)



After our one night stay in the hotel, we spent an entire day driving around Milwaukee, and then driving back home.  We were in the van, with the kids, from 10 am that morning until nearly 10 pm that night.  It would not be the understatement of the century to say that the day felt like an eternity.

The next morning, we got a phone call from the realtor's office that they would like to schedule a showing for that afternoon.  The chaos continued!  The day after that, the realtor had hired a photographer to come take pictures of our home.  This is when the phrase "picture perfect" hit home for us!  While ultimately, our trust was in God, and not in the realtor to get our home sold, we still wanted to do our best.  Saturday morning came with another showing.  We had to be out of the house (including the dog) by 9 am.

Sunday came (July 10th), and we thought we were safe for a "breather" day.  We got a phone call soon after church asking "would we be available for a second showing in the evening?"  Wow.  A second showing already?  This is encouraging!  Since we had the dog, and it was raining off and on, we opted to just, um, drive around for an hour?  haha  Since we had no plan, we ended up driving back by the house about ten minutes before the showing was scheduled to finish just to see if by chance we could go back in.  We saw the realtor out front, with a young person and their parents (hugging, no less!).  Definitely a good sign.  This morning, (July 11th) after the house has been on the market for six days, we woke up with to a message from our realtor that we had an offer!  We've accepted it, and we will be closing in just over a month.  

It is absolutely clear to us that God has had this planned, and He has been preparing the way for us all along.  Down to our current Pastor who "just so happens" to know of a solid church in the Milwaukee suburbs.  We are thankful!  Talk about a whirlwind two weeks!


Now the process begins of packing up everything that's left after "staging" and finding (QUICKLY) a new home in Milwaukee.  More adventures to be had!


It will be hard to leave behind all the people we love so much, as well as our incredible church family!  We have lived so much life in this house.  We went from newlyweds when we first moved in, to pet owners (with a puppy!), and then we brought home our three babies to this house.


We are so thankful for the way this house has served us well, and for the many precious memories we've made here.  If you want a little tour, you can watch the video below:  :)


God is so faithful!  I am praying for lots of grace during this time of transition, and for the energy to keep up!  Hopefully my next post will involve something about finding a new home!  Until then - 

Grace and Peace,
Amanda

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Peaches & FPIES: Progress!

I've been meaning to write an update for a long while now - it's been nearly six months since Julia's diagnosis of FPIES.  Honestly, things have been going so exceptionally well, that I was beginning to feel like it might just be a bad dream!

We've introduced food gradually - usually one food item per 10 days, and Julia can eat many of the same foods we do.  Which is a tremendous relief to me!  We have gone easy on introducing her to grains, but she can eat beef, pork, and chicken, as well as many fruits and veggies!  A huge victory for us was that she doesn't seem to have a problem with dairy - she loves Kefir, and Greek yogurt!  Then we gave her cheese, and that might be her favorite thing to eat right now.  :)  We've been going to see the Pediatric specialist at the University Children's Hospital every six-ish weeks for updates, and she is very pleased with Julia's progress.  She is growing!

Eating "modified" taco salad!


After her appointment the end of April, things had been going so well, I decided to be a little adventurous.  The older kids were eating PB&J for lunch, so I gave Julia a tiny bite of their sandwich.  A few minutes later she began to cry, and I thought, "Oh no!  Here we go again!"  This time, however, her reaction was quite different.  She must have gotten some peanut butter on her hand and then rubbed her eye - she had this angry red swollen rash on her face.  She kept crying harder, and then about 45 minutes later, began throwing up everywhere.

Initially I was alarmed - she has never had a rash like that before!  However, after about an hour, it had started to subside.  She got a bath to clean her up, and then, similar to an FPIES reaction, she was lethargic and clingy.  I rocked her for a while, and then she took a long nap.  When she got up, the rash on her face had disappeared, so I was confident that she had recovered.  I watched her the rest of the night just to be safe!  We kept the peanut butter FAR away after that!!  Talk about Mommy guilt!  :-/

Just before her nap - her rash was almost gone.

We just had another follow up with the specialist this past week, and because of the way Julia reacted to the peanut butter, the Dr. felt that we should come back to follow up with an allergist to do skin patch testing for a peanut allergy (this would be an Immunoglobulin E [IgE] reaction, which is a hyperactive immune system reaction, vs. an FPIES reaction, which is caused by cell mediated reactions).

After meeting with the GI specialist, we were scheduled to meet with a Pediatric Nutritionist.  It was very encouraging to hear that many of the foods she was recommending lined up with what we had been introducing to Julia.  She gave us several recommendations for the future - (for instance, egg substitutes to possibly use in baked goods after we've introduced wheat, etc.), as well as some recipes!

While we were in the room with the nutritionist, the nurse came in and asked "what's your day look like today?" and said it would be a long shot, but there was a possibility we could get in with the allergist that day instead of coming back.  Miraculously, it worked!  We had about a half hour window to explore the skyway of the hospital, and let Julia get down and walk a little bit.  Having already been at the hospital for almost 2 1/2 hours by this point, she was grateful to get down and move!  Also, the poor girl was missing her morning nap.  There is lots of construction going on down there, and the skyway provided the perfect view to watch the tractors and workers busy with their work.  Julia attracted lots of attention, and she was hamming it up quite a bit!  I was amused.  She is not my shy child!  :)

The office had given us a buzzer similar to the ones you get at restaurants, so that we would be alerted when the allergist was ready to see us.  When it lit up and started buzzing, Julia was delighted!  She was not pleased that she had to give it back to the nurse's station.  ;)

By this point, I was really struggling to keep my overtired girl happy and quiet enough to talk with the Dr.  She was very understanding, and actually left the room and came back with some toys!  One of the advantages of having these appointments at the Children's hospital are that they are tremendous at catering to little ones.  When it came time for the patch test, they brought in a person called a "Child Life Specialist" whose main job was acting goofy, and keeping Julia distracted.  She brought bubbles, and more toys.  I was impressed!

At this point, Julia was so tired, and sick of getting poked and prodded, that keeping her still for the patch testing was no easy task (who wants to get what feels like a whole bunch of mosquito bites on their back, and then not be able to touch or scratch them?).  Then we had to wait 15 minutes for the reactions to show up, before they came back in to measure the size of each mark.  Poor girl was such a trooper.

Waiting for the patch test to complete  
At least because she was so tired, she was wanting to snuggle in Mommy's lap anyway.  I sang softly to her, and just kept talking about the surroundings, trying to keep her awake and distracted.  The test showed that she does, in fact, have a peanut allergy.  Thankfully, it looks like it's just peanuts, and not tree nuts, but we're avoiding all nuts just to be safe.  The Dr. ordered blood work so that we can monitor her allergy yearly, as sometimes kids can outgrow it!  Also, we had to re-test her hemoglobin and iron levels.  Thankfully, they had lidocaine cream that they could put on her arms beforehand to numb them, so that would hopefully make getting blood drawn less painful.

While we were waiting for the lidocaine cream to take effect (it takes half an hour) they had a clinical pharmacist come in to explain how to use an epic-pen, should the need ever arise.  They also had a "trainer" pen there, so that I could practice with it and hold it, see how to remove the packaging, etc.  Then on to the last stop, the lab.

Again, being at the Children's hospital made the lab look less scary, with ceiling tiles that looked like aquariums or clouds, wind chimes hanging from the ceiling, and a TV playing Frozen (joy!), but it was a traumatic process nonetheless.  By then, Julia started to cry if anyone came within 10 feet of her with a stethoscope.  I was grateful to at least be able to hold her throughout the blood draw, and they tried to pacify her by giving her sugar water, and also this handheld bumblebee therapy toy that vibrated,  when she held that in her other hand, it seemed to soothe her.  That last hurdle was almost more than my Mama heart could handle!  I was sitting in the chair crying right along with her!

Are we done yet, Mama?
By the time we got done, we had been at the hospital for six hours.  It was a very long day.  Because I had not originally anticipated meeting with the allergist Dr that day, I had not planned on bringing lunch or anything - thankfully I always keep a few safe snacks in the diaper bag for Julia, and she is still nursing, so she wasn't too hungry.  She was asleep before we even left the parking garage, and then proceeded to take a four hour nap!  By the time she woke up, she was her happy, perky, Peaches again.  It's amazing how resilient children are!

I feel very fortunate to have access to such a great care team, and that they are so close to home.  While I understand that for a lot of kids, these allergies can be life threatening, and the Doctors need to prepare you for that possibility, every kid's tolerance levels are different, too.  By God's grace, it seems to us that Julia's allergies have been very manageable, and easy to accommodate.  We have never felt her life to be in danger!  The doctors continue to be thrilled with how well Julia is growing and thriving, and we know it's because of all the prayers that have been lifted up on her behalf.  Thanks be to God!


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Year of Peaches

I can't even believe that my baby is one year old today!  How time flies . . .





Look at how much she had filled out by two months!  She was our little chubba wubba.  <3



And this is about the time I started calling her "peaches".  Look at that adorable fuzz!





That round little face melts my heart!







I remember this day . . . she would NOT smile for me - no matter how crazy I acted!  haha!







Another serious picture.  I must look weird with a giant black thing in front of my nose.  ;)


This girl NEVER holds still anymore!  I had to call in reinforcements - and then she wanted to go chat with my assistant.  ;)


She also kept wanting to walk over to where her favorite toy was.  :)



She is the sweetest little ray of sunshine for our family.  We just adore her, and are so grateful to God that he chose to gift us with her life!  What a treasure to be tasked with the privilege of raising her up in the Lord!

Happy FIRST Birthday, my sweet little Peaches!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Julia's Birth Story

I guess I've been feeling a bit wistful these past few days, since we'll be celebrating my baby girl's first birthday on Wednesday!  I've been reminiscing lately about this time last year, and I just can't even believe that it's already been a YEAR ago!  If you like birth stories, read on.  :)


Julia's birth was definitely the hardest to wait for out of my three babies.  I think partly because both of my older kids were a few days early . . . and that trend looked like it would continue with this baby.


I was especially anxious to find out the gender of this baby, as we wanted to be surprised!


February rolled around, and I had convinced myself that I only had a few weeks left (my actual due date was March 6th)!  Which just meant I had to really work on my patience when the baby didn't share my timetable.  ;)


God placed amazing people in my life to keep reminding me to savor the last days of being a mommy of two, and enjoying each day, whether it involved going into labor, or waking up still pregnant the next morning.  I had night after night of steady, uncomfortable contractions, and then, nothing.  I was convinced that this baby would never come.  
NE-VER.

I have never struggled with the irrational "I-will-truly-be-pregnant-forever" mindset until I was waiting for this baby to be born.  My older two kids were easy on me.  Olivia was born one day before her due date (especially nice for a first baby!), and Levi was born six days before his due date. I now understand why so many sweet pregnant Mamas have been a breath away from losing their sanity.  I have been there!  ;)

I tried everything I could think of to "naturally" induce labor.  Raspberry leaf tea (I found out later, this really has nothing to do with inducing labor - don't fall into the same trap I did!), Mom and I would go to the mall and "mall walk", climbing stairs two at a time, building a snowman with my kids, my doctor even stripped the membranes twice, to no avail.  Let this be a cautionary tale to all you desperate-to-just-give-birth-already Mamas - babies really do come when they're ready to come.  God had this little one's book of days numbered before she would ever arrive, and there wasn't anything I, or any doctor could do to force his hand.  It did make me feel a little better though to think that maybe one of my attempts would be the time God would give the green light!  ;)

Finally, my doctor offered (for the second time) to schedule an induction for March 9, when my baby would be officially overdue.  I gratefully accepted this time, and spent the next few days in restless anticipation.

At last, the big day arrived, and I was up before dawn.  I had such conflicting emotions that morning. This was such a completely different experience for me.  It was nice to have time to shower, and get ready for the day, as opposed to a middle of the night "this is it!" type of situation.  But I was apprehensive that labor would stall, and because of the induction there would be more hospital interventions - and there were so many "what if's" associated with that.  I really, really wanted to have a quick, natural delivery like my other two had been (Levi's was only two hours, unmedicated!  I'd take that any day!!).   I had so many butterflies!



Checking in this time was so surreal!  Instead of arriving at the hospital in full blown hard labor, we casually walked in with our suitcase, and it was more like checking into a hotel!  Instead of being hooked up to a fetal monitor in triage, we were taken directly to the birthing suite.  We arrived at around 7:30, and by the time I was admitted, changed, and had my hep lock started, it was pushing 8:30 before they were ready to break my water, and get the party started.


If you notice, our nurse's name was Julie this time.  She was phenomenal.  She said she had been doing this for (I think?) around 25 years.  I loved her to pieces!  We had another nurse who was helping out and learning the ropes, and she was also very gentle and respectful.  I really don't have enough good things to say about the staff at St Luke's.


Even little things like writing down the sibling's names, so all the staff know who to expect and who to congratulate when the baby arrives.  :)

After they got me all hooked up to the fetal monitor, I was ready for the nurse to start labor (we hoped!).


No matter how many times I have heard it before, there is always something so precious about hearing my baby's heartbeat on the monitor.  That little whump whump whump sound is music to my ears.





Then it was just on to waiting for contractions to begin!  By this point, I was literally ready to do jumping jacks if it came to it to get the show on the road faster - I just wanted to meet our baby!!



By about 9:15, contractions were starting to come fairly regularly, and the doctor stopped in and cheerfully quipped "Hopefully we'll have a baby by lunchtime!"  I prayed she would be right!  Since this wasn't my first rodeo, I knew that labor tends to go better for me if I am up and moving.  The nurses were more than happy to let me get up and walk the halls, in hopes that we could get labor moving well.



Nate is absolutely wonderful.  He is willing to do whatever he can to help me through labor and delivery.  He is gentle, compassionate, and brave.  I could not have gotten through my deliveries without him!  Speaking of lifelines, my Mom is an incredible doula!  She is calm, knowledgable, and especially since she's my Mom, she is a comfort I could not do without.  I was so thankful for these two!



It was so interesting to be walking around the hospital while in labor!  Again, this was a new experience, since with the other two, I had either labored at home the majority of the time, or given birth very soon after arriving at the hospital.



Contractions were coming about 5 minutes apart, and getting steadily stronger.  I was encouraged!  It was also nice to have the diversion of exploring the hospital wing.  We actually bumped into our Pediatrician making her rounds, and she was cheerfully surprised to see us there!  "I hope I'll see you guys later - that will mean I'll be checking in on a baby!!"  :)



Contractions continued to get stronger, and come closer together - they were about 3 minutes apart when I would have to pause, and focus through them.  Again, Mom was there with gentle, quiet direction - "Spread your legs apart a bit more to really open up your hips . . . it might help if you sway.  Nate, try to put pressure here on her back . . . " etc.  So helpful.



Really though, between contractions, I was feeling good!



Julie was so respectful and quiet - and really just let me labor on my own so long as I was feeling up to it.  She would check in with me periodically, and occasionally she'd have me stop back into the room to check the baby's heartbeat.



I was drinking lots of water - as dehydration can really slow things down with labor.  Also, I had read somewhere that a full bladder can slow labor as well!  I was so paranoid about labor stalling, that I was doing everything I could think of to keep it progressing nicely.  I stopped in the room to use the bathroom, and after that, contractions were coming about 2 minutes apart or sometimes closer, and getting pretty intense.  Julie wanted to check me to see where we were at, and she said "I think you're around 5 centimeters."  To which I exclaimed in dismay, "That's it?!?"  She hurriedly said "Well, you might be at a 6 - maybe close to a 7 . . . " I think she was trying to make me feel better.  ;)  That was about 10:30.



I joked with Nate that the only times I could ever get him to slow dance were on our wedding day, and when I'm birthing his children.  ;)  At this point, contractions were coming so close that I lost track of how far apart they actually were - and I was also starting to feel pretty nauseous, which to me was an indicator that I was going into transition.  I asked Julie if it would be okay for me to get into the tub, as riding out the hardest contractions would be largely alleviated by the warm water!

I made it back into the room, and had a contraction that literally brought me to my knees.



My Mom was quietly coaching me to breathe, and I was just praying for God's grace to get me through this contraction, and the next - and to please bring my baby safely into the world.  Things were rolling along at a pretty good clip though - and I was so relieved and thankful that I could avoid Pitocin for the time being!



Being in the water is still, in my opinion the best part of labor.  They don't call it a "midwives' epidural" for nothing!  :)  Again, Julie was so accommodating and respectful as I labored - she kept popping in every few minutes to check the water temperature (since I'd had my water broken, we had to monitor the temperature carefully for safety), or to see if I needed anything.  And of course, Nate never left my side.  <3



After being in the tub for about 20 minutes, I began to feel a lot of pressure.  I called to Julie that I was ready to get out, and she agreed that it would be wise to check my progress.  As I laid down on the bed, I felt the baby shift, and commented, "Whoa, something just happened!".  I think I gave poor Julie a heart attack!  She quickly checked beneath the sheets afraid she was going to find the baby's head popped out!  Did I mention that I was ready to meet my baby??



As this was my third time giving birth, I knew what was coming, and I was dreading it.  Julie checked me and mentioned to Meredith (our other nurse) that she could call the doctor.



Those last contractions are a beast.  It took every ounce of courage I had to focus on the task, and not shrink from the final hurdle I had to clear: pushing.  I dread pushing with every fiber in my body.  I am not one of those Moms who feel an "urge" to push, nor do I find relief in pushing.  It just hurts. Like the Dickens.



My doctor laughed when she came in - "Wow, when I said by lunchtime, you really meant it!"  She checked me, had me push once, and then talked me through it.



There is no "easy" part of labor, but for me, this is the worst part.  I started to succumb to the pain - I had reached my "I don't know if I can do this anymore" threshold, and my doctor saw it.  She reached through my fog, and pulled me back to reality.  I love her for it!  One more push, and our baby was here!





There are no words in the English language to describe what is emblazoned on your heart in this moment.  It is a powerful, spiritual thing to behold life beginning - flesh of your flesh, and bone of your bone.


And the moment we had all been waiting for . . . 


It's a . . . GIRL!!


Joy.  Relief.  Shock!  Love.  Thankfulness.  My heart swelled with so many emotions all at once.



The nurse asked us what her name was.  I looked at Nate.  Julia?  He nodded.  Julia.  Julia Elise.


And she was here.  At last!  Our precious baby girl.  I just marveled that God would choose me to be the vessel He so skillfully wove her together inside.


I held her close to my heart for a long time before the staff weighed and measured her.  This hospital really is incredible at births!  


Our sweet Julia Elise came in at 7 lbs 6 oz, and 21 3/4" long.  She was my smallest, and longest baby of the three!  Born at 11:13 am.


About an hour after the birth, I got up to move to the rocking chair, so that the staff could "turn the room" and I felt great!  I ate lunch, and my Mom left to go back and give my big kids the good news. My sister arrived to meet her littlest niece, and I enjoyed hearing how my big kids had fared with her over the course of the morning.

After eating lunch, I stood up to use the bathroom, and lost a lot of blood.  Now, having just given birth, I didn't think too much of it - they had had a bit of trouble getting the placenta out, however, so I figured I should at least let our nurse know.

Things got a little crazy after that.  She began kneading my stomach, and called in another nurse.  Julie's shift had ended, so we had a bunch of new nurses.  They called in more nurses, who called in the doctor.  I was in a lot of pain by this point, as they were pushing as hard as they could, and I hadn't had any pain meds during the birth - and I was still losing a lot of blood.

My doctor let me know that they would need to get me back to the OR, and that it was most likely just a stubborn piece of placenta that hadn't come all the way out.  They had to start another IV line, and since I had already eaten, the anesthesiologist had me drink some really bad tasting magic potion that would prevent asphyxiation once I was put under if my lunch decided to make another appearance.  One of the nurses started pushing forms at me to sign, and at one point, I heard "the worst case scenario is that we would need to do a hysterectomy . . . " and at that point everything else started to become a blur.

I just remember thinking, "what about my baby?  Who is holding my baby?"

Nate was worried, understandably, and trying to remain calm and supportive as they wheeled me back to the OR.  The nurse said, "Give her one more kiss!" and at that point, we both lost it.  I remember whispering something to the effect of "go snuggle our new baby" and that I loved him, and then it was into the OR and under the anesthesia I went.

All in all, the whole procedure was very fast, and successful, and they were able to bring me back to the room a couple of hours later.  My sister (bless her heart!) had stayed the entire time to be with Nate, who was pacing the floor and furiously texting updates to my Mom, who was at this point back at home with our kids.

Although feeling at that point like I'd been hit by a train, I was so. thankful.  Thankful that it was over, and that I was holding my healthy baby safely in my arms.   I was thankful for my husband's warm embrace, and thankful that God had mercifully brought me to the other side of yet another delivery.


She is absolute perfection.


And honestly?  Worth every single moment of that labor.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.


For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies.  Lord of all, to Thee we raise - this, our hymn of grateful praise.

Thanks to Today Everlasting Photography for the priceless photos!