Monday, December 15, 2014


I miscarried over the weekend. We've determined that I can't ever go through this again so this is the end of our Embryo Adoption journey. That's all we know now. Thanks for your prayers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


We've all heard of false positives and false negatives when it comes to pregnancy tests, but I have just experienced a


I am so thankful for the God-given gift of maternal instinct, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit that encouraged me to hold out hope, keep taking my medicines, and ask for another test. The repeat test showed that my levels have now *multiplied exactly as they were supposed to* and, from everything we can know right now through lab work, the baby is JUST FINE. We're not sure what I experienced over the weekend or why the levels did what they did and there are some abnormal markers that they really would like to see improve, so we can still really use your fervent prayers, but hope is not lost, and baby is still here and growing!

I am so frustrated that my hand prevents me from typing everything that has happened in the last few weeks (I do my updates on my phone) so I am seriously considering vlogging it because there is so much glory and miracle to tell of!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beta drop

My beta in Monday was 29. I got word today that it was 27 on Wednesday. Morning sickness set in last night (Thursday). Doctor said to expect a miscarriage this weekend. We are praying for a miracle. Doctor said there isn't any hope but said I could continue my meds and test again on Monday if I want. I know a miracle can defy every impossibility. Would you pray that God spares this little one's life?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Checking In

Hi All,
I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving! We did, but then

It's my dominant hand so I am super restricted in my activity and can't type easily. Texting is a little easier because I can access the whole keyboard with one hand. But, needless to say, that's why I haven't posted.

I got negative home pregnancy tests every day of my 2ww. Then my beta was yesterday and the doctor called today:

The story of God's journey with my heart this week is pretty incredible and I can't wait to tell it when I can type more. 

The reason the home tests were negative is that my blood count hormone is really low. That could mean nothing at all but it could also mean baby is struggling. So we are asking you all to pray with us. Grow baby, grow!

Thanks friends!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Advent for Little Ones: Truth in the Tinsel

Christmas is coming. I've recently begun blogging with another blogging team, and I was working on an article yesterday. This is how I introduced my love of Christmas:

"I love Christmas. Like, Deck the Halls til the beams are sagging, start Christmas Carols in October, Clark Griswold, collect dozens of nativities love Christmas. It’s second only to Easter in my list of favorite days. I always loved it as a child because there was something about the child Jesus that made me able to identify with Him. “Hey! He’s a baby like I was a baby! He’s little like me!” He always seemed more understandable to me than “old” “grown up” Jesus.  As I grew up and developed a deep love of Hymns, Christmas Carols quickly became some of my favorites. They’rso rich in theology. “Veiled in flesh the godhead see, hail the incarnate deity!” How amazing is that? One of my primary love languages is gift giving, so that part of me especially loves Christmas.
Suffice it to say, we make a BIG deal of Christmas in our home. Because Christmas IS a big deal. What God did in coming to earth as the Christ Child is the biggest deal the world has ever known. I love to flood our home with light that reminds us of The Light, of Music that sings of His love, of gifts that remind us of his generosity.  My house sort of looks like the Christmas section at Target threw up all over it."

I want to make a big deal of it, but I want Matthew to know WHY we make a big deal of it. Sure, it's pretty, and festive, and fun to do everything, but I really want to impress on him exactly what it is we're celebrating.

A friend introduced me to Truth in the Tinsel, which is a daily advent activity for small children. It's an affordable, downloadable e-book full of devotions and instructions for teaching advent. To be honest, I had never done daily advent before, so I was sure I was going to drop the ball. However, the wonderful thing about Truth in the Tinsel is that it's manageable, even when you have limited time and little ones with limited attention.

The basic format of TinT is that you read the relevant scripture from the Bible with your child, and then you create an ornament, so at the end of the experience, you have 24 ornaments to retell the Christmas story. I added a reading of the same part of scripture from a Children's story Bible so that I could correspond pictures to what we were doing.

We didn't get through all 24, but we got all of the major players. That's one thing I really like. We didn't get all 24 done, but it's not an "all or nothing" kind of program. A few days are a little redundant and a few went a little over his head, but he still came away having a very good grasp on the Christmas story. This is a video I took of him when we had completed a few days.

The crafts are simple and quick, and use basic materials that are easy to find at most stores.  The author, Amanda, even provides a checklist of supplies so that you can plan all at once. Last year, I bought a 3" notebook and some page protectors and printed out the entire book. Then I put one day on each side of each sleeve, and I put in as many of the supplies necessary for that day in each sleeve with the instructions for that day. I also used a dry erase marker to make any notes on that day. This was especially useful if I planned to deviate from the author's plan at all, which I didn't do often, but I did do a few times. I kept a small box that had glue, scissors, crayons, and the few bulkier items like bells and toilet paper tubes.

Every day we got out the box, the notebook, and the Bible, and worked through our lesson. Matthew really loved it, and really retained it. He was excited to see the book each day. He was not even 3 years old at the time, and he can still tell me salient parts of the story based on what we learned. He was able to do most of the activities. I adapted a few to be more concrete and age-appropriate for a 2 year old literal thinker but for the most part, we were able to just follow the instructions exactly. But it wasn't so young that we can't use it again this year, or probably even next year. My friend Hannah had the good idea of photographing the year's ornaments, but then tossing them so you can start over the next year.  I'm too much of a packrat to actually execute that, but I'm with her in theory!

If this sounds a little overwhelming, think of this. Last year at Christmas, we were living in a hotel. Providentially, I had created the notebook before our house damage, so I just took the notebook and box of supplies with us. But the projects were manageable enough that we were able to do them in a hotel room with limited space and resources, and without damaging the hotel. If I could do that, I think anyone can do this. And if it's still more than you want to bite off, Amanda also offers printable ornaments that you can just have your child color after the story each day. Matthew doesn't love coloring enough that coloring an ornament each day was interesting to him, but it may work for you.

The other recommendation I have is to like Truth in the Tinsel on Facebook, where you can see ideas and reminders from other TinT parents and from the author.

If you're a Sunday School Teacher, there's also a TinT program formatted for church.

I investigated a few other advent programs this year, including Melk the Christmas Monkey, but TinT still wins hands down for us so we'll be using it again. Truth in the Tinsel doesn't start for almost another week so there's still time to jump in if you want to join us!

What do you do in your family to prepare for Advent?

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Embryology 101 and Baby's First Photo and Video of our FET

I'm so fascinated by Embryology. The first time we ever met with an RE to discuss Embryo Adoption, he sat us down in his office with this really cool book and told us so much precise, scientific information that I literally walked out with a headache. I was on overload! Over the years I've come to understand it better, so I thought I'd explain some here for anyone interested. Warning, this may be very dry. You've been warned. After the photo below that looks like this, I share details of our last transfer, if you want to skip to that part.

An embryo is, quite literally, the earliest form of human life. It is what is created when a sperm fertilizes an egg. A lot of people use the term embryo and egg interchangeably. They differ in that an egg is not fertilized, and therefore, is not life. The man and the woman, or in this case, their "contributions" to the baby making process, have not come together yet. The embryo is created when the sperm successfully penetrates the egg and fertilizes it and human life begins. It gets a little confusing though because "eggish" terms are used to explain embryos, namely "shell" and "hatching."

An embryo begins as one single cell. The one-celled embryo is called a zygote. The next day, it multiplies to 2 cells and then 4 cells. Then it is called a morula. The third day, it multiplies to 8 cells. By day 5, the cells have multiplied so many times that they all blend together under the microscope and you can't distinguish one cell from another because there are so many. When the embryo reaches this stage, it is called a Blastocyst.

Embryo Transfers are usually done on Day 3 or Day 5. They used to do them on Day 1 and 2 but that is less practiced now. These are also the same days on which embryos can be frozen. For some reason, they don't do transfers or freeze them on Day 4. It has something to do with what's happening in the embryo at that stage of development and you can't interrupt it. Our embryos have always been day 5 embryos. They have been frozen on the 5th day. When they are thawed, the 5th day "resumes" (even if it is now, years later) and then the transfer is later that same day. From all they can tell, there is no difference between 1 day frozen and 10 years frozen. For all intents and purposes, it appears that time quite literally stops.

When an embryo reaches Blastocyst Stage, it needs to break through the "shell" or "ring" you see in the photos above. When it has broken out, the embryo can then grab on to the wall of the uterus and implant and grow in pregnancy. If it doesn't break out, it can't "stick" to the uterus and grow. The breaking out process is called "hatching." As the embryo grows, it becomes a fetus.  Ethically, they all mean "baby," or "human," but they describe different ages, much like "toddler" and "teenager" and "elderly."

This is also why the procedure to put the embryo in the woman's body is called a "Transfer" and not an Implantation. They are quite literally "transferring" (moving) the embryo from the vial it was frozen in to the woman's uterus. Whether it actually implants (grabs on, nestles in, burrows down) is up to the embryo and God. It's the same in spontaneously occurring pregnancy. The baby can be made, but it still may or may not implant--it orbits around in the uterus looking for a place to grab on, but it may or may not actually do so. In a Frozen Embryo Transfer, the doctor will "aim" the embryo for the part of the uterus that looks the most favorable, but that's as far as he can take it.

This is a super awesome chart. Enlarge it to read all the way cool information.

Embryos are graded on a scale. There are a few types of systems, but the two clinics we've used and the 3 clinics from our genetic families have all used the same system. My understanding is that this one is the most common. There is a different system for day 3 embryos but I am not familiar with it.

The 5 Day Embryo grading format is  Number-Letter-Letter.

The number is a number from a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most desirable. It indicates the degree to which the embryo has expanded inside its "shell," called the Trophectoderm. A 1 means it hasn't expanded or isn't growing. A 5 means it has hatched out. Our embryo was a 3, meaning it filled 70% of its shell.

Then an embryo receives a letter grading of A-C for the quality of the "Inner Cell Mass" which are the cells that are the baby.

  • A means that there are many cells, tightly packed (this is what they should be doing). 
  • B means that there are several cells, loosely packed. 
  • C means that there are very few large cells. 

Then it receives a second letter grading of A-C. This grades the quality of the Trophectoderm, the part that in the pictures looks like a shell. The Trophectoderm is what becomes the placenta in the event of implantation.

  • A means that there are many cells forming a cohesive layer.
  • B means that there are few cells, forming a loose layer.
  • C means that there are very few large cells. 

Our embryo was graded 3AA. Seventy percent expanded, great inner cell mass, great Trophectoderm.

Ethically, these grades don't really mean anything. As long as any cells are alive, I believe an embryo should be transferred.  I don't think grades should ever be used to make life or death decisions. But the numbers do tell us where the embryo is at in its stage of development, which I find interesting.

So here is our photo, explained. Though it received a 3AA Grading, the grading was made as soon as it was thawed and the photo was taken a little later. In Reproductive technology, an embryologist will often perform what is called "Assisted Hatching," wherein they make a tiny hole in the Trophectoderm to let the embryo out. That, to my understanding, is what is happening in this photo. The inner cell mass has broken through the Trophectoderm and hatched, and will hopefully be looking for someplace in my uterus to grab on to.  The "ring" around the Trophectoderm, is, if I recall correctly, the solution in the dish, and not part of the embryo.

None of my embryo photos have ever looked like this one before. I don't know if mine have never hatched this much, or if this photo was just taken later than the other ones have been taken. The camera is different, so perhaps the process is different. This doesn't really match up to 3AA because 3 means not hatched, so I think the difference is just time.

For reference sake, these were my other embryo photos.  This is a great example of how grades don't necessarily correspond to likelihood of further growth or pregnancy. I don't even remember the grades they all got, but they look so different. Lucy and Mary don't look super expanded at time of thaw, but eventually hatched and successfully implanted. Transfer 2's babies totally filled their cavities, but couldn't implant. Matthew looks "average" in expansion and he's happy and healthy here today. Transfer 4 looked great with nice big masses, but didn't result in a pregnancy. So we'll see what happens with this baby. Nevertheless, I'm super intrigued by all the nuances and highly precise information. These babies multiply and divide and grow so aggressively, I just can't understand how anyone thinks they aren't human life. If that's not life with a desire to keep on living, I don't know what is.

So anyway, there's the skinny on all the stuff you never wanted to know about Embryology.

I was pretty drugged up when I posted my last post, so I didn't include details about the transfer itself. Here we go, if you're interested.

The transfer went well. My doctor is a man of few words. I wish I had asked more questions, but the Valium they give you to relax your uterus really puts me out of it. When he told us that one had died in thawing, it was a little like a kick in the gut. In 5 transfers, we've never lost one that way. But he told me as he was lying me down for the transfer so I didn't get to ask any questions or really digest the information. One baby living and one baby dying happened with Matthew--it's a bittersweet thing to digest.  I don't want to get myself too upset because my body just needs to chill right now, so I think God is being gracious in keeping that process "shelved" for now. We are sad, but I am comforted to know that baby is with Jesus. He said the transfer went well. It was the quickest and physically easiest one I've ever had. The only thing he really said was that my C-Section scar wasn't in the way. Honestly, the weirdest things are compliments when dealing with infertility ;)

Here is a video if you want to watch. We've never taken video before but we decided that if this worked, when we tell Matthew, we wanted to have something to show him if he wanted.

Watch the area where the red circle is on this still image. You'll see the catheter come in, the embryo released from the catheter, and then the catheter will be removed and the embryo will remain behind, shown as a white oblong shape on the screen. The white is not the embryo itself, but the air the embryo was in. They put them in a little air bubble, in part so that they can see them when doing this procedure because they're so tiny. The black sort of cantaloupe looking shape around the red circle is the uterus. You probably need to full screen the video to be able to see anything.

I came home and slept most of the day. My doctor doesn't believe in bed rest, so I wasn't restricted, but it took a long time for the Valium to wear off. I was still pretty out of it the next day. We stayed with my folks and spent a nice day with them just relaxing. We came home last night. By the evening, I was feeling "twinges" in my abdomen. Today, it had progressed to cramping and pressure, in addition to twinges. Those could be really good signs (this is about when the baby would implant if he or she is going to and those could be signs of that), or they could mean nothing. It's hard not to over analyze everything. Honestly, had I not just had a transfer, I probably wouldn't have even noticed these symptoms.  But they were mildly uncomfortable so I just took it easy today, napping, and keeping my feet up (perfect, since my Packers football game was on anyway), and doing chores as I felt ok and then resting again when I got sore again.

My beta is not for a while yet, so all we can do right now is wait. I still feel very much at peace, and with some hope.  We'll see how soon before I break down and start testing on a home test. Right now I don't even own any because I never made it to the dollar store in my errands last week, and that's probably a good thing.

That's all the news that's fit to print (and then some). Have a GREAT week!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hello, Baby

Here is the photo of the embryo we transferred. Sadly the other did not survive the thaw, but we are comforted that he or she is with Jesus.

In the meantime this baby looks great. We've never had one who hatched this much before so that was neat to see. Hope we get to meet you in 9 months, baby!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On the Eve of Frozen Embryo Transfer Five

I'm sitting here on the eve of what I think is our last Frozen Embryo Transfer, waiting until I can take my last meds and go to sleep. I've been thinking about all of the other nights like this one, and how each one has been so different. In so many ways, they're each the same--try to relax, try to get sleep, drink until my belly hurts, and think about the babies I might get to meet.

Before the first one, I was hopeful, optimistic, expectant. We got pregnant, and I miscarried, and I was confused.

Before the second one, I was cautious, but still hopeful. The transfer failed.

Before the third one, I was detached, but still hopeful, if that makes sense. I felt the least connected with the process itself, but I think as a result, I also felt the most peace. That transfer resulted in the pregnancy with Matthew.

Before our fourth transfer, I was weary, afraid, and cynical.I went through the motions but deep down, I really had zero expectation that it would work. That transfer failed.

This is our fifth and final transfer. I think I'm all of those things, and none of those things. I haven't been counting down the days on the calendar, but I haven't been dreading them, either. I've been aware that the day is approaching, but not anxious. I've been cautious, but not cynical. I've tried to hope, but have not been naive.

I reactivated the posts I deleted before our loss in 2012 so I was able to read some of my thoughts from previous transfers. I suppose this is the benefit people keep talking about with journaling.

The one constant has been God's grace. His grace with His generosity, His grace with His patience, His grace with His guiding, His grace with His compassion, His grace with His companionship, His grace with his provision, His grace with His refining, His grace with His comfort, His grace with His rebuke, His grace with His love. Though my heart has been different on each of these nights, His heart has remained the same. It is one full of desire for His glory, for His salvation, and for His deep love for His children. It has always been true, peaceful, just, merciful, careful, purposeful, and trustworthy. God is faithful, steady, and unchanging.

I think tonight, I feel peace. God's peace. I've caught myself sort of deprecating hope and saying things like "why am I even talking about baby names? This isn't going to work, anyway." And then I've caught myself thinking, "But wait. You don't feel that way anymore." It's a reflex of cynicism and loss, but I don't feel like those things are the primary voice in my head and heart anymore. I've conditioned myself to think that way, but God has loosened me of some of it. I have hope, but not expectation. I have trust, but not fear. I truly have no idea if this is going to result in children in our arms or not, but I am not afraid.

The peace is from the Lord. I've tried to be intentional about asking for it, praying for it, meditating on it, and He has been gracious to answer my prayers, and guide my heart to ask for more. I'm the sort of person who works out her faith through lots of questions and running in circles. And I've come to determine that that won't change, and the fact that I still have those questions doesn't mean I don't or can't have peace. Peace comes with accepting that I may not be able to answer those questions.

We asked our Pastors and Elders to come over to our home and pray with us this week, and they did. I don't think they have some secret batphone to God and I don't want anyone reading this to get the wrong impression. But we are instructed in God's Word to intercede for one another and with one another, and this was a ministry of encouragement and blessing to us, regardless of the outcome. We joined them in praising God's character, His love, His plans, His power, His design. Those things are unaffected by what will come.

So I'd ask you to join us in praying the same way we have been praying. Pray to praise God for His plan and purpose in this procedure, in our lives, in our babies' lives, in Matthew's life, in the doctors' and nurses lives, and in the lives of the Genetic Parents and Siblings. I'd ask you to pray for comfort for the Genetic Family, for wisdom and skill for the doctors, and for peace for us as we wait for, and then accept whatever the answer is.  I ask you to pray that the Holy Spirit continue to help us worship and trust and believe, no matter what comes. I ask you to pray for God's peace for us, and most of all, to pray for His glory to be revealed and magnified.

And please give a little one in your life a hug for me, to wish my girls a Happy Birthday. Saturday is their 6th birthday in Heaven. The timing of this transfer has not been lost on me, but we trust God in His timing, too.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Embryo Adoption in People Magazine

Several of my friends tagged me in an article today in People Magazine featuring a family who grew their family through an embryo placed by another family. One friend in particular is personal friends with one of the two genetic mothers mentioned in the article.

Overall, I'm glad to see Embryo Adoption receive positive press. A lot of what the mom interviewed said was life-affirming and she also spoke freely about her faith. I hope the article leads to more embryo adoptions. Their daughter is a cutie. I also think the way the genetic mom has shared her story has paid excellent respect and honor to the difficult decisions and pain and loss that can be felt by the placing family, and also the tremendous blessing and peace that can come to both families.

I take big issue with one major theme throughout the article, and it's not specific to her. It's not even specific to Embryo Adoption. It's the notion that adoption (of any kind) is an answer to infertility. I don't even think people mean to communicate that, but it's so ingrained in our culture that the belief is easily betrayed within a few minutes of conversation.

Embryo Adoption is not a fertility treatment and we need to stop treating it like it is.

I firmly believe that the reason so many children (both frozen and not) are in need of homes is because we've relegated adoption to a "Plan B" for people who can't conceive.

Adoption is a calling, and for the Church, it's a commandment.

It's not a cause or a crusade, either.

Adoption is messy. And hard. And beautiful. And wonderful.  But it should not be entered into as an effort to fix a problem in your life. Children in need of a family need to be loved and embraced and pursued and rescued because we want to give them love, not because we couldn't give that love to someone else. We should adopt because we have something to give and we feel the call to give that something to someone, not just because we want to receive something. It's a perfectly wonderful thing to want a child...even desperately so. But adoption needs to be about the child AT LEAST as much as it's about the parents.

The problem with treating adoption as an answer to infertility is that the byproduct is, by in large (I know there are exceptions), that people think of adoption as a backup plan, when there are millions of children worldwide who need us, the Church, to be their Plan A. People shouldn't adopt just because they're infertile, and shouldn't not adopt just because their biology works just fine. The two issues have become intertwined, when really, they are unrelated. The call to adopt can touch anyone with any variety of biological function. Adoption is a beautiful picture of God's love for us, and it is something He asks us to do to take care of the most vulnerable in our world. His instruction has no fertility contingencies.

Often people ask an infertile couple, "Why don't you just adopt?" Well, why don't you, fertile-Myrtle? Biology has no bearing on whether or not someone is called to adopt. Adoption should be considered because someone wants to answer a call in their heart and we should be listening for that call, regardless of if we can procreate. I don't think every person is called to adopt and it would be wrong for those who aren't called to do so. Adoption is too darn hard for that. But if only the 10% of people who are infertile ever adopt, we will never catch up and children will suffer needlessly.

The other problem with treating embryo adoption like a fertility treatment is that it can open the door to violating the sanctity of life. If you think of these embryos as "therapy" or "treatment" rather than people, then it's easy to forget their humanity when making decisions about their future. This is pretty common in fertility clinics, that treat embryos clinically, not humanely. When the whole reason Embryo Adoption was invented was to honor the humanity of these children, we shouldn't be helping the conversation that contradicts that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ministering to a Family Dealing with Hospitalization (of a Child) and an Update on Matthew

I've spent an inordinate amount of time in hospitals. I've held bedside vigils for and with both of my grandparents, my Uncle, my brother, and one of my best friends. So I've learned a lot about "being" in the hospital, and about loving on the family members of those ill.

This hospitalization with Matthew was the first time I was the "primary" person though, rather than a support person so I was more a direct beneficiary of the efforts of others.

I thought I'd share the things that have blessed me in case you're in a position to minister to another family dealing with a hospitalization. I wrote this from the perspective of a parent with a hospitalized child, but many are relevant for all ages of patient.

-Pray WITH and FOR the Family: Please pray for the patient, the family, and the medical staff. If you visit, please offer to pray WITH the family. It's such a tremendous encouragement.

-Allow the Family to Update as they Can: Unless you're immediate family, please consider checking facebook, your church prayer chain, or with someone other than the primary care giver(s) for updates, at least during the hospitalization. While it was lovely to know that so many were concerned about Matthew, there were times I just couldn't answer all of the calls and text messages, and I felt rude.  If you're close to the family, perhaps offer to be the "go to" person for keeping the extended circle updated if there are lots of people asking.

-Feed the Family During the Hospitalization: Hospitals feed the patient, and no one else. Especially when the patient is a child and a parent wants to stay around the clock, it gets expensive quickly to eat 3 meals a day in a cafeteria, not to mention, Cafeteria Food usually isn't awesome.  It was such a great blessing to us to have people bring meals to the hospital for us. Even if the person is returning home every day, having a meal made already is one less thing the person needs to worry about while trying to sneak in a shower or a couple hours of sleep.

-Offer Errands: Especially if the hospital stay is unexpected, the family may need someone to go to their house and get essentials for the child or parent, such as medicine, phone charger, pajamas, toothbrush, etc and bring them to the hospital. Or whomever is caring for other children may be in need of help like grocery shopping.

-Visit: If the hospital and patient's health allow it, consider a visit. For our son, seeing a friendly face that WASN'T a doctor who was there to do something to him was a huge diversion for him. It was also a blessing to us, because being in the hospital room around the clock can get lonely...and boring. Visiting also allows the tending parent to just sneak out for a walk or a cup of coffee for a minute if they need to. Speaking of...

-Caffeine! If the parent has a favorite pick-me-up, consider bringing one. This goes back to the whole, hospitals don't feed you unless you're the patient thing. There were times I really wanted a cup of coffee, but didn't want to leave Matthew long enough to go all the way down to the Cafeteria. Caffeine is super-helpful in times of long-vigils!

-Babysit: If the family has multiple children, offer to babysit the siblings still at home. You might also consider helping with things the kids may not be able to do, like their laundry.

-Distraction: Especially if the patient is a child, something new to do is a huge help in passing the time away. Many people end up hospitalized without knowing it was coming, so they're not prepared with a suitcase full of things to do, nor is it even really practical to bring a bunch of stuff. Consider bringing a small gift or loan of a toy, book, or activity. We were especially blessed by this because it often helped "reset" Matthew's patience clock, especially during our confinement. This doesn't have to be expensive. You can shop the dollar store or the dollar spot at Target. You can bring a library book. You can bring something you have already to loan. You can bring a stack of photos to show the child and talk about. This can be inexpensive or free, and is a huge blessing.

-Staples and Paper Goods: This one didn't apply to us as much because our hospitalization was relatively short but it has been relevant in other situations I've dealt with. If a hospitalization is prolonged and/or ends in death and/or has lots of family members still at home or coming to visit, consider bringing by the essentials like milk, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, etc.

-Gift Cards: This is another that wasn't relevant to us, but I've watched many friends go through it. If the hospital is not close to the patient's home, lodging and gas for the parent can get very expensive, quickly. Our hospital allowed one parent to stay overnight, but not every hospital does. If a parent is commuting a long distance, consider a hotel gift card or donating loyalty points so they can stay nearby for a night. Gas cards are also tremendously helpful if they have to travel a long way. We were blessed that our hospital allowed me to stay, and that it was only 20 minutes away from our home. Many people in smaller or more rural areas have to travel significantly farther, especially for specialty hospitals.

-Feed the Family When they Return Home: Just because a family is home does not mean the work is done. We've been home 2 weeks. A friend offered to coordinate a meal train for us and I almost turned her down because there's nothing wrong with ME. I was perfectly capable of cooking and I felt like the need wasn't "big enough" to ask. I am so grateful I let her talk me into it. The first week, we didn't do anything except let Matthew sleep. He and I didn't leave the house. He was weak, tired, and immuno-compromised. We were also majorly sleep-deprived. As we got our feet back under us, then began the task of cleaning the house, sterilizing everything, doing the laundry, running him to follow-up appointments all over town, filling prescriptions, etc. Our church has brought us meals every other day for 2 weeks and it has been a huge blessing. I haven't had to worry about grocery shopping or cooking. Between being exhausted and overwhelmed with tasks, I can't tell you how much not having to worry about dinner has blessed us.  We had leftovers from every meal so each meal fed us for 2 nights.  Our friends from out of state even had a pizza delivered one night so this is a way you can help someone even from far away. is my favorite website for organizing a meal train-offer to set one up for your friend!

Thank you to everyone who blessed us in these and many other ways, and I hope these suggestions are helpful to anyone in the position to love-on a family dealing with a hospitalization.

Update on Matthew: Thanks also for continuing to pray for Matthew. He continues to get better every day. He had his first Cardiologist Appointment last week. The doctor found some damage, but he thinks it is immunological in nature and that it will heal after the disease completely works its way through and out of Matthew's system. He's keeping us on aspirin and we'll watch it, but he encouraged me that he would be fine and strongly advised me "DON'T GOOGLE IT!" which I did and then freaked out, so I decided to listen to what the doctor said after all.   The great news is that there was no sign of aneurysm. The "danger zone" to develop one is 3 weeks post onset through 18 months so they have to keep checking, but for now, there is nothing!

His energy and strength come back a little more every day. We were able to get out for a few outings last week and that was a great boost for him. I took him to church this week, which I think was his longest outing. He really enjoyed it and did well, but he was exhausted when we came home and struggled through yesterday a bit with being over tired. I'm still learning how to gauge his capacity, but the wonderful thing is that HE is learning too. He has quickly developed a lot of self-awareness and will tell me if something is in pain, or if he is tired, or needs to sit down, or whatever. I've really tried to teach him to listen to what his body is telling him it needs. He's good about asking to get into his stroller or into a shopping cart or on a chair if he needs a break. I'm so grateful for this because he's normally your typical 3 year old, "I'll do it myself" sort of kid. I know this self-awareness is supernatural and I am thankful for it. His skin is still peeling really badly but it doesn't scare him any more. I know he still struggles with shooting pains, but it seems to be less often. His color has come back and his eyes no longer look sunken and shallow.  His appetite has come back too. We have another echocardiogram next month to check his heart.

We've been so grateful for how quickly a lot of things have improved.  Thank you for your prayers for our sweet boy!

Monday, November 3, 2014

November Family Tree of Gratitude

Last year, we barely celebrated Thanksgiving. It's not that we weren't Thankful, it's that a few days earlier, our house had flooded, so we were working around buckets and industrial fans, and water, and rain, and contractors. We had a meal, but I didn't have opportunity to make much celebration of it. In previous years, Matthew was too young to really do anything other than eat.

This year, I want to start teaching him about Thanksgiving--not so much the historical events, but the action of giving thanks. I ordered a few story books that I'm patiently waiting for, and we're trying to actively express gratitude as a family. Most of our prayer life with him to this point has been prayers of gratitude so he is exercised in this to a point, but we want to build on that foundation.

So a few weeks ago, an idea struck me and this week I was able to execute it.

I created this tree of gratitude. Each night, we will each write (or in Matthew's case, dictate) one thing for which we are thankful on one leaf and hang it on the tree. Matthew colors on his leaves while we write on ours and then I write his thanksgiving on his for him. At the end of the month, we should have almost 100 leaves--overwhelming for this little tree and demonstrative of just how rich and plentiful and overwhelming God's generosity is. We're only 3 days into November right now so our tree only has 9 leaves, but soon it will be full and bushy!

I made the trunk and branches out of excess packing paper. I tore and rolled and just sort of stuck it up there. I affixed it to the wall with Command Strips. I found a template online for the leaves (google it, there are tons) and rough cut them out of construction paper. I have a whole pile of leaves in our hutch next to our kitchen table and we do it before we sit down to dinner. We include prayer for the things we named in our dinner prayer time. Then we just attach them to the wall with FrogTape. Easy, peasy, and super affordable because I had everything on hand already.

Fall leaves that change colors are a foreign concept in Phoenix, and I realize oak and maple leaves don't grow on the same tree. However, Matthew seemed to get the concept well and I think it will be a powerful visual by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.

Then I can save the leaves if I wish and take the tree down just in time for Advent. I have some super-fun Advent recommendations that I'll post in the next few days.

Side Note: I introduced this by first talking about the month of November and how this month is special because it has Daddy's Birthday, and a special day called Thanksgiving. Then I said the next month is called December. I explained that December comes after November, and December is special because it has Christmas in it. Then January comes after December and it is special because January has Matthew's birthday. He was tracking with me until he hung the leaves, and then he said, "Ok, now it's December. Christmas time!"

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Praises Already

Thanks so much for your prayers and words of comfort to our family. It is such a blessing to know he is being prayed for, and we along with him. I wanted to share with you how some of these prayers are already being answered. Thank you for praying!

Immediately after we identified that what our home needed was prayers for peace, we saw a calming in Matthew's mood. He is still having a difficult go at things and having many more meltdowns than is acceptable under normal circumstances, but we no longer feel like we're all holding our breaths. He's a little more reasonable, a little more able to compose himself, the meltdowns are a little smaller, and he's a little quicker to rebound when he does go off the deep end. He's still a far cry from his normal sweet temperament, but it no longer seems like he's being held hostage by anger. Thank you, Jesus!

We had our first follow-up with the Pediatrician today. I didn't expect this visit to yield anything, but it was still nice to receive a thumbs up. He's also started taking his daily medicine without a fight, and let the Pediatrician examine him without fear. Thank you, Jesus!

Our transfer got moved from November 20, to November 17, to possibly canceled, to now, November 21! And that date is as firm as it can be until a lining check on November 13, at which point things could be called off as in any other cycle, but not because of my med mix-up. Thank you, Jesus!

Many, many friends have brought or are bringing us meals. Friends from out of state even ordered us a pizza.  This is such a great relief to us. Thank you to those of you who have ministered to or are ministering to our family in a very tangible way. It blesses us greatly.

It's still hard to get out of the house. We tried a couple of times this week, including tonight, and it just ends badly because he is SO tired and runs out of energy so quickly. So I think we will be staying in for a while, as he regains his energy. Otherwise, he just crashes and burns too quickly.  But overall, things are already much better than they were even just a few days ago.

God hears our prayers. Thank you, Lord!

Cardiology check up this coming week...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kawasaki Disease

Last week, I was feeling curmudgeonly about Halloween. My feelings of irritation toward its existence occupied way more space in my mind than it needed to. On Thursday morning when I had some free time before Matthew woke up, I even blogged about it. Now, I can't spend any energy at all thinking about Halloween.

Around lunch time on Thursday, Matthew was complaining that his back hurt. Thursday evening, we were in the emergency room of the Children's Hospital and by the wee hours of the morning, we were admitted. It turns out, Matthew had a rare condition called Kawasaki Disease, which is a virus from unknown causes that attacks the arteries, and ultimately, the heart.

This story is very long, but I think it shows God's incredible attention to detail, so I am going to try to spell it out. I also hope that if anyone googling needs some information on Kawasaki Disease, this may help them.

Two Saturdays ago (approximately 10 days ago), our family joined our good friends for our annual tradition at the Pumpkin Patch. Matthew behaved and looked 100% normal.

The next morning was Sunday (this is Day 1--the distinction of which will make sense as you read). When he woke up,  his bottom was red. We thought it was diaper rash because there had been some hay in the pumpkin patch that got in his clothes and diaper (side note, I think he and his best friend have made a pact to go to college in diapers). I put him in the bath for a while, then got him ready and we went to church.

When we picked him up from his class at church, he felt warm. But it was a hot day and our church building is often warm so we didn't think much of it. He was a little tired, but otherwise seemed fine. Some friends invited us to lunch and we joined them. During lunch, Matthew went downhill, very quickly.  He became lethargic and irritable and grew hotter by the minute. We quickly wrapped things up and came home. When we got home and undressed him, the rash had spread all over his body and he had a fever of over 104 degrees.  I gave him a cool bath and put him to bed and he slept all afternoon. That evening he was still warm, covered in rash, and tired, but had no other problems.

The next morning (day 2), he started complaining of sharp stomach pains and vomiting. He continued to have rash and fever. The pediatrician was able to see him first thing that morning and she concluded that it was just a virus. Matthew has developed rash with illnesses before. I thought the vomiting might have been from fever--I know that I vomit when my fever gets too high.  She checked him for strep and a UTI both came back negative. I took him home and kept his activity level low and we stayed here at home. He did not have much appetite. He was extremely irritable.

By Tuesday and Wednesday (days 3 and 4), the rash had gone away but the fever remained and I noticed he was still extremely irritable. At the time though, I chalked it up to him being tired (he'd had night wakings every night for more than a month--we were both exhausted!) and being 3.

On Thursday (day 5), he woke up complaining of pain in his diaper area. He was still listless, irritable, and warm. My mom had come to visit that morning--a visit he had been looking forward to for weeks, and he couldn't be rallied to excitement. At lunch time he started grabbing his back and complaining of sharp pain. I got him calmed down and put to bed for a nap. While he was sleeping, I called the pediatrician, whose nurse said we could return the next day for another urinalysis. I pressed her, knowing that UA results take a few days and we were going into a weekend. I asked her what else they could do on site and the end result was not much in the way of diagnostic tests. If the rapid test for the UA showed nothing, we'd wait for the complete results. If they suspected something, they'd send us to an imaging center for an X Ray. I knew we were heading into a weekend and those wouldn't be read until at least Monday, either. She said that if he woke up from his nap and was still in considerable pain, the best way to get tests immediately was to go to the pediatric Urgent Care run by our local Children's Hospital.

When he woke up, he was complaining of pain more frequently and more emphatically. Quickly, he was inconsolable. His eyes looked bloodshot, but I figured it was from exhaustion and crying. The skin on his bottom had begun to peel like a sunburn. I packed up a backpack with a few toys and we headed out. I was expecting them to diagnose him with a UTI or a kidney infection. I figured we'd wait around to see a doctor for a while, get diagnosed, and be sent on our merry way with a pain killer and antibiotic.

The doctor saw us rather quickly. He initially suspected some of the same things-childhood virus, UTI, and a few other things I can't even remember. However, as I talked and mentioned the things I had seen over the week, the doctor's body posture changed. After a while, he said, "I think I know what this is but I haven't seen it in a very long time. I need to excuse myself and read on it before I tell you anymore." A little while later, he was back, with instruction to go to the Children's Hospital ER. He told us that we would probably see the ER doctor, who would probably admit us, and have us see a Cardiologist and an Infectious Disease Specialist. Wait. WHAT? What happened to the UTI I was certain he had? That I could handle. A Cardiologist? For a 3 year old? My head was spinning. My mom stopped at home for some pajamas and other essentials for Matthew and I and met us up there.

In the ER, we saw more doctors than I can remember. My husband said that there must have been some sort of note in the doctor's lounge: "Hey! Go check out bed 6 for something you've probably never seen before!"  Around 4:00 am after tons of blood work, a nose and throat culture, and another UA, we were finally admitted, with all of the ER doctors and the hospital admitting doctor concluding that the diagnosis of Kawasaki Disease was correct. He and I slept for a couple hours in his room before the doctors and nurses started coming around at 7:00.
Matthew and the best daddy in the world, sleeping in the ER gurney while waiting for admission.

Another new doctor visited us, who said she thought it was Kawasaki but that the Infectious Disease doctor would need to confirm. He came later, and confirmed it, as much as he could. They explained that there is no test to confirm Kawasaki, but all the tests they ran ruled out everything else, and other things they discovered in his blood and fluid showed signs of KD.  The only test to confirm KD is after a patient has already suffered irreparable damage so they can only make a clinical diagnosis and treat accordingly.

Kawasaki Disease is a virus that inflames the arteries, and if left untreated, can cause coronary aneurysm, heart attack, or other heart damage. They have no idea what causes it.  It is very rare. It primarily affects young children, and boys more than girls.

The treatment is a 12 hour infusion of IV Immunoglobulin that somehow, protects his heart. Then he has to be on an aspirin regimen, and continue to follow up with a cardiologist.

Because they had to culture Matthew, he was in isolation for the first half of his hospital stay. Adult visitors could come and go, but he could not leave his room. Being trapped in 4 unfamiliar walls for days with a frightened, sick, tired 3 year old was very difficult. The first full day there was very hard. One of the doctors had said that the IVIG treatment was very uncomfortable and that Matthew would be very aware of it. He was overwrought from being tired, overstimulated from pain, and emotionally highstrung from being trapped. I was dreading the IVIG for him. My heart hurt so badly.  I learned that in times of great stress, I can handle the big things. I grew up in hospitals. I've literally spent months in them at various family members' bedsides. The big stuff, I was able to take in stride. But I broke down in tears when my little boy was crying for a toy and I had nothing to give him and the nurse I had asked 3 times for one wasn't getting off her duff to help. Apparently, my control-freak self is smart enough to know it can't control the big stuff, but then it over compensates on the small stuff.

The IVIG was ordered around 10:00 in the morning. But because of whatever black hole exists in all hospitals where orders go and hang out a while before they resurface, the treatment did not actually arrive and begin until 5:00 or 6:00pm. By that time, Matthew was so exhausted, he slept through all of it.  He didn't have to deal with the discomfort or the headache or the panic from feeling restrained.  Huge hurdle 1, down.

By the middle of the afternoon the third day, his cultures came back negative and they released him from quarantine. He could now go to the play room, the playground, the activity center, the cafeteria, on walks, and outside, utilizing all of the wonderful resources the hospital had to make the stay easier for kids. Immediately, his anxiety started to decrease. I don't think we returned to that room for 5 hours that first time we were released.

These are some of the very many God things I noticed:

-Because one of the main diagnostics of KD is 5 days of fever, the disease cannot be diagnosed until day 5. Treatment must begin by day 10 in order to have the best chance of coming through it without heart damage. Matthew was diagnosed on day 5. Treatment began on day 6. His diagnosis came at absolutely the earliest possible moment. If we had waited through the weekend and into the beginning of this week for lab results and/or radiology to come back after the weekend, we would have been to the 10 day danger zone mark.

-Though the disease is rare, the first doctor we saw had the experience to recognize it, and the humility to research his findings in his own unfamiliarity.

-Phoenix Children's Hospital is one of the best Children's Hospitals in the country. The doctors we encountered were very familiar with KD and how to treat it. In reading some of the KD forums, many many parents and children have a very difficult time getting a correct diagnosis because many doctors have never encountered it and because so many of the symptoms are typical of the age and of other childhood illnesses.

-Matthew showed ALL of the hallmark signs of KD, on both his body and in his blood and fluids, making the disease as confirmable as possible without the heart damage that is the only thing that can verify 100%. Additionally, every single doctor who treated him (more than 10) agreed on the KD diagnosis. I really appreciate that there was no hesitation or wondering so they could just move forward with treatment.

-I really believe the Lord pushed me to take him to the Urgent Care that night. On their own, irritability, rash, fever, red eyes, and even some pain are normal in children going through threenagerhood, diapers and potty training, and growth spurts and growing pains. None of those things are concerning on their own and Matthew has had them at other times in different combinations and I haven't been alarmed. But this time, I distinctly felt the need to take him in, despite my usual bent toward "wait and see" when it comes to common colds and illnesses.

-I also believe the Lord brought all of the different symptoms of the previous week to my mind with exacting precision. He loosed my tongue to mention things that I didn't even realize I had taken note of. All of the information and the timeline I gave were what piqued the first doctor's interest toward KD. Had I not mentioned some of the things that had come and gone earlier in the week, we might not have had a correct diagnosis.

-He was able to sleep through his infusion

-He did not have a negative reaction to the infusion

-The infusion seems to have worked and so far as we can tell, he does not need another.

-His first echocardiogram was clear.

-On our third day there, he was released from isolation, which made the rest of the stay much much easier. They said that cultures can take up to 2 weeks to come back so originally they said he would be in isolation the entire time we were there. To be released from it early was a real gift and it really helped Matthew's anxiety.

-He manifested each symptom necessary to make a diagnosis, but each symptom lasted almost as short a time as possible. His rash and vomiting were gone in 2 days and he didn't get the pain until day 5. The symptoms appeared long enough to be noticed and noteworthy, but not any longer. I think this was a sweet mercy that he didn't have to be excessively miserable all week long.

-My mom "just happened" to arrive for a visit the day the hospitalization started, so she was able to help us with sitting with Matthew, doing things we needed, etc

-My dear friend was also available and brought my meds to me in the middle of the night and ran errands for me. People were kind to show love to Todd and I, too.
This was waiting on my counter for me next to my coffee pot when I got home (this was not one of the errands I asked her to do). 

-Many family members and friends came to visit Matthew. We learned while there that most children don't even have parents who visit them around the clock, much less other visitors. Matthew had an almost constant stream of people who wanted to cheer him up and distract him. I am so grateful to know my little boy is so loved.
Playing with one of the many gifts friends and family brought him to help keep the isolation manageable. This is after his infusion and we really saw him start to turn around. He was even singing to his tractors. It was so good to hear my little boy sing again. He was singing, "I love to dump the garbage in my backhoe, oh yeah!"

-My Mom's Church has a ministry called Wrapped in Prayer. A guild of ladies make quilts for people who are going through a hard time, and then they and others in the church tie knots to join the layers together. As a person ties a knot, they pray over the quilt and the person receiving it. Then the blanket can "wrap" the recipient literally, representing the prayers they are wrapped in. The group made a quilt for my little boy and the Pastor's Wife dropped it off at our home, along with a gift from the Pastor and his wife. The church shared some photos of their Sunday morning where people came to pray and tie knots. I've never met most of the people in the photos. What a beautiful way to show love!

-There is a nationally known KD research clinic just a few hundred miles away from here so we have access to expert care if things get complicated. I've already been in touch with a doctor there who has been so sweet to help us with a few things.

-KD is not contagious, so his best friend and her sister, who we were with the day before, and the kids in his Sunday School were not put at risk by being with Matthew.  It also means that as he has energy and stamina, he can still get out of the house now a bit.

-Our employees really stepped up to the plate and took over everything so Todd did not need to worry about the shop. The only thing he had to go there for was to sign checks for payroll. I am so grateful that we have kind and compassionate men working for us, who have integrity, initiative, skill, and work ethic to work and be proactive even when the boss is away and who really showed us love in our time of struggle. They even made Matthew his own "License Plate" wishing him to get well. They hand painted and etched this. This was another tears moment for me.

-Matthew is sleeping right now. This alone is a huge, huge gift because sleep has been so hard for him. He also took 2 naps the day we were admitted, which really helped when we were up until 4:00am waiting for admission.

Other things I don't want to forget:

One nurse asked him if his mommy gave him his beautiful blue eyes or if his daddy did. Matthew looked at her puzzled, and then emphatically said, "JESUS did!"  You go, little man.

Our friends brought him a milkshake. He woke up while they were there and I told him and he sleepily mumbled, "Oh, that's sweet of them."

On Monday, they released us to come home. It appears that Matthew is out of the danger zone. The recovery time from KD is months long. He'll require echocardiograms for the next several months and then periodically over the next several years. The treatment he received has been used for about 30 years for KD and so far, seems to have good long-term results as far as protecting the heart goes and those now-adults are still doing well overall.

The disease has 3 stages. Matthew is in stage 2, which is arthritis, GI problems, and skin problems. He's still pretty miserable. They tell me his brain is inflamed, as are his nerve endings, so he is hypersensitive and angry often. My understanding is that this stage can last up to 2 weeks. Then stage 3 is when everything starts returning to normal, but it can take 8 weeks. So we have a little bit of a bumpy road in front of us.

We'd love your prayers for our little guy. The hardest struggle for him is that he feels lousy and doesn't understand. His skin is peeling off in sheets and it scares him. He's on an emotional cliff most of the time and the littlest things set him off. He wants to do things, but he has no energy or stamina to actually express the pent-up energy and feelings he has. So then he gets frustrated, and he's already emotionally fragile from the inflammation. The doctors assure us that KD doesn't have a lot of long term affects but we've been reading that a lot of kids do have struggles for years thereafter. We'd appreciate prayers that his recovery is quick and permanent. While he's on an aspirin regimen, for him to get the flu would be extremely dangerous. He got a flu shot, but that may or may not be effective, given that flu season hasn't really started yet so they don't know if the strains in this vaccine are the ones that will be in the US this winter. We'd appreciate your prayers that he does not get it. He never has before and Todd and I don't usually get it either, but extra prayers would be appreciated.

The hardest struggle for us as his parents is to know how to comfort him. I ache to take away his pain. It's also very difficult to navigate the landmines of his mood and the extreme anger, and comfort him and extend extra grace for him, without letting him be a total monster. When we know it's really truly not his fault that he's behaving this way, it's hard to discipline him for it. But we can't let him have carte blanche to be a monster, either. To be honest, our house feels rather like a war zone and we're on eggshells a lot. It's exhausting for us--I can't even imagine what it's like for him. Todd and I need prayers for wisdom on how to walk this line and our whole home could use prayers for supernatural peace. We're living on pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches because at the end of the day, it's all I have energy left to make. He also can't always tell us what's bothering him so we need wisdom for being able to identify what's ailing him to be able to relieve it, in such a way that he'll accept help. Right now, he is very afraid of anything that even remotely resembles medicine.

This also affects our transfer. Because of the stress and being at the hospital, I forgot to take the last few days of pills so it changes the timeline for everything. It's possible that we can still course-correct, but it will depend on if my body cooperates. If not, we'll have to stop and start over. The date is no longer November 20. We won't know when it is until and unless certain things happen biologically. Now that I know we have an unknown amount of medical bills out there waiting for us, it was tempting to postpone again, but if we keep waiting for when the money can't be used on anything else, it will never happen. We're just moving forward in faith that God will provide.

Thanks for all your prayers for our little family!

Signs of Kawasaki Disease:

If your child has high fever (over 101) for 5 days in a row, AND any 2 or more of the following symptoms, please ask the doctor to evaluate him or her for Kawasaki Disease. Matthew had all of these symptoms at one point or another during the days and hours preceding his diagnosis.

-"Strawberry" tongue (red, swollen, and bumpy)
-Body rash that has no other cause, especially rash in the diaper area
-Swelling in the hands and/or feet
-Bloodshot eyes without discharge
-Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Additional symptoms (but they're not diagnostic like the above ones). Matthew had all of these too:
-Extreme irritability
-Nausea or vomiting
-Peeling of the skin

For more information, go here:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Abstaining from Halloween

My facebook feed is full of pictures accompanied by the quotation, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." In many ways, October is lovely. In Phoenix, it's the first time we start seeing regular relief from 100 degree temps. We see fall leaves and Pumpkin Spice lattes and Christmas is coming.

But it also means Halloween, and the longer I am a parent, the more I grow to really loathe Halloween and it makes me anxious for the end of the month to come as quickly as possible.

I wasn't always a Halloween Curmudgeon. I have fond memories of costumes and trick or treating and candy from my childhood. I also think Halloween of 30 years ago was different than it is now, at least in my perception.

On Matthew's first Halloween, we dressed him in costume and walked around with friends while their older kids trick or treated. I suppose it was my first time "seeing" Halloween. I've regretted the decision to take him out that night. At 10 months old, his eyes were exposed to images of death and darkness and fear and he was afraid. Halloween is no longer celebrated in such a way as to give cute little kids candy. It's become an all-out free all for adults and almost-adults to be either as dark, gruesome, and scary or as immodest and vampy as legally possible.  We couldn't approach a door for candy without passing blood, guts, witches, severed heads, skeletons, monsters, and tombstones along our way.

It's just so very dark. True, spiritual, ethereal darkness. I get near it and my heart and spirit feel oppressed. I don't think the macabre is funny or entertaining. I don't understand why we celebrate it, even in fun or jest.

As Matthew has grown older, he can ask about the things he sees. The dark images frighten him. It makes me angry that we can't go in to Target or walk down a strip mall without him seeing something that frightens him. Maybe I'm hypersensitive because Matthew is a highly anxious child. I hate that images of darkness and fear are force fed to him at 3 years old. I see his little mind as a blank slate full of light, and as he gets older, that light is slowly replaced with the darkness that we know as adults that comes with fear and death and sin. We spend the rest of our adult lives trying to keep our minds away from the darkness. I hate everything that introduces that struggle one second sooner, especially in the name of entertainment. I want to fight to keep his innocence for as long as possible. He has his whole adult life to know real fears and loss and pain and to see what true darkness is. I have no interest in throwing it around for sport, now.

Completely unrelated, I also think trick or treating sends mixed messages about safety and courtesy. 364 other days of the year, it's considered rude and inappropriate to walk around asking people to give you things. And it's never, ever ok under "normal" circumstances to go to a stranger's house for candy, so I think it sends conflicting messages to say, "except this one time it's ok." It's not that I think he'll get a piece of poisoned candy from a neighbor. But I think I set him up for confusion when very strong safety rules are changed for one day. Our neighbors aren't strangers and I would let him go see them because it doesn't confuse the safety message, but for whatever reason, none of our neighbors participate in it, either.

I love seeing little kids in costume and I hope they eat themselves silly on all the candy they want. I think dress up is fun and I love pumpkins. And I know there are lots of people who conscientiously participate in Halloween. I love that we still have the freedom to make these choices for our own families. And if there was a way we could participate in the genuine childhood light fun of Halloween without the darkness, we probably would. I remember Halloween being fun and sweet and I don't remember feeling fear or darkness.

I read lots of arguments about not shutting the world out for Halloween and about inviting the darkness in so that it can see the light. I think there is a valid place for that. However until my son can discern the light from the dark and understand the images he sees, I want to protect him from the darkness. When he has the discernment of the Holy Spirit, inviting the darkness is a completely different choice. When he is older and can logically understand that the fear is artificial and understand why the world celebrates darkness, Halloween will be a different conversation and we'll invite him to participate in making decisions about it.

One day I think it would be fun to be the "cool house" where every child knows they can come and receive a smile and warmth and their favorite treat and we could just shine love and warmth and light. That probably won't happen until we move because no one has trick or treated our street in years given how it is set up and lit and who lives in our neighborhood, but one day, I think it would be neat and would be something special we could do as a family. Maybe that opportunity will present itself here and maybe it won't but I see its value.

I believe strongly that parenting decisions (on non-essentials) need to be fluid an open to reevaluation as things change. But for now, we abstain from participating in Halloween.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fun Project- Faux Fireplace

It's a girl thing. I've wanted a fireplace for as long as I've been an adult with my own dwelling.  I live in Arizona. You see the conundrum. Lots of people have them for decoration, but our house is old and modest and was built with necessities only, so no fireplace.

I like a warm fire but we rarely have need for one. What I actually wanted was the mantel so I could decorate it and switch it out for seasons. My husband thinks I'm nuts. He is also strongly opposed to the "Amish Fireplace" type of unit (I tried!).

I was admiring my friend's photo of her fireplace and mantel when the thought occurred to me that I could just hang a shelf and decorate it like a mantel. Duh. My original plan was to just buy a standard hanging shelf. But I began daydreaming and sketching and pinteresting and thought, hey, why stop at the fake mantel, when I could have a whole fake fireplace?

I was going to ask my brother to make me one but his schedule was full so on a whim, I searched Craigslist. I found a guy who makes them. He needed a website. So, we traded. He made me a fireplace, and I made him a website. He took my sketch and built it and installed it for me this week. I am so happy with it! Best of all, it didn't cost me any money, and he got something he needed, too! Win-win! And we gained a foot and a half of depth back in our living room and about a foot in length, too--big gains when the room is only about 12 feet deep and the wall it is on is only 8 feet long.

This is what we had before. The TV was on top of it too but I didn't think to take a "before" photo. It was pretty and sturdy but took up way too much space in our little living room.

Without further ado, here is my new "fireplace!"


All of the panels are actually doors that open so we didn't lose our media storage either.

And I just hung these letters last night--trying to decide if I like them. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Naming Your Graces

I follow a page that lists Christian e-books that are free and discounted. A book came across that list this morning called The Hardest Peace. The description intrigued me and the price was less than $4 so I bought it. That was before 6:00 this morning, when I was struggling with exhaustion and annoyance after having my sleep interrupted for the umpteenth night in a row by a determined little boy who has decided sleep is his mortal enemy.  I started reading and read until little boy got up "for real" and then again at his nap time, and again when he turned in to bed. I just finished the book, even whilst sleep-hating little boy is awake at nearly 10:00pm, snuggling with his daddy, as said super-man desperately tries to get him to wind down.

I read a blog from a missionary friend recently, who shared a sweet story of a package of paper dolls her family received in the mail and how that package reassured her little girl of God's love for her. The family are missionaries in a war-torn country and had to evacuate quickly, leaving all their belongings behind. The little girl missed her dolls, and the night after her grieving, a package showed up in their new country, with a new package of the same dolls. The box had been mailed weeks or months earlier, by a party who knew nothing of the abandoned dolls. The little recipient of the package declared how much she knew God loved her because he met a desire even like paper dolls. I remember reading the entry and thinking to myself, "I wish God loved me like that, too."

As I've walked through this years-long season of loss, I've doubted God's love for me. Not his global, eternal, saving, redeeming love. But his personal, individual, Jennifer love. The love that cared about my tears and and my longing and my dead babies and my son who wants a sibling of his own and my sweet husband who is such a good Daddy that he empirically SHOULD have more children. Doubting this love has made me hopeless, reclusive, and even a tad cynical.

The struggle of my life, and I think of any Christian's life, is to align your feelings and your heart with the Truth and with reason. I've recognized the magnitude of this charge so fiercely that most of the time I don't even acknowledge that these are my feelings because I know how desperately inaccurate they are. The God of the Universe loves me even when I don't feel like he does. I am so grateful that God is not capricious. He doesn't give or withhold His love based on if I think He's doing a good enough job of showing it or if I have earned it (I haven't! and never will!)  God declared His love in a great, big, Jesus way when He created this earth, when he created each of us, when He sent his Son to die for us, when He left His Word for us.  When I find myself doubting, I simply remind myself of these things in an effort to will my feelings into submission. It doesn't usually work, but I trust that God knows my heart and knows I'm trying to believe even in darkness. I know one day He will redeem even my feelings, too.

Back to the book. It's the writing of a young mom dying of cancer. You may have actually seen an article by her this week in response to the Oregon woman choosing to end her life on November 1 in response to her own cancer.

I don't think it's productive to compare pain. Each person's pain is tremendously impactful for that person. While it can be a useful exercise in perspective, it's also an easy way to discount the very legitimate suffering of another, even if the impetus of that suffering feels smaller than yours.  I appreciate that Kara never ever says, "I'm dying of cancer at age 36. Whatever problem you have has to be less, so suck it up!" She simply tells her story and the things she has learned while going through life's "Big Hards."

One of the things she shared that instructed me was naming her graces. I think I'm fairly responsive to thanking God for His blessings.  But the way that Kara referred to them as graces was challenging.  I think that it's easy to sort of subconsciously think that a lot of our blessings are deserved. If we eat right, drive safely, use our money wisely, shepherd our kids, remain faithful to our spouse, live frugally, love well, attend church, etc, it's easy to think, even ever so subconsciously, that we helped earn the blessings of health, family, friendship, church fellowship, a good marriage, financial security, etc. We can thank the One Who gave them to us and sort of mentally pat ourselves on the back for setting ourselves up for success and blessing. I think that's one reason we struggle so much when whatever challenge we're faced with is NOT a natural, logical outpouring of the circumstances preceding it.

But the very definition of grace is unmerited favor. Each and every single little thing, big or small, that is anything other than eternal damnation, is completely, wholly unmerited. I think I had forgotten that, without realizing it.

So I'm naming my graces. The big ones are easy to spot-my Jesus, my husband, my son, my children in Heaven, my family, my friends are all God's grace to me. A good marriage full of love to a good man full of love is God's grace to me. It is God's grace that He granted me my heart's desire to stay home with Matthew and be the kind of mom I want to be (or at least try to be her). We spent the day making pancakes and driving cars and reading books and talking, and feeding his love for tractors. It is God's grace to our family that 5 years into our business, we are still growing enough that we can support our family, and we have trustworthy, loyal, hardworking men of integrity on our staff whose families we can also help support. It is God's grace to us that while our roof continues to leak, we are still safe and the roofer continues to show up each time and try to fix it. It is God's grace to us that another couple chose us and that we have the opportunity for another transfer. If the purpose this time is to be another delivery to Heaven, that is God's grace, too. It's God's grace to me that today, Matthew craved touch so much that by the end of the day, I lovingly called him my little barnacle.  It is God's grace to us that Matthew gets to see his grandparents so often. It is God's grace to me that the first response of my best friend when finding out that our transfer is a week before her due date was, "Yay, we get to be pregnant together," showing me her faith FOR us even when I fear. It is God's grace to me that our family was just able to enjoy a modest but lovely vacation. It is God's grace to me that we have food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, clothes on our back, the medications we need, gas in our vehicles, and lots of wants, too. It is God's grace to me that I could read this book I needed to read today, even when not feeling well. It is God's grace to me that I have His Word available to me any time I want it. My education and my hobbies are His grace to me. Even this blog and the freedom to be honest are His grace to me. My warm coffee every morning, the rain that has drenched our valley, and the toy cars that litter my floor are all His graces. Matthew's giggles and my husband's loving glances and the nearby snores of my big fat dog are all God's graces to me. All of these things completely unmerited, unearned gifts.

Seeing these things as true GRACE, rather than "just" gifts, makes it easier to see and feel God's Jennifer love. Each and every little moment that makes my day more special is His Jennifer Lovesong. And today I believe a little more earnestly and heartfully than yesterday that if that song has another chorus of sorrow, it will still be a love song.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


We finally have a date for our final embryo transfer--November 20th. It's a little weird counting down to a day we know that will affect our lives forever--either we will finally be able to grow our family, or we will know for sure and for certain that we won't ever have any more kids. We'd appreciate your prayers. We really want to pray that the answer is yes, because we want more children very much and we are weary of heartache and loss. But we're trying to instead pray for God's glory and will, and for our acceptance of whatever the answer is. It's hard to have hope after so much loss, but we know that either the desires of our heart will be granted, or that if the Lord says no again, it will be because it is according to His much bigger plan. We are trying not to grieve as those without hope and we are grateful that no matter when we get to meet our babies, they are never outside of His Hands. We would love it if you joined us in prayer, too!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bible School Week 1: A is for Adam and Animals

I mentioned in my last post that Matthew is not attending Preschool. He already has many of the academic skills they would teach him. And I try to expose him to opportunities to learn other things like cooperation, playing with other kids, obeying teachers, working in a group, etc, through other activities we do like playdates and classes.  I feel comfortable delaying his "formal" education until he is a little older, reinforcing and teaching things as he shows interest, but not forcing things or making "academic" time a formal part of our day. This isn't an indictment against preschool or school outside the home. I taught preschool and I think it can be great for a lot of kids. But I relish the opportunity to be home here with him and I can give him the same things, so we've chosen to skip it at this time. If we need to reevaluate, we will.

But I don't want to delay his Bible Education. We've always read to him from our Bible and his, but I want to be more formal about it.

So, we're starting on a little Bible School for him and me. I am going to try to use an ABC format. He knows his letters already, but I figured it gave me a good place to start so I could narrow down to a theme or topic. Having some sort of parameter is good for me so I'm not overwhelmed by my choices. And it can't hurt to reinforce the alphabet. A actually came pretty easily to me but if I start flushing it out and it doesn't work well within the alphabet rubric, we'll abandon it.

I love Children's storybook Bibles. We have 8 or 10 of them. So most of what I will be using is just readings from them. I'm not really using any curriculum. I'm just sort of developing it myself.

My plan is to read the scripture every day, and then read one of his story book Bibles. Throughout the week we'll read other story books we have that reinforce the topic. We'll have a Bible verse to memorize.  I am toying with the idea of adding a Bible person of the week, and a place of the week too, but I haven't decided. This week the person goes with the lesson and they both start with A, but next week I am going to do B is for Bodies. God made Boaz' body, but it doesn't really reinforce the lesson. So we'll see. Same thing with songs. When we want to color, we'll color something that corresponds.

This fits well for my and Matthew's personalities. He really really loves to read and sing so he will think these things are fun to do, without feeling like it's crunching on his "play" time, which is what I want him to spend a lot of his time doing.

So without further ado, this is our game plan for the week.

A is for Adam and Animals
God Created the World

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-31

Monday: Toddler Bible, pages 12-19
Tuesday: New Bible in Pictures, pages 14-18
Wednesday: Jesus Story Book Bible, pages 18-27
Thursday: Jesus Calling Bible Storybook, pages 16-23
Friday: Big Picture Storybook Bible, pages 16-32

Person: Adam

Memory Verse: "All things were made by Him" John 1:3

Song: "All Creatures of our God and King"

Books: Creation Story, All Things Bright and Beautiful

These are other letters I have noodled on so far. In some I have multiple ideas, on others I don't have one yet. In some, I may just spend multiple weeks on the same letter so we can go through each one.  I may also do a theme one week, and a person the next week. Who knows. That's the nice thing about this--we can do as much or as little as we want, at any pace we want!

B: Body, Bible

C: God takes Care of us, Christmas

D: Disciples, Discipline

E: God made everything, God gives us everything.

F: Forgiveness, Family, Friends, Food, Fear

G: God is good, Good news of the Gospel

H: Heaven


J: Jesus

K: Be Kind

L: God is Love, God Loves Us, God Listens

M: God made Me


O: God wants us to Obey

P: Be Patient, Praise God, Pray to God



S: Sin

T: Be thankful



W: God gave us work to do, God made the world (focusing on other places rather than creation), God made us to Worship Him




ABC People in the Bible:

A: Adam, Abraham
B: Boaz, Barnabas
C: Caleb
D: Daniel
E: Esther, Eve
G: God, Gideon
H: Hezekiah, Hannah
J: Jesus, John, John the Baptist, Joseph, Joshua
K: King David
L: Lazarus
M: Mary, Matthew, Mark
N: Nathaniel
O: Obadiah
P: Paul, Peter
Q: Quirinius
R: Ruth, Rachel, Rebekah, Rahab
S: Sara, Simeon, Samuel, Satan
T: Timothy
U: Uzziah
V: Vashti
W: Wise Men
X: Xerxes
Z: Zachariah, Zaccheus

So, homeschooling mamas and mamas of preschoolers, what do you think? Would love your tips and tricks.