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. Takethemameal.com 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 Amazon.com 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...