2018

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Family hiking.

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A Rapunzel and Sheepy Halloween.

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Mandatory outside fun.

This is the longest post ever. Time has passed. A year.  This now reads like every journal I’ve ever owned: “Happy New Year! So and so got me this new journal, and this year, I’m actually going to write.” I require rest.

But more than a break in habit or lack of discipline, 2018 consisted of doing.  So for the sake of reflection, in the spirit of not-being-a-quitter, and to catch up with friends far away, let us begin a haphazard review:

Rosalie Mae. Sweetest Rosebud. Last May, after numerous trips to UNC Chapel Hill, Rosie had a hemangioma (benign) removed from above her left clavicle. The tests and car trips, let alone the procedure, were stressful but I am happy to report good health and healing. Ever thankful for healthcare and all the ways in which we are provided.

Rosalie continues to amaze us with her comedic sense of timing, skill in building and tinkering, endless patience for an over-powering big sister, and a general toughness. Joyful and content, peaceable and polite, we can’t imagine life without her.

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Waiting in the hospital. She was the best little patient.

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Seeing the beach for the first time at Hilton Head. An afternoon chasing birds.

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All fixed up in her rose dress eating an Easter Peep.

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A visionary builder.

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Mama’s little garden helper. Beware of whomever controls the hose, we are not a careful people.

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A water baby for certain, every day was spent at the pool from June through August. We are swimmers, and we are snackers.

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Our little potato farmer.

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Sweeter than honey.

Lucy Jane is as theatrical as they come. Dramatic, fierce, brilliant, empathetic, passionate…strong and spicy.  Every day is a new performance with several costume changes, soundtracks, solo arias and interpretive dances. She’s recently been tackling repartee and original jokes. Her current favorite: “Chugga, chugga… Jack-in-the-Box.” Get it? Rosie finds it inspired. Every time. No matter what.

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Always fashion forward. She’s never met an outfit for which she has no opinion. Best let her choose the first time- there will be tears.

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Lulu with her beloved dog, Barley, buckled in for adventure: helmet, headlamp, water, bunny purse, and cooking pot.

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Curtsy.

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As much as I planted seeds for soccer, Lucy began dance lessons in the fall. Each Thursday comes quickly and, despite waking by six o’clock, getting everyone (appropriately) dressed and fed by nine thirty is still a miracle. We’ve only shown up without her dance shoes once.

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Enjoying a treat at the coffee shop with Aunt Jess.

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Lucy is a reliable help, strong and determined. Let her be in charge of something, and get out of the way; You are doing it wrong.

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All of the best things.

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Zoo fun. We only go on days where it’s miserably hot and crowded. We’re endurance training here; Resilience is not born in comfort.

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One of three times, ever, Lucy has fallen asleep in the car.

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Joie de vivre.

Watching the sister relationship blossom has been rewarding. And challenging. With competition and compassion, inseparable and sometimes insufferable, these little girls love big. They afford each other much-needed balance and grace. And we could not love them more.

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Piano duets and duels. Sometimes smashed fingers and hurt feelings, occasionally music.

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Frozen yogurt dates in the eight months of summer.

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Serious beach babies, our fearless wonders will play and build all day.

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And some days, we brought the beach to us- which was an act of inspiration when Mom turned around: dumping the sandbox into the pool. Genius, really.

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Track workouts were bribed and rewarded with yogurt pops and splashing in puddles.

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I’m fairly certain this hike was a disaster, save this snacking moment.

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Hurricane Florence aftermath in the neighborhood.

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Earning their keep at Grammie and Pappy’s house.

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Spontaneous snuggles.

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The sweetest of all: Lucy comforting Rosie after the betrayal of vaccinations. They stayed this way for hours.

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Grammie and Pappy’s visit to the Strawberry Farm.

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Deep sea explorers.

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The only picture we took of them during pool season. The staff knew us by name, and we shut the place down.

Stuart continues to surpass my hopes and expectations as a partner and friend. This year’s hobbies included home brewing, mastering Ramen (including noodle making), baking sourdough breads, running, euphonium playing, and all of the other stuff the Army requires of him. But none of this holds a candle to how wonderful a father and husband he is: funny, smart, talented, happy, compassionate…and loyal to all of the ridiculous obligations and projects that begin with “I volunteered us to…”, “I know I should have waited, but…”

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Winter walk at my parents.

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Picnic surprises with Rose Toes.

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Noodles, noodles, noodles. We are a well-fed people.

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Tonkotsu Ramen with Chashu Pork.

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Muffins with Dad.

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Daddy at work.

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Belle and Prince Charming.

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How we prepared for the hurricane.

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Love.

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All the bread, all the time.  No more store-bought loaves.

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Summer hike in Boone, NC.

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38th Birthday Half-Marathon.

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Christmas Party Hats.

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Annual Christmas hike to reflect on the year. Some of us enjoy the terrain and topics of conversation more than others.

And I had a big year, too. I completed my first half-marathon in February on a girls’ getaway weekend (and then my second one on Stu’s birthday). I completed my 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher training and began teaching yoga at the community college. I ran away to the Gulf of Mexico to reunite with my Alaska-forged friends, and (…how does the list not seem longer?)… I washed a lot of laundry, I folded some of it. I vacuumed. I kept peace…and created restlessness and disturbances. I got rid of baby clothes and we bought bunk beds. It was a full year, a fast year. There was considerable growth.

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I continue to have the best friends. Ever. Everywhere I go.

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It wasn’t always pretty, but I did it.

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Nine years together.

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My Alaska-tough forever friends.

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Best weekend ever. If you haven’t treated yourself to good wine, beautiful scenery, tapas, yoga, running, life-changing conversation and peaceful silence, get out  your calendar.

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My wonderful teacher.

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Fleeting moments of motherhood.

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Yoga Bonnie.

And there is our year in post cards and laundry lists; it does fulfill the blog’s namesake. But I say this with love: I didn’t write it for you. Sitting down to remember, to reflect on a year of love and growth, memories, effort, and loss is a healing process. It cultivates gratitude. What a beautiful year. And it is not lost on me that sixteen months ago when I wrote the last post, entitled Still, that without conscious connection I would embark on a life-changing journey to balance all of my movement and busyness with the sanctity of disciplined rest, mindful movement, and meditation.

Without sitting down to write this, although my original motivation was more distance runner than yogi in nature, I did not see God’s clear answer to my prayers to my heart’s churning question:

If I’m not still, will I still know You are God?

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Learn to be still, He answered.

I have learned more sitting on my yoga mat than I can put to words. In disciplining my mind, holding my tongue, breathing deeply, feeling, listening, praying, waiting. Peace rises. Trust. Faith. Hope.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

           So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-13

This is a verse I have closed my ears and heart to much of my life. A trite poem, a shallow recitation, I have been deaf to its profound simplicity.  To abide, to be fully known…how many times have I recounted “Search my heart, O God” without ever searching it myself? Sitting with myself in all discomfort- physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional- letting every question and doubt I have had surface; Every bad memory, every circumstance I’ve deemed a failure, every wound I have created or received, every time I have fallen short, my disappointments- I let it sit with me.  Uncomfortable and miserable, I cried, I yelled, I laid down and felt sorry for myself. And when it was done, when I was ready, they left. Letting grace do it’s work- it’s Holy, changing, inexplicable work. Invite it in. Make room for what is meant to live here, in this body, this spirit, this mind:

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So I raise a glass to 2019, ready for adventure and fullness. In teaching and learning, returning to Alaska, marathon training, bread-baking and eating, singing and dancing, may there also be more silence. Mouna. More stillness. More listening. More faith, more hope, more love. And may we count it all grace. Cheers!

 

 

 

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Still

Idol. Simply put, an “image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.” (Webster). In terms of faith, and far more pointed and personal: “It is the thing loved or the person loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, enjoyed more than God.” (John Piper)

What do I love more than God?

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My children. My husband. Myself. And most good things; the very things, when asked, I would say He created. But even more than the things and people, a greater and all encompassing addiction…busyness.  Because my busyness keeps me from the hard questions, the hard feelings, and makes me feel a sense of purpose and success. My search for perfect running shoes, life-changing (cellulite hiding) yoga pants, body composition, tooth whiteness, bank accounts, education, books read, places traveled, foods enjoyed, the ever-flattering photo, adventures with kids, dreamed travels without kids, new haircuts, long walks, running goals, witty responses to questions…an obsession with busyness. And myself.  For someone who spends so much thought life trying to improve myself, the features I love or hate, I am the center of my universe.

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“But you spend so much time taking care of your kids,” you might say. And while, yes, these little people absorb much of my hours, my thoughts are still largely about me: if I want to go outside, paint or color, goldfish or pretzels, watch Daniel Tiger rather than Thomas (always), have a self-pity party when they are uncooperative with my personal plans and goals. Me. Myself. I.

This is no fun to write.

This isn’t what I meant to write about when I sat down. But given the nature of the last paragraph, it seems excessively narcissistic to delete it…even if I’m now off topic.

(I now feel miserable and want to delete this. Also, according to HuffPost, I think I’m a narcissist. Dammit.)

I wanted to write about tonight. I went to small group my normal 35 minutes late wearing a hat (because, yikes!) and pants I now know to have holes up and down the inner thighs (because thigh gap is an unobtainable lie), and I listened to a moving and personal account of a search for true love for God, contentment, and sincere worship amidst relationships, motherhood, and pursuit of career.  Nearly twelve women, most stationed here at Ft. Bragg, listened and then several shared current hardships and struggle. I intended to share, too: how my idolatry is busyness (see above and now note current relevance), I don’t make time for God since having children, I don’t intend to but do idolize nice things (tell funny story about Lululemon pants), etc. But what came out of my mouth was:

A year ago tomorrow, I hemorrhaged for the first (of three) time(s) at 28 weeks pregnant.

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(Cue tears and long pauses to regain composure while making eye contact with no one.)

I remember that day so clearly. I was an emotional train wreck do to PCS preparation and hormones, and because I am always surrounded by the best friends ever created, I was gifted a time to myself to cry it out. I remember sitting on the long wooden bench in Dana’s dining room, crying and writing, eating chocolate intended for the road trip from Alaska to North Carolina. I remember the autumn-scented candle, the box of tissues I grabbed from the bookshelf. It was really one of my greater “woe is me” cries, save maybe the night someone broke into my car after I moved to Georgia alone, waiting for Stuart to return from six months of training; or maybe the first cold sore I ever got that kept me from visiting my premature baby in the NICU…but on that fall day in Fairbanks, the latter hadn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t have been able to dream up that scenario.

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What I meant to say, what I thought I would say tonight, was that my faith hadn’t been the same since the trauma of that pregnancy. Because even while I laid in bed at the hospital after the transfusion, I really didn’t believe I would bleed again. Or maybe my head did, ever in a worse-case scenario posture, but a big part of me (and the part of me I wanted to believe most) was waiting with expectant hope. I was waiting for God to save me from all of it. As naive as it may sound, I didn’t think He’d let me bleed again.

But I did. About ten days later, I bled again and had to be rushed to the hospital lying on the floor of the car at one in the morning.  Even still, I remember writing scripture on strips of construction paper. I made a paper chain to represent every day that I was able to keep Rosie in my belly.  Every night before I tried to sleep, I had Stuart or a nurse (because I couldn’t get out of bed) move a strip from the “countdown to term pregnancy” to the “days on bed rest” chain so I could see my progress. Days pass rather slowly when you’re confined to a hospital bed. (Everyone who entered my room asked if I was an elementary teacher. Also, it turns out other women on strict bed rest knit blankets, sewed quilts and made elaborate scrapbooks. No one else had Scotch-taped non-matching, misshapen slips of paper covered with colored pencil doodles to their hospital walls. Who’d have guessed?)

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But I still thought I’d make it to 34 weeks. For whatever reason, this was my heart’s goal. Believing that Rosalie would truly be okay, her lungs developed enough, that if only I could lie still enough, remain calm enough, she and I could make it. Surely all of this would be over, and she would still be miraculously healthy without any further hardship. But on my birthday, I bled again. The last time. Pregnancy over.

And while I’m dredging out all of the hard things, let me just add…. were all future pregnancies over, too? Due to my condition I knew that it was possible that I would awake from my c-section to find I had a hysterectomy, too. So, just like that…are my childbearing years over? Because I have all of the risk factors to have another complete placenta previa, who in their right mind would want to be pregnant again? Right? Who?…

…but it’s not that simple, is it.

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I held everything together pretty well through my bed rest. I even stayed calm through my surgery prep. Alone. I managed to keep breathing calmly when my spinal failed and they had to put me under, even when I awoke to the pain.  Seeing Rosalie for the first time, calm. Relieved even, to have this impending doom over. But when I found out that I had a cold sore, that I had kissed her with my lips and possibly put her in grave danger…when I was forbidden to see her for a week…

Enough.

I couldn’t get over the danger I put her in. Yes, the cold sore…but the premature delivery, too. I am her mother. I was her home, her safe keeping, and I failed. My body failed me, it failed us. I wasn’t supposed to bleed again. It wasn’t 34 weeks. The first time I saw the tubes in her nose, struggling to breathe, I couldn’t keep my composure.  And while Rosie grew stronger, those 41 days in the NICU were not life-giving to me.  I fell apart, and when I put the pieces back together, they arranged themselves differently. Stronger, perhaps. But harder, yes.

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Rosalie is eleven months old today. This year has been a whirlwind of rushing, movement. If I’m not still, will I know that you are God?

Like quicksand, if I slow down, things get harder. And deeper. Why did the placenta implant over my cervix? Why did I bleed? Why wasn’t my story of God’s grace that He pulled me from the fiery furnace without any burns?

This is the first time I’ve ever voiced Why Me? (My rational robotic mind usually filters nonsense questions like this.)

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Because God’s graces are infinite in our situation, I find guilt and shame creeping into my throat. Humbling thoughts of God’s care: the medical jet, the blood transfusions, friends to watch Lucy, family to help with childcare, Rosalie born so big, extensive medical technologies, the healthcare and insurance coverage, Stuart staying in Anchorage with me to help, living at the Fisher House, excellent doctors and nurses, remaining uterus, healthy Rosalie, supportive and faithful friends, ad infinitum. And while I remind myself that suffering is not best understood by comparison, my heart breaks for those with very different outcomes. Families leave hospitals every day without their babies.

So why are all of the ways in which I was provided for, all of the things that went right, why are those most easily forgotten? One year later, the things that remain are the pains of the suffering we had to walk through, the pain I so desperately prayed to be spared.


 

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
 Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.                                                                 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
 On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
 when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,
 when I made clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
    and set bars and doors,
 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it?
 It is changed like clay under the seal,
    and its features stand out like a garment.
 From the wicked their light is withheld,
    and their uplifted arm is broken.

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
    Declare, if you know all this.

                                                   Job 38: 1-18


 

Oh Job. I am so sorry you had to take that one for the team. I even cower when I read it. I know that I don’t get to know, and I’m working on accepting that.  See? Isn’t that the problem? I can’t work on this. I just need You, God, to do it for me, or with me…through me? More than that, if I am sincerely going to be grateful for Your provision, I might as well start by honestly saying what You already know:

God, I feel like you let me down. I am not, by nature, a hoper. Trust is hard for me. And I really sincerely hoped you would stop the bleeding. I believed that You could and You would. And I hear the spoiled tone of voice and the small-mindedness I so often get from my three year old. I am sorry for that, too. I don’t want to feel this way. I want bold faith without doubts, grief or mess.  I want to just be thankful.

And I don’t like being still.


But He gives more grace.

                                                                         James 4:6


It’s a new day. I wrote everything above late last night, crawling into bed after midnight…nursing a baby at four in the morning, first cup of coffee a little after six.  I just got back from a run.  The baby is napping. Lucy is dismantling the bookshelf around my feet and sprinkling peanut butter cracker crumbs for the petting zoo I’m certain we are advertising to critters near and far. My community group filled my inbox with loving, thoughtful messages this morning and late last night. I am supported. I am loved. I am prayed for.

But I am still embarrassed that I wrote this, that I feel this. Why did I write this? Maybe HuffPost is right; narcissism? External processing? Is this just an emotional “picture of what I had for dinner”? Maybe.

But maybe, if I actually share this (currently undecided), you’ll say “me too.” Maybe you’ve seen some stuff. Maybe you’re walking through it. Maybe you are mad at God…your Mom has cancer. You’re infertile. You lost your job. You’re in debt and unhappy. You threw up your dinner because it made you feel in control.  You’re lonely. Maybe you’re holding a newborn baby and weeping because you feel miserable in this new position. Maybe you’re scrolling through Facebook looking for a way to feel better about yourself. Maybe you bought the Lululemon pants and you still don’t like your thighs. Maybe…it’s not just me.


Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

                                                                                                Romans 5: 3-4

I’m not sure I’m ready to “rejoice in my sufferings.” But surely, this has produced endurance. Character? Maybe. Hope? Not quite yet.

So let me go even further back to “access by faith.” I need faith. We need faith. A faith bigger than the love of comfort, bigger than the hard feelings. Deeper and stronger. Let us ask together. Honestly, openly…admitting doubts and fears, waving our white flags over our head. Let us not stay here. We don’t have to endure the same troubles, the same pain again and again. Our being still does not have to be staying same.

 

A Long Pause

I’ve been meaning to write.  In fact, I’ve written this entry in my head over and over…but it’s always been while walking outside or nursing a baby at 2am. No one ever writes it down. And there’s a part of me that hasn’t wanted to write any of it down either: too tired, too hungry, too busy. But the truth is, I’m not sure how to remember all of it. Or if I even want to.

 

The day before everything changed was crazy. We were so busy and tired with trying to move. We had emptied our house, shipped a car, and found ourselves living with exceptionally gracious friends. Stuart never recovered from running his marathon while we scurried (a week earlier than planned) to get him to a ferry. Lucy, having just turned two, displayed her serious distaste for moving and leaving her first home by turning into the most challenging child. I, being 28 weeks pregnant, handled all of it with aplomb. The morning before I bled, I wrote this:

But sometimes, in the middle of the adventure, you realize it’s more of an ordeal.  The shadows of to-do lists, boxes, and exhaustion wear you down. Your ability to keep crawling onto the mattress next to your toddler at midnight and sneaking out by 5:45 am starts to fall apart.  Your tired gets loud.  Your toddler, with whom you’ve spent no quality loving time in a month of moving preparation, finds medicine and tries to administer it to herself while you fold laundry and take a phone call.

And everything just unravels.

And when the dam finally breaks, the mess spills without borders or direction.  You find yourself in pile of tissues, crying for all of it: for yourself, for your child, for your unborn child, for the guilt of busyness, for your lack of control and breakdown in strength, for the beauty of the home you no longer have, for the home you haven’t made or found, for the week you’ll have in the hospital where you can’t hold your firstborn, and for all of the choices you have made and failed to make. You binge eat some chocolate that you were saving for the road trip, and listen to this on repeat. Over and over. And you just wait it out; wait until you’ve cried enough that your load feels lighter. And you get up, adding “emotional breakdown” to your to-do list and place a big, fat “X” next to it. Something else accomplished.

Keep going.

I hadn’t the faintest clue how much things were about to unravel, how much things could change over night.

Around 1am on September 21, 2016, I awoke with pain and pressure in my lower left abdomen. Assuming that I had worked too hard and that my bladder was too full, I rolled off the mattress and tried to sneak to the bathroom. And then it broke. Gush. I waddled across the hall to see what it was. Amniotic fluid? No. Blood. And more blood. It didn’t stop gushing. Trying to contain my panic, I whisper yelled to Stuart for help- praying that Lucy didn’t wake up to this horror scene.

When he saw all of the blood, his face ran white. I told him I needed help, that it would be okay. But I kept bleeding. He went to get our friends. White-faced, we prayed while I laid on their bathroom floor, holding a bath towel to catch the bleeding and inverting my lower half on toilet seat…as if it were all some out-of-control nose bleed. I prayed. I breathed. I told Stuart it would be okay. And the ambulance came to take me to the hospital.

I could tell everyone in the emergency room was certain I’d lost the baby. When they searched my swollen belly for a heartbeat, there was an audible sigh of relief at the detection of thumping and kicking. All of the EMTs were still in the room. I like to think they slept better knowing the baby made it on their watch.

As the bleeding slowed, they moved me upstairs to begin my transfusions. The top priority was getting me to Anchorage, to a more-prepared NICU, but the bleeding needed to stabilize first.  I laid on my left side for 12 hours without moving, waiting and praying. The contractions and bleeding picked up in any other position. So I waited.

When they told me that the medical jet would be there in 30 minutes, we were surprised. Stuart and I had decided that he should stay with Lucy and together they could figure out how to get to Anchorage.  When we told the nurse our plan, the look on her face suggested it wasn’t the best one. If I continued to bleed in air, they would deliver me as soon as we landed. At 28 weeks. So he should come with me, and we should leave our toddler with our friends until…

I finished my transfusion in air while still laying on my left side. Another ambulance later, we arrived at Providence Hospital. I didn’t know that I be would at this hospital for nearly 3 months. During my intake exam, they removed a clot the size of a softball from the bottom of my cervix. I had steroid shots for the baby’s lungs, IVs (the first of nearly 30 I would have while staying there), and began organizing a move to Anchorage, a flight for Lucy and Stuart, and living arrangements.

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A few flights later and a gracious road trip by one of Stuart’s co-workers, our family and vehicle were moved to Anchorage. Stuart and Lucy moved into the Fisher House and, amidst the chaos, learned what it meant to be humbled by other’s help and service. My mother-in-law, who had planned on flying to North Carolina with us instead took a month’s residence in Alaska, trading shifts with Stuart watching me, watching Lucy. We scheduled other family members’ visits and flights to help us. In all, I lasted another month on strict bed rest, including one week where I was discharged to go “home.” Within a week, I awoke once again at 1 am to bleeding. I laid on the floor in the back of the car while Stuart drove to the hospital while counting to four over and over again to help calm my breathing and contractions.

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On my 31st birthday, my contractions felt different. I knew it was different. Under constant monitoring, increased medications, withheld food and liquids, we “celebrated” in the hospital. After a long day of waiting, I was released to eat and Stuart planned to bring ice cream to the hospital. After two bites of cereal, I arose to use the restroom when the dam broke once more. The toilet flooding with blood, I pulled the emergency cord on the wall. Every nurse on the floor, all of whom knew me by name, came rushing to my aid. I made it back to the bed, called Stuart to tell him I was bleeding. And then, called him again to say we were having a baby.  No more waiting, no more bleeding. The doctors called it. Done. Thirty-two weeks, five days.

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I knew Stuart would be panicked trying to make it back. Despite all of our planning, when it finally happened, I was still by myself at the hospital. The OR was as bright white, cold, and sterile as an odd after-life scene in a movie. I breathed. Doctors and nurses hurried around me, and I tried to recognize their eyes behind a sea of blue scrubs, hats and masks. Wanting me to meet the baby immediately, the doctor permitted a spinal so that I could remain awake. When it didn’t work, I took deep breaths into a firmly placed mask and awoke in searing pain. And I tried to breathe.

It wasn’t long before Stuart was at my side showing me pictures of Rosalie. Four pounds, twelve ounces. I mumbled numbers on a scale from one to ten describing my pain levels, but it’s hard to talk when you can barely breathe. Ever finding respite in humor, I asked Stuart to play some music…this all needed a theme song. I even convinced him to sing. And we both tried to laugh.

Before returning to my room, the nurses wheeled me into the NICU to hold Rosie. The cords and tubes we would all grow accustomed to were awkward, but no one cared.  She was here. And in one sense, this nightmare was over. Later as I lay in my room, wide awake, I watched the snow fall silently outside and blanket everything. It was beautiful and therapeutic.  I kept Stuart awake, rambling and asking questions…trying to make sense of everything that happened. He amused my constant chatter and helped lift me when I was ready to roll over.

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The next forty days were somehow even harder. My first cold sore appeared the day after delivery, and I wasn’t allowed to enter the NICU or visit Rosalie. Stuart went to visit her and would send videos while I slavishly, desperately tried to pump milk.  The breastfeeding/breast milk obsession was nearly my ruin, as I spent all day and night trying to provide for her in the only way I knew how, at any and all costs.  After bottoming out one weekend when my anxiety and stress prevented any milk from leaving my body, I knew my strength to keep pushing through was running out. I reached out for help the following week, and when I said “I think I’m struggling with postpartum depression” and recounted everything, my doctor didn’t blink, agreed, and added “maybe a bit of PTSD, too.”

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Rosalie would live in the NICU, without us, as she grew and learned to eat.  I awoke at 5am to pump and drive to the hospital. I spent all day there feeling guilty for not mothering Lucy, feeling guilty for abandoning Rosie at night to tuck her older sister in to bed. The days and nights dragged on…quite literally as the darkening hours increased towards the winter solstice.  And we muddled through.  Care packages, sweet notes from friends, and the prayers of others carried us.

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And on December 5, 2016, Lucy, Rosalie and I (with the gracious help of Aunt Tammy), finally boarded a plane for the east coast. Stuart arrived shortly before Christmas, three weeks after he watched his girls board the plane without him. We made it -still homeless, but in the right state. Together. And no one in the hospital.

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And while it was a great relief to have the chapter end, the heaviness still lingered.  It was odd to board a plane and leave it all behind… as though it never happened. It was strange that I never returned to Fairbanks, never said goodbye to my friends after rushed into that ambulance.  Strange that we lived with strangers for three months out of suitcases, strange that we didn’t live in Alaska anymore. Strange to celebrate Christmas when we felt birthdays and Thanksgiving hadn’t happened yet. While we lived out of the hospital, time for us stood still while the world around plowed ahead.

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We moved into our own house in the beginning of January with considerable help from family. The mountain of boxes has slowly dwindled, and we’re adjusting to being a family of four…living in our own space after four months. Lucy has embraced being a big sister, and she seems to have forgiven me for my long absence. Rosalie, while not quite the good sleeper you hope for, is growing and happy, chubby and cheerful.

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We press through days like tired parents do: high-fiving when they both sleep, making more coffee when they don’t, creating great family activities that never go as planned.  Stuart and I await the one hour each evening when they’re both asleep- we pour drinks and have stashed desserts that we don’t share.  We each spread out on our own couch, and we rehash the day’s successes and failures. And we forget to start the dishwasher when we amble to our bedroom at 9:30 to retire.

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I am not sure we ever know the purpose of suffering or if it matters, but on days when my heart is positioned towards gratitude, my best days, I am able to recognize overwhelming grace in our circumstances: friends that cared for Lucy as their own, co-workers who made personal sacrifices to help us, family members who placed their lives on hold to come to Alaska, anonymous donors that make charitable organizations operate, an employer that valued a family’s togetherness during crisis, incredible healthcare and insurance, blood donors that made my transfusion possible, nurses and doctors that went above and beyond to help me -the one who bought me earrings for my birthday -, the prayers and cards and packages from beloved friends all over, and a husband who spent his days caring and bathing our toddler… his evenings caring for and bathing me in the hospital shower.

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Hard things happened, but we were loved so well through it all. Thanks to each of you for every prayer and thought, card and package. Thanks be to God for a healthy and happy Rosalie Mae (who is nursing in my lap as I try to type this with one hand), a toddler as gracious and forgiving as Lucy, and for a husband, best friend, and confidant as faithful and giving as Stuart.

Cheers to a boring 2017.

 

 

 

One Last Hurrah

A lot has happened in just a few weeks. We moved out of our house, we shipped our possessions and the Honda to North Carolina, and we moved in with friends. Stuart ran his first (and a very epic) marathon. I had major bleeding and was taken by medical flight to Anchorage where, due to my complications and risk to new baby, we learned we were not moving to North Carolina yet. And so Stuart moved us to Anchorage. Grandma Sue came to help manage the crazy, and well…that brings us to today.  I’m writing this from my hospital room, which I’ve only left four times in over a week (including a transfer back to Labor and Delivery for contractions).

But this post is about a great weekend that preceded all of this; it was before the unraveling of plans, the blood, the sirens.  In the midst of the moving preparation and chaos, we decided that one last trip to Denali National Park was in order.  We booked a B&B, we loaded the car, treated ourselves to breakfast, and God provided the most beautiful weather and scenery one can dream of.  It was our calm before the storm. And it was perfect. It remains perfect.

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But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
 Who among all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
 In his hand is the life of every living thing
    and the breath of all mankind.  Job 12: 7-10

Every living thing: the birch, the pine, and the fireweed; the moose, the elk, and the caribou; the ravens, the grayling, and the salmon.

Mamas and 29-week-old babies, too.

The Second Half, Letter B

Alright. We left off at the end of March.

By this point in the spring, we had reached 12+ hours of daylight and rapidly climbing towards the summer solstice.  Moods start to lift as the temperatures stay closer to the 20s and 30s, the sunshine is welcomed, and everyone spends every moment outside.  April also brought vistors: Uncle Wally and Aunt Lala.

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I love this photo! (…which is good since they were here for over a week and this is the only one we took.)

We had a great visit lounging, snacking, and catching up. Lucy is absolutely taken with them, and largely, the idea that more people in the house means someone can be playing with her always. Every moment. She soaked up the love and attention, and so did we. I started feeling a little tired while they were here, which I thought suggested what horrible shut-ins we’d become. But a few days later, Lucy took her first illegal picture with our good camera:

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A real end-of-the-day tired. For good reason.

I smiled for her, but cringed when I looked at it later that night. But I’m so glad she took it: later that night I found out I was pregnant with baby number 2.  (She’s already the best sister.) As excited as we are, everything after this was colored by morning sickness, everything from April until the end of June. I had the kind of morning sickness that progressively gets worse all day. And suffice it to say that there was a lot of muddling through, a lot of naps, a lot of take-out, and a lot of pancakes.

Stuart and I also had the opportunity to get cleaned up for a military banquet.  I jumped at the chance to wear something other than gym clothes.

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Excuse me while I try to crop the garden hose out of the picture.

And we had fun. But it was more real than my mental date night escape fantasy: I spent too long getting ready (because I couldn’t choose a dress), I ate licorice the entire way there to keep my nausea at bay, we were late and missed cocktail hour (none for me anyways), and when I sat down, my newly pregnant-bloated belly made it hard to breathe.  I remembered that was I too old to be so uncomfortable in a dress of my own choosing, and I spent the whole night making small talk and eating miserably small bites in hopes that my dress would stretch slowly enough to fit dessert. And everyone kept asking me if we were dual service.  What about my obvious feminine mystique (please see above) drew those assumptions? [I wrestled the dress and most of my undergarments off before we got out of the parking lot.]  Perhaps we’ll stick to nachos and beer.

In May, we had a special trip. A special “you’re out of your mind” trip with an overnight flight to Denver for a surprise party. And it was great:

We managed to not get any photos of the entire party, the house where we stayed, or of the birthday boy. That sounds right.  But we had quality time with our best Army friends from Ft. Benning (wholeheartedly missing the O’Hara clan), and it did our hearts good. And I think that speaks for all of us. Army friends are family. You spend two or three years as instant best friends; you don’t have time to be superficial or try to look good.  When you find quality folks, you seize the opportunity: “Hi. I know we just met, but I think we should be friends. Do you want to come over for dinner Friday?”. Or a personal favorite- “Hi, I’m Anna. What’s your deepest secret?”.  Let’s just get it all out there, friends: here is our dirty laundry, here are our bad habits, here are our crazy relationships, here are our dreams.  And you love them like family. They are your strong support, your emergency contacts, your babysitters, your therapists.  They’re the kind of friends you fly overnight from Alaska to see for the weekend.

 

Lucy and I continued our travels to Pennsylvania to stay with my parents and visit my grandparents. We had so much summer fun:

We swam, we ate, we hiked, we napped. We rode in wheelbarrows, we dropped Popsicles in the pool, we caught cicadas, we drew entire gardens with sidewalk chalk. We visited Great Grandma and Great Grandpap.  We chased chickens, we got “nibbled” by a goat, we read lots of books, we dug in dirt, we jumped in puddles, we licked ice cream.  Grandma Sue and Grandpa Ed came to see us, too. We tasted Oreos, we tried to catch bunnies, we swung high on swings, we gobbled pizza, we hugged, we kissed, and we laughed.

And when it was time to go, we cried. Living far away can be hard. But we missed Daddy, and it was time to go home.

Lucy was so excited to see her Daddy. Ecstatic, actually. We both were.  Our Alaska love was born anew when we got home.  We could snuggle with Daddy, and walk on our own walking trails, play at our parks. Lucy was delighted to be in her house, and she rediscovered her toys with sincere joy; her lost friends were found! It was sweet. And it was sweet to see my friends, too.

Here we are after the Midnight Sun Run, a 10k that starts at 10pm on the summer solstice. (This picture was taken around midnight or after…before we went and ate 1am burgers and french fries at Wendy’s.  Girls’ Night Out!)

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For Dana and me, this wasn’t our fastest 10k at 19 weeks and 15 weeks pregnant, respectively. But we did have the luxury of carrying Sour Patch Kids and Dots in our hydration packs…which we unabashedly ate while everyone passed us.

 

A week or so later, we decided to spend a weekend camping at the lake.

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The four of us.

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Filling her Dory bucket with treasures.

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Searching for fish and inspecting the boats.

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S’more preparation.

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Morning snuggles and pre-breakfast popcorn snacks.

Lucy enjoyed the cabin, the “big water” and special camping treats.  We thought it was the best we could do since she still asks to go to Hawaii when she wakes up in the morning. Om…Hawaii. Me too, Lucy girl. Me too.

July has been filled with it’s own excitement, but I think those stories and photos are for another time.  We’ve kept ourselves busy, mostly healthy, and generally happy. What else can you hope for? And new adventures are surely coming.

Much love from the north. Jacksons out.

The First Half, Part 1

It’s become apparent that I do not have the determination, discipline or…(add something else that starts with “d”) to be a regular blogger. What? No gasp of shock? Maybe it’s because Lucy runs everywhere and leaves me with little energy at the end of the day. Or maybe it’s because following a post about traveling to Hawaii isn’t so thrilling. Or maybe it’s the cheap laptop we bought that has made editing photos a miserable experience, and my better half thinks hiring an assistant for a blog I don’t write isn’t the most practical use of our money. Or maybe it’s that my 1980s cell phone doesn’t capture voice dictation when I have my wittiest ideas on my evening walks. Regardless, let me catch you up on the first six months of 2016 in two parts. (Two. Because I have no intention of finishing this tonight…)

Let’s see, we returned from Hawaii to more snow and cold.  We watched another dog sled race, The Yukon Quest.  This 1,000 mile race between Whitehorse, Yukon, and Fairbanks, Alaska, is the race most fond to locals’ hearts.  We bundled up and went with friends.

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This was also the first year we made it to The World Ice Art Championships and Ice Park.

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Lucy and Daddy resting in the ice cabin.

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Neither of us are large people, but these sculptures are still huge!

This international attraction draws over 45,000 people to Fairbanks each year.  The ice is harvested locally in giant blocks, and the competition is divided into “single block” and “multi-block” categories.  Here are some of our favorites:

I escaped for a girls’ weekend to a B&B near Denali Park in March. We drove through a snow storm to get there, and we were gone less than 24 hours, but a little freedom and friend time was oh so nice! We enjoyed meeting the other guests (who were flying into Denali and mushing sled dogs back), drinking coffee in the still and quiet, and eating brownies late at night in our bedroom like teenagers. Friends are the best.

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Spending quality time in the snow.

And while those photos are all from our fun reel, we had some rough spots this winter and early spring, too. Rough… like having Lucy in the ER and admitted to the hospital rough. Twice.

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Daddy and Lucy on Easter.

As it turns out, Lucy has some sort of asthmatic condition that seems to be triggered by viral infections. Of course, since neither of us has asthma, it took longer than I’d like to admit to figure out that her wheezing wasn’t severe congestion. We were able to control the first few attacks at home with a rescue inhaler. But not numbers four and five. Poor Lucy.

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The second time around, we knew what we were in for. We had our hospital bag packed. We knew we’d have her on oxygen and breathing treatments. We knew we’d stay for days without rest. We knew her “special cribby” and “needle arm” wouldn’t be as scary to her. We knew how to restrain her most effectively for IVs, how to take turns holding the oxygen mask on her face all night without waking her up…to call friends for help so we could get showers, to not call family right away to keep them from worrying so much when they’re so far away…

…but some things are best unfamiliar.

We haven’t had any flare-ups since Lucy has been on a daily inhaler.  We also removed her from the one hour a week she was having with other children in the nursery; this, unfortunately, triggered the attacks at least three times. And rest assured, Lucy is a trooper. I’m sure no medical staff ever enjoys seeing a toddler in the hospital, but she is one good patient.  She’s one tough cookie.

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And that catches us up through March. April, May, and June have proven very exciting- full of family, fun, and lots of travel. Part 2 should be a good one…whenever I actually write it.

That Time We Went to Hawaii

So after last year’s eight months of winter (only three of darkness), I decided that a mid-winter trip was crucial to my sanity, my health, and my happiness.  We considered flying back to visit family on the east coast again, but when we realized we could fly to Hawaii faster and for about the same cost, we were quick to choose this:

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The perfect beach. Om.

And I talked my parents into coming, too.

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Our best family selfie. Mom with her birthday lei.

And it was amazing. Amazing. Wonderful. The best. Beautiful. Awesome. Unreal.

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Except the whole ‘traveling with a toddler’ part; that part was very real. I mean, she was great. Honestly. But nobody need picture any of us laying on the beach relaxing: we were chasing Lu down the beach with SPF 50, trying to keep her from rolling her banana in the sand, stay in the shade, keep her cool, keep her warm, keep her hat on, make it home for naptime, etc…

…but we got to do all of that in Hawaii. With family. And it was perfect.

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So cute. So smart. So sweet.

Lucy loved Hawaii. I mean, we all did. And we kept busy, busy, busy.

We went to the Honolulu Zoo:

 

We enjoyed the beach:

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Always together.

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This beach was a five minute walk from the cottage. Exhale.

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StuBaby.

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From Lanikai Beach.

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From the porch.

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Experiencing the sand and sea.

We went out for a special dinner:

 

We enjoyed quality time together:

 

And when the last night came, we were sad. Sad to say goodbye. Sad to leave swimsuits for snow boots. Sad to get back on the airplane.

 

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Sunset on the last day.

But we were (and are!) so thankful for a perfect week. What a joyful reason to pinch pennies all year! What great memories and beautiful sites.  It was a shock to be on the beach on Sunday and in snowy Alaska on Monday, but we’re adjusting.  (Returning is much easier when you have the kind of friends that sneak into your house with groceries and leave a home-made dinner for your first night home.  Blessings abound.)  And we’ve set a tight budget for this year because, Hawaii, we’re coming back.  Aloha!