Just Look...

Just Look...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Pull Up a Chair. It's a Long One. And a Miracle-filled One.

Today’s post isn’t as much (or at all) adoption-related (except indirectly), but it’s something I have wanted to tell and after today, I have even more testimony to share.

After our return home from Cambodia in July, I was incredibly fatigued. Not like jet lag, not like exhaustion, not tired from working hard in the heat, but like only had the energy to straighten the kitchen for a few minutes then had to go back and lay down before I did anything else. Like heavy limbs and weak body fatigue. Weird, unnatural fatigue. I went to the walk-in clinic on July 10 because I also had a cold and I wanted to make sure I didn’t have Zika (even though I don’t think it’s even IN Cambodia) or some exotic illness that was affecting my body. After checking the normal things, she listened to my heart and then said, “I hear something strange, I want to get you on an EKG.” They did an EKG and she came back to tell me that I needed to go to the hospital and let a cardiologist put his eyes on me. I was a little nervous, but I said ok and started getting my stuff together. She then said, “The ambulance is on its way.” HUH WHAT??? They did a second EKG and she told me my heart rate was in the 30’s. This, apparently, is not good. (My resting heart rate is typically around 63.) {When the paramedics got there, they were shocked at my appearance. One said, “when they said heart rate in the 30s, I was imagining us having to use electricity, not someone sitting up and joking around!”}

To condense a long story, I went to the ER in an ambulance and, after a chest X-ray and tests on my heart enzymes, was sent home (with a wikipedia printout on typhoid fever but that’s a different story for another day and one that does not properly reflect what I felt was excellent care from Tennova later on in the story) with advisement to follow up with my PCP.

I followed up with him (and he disagreed with the typhoid fever possibility and I don’t think he even consulted wikipedia a single time), got another EKG in his office, and it showed the same really low heartrate. He asked me to come back the following day for an echo test. I got the echo done and, according to the girl doing the test, everything in my heart looked great as far as pumping action. However, my rate fell so low during that test that the parameters on that machine couldn’t even pick it up so the report would indicate that I had died a couple of times during said test. ;) Dr. Chastain told me I could go on vacation the following week as long as I was within an hour of medical care (and I decided that the Murphy hospital qualified, so I went). He told me to come back and see him after my vacation to talk about the echo test. I was still feeling pretty exhausted but still had none of the other symptoms of a slow heartbeat (dizziness, passing out, etc).

At the next appointment, I learned that my echo test was good, so it was apparently an electrical issue. Dr. Chastain set me up an appointment with Dr. Powers, a cardiologist with the Chattanooga Heart Institute. This appointment was scheduled for August 4. I started school on Monday, August 1, still feeling tired and have really low pulse readings.

That night I came home feeling pretty good. I was excited about the promise of a new school year, feeling very positive about the future of our school and system, and confident that my heart issues would work themselves out since I still wasn’t really feeling many symptoms and my fatigue seemed, after one day back at work, to be better. The girls were gone to stay in WV (miracle and Providence #1) and Kraig and I enjoyed a dinner together at Jordan’s and then went back home. We were looking forward to a relaxing evening together, watching tv. It was around 8 that I started to have crushing chest pains. They peaked and eased and peaked and eased for several hours until they seemed to only get worse and worse. Finally, around midnight, I told Kraig I needed to go to the ER. I felt sure it was heartburn (although I had never had heartburn that lasted that long), wondered if it was a gall bladder attack, but had a slight concern it might be a heart attack in light of my already existing heart issues. By the time we got in the car, I could hardly breathe. When we got to the ER, I was doubled over in the line to be seen so they brought me a wheelchair. As soon as I told the desk clerk I was having chest pains, she got me on an EKG in a little room off the registration desk and they found, pretty quickly, that I had an abnormal EKG, which meant a ticket directly back into the examination room. (Providence #2)

On this visit to the ER, I was absolutely so impressed with the care I received at Tennova. The nurses were amazing, Dr. DeVane is INCREDIBLE, and everyone I saw was so kind and caring. They asked my medical history and I told them I had an appointment for that Thursday with Dr. Powers and that he was my cardiologist. Apparently at one point the hospitalist said that he would probably wait and see me in the morning (Dr. Powers, that is). I got anti-nausea meds before pain meds since I told them that pain meds made me sick. However, that apparently doesn’t matter to my body since I then started to throw up and continued multiple times through the night. {It’s worth noting that I had been rock solid and strong since July 10 with whatever was happening to my body. Even through the horrible pain and concern about a heart attack, I was a trooper. The first time I threw up, I started to cry and said to Kraig, “I can’t handle this! I can’t throw up!!!” The second time, I looked at Kraig, crying again, and said, “I think I’m dying.” I am the most giant baby in the WORLD about throwing up. CANNOT TAKE IT.} Dr. DeVane talked to me for a while about my heart since by this point they had ruled out heart attack. Dr. Powers came in the middle of the night to look at my EKG results and talk to me about my heart. I have since been told that “cardiologists don’t come to the hospital in the middle of the night if they aren’t on call”. (Providence #3)

By the next morning, they had decided to admit me to the MICU due to my heart rate. (Providence #4) The pain had subsided totally but they wanted to do a stress test on Tuesday. Let me just say this… the care I received in the MICU at Tennova was TOP-NOTCH. Every single nurse, every single CNA, every single doctor, every single person conducting any sort of test— ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OUT THERE. It could NOT have been any better of an experience. Tuesday’s stress test showed that my heart, while very slow, is very plucky. And consistent. And it knows when to speed up and it does it in those times. So, still no news at all and nothing about the painful event that sent me there. Dr. Powers said he would consult his team but he leaned toward just letting me live my life.

By that afternoon, Dr. Powers had come back and said that he wanted me to wear a heart monitor when I was discharged and that a pacemaker might be our best option, but it wasn’t an emergency situation. My heart continued to do its slow, slow dance and the nurses and anyone who came to see me continued to marvel that my heart could beat so slowly and I could feel so good.

Wednesday, the hospitalist (Dr. Florres) shared results from everything they had done, which showed nothing still. (Also, I need to say, this guy is WONDERFUL. I adore him.) I asked him, “Do you think it could have been a gall bladder attack???” He said it was possible, that we would get an ultrasound done (Providence #5 and a doctor who totally listens to his patients instead of drawing only his own conclusions, which is awesome). The ultrasound showed lots of gall stones and a thick gall bladder, so they said Dr. Dunn would come by and the consensus was that he would likely want to take it out. This proved correct and Dr. Dunn scheduled the surgery for Thursday. (Dr. Dunn? Just the coolest guy. I loved talking to him, I love his manner and his approach and everything else.)

There was a little bit of concern about a surgery with a heart rate that insisted on beating SO STINKING SLOW. Dr. Powers approved it and Dr. Dunn said they would give me a little bit of dopamine and have more ready if needed. Not only did the surgery go beautifully, they didn’t have to give me any dopamine and my heart just plugged along like it should, albeit slowly. I had also told them that anesthesia makes me sick (see before: I can’t handle throwing up), so they promised to take precautions to hopefully prevent that and THEY DID! It worked! Pain meds also make me sick (as evidenced Monday night in the ER), so I determined I would take ZERO pain meds and I did not. As for my gall bladder, Dr. Dunn not only said it had probably been bad for about ten years, he also said a lot of issues I had attributed to other things MIGHT have actually been gall bladder related and I MIGHT be better than ever! :) (Providence #6) I slept a lot that night but wasn’t too terribly sore, then they agreed to discharge me Friday with a recommendation to wear a heart monitor once I was moving around again from the surgery.

I was thrilled to go home but I truly was a little sad to leave the MICU. Again… TOP-NOTCH CARE. And Drs. Dunn, Powers, and Florres were just epitomes of excellent physicians. My surgery recovery went fabulously over the next few days, other than a brief time of pain in my shoulders from the surgical gas. We had delicious meals from Ladles of Love at church, my girls came back home, and my people took such great care of me. The entire recovery, I took one tylenol and one gas pill. That’s it.

On Saturday, I was praying about my heart. In the midst of the prayer, I realized I was praying desperately for an ANSWER. If it’s thyroid, show us, and we can fix it. If I need a pacemaker, fine, I’ll get one. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks, I have not prayed a single time for Him to just STOP IT. FIX IT. I don’t need an answer, I need a healing. The phrase “You have not because you ask not” came to mind. At that moment, I changed my prayer. And in the days afterward, my heart rate was up. Most readings were much higher with just a few in the 40’s.

Dr. Dunn had said I could return to work when I felt like it and that, while Tuesday seemed a little soon, it was up to me. Yes sir, thank you, I will do so. It was killing me to have missed the week of staff development and the fact that I missed the first half day of school and my room wasn’t put together yet was driving me NUTS. I returned to work Tuesday feeling REALLY GOOD. Sore and slow-moving, but good. I came home every night that week and rested, got to bed early every night, and fulfilled the promises I had made to God and my mom and myself about taking better care of me. ;)

In the midst of all of this, the adoption decision came along. One thing I realized very quickly is that the Philippines will not allow you to adopt if you have a pacemaker. This COULD BE a problem, but my readings were better and I just knew all was well.

I worked that week and then during the next week, I wore a heart monitor. I had no doubt that my heart was healed and the monitor was just a precaution. I had a follow-up with Dr. Powers scheduled for today. Last Friday, they called to make a second appt with a different cardio who specializes in the electro stuff. Why? The monitor results were not good and it showed “periods of extreme bradycardia”.

 I was DEVASTATED. This wasn’t supposed to be. I KNEW I had been healed and every time I checked, my pulse was higher! And I wasn’t tired or having any symptoms! And God was letting us adopt, I couldn’t get a pacemaker or we couldn’t adopt! This was not supposed to be how this whole thing went down.

BUT GOD. I went in today prepared to ask him if a pacemaker could wait until after the adoption (unless I was going to die, at which point I guessed I would go ahead and do the pacemaker. I think. ;) ). The nurse said it got down to 31 at points but did go up when I was moving around (this is good). Dr. Powers came in and asked how I was feeling. I told him I felt great, no more fatigue, but I guessed I wasn’t really. He asked why and I said the other appt. He said he had made that appointment before he got the results of the test.

The miraculous report is this: Bradycardia, YES. Bradycardia with dangerous junctional rhythms? NO. Bradycardia that impacts my life? NO. Bradycardia that is a threat to me in any way? NO. His final report was cancel the other appointment, and live your life. If at any point I have symptoms, come back, and if I go to the dr or hospital for anything else, warn them of this lest they freak out, but LIVE. YOUR. LIFE. When he looked at me funny (likely due to my enthusiasm and the tears in my eyes), I explained to him that “LIVE YOUR LIFE” in this context means bringing home an addition to our family from the Philippines, which I no longer need to worry and fret over.

God is just amazing. Beyond amazing. I cannot get over the ways He loves us. Blessed be His Holy Name.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Bottom Line

I know the story will continue to unfold here, both the back story and the future story, but today I wanted to share about something several people have already asked about, and that is our fundraising plan.

Let me first say that, while we certainly have no judgement for people who choose other methods AND that we would NEVER refuse if someone read our story and contacted us to say that he or she would like to write a check to pay the whole thing off, haha, we plan and prefer to raise our funds in a blend of ways. We have already made several payments from our own finances, and we expect to continue to do that at times, although as you might imagine, we don’t really have $35,000 laying around (or, some days, even $35, haha!). We are planning to make use of applying for adoption grants, although we know this is a hit or miss sort of thing (and we can’t even apply for those until our homestudy is complete). We (ok, *I*) are fundraisers. I have always taken that role for organizations I am part of and, if I’m honest, I thoroughly enjoy the planning and sometimes even the execution ;) of fundraisers. I have a pretty good feel for what works and what doesn't and we are part of a large support network of people who always show up and show out. We have raised a total of $21,000 for Cambodia mission trips over the past four years (for multiple family members) and God provided for that, so we know He will provide for this.

However, in doing fundraising for anything, even a noble and right cause, there are risks.

We prefer to rely on the type of fundraising that consists of us working to provide a service or a product in exchange for funds. We do not intend to do donation letters or anything like that, although we will GLADLY accept donations and have an account set up at pure charity through our agency for exactly that. BUT. Because we are doing this adoption a little faster than most, our payments are going to be very close together, which is going to make it necessary to do at least one fundraiser that steps outside our preferred methods, and that fundraiser is going to be right now in order to hopefully raise the $3200 we need for our home study. For this fundraiser, we have envelopes numbered 1-130. The idea is that family and friends will take (and it doesn’t have to be physically take, it can be virtually) one or more envelopes and commit to the amount of money represented on that envelope. For example, envelopes 1, 16, and 29 would mean you are committing to a $46 donation. Because our home study is being done through a TN agency and we are using a North Carolina agency for our adoption, these funds cannot be done through pure charity. You can either paypal us the money or send check or cash. If you are willing, we would love a note from you to include in the envelope(s) of your choosing that can one day be read by our future family member. I know that many of you have given to our Cambodia trips through the years and I know that we are pressing on you again, but we also know that God is in this and He will greatly bless your contribution.

The other risk is simply to wear your crowd out with fundraising, especially since we have so recently made a mission trip to Cambodia. With that in mind, we sat down last night to create our fundraising plan and we have very intentionally created a plan that will consist of one major fundraiser each month. We also believe these fundraisers will appeal to different groups of people so that we aren’t exhausting the same crowd’s resources over and over. We think we have a list of really fun and exciting events that people will WANT to take part in, not just feel obligated to.

Finally, we started our business, For Such a Time Creations, as a source of income for all of those “For Such a Time” times… mission trips, to help sponsor Phirom in the PCL Home in Siem Reap, to support our favorite missionary, Isaac, and to be free to give to other local and non-local organizations. In addition, we give a portion of all large orders to various nonprofit and ministry groups and we offer shirts at a discounted rates to ministry groups of our choosing. Well…. it’s finally FOR SUCH A TIME for funding for something I had always hoped would come, an adoption, and it finally has. While we will still continue to support those causes we have already committed to, most of our profit from our business will go to support our adoption until it is paid in full (and then I guess to continue to feed and clothe ALL of our children after that, haha!). So any orders for us, screenprinting, vinyl, or otherwise, are directly supporting our adoption.

Tomorrow I hope to share the full fundraising plan, but I wanted to introduce our envelope fundraiser now so I wanted to include all of this information. Thanks for following along!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Back, Back, Back, Back Story

Orphan care (the umbrella term given to seeking to help children who have been deprived of parental care, either through death, abuse, neglect, abandonment, or any other means) has been a part of our lives and our story and our hearts for the entirety of our marriage. We worked together at the first Royal Family Kids’ Camp our church did (18 years ago) as a newly dating couple. We have continued to work these yearly camps, the middle school fall weekend retreats, and serve on the Leadership Board in the years since.

I have felt a call on my heart to adopt since I was 12 years old. I didn’t just feel called, I KNEW that adoption was going to be part of my life story. I didn’t worry too much about when or how, just knew it would be. Kraig and I discussed this when we were dating and newly married and we were both on the same page. A couple of years after we married, we knew we were ready for kids. We talked about it and decided that, although we knew we wanted to have biological children, the best order to go about things might be to adopt first, then have biological children. With that plan in place, we started the PATH classes through our local DCS with a decision made toward the end of that to pursue the foster-adopt path (fostering a child who is in a situation where it is likely parental rights will be terminated).

However, because our timing and our plan is not always God’s, everything changed pretty quickly after we completed the classes and the homestudy. I had some medical issues and my doctor told me that if I wanted to have biological children, I should do so sooner rather than later. With that news, we dropped the adoption plan for the time being and pretty quickly got pregnant. I always assumed that we would return to adoption when our girls were in lower elementary school.

Again, my timing, not God’s. For whatever reason, Kraig never felt an urgency or a call to return to adoption. For years and years, I chomped at the bit and stewed and sometimes pouted and fussed and worried over the time that I felt was slipping through my fingers. If I’m being honest, there were times it could have been a source of contention between us if I were married to someone like me. Instead, the way it always went is that I brought up adoption, Kraig didn’t really engage in conversation or shut it down pretty quickly, and then I silently questioned how God could call one person in a marriage and not the other.

Over the years (approximately 8 years of feeling it was time without being in agreement to move forward), that call and certainty from my 12 year old life evolved into doubt and then into a Promise. As I struggled in the frustration, God started to speak to my heart in so many ways. He made it abundantly clear that He was in control. He also made it abundantly clear that an adoption was still in our future, but I only needed to be still.

Every year at Royal Family, my desire was revived and the burden was heavier. Every year after Royal Family, I would bring it up again to Kraig and every year it seemed to fall flat. In all of those times, God would use something to remind me that our future and the future of our family was in His hands. I remember one day in particular, and she probably has absolutely no memory of this at all, but I ran into the parent of a former student in Target on the Monday after Royal Family. Her girls were both grown up and in college and she and her husband were foster-parenting. We talked for a long time and she told me that she had always wanted to foster parent and her husband was never open to it. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, he said to her one day, “Let’s foster parent.” She had no idea what her story meant to me at that particular moment. I left Target, got in my car, and cried at the goodness of my Father. That was also a defining moment for me in regard to timing and logistics. I had always assumed we would adopt a child around 5 or 6 but we wanted our kids pretty close in age and Emma and Kelsey were getting too far past 5 and 6 for that to work. In that moment, I realized that we might end up adopting an older child, or that we might not adopt until Emma and Kelsey were teenagers or in college. The little picture I had in my head of the way things should go started, at that moment, to fade and be replaced by the vibrant but as yet blurry masterpiece of the plan God had, even at that time, already ordained.

A little over four years ago, I read a book by Jen Hatmaker called 7. This week, I am having the students in my CLIMB group do a little activity in which they identify 8 major events in their lives, then come up with a song for each event, ending with a sort of “Soundtrack of their Lives”. I did it along with them and one of the defining events in my life was reading that book because it completely shaped the course of the rest of my life. As an almost direct result of reading that book, I went on my first mission trip as an adult. We went to Cambodia that next year and spent time in two orphanages which just furthered my passion for adoption. (Cambodia is actually closed to adoption, so it has never been an option for us, but spending time with and falling in love with the kids there has deeply impacted our family.) The following year, I returned to Cambodia but this time was accompanied by Emma and Kraig. I have no doubt that the two of them were as deeply affected as I was through that opportunity. Two years later, this past summer, we returned a third time, this time with Kraig again and Kelsey instead of Emma. Our girls have been as passionate about adoption as I have been for so many years and these trips as well as hearing about Royal Family over and over have solidified their desire to share their home with adopted siblings.

As for me, God has used these past four years to show me what it means to rest in a Promise. Some days were easier than others. But just when it seemed that my hope was fading, He would send a sermon about trusting the dream He has given you or a conversation with someone or a passage from the Bible that I have never before noticed or read in quite the same way. Throughout this time, He has been helping me learn to be still and wait. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am still learning this lesson in a million different areas of my life and likely WILL BE learning it for the REST of my life. It is NOT something that comes easily to me.)

For the past year and a half, I have not mentioned adoption to Kraig at all. In this period of time, I have clung to God’s Promise. In fact, about two years ago, I prayed very specifically for one of two things to happen: for God to either call Kraig to adoption or for Him to remove the call from me. It was a painful prayer to pray, but I was living in a painful middle place and I was too weak to stay there. Two years later, God has answered that prayer. And in the way God so often does, He has answered it BIG.
This is a shirt I made in 2014 as a reminder to myself that His Promise WOULD come to pass.

I ordered this bracelet last year from my favorite Etsy shop, Farm Girl Paints, to encourage my heart to keep the hope.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Our Yes in Him

One day soon, I'm going to sit down and share the many, many ways God has confirmed and whispered and even SCREAMED to our hearts that we are walking down the right path in the journey that we are announcing, but for right now I'll just say....


Another day soon, I'll share the back story of how many years upon years upon years I have waited to say those words. But for right now I'll just say...

He is such an incredibly good Father. And when He gives you a promise, you don't ever have to question whether or not He will bring it to pass. Because He will. And when He nudges you and says "Be still", then gives you a little shove and says, "Wait", then finally grabs your face between His hands and says, "LEAVE THIS TO ME", you should and you can. Because one day, it will be fulfilled. 

For me, the start of that fulfilled promise was August 11, only two weeks ago this week. Since that date, we have talked and prayed and talked and prayed and talked and prayed, cried, asked a few trusted friends and pastors to pray, chosen an adoption agency, completed 25% of the paperwork required based on our eAdopt dashboard, sent in payments, and are beginning the process of setting up a home study with a TN agency. We have not been matched yet so the details are still not nailed down, but our focus is currently on the Philippines. 

We would deeply appreciate your prayer support at this time, as the upcoming weeks and months will be very important to this process. We know that God has His hand on our family and our future family and we know that whatever He has called us to, He will bring to pass. 

2 Corinthians 1:20

Friday, August 12, 2016

To My Newly Married, 22 Year Old Self, Written on my 16th Wedding Anniversary

To My Newly Married, 22 year old Self:

What an adventure you have in front of you, Dear One. I know that you are going into this marriage with lots of excitement and very little trepidation, and that is a great thing. You are also going into this marriage with a whole lot of selfishness and a GAGGLE of expectations, and that is NOT such a good thing. You are SO. YOUNG. You have been SO cared for and so loved and so provided for and that is a blessing. The downside of a life of such ease, however, is that you might not be completely prepared to be a grownup. (And in some ways, that sweet husband of yours is going to let you remain in this state of oblivion and bliss, thanks to the look he took at your checkbook registry the other day. Apparently it is not correct to round every check up to the nearest dollar “so that I always have more money than I thought!” and apparently that is the exact sort of thing that will cause an accountant husband to take all of the financial duties onto himself. Chalk this one up to an accidental win! ;) ) 

Your romance was a whirlwind. From falling so head over heals in March (even right before your first date) to getting engaged only seven months later, you immediately recognized something in this man that you had never found before in anyone else. That “something” is going to grow stronger and stronger and stronger as the years go by. 

This first year? It’s going to be SO STINKING HARD. (The second year isn’t going to be a whole lot easier, either…) Your days are going to be busy and full and not in the positive way. Working all day, going to school all night, and eating a frozen pizza together at 9:30 PM in your tiny kitchen isn’t your 22 year old idea of romantic. That’s ok. Carrying a calculator with you to the grocery store to make sure you don’t go over your grocery limit isn’t something you have ever seen your mom and dad have to do. That’s ok. Picking fights over stupid little petty jealousies that escalate into full-on battles is going to become your norm for a while. And that’s NOT ok. But you are going to grow up this year, so very much, and you are going to learn what it means to be a member of a partnership rather than what it means to be someone else’s child. And take heart, because the next two years are going to prove to be the most challenging you have to overcome, at least up to this point.

As the years go by, it’s only going to get better. The man you fell in love with is going to become your best friend, your comedienne, your provider, your partner, and your favorite person. He is going to be the most incredible husband to you. Then the babies are going to come, and with them more responsibility and more opportunities for laughter and fun. Treasure him. Treasure him as he treasures them. Laugh with him, take care of him, let him take care of you… This life ahead of you with him by your side is going to be easy and full of excitement.

Marriage is called a lot of things. YOUR marriage is going to be called easy. And adventurous. And pleasant. You all will agree on most everything, you will co-parent with ease, and you will seek the adventurous in the everyday with as much commitment as you will choose a lifestyle of grand adventure. You will enjoy each other’s company as much side-by-side working on shirts in the basement as you do looking across the table from each other in an Israeli cafe while the rain softly falls around you. The key to your marriage, and the piece that you have already discovered, is that He is the cornerstone. As you place Jesus at the center, you will grow in love with each other, you will raise your girls to be like Him, you will commit together to serve His people, and you will do it all while resting on the promises of Jesus. 

So go preheat the oven, Sweet Young Bride, and get the DiGiorno’s out of the freezer. You’ve got a lifetime of moments to share with the man God made for you.

Love, Your 16th Wedding Anniversary Self