November 3, 2016

This is good.... but there's something better.

On Friday last week I was driving home to get a little dolled up for our third anniversary date. It was one of those times when life just seemed so so sweet... the leaves were at their beautiful peak on the back roads here in Delaware, the sun was setting and glistening on the freshly harvested fields, I could see Levi's sleepy face in the mirror in the back seat, and I was excited to go out on a date night to celebrate the three wonderful years we've shared as husband and wife. This particular evening, the local country station was playing in the background, something I'm in the mood for every now and again. I wasn't far from my house when "I Love This Life" filled my car. It struck a chord with me and I was singing along the few words of the song I knew and loving that the song was about loving and enjoying such everyday things. 

That's when God brought to mind when one of my favorite verses.

Psalm 63.3
Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You.

When life is tough, it's important to remember that His love is better and greater than all you're experiencing. But can I tell you that I so rejoice that even when life feels so good and so sweet..... His love is so much better and sweeter than life itself. When we can enjoy the mundane and soak in the seasons of life through the lens of that great love, nothing compares. 

"Love life."
"Cherish the moment."
"Seize the day." 

All these are mantras we hear and find on wall art. As moms we hear even more specifically...
"Enjoy this age."
"They'll be grown before you know it."
"Just you wait till they're teenagers."

The present is so important and it is such a gift. I wholeheartedly believe that Jesus wants us to enjoy Him and the blessings He has given us and cherish those. But without letting those point us back to the loving heart of God, we miss the whole point. The joy should stop us in our tracks to praise Him.

Yesterday we spent a couple hours at the park with some friends. I took a couple pictures of Levi where he was cheesing it up. As I looked at them, I couldn't help but hope that he always enjoys life as much as he does right now. But more than that, I want him to grow in the love of the Lord. Because I know as he does, there will be joy. And I pray that whether in valleys or on gorgeous mountain tops we can point him to the love that is so much better than anything this life could offer him. I pray that in every blessing and every great day we can see that God's love is so much sweeter than even that.

Man I do love this life.... 
but I love the sweet love He gives so much more.... 
because it's so much better.

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October 27, 2016

Our Little Levi | 10 Months

Yesterday  our little Levi turned TEN months old! We are far too close to that first birthday for Momma's liking. These last couple months have been so much fun. I love every season but this one has been my favorite so far.
Levi is growing and at his 9 month appointment was 17lbs 3oz... but that was the day after the stomach bug so who knows what he is now. He's in 9 month clothing and size 4 diapers. He's still nursing quite a bit but he loves food. He's quite comical to watch eat as claps his hands and yells "more" before he even has the last bite swallowed.

He started crawling on my sister's wedding day (September 4th) and started pulling up and cruising within the next few weeks. Now between the couches, his push walker from Nana, and his push or ride JEEP he can anywhere he wants to go.... which kind of freaks me out a little. You never know how many "non kid-friendly" items you have until the baby is on the move. 

He's become quite the talker... sometimes understood an sometimes just jibber jabber. His consistent words are: more, milk, hi/hey, mama, dada. This past week while we were visiting VA, he picked up Nana pretty well and surprised all by saying "Jack" three times before Uncle Jack and Auntie Kate left town. This kid loves people and interaction so much that I'm not surprised at  how much he talks.

His new favorite toys are his remote (because he loved ours so much), his push walker, Jeep, and little people farm animals. However, none of these compare to a steering wheel, water bottle, magazine, or the Direct TV remote. 

These last couple months have been such a joy. It's been so fun watching Levi explore and figure things out. We celebrated Auntie Kate's wedding and spent a week at the beach (which he loved). Then we celebrated Joel's birthday, my birthday, and our anniversary. He got to meet some great great aunts and uncles. He had his first trip of apple picking and spent another trip to VA visiting. He also went to his first circus and got to see the sweet college I once called home.

We're so thankful for these 10 amazing months.

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October 12, 2016

for His glory and my good

Every year at my birthday I like to take a little time to reflect on the year past and look ahead to the year to come. Yesterday (Monday) I turned 26 so while my two loves are fast asleep, I'm taking a minute to type my thoughts....

There are years where not much changes... where no major events happen and day to day life looks much like it did the last year on this day. I haven't really any of those in the last several years. The last 8 years have included senior year and graduations, my first year of college, a split of (what was then) my family unit, leaving college to move to Delaware, meeting Joel and getting engaged, our first year of marriage, the loss of my grandpa, and struggling with infertility, being pregnant... and then this last year was mostly spent with our little Levi. 

In the last 8 years I've had some of the highest highs and lowest lows that I imagine I'll ever have in my life. But this year has probably been the sweetest. Getting to live life in pursuit of Christ with the husband and son He has given to me fills my heart until it seems as though it will burst. If I'm being really honest, sometimes I almost feel guilty about how good life is right now. I think of the many people suffering with loss and grief, those still waiting on their dream of a family, and those who are just plain lost. Reality is they just scratch the surface of the suffering around the world. 

There's a song I used to listen too when I longed so deeply for a child of my own. It's by All Sons & Daughters titled "For Your Glory & My Good." There's a line in it that's always tugged on my heart...
" whether suffering or free from laboring, it's for Your glory and my good"

Beautiful isn't it? 
As hard as it was sometimes, I believed that when I was in the wake of my grandpa's passing and my right arm was unusable from a car accident, and my womb was left empty every single month. Sometimes I had to fight to believe it and rest in grace in the waves of disbelief... but I did believe it.

But right now, I feel I'm in a season that's "free from laboring" as the song says. Not that our life is perfect and we never have trials or don't look forward to things to come.... but I feel like it's a season where the struggles are so minimal compared to others I've been through. This season is so full of smiles and laughter and soaking it all in... and of course Jesus (which every season really is).

I don't know why specifically God is blessing us with this beautiful season where life is just so sweet or how long it will last but I do know that it's for His glory and my good.... 
and I know I'm so so thankful for it.

So if you're stuck right now in a season of suffering, I hope you'll go listen to this song and ask God to help you continue to trust Him even in the toughness. And I hope that soon you enter a season free from laboring for His glory and your good. 
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Click here for the song.
Click here to read last years birthday post about my failed 5 year plan.

September 29, 2016

Seeing the Grace in our NICU Memories | Levi's Birth Story Part 3

September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month. 

Can I be honest for a moment? 
For months after Levi came home, memories of the NICU still left a bitter taste in my mouth. 
Yes, even though in the grand scheme 15 days is not that long. Yes, even though he was a 34 weeker that didn't have many complications. Yes, even though in comparison to many other NICU journeys, we had it easy. Yes, even though I often felt guilty about it.

I couldn't really talk about it or look through pictures without feeling my stomach sink or having my heart race. With some friends, I would begin talking about some of our negative experiences with nurses here and there and I could feel myself spiraling out of control. Because here's the reality....
The NICU is not what you dream about. 

You dream about having that disgustingly gooey but so perfectly fresh baby laid right on your chest after they leave that home you've carried them in. You dream about those first snuggles, first feeds, first cries and sleepy faces... all right there in that first hour. In that hospital bed where your world changed. You dream about visitors coming and passing him or her around while you glow with pride that this child is yours. You dream of spending one or two nights of making sure they're just fine and loading that precious gift up in the carseat to leave. You dream of spending those next weeks in perfect (sleepless) bliss cherishing every noise, movement, and moment. 
Or at least that's what I dreamed of.

But that perfect little vision I had quickly changed. (Read Levi's birth story from the beginning here.) I saw sweet Levi come out, heard him cry, and watch Joel cut the cord. From there the NICU team began checking him out in the room attached to mine. They first thought I would get to hold him but he was struggling with breathing a little so they had to put a CPAP on him. I remember watching from afar as Joel, my sister, and mom all oohed and ahhed and insisting on them bringing me a picture. One of the neonatologists brought him over so I could get a good look, touch his precious skin, and seemingly in a blink... he was gone. Off to the NICU. 

The next 15 hours were harder than any part of pregnancy or labor. See Levi was in the NICU but because of my medicine I was stuck in my bed in my room. Shortly after they took him Joel was able to go be with him, do skin to skin with him, and send me tons of pictures. He was able to take family back to see him as well. I was so thankful that they could be with him but not having a panic attack in those several hours was a struggle. I watched the webcam the NICU gave us, kept Christmas movies playing, tried to sleep, and prayed a ton! I don't think time had ever moved so slow. 
It was just past midnight when I hit 12 hours past labor and could have my medicine turned off. From there, it was an hour before I could get up or eat, then time to transfer to my postpartum room and scarf down food, all while trying to get out the door and wheeled to the NICU. By the time we got there and got scrubbed in, it was 2:45am by the time I was reunited with my sweet boy and after 3 before he was in my arms and my heart could finally settle.

Then our norm for the next 15 days began. There were highs and lows. Good days and bad days. Easy nurses and difficult ones. Our days followed much of the same patterns...

Watch the webcam on and off all night.
Wake up and call to see how he is.
Pump and pump and pray for a friendly and familiar nurse.
Try not to have a melt down before getting to the NICU.

Go through three hour cycles....
 being excited to change his diaper, 
praying while we took his temperature, 
attempting to nurse or holding while he was fed through NG,
being as inconspicuous as possible trying to get more hold time,
setting a time to make myself actually put him down,
pump, pump, pump,
guzzle water in the family room and try to eat a snack,
take a quick bathroom break,
all to start the 3 hour schedule again.

In the midst of all of that...
Growing in the ability to advocate.
Bonding with nurses and other NICU families.
Learning about bili lights and NG tubes and respiratory care plans.
Longing for a little quite in a room of sooo many monitors.
Appreciating visitors like never before.
Picking up serious photography skills on working around a box.
Repeatedly denying the need for a break to just go out and meander.
Trying to focus on the good and the progress not the setbacks and the tubes.
Hating to but having to leave him at night to sleep.

Some moments were easier than others. Sometimes it felt easy to be thankful and positive while other times I felt like a bawling mess who might snap on a nurse. Mornings were harder on me than nights, as I felt like I couldn't get to him fast enough. I didn't do well with getting 4 hour nurses but every now and then it worked in our favor. It was a 15 day rollercoaster ride but at the end of the day every day Joel would remind me of the progress, of the people we had praying, and talk about how in "x amount of days we'd surely be home."

It's so different than anything you expect to experience in those first few days with baby. As if your hormones aren't out of control enough already... it's easy to become a complete mess. I tried to take it moment by moment, nurse by nurse, day by day. And in the wake of coming home, the NICU still seemed frustrating sometimes.

But now 9 months later, I don't see it quite the same.

Of course I still feel a little jealous when I see friends taking their babies home right away. 
I mentally plan for ways I would advocate differently if we ever ended up in the same situation again. 
I pray it's a journey we'll never have to walk again.
And I still have a hard time comprehending that the baby in those pictures was my crazy little Levi. 

But now I see the grace.

 I see the grace that got us through every single moment.
The grace that calmed my breaths and settled my heart in the midst of a total meltdown.
The grace that didn't let me lose it on the nurse who snuck and put an NG tube in or the one who set us back 3 days or the one who wouldn't let me hold my son.... but instead helped me express calmly my frustrations to the ones who could do something about it.
The grace to be thankful we live in an era and a country with NICUs and incubators.
The grace that lets me now look back and appreciate the sacred moments that happened there....

The first time I got to hold my baby against my chest and breathe in his precious smell.
The countless hours I got to look at him without any pressure to fold laundry or clean house.
The excitement of getting to tell him good morning.
The joy of letting him eat from me the milk my body had produced.
The bonding with friends that will last a lifetime.
The celebrating of what might seem to be the tiniest of milestones.
The fascination of sweet baby smiles.
The closeness with Jesus that comes from needing Him every single minute and Him being right there.

It's taken me 3 days and numerous attempts of writing this post that would typically take me maybe 30 minutes. But I'm thankful it took that long.... because the interruptions were from this little guy who looks to me as his playmate, diaper changer, snuggle buddy, and milk machine. I love being his mommy and am thankful for this responsibility.

I know that not every NICU journey ends so quickly or with such a wonderful outcome. But I hope that whatever your NICU journey looked like, you can somehow look back and be thankful for the moments there. The precious ones with your little one that are sacred moments. Probably not moments you'd ever want to relive and not moments you planned on having... but sacred moments with your little one that are worth remembering and smiling at. Because they helped your family get to where you are now. They helped shape you and change you. They made you appreciate things many would take for granted. 

Remember and smile... because above all else... they were moments with your baby.
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Pictures from my delivery and immediately after were taken by the lovely Stephanie Leight of Luminosity Photography.

August 26, 2016

Our Little Levi | 8 Months

Today our sweet boy is 8 months old. I try to soak it in. I try to make it go slower but it's just impossible. He's changing so much every week now and while I love watching, I feel like I can't blink without missing something.

We aren't sure how much Levi weighs currently but he's definitely growing and filling out. He's nearing the end of his 3-6 month clothing and I'm pretty excited for his fall wardrobe. He still loves to nurse but food his is his most favorite thing right now. He pretty much eats anything we eat and if sharing is not desired then hiding is necessary. He's got a few teeth poking through now and seems to be working on another one. 

He can sit up on his own pretty well minus the occasional throw backwards and he's trying so hard to crawl. He hasn't been successful yet but between rolling and turning in circles he can pretty much get to whatever he wants as long as it's not directly in front of him. Joel is in some big rush for him to crawl and walk. I, on the other hand, am in no hurry at all. 

He still loves his exersaucer but has taken a liking to some new toys over the last couple months.... 
his baby piano, Scout the dog, nursery rhyme keys, and a dumbbell rattle. He also likes when cousin Cole shares his big boy (2yo) toys with him like monster trucks and kid hammers. Still the most entertaining thing to him is to simply watch people and get them to interact with him. He's also a pretty big fan of our huge doggie.

We've spent the last couple months trying to enjoy summer as much as we can with as hot as it's been. Levi has loved splashing in the pools of friends and family, spending days on the beach (under the tent of course), traveling to VA to work with Momma and plan Auntie Kate's wedding, eating ice cream here and there, and having lots of inside play dates to beat the heat. 

This week has been a bit of a tough one as he picked up the hand, foot, and mouth virus over the weekend. He's not been feeling thee best and we're both getting a little stir crazy trying to keep our germs to ourselves. However, we're hoping it will pass quickly and we can start packing for our week at the beach and Auntie Kate's wedding.

Oh how we've loved these 8 precious months!

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