Saturday, December 25, 2010

From Our Home To Yours

     Do you ever wonder if the words that come out of your mouth will ever be remembered or have the ability to impact someone’s life?  In a conversation with a friend this summer, she described her family vacation to me as just hanging out and “taking care of each other.”  For whatever reason, those words have played over and over again in my brain as I’ve envisioned them at their cabin by the lake.  It has conjured up heartwarming images of a family enjoying each others’ company, complete with fun activities and meaningful conversations, all while happily serving each other through just the mundane tasks of life.  That may be easy when you’re surrounded with people you love and who you genuinely enjoy serving, but on the flip side, there are those times when we’re called to care for someone who may not seem so deserving or lovable, and our time, attention, and even our checkbook may be negatively affected.  Whenever a new set of circumstances comes my way, those words seem to be the backdrop against which I start processing the situation, and as I think about how to take care of someone, it has challenged me to be a little more compassionate and empathetic than usual.  Our family has certainly learned some things about taking care of each other this year, and we’ve certainly been blessed by many of you as we’ve come to some very interesting junctures throughout 2010.  We would like to take this opportunity to thank each of you who prayed for us, hugged us, offered words of encouragement, cried with us, performed some act of service, celebrated with us, or even gave of your resources.  We have felt loved and cherished, and our prayer is that you know how loved you are as well!  We love hearing from you and consider it an honor to walk this journey of life with you!
     The first quarter of our year started off with a quiet but special 25-year anniversary for Harris and me.  The kids gave us tickets to a Mannheim Steamroller concert for Christmas, and we just had a nice family dinner together on the actual day.  Heath had moved back home after studying at Moody Bible Institute for a year and a half and after being in Pella the year prior to that.  Haley was in a busy season of preparing for her trip to Africa, Kelsey got her driver’s permit and braces, and Keaton continued working on his musical skills.  Haley enjoyed a chorus trip to Disneyworld over spring break, and Heath’s birthday wish for a getaway to California for a few days to visit family and friends came true.  He also started dating a very special young lady by the name of Jenny.  She blends into our family beautifully, and she’s been such a tremendous companion for Heath.  Our company, Primerica, went public on the New York Stock Exchange on April 1, and much excitement has been in the air for all the changes that is bringing into our lives.  It’s such a blessing to be affiliated with a company that is growing and strong, and we look forward to expanding our office in 2011.  It was a long, cold, snowy winter, but overall, we enjoyed lots of quality family time together, which we dearly love. 
     Our first trip to the ER for the year came in April when Haley had her first ruptured ovarian cyst.  She had another cyst experience just a couple weeks before she was to leave for Africa, but thankfully she was able to recuperate in time for her missions trip.  She spent her first month ministering in South Africa and was then in Zambia for the second month where she slept in a tent with very primitive conditions just outside an orphanage.  God miraculously provided for her every need and kept her safe the whole time she was there.  What a life-changing experience!  The day after she left, we welcomed Charlene, a foreign exchange student from France, into our home for the next month.  She charmed her way into our hearts with her French accent, endearing smile and laugh, and sweet personality, and we could easily adopt her as one of our very own.  Kelsey, Keaton, and I especially had a blast exposing her to as much U.S. culture as we could offer her in Iowa.  While we were in Pella with her over the 4th of July, Harris and Heath were four-wheeling in the mountains of Tennessee with a bunch of Primerica friends.  Charlene left just before our 18th annual De Boef campout, but we did get to share one of our weekend camping trips with her.  Keaton and Kelsey each had a week of church camp thrown into the summer as well as three weeks of driver’s education scheduled in for Kelsey.  Harris enjoyed a fun tractor ride weekend with his family while Keaton slipped away to Chicago for a few days to visit his friend Nathan.
     Before long, summer was over, and it was time for the kids to head back to school.  Heath took advantage of a fantastic scholarship program and started commuting to Ashford University in Clinton.  He’s finally come to grips with majoring in accounting and minoring in finance.  It’s been a long season of twists and turns for him, but he’s loving his classes and finished strong with a 4.0.  Haley will finish her high school career on December 22, and she has been counting down the days for a couple months already.  She plans to continue working as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the YMCA and will add in a few extra hours at Fareway, but she is mostly looking forward to some down time to process all that God has been doing in her life before she heads off to Ashford in the fall for free as well.  God has truly blessed us!  Haley was a swim team captain this fall, and she helped convince Kelsey to pursue swimming in high school as a freshman, so we had a great time with both girls on the same team.  Kelsey had to set dance aside for the season, but now she’s back to dance lessons and continues to play the violin in orchestra and sing in the school chorus.  She still loves anything to do with art and photography and longs for the opportunity to visit France.  Our 15 years’ worth of elementary school functions are ending with Keaton being a 5th grader this year.  He’s already been playing the piano and cello, but this year he added the tenor saxophone to the mix.  He’s discovered a love for football whether it’s on the playground with his friends or with Heath playing X-Box.  All four kids’ personalities are so vastly different, and it makes for a very interesting household full of fun, arguments, emotions, and late-night talks.  It has been such a tremendous joy to have them all under one roof for the past year. 
     Ever since last Thanksgiving, we witnessed Harris’s dad’s health continually get worse, and Harris was able to spend more time than usual with him this past year either on the farm in Pella or in the truck going to tractor sales in Missouri.  To say it’s added to the normal stresses of life for Harris would be a huge understatement, so we finally decided to book the Alaskan cruise we had wanted to take for our anniversary.  We were first able to spend a couple days in Seattle with some friends, but then just 24 hours into the cruise, we got the call on September 8 that his dad had lost his three-year battle with prostate cancer, so we ended up flying home ASAP.  We are so thankful for all the treasured family memories we have with him and for the fact that he is painfree in Heaven.  Two weeks later we got the call from Harris’s mom that her mom had passed away after 10 years of being in the Alzheimer unit.  On September 22 our normally healthy 20-year-old had his first-ever seizure, which dealt him the heavy blow of no driving and no operating heavy machinery for six months, which stripped him of the farmhand position he had excitedly just started.  After a battery of tests were done, we were told on September 29 that there is a 1cm tumor on his left occipital lobe right inside his brain.  We don’t know if the tumor has anything to do with the seizure activity, but we were relieved to find out last week that the tumor has not grown, and therefore, it may likely just be some kind of benign abnormality that’s been there since birth.  Only time will tell, and the current plan is to have another MRI in a year.  We finished out what we labeled our “September to Remember” with an outpatient surgery for me on September 30, and we were just thankful for no cancer to be detected and for the successful results. 
     We were feeling pretty good about Heath’s results last week Tuesday, but then on Thursday night he had another grand mal seizure.  He had gone with Harris to some annuity training in the other Primerica office, and all of a sudden, he started slipping off his chair.  Someone was right there to grab his head before hitting the floor, and Harris was immediately there to keep the situation calm for everyone in the room.  God planted a couple of nurses in the room, the paramedics were called, and prayers were being said all around the room.  The scariest part was after he was done seizing, it was announced that he was not breathing, and he was turning all shades of blue and gray, but praise be to God, Heath’s breathing resumed, and after a trip to the ER in the ambulance, he is alive and well today!  His shoulder is still sore, but his medication has been increased, and we are even more focused now on keeping stress to a minimum and maintaining consistent eating and sleeping routines, which can help in preventing seizures. 
     The images of that night will probably continue to haunt Harris and the others who were in the room for a while, but in due time I hope they will be able to see what I see in my mind.  I see a loving father hovered over his son, calm on the outside but crying out on the inside, pleading for him to come back to him.  I see a room full of angels crying out to God on our son’s behalf.  I see a miracle being witnessed by those who share our faith and, more importantly, by those who may just wonder who this God is that we believe in.  I see a God who chose to give us the gift of His Son, Jesus, who also walked on this earth and endured painful suffering, and I see a God whose ultimate way of taking care of us, even when we’re undeserving or unlovable, was by giving us the gift of salvation from our sins and the hope of living with Him in Heaven someday.  My prayer is that you too will be able to reflect on the joy and hope that Jesus is able to bring into your life not only in this Christmas season but in all of 2011.  Merry Christmas to all of you!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just In Case You're Wondering

     It's been a week since the seizure, and all is mostly well in the Westerkamp home.  Heath's shoulder is still sore, and Harris has had a hard time shaking the visual from his mind, but life has resumed back to "normal," and we are in the midst of preparing for Christmas. 

     When the seizure doctor's nurse called me back last Friday, we had a long conversation about what happened and what to do next.  Basically all we will do for now is increase his daily Dilantin from 100 mg to 130 mg and see how that works out for him.  We discussed the importance of maintaining a lot of consistency in his life as far as sleeping and dietary habits and taking the medicine at the same time every day, keeping stress to a minimum, and exercising within reasonable boundaries.  She knows full well that for a 20-year-old, those things can be a little tricky, especially the sleeping part, but when these things get thrown off, they can trigger a seizure in someone who's prone to having them. 

     Throughout this whole ordeal, many people have asked us whether or not we felt we should be getting a second opinion, so when a friend from Bible study offered her husband's willingness to look at his MRI disks for free, we knew that was God's way of providing one for us, even though we didn't necessarily have that gut feeling that we needed to get one.  He called me from home last Friday night and basically reiterated and concurred with everything the Iowa City doctors had been telling us thus far, which was really encouraging.  He agreed that a biopsy of the tumor was not necessary right now and commented that if it were his own child with this condition, he would be doing exactly what we are doing.  What a blessing it was just to have someone else's opinion!

     Saturday morning there was a Primerica event going on in the same office where the seizure happened.  Harris was still distraught enough that he was not sure about going, but Heath really wanted to go so he could thank a few people, so the three of us decided it was important for us to attend.  Many details of that night came to light for me as people shared what they saw and experienced.  As Harris was kneeling by Heath the night of the seizure and watching his son nearly die, one man was watching and thinking about the two miscarriages his wife had recently experienced.  Another man was watching and remembering what it was like to find his 27-year-old daughter when she died.  This same man left the room because he wanted to make sure the door was open for the paramedics and ended up praying with another man in the building whose 40-year-old son had just been murdered a month ago.  Unbelievable! 

     To hear all these stories just made my heart break because all of them had actually lost their children.  I can't even begin to imagine what that must feel like, and my prayers are with each one who has lost a child, whether I heard their story that night or not.  Even though we came dreadfully close to losing our son, God chose to spare Heath's life, and we are so thankful.  We're thankful for the prayer chain that was formed around the room that night, and we're thankful for all the prayers that have been offered on our behalf since then.  We're thankful that he was in a safe and warm environment, and we're thankful that he was in a room full of people who know him and love him.  Even though it's a little frustrating to have the 6-month no-driving restriction start all over again, we're thankful that now we know that weaning him off medication would not be a good idea.  We have to choose to look at the positive side. 

     Ultimately, we just know that God isn't finished with him yet, and we just have to trust in God's plan.  No one ever said it would be easy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quick Update

     So many of you are responding with emails, love, and prayers, and it is all so very much appreciated!

     I'm feeling the need, though, to clarify something that I mentioned in my previous blog entry.  The doctor used the word "benign," but he actually said that "because the tumor had not grown, that's a good sign for it being benign."  No biopsy has ever been done, so we don't know anything for sure, but I was just simply taking comfort in those words. 

     Heath slept well last night for the most part, but his shoulder and lower abdomen area especially are very sore.  He had me pull him up from bed this morning, and he says he feels as though he's been hit by a Mack truck.  His tongue feels worse today, and the taste in his mouth is causing him to resort to Mountain Dew. 

     Haley's taking one for the team and offered to stay home from school today with him.  Such a sacrifice.  Harris and I attended our last ever elementary Christmas -- technically "Winter Arts Sharing" -- program this morning, and Keaton stole the show at the end with a precious little solo part.  It's been kind of a rough morning for us, but that put smiles on our faces! 

     The call has been made to the seizure doctor's office, so now we're just awaiting a return call.  Once again, your prayers mean so much to us at this time.  Thank you all so very much. 

Seizure #2

     Yesterday morning all of a sudden, something really hit me.  The doctor had used the word "benign" on Tuesday!  It had finally sunk deep into my heart, and the joy and reality of that caused this huge smile to spread across my face.  Even though the doctor had said it, I don't think it really sunk in because in my mind I just kept thinking about the fact that there is still a tumor/abnormality/mass/growth -- whatever you want to call it -- in his brain, and there were still a lot of unanswered questions about why he had the seizure and where to go from here with that.  The word "benign," though, was truly a cause for celebration because all of a sudden that meant we could probably safely rule out the word "cancer!"  One burden had definitely been lifted from us!

     Heath had the last of his five finals on Wednesday and was so pleased to have made it through the semester with a 4.0 GPA!  Praise the Lord for that!  We celebrated with an apple pie on Wednesday night, and Thursday morning I took him to the chiropractor for an adjustment.  He's been struggling with his shoulder and ribs since the first seizure, so he was glad to be all tuned up again.  He has about a month off from school now and is working on finding a job close to home.  In the meantime he needs to find ways to fill his time, so when I left for the office Thursday afternoon, he was working in the garage on a shelving unit for his room, and he had a power tool in his hands.  The words, "Are you sure you'll be okay," came spilling out of my mouth, and about the time I said it, I almost regretted it because I'm sure he gets really tired of my overprotectiveness lately.  We both know full well that while, yes, we do need to be wise, we do also need to just let go and let God take care of him. 

     Harris invited Heath to go along to some annuity training at the other Primerica office at 5 p.m., so while they were both there, I took advantage of our quiet office setting and was trying to get some work done before heading home.  I was in the middle of faxing one set of documents and scanning another when my brother-in-law Vance called my cell phone at 6:15.  He said, "Heath just had a seizure, and you're going to want to come quickly."  All my paperwork ended up in a pile, the candle was blown out, the radio turned off, everything got locked up, and away I went with tears and prayers.  The traffic was backed up on River Drive, which forced me to take unfamiliar streets in the dark, and phone calls were being made trying to figure out what all was going on with Heath as well as the other kids.  Haley was working, but Kelsey and Keaton were here at the house with Jenny. 

     Evidently in the middle of training, Heath started feeling a little bit dizzy, and just that fast, he was falling off the side of his chair and started convulsing.  He doesn't remember hitting the floor.  Even though Harris had never witnessed a seizure, he was able to calmly tell everyone that's what was happening, and people just started clearing the area of chairs as Heath continued on for probably a minute.  Once he stopped, they rolled him over on his side, but he started turning all shades of blue, and for a bit he wasn't even breathing.  There was at least one nurse in the room, and someone called 911.  When the paramedics got there, they got him started on an IV and tried to get an oxygen mask on him, but he resisted all their efforts.  I'm told it was a very scary and somber situation and that after Heath was carried out on the stretcher, everyone eventually gathered there and just prayed together for him and all of us.  Praise God that he was in a safe place when this happened and for many work friends who share the same faith that we do.  Praise God too for the gift of some family in the area who are always quick to come to our aid whenever we need something.

     By the time I got to the hospital at 6:36, Heath was not even there yet.  Harris followed the ambulance there, and once I saw them all drive in, staying at the check-in desk was not an assignment I could obey.  As they pulled him out of the ambulance and got him situated in a room, he still looked a little out of it, but it wasn't too much longer before he was able to start conversing with us.  He does remember kind of waking up in the ambulance but has no recollection from the time he felt dizzy until then.  His shirts were wet with sweat, so we managed to get those off, and the nurses started attaching things to him.  His tongue was bit up but not quite as badly as it was the first time he seized.  The girls had grabbed my whole folder of all his medical records before heading to the hospital, so it was nice to be able to hand all of that to the attending physician.  Vance went to our house to grab his bottle of pills so we could count them out and determine whether or not he had taken his dose the night before.  He had, but it was taken much later than usual, so the combination of a late dose, a shortened night of sleep, and stress from finals all week probably hadn't been a good combination.  Blood work was done, and the doctor was alarmed by the 2.7 level of Dilantin in him.  A normal therapeutic range would have been 10 to 20. 

     After spending a couple of hours in the ER, we were all sent home with instructions to Heath to rest, relax, and do nothing for the next 24 hours and with instructions to me to follow up with his seizure doctor in Iowa City today.  He had taken some Tylenol for a headache while in the ER, but everything within him ached last night.  He was able to eat a little without too much trouble when he got home.  He fell asleep earlier than usual and is still sleeping soundly this morning.  We're planning to have someone here with him all day long just to keep his spirits up if nothing else. 

     Harris was quite distraught over the whole situation last night.  It's very scary to watch your son go through something like that and know that you can't do one thing to stop it or help him.  His 6 months of no driving will probably start all over again now, and Harris just feels so badly for him.  It's so tempting to be angry and ask God why this all has to be happening, but Kelsey sent me a little message last night that said, "Don't ask why; ask what."  What is God's plan through all of this?  What is He doing?  She also sent me a link to the song "Everything Falls," and through my tears I've been listening to it this morning.  The reality of the situation is starting to sink in more with me this morning.  We're just going to have to keep hanging on and letting God's arms hold us together.  He is the only hope for our weary hearts.  When our strength is gone, we'll find Him mighty and strong, and we'll just keep holding on. 

"Everything Falls" by Fee

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Long-Awaited Day

     A couple of weeks ago, we received a letter in the mail from the UIHC which served as not only a reminder of Heath's appointment but also as a checklist for how to prepare for it.  It mentioned that we were to obtain medical records from all previous appointments, and if we arrived without them at our appointment, we would need to cancel our appointment, and there would be a $50 rescheduling fee.  In an effort to take care of this for Heath, I took it upon myself to work on getting everything rounded up, but it soon became apparent that it becomes a lot more complicated when your child is a legal adult even though he still lives at home, is still under your care, and who is even listed on your insurance card.  After one snowy trip to one hospital and three separate trips to another over the span of a few days' time, we finally had everything secured about an hour before we were to leave for his appointment. 

     Another glitch we've been dealing with is the fact that our health insurance has a stipulation in it that only allows outpatient services up to $25,000 per person per year, and because of this, we learned that the hospital will not file Heath's claims on our behalf.  Our insurance company tells us that because they're in contract with them that they are required to do so, but no matter how many phone calls I make between the two, it's all been dumped in my lap to make sure everything will get paid by the insurance company. 

     We've also been encouraged by the hospital to file for Medicaid just in case we reach that limit, but because I know that we have not come close to that amount yet, that's been about the last thing on my list of priorities.  Our insurance company has been great at paying all the claims from everywhere else thus far, and I'm trusting they will continue paying out even if I have to file them myself.  The day before Heath's appointment, however, we got a phone call from the hospital saying that because we "don't have insurance," Heath will be required to sign a paper saying that he will be responsible for the approximately $4700 worth of charges that will be incurred for the next day's visit.  Comforting, right? 

     Combine all of that with the fact that in the midst of this, we got a letter stating that our health insurance premiums will be increasing by $160 every month in January.  It's a health savings account type of policy that's designed to keep our premiums "low," but it will now be more than our house payment every month.  Our insurance plan has a very high deductible that thankfully we don't typically come close to meeting, but this year we're definitely paying that on top of all the other things our insurance doesn't cover like chiro, braces, eye care, or dental work.  Let's just say our kids will attest to the fact that all of this has caused a little extra crabbiness in an already anxious mama, and my stress level has been a little higher than usual lately! 

     The big appointment day of December 7 finally arrived, and thankfully my morning could be spent by meeting together at church with my Bible study group.  One of the lessons we studied in the last week was all about joining God's activity in our children's lives, and one of the things I had underlined was "As much as we love our children, we can't begin to imagine all God has in His heart for them" with a reference to I Corinthians 2:9.

"However, as it is written, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.'" 

     My mind has been consumed lately with what God has in store for each of our children, so it was such an appropriate and well-timed lesson for me.  Before our group dispersed for the day, these precious ladies prayed with me over not only Heath's appointment but over what God's doing in Haley's heart as well.  It's a whole other subject that will be shared on my other blog:  One of the gals even told me afterwards that her husband is a neuroradiologist and told me that he would be more than willing to take a second peak at the MRI results for us if we would like him to do so.  I love how the body of Christ works together!

     Haley asked if she could skip out on Office Aid and gym class so that she could make the trip to Iowa City with us, and that was just fine with me.  Even though Heath's MRI appointment was scheduled for 2:40, the check-in time was listed as 2:10, so we were pleasantly surprised when they whisked him into the imaging room by 2:25 already.  He had been a little anxious about this part of the day because he knew just how claustrophobic he felt and how loud it was when he had the first MRI in September.  Probably half an hour later, he came out and said that the machine was a little bigger than the first one, so it didn't seem quite as bad this time.  Praise God for that! 

     We made our way on over to the neurology clinic where he was supposed to meet with the head neurosurgeon at 3:20.  This wait ended up being a whole lot longer because the doctor had been called into the operating room and got behind schedule. 

     Now, I may look like I'm interested in that magazine, but honestly, my mind was just whirling with thoughts of what the doctor might tell us.  We came into this appointment anticipating any one of three distinct possibilities. 

     The first option was that we would witness a Christmas miracle!  How cool of a story would that be to share in my Christmas letter this year!  But would that really happen?  Could we really believe deep down that that was a possibility?  Even if that did happen, would my mind be able to trust that it was truly a miracle and be able to go on believing that all was well and that he didn't just miss seeing it? 

     Secondly, as the doctor had told us previously, it could just be a developmental abnormality, and no growth would be detected.  Would that be good news or just cause for another season of worry until the next MRI?  How long would we have to wait?  Then what about the seizure and the medication, and how would that diagnosis affect all of that? 

     Finally, the third option of the tumor having grown would have been the worst-case scenario.  Or would it?  Haley had asked us the night before if it was bad to pray that the tumor had grown so that we could just get it removed and be done thinking about it, and I had to concur with her that those thoughts have invaded my head many times too.  If it had grown, how much?  Would they take him to another part of the hospital yet that day to do a biopsy, or would we have to schedule that later since it was getting closer and closer to 5 p.m.?  Would he end up having brain surgery over Christmas break?  Would it be cancerous, and would we end up walking down the road of chemo and/or radiation?  How long would that take, and what were the chances of being completely healed?  What if there were no chances of being completely healed? 

     About the time my thoughts would get that carried away on the third option, I'd force myself to breathe deep, say a prayer, and go back to the first option and hope again for that Christmas miracle.  It was as though there was an infinite loop going round and round and round in my head, and the longer we were forced to wait, the harder the waiting got.  Finally at about 4:25 p.m., we were ushered into a room where they first took his vitals and then another room where we could wait for the doctor for yet another 20 to 30 minutes.  Haley brought a magazine with a crossword puzzle into the room with her, so we killed our time putting brain cells into that.  About the time it dawned on me that maybe we should have used that time to pray together one final time, the doctor appeared in the room. 

     He shook each of our hands, asked Heath how everything was, and then sat down on his little stool by the computer and said these words:  "The scan looks great, there's been no growth, which is a good sign for it being benign, and we'll do another MRI in a year.  The nurse will be in shortly to schedule that for you."  He got up from his stool and was ready to walk out the door just that fast.  There was an instant sense of relief in the room, but there was hardly any time to think.  We managed to ask a couple quick questions about the seizure and the possibility of getting off the Dilantin, and in response he just cringed a bit and told us that we would need to talk with the epileptologist about that.  If we got one whole minute of his time, I would be extremely surprised.  Once again, we left a little bit dumbfounded, but at least this time we could breathe a sigh of relief. 

     The original plan was not to see the epileptologist again until May, but we'll give those two doctors a chance to talk and then contact him in a few days to get his opinion on whether or not it would be wise to wean Heath off the Dilantin while he's not driving anyway until March.  The epileptologist had agreed with us at the first appointment that that might be a good option, but after seeing this neurosurgeon cringe at the thought, we are not so sure.  The fact remains that there is still a tumor there, so the question is do we want to take any chances on an additional seizure causing unnecessary complications.  We're just not sure. 

     It was a long afternoon, but we are thankful for the report we have been given.  We are thankful that we will not be spending the Christmas holiday season in a hospital.  We are thankful for all the prayers from our friends and family, and most of all, we are thankful for being able to continually give it all over to God and the firm foundation on which we can stand.  That IS a Christmas miracle!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lovin' the Weekends

     Even though Thanksgiving was our first holiday without Grandpa Howard, we were able to celebrate with grateful hearts the fact that he is pain free in Heaven.  Oh, the peace and joy that floods our hearts when we think about the awesome gift of salvation!  As Pastor Korver said in his message on Thursday morning, "Indiscriminate, or reckless, thanksgiving powerfully releases joy in us."  Let the meaning of that sink in for a minute!  He reminded us of this verse from I Thessalonians:  "Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  We took that verse to heart and just thoroughly enjoyed making a lot of family memories all weekend long: 

Delicious lunch at Grandma Bonnie's house

Farm "fun" for the guys

Reconnecting with cousins.  Haley spent her summer in Africa, and Grant spent his summer at boot camp.

Our first-ever all-night shopping trip with Coach Cherie and Team Thessalonians!  Yep, midnight till 12 noon on Friday!

Carpetball champion of the weekend at both family gatherings, Miss Haley Westerkamp!

Just a few of our adorable blond-haired nieces and cousins

Creating a scrapbook to give my grandma when she celebrates her 90th birthday in January
     One of the coolest things about all these pictures is the fact that all of these people share the same joy that only Christ can bring into our hearts!  What a rich family heritage we have!

     This weekend looks a little different from the rather warm and brownish-colored fall landscape we experienced last weekend.  It's a winter wonderland!  It's one of those weekends where you just want to stay warm in your jammies, cozy up by the fire, sip hot chocolate, and watch a good Christmas movie or, in my case, submerge yourself in some scrapbooking fun.  The snow started gently falling yesterday afternoon around 2:30, and it was just the most delightful sight!  Beautiful, glistening, and heavenly!  No wind and not terribly cold.  Perfect! 

     The only challenge was that it started just a bit too early to suit me because the trek to pick up Heath's medical records at two separate hospitals in the QC was complicated not only by the Friday-afternoon, Christmas-shopping traffic but also by the first snowfall of the season as well.  It was slick out, and everyone was forced to learn how to drive in all this white stuff again!  Kelsey decided to go with me so we could pick up some dance tights for her, and what probably could have been done in an hour earlier in the day ended up taking two hours of our time.  Nevertheless, it was great bonding time for us, and when we got home, we were ready to eat a hot bowl of soup from the crock pot and then dive into our planned night of picture fun.  Keaton had his friend Jordan over for a sleepover, Haley had a baby-sitting job, Heath and Jenny played a board game, and Harris was gone to Pella.  He'll be off on a mission by himself to a tractor sale with his dad's truck this weekend, so it's yet another set of emotions and circumstances for him to work through after losing his dad. 

     While praying for him, the rest of us plan to just thoroughly enjoy this very relaxing, low-key, beautiful weekend at home.  We're anxiously anticipating Heath's repeat MRI on Tuesday, and he's also preparing for finals next week.  We're very thankful to report that he'll end up with all A's despite all the circumstances going on in his life!  If we let ourselves slip into worry mode, honestly, it can be rather stressful, but until then, we're just going to continually remind ourselves to stand firm on the foundation of our faith.  We're committing to rejoicing always, praying continually, and giving thanks in all circumstances, knowing that this is God's will for us in Christ Jesus.  Again, it is only by the grace of God that we have made it thus far.