Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011!

Hey, everybody!  Hello from all of us!
     Jacki is definitely a gifted writer and always does our Christmas letter.  Webster defines “gifted” as having natural ability, talented, of superior intelligence, yada, yada.  Since I possess none of this, it totally befuddles me how she pops off with the fact that I should write the letter this year.  Since I don’t have a man cave I can retreat to and seriously think about what it is I haven’t done, I guess I should have been heating the garage in order to keep me out of sight and out of Christmas letter detail.  I’m spending a little extra time this season around the house recovering from colon surgery for the second time this year, so I guess she figured I could do this.  Time to teach her a lesson to not be so cavalier with such a sacred endeavor, so here goes the neighborhood. 
     That being said, make no mistake, we were extremely blessed this year.  The first quarter of the year was pretty quiet except for winter and lots of snow . . . buttloads of snow.  Webster doesn’t define “buttload,” but from someone who thinks snow is a four-letter word, a buttload means snowfall 2x/week usually ending up piled up to my keister.  I’m 6’1”.  It always provokes feelings of anxiety when I realize I’m too Dutch (practical) to go buy a snow blower.  In the first place, my garage won’t hold another thing, and second, what kind of a load on society can’t shovel his own driveway to stay in shape.  Now that it’s in season, I can go pay premium price for a snow blower.  Go figure. 

     April and May led to colon resection surgery for me.  For those of you up on your anatomy, you know what a wreck that is.  I was clueless, and all I knew was that your colon is involved in getting your groceries from here to there.  Your colon is 2.5cm, and my colon had a 4.5cm mass.  I think I even impressed my gastroenterologist.  And you think your shower drain is slow!  If you do the math on a 2.5cm colon with a 4.5cm mass, you understand why my family accused my eye color of changing.  April:  mass removed, four days in hospital, benign, noncancerous.  Thank you, Jesus.  May:  scar tissue strictured my colon shut down to .5cm, another seven days in the hospital.  Webster defines “shut” as to prevent entrance to or exit from.  They were able to put a stent in my colon with a colonoscope, thus preventing a second surgery.  I lost 30 pounds in a month and a week.  All that was left of me was lips and tennis shoes. 

     As I began the process coming back from all of this, my brother and I were in the process of buying rental houses, all here local and all of which needed rehab work.  Who knew it was better to shut off the breaker BEFORE rewiring a new outlet rather than vaporizing a tool with a bright flash of light like you just got your picture taken? 
     July was some R&R with our tractor club’s annual tractor ride around central Iowa.  There were about 200 tractors.  Two-day ride.  Very nice weather. 

Farmers are religious about our John Deeres and coffee time.  I was in the food line when my phone rang that my pickup caught fire in front of my house.  If you know anything about me, you know I do what I can to take care of my vehicles and take a very proactive approach to any hint of problems.  10:00 a.m. on Friday out of the blue, the pig decided to combust under the hood, and before the smoke cleared, it looked like it had been murdered right there.  If you’ve ever had a truck and found out how handy they are or just like riding higher than dragging your backside on the pavement low in a car, then you understand that truck was a part of my family.  A faulty cruise control switch, former recall before I owned it, was probably the culprit.  4x4 extended cab, 200,000 miles, ’97 model, liability only, seemed like the thing to do at the time.  Had just purchased new Nerf bars less than a year ago, God bless ‘em.  Hindsight’s 20-20, right?  This was the vehicle Haley was driving, so we mourned over it together.  Rest in peace, Hank Jr.

     We had the camper out three times this year in July, due to sheer determination, and then again over Labor Day.  We were still working on houses burning the candle on both ends and in the middle.  You get the kind of year we’re having.  We’re still not done. 
     Heath is now a senior at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, majoring in accounting, doing extremely well, and is very involved with a cute little gal named Jenny we think an awful lot of.  She is a nursing student, doing well, and lives two blocks away.  Kind of sounds like Jacki and I back in the day (2 miles).  We were all pretty stoked for him to be able to drive again on June 9.  He’s now been seizure free for a year, and he got a great report from Iowa City in November.  No change in size of brain tumor and supposed to get tested again next year.  Way to go, Idaho!  Love you so much, buddy!


     Haley is a freshman at Ashford where Heath goes, but she is living on campus while Heath is living at home and commuting.  She comes home and graces us with her presence and her laundry on the weekends though.  She actually had a science class with Heath first semester, and they are quite competitive.  Haley got to go to Cancun for spring break with a very close-knit group of high school buddies, and she dreams of when and how she can go to Africa again.  She graduated high school last December, we spoiled her with a big party in May, and she’s been working her butt off to save money for taking care of Jacki and me when we get older, I guess, because she doesn’t spend her money on much except  her Roth IRA.  She is a stellar student, and I love you, babe. 

     Kelsey is our tenacious swimmer.  She’s in her sophomore year of high school and gets herself to those 0:dark:30 a.m. practices with her school permit.  She ran the Bix (local 7-mile race) this summer.  A friend of hers invited her to spend a week on a houseboat on Lake Powell in Arizona.  I couldn’t have been more jealous, the skunk.  She seems to have more determination and competitive spirit than all the rest of us put together.  She detasseled corn this summer and is looking forward to a chorus/orchestra trip to New York over spring break.  She’s also beginning fundraisers for her trip to France this summer with her French class.  She’s like the Energizer bunny.  I love you and am so proud of you!

     Keaton’s going through a stage where he knows he’s the youngest, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.  He’s our 6th grader built like a football player, but they don’t offer that in 6th grade.  He’s the most naturally gifted of us all musically and switched from cello to the double bass.  He’s becoming an accomplished pianist.  He’s very gifted in advanced math classes and will be completing 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math all in 6th grade.  You know how some people just ooze talent?  That would be him.  He takes after his mother – stinker.  I love you, buddy.  You make a father proud! 

     We’re teaching our kids that you have to win at something.  Winning gets you respect.  Respect gets you influence.  Influence gets you leadership, and with leadership you change the world.  Heaven knows it needs it. 

     Jacki is the glue that’s held this circus together this year as always.  She’s involved with women’s ministries at church and leads a Bible study, but our “small group” from church is our family.  There is no higher calling, and no one could do it better or with more grace.  I married up big-time, and with all the stress our family has been through this year, you are first-class.  It brings a major lump to my throat to think how blessed I am to be married to you for 27 years this January. 

     On November 30 we did hand-to-hand combat with my colon for the second time this year, and that added another seven days of hospitalization to my resume.  We knew the stent would have to come out and that I’d have to have another resection surgery.  Those bowel preps are a blast (pun intended).  If you’ve ever seen the movie “Dumb and Dumber,” turbo lax, you know what I mean.  Webster defines turbo as “driven by a turbine powered by exhaust gas.”  If that hurts your head, just think of it as “before quick.”  I didn’t dare turn my back on myself.  I just didn’t trust it, if you know what I mean . . . yeah, serious repercussions, man.  Hello!  Recovery is going well so far.  I’m supposed to be out of the office for four to six weeks.  Today marks a week and a half, and I had a family to my house for an appointment yesterday.  Nobody accused me of being smart . . . yeah, probably won’t do that again for a while.  Narcotic painkillers give me bad dreams . . . bad, man . . . funerals for living people, “Red Solo Cup” (Toby Keith country song), etc. 

     Well, if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, I need to close this.  Bathroom calling.  Raising a family with your values is the highest calling but just not always the most urgent!

     Listen, if you have your health, be thankful.  If all your children are around your table over the holidays, be thankful.  If you have a pickup to put on the end of your key, be thankful.  Make 2012 your year.  Go win at something.  From all of us to all of you, have a blessed Christmas and a happy new year.  Proverbs 3:5-6

Friday, December 9, 2011

We're Alive and Well!

     Daily updates were easy when I spent the majority of my time at the hospital.  Now you'd think I was busy catching up at home or something after being there seven days! 

     Monday morning we were given no indication of when we could expect Harris to be discharged from the hospital.  A little more progress needed to be seen first, and because Harris was still only eating a glorified "liquid" diet (meaning things like cream of mushroom soup, cottage cheese, and pudding), we really didn't expect him to go home anytime sooner than Wednesday.  When I called him Tuesday morning to check in before leaving the house, I was shocked to learn that one of our doctor's associates had been in to see him and that she thought he was ready to go home.  She told Harris, though, that the doctor would be in by noon, and then he would make the final judgment call. 

     I think Harris was just as shocked as I was and somewhat concerned with whether or not he was really ready.  Obviously home sounds better than staying in the hospital, but when you're still eating only a few spoonfuls of food a day and you're feeling very full and bloated, you really wonder if it's a wise choice.  He had been running a low temp the previous two nights, and the nurse was slightly concerned about that, so all in all, we just wanted to make sure going home would be the right thing to do. 

     It became a race against time for me to get done what I needed to get done at home and then beat the doctor to the hospital room so we could make a joint decision. 

     When I got to the room, I was surprised to see the bed empty and the IV pole standing there all alone and detached from my husband.  He was not in the room, so I went out and discovered that he was taking a walk all by himself.  I decided he must be feeling better, and maybe going home was a great decision . . . until he got back in the room and shared with me just how bloated and full he still felt.  He rested a little and then took a shower, and then we waited and waited for the doctor to come.  Finally around 1:30, the RN appeared and told us that she had discharge papers and that the doctor had decided that if his associate thought Harris was ready, then he was okay with it too.  Surprise again. 

     We all decided to go ahead and follow through with it but asked if we could wait just a little bit longer to actually leave.  Our company was having a very important conference call at 2 p.m. that we really wanted to be a part of if at all possible, so we agreed to just call her whenever we were done with that. 

     Right smack in the middle of it, our doctor appeared.  Ugh!  Rotten timing!  Harris had been dozing throughout the call, and I had been trying to take all kinds of notes.  Now he needed to wake up and try and converse with the doctor about the wisdom of going home, and I was trying to listen to them but still pay attention to what was being said on the call.  Looking back, maybe we should have asked the doctor to come back when we were finished, but the reality is that we didn't know when that would be, we didn't want to inconvenience him, and we didn't care to sit around and wait again either.  The decision to go home had been made, and there was really nothing keeping us from moving forward other than a bit of fear and trepidation.  Ultimately, it boiled down to the fact that we were just moving from 24/7 skilled nursing care to 24/7 Jacki care.  If we had challenges at home, we certainly knew the number to call for help. 

     Tuesday night was rough.  He felt pretty miserable because he was still so bloated.  We questioned whether or not we had done the right thing.  We questioned his lack of appetite.  We questioned which option of painkiller would be the best.  He was reminded that they affect his sense of smell and make him ultrasensitive, and he was annoyed by all our normal household smells.  He was reminded that they give him horrible nightmares.  He opted to sleep in the recliner in the basement and discovered just how dry it is down there.  All in all, he just felt "mighty low," in his words. 

     We discovered that the old heating pad tucked away in a cupboard was just the trick to helping him feel better.  By Wednesday afternoon already, he was doing a ton better than the day before because the bloated feeling was starting to disappear.  He even asked for a can of chicken noodle soup and ate quite a bit of it, which was a major accomplishment.  His brother Bryce had brought a trailer to the QC, so he parked the semi in front of the house and came in for a visit, and that really boosted Harris's spirits.  We have spent a lot of our time just talking together about everything under the sun, but he sure appreciates hearing from others as well.  He made a few brief phone calls that day, but his voice is still hoarse, so that can tire him out. 

     The TV gets really old really fast, so I found an old Cathedrals CD to pop in and just let that play quietly in the background Wednesday evening.  That sparked a whole new type of healing for him, and we have found music to be a lifesaver!  He can enjoy it while just laying on the couch or sit with a computer and pull up videos to watch.  It's been extremely good medicine for the soul, and we've seen it bring out his very tender side.  He's been the most gracious and loving patient I could ever ask for, and the kids and I have been so blessed by all his compliments and messages of love being delivered face to face or via text. 

     Thankfully he lives with his office manager, and a lot of our work can be done from home.  Yesterday we spent our afternoon tending a few office things, and it was good to see him mentally engage himself on a couple of phone calls.  He even set it up for a client to come by the house tomorrow to sign something, so that just assures me that he is making good progress.  When he had all the complications in April/May, he could hardly think or talk business for several weeks.  The fact that he can have his head in it this much already gives us both much hope that things are going in the right direction.

     All in all, he's doing as well as can be expected.  His appetite is gaining every day, and he's feeling a little bit better all the time.  Very slow but steady.  That's why he needs to be recuperating for 4-6 weeks.  The best part is that he's not experiencing any cramping or gas pains like he did the last time, so we're really hoping that he's healing properly this time.  We know this is a long process, and we just have to be patient.  His worst challenge right now is that he isn't sleeping well at night.  Last night he took ibuprofen instead of a prescribed painkiller, and he was still wide awake already at 2:30.  The rest of the night was very restless for him, but he's sleeping peacefully now. 
     On just another side note, it was a year ago last night that Heath had his last seizure, and it happened the same night he had his last final for that semester.  He and Haley have had the rare opportunity to be in a college science class together, and they are taking that last final today.  We have no reason to believe that he'd have another seizure, but let's just say that those kids are certainly in our thoughts and prayers today.  It's been a long stressful week for them.  If you're reading this and would be willing to say a little prayer for them, that would be great. 

     Thanks again, everyone!  Your love and support of our family has been tremendous, and we appreciate every single ounce of it.  Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Family Update

     We're nearing the end of day six of Harris's hospital stay.  Every day he shows a little more improvement, but as of this morning, there was still no real mention of when he can go home.  He's making slow but steady improvement every single day, but his body is just not ready for release yet.  He's adding a little more food to his system all the time, but it's still things such as creamy soups or puddings.  A few spoonfuls at a time is not very much, but he's been advised to not push it and let his body be his guide.  If it doesn't sound good, don't eat it.  If you feel full, stop.  It's amazing how the body knows what needs to happen.  He's still a little bloated and winded when he takes his walks, and that's part of why he's still here.  He's still on the morphine pump, and he needs to transition to oral meds when he's on more food.  The great news is that he got to take a real shower today!!!  No more baby wipes or shampoo caps for my man, and he couldn't be happier!  It's been a very slow but steady process, but evidently it is all very normal and expected.

     Throughout this whole experience, our kids have just done a phenomenal job of taking over on the homefront and meeting whatever needs arise amongst them.  When I go home at night, the house has been cleaned up and looking decent.  Cleaning got done on Saturday, laundry is under control, and some groceries were purchased.  They are greeting people who bring food and eating whatever has been provided.  They've come to visit whenever possible and bring me supper and coffee.  Their attitudes have been great, and no talk of Christmas wants has come out of their mouths.  On top of all of that, they have stayed on top of their own personal schedules and their homework, and they just make us proud.  We are so incredibly blessed!

     That doesn't mean there's not an occasional display of emotions.  The level of stress in our home for the last long while has been very high, and once in a while, they just have to get it out and talk it through with us.  Last night was one of those nights.  We had some heart-to-heart moments and shedding of tears.  Please keep them all in your prayers.  Heath and Haley both have finals all week long.  Kelsey and Keaton opted to just stay back tonight and have a night of normalcy.  I can't blame them one bit. 

     As for me, it has just been a very deliberate conscious choice to set other stressors aside for the time being and just try to strictly focus on the needs of my husband and my children.  There is nothing on this earth that I would rather do than love on my family, and I am one very blessed woman to have been given such special people to cherish. 

     Nothing real profound on my heart to share tonight.  Just a heart of thankfulness. 



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saturday Night Love

     It started out as a very calm and peaceful night.  Our boys had other plans, but once our girls were done with their assigned tasks at home, they made their way to the hospital.  Harris was in the recliner all day, and I was all situated in a chair, so the only other seating option in our little hospital room at the time was the bed or the chair holding all the extra pillows which happened to be stuck in a corner.  The girls didn't mind cozying up on the bed together and quietly giggled over some pictures they were looking at on Facebook.   

     After a while we decided to rearrange the room, which was no small task.  We have cords everywhere in here, and every time something gets moved, it's like a little jigsaw puzzle that has to be put back together just right.  Eventually we got it all figured out. 

     While I was out of the room taking a phone call, they all decided it was time for Harris to walk.  They walked by the waiting room that I was sitting in, and they just made me smile.  Harris had a very determined look on his face, but the girls were just smiling and giggling the whole time.  I raced back to the room so I could grab my camera and take a picture, but they were too quick, so we posed at the entrance of party room 3238.  He was so happy today to get out of his hospital gown and into some real clothes!  And yes, he agreed to let me post this, which shows just a portion of his incision.  It's probably 12-13 inches long. 

     It was shortly after that that the fun and games really began.  Haley found the stethoscope that Jenny had asked for last night, so she thought she'd check out Harris's heartbeat while he was engrossed in an Indiana Jones movie.

     They thought it would be cute to take a picture of me doing what I've been doing a lot of doing.  
Thank goodness for my cell phone and my computer so I can stay connected with the outside world!

Haley attempted to do some homework in the corner, but I don't think much was accomplished. 

Kelsey and I then made Haley take a picture of us singing along to whatever song Kelsey chose for us to listen to on her iPod.  See more cords going to each of our ears.
(I was actually told to be quiet several times.)
(And yes, that's a coffee spill on my shirt.)

I'm not sure what was really going on here,
but let's just say it was getting a little rowdy in the room. 

It was Harris's idea for us to take a picture of all of us holding up our coffee mugs
and him holding up his urinal thingamabob. 


We didn't dare go get the nurse.  We had to use the self-timer. 
Nope, we didn't even trip over any cords!

Who says you can't have a little fun in a hospital room?!?

Hopefully the walls are soundproof. 


Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Latest, Greatest Hospital Happenings

Thursday night
     Yesterday was a long day of ups and downs. 

     The morning felt wildly successful after a couple of walks around "the block" up here on the third floor of the surgical specialty unit.  Harris was told that if he sat on the toilet and got his body in that position, the colon might start waking up a little bit more, and therefore, progress might happen a little more quickly.  To be blunt, farting is the goal.  Food cannot be attained until that feat has been accomplished, and food needs to move through successfully before he can go home. 

     By the time the doctor came in, Harris's interpretation and my interpretation of what happened on the throne were just a little bit different, and it felt as though it was a good thing for me to be here.  Harris is the voice of optimism; I'm the voice of caution.  Yes, I want him to get that popsickle just as quickly as he can, but I wasn't 100% sure his body was ready for it.  The doctor ended up okaying it, but I was skeptical.  Nevertheless, my healthy body was ready for some food of its own, so off to the cafeteria I went in search of something to eat.  It all looks pretty good down there, but it's always a little disappointing once it enters the mouth. 

     Anyway, I came back up to the room to discover that in my 30-minute absence, his catheter had been removed, which was another request of his, and a tray full of clear liquid goodies had been delivered to my man.  There he sat with his lips next to a spoon full of chicken broth, and he was happily indulging himself on the first thing he had "eaten" since Monday night.  My happiness for him was squashed by my own uneasiness of how things, in my mind, were truly progressing.  The look on my face and the words that came out of my mouth were enough to scare him into not eating anything more, and there we sat for a while trying to figure out what was the right thing to do next.  Maybe he truly was ready for some sustenance more than what the IV bag was giving him, but maybe that would irritate a freshly sewn-together colon a little too much.  I finally went out and said to the nurse, "Define passing gas."  I felt a little stupid because who really asks a question like that, but hey, when you're dealing with the whole digestive system, it's a valid question. 

     On top of that, Harris remembered at some point during his April and May hospitalizations that he was told that painkillers can prohibit the passing of gas, so yesterday afternoon he decided he'd try and push that little painkiller button a little less than what he was doing.  That decision did not serve him well.  He was in a little more pain than he had been, and he told me at one point that he didn't need to walk again the rest of the day.  The real challenge here is that we've had a little too much experience with colon issues, and it's hard to remember correctly what has to happen when and why.  It was a frustrating afternoon for both of us. 

     He had just gotten settled in for a little nap, so I slipped away to make a couple phone calls, but when I came back, Haley and his brother Vance were here.  I was afraid that he needed some rest, but the visit was just the perk in the day that we both needed.  Company is a very nice distraction.  After they left, I suggested a walk, and he decided he was ready.  The painkillers had kicked in.  We settled in for an exciting hour of the news and "Wheel of Fortune" and knew that Heath and Jenny were on their way.  He was feeling pretty good, and it felt like we had turned a corner. 

     But then some heartburn and nausea started making their ugly appearance.  The CNA put the blood pressure cuff on the bottom part of his arm by his IV for some crazy reason, and that caused a very unpleasant burning sensation in his arm for a little while.  The fun light was off for the rest of his evening, and he dozed through most of it.  He never did get up again, and we all left him sleeping very soundly at 10 p.m. 

     Today has been a much more stable, even-keeled day, but we're still awaiting the passing of more gas.  It's been a rainy, dreary Saturday afternoon, and we've definitely both had some time to snooze.  He's in the recliner, and I'm in the bed.  That's been his preferred location all day.  He's waiting on me to take him on the 4th walk of the day, and then we're going to lose the hospital gown and put on a button shirt instead!  Exciting stuff around here!!

     Thanks again, everyone, for your prayers and checking up on us.  My small group has been keeping our family fed, and we will be forever grateful.  God is good, and we are just thankful to be this far.

Friday night

Friday, December 2, 2011

Recognizing That Voice

     I am not a morning person.  At all.  My natural tendency is to talk with my family or work long into the night, but because my family has schedules that require them to be places early in the morning, I make myself get up and do whatever needs to be done.  If I can get on a roll, sometimes a lot can be accomplished when I get up, but then I usually need to crash at some point during my day.  Thank God for power naps!  Other times, though, I just can't get going, and my time can be piddled away on stupid stuff.  That has a way of getting me into trouble at times, so I've been asking God to help me in this area of my life.  Old habits die hard, and there have been countless times where forgiveness has been sought. 

     Another thing God's been teaching me about is the concept of obedience.  That's a constant, isn't it?  You would think that we'd get that one mastered when we are young, but somehow there just keeps on being more life lessons to be learned no matter how old we are.  He's been working on showing me how to recognize that still small voice as being His and how I am to act promptly and obediently when I hear it.  That's a tough one sometimes. 

     This morning He had a way of combining all those lessons into one.  When I first awakened at 4:30 and saw the clock, I rolled over and was just glad that Kelsey had decided to skip swim practice this morning, which meant no one had to get up till 6:30.  Then I woke up again at 5:45 and just couldn't get back to sleep.  I went downstairs in my sleepy state, sat at my computer, and had this little voice going in my head that said, "No, just get in the shower."  I continued to look around my desk at what needed to be done but again, "No, just get in the shower."  (I hate showering first thing.  I much prefer to stay in my jammies as long as possible.)  Next I successfully walked past a little pile of laundry on my kitchen table but couldn't resist the little pile of socks that needed to be matched up on top of the washer, but partway through, again, I sensed, "No, just get in the shower."  Okay, Lord, I get the picture!!  There was just something in that moment that felt so disobedient about folding my laundry even though everything within me wanted to get that done!

     So off to the shower I went.  Then all I could hear was, "Just get to the hospital."  And then I started getting scared.  What was going on with my husband or what call was I going to get that would make me so glad that I was ready to go for the day?  The feeling just wouldn't go away, so as soon as I was ready, I went downstairs and grabbed my little devotional and my Bible and read a short little thing about God's presence and peace.  God's peace totally came over me between 6:30 and 7 while I was getting three of my four kids out the door, but as soon as they were gone and I was tempted to make a pot of coffee, that voice just came over me again that said, "Just get to the hospital."  I let Kelsey know that I was leaving, and off I went. 

     When I stepped into the elevator around 7:25 a.m., it hit me that a lot of people are normally at work by that time of the day, and I just smiled and laughed at myself because it was feeling like such a major accomplishment for me.  Oh, I can get places early when I need to, but serving my family early in the mornings has been where God has had me for a long time, and I'm very thankful for that! 

     The minute I stepped into this hospital room, it was apparent that God was calling me to serve my husband this morning.  He was grumpy and irritated.  He was annoyed at how much noise can be made during the night and how many interruptions there can be in what should be a peaceful night of sleep.  He wanted his teeth brushed and his hair washed -- now!  He was bound and determined that he was going to get up and walk today.  I couldn't decide if I should be mad at the nurses for not taking better care of him or be thankful for the fact they hadn't and therefore there was a little more gumption in him today than yesterday!  I convinced him that we needed to call the nurse for a little help because all he had accomplished by last night was a few seconds of standing beside his bed. 

     By 8 a.m. two very gracious sweet nurses and one doting wife had met all his needs.  He's finally out of his initial hospital gown, and his bedding is fresh and clean.  He conquered four steps over to the chair, and they even came back later to take him on his first little walk successfully! 

     And here I sit.  My feet are propped up on his bed, my need for caffeine has been met, and my heart has been laid bare before all of you -- another act of obedience I felt compelled to do this morning.  I guess this is God's away of giving me a whole bunch of accountability partners!  My husband has now been on two little walks, and we're sitting here together waiting for the doctor to arrive.  I'm very content with the fact that the socks aren't folded but that I'm here with him.  There is nothing more important today than meeting the needs of my husband.  Thank you, Lord, for him.  I love this man so much. 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Surgery? Done.

     As I sit beside the hospital bed of my husband, it feels all too familiar.  We spent 11 of our days in this wonderful Genesis East Hospital earlier in the year, and now we're into our 2nd of another 4 to 7 days again.  For a split second yesterday, I thought about trying to convince myself that it would be like a little mini vacation for us, but that didn't last long.  There is nothing picturesque or yummy or fun about it.  It's just a little room that is too cold for me and too hot for him, the bed isn't wide enough for the two of us, and there are enough gadgets surrounding him that even trying to lean over for a kiss on the forehead seems a little difficult.  The only food we've seen yet are the ice chips he's been given and the food that's been brought here for me from home.  The view out the window is pretty drab and cold.  Definitely not the vacation spot we need! 

     But the service is really pretty good, my man is stable, and we're on the other side of surgery!  Ever since May, we've known that this little season of our lives would be coming, and we chose to wait it out this long on purpose.  It's not easy having the provider of your family be out of commission three months out of a year, so we wanted to make sure the timing was ideal inasmuch as we could help it.  This is typically our slower season anyway, so we figured we could just as well spend it in the hospital if spending time in here was necessary and we could pick our time. 

     Monday night we fired up the grill and made sure that we had a good meal because once midnight rolled around, he was only allowed clear liquids and laxatives.  Yesterday he had nothing but a few ice chips, and when he asked for a popsickle this morning, he was greeted with another cup of ice.  We arrived at the hospital yesterday at 10, and they finally wheeled him off to the operating room at 12:30.  We were surprised to learn that the doctor's intention was to first try and remove the stent from his colon without opening him up, but we were also told that there would be about a 20% chance of that being successful.  It wasn't.  Around 2:30 they told me that they needed to go ahead and cut him open, and by the time he was out of recovery and settled into his room, it was around 6 p.m.  The doctor met with me and informed me that the surgery had gone very well.  They took out another 8 inches of colon where the stent was embedded and then he hand-sewed the ends together.  While he was doing that, he somehow made the determination that when he had the surgery done in April, there must have been a leak where the colon had been stapled together and that there was probably infection and that the body's way of dealing with all of it was by forming scar tissue.  There was so much scar tissue formed that that's why the stricture happened, but if it hadn't formed and shut off the leak, that would not have been good either.  All we can do is hope and pray that his body heals properly this time.

     His night was long and painful, and his recovery seems to be going a lot slower this time.  Last time he was so proud to be up on his feet and walking around rather quickly, but he has yet to do that this time.  The nurse tried to get him to do it this morning, but he was ready for more pain medication, so that was prescribed instead.  He's sleeping peacefully now, but I have a feeling they'll at least have him sitting up before too much longer. 

     Yesterday was a long day for me.  The kids were all here at some point throughout the evening, and I was so grateful for their company.  This morning I prayed that God would bring some friends today, and between 10 and 2 we have already had five visitors!  It's been quite the party room!  He dozed off and on throughout their visits, but it was sure a welcome treat for me.  I'm debating whether or not I should slip home for a couple hours or just stick it out for the duration of the day and evening.  I have plenty of things with me to keep me busy, but the thought of a little power nap on my couch right now sounds really appealing.  Thankfully supper is being delivered to our home, so there are no meal concerns for me tonight.  Ah, "vacation." 

     And in the last two minutes, he's asked for the door to be closed because of all the noise in the hallway, and as soon as I got back from doing that, he suggested maybe it was time to go for a walk.  I guess I'll be sticking around a bit longer!

     He's sitting up!

P.S.  Well, my decision has been made.  I'm staying right here beside my husband.  Right after I pushed the button to publish this post, I was asked by the two attending nurses to push the red "staff emergency" button because he was light-headed, dizzy, falling over, and having a very scary-looking spaced-out moment.  I've never seen so many nurses flood a room so quickly!  He's laying back down now, and I guess we'll be trying that again after a while.  Your prayers are greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Year-Long Wait

     It was a year and two months ago today that Heath had his first seizure totally out of nowhere.  At that time a lot of testing was done, and we were completely shocked one week later when we were told that he had a 1cm tumor on the left occipital lobe of his brain.  It rocked our world in a season of already being unusually rocked, but at that time we were told to wait and see what would transpire over the next couple of months.  On December 7, 2010, we were thankful that the second MRI revealed that the tumor had not changed, but we were then told to wait a year for the next MRI.  A year!  Two days after that he had his second grand mal seizure, so his seizure medication was increased, but he's been seizure free since then.  Other than being told he couldn't drive for six months after each of the seizures, he's really been able to live a very normal life.  Every once in a while, he'll have a headache or some other little thing that makes us wonder what's going on inside his head, but there has never been enough of a concern to warrant taking him in sooner than scheduled.  Thankfully his doctors are only a phone call or even an email away, and they have been very good at responding to any little questions we've had along the way. 

     A year has been a long time.  There has not been a day that's gone by that I haven't looked at my son and wondered what we would learn at the end of the year.  My prayers have been somewhat bold in that I would even pray that the tumor would be shrinking and gone by the time we would go back.  Sometimes I would pray that there would at least be no growth at all.  My curious mind would always be tempted to play out the "what-if" scenarios in my head.  What if it had grown by a millimeter?  Would they suggest surgery for something little like that?  Would it be better to have that happen and have it be gone than to always wonder if it was growing?  What if it had grown slightly but not doubled?  Would he face chemo, radiation, surgery?  What if it had doubled in size?  What if it had spread or more tumors showed up when we went back?  Would Heath be facing challenging doctor appointments or a hospitalization in the very same month that we’re sending Harris back to the hospital for his repeat colon surgery?  How would we handle having two men in the hospital in different locations for very different things?  Would Harris have to postpone his surgery?  It’s set up for next Wednesday, November 30, by the way, and the dread factor is very high.  Every time my mind was tempted to entertain all those questions, I'd have to remind myself to hold those thoughts captive and not borrow trouble and just wait it out.  That is way easier said than done. 

     Finally sometime late summer or early fall, the appointments were actually set up for today, November 22, two days before Thanksgiving.  We knew that if some kind of treatment were to be needed, we wanted to have a little time to plan and prepare so that once his semester is over in early December, he could get started.  We knew that our holiday plans could end up in total upheaval, and we certainly couldn't let ourselves even contemplate the thought of trying to get away for the holidays on a family vacation like we'd all really like to do.  Everything has been hinging on today's appointment for a while now.  I sensed in my spirit a few days ago that everything would be okay, but even so, yesterday was particularly hard.  Prayers for my anxious heart were answered when I finally just entrusted our son back to the Father who gave him to us and leaned on the understanding that God loves him even more than we do and that we had to trust in God’s plan for his life, no matter what the outcome. 

     So we started out the day at 10 a.m. by seeing a physician's assistant who was filling in for Heath's regular seizure doctor.  Since he's been seizure free for a year, we anticipated this appointment to be pretty noneventful, but it turned into quite a discussion regarding his medication and the long-term effects and plotting out what it would look like to make the switch to a different one down the road.  We have instructions on what to change when, and we’ll be going back in May for further consultation.  We still have no way of knowing whether the seizures and the tumor have anything to do with each other, which is frustrating, but it is what it is. 

     The next two hours were spent leisurely having lunch together, Heath, Jenny, Harris, and I, and thankfully the time went by pretty quickly.  We arrived back at the hospital at 1:20 for his MRI check-in time of 1:30, and by his 2 p.m. actual appointment time, they already had it done.  We moved to the third department of the day and proceeded to fill out more paperwork and waited for our 2:50 appointment with the neurosurgeon to find out the results of the MRI.  We were told he was running behind schedule, and we found this to be the longest wait of our day.  We were all anxious but very tired too, and an iced coffee would have definitely been a welcome treat by this time.  The nurse practitioner finally gave us a hint of good news about 10 minutes before the doctor came in the room around 4 p.m. for his typical very quick appearance.  The tumor had not grown at all, so we were all very relieved.  He said that it could either be a very slow-growing kind of tumor or a developmental anomaly, which is something he was maybe born with and that we would have never even known was there if he hadn’t had the original seizure and tests.  His recommendation is to just come back in another year to check it again, but if there are any major challenges between now and then to make sure and call. 

     Relief?  Yes.  Definitely.  Of course, we know that we now have another year of “wait and see,” but at least I think we all feel a lot better now that we know it hasn’t grown in 14 months’ time, and we are very, very thankful for that.  It was a rather silent, tired, and contemplative ride home in the rain today, but we are all feeling a little less stressed.  We’re ready to enjoy the holiday weekend with our family and give thanks to God for His goodness to us.  We are also very thankful for you, our friends and family, who have been praying with us through some very rough times.  We want to wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  Very, very good. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Go Play On The Swings???

     It's been awhile.  A long while. 

     These last three and a half months have been the most grueling, exhausting, and frustrating months I've ever personally known, and believe me, I've had some challenging moments in my lifetime before this one!  If I could share my life story in this public setting, I would, but in order to maintain the privacy of others who are also involved, it's just not something that can be shared here.  In this particular season of my life, it's been a matter of facing a 43-year ongoing battle and trying to find some kind of healing.  There have been so many obstacles and hurts and tears along the way, and at one point my biggest struggle was why God doesn't seem to hear our prayers or seem to care to do anything about them.  No matter what was happening, it felt as though there was very little hope for our situation. 

     After finally allowing myself to verbalize that to a friend, she was able to share her own pained heart with me, and we were able to pray together.  What a sweet time of fellowship!  Later on that very afternoon, God did something that is just so like Him.  He put in front of me the most perfect devotional that was all about being tired of waiting on God, and in it was the verse I have at the top of this blog as well as this verse:  “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD."  Psalm 27:14.  It was such a beautiful answer to prayer at the most perfect time, and I was so thankful. 

     But then He did something else that was really awesome.  After weeks and weeks of diligently searching for the right person to help walk us through this valley, God led us in a very roundabout way to a man who seemed to be the most perfect fit.  A ten-minute phone conversation with this man was all it took for me to end up on the floor in a thankful mess of tears.  God had provided just enough hope to keep me moving forward just when I so desperately needed it the most.

     A short time ago, there was a meeting held with this man and a few other main participants.  There were people huddled in prayer in another location, and lots of other people were praying for us as well.  Even though the stress level was high, there was a sense of peace and assuredness within me that God was in this thing.  Only He could have brought us to this place like He did. 

     After a couple hours' worth of discussion, some of us were given the directive that we desperately needed:  "Go play on the swings!"  In other words, "Take a breather.  You've done what you need to do.  Let it go.  Take time to heal." 

     Those words of wisdom have been ringing loudly in my head, and I'm doing all I can do to keep on letting go and put it back in the hands of God and the help He has provided for us.  That's so much easier said than done.  An issue of this longevity is not quickly undone, and even though we're supposed to be "playing on the swings," the reality is that the long-term effects still have a way of infiltrating our lives on a daily basis.  There is so much healing that needs to take place, but I'm just thankful for a God who understands our hearts and knows everything.  I'm clinging to that promise right now. 

     It's time to turn my focus back on my own family.  Next Tuesday we will be heading to Iowa City with Heath to check on the tumor that was discovered on his brain in September 2010.  When it was checked last December, it had not grown, so we were told to wait a year and see what happens, so the time has come for us to see whether it has grown or not and assessing what, if anything, needs to be done with it.  My prayer is that it will be gone!!  What a great thing that would be to give thanks for this Thanksgiving!  The very next week Harris will be heading to the hospital for his repeat colon surgery, and he'll be healing from that right on through the Christmas season.  My prayer there is that this time there will be no complications and that his body will heal properly. 

     If we could all just go "play on the swings" for the next couple of months, we would!  The thought of putting our family on a jet plane and flying away to some island far, far away and coming back in 2012 has crossed my mind many times, but that doesn't seem to be a realistic option.  It's sure fun to dream about though!  I'd even settle for a week away if I could figure out how to make that happen!  Nevertheless, we are approaching a holiday season that will be vastly different from the norm, but we're just going to have to trust in God's perfect provision and plan for our family's lives.  When we are weak, He is strong, right?  If I'm supposed to be playing on the swings, I just as well start pumping my heart out and bellowing out the words of "Jesus Loves Me!"

Monday, September 26, 2011

Holding Fast

     I’ll be honest.  Choosing joy right now (as explained a couple blog entries back) isn’t always the easiest thing in the world to do.  In fact, some days it’s just downright difficult, and it takes a lot of effort to just find the good in what’s going on around me.  Sometimes when people ask the most simple question, “How are you,” it takes energy just to say, “Fine,” when in reality one or two more simplistic questions might be just enough to cause all the tears that are lingering just beneath the surface to be spilled all over the place.  Depending on how well-informed the person is, the dam may let loose a little bit, but then there are my precious family members right here at home who witness the majority of those tears and who are helping me shoulder the burdens.  Whether they are directly engaged in helping me process all the thoughts, emotions, and possible solutions that are raging through my being or whether I’m silently sorting through it all in my own head and heart, either way, my stress filters down to my family at times, and it is so unfair.  My heart just wants to protect them from all the pain that haunts me.  They are drug into it whether they like it or not, but thankfully God has given them to me to keep me grounded.  They are my biggest blessings, and when I can consciously and deliberately choose to focus on joyfully serving them, I can detach myself from the bondage of the other circumstances and just enjoy the beautiful life God has given me.  I’m so incredibly thankful that God recently had a special way of confirming that little whisper of instruction to me.   
     In fact, He’s just been pretty cool with things like that.  Over Labor Day weekend our family decided to get away from life by going on a little camping trip, so in an effort to just totally relax, I opted to indulge myself in a Christian fiction novel while we were gone, which is something that rarely happens.  Little did I know that the story line would involve a main character who discovered a brain tumor and who successfully endured a lengthy waiting period before the successful removal of her tumor.  Keep in mind that it’s now been a year since we first discovered the tumor on our son Heath’s brain, and we are anxiously anticipating his follow-up appointment in November.  This story, even though it was just a story in a book, gave me a great big dose of hope on so many levels just when it was so desperately needed.   
     God used that author to minister to me so much that when that book went back to the library, another one came home with me.  It’s taken me much longer to get through this second novel, but when I recently found myself in the deepest pit of despair I’ve probably ever been in, God used this author again to show me a true picture of what depression looks like in a Christian’s life and confirmed in my heart that I have personally not hit that level of concern.  Thank you, Jesus!  After a while you begin to wonder if you’re losing your mind.  I’m so thankful that there are people in my life who would encourage me to get help if they felt I needed it and who are praying for me and who are there to support me. 
     One of those people is someone who goes way back to my childhood.  She knows and understands me better than most, and we’ve prayed each other through many storms in our lives.  After a brief email to her one morning last week, she felt very compelled to earnestly pray for me that afternoon in particular.  It happened to be an afternoon that I was mindlessly working on a project all alone.  Darkness was invading my heart, and even the music from the Christian radio station wasn’t soothing or encouraging or uplifting to me that day.  It was even kind of annoying to me because it felt as though there was hope for everyone’s situation but mine.  Normally I would find myself singing along and thinking about the messages of the songs, but on this particular day there was only one time that some lyrics just popped out at me and really caught my ear and my heart:   “Help is on the way.”  The song was familiar to me, but no other words before or after in the entire afternoon seemed to register in my mind.  This time, though, the words were very loud and clear, and it was as though those were the only words God wanted me to focus on that day.
     Imagine the tears that fell from my eyes later on when I got home and read this email from my friend: 
As I pray for what to say to you, God reminded me of one line from “Hold Fast” by Mercy Me, the line, "hold fast, help is on the way," and I looked up the song, and it has a great message ... but it's not from me cuz it was a God thing, so please take it not as from me saying it but as from the singer or as a gift of God to you tonight.
     Our God is so cool like that.  He knew I needed that more than life itself that day.  Maybe you need to hear the message in this song too.  We may find ourselves in a place where it would be easy to just give up and not trust Him anymore, but He's worth clinging to even when it feels like our strength is almost gone.  Hold fast!  Help is on the way! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In The Silence

     "Be still and know that I am God." 

     Needing prayer.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Choosing Joy

(written Friday)

     Today . . . even if it's just for today . . . I'm choosing joy. 

     Let's face it.  We all have things that come up in our daily lives that frustrate us and cause us some temporary pain.  We fix them rather quickly and just move on with our normal tasks of the day.

     We all have some things that we deal with for a longer chunk of time.  It may be for a week, a month, a year, and sometimes even many years.  It may be a health issue, a financial issue, a relationship issue . . . you name it.  God never said our lives would be easy, even if we're following Him, and oftentimes as soon as we get out of one crisis, we find ourselves in another one.  We systematically work our way through them.  Sometimes these crises come rather infrequently, but then other times, like has been the case for our family this last year, they just seem to pile up right on top of each other a bit too frequently, and you find yourself struggling to make sense of all of it.   Thankfully, though, many of these issues eventually come to pass. 

     And then I would dare say that a lot of us have some kind of pain deep down inside that's just always been there.  An issue that just never seems to get resolved.  A feeling we can't seem to get past.  A struggle we continually do not know how to face.  A hurdle that just can't be jumped over no matter how hard we try.  A disease that affects our entire life.  Oh, it may not be something that causes us grief every moment of every day or even on a regular basis at all, but somehow it's just always lingering in the background and in the far corners of our mind.  It might just be something that we personally and privately deal with alone, or it might be something that affects not only us but many people around us, and the ramifications of the whole thing can be so incredibly complicated. 

     That's where I've been for the last month.  For me, it's an issue that has been present in my life for as long as I can remember.  The level of severity of it has always been high, but lately it has reached an even higher notch on the scale, and there is no evidence of it backing down anytime soon.  It has been the most mentally draining and emotionally exhausting month of my life, and when you add that to all the other stressors of our "normal" life lately, it's really, really difficult to know how to keep picking up the pieces and moving forward.  If I could snap my fingers and fix things, I would.  If I could find something tangible to actually do to make a difference, I would.  I'm trying.  If I could pray a little harder and ask God for the millionth time to bring relief, I would.  And I have been. 

     But the fact remains, there are no easy answers.  There is no quick fix.  In fact, there are many obstacles -- big ones.  The actual root of the problem is something that greatly prohibits any normal attempt at fixing the problem, and that plays a huge factor in the whole dilemma.  Consequently, my heart and mind has once again become consumed with trying to figure out how to make some real necessary changes for all involved.  Those closest to the root of the problem have almost become immune to it, even though their lives are greatly affected by it.  But it's like a ripple effect.  Those who are a little bit further away get caught in the middle because they know the problem and are used to it.  They know that things are not right, but sometimes it's easier to just overlook it and try to pretend it's not that bad.  Then they have a wake-up call and find themselves challenged by those from the outside looking in who can clearly see the issues at hand and who can't fathom why something hasn't been done to fix it long ago.  But then we get back to the root of the problem as being the prohibitor for healing once again, and it goes on and on and on.

     For all who are involved, it's deep.  It's painful.  It's horrible.  It affects our lives in ways that most people would never be able to understand.  It's a part of my life that isn't easily shared, but it's a huge part, and there is a whole lot of healing that needs to happen right now in not only my life but also in the lives of those around me.  It's kind of scary to poke my head out and expose this part of my life, but God has blessed me with so many friends and family who truly care, and it's time to just lay it out there and humbly seek your prayer support. 

     After consciously realizing that I was taking my stress out on my family yet again, God recently nudged me to simply choose joy.  Even when the storm is brewing all around me, for my sake and my family's sake, I must choose joy.  That's easier said than done when you're desperately seeking answers and the inward turmoil is about to engulf you.  But the joy of the LORD is my strength, and I must simply keep laying my burdens before Him and then focus on the joy and blessings that He so abundantly gives me.  Relying on that strength has been crucial for me all my life, and I simply cannot give up now.   

     So today . . . even if it's just for today and hopefully again tomorrow and the next day . . . I'm choosing joy.  I'm choosing to spend my day doing some things that I love to do.  I've walked and prayed.  Flowers have been picked from my yard and put on my kitchen table.  Plans are set in place to make some foods that I know my family will enjoy this weekend.  Thoughts have been circulating in my head of how to best be a blessing to others.  I've come here to write again, which is something I've really missed.  And just because writing leads me to pictures and pictures lead me to wonderful memories of my family, I'm choosing to end this by sharing some memories of our summer. 

Thank you, Lord, for my family.
Thank you, Lord, for those who are praying for us.

Today . . . I'm choosing joy.

We had a couple fun weekends of camping with the Westerkamps.

It's amazing what one cousin can get another cousin to do.

Pizzas in the fire -- oh, yeah!

Detasseling and swimming can wear a girl out!

The annual tractor ride around parts of Iowa

Even the kids enjoy the tractor ride!

Cousin time at my sister Sheila's house

We had shirts made for my family's big annual campout.

That's a whole lot of descendants!

My grandma and grandpa, ages 90 and 94, celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary in April.  They're going for the big 70 next April!

After all the little kids had a few whacks at the pinata, they started chanting, "Grandpa!  Grandpa!  Grandpa!"  It was a priceless moment to see Grandpa out there with his cane!

We had a whole lot of fun family activities planned, but the rain had a way of interrupting, which forced a whole lot of people into one shelter house for a while.

Our kids and a couple special friends. 

Cousin time! 
I love how Jenna brought her purse along for this . . .


Normally these kids would have been covered with mud from head to toe, but we had some unfortunate vehicle challenges, which prevented some of the normal "fun." 

Kelsey's workouts have definitely paid off! 
None of these boys could accomplish the same feat!

Good times with cousins from Michigan

Keaton headed off to church camp with his friend Jordan
the morning after we arrived back home.

Haley enjoyed some little trips with her friends.

Kelsey's friend Diana invited her along on a week-long houseboat
trip to Lake Powell in Arizona.

Cousin Camren came to town for a few days to celebrate his 10th birthday.

Keaton moved to middle school and is now a 6th-grader.

Kelsey is now a sophomore in high school.

A couple nights before we took Haley to college, we had the chance to meet up with a third cousin of mine, Tarah, and her kids and parents.  She was on her way back to Africa to meet up with her husband, so Haley was thrilled to have the chance to learn more about their work in Uganda, which is one of the places Haley would love to go someday.  She was even more excited when Tarah extended an open invitation to her.

We moved Haley up to Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, where she will be studying psychology as a freshman.

It was a group effort!

Heath is going to the same school, but he will be commuting from home as a second-semester junior this fall.  He is majoring in accounting.

So hard to believe we now have two kids in college!

Our kids -- our pride and joy.