Feeling Nostalgic

Here's something you've probably figured out about me:
I LOVE living in the past!

I absolutely love memories and reminiscing...

My cousin and I used to paint all of our memories from her summer trip to Georgia on a pole in our granny's basement. The next year on her first night in town we would stay up literally ALL night reading our memories from the previous summers, laughing and being way too loud.

Funny, the memories of reminiscing about the memories have ended up being some of my very favorite memories!

Get it?

Here's a throwback just in case:

Hilarious, right?

Anyway... all that being said, I knew this day was coming... I've been anticipating it for, ohh, 365 days... and I'm totally excited about it!

Last year this time I would have thought today would bring nightmares of waking up in the middle of the night itching uncontrollably... of scouring the internet at 4am for answers to this bizarre invisible rash that threatened to take the skin off of my hands and feet from the constant scratching... of reading the most frightening words I had ever read: "stillbirth."

Last December 18th I knew there was no way I would ever look forward to reminiscing about that night.

Hindsight is 20/20, right? 

Turns out it was liver disease that was causing the itching: Cholestasis of Pregnancy. It wouldn't affect my health even a little. Well... other than the constant scratching the skin off of my body with no relief whatsoever, but that was more of an annoyance than anything... a horrible, awful annoyance that I hope I never relive, but just an annoyance nonetheless. 

The danger was to the sweet baby girl I was carrying. Mercy was 26 weeks at that time and this disease threatened to take her life.

We decided with our doctor that we would deliver early, at 36 weeks, to avoid the chance of stillbirth after that point.

Still... I feared. I feared every day that I would lose her. If I didn't feel her kicking for a little while, I feared so much that she was gone. I feared I would never hold her alive, or hear her cries or laughter, watch her grow... I feared so hard, I trusted so little. It was a dark month for me.

The worst part was the two weeks I waited to be diagnosed. I had pretty much diagnosed myself the night after the itching started, fearing the worst knowing the possible outcome of this disease, and knowing I needed to be monitored but couldn't be, I just had to wait for confirmation and scratch... and scratch some more. 

Then, on January 3rd, the call came... It was cholestasis. Oh, I cried. I cried and cried and cried. The fear deepened, the trust crept further and further away...

Good memories, right? Looking for the hindsight part?

Little did I know, there was a group of people back in Georgia praying. They prayed that if there was even the slightest chance that we could lose baby Mercy before 36 weeks, that something would happen to bring her into the world even earlier.

Exactly one month after the itching started, that something happened. Several things, actually. Several things I would not have known about if I hadn't been at the hospital being monitored for a disease that had absolutely nothing to do with the somethings that happened.

  1. Preeclampsia. People, you should have seen my feet. I have pictures but I'll spare you. Craziness.
  2. ZERO amniotic fluid. That's right, zero, absolutely no fluid whatsoever.
  3. IUGR, intrauterine growth restriction. That means baby Mercy was measuring small. We were 30 weeks along, but only measuring 28.

The sweet nurse who I'll never forget expressed her gratefulness that I was there. If I hadn't been there that day, we would have most certainly lost little Mercy, and possibly her mama too. They were going to have to get her out. Immediately. They shot me with some last minute steroids and started preparing me for the emergency c-section. 

It's funny because I have such terrible memory, but every detail of that day is SO vivid. (oh, except for where I left my flip flops... sad.) That sweet two pound baby girl came into the world with the most precious whimper I've ever heard and ready to fight... and fight she did for seven weeks before she came home to be held and loved on, to cry, to laugh and grow.

That's the hindsight, friends. One year ago today, I developed liver disease. And I'll be honest, I've probably never been so grateful for anything. I know I've said this before, but there is not a single doubt in my mind that I was given liver disease to save Mercy's life. Best. Christmas. Gift. Ever.

...and now I'm picturing Santa coming down our chimney to deliver some ice packs, Gold Bond anti-itch lotion and a hard bristle brush for the moments of weakness.

He didn't deliver Cholestasis though... I will never stop praising God for what He did December 18, 2012. He set into motion the events He would use to save my baby girl and to renew my trust in Him a thousand-fold.

Ever think that the trials you're going through might just lead to something more beautiful than you could ever imagine? Place your trust in the One who is sovereign over all things, and keep in mind that He promises to work all these things together for your good. (Romans 8:28)

So I'm enjoying the memories today. LOVING the events that have unfolded in the last year, looking forward to reminiscing about all of them each and every day!

I hope you all have the Merriest of Christmases! We love y'all so very much, thank you for being such a pivotal part of our journey and our memories this past year!

"I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy!"
--Philippians 1:3

Feeling Thankful

Predictable, right? ...a Thanksgiving post about thankfulness.

To be honest, it's a post I've had on my heart every day since January 18, and it'll continue to be on my heart long after today.

Over the last 28 days I've been reading facebook status after facebook status about what my friends are thankful for each day up to today. What a happy month, celebrations of our many blessings each and every day, leading up to this glorious day of family, food and of course, football.

Love it.

Over the last 10 1/2 months, I have not had to dig too deep or look too hard to find things to be thankful for or reasons to say, "Thank you!"

has become a very humbling spot for me to sit...

About 150 notes in with many many more to go...

...and today, I would like to say "Thank you!"

Thank you to each and every one of you who has supported us and loved us over the last 10 months.

Thank you for being the reason that just last week I went to Target and bought clothes for the first time for our ten month old... oh, and I paid for them with a gift card.

Thank you for the fact that to this day, we have not spent a dime on diapers, wipes, formula, baby food...

Thank you for the toys that Mercy can't get enough of, she is learning new skills as she plays with the gifts that you gave her!

Thank you for meals you cooked us while we were back and forth from the NICU and continued to bring us when we were home adjusting to life with a new baby. Thank you for the frozen meals that continued to feed us on busy nights until just recently.

Thank you for spending your time with Mercy when the requirements of working with youth don't include diapers, bottles or a baby.

Friends, thank you for your touch. In immense fear and in celebration, your touch, your hugs, your hands in mine and your shoulders to lean and cry on. Your physical presence and touch have brought overwhelming peace and blessings.

Thank you for your sweet comments, your hearts for our daughter, your excitement as we all watch her grow and change...

Thank you... I can't thank you enough, you will never ever know how grateful we are to each one of you who has loved us... who has prayed for us.

Your petitions and pleas to our Savior are part of the reason we made it through the NICU in one piece. The peace that you prayed for us washed over us daily, and continues to. Your prayers for complete healing in Mercy's body and in my heart were granted. God is absolutely sovereign and His grace and mercy have been abundant. Thank you for being the instruments He has used over the last ten months to teach us this in a very personal and intimate way time and time again.

Your friendships are irreplaceable, YOU have deeply impacted our lives. You are so more deeply loved by the three of us than I could ever express here.

Thank you!

...and Super Happy Thanksgiving!

Friends, let's extend our days of gratitude to the end of the year, the beginning of next year, all the way through next November, then let's start over. So much to be grateful for, so many blessings...

I love you all.

"I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy."
Philippians 1:3

i CAN wait.

I was sitting on the back porch about a week ago just swinging and watching the hummingbirds with Mercy, and I started thinking about how fast this time is passing. She was sitting up in my lap like a big girl giggling at Joe (the dog), and startling each time a hummingbird buzzed past us.

It was one of those moments that you just want to freeze and tuck away in a box so you can revisit it in the future.

I think I've had about a thousand of those moments over the last nine months...

This is certainly one of them:

...the first moments I spent with Mercy, and the first time she wrapped her sweet little fingers around mine. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I remember thinking to myself, "I can't wait to bring her home and watch her grow."

Here's another one:

It came... the day we got to bring her home!! Big moment for us, I cried like a baby that day and I remember thinking, "I can't wait to watch her grow at home with us and see her little personality come out."

Over the last nine months, I've proclaimed excitement over so many future milestones.

I've said how much I can't wait for her to get some teeth! Not a thought of how I'll miss her big gummy smile...

I've said how much I can't wait until she can sit up independently or take her first steps! I didn't realize that would mean saying goodbye to many of our sweet snuggles...

I've said how much I can't wait to hear her first words! Her silly squeals and our times of quietness together will soon be long gone...

I can't wait...

I can't wait.......

I. Can't. Wait!!!

Well, friends... we're there.

I have a 14lb 13oz, 2'3 nine month old with two teeth and a board on Pinterest planning her first birthday.

This child is growing too rapidly and has more personality than any of us know what to do with... and what I'm realizing is this:

It's. Too. Soon.

It's too fast...

...and those sweet moments are flying by.

That first time she wrapped her fingers around mine, was I too busy thinking about what I couldn't wait for to appreciate that moment for the miracle that it was? Did I relish in her precious, tiny details enough when she was just a couple of pounds? Did I run my fingers across the silky soft preemie fuzz that covered her shoulders and back knowing I only had a few weeks to enjoy this sweet detail? Did I cherish each snuggle as much as I should have, knowing she would outgrow her desire to rest in my arms? Did I squeal with her enough, giggle with her enough, take in the sound of her soft breaths in my ear when she rests her cheek against mine? Have I treasured each smile and the newness of each moment with a grateful heart, as I know tomorrow will bring completely different newness?

Have I loved her enough right now?

...or have I been too caught up in what I can't wait to happen tomorrow to realize what a gift I have in her right this moment?

I'm working on changing my vocabulary. I must change it.

"I can't wait...?"

That needs to stop. It is kidnapping the precious moments I spend with my daughter, it is stealing the momentous miracle that each of those moments is... When it slips out, I just have to apologize to my sweet girl and tell her how much this moment means to me.

"I love you right now. I love what you're doing right this second. I'm so proud of you. These moments are such a gift, YOU are such a blessing to me today and I absolutely can wait!"

Remember when I said I couldn't wait for her little personality to come out?

Well that happened... but I think we'll be calling it a BIG personality!

As much as I wish I could put moments like this one in boxes and revisit them, I can't. They come and they go, and our little ones grow up just a little too quickly.

And you know what?

I think I can wait.

It happened...

Last night I told Chris I would be headed to bed before he finished brushing his teeth...

Then... it happened.

It happens every three or four weeks, always keeping me up until 2 or 3am... crying, smiling and feeling the love.

Yep. Last night it happened again... I started thinking about January.

This is the face we wake up to every morning. Seriously, it doesn't get better than this.
I imagine it'll start happening more and more often as we get closer to January (that's only three months away, y'all!)

I can't always identify what brings it on, but last night it was a quick glimpse at my sister's Instagram feed. I ended up looking through every picture since January, and reading all the sweet comments on the photos she has posted of Mercy. By the time I got to that very first photo, I was in too deep. It was too late to get out and I headed over to Facebook to look through my photos from January and read all the incredibly supportive and amazing comments. There were  some tears shed and I just couldn't stop smiling thinking of all of you who loved us through that stage of our lives and continue to love us now.

By then it was 2am and I found myself reading this note I had posted on Facebook on January 12, six days before Mercy's surprise arrival... I was writing about trusting God with my girl as she grew in my belly, and giving some information on the liver disease I had been diagnosed with and what that meant for Mercy.

My favorite part is when I explained that we would not wait past 36 weeks to deliver Mercy, and then I said, "And being the impatient types, we're very excited to meet our sweet Mercy sooner than expected!"

Sooner than expected meant six days!

While I thought I was writing about six weeks from that point, God was writing an incredibly beautiful story that I couldn't have written better myself.

Those memories are so sweet and I wouldn't trade them for anything... but I can't help but wonder... if I had known beforehand what was about to happen, would I have typed that sentence out so convincingly and sincerely?

No. I don't think so...

...and maybe that's why we don't get to know. How many awesome lessons, moments, conversations, smiles, tears... how much we would miss out on if we knew what was going to happen, if we were able to try to avoid situations in our lives that might just be hard... in many cases we would experience worry, fear and anxiety increasing as certain moments approached. We would completely miss the opportunity to grow as God works out our lives according to His perfect plan.

I know I wouldn't be who I am today if I didn't experience what we went through in the NICU and each surprising and perfectly ordained minute of the day that led to Mercy's arrival. I know I wouldn't have enjoyed those last six days of my pregnancy as well as I did if I had been worrying constantly about her coming so super early. I would have cried, trembled in fear, foolishly begged God not to bring her so soon... Never once realizing that I would actually have been begging Him to keep so many beautiful gifts from us.

Oh, His plans for His children. Not always easy. Yes, so hard to wait blindly, so hard to trust when we have not even a glimpse of what will be. Always worth it. Always.

To the Jewish exiles in Babylon:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11

How beautiful this promise of comfort is to a group of hurting people. They would not understand what would come between the time this statement was declared to them through Jeremiah and the time they would be given hope, they would not be able to grasp the lessons, moments, tears they would experience before that hope would come... but they were told there was a plan, that was for sure... and that in itself is a truly amazing gift of HOPE.

It's the same gift of hope God offers His children today, He always knows His plan and His plan is always worth it.

...and going back to that passage, you know He's not only promising to bring the Israelites back to the promised land... He's promising them eternal hope. He's promising them Jesus.

His. Son.

His only son who would come to this earth, fully human and fully God, who would live a perfect life, die a death that would take away their sins, be raised from the dead, ascend into heaven where He sits today at the right hand of His Father pouring out an eternity of hope....

And that hope wasn't just for them either.

Friends, let's stop wishing we knew what the future will bring and let's enjoy the gifts leading up to tomorrow. Let's hold onto the hope of the sure plan that God has made and let's grasp tightly to the eternal hope of Jesus.

And on a different note...

My last blog post included a photo of Mercy and a caption contest! I received many 'entries' via Facebook, and one clearly stood out to me...

The first few days in the hospital one of the many things that captured our hearts about Mercy was that at least one arm was always raised! We often said it was as if she was praising God constantly, giving thanks for the work He was doing in her little life each and every minute.

So without further ado, Rebekah Rico (who, by the way, has a sweet Mercy of her own!) here's your special surprise from Mercy!! She designed it herself just for you! ...and you'll all be happy to know that since she started sitting up ALL THE TIME we've seen less and less preemie posturing going on... which is why her hands are just barely raised in this photo! :)

Preemie Posture

Remember this photo?

That is three pounds of pure preciousness right there! Look at those arms!!! I cannot believe they were ever that teensy and non-roll-y!! Craziness....

I had a little Facebook caption contest for that one, I think the winner was... actually a tie between these two:
"Part of your woooooooooooorld!"
     (I just love Ariel. So. so. much....)
"Seriously, the baby next to me was only this big. True story..."
     (That really is a true story! Sweet little Ruthie. She weighs the same as Mercy now!)

I remember the moment that photo was taken so well, Chris and I could not stop giggling at her spreading her arms like that, we just wanted to wrap them around our necks and embrace that little baby girl so hard!

Turns out, it wasn't just an adorable Mercy thing, it's actually a pretty normal preemie thing.

Our OT calls it the 'Preemie Posture,' and here's my limited understanding of it:

Apparently... because full term babies are all squished up in the fetal position for awhile, they come out curled up with the muscle tone to keep their hands near their faces. They have to learn to extend.

Preemies, on the other hand, are still all stretched out in the womb when they decide to make their grand entrance into the world, and haven't developed that flexor muscle tone just yet. They have to learn to bring their arms and legs in.

See, she still does it:

We've been working with the OT to help her learn to bring those sweet arms in. Overall, she does a pretty good job, but even so, everyday we find ourselves tucking her arms back in over and over. Sometimes she just pops one arm out, and as soon as we tuck it in, the other one has popped out! That can sometimes go on for awhile. It's hard not to laugh, it's almost like she's playing a game with us and she's just so dang adorable!

But in all truthfulness, this is not a laughing matter. We're doing a lot of exercises with Mercy trying to get her ready to crawl, and this preemie posturing is clearly affecting this, she just holds her arms out so wide. It affects her ability to self soothe, to hold her bottle, learn to crawl and eventually even things like riding a bike. Don't get me wrong, she can definitely get her thumb in her mouth and reach up and grab her bottle, but within just a minute or two, the arms pop right back out. We're for sure seeing improvement, sometimes it's just a few seconds before she brings them back in on her own, but this is definitely something we'll be continuing to work on for a while.

And sometimes I wonder how different I am from Mercy... How different my own sin nature that came into this world with me is from her preemie posture that came into the world with her.

Every day as my faith develops more and more, my heavenly Father teaches me how to tuck my own arms in, how to trust Him, how to love others, how to love Him... Specific sins I struggle with are daily revealed to me as He reminds me to give them up to Him, to represent Him in all circumstances because I love Him, because of what He did for me...

Like Mercy has to daily work on bringing her arms in, as children of God we have to daily work on surrendering our actions, plans, our lives to Him.

So why is this worth working on? Just like her preemie posture will affect Mercy's development, this will affect our spiritual development in the long run. It will affect the depth of our relationship with our Savior, our contentment in all circumstances, it will affect our ability to feel joy in sadness, our effectiveness in sharing His love with others, our trust in His sovereign plans for our future... and what do we have if we don't have Him??

Friends, because of the grace upon grace we have received through Jesus, how can we not work daily to 'bring our arms in' and love Him well? How can we not receive instruction as He teaches us how to do this through His word, through fellowship in His house, and through the Godly people He has placed in our lives? It affects everything, and it is so worth it!

"Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches."
-Galatians 6:6

Oh, yes. It's so worth it!

So... On another note, what do you think about a new caption contest for the newest preemie posture photo above? Post your entries in the comments! Winner will receive a special surprise from Mercy in my next post!