Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

Our 2008 Christmas letter, reprinted here with permission from the author...

Dear Beloved Snail Mail User (henceforth referred to as BSMU),

This has been another fast-paced action-packed year. We no longer believe it’s possible to have any other kind! This year again saw more predictable unpredictability. Our story opens in January with a hospital stay for Lauren. After raining on three of her siblings’ birthdays over the last two years, Lauren finally got paid back: She spent her own birthday in the hospital. The nurses all know us so well now, though, that they decorated her room for her. Addison and Brennan spent their winter swimming – nothing like getting up at 0430 on a frozen Saturday morning to be at a meet over an hour away by 0700. But hey…at least we get to sleep in until 0515 on weekdays! At one meet, the kids turned in a couple of awesome performances: Brennan won his backstroke race, and Addison finished with a personal best. We sponsored one of Addison’s SOS (JV youth group) activities in February, which meant Brennan got to go, too. They had a blast rock climbing and playing arcade games and Wally ball.

As Spring arrived, we welcomed an early Easter at the crack of dawn – quite literally; we went to sunrise service at church. The sunrise was absolutely beautiful. Nevertheless, having checked that off the list of things not to miss in your lifetime, we look forward to sleeping in next year! We stayed through our normal worship time as well, primarily because they served breakfast, but also because Addison participated in the children’s program and Brennan and Lauren hunted eggs. Later that month, we had a not-so-rare opportunity to visit Philadelphia (home of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Star Wars exhibit at the Franklin Institute. The whole family enjoyed it, but Tim and Brennan were drooling. We closed out the month of March celebrating as Tim finished up his grueling Exec tour. He’s now moved on as a Program Element Monitor, where he advocates for funding for two programs to senior Air Force, Defense, and Congressional leaders. Trust us…It sounds way more impressive than it really is. They don’t even trust him to touch the billions of dollars he’s responsible for! In April we celebrated Addison’s birthday – at home, with no one in the hospital for a change! We also made our annual journey down to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg to enjoy some waterpark fun long before it was warm enough to think about outdoor fun in the pool. In May, the weather started to warm, and we made a family hiking trip out to the Appalachian Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains – sort of a recon for the big hike that fall (more on that later). May also took most of the family’s free time with preparation for Defining Moments – a production at church, where people told stories in dramatic ways of a time in their lives when they could clearly see God working in their lives. Addison participated in the puppet show, Cristi participated in a black light-white hands number, Tim sang in the chorus, and Tim, Cristi, and Lauren told Lauren’s story – of her miracle-filled life and how she has touched so many. The whole production was incredibly moving.

Summer brought the changing of the guard – or, rather, the changing of the pediatrician (not much difference in our case!). This was most definitely a significant emotional event! Dr. Richards has become a dear friend, but alas, the Army told her it was time to move. The good news is that we also dearly love our new pediatrician, Dr. Hepps. We decided not to do summer swim team, but joined a pool club instead. The kids had great fun…for the first two weeks. Then, Lauren broke her arm – so bad it required sedation, which meant a trip to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. So much for the pool…We finally finished our Civil War study (started the previous fall) with a two-day Petersburg-to-Appomattox tour. We walked the ground of the Petersburg siege, then drove Lee’s retreat route to Appomattox, recounting how the South finally ran out of food, supplies, and options, concluding a great American History lesson. We all learned a lot, but by the time we got to Appomattox, we were about as tired as Lee’s soldiers. We were just glad we got to drive it instead of walking it! Addison spent the 4th of July at church camp, while the rest of us took a flat boat ride up the C&O Canal. The following weekend, we sent Addison and Brennan to Nana & Papa’s in Arkansas for two weeks. They had an absolute blast, including a day at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. The day after we dropped the kids off, Lauren got sick and spent the next nine days in the PICU at Walter Reed, then got her cast off a couple of days after discharge. So much for that vacation…In August, the entire family made the trip to Arkansas for a week’s vacation. After we returned, Brennan spent three days in the hospital for a video EEG. That, unfortunately, uncovered some epileptic seizure activity. We believe that’s contributing significantly to the emotional and behavioral troubles he’s had, but we’re still working with the doctors on exact diagnosis and treatment. As if all that weren’t enough, Lauren broke her arm…again…the same one…in the same place…Another trip to Philadelphia! Uggh! Well, at least we’re not discriminatory: We’ve made Dr. Hepps work every bit as hard as Dr. Richards – harder in some ways.

We ushered Fall in over Labor Day with our annual family camping trip. We went to Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland and took another family with us. It couldn’t have been more interesting! Tim left work early that day to make sure we got to the site in time to set up before dark, but it rained all the way there. Being the fearless campers that we are, we tried setting up in the rain, but gave up after we got soaked setting up the picnic pavilion. We gave up that night, drove back home, and tried again the next day. The Panera we had for dinner that night was good, though! The rest of the weekend was great! We played in the river, tried several new camping recipes, roasted marshmallows, played ladder golf, and hiked to a waterfall (almost getting lost in the process)! Cristi’s parents came to visit the next weekend for the big hike. Tim and Chuck had planned all year for an overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail – dubbed the three-state plan because it started in Virginia, moved through Harpers Ferry, WV, and finished in Maryland – a total of 33 miles. They had a great time, but were ready for a shower and soft bed. The family then got back to their routine with the return of homeschooling and swim team practice. The first weekend in October, Lauren broke her arm…her other one…no, she didn’t have the cast off of the first one yet…Another trip to Philadelphia. A couple of weeks later, we made our annual trip to the Smokies for a long weekend with Cristi’s parents and sister. We took all the kids to the Aquarium and Wonder Works one day and spent another full day shopping. What a great, restful weekend! The plan was to leave from there and drive directly to Philadelphia for Lauren’s annual heart catheterization with a muscle biopsy as an added bonus. Unfortunately, Lauren had other plans. We wound up driving into Knoxville, to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, where she spent the next three days in their PICU. Big kudos to Dr. Brinkmann and his staff for fantastic care and great hospitality. We couldn’t have asked for more, considering they knew nothing of Lauren or her many issues!

We tried something new for Halloween this year: Instead of trick-or-treating, Brennan and Tim went on an all-guys camping retreat, while the girls went out to eat at Cheesecake Factory. Brennan had fun enjoying the great outdoors and playing with his friends. Tim’s still trying to forget fishing his fishing pole out of the lake. Addison, meanwhile, got to trade a bunch of mediocre candy for a gigantic slice of cheesecake. We finished up our year with Tim’s notification that he was selected to attend the National Defense Intelligence College at Bolling AFB next year. This was a win-win for us, because it counts as in-residence Intermediate Service School for Tim (a significant milestone in his career), and we get to keep Lauren’s care here for another year. Of course, after five years in one place, we’ll feel less like nomads and more like natives.

This year has been every bit as fast-paced as last year. We now believe it’s our norm. Despite a year with over 175 doctor appointments and 9 hospital stays totaling 48 days, we’ve tried to keep family life as normal as possible. Cristi continues to struggle with diabetes, but is somewhat stable on oral medicines (stable in terms of diabetes…not mentally!). All seriousness aside, Cristi is the engine that keeps this family running – making it to appointments, kids’ activities, helping run the nursery at church, doing school…oh, and occasionally a night scrapbooking or eating with the girls.

Wait…This just in…Following the first publishing of this letter, Lauren had her annual heart catheterization at Philadelphia. The good news is that her cardiologist has finally declared victory on her lungs. She’ll get to start eating some real food in the near future! On the other side, her heart is steadily deteriorating, and he believes there’s nothing more he can do for her. It’s time to talk transplant. That’s obviously heavy news, but we knew it was an eventual probability. He told us to take her home and enjoy Christmas, then bring her back to the hospital in January for an extended vacation. Lauren (and Cristi) will move in up there and await a transplant. It could be anywhere from a couple of days to six months. That means next year promises to be very challenging for the Schwamb clan, but with God’s help, we will persevere…and we will be blessed. Tim started a blog this year just to share our journey and our many adventures. If you’re interested, check it out. We think the title is very apropos: http://simplefamilycomplexlife.blogspot.com. Of course, we also continue updating Lauren’s carepages with significant events (www.carepages.com – page name: LaurenSchwamb, all one word).

For our BSMUs, thanks for letting us share our highs and lows of 2008 with you. God has blessed us immeasurably through both. We hope your year has been awesome, with next year shaping up to be even better. We pray God’s richest blessings and peace upon you during this Christmas season.

Tim, Cristi, Addison, Brennan, & Lauren Schwamb

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hope for Brennan, But Beyond My Comfort Zone

I promised when I kicked off this blog to keep you updated on Brennan's journey through a medical morass arguably as complicated as Lauren's, so I wanted to provide an update. You may recall from my previous post on Brennan, that it seems as if we're trying to put together a puzzle of candy spilled on the floor -- with no box picture to look at -- and occasionally, we find two pieces that go together. Last week, we found a couple more pieces. Whether they fit in this puzzle or not is yet to be determined, but it looks promising so far.

Brennan's psychiatrist has been meeting privately with Brennan every week over the last several months. He called last week and had a long conversation with Cristi. Well over a year after getting the bipolar diagnosis from the psychiatrist we fired, his current psychiatrist told us he's no longer confident of that diagnosis. He believes instead that it could be anxiety. We think there's a good chance he's right. Unfortunately, we're at a point that we want to believe that we're on to something, so it's not always easy to look at things objectively -- especially when you're dealing with an inexact science. I mean, if you go on a witch hunt, you're gonna find a witch, right? Let me share how we now believe some of these pieces might fit together.

Brennan gets frustrated easily, and avoids adversity or challenges at all costs. He won't play video games or build with legos, or play with Rescue Heroes, or anthing else most normal boys his age do. He basically doesn't like doing anything -- no, really! He always wants to know what to expect -- what's coming next. He's also a very poor problem solver (except for math -- he can do in his head what most of us require paper for) -- meaning if he gets something in his head about how things will happen, he can't then adjust (i.e., re-problem-solve) when things change on the fly. For instance, at lunch, Addison got down two glasses -- one for her and one for Cristi. At the same time, Brennan decided he wanted chocolate milk and went over to get some. Addison picked up the glasses and tried to move out of the way to give Brennan room to get his glass and fill it. Brennan thought one of those glasses was for him and went ballistic when Addison "ran off with it". When things didn't go the way he expected them to, he couldn't figure out why that might have happened, how to determine why that might have happened, or come up with an alternate plan based on this new information.

Perhaps it is anxiety. He does seem to always want to know what's coming next. He struggles with his school work -- reading, remembering concepts, handwriting, etc. At times, he gives us subtle indications that he feels inferior to Addison (e.g., "She can read better than I can"). Maybe poor problem-solving skills, insecurity about reading, poor short-term memory, etc. is really making him nervous. If so, his outward signs are subtle.

Assuming his psychiatrist is right, there is help -- or at least something promising to try. There's certainly medication that is primarily suited for anxiety (vs. the bipolar medicine he's been on). Perhaps more importantly, though, different (better?) parenting skills could help. The psychiatrist suggested that we work on briefing Brennan on the plan of the day, and talking him through what we're doing. We should also help him (preemptively) talk through the situations he's facing to help him figure out how to appropriately deal with them.

That all sounds very simple and obvious, doesn't it? The problem is that Cristi and I aren't talkers...just the facts, ma'am. My mother used to talk about everything (what we were doing, why we were doing it, who had decided we were doing it, what we were doing next, asking me what my opinion was, how that might impact the situation...) and then remind me of those things we'd already discussed. It drove me up the wall! For the record, it's not that I don't love my mother; we all have our idiosyncrasies, including me -- and she did always manage to know what was going on in my life and convey to me that she cared about what was going on with me...But I don't do that. The very thought of doing it just makes me cringe. Cristi is the same way. We're big boys and girls, though. We will have to retrain ourselves, but we'll take our Robitussin with merely a scowl on our face, and without complaining. If it will help Brennan, it will be worth it! Maybe that's why he's always been so good around my parents...

Of course there's no silver bullet here, and there are still lots of questions. We still have the problem of epileptic activity in the part of the brain that controls emotion and memory. (Sidebar: I incorrectly stated last time that it was seizures. Seizures have never been seen -- just abnormal brain waves, aka epileptic activity). How does that play in? What about the sensory-seeking behavior and the educational issues? Will new medicine help with the anxiety? I know what end state we're looking for as parents, but what end state are we hoping for clinically? At least we appear to be on to something new that holds promise. We continue to plug along, trying to put the pieces together, and using Brennan's doctors to help us. We pray that eventually we'll piece together the Hershey's bar with the peppermint and Jolly Rancher, and be able to give Brennan some relief from the demons plaguing him.

Two Sides to Every Coin

We've decided to do the heart transplant. I guess there never really was any doubt. Having known this was a possibility for quite a while, I think we had already consciously or subconsciously made up our mind. It took me a couple of "signs" to show me this was indeed the path to take. Now, it was just a matter of actually voicing it.

It occurred to me the other day, though, that it takes two to tango. The new year always symbolically promises new hope and new life. That rings especially true for Lauren and the rest of us this year as we pray for resounding success of the transplant, and that she'll be even more normal than she has fought to be thus far. We'll take Lauren up to Philadelphia on January 6th, and then begins the waiting game.

There are other cast members in this drama that's supposed to have a Disney-perfect happy ending, though...but for them, it won't -- that's the family that will provide the heart. It occurred to me that, even right now -- at the happiest time of the year -- they most likely have no idea that they will give my child life by losing their own child. At a time when I'm both excited and anxious about what the future holds for my little girl, the thought that it must be a life for a life tears my heart out (for once, no pun intended).

Please pray for this family -- whoever they are. Pray that, when the time comes, God will wrap His arms around them and give them peace and comfort through this gift in a way that I can't fathom. Pray that they will somehow understand how grateful we will be to have a little girl whose heart works as well (physically) as it is big (figuratively).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Meet Addison

By now, you're familiar with Lauren and Brennan's stories, but I haven't introduced you to Addison, our oldest -- and she definitely shouldn't be left out! Addison is an amazing little girl in her own right, but unlike the other two, not because of health issues.

Addison was born while we lived in Germany. While we were there, we traveled all over Europe and dragged her with us. She's stood atop Roman ruins, seen the gargoyles of the Notre Dame up close, toured Mad Ludwig's Neuschwanstein castle that inspired the Disney Cinderella castle, and been to a traditional Christmas market in the snow...and doesn't remember a bit of it.

She started reading when she was about 4. In Kindergarten once, when the teacher had lost her voice, she asked Addison to read the Story Time story to the class. Now she reads anything she can get her hands on -- and fast. She's read most of the Harry Potter books in the space of about 2 days each. In the middle of her first grade year, we made the reluctant decision to start homeschooling, because we had lost confidence with the school and her teacher (that's an entirely different long story!). She absolutely loved it, and so we've never looked back! She has really enjoyed her history lessons. She really liked the Civil War study we did last year, and we had some pretty interesting discussions on military and political strategy as we toured the ten largest battlefields in the Eastern Theater.

Addison actually reminds me a lot of her mother. In addition to reading everything, she likes her space. Her bedroom is in the basement of the house, and she would be just fine to go down and hide in her cave and rarely come up for air. If she had a refrigerator down there, I'm not sure if we'd ever see her again! Unfortunately, like her mother, this also translates into not being overly affectionate. This has been one of our challenges over the years since I am a very huggy, affectionate person -- as is her brother (who frequently doesn't catch the warning signs to stop). In fact, my perception is that Addison and I were never overly close until I deployed for 4 months in 2004. Strangely -- and happily -- for me, when I got back, our relationship had changed. She's still not a huggy, affectionate person -- and never will be -- but we are tight now...and I like it!

Ironically, even though she craves all-by-myself time, she's a very social person. She's friendly with everyone, and very popular. She loves spending time with her friends...as long as she gets the decompression time by herself afterward. She loves particpating in the church's kids' programs, like puppet shows and choreography numbers. She's also a fashion expert. It's pretty sad when parents consult their kids on what clothes to buy...

I'm not sure I know a more responsible 10-year-old, either -- another quality like her mother. Because we're frequently short on time, we don't always have the time to think through everything like we would like -- simple things, like reminding the kids to take stuff to do with them as we're on our way out the door, or reminding her to learn her memory verses for church, or reminding her to take her medicine every day. Addison's always on top of it. While that's been a great help to us, we've come to rely on it...and expect it...and that makes me sad. She's been put through a lot for a 10-year-old. She didn't ask for this, but she's been given this lot anyway. Don't get me wrong, Brennan's had to deal with a lot as well, but we've necessarily shouldered a lot of responsibility on Addison. And, unfortunately, just like the military, if you do well at something, you get more of it. She has truly been a Godsend, though -- quite literally. She does it all, complaining only minimally, and doesn't appear to be emotionally scarred. God is doing a great work in her, too. I can only imagine how well grounded she will be as she grows up. I could not be prouder of her!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Results from Lauren's Heart Cath

I know it's been a while since I've posted. I'm really sorry about that. I want to do a post on Addison, but I think it will be harder than even Brennan's...so I've been procrastinating. I've also been struggling with writer's block. Today, I got unblocked. I think most of you have read Lauren's Story that I posted last month. If you haven't, I'd like to encourage you to go back and read it. It will help the rest of this make sense.

Lauren checked herself into the hospital last Wednesday with a 95.7 temperature -- yes, you read that right -- and retching and diarrhea. It turns out that she had a GI bug...and she learned to share. It's become the gift that keeps on giving -- in so many ways! Addison caught it first, then Brennan, then me. Then my parents and grandmother caught it after coming to help take care of the kids while Lauren went to Philadelphia for a couple of procedures. Fortunately, Cristi never caught it, despite the fact that she spent the night next to Lauren's bedside in the hospital.

We had some excitement as we approached the weekend and Lauren was still having diarrhea: Would she get out of the hospital in time to make it to Philadelphia? The complicating factor was that she was still on IV antibiotics and wasn't tolerating her formula. Other than that, Lauren was doing great! We half-jokingly asked if we could just transfer up to Philadelphia to finish that up and still do the procedures. Her cardiologist in Philadelphia went for it! Not only did we go straight from Walter Reed to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, they flew her via helicopter! Cristi got to go with her...thankfully! If they hadn't let her, I would have felt sorry for whoever had to listen to her cry for Mommy for the 3-4 hours until we could get there. So it all worked out...but I'm still jealous!

BTW, I guess I should tell you what she went to Philadelphia for: She went for a heart catheterization and muscle biopsy. The heart cath directly measures the pressures in the heart to determine whether things are getting better or worse or staying about the same. The muscle biopsy is to try to determine if there are any genetic/mitochondrial issues that could explain why her muscles aren't as strong as they should be.

Lauren had the procedures done today, and all went well; she's recovering as I type. She'll probably be here through Friday. We just need to make sure that she tolerates her formula now. We won't know anything from the muscle biopsy for several months, but we had a long talk with the cardiologist after the cath today. The good news is that, after two full years of no food whatsoever, her lungs are substantially better. Her cardiologist has declared success and said that she can start working on solid foods (no liquids)! That is really fantastic. After having gone so long, it will be interesting to see just how interested in eating she really is.

The more significant news is that her heart function is getting worse and he believes there's nothing else that he can do to help her. The medicines she's on just aren't doing enough...and the high-powered IV medicine that's on her "crash list" may hurt more than it helps if it had to be used. That brought us to the "T" word -- transplant. He wants us to take her home and enjoy Christmas, then bring her back up here in January. He'll put her on some different (IV) medicines to see if that helps and put her on the transplant list.

We always knew this was a possibility (ok...a probability), but didn't expect it to be this soon. The magnitude of the implications are simply daunting. First and foremost, do we want to do this? Heart transplants have come a LONG way over the last 15-20 years...but survival is not a guarantee. It's a 95% survival of the operation and 85% survival at the 5 year point. Those are good odds, but only if it's not your kid, know what I mean? Fortunately, we're at the US's leading hospital for pediatric heart transplants. That makes things much better. Secondly, replacement hearts don't last 90 years. To be fair, we don't know how long hearts that we replace today will last. The best we can do is to say that hearts we replaced 15 years ago are beginning to fail. That begs the question of would we/could we go through this again if we had to. What does Lauren think about all of this. I know she's only 2, but she's a smart girl and has a lot of definite opinions!

Then there are all the minor details of Cristi and I (and the kids) being separated for up to 6 months -- not to mention that I still have to work and the kids are homeschooled and Brennan has medical appointments, etc. Who will take care of them...or how will I? What about their activities that they're involved in? What about family vacations? Will they have to go on hold for half a year because we're spending every weekend in Philly? It might be necessary, but it's hardly fair to the big kids...or to Cristi and Lauren for that matter...to miss out on family outings. We have to move in the spring/summer because the people that own our house are moving back...how to find a house to rent through all of this?

It's a good thing that I went to that ZOE conference back in October -- the one that encouraged me to be fearless. It seems to be what God is trying to teach me this year. After having gone through all we've been through thus far with Lauren, we're not afraid of this path, but to say we're anxious about the secondary effects is a big understatement. But God will provide. He always has, and He will continue to do so. No matter what happens, all will be okay. I'm convinced that God is not done with Lauren. That is a huge comfort. That doesn't mean that this road won't be challenging, but it does mean that we don't have to worry so much. What a comfort it is to know that I don't have to be in charge. God's taken on the hard job. Now I just have to keep reminding myself...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just an Average Day

Just to show you that life is always interesting at our house -- even on just an average day. See, because of our fast-paced, unpredictable, complex life, we by necessity expect our kids to be self-sufficient. Our kids, in turn, have taken that challenge and now assume they are to be self-sufficient unless given direction to the contrary. Thus begins our story...

We sat down to dinner last night to have burrito bake. Addison made it -- see, self-sufficient! We've trained her well. The middle kid is still in training. He's recently decided that he likes his food a bit spicy -- anything to enhance the experience -- or up the ante, depending on how you view it! So, he gets the HOT sauce out of the fridge and procedes to pour -- not squirt or spoon, but pour -- some on his burrito bake...and totally covers it. Realizing his mistake, we get the "Uh-oh!" with the implied question of "Can you fix it?"

"Why sure" comes the response from Super Mommy! Cristi immediately goes to the cabinet and pulls out the jumbo syringe -- yes, a syringe. You can see Cristi performing the operation in the picture. Good thing we've got all those medical supplies hanging around the house! By the way, those jumbo syringes can also be (and have been) used as turkey basters.


With the official hot sauce removal process complete, Brennan ate his dinner and thought it was delicious. Crisis averted.

On a separate but related note, Cristi realized just how jaded we've become: The kids only have 5 doctor appointments this week -- an easy week for a change! Simple family...complex life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Confessions of a Tween Dad

Facebook is awesome! It has reconnected me with friends that I haven't talked to in a long, long time and brought me closer to them now than I ever was then. I even got the chance to see one of my good friends from high school last weekend...but it came at a price. You see, my friend Big Bob Pinkley (you can probably see from the picture how he got that nickname; I'm not that short!) works for a company that does transportation/logistics for entertainment groups on tour, and was coming to DC...with the Cheetah Girls. He offered to get me tickets to the concert if I would just come downtown to see him. I'm not sure how strong of a lure he thought that would be, but Cristi thought it would be a nice treat for Addison.

Now, Addison's pretty level-headed (much like her mother!). She doesn't just go ga-ga over all of these Tween things like Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, and the Cheetah Girls, but when she found out we were going, she was excited. We Metro'd down to the Verizon Center and met up with Big Bob to pick up the tickets, then stood around in the lobby for a few minutes catching up on the last 17 years of our lives. Then, we really got the red-carpet treatment. We went down to our seats...on the floor...on one of the center aisles, no more than 20 feet from the stage. Wow! I haven't had seats that good since the Def Leppard concert in college! He asked if Addison wanted a t-shirt, then brought back a t-shirt, a program, and this fancy tri-colored flashing light that separates into color bars when you shake it. Addison was lovin' it! He even brought a couple more of those lights for me to take to Brennan and Lauren!

We sat around talking some more while we waited for the concert to start, telling us lots of stuff about how they set up the show, how things worked behind the scenes, etc. After a while, Big Bob left to go take care of some stuff, and this couple comes in with their one-year-old -- I'm not kidding -- and sits down right next to us. They were the quintessential DC couple, too: Dressed to the hilt, little boy dressed in way-too-expensive clothes, and obviously way too young to be there enjoying the show, but little Johnny needs entertainment!.

Finally, the opening act comes out -- The Clique Girlz. I asked Addison if she had ever heard of them, and she said no; I hadn't either. The music was pretty decent, though -- except that this couple sitting next to us kept getting up in front of us -- to take pictures, to take the little boy out for whatever, etc. They must have crawled in front of us 4-5 times during the half-hour of the opening act. All the while, I'm thinking, "Just sit down and enjoy the show!"

When The Clique Girlz finished, Big Bob came back, and they announced there would be a 20-minute intermission, so we started talking again. All of a sudden, the couple comes up to us and asks if Addison and I would like to go backstage to meet The Clique Girlz since they kept disturbing us during the show. We're like, are you serious??? Addison certainly wasn't about to turn that down! (It turns out that the lady must have been some sort of publicist for them in this area, because she already knew them.) So we went backstage and met the girls, got autographed pictures (I picked one up for Brennan, too, since I knew he'd be disappointed if he was left out), and got Addison's picture taken with them.


Several minutes later, we were escorted back out onto the floor during the opening number for the Cheetah Girls. Now that's what I call an intermission! The Cheetah Girls were very good (in a pre-teen sort of way), and Addison really diggin' it in her shy-I'm-way-too-cool-to-acknowledge-this-is-the-coolest-thing-ever way. After the show, Big Bob led us backstage again so that we could avoid the crowds trying to leave. On the way out, he showed Addison the inside of one of the tour buses. Can you believe there's enough room backstage in those places to hold several buses and 18-wheelers?


Addison had an absolute blast...and I got Dad brownie-points...and I got to catch up with an old friend. All combined to make the outing a huge success and a great day. Even the 10,000 screaming girls were worth it for the smile on a little girl's face. Thanks, publicly, to Big Bob for the royal treatment and for being a great friend. Maybe next time you're in DC, we can do dinner.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Playing Hurt

OK, so I'm coming off a day that's been downright rotten. I won't tell you what happened, because I think it would just be too horrifying to most of you, but suffice it to say, today was not a good day for Brennan. Consequently, some days, it's just hard to believe.

I think about what Job must have felt like when he first lost all of his possessions and then, one-by-one, lost all of his kids. Did Job ever wonder if it could get any worse? Did he wonder if there would ever be peace and happiness -- the good life -- again? Did Job ever wonder if God really would uphold His promise that He won't give us more than we can handle? Did Job ever wonder why he learned to handle so much? I can tell you, on days like today, that I wonder. I can tell you that it was painful putting my girls to bed tonight, wishing I could do something, say something...something...but there were no words -- just hugs.

I can also tell you, despite all my doubts above, I have never doubted that God loves me and my family, that He's faithful, and that good will come of this...eventually...hopefully sooner rather than later (insert weak, hopeful smile here).

Tonight, I went to Praise Team rehearsal because that's what I do on Wednesday...and because it's my turn to sing this Sunday. I really didn't want to go. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't want to sing. I just wanted to stare off into space. But I went because that's what I'm supposed to do -- because sometimes you have to play even when you're hurt. Fortunately, we're like a very close family. Several people noticed I wasn't my normal bubbly self and asked how things were going. When I told them a bit of what happened, they just listened (unlike Job's friends, who not only offered advice, they offered bad advice!), then asked what they could do. They didn't know it, but they had already done one of the things I needed most -- wrapped me up in care and concern. (Isn't it amazing how God provides?) I also asked them to continue praying. We will beat this. God has a plan, and He's in control. There will still be hard days, but we will beat this!

I apologize these last two posts haven't been as encouraging as others, but I'd be lying to you if I said that I was happy all the time. After all, this is real life, and sometimes life is really tough...and it takes a little while to lick your wounds and get back on top...but I will. After all, tomorrow is another day...

Meet Brennan


I know I promised this story a while back, but I've been busy...and putting it off. Lauren's story is easy. I've told it before -- many times -- and I've now got it down. She's also more in the maintenance phase. Yes, everyday is a challenge, but at least we know what to expect in a kind of unexpected way. Brennan's story is much more difficult for a variety of reasons...but, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me introduce you to Brennan:

Brennan is our 7-year-old son; he'll be 8 next month. We found out when he was very young (less than a year old) that he has food allergies. He's allergic to milk, eggs, and peanuts. Since Cristi's allergic to milk, this wasn't an overly complicated adjustment for our family, but did require some. The downside is that he can't just go anywhere and have just anything. We eat at home a lot. When we do eat out, we have to stick to chain restaurants that we've been able to get a warm fuzzy from that they have safe foods for him. When he goes to birthday parties, he has to take his own cupcake. The upside is that we've now figured out a way to make almost anything you can dream up. A couple of exceptions are quiche and omelettes, but one you might be surprised at is cheesecake.

Growing up, Brennan has always been goofy. He makes up jokes that don't make sense, but they're so not funny that you have to laugh. We've frequently said we wonder if we're experiencing something similar to what Jim Carrey's mother must have experienced. This kid is G-O-O-F-Y! He's also got a big heart. Whenever he gets something new, he almost always thinks of Addison and that she should get something, too. He had an amazing yet unexplainable bond with Lauren while she was little. He was extremely loving and gentle, and she absolutely adored him.

Unfortunately, all that has changed. You see, Brennan never outgrew the Terrible Twos -- or their sequel, the Therrible Threes. Since Addison was a very strong-willed child when she was 2 and 3, we didn't think much about it. We didn't give it too much thought when he was still throwing horrendous temper tantrums when he was 4. By the time he was 5, we started thinking that we had an extremely strong-willed child and so we brought out our best parenting skills. We didn't let him get away with anything, and we never gave in to his demands...But it continued. By the time he was 6, he was getting stronger and harder to control -- physically. He was starting to throw things and break things and threaten -- but not hurt -- his mother and sisters.

We bit the bullet and asked for help. That was one of the hardest things to do. After all, we must be bad parents. It can't be some form of mental illness. There's this huge stigma with that, people look at you funny, it will affect his future if it's on his record, etc., so we'll just stick our fingers in our ears and go "La la la la la". Fortunately, we had become very close with Lauren's previous pediatrician (also the kids' pediatrician, but they didn't really need doctors), so we kinda talked to her informally. She told us to see the dreaded "P" doctor.

We went to the psychologist and did behavior therapy, but nothing worked. We tried reward charts, we tried time out, we tried it all -- no joy. We finally convinced the psychologist that it must be something beyond behavioral -- something that might require medicine to fix -- so they sent us to a psychiatrist (because they can prescribe medicine). He immediately diagnosed him as "classic bipolar". Skeptical based on the circumstantial evidence (my perception), we merely tolerated the guy, knowing that we had philosophical differences. Things seemed to work okay for a while on medicine, but every time we thought we were getting somewhere, the bad behavior came back (it was beginning to get worse, by the way...now he was physically hurting Cristi and Addison, but threatening Lauren, ultimately breaking that special bond he had with her). He also had many side effects. The psychiatrist kept wanting to treat each side effect with a new medicine to the point that we had a drug coctail that would make any pusher jealous -- and gave Lauren a run for her money -- all to no avail.

In the meantime, we found out Brennan was also having seizures. We took him to a neurologist, who put him on medicine to (hopefully) treat the seizures and the bipolar. Today, that medicine seems to be helping the seizures -- not so much on the bipolar; the behavior's as bad as ever. After the philosophical differences came to a head, accompanied by some unprofessional behavior, we fired the psychiatrist and got a new one. He's young, and concerned, but has not treated Brennan aggressively. He even indicated that there might not be a medicine that will work for Brennan and that we should work on behavior therapy. Compound that with the fact that the neurologist and psychiatrist aren't aggressively collaborating on a solution to two problems that appear to be significantly intertwined. Our pediatrician told us that, sadly, there aren't many doctors anywhere able or willing to work the seams between anatomical systems. We believe it because we've observed it.

I continue to doubt (but accept) the bipolar diagnosis. Something just doesn't seem right, and it just doesn't quite "fit", despite the ready diagnosis of "classic bipolar". Brennan has a measure of control over these rages, although there is some level of uncontrol. Couple that with the fact that the seizures happen in the part of the brain that controls emotion and emotional response. I think there's a significant link there. How to control it and/or rehabilitate it is the tough question.

I earlier alluded to several of our difficulties parenting Brennan. I really think we're good parents. But what we go through is enough to shatter anyone's self-confidence. Cristi gets beat up nearly every day -- many times quite literally. She constantly wonders what she's doing wrong. I'm left at work, totally helpless (he doesn't really do this stuff around me), and wondering what my response should be when I get home. I've tried everything from anger to apathy to sadness/disappointment to eye-for-eye violence. Nothing works. Nothing. It's embarrasing to take him out somewhere when he decides he's going to throw a fit. Can you imagine the looks we get? Not to mention the fact that he's almost too big for Cristi to handle now. This has been a very hard journey for us -- harder even than our journey with Lauren.

God taught us to trust Him with Lauren. We have tried to trust that all will be okay -- and we still do -- but it is a daily struggle not to feel helpless and hopeless. I freely admit to you that we have no answers -- that we pray daily for relief and answers. So far that prayer has not been answered. Yet we still believe. We still trust that God is in control and that good will come out of this situation in some as yet undetermined way. We cling desperately to that hope. We continue to believe God is faithful to those that hold on. We will continue to hold on. For those of you so inclined, we ask for your prayers as well -- prayers for wisdom, endurance, relief, answers -- for us and for Brennan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lessons Learned from the 2008 Election

President Obama. That's painful for me to write. For some, it's probably just as painful to read. For others, you're rejoicing that "change has come to America!" I'll be honest with you: I'm very disappointed in the outcome and nervous for what that bodes for the future -- not just for the next four years, but the potential strategic implications that could affect us 20 years down the road...BUT, I've learned a few lessons along the way this election season that give me hope.

I'm reading the book, Battle Cry of Freedom, right now, about the Civil War. Yesterday, I read a section describing the 37th Congress that sat from 1861-1862. The author stated that it "did more than any other in history to change the course of national life". Yet as I looked at what it did, I couldn't help wondering what we would be saying about those "same" things now if they were election platforms. They passed an act authorizing the transcontinental railroad, seeded with government funds. They also passed several land-grant acts that benefitted individuals (free land to live on), corporations (land for starting/growing/expanding businesses), and universities (where many got their start). We look back 150 years now and are thankful for that because we see the goodness in it, right? After all, that helped form the foundation of our modern America! But these were all internal improvements -- most funded with government money, and done at the expense of foreign spending and foreign affairs -- mostly in opposition to current Republican philosophies. Well, let me back up: Not necessarily opposed, but lower in priority to protecting our interests globally because of a finite budget (i.e., we can't do everything on limited funds). My point is that these domestic issues (i.e., internal improvements) were what Barack Obama staked his claim on. Hopefully we can look back in 25-30 years and realize that we're much better off than we were domestically and that his foreign policy actually kept us afloat despite many Republican and military fears.

The second thing I learned is that Democrats aren't evil people -- a bit misguided perhaps :-) but not evil. I believe Barack Obama won this election because many people either believed he was the best person to help our country on one particular issue (like healthcare), or because they aligned with him on more issues than they did with John McCain. I do not believe that it was because the vast majority of Americans believed that Obama was all right and McCain was all wrong. (I believe the media helped significantly with that, but I'll just leave it right there.) That's what makes our republican form of government so great. We elect our leaders based on their platform and who can best lead our country and/or help us individually. Do I agree we made the right decision? No. But the majority of Americans feel that Obama can help them individually and/or that our country as a whole needs to go in a different direction. The rest of us hope they're not wrong...but we can also change that in 4 years.

On a similar note, I also had the chance to converse (well, okay, debate/battle) with a few friends during the campaign that are hard-core Obama supporters. What I learned from them is that relationships transcend politics. We debated several times. At the end, we always said that it was good we could discuss these issues openly and still be friends afterward. Last night, after it became clear who would win, I changed my Facebook status to "Tim is praying". Immediately, I had 5 people (the first two being two of my Democratic friends) say that they hoped my prayers were about the election and not because something was wrong with Lauren. What a great reminder to me to keep my focus on relationships and not on something that will pass.

Finally, God is in control. I must confess to you that as I watched Barack Obama win and as I watched others who were already learning that lesson (or trying to convince themselves to learn it), I was not ready to learn it. I am now. Because of all I've said above and other things I've written in this blog, I must believe God is in control. No matter what happens. The next four years could be great, or they could be lousy, or they could just be four years. It doesn't matter. Yet again, I go back to the challenge I was given October 3rd and 4th in Nashville to be fearless. Even if the worst thing imaginable happens, God is still on our side...if we let Him be. "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Golfing Lessons Learned

I played golf yesterday for the first time in almost 6 years! It was my work organization's fall golf scramble and a good friend convinced me to play, so off I went. I told her I hadn't played in a long time, but if they needed a court jester (i.e., someone to laugh at), I could oblige. Sadly, I actually paid for them to have this entertainment...Shouldn't they have been paying me?

Anyway, I digress...I learned several lessons yesterday that I wanted to share with you in case you find yourself in a similar situation:

1. A 6-year-old golf glove is not still in usable condition.
2. You should stick a bucket under the range ball machine before you stick your token in. Otherwise, you get to play 52-ball pickup in a parking lot.
3. You may forget what you ate last night, but you don't forget old bad golf habits.
4. If you lose a ball, don't worry. Chances are someone else has lost at least one previously that will replace yours.
5. Hitting the ball from the fairway is hard...if you're used to playing in the rough.
6. If you're looking for your lost ball in a swamp, higher ground does not necessarily imply solid ground. It can actually mean it's ground soft enough to sink halfway up your calf!
7. If your partners drink a lot, you will have to take a lot of potty breaks.
8. If your partners drink a lot, your score will go down, because counting higher either becomes more difficult or less important -- I'm not sure which!
9. If you run into another golf cart, the damage is barely noticeable.
10. Golf balls that land on the road bounce really high. We gave more than one car a scare yesterday!
11. Golfing is only fun for 15 holes if it starts getting cold on Hole #16.
12. If you're not any good, it doesn't matter how many mulligans you buy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Meet Lauren

Lauren is our 2.5-year-old daughter -- our youngest. She has an amazing smile and a captivating personality that's made all the more so because of all of the challenges she's overcome. She has beaten the odds every time, although sometimes not for the better -- like it's very rare in kids under 5 to have walking pneumonia. Lauren just got out of the PICU in Knoxville after fighting it off. It's difficult to capture the magnitude of what she's been through and just how much of a true miracle she really is, but here goes...I apologize if this rambles or meanders.

Lauren was born with a rare heart defect. The doctors told us that she wouldn't survive the delivery, then that she wouldn't survive the first day, then that she would never leave the hospital. As you can see from the picture, you'd never know it from looking at her!


Her left ventricle never formed correctly, so basically it looks and acts like mush. Consequently, the heart doesn't pump blood as efficiently as it should. On top of that, she has pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in her pulmonary artery). They believe this is partially due to the left ventricle not pumping as well as it should causing blood to back up in the pulmonary artery, and also lung damage caused from being on a ventilator so long when she was born and once when she was very sick.

She's also completely tube-fed. That's a long story, too, but basically it was installed as a kind of side effect from a stomach surgery at 10 days of life. She had trouble eating and getting enough food, so they left it in. Then her cardiologist in Philadelphia (one of the leading doctors in the US in his field) decided to make her exclusively tube-fed to prevent further damage to the lungs and allow them to "grow new lung" while she's small and her body will do that. She's been that way for 2 years. It's been very hard at times, especially now that she's a toddler.

Lauren is noticeably delayed in motor skills, as well. She learned to sit up and roll over quite late and didn't learn to walk until she was about 2. She can also climb up the ladder at the playground and go down the slide by herself. Those feats are all pretty amazing, though. The doctors and therapists are surprised that she's as capable as she is. She has extremely low muscle tone and her muscles aren't formed quite right. Conequently, she can't jump -- at all -- and is very unsteady on her feet and clumsy, resulting in 3 broken arms in 4 months. So, we also have specialists evaluating her for possible genetic or mitochondrial disorders that could help explain it (but may or may not be treatable). We're also having tests run to see if there's a bone problem.

On top of all of this (and perhaps to a certain extent because of it), she has a tendency to get sick easily -- and frequently ends up in the hospital. Not that she has a compromised immune system -- just that she doesn't have the fighting power that most of us have. She does have an amazing resilience and personality, though. She charms everyone she comes in contact with. As an example, her old pediatrician (who was with her since Day 2) has now become a family friend even though she's moved away. She's even convinced doctors that she really wasn't sick from her cuteness -- sometimes with the result of winding up more sick later.

She bounces back or comes through challenges very well, though. She wasn't supposed to survive birth. She wasn't supposed to survive stomach surgery at 10 days of life. She survived two septic shock episodes, including one where her fever rose to about 107 and her blood pressure dropped to about 40/12. Even though frequently requiring hospitalizations for illnesses because she crashes at the onset, she usually recovers within a day or two of being hospitalized.

It seems clear to Cristi and I that we have been eyewitnesses to God's power to work in people's lives. We attribute a large part of Lauren's progress to prayer -- not that we always get what we pray for (we certainly haven't) and not that this life is easy -- but we have learned that if we rely on Him, He will bless us in ways that we don't expect, want, or imagine.

I can't adequately tell you about the miracles this girl has been party to -- both obvious ones and successions of "coincidences" that defy the laws of probability. However, as a small attempt, we participated in a program at church in the spring, called Defining Moments, where people shared stories in dramatic ways of times in their life when they particularly saw God at work. We told Lauren's story (Her pediatrician even came and bawled her eyes out!). It's about 8 minutes long.

video

You can also keep up with Lauren via her Carepages (http://www.carepages.com/ -- Page name LaurenSchwamb (all one word)). We don't update it often (usually only for bad news), but it gives us a chance to keep all of those that follow Lauren's journey (and there are a lot of them, which has been a very humbling experience for us) up to date on her. You have to register, but it's ONLY so that they can e-mail you when Lauren's page is updated; they won't sell your e-mail or spam you.

I apologize this was long, but it's hard to tell it in less time/space.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What I Did on My Fall Vacation

This weekend, we headed out for our annual getaway to the Smokies with Cristi's family. For the third year in a row, we met Cristi's parents and sister and brother-in-law in Pigeon Forge, TN. Cristi's parents rented a cabin that's quite literally on the side of a mountain that's easily big enough for the ten of us. Our family got the entire upstairs.

Now, I like to plan things out. Don't get me wrong: I like the concept of spontaneity, but when it comes right down to it, I want to have at least a rough sketch of what we're going to do each day. Otherwise, you risk not getting to do everything you wanted to do...and you know what to expect. We traveled on Thursday. There's a 20% chance of rain for the next day -- perfect for the hiking trip I've been looking forward to. Well, it rained Friday, so on to Plan B. Chuck, my father-in-law, suggested that we go to the Ripley's Aquarium in the morning and to Wonder Works in the afternoon. They turned out to be a great time! The aquarium had a fantastic walk-through shark tank display, and we got to actually touch horseshoe crabs and attempt to touch the elusive stingrays. Wonder Works was every bit as fun for me as it was for my kids. I -- I mean, we -- rode an earthquake simulator, climbed a rock wall, threw baseballs for a radar gun, laid on a bed of nails, and played Laser Tag!

Saturday was our annual day to go shopping for a wardrobe upgrade for the entire family -- a significant emotional event for me, because, while I like to look stylish, it doesn't come naturally, so I struggle to make it happen. I was prepared, though; I knew what I was looking for, and expected to find it in either Gap or Old Navy. No joy...Gap had absolutely nothing, and Old Navy was such a mess I'm not sure how you could find anything. Fortunately, Cristi bailed me out (she's so awesome!). She found the sweaters and shirts I was looking for (literally in incoherent heaps), so game on! We must have looked like contestants in a find-the-needle-in-a-haystack contest taking stuff off the top and throwing it aside, frantically looking for anything in my size that would fit and hoping it would match -- not that it would matter since apparently anything goes now. I've seen combinations with stripes and checks that would make any European proud! But...we were successful! Whew! I'm good with clothes until spring/summer!

The next day was Sunday. The plan was that Cristi and I would take Lauren and drive to Philadelphia for her heart catheterization and muscle biopsy the following day; we'd leave the big kids with Chuck & Sue and meet back up with them at our house a couple of days later. Lauren didn't like that plan. (Many of you already know at least part of Lauren's story. For those that don't or would like a refresher, I'll post a summary soon). Lauren had done great after a full day of shopping! After we got back to our cabin, though, she looked tired and not quite herself. Having developed a keen sense of the subtle, Cristi took her temperature: 99. Given our new ruleset of taking her in any time she runs a fever, we decided we had better start packing and heading for DC that night (scrap Philadelphia). Over the course of an hour that we ate dinner and packed, Lauren's fever had risen to 102, her heart rate and increased to 160, her oxygen levels had decreased to 90%, and Lauren's activity level had gone down to that approximating Absolute Zero.

Change of plan...again: We decided to head into Knoxville to their children's hospital. We called Lauren's pediatrician and asked her to call ahead to the ER to let them know we were coming and to let them know her issues and what a simple cold could do to her. When we arrived, the ER staff took us right back, took her vitals, got her hooked up to an IV, and ran some blood work. They transferred us up to the PICU, where the staff was simply fantastic. We could not have asked for better care (or hospitality) from a hospital unfamiliar with Lauren's issues. A big thanks to Dr. Kevin Brinkmann, the PICU doc, and his nursing staff!

So, after all that, what's the point here? First, our vacation was fantastic, even if things didn't go as planned -- something I can agree with in arears, but have trouble accepting on the front end! Second, even if we don't understand why things happen, God is still in control, and there is joy in the little things. I don't know why it happened, and I was immensely frustrated that the end of our vacation had been ruined. But...we didn't have to drive all the way back home last night (which would have been difficult for me late at night), and we were well cared for in a strange place. I know that gave immense comfort to Cristi, who worries about Lauren every time we travel, and helped keep us from getting too worn out from a quick trip back to DC. I still don't know why this happened, but it doesn't matter -- God is in control, and He's still teaching me that He will provide...and to "Fear not!"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still Singing Boomer Sooner

I love my Sooners! Did I mention that before? But, as feared (I think I’m supposed to be fearless, aren’t I?), they were unable to hold on to the top spot. Now they sit at the very respectable post-loss ranking of #4 or #6, depending on which poll you prefer. It will be up to Oklahoma to determine how badly they want it from here on out – and will take some love from Missouri, Texas Tech, or Oklahoma State to topple Texas out of the top spot since the BCS bubbas would never allow a national title game between two conference teams. So, my hat’s off to Texas for a well-played game, but it’s time to stop mourning the loss and get back on the Sooner Schooner and play some championship-level football!

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's the Little Things

Just to give you an idea of how conceptually simple things can turn into complex problems requiring a planning committee to solve (not that we’d actually have time for those committee meetings!) and that all you can do in these situations is laugh hysterically, consider that last night was trash night. No problem…It was Thursday night – a two-trash-bag night: One for the kitchen trash, and one for the diapers. I pulled the trash bag box out from under the sink: Uh-oh…Only one trash bag left. We didn’t pick up trash bags after Monday night when we got down to one. So here’s how the conversation went down between Cristi and I:

Tim: Uh-oh…We only have one trash bag. I guess we’ll have to leave the diapers up there until Monday.

Cristi: I didn’t know we were out of trash bags. I was just at Target the other day!

Tim: Wait a minute…I mentioned Monday night that we were getting low, and I guessed that we’d have to “conserve trash bags”. (Aha! I said it! Not my problem!)

Cristi: Well, I don’t know who you said that to, because I was in Philadelphia!

Tim (a few minutes later – I suffer from the Calvin syndrome): Wait…This isn’t my fault! You told me after I got home from work that you had gone to Target and Wal-Mart. I didn’t know you were going beforehand. (Whew! Absolved of responsibility once more!)

Cristi: True, but you didn’t tell me that we were getting low on anything! I can’t pick it up if I don’t know!

Tim: Well, it’s not as if we had a whole lot of conversation time between you getting back from Philadelphia and now.

Cristi: Why didn’t you just put it on my Facebook page?

We both laugh.

Hey, it’s not pretty, but it’s our life! We learned, oh, almost 3 years ago now (after Lauren was born) that some things just don’t get done, and that will just have to be all right. Thankfully, we can still laugh at each other, realizing that there’s “blame” on both sides, but also realizing that, despite how simple we try to make it, our life is just very complex. So we don’t get spun up about the little things. If we did, we’d both have ulcers, we’d be nervous wrecks, and our kids would be convinced we had lost it…well…okay…two out of three’s not bad…

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Game of the Century

I love my Oklahoma Sooners! I’m Sooner-born (OK, well, not quite…) and I’m Sooner-bred, and when I die I’ll be Sooner-dead. Bob Stoops is a phenomenal coach, they’ve been playing like a championship team, they’re ranked #1 in the nation in all 3 polls, and at least one pundit is claiming that this weekend’s Red River Shootout with Texas is the most important game in the history of college football (perhaps because he’s paid to do that simply to attract readers). So why is my smack-talk machine not firing on all cylinders?

To start with, this is the OU-Texas game. Anything can happen, and, historically, anything has. This year, Texas is ranked #5, which means this should be a good game – even without the super-charged emotional rivalry. The Big 12 is also shaping up to be the toughest conference this year…but OU hasn’t done well in the spotlight the last few years. They’ve lost 4 out of their last 5 bowl games, and, last year, when the championship was theirs for the taking (twice!), they demurred to Colorado and Texas Tech. The record shows – as much as I love the Sooners – they don’t do well under pressure.

In their favor, the Sooners lead the OU-Texas series over the last 10 years 6-4. Despite their notable stumbles, they’ve also won several amazing games, including a run in 2000 upsetting Texas, Kansas State (#2), Nebraska (#1), and Florida State for the BCS title. Last year, they upset Missouri, who was the #1 team in the nation, to secure the Big 12 Title.

This year, the Sooners are looking great! They certainly have the talent to win this game easily. They’re averaging 50 points per game, but other teams are putting up similar stats – including Texas. No matter what happens, this game could likely be the real Big 12 Championship, with that other game in December being just a formality. So break out your crimson and cream and get ready for an exciting game!! To the victor, go the spoils! Sing with me, now: “Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner…”

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fearless...Really?

I went to the ZOE Worship Ministry conference this weekend. The topic was “Fearless”. We all have things in our life to worry about…but we have a choice: We can either let the worry of “what if” consume us, or we can cast off our fears, knowing that no matter what happens – even if it’s “the worst” – God will take care of us…And, imagine what life would be like if we lived “fearlessly”.

Jeff Walling, one of the speakers, made a great point that when problems come up, we tend to worry too much about what’s going to happen and how we’re going to “fix it” rather than running to the very One that’s able to help us and comfort us. Ouch! Ten points for a hit between the eyes! There was also a skit, where people came out individually, holding cardboard placards. On one side it had their fear; on the other side, it had the answer to that fear. One said, “Afraid of the water”…”Learned to swim at age 30!”. Another said, “Afraid of being imperfect”…”Accepting God’s grace that makes me perfect”. Still another said, “Afraid my son will fall back into drugs”…”3 years sober, and counting!” So, I thought, wow! If these people can cast out their fears, then maybe I can, too. I don’t have to worry about Brennan’s seizures and bipolar issues. God will provide an answer if I just trust. I don’t have to worry about Lauren not walking/jumping/playing like a normal 2-year-old, because God has a plan. I can do this! So after a weekend of amazing praise and worship and being convicted to “Fear not!”, I was reinvigorated to hit the ground running!

A mere 12 hours later, I got my first test, and it was a big one: Cristi called when I was driving home from Nashville and said that Lauren had fallen down and broken her left arm. Mind you, she had already broken her right arm…twice…THIS SUMMER…and still had a cast on it!! After I hung up the phone, I cried out loud. I shouted to God “Why???”, “Make it stop!!!”, and other cries of desperation. I hurt. Why does this have to continue? Why isn’t the pain of the daily grind of parenting two kids with health issues enough of a burden? Why must I be given more? Why must I be hit again when I just got back on my feet? But I also cried out, “I won’t quit!” and “I won’t deny God!” Yet another 12 hours later, as I write this, as Cristi and I are again separated (she’s in Philadelphia with Lauren to get the arm set with sedation), I still hurt. This time the shrapnel cut a little deeper. But I still believe that this, too, shall pass…and, gradually, the pain subsides, because I believe the promise that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

La-la-la-la Live Out Loud!

I’ve wanted to start a blog for a while now – not because it’s the FOD (that would be fad o’ the day!) – but because I’ve really got a lot to say! (I’m sure there aren’t many of you that would find that hard to believe!) The idea first came when I realized that I wanted to share some of Brennan’s story as well as Lauren’s…but the Carepages are really Lauren’s site…but so many of you have been so good to follow Lauren’s story and have asked about Brennan as well that I wanted to be able to share his journey with you. There will be other topics as well, though, because my passions are many and varied.

I want this to be a place where I could share my triumphs and crushing defeats, praises and laments, things that intrigued me and things that irked me – from riding the wave of a great college football win to our outdoor family adventures to challenges of parenting two kids with health issues to living out a faith in God that’s real and authentic even when it’s really hard. In short, this blog is about LIFE – certainly about mine in particular, but I hope by exposing these little pieces of me, seeing what makes me tick (scary, I know!), you’ll find that we share some of the same struggles – and maybe, in some way, it will help you with your own curveballs. It’s not my intent to make this all about “religion”, but my faith is a huge part of who I am, so you’ll see that woven throughout.

Feel free to leave your thoughts. Let me know if I’ve touched you. Let me know if you’ve got advice for me. Let me know if you’ve got a story to tell, too. Let me know if I need to shut up and color, or put on my big-girl panties and deal. After all, if we work together, we might make it through this thing called “life” a little easier.