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.