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: Of course, we also continue updating Lauren’s carepages with significant events ( – 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

1 comment:

  1. Tim,
    BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD! GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME! I believe He has already prepared a way for you. Part of God's family,the Pitman church of Christ, nearby to CHOP (Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania), will want to minister to you. My husband, Steve, is one of the ministers. Quite a few of our members have had children in CHOP over the years. Steve and I have had 3 children with difficult health challenges who have been in and out of hospitals. I also have two family members who have had heart transplants. You can get to know a little about our church family at OR at my blog
    We will see you soon! Because of Jesus, We are family, Patti