Gazing Upward
  • Faith and Living
  • November8th

    8 Comments

    The last week has been one of the most difficult weeks for me, Scott, and my family.  What began as a mild concern evolved into an urgent matter that quickly changed my perspective on life.  With just one word, I felt like my world was being turned upside down. It’s a word every person dreads hearing: cancer.

    But let me start at the beginning. Last Wednesday, October 31st, I went to see a breast care specialist I had seen a few years ago for a small cyst. I have had a large lump for over a month that continued to grow in size. I kept thinking it would turn into mastitis, but it never did. Eventually, it began causing pain and tenderness. I figured that the cyst had grown and was blocking or pressing on some milk ducts.  I presumed that the doctor could simply drain the cyst and I’d be on my merry way.

    When the doctor came in and I presented my problem, a quick glance at my chart revealed that the cyst from a few years ago was actually on the other side.  After an ultrasound on the mass, the doctor said it could be a galactocele (a benign cystic tumor filled with milk). But she couldn’t rule out cancer.  So she sent me over to the diagnostic center for a mammogram.

    After the tech performed the mammogram (which was very painful to my already tender breast), the radiologist requested another ultrasound. They then sent me on my way and said the radiologist would look at the images and send back to my doctor.  Within a couple of hours, the doctor’s office called and asked how soon I could come in for a core needle biopsy.

    When the doctor met with me on Friday morning (she was in surgery all Thursday), she informed me that she and the radiologist were very concerned. In fact, the radiologist had wanted to keep me at the hospital on Wednesday to do an immediate biopsy, but the doctor knew I had Maryn with me and that it would be very stressful.  Based on the images, they measured the mass at 5 cm!  Just to give you an idea, a tumor that large would automatically place you in stage 3 or stage 4 of cancer.  Breast cancer is very aggressive in younger women and can develop that quickly.

    So the doctor showed me on the ultrasound what the mass looked like and how it differed from a cyst, galactocele, or any other benign mass. It was a surreal moment to sit there as she discussed with me the very real possibility that I might have cancer. I felt calm. I had told God I would take whatever He allowed to happen. After all, millions of women have fought and survived breast cancer, including my sister-in-law. And I didn’t even feel afraid of dying. What terrified me was leaving behind my children and my husband. Upon my questioning, the doctor said we would start with chemo before a masectomy, and the treatment would start almost immediately.

    If it were not for the last few moments of the biopsy, I would have gone home thinking that I definitely had cancer. The results wouldn’t be back in until Monday morning, and what a long weekend it would be! However, the last amount of tissue the doctor pulled out showed a little bit of pus. Gross, I know. But it was a sign of hope!  The doctor became excited and said that the mass might actually be an abscess.  It didn’t resemble one on the images based on the shape, border, etc. And the mass appeared solid. But she was able to get some more pus out. She sent that to be cultured to see if it contained staph, which causes an abscess. Only 0.4-0.5% of women (who have mastitis) develop an abscess, and I haven’t even had mastitis with Maryn. But we were hopeful this was the case.

    The weekend was a long one. As predicted by the doctor, the biopsy site became infected (which almost always happens with nursing moms), and I had a high fever, pain, redness, and flu-like symptoms on Saturday…essentially mastitis.  I managed to pull everything together for Maryn’s dedication and brunch, but we all felt very distracted.  I began to feel in my gut that the mass was an abscess. But my parents and Scott were still very fearful.  And despite my instinct, I still had thoughts such as wanting Scott to get remarried if I passed away, what all I wanted to do with my kids, how we would afford Maryn’s formula if I had to stop nursing, how we would cope with the demands of treatment, etc. All our hopes and plans for the future suddenly fell to the side, and the prospect of a new “immediatie” future seemed overwhelming.

    Monday came…and went. The lab results weren’t back in. Tuesday morning came…and went. By this time, my family and I were frustrated and almost beside ourselves. Finally, at 4 pm on Tuesday afternoon, we got the fantastic news that the results showed no malignancies!! The mass was indeed an abscess.

    I saw the doctor yesterday, and we still have an important issue to resolve. First, she had to change my antiobiotics because the particular strain of staph was resistant to the one she had given me Friday.  I will also have to have surgery on Tuesday during which I will be put under, the doctor will open me up, and remove the abscess and infection. It is too large to drain by a simple office procedure.  Potentially, she may have to remove breast tissue which can lead to disfigurement. But my thinking is that maybe insurance will cover a lift and reconstructive surgery after I stop nursing! 🙂  I will be in the hospital for at least one night, and maybe two.  So I am starting to pump to save up enough milk for Maryn.  I should be able to continue nursing, and it is recommended so that the milk ducts don’t get backed up.  That is a blessing..I’m not ready to give up nursing.  I will have to have a wound vac, as the area will have to heal from the inside out. So I’ll be wearing a large purse-like container connected to my body. Stylish, huh? 🙂

    I still have a long road to healing.  But we are so thankful for the good news. And to be honest, I’m thankful that for a short while, my mass was presumed to be cancer. Because that one word caused me to reflect on my life. To reevaluate my priorities. To focus on the relationships in my life, and most of all, my relationship with the Lord.  The abscess diagnosis doesn’t mean that I won’t ever have breast cancer.  Only God knows if I will ever fight that battle. But I hope that if that one word is ever presented to me again, I will be able to face it with courage and without regrets.

    To all the women who have fought or are currently fighting cancer, I admire your bravery, strength, faith, and perseverance.  I pray we will one day have a cure!!

  • November4th

    2 Comments

    This morning at church, we dedicated Maryn to the Lord and promised that we would raise her in a loving and God-honoring manner and environment.  Each family selects a Bible verse for the child being dedicated, reads it aloud before the congregation, and then responds to some vows. The verse we chose for Maryn is Philippians 1:9-10…

    “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”

    Doesn’t she just look like she KNOWS she’s all dolled up??

    Baby dedication at our church is similar to a christening, and Maryn wore a gown that will be passed along to my sister’s children and hopefully to all of our grandchildren, with each person’s names embroidered in the slip. This gown was made by a woman in Selma, Alabama, who creates exquisite christening gowns and heirloom dresses for incredible prices.  This dress has vintage lace, and the handiwork is just beautiful.

    Our family of 6

    Grace kept telling Maryn that it was her “special day.” And Carter was so excited about us promising to teach Maryn about God. Although, he was concerned how she would hear because “her ears are so small.”

    Scott’s parents

    My sister, Courtney

    Courtney and Ivan

    My mom

    My baby girl and me…I can’t get enough of her!

    My parents and Maryn (who clearly had had enough of pictures)

    Scott’s sister, Julie

    Julie and Libby (Scott’s mom)

    We had a brunch at our house after church to enjoy time with family and friends. The cake had Maryn’s monogram and a beautiful pink cross.

    Aunt CoCo can’t get enough of Maryn either.

    I love how she’s looking right at the camera.

    She had three people around her taking pictures, and she would turn her head each way as if she knew how to pose and entertain the paparazzi.

    This is MaMa, my 94-year-old grandmother whom I’ve often writtena about.

    And finally, my favorite picture of the day! My mom and I were remarking on how Maryn’s lips look like they have lipstick on them. Her plump rosy cheeks and sweet pink lips make her look like a doll. And she is….

  • October27th

    5 Comments

    Well hello! Were you wondering if I’d ever come back? Me too. This fall has been a whirlwind and I’m learning during this season more than ever that time is not my time.

    I probably have four draft posts that have been in the works for weeks.  So I thought I’d do an overall update and then finish the other specific posts soon. Here’s a little summary of what’s been going on in our family this fall…

    Caroline

    Caroline is enjoying the 6th grade and has adjusted well to the middle school.  She absolutely loves band and practices her flute for long periods each evening.  She takes tennis lessons once a week, and dance classes 3x/week. She has really taken to dance (which thrills me given that I’m a former dancer and dance teacher) and plans to audition in February for the dance team.  She has a lot of work to do, but she has shown incredible improvement and talent in the last three months.  I had a strange moment this week as I was sewing elastics onto her new ballet shoes.  I remember my own mother doing this for me for years. And now I’m in that place. I’m a “dance mom.” I don’t feel old enough (or far enough removed, I suppose) to be doing these things!

    While many middle-schoolers begin separating themselves from their parents, Caroline has actually opened up to us even more.  She loves sharing stories and news from school, discussing the latest book she has read, and expressing her opinions. Okay, so maybe that last part isn’t exactly new.  We’re already entering the phase of teen drama, as a sweet boy asked her to dance at their 6th grade party, and Caroline went to hide in the girls’ bathroom!  She didn’t want anyone to think they were boyfriend/girlfriend. Ha! Then a few weeks later, he had a friend ask her if she would “go with him.”  Isn’t it humorous (and sometimes painful too) to recall those awkward middle school days of crushes, unrequited love, and dismay at being pursued when you don’t want to be? LOL

    Finally, Caroline recently reconnected with a girl from her orphanage who was adopted three years ago. The girl lives in Indiana and plays the flute as well! They have been cute emailing back and forth and skyping. One night, they even played the same song on the flute simultaneously via skype. They’re already planning trips to visit each other. What a unique and special bond to have experienced life in China together as orphans and then to have both been adopted by American families.

    Carter

    In the last few months, Carter seems to have matured considerably. I so enjoy our little conversations. He loves to have me read to him, his favorite books being chapter books. And thankfully, he has NOT outgrown cuddling. In fact, he seems to like sitting in my lap or snuggling more than ever before.

    At school, Carter has learned to write his name. I know almost every person accomplishes this at some point, but it is truly incredible when you’ve witnessed a child develop from a helpless infant to a kid who can speak, articulate ideas, and write letters.

    Both he and Grace are playing soccer this fall, and he’s scored several goals (despite the fact that he’s stolen the ball from his teammate a couple of times.) He’s still learning the rules of the game. 🙂 Star Wars continues to be a major interest, and I love catching him when he’s acting out battle scenes. This morning, I heard him say, “Don’t forget your training!”

    Of all our kids, Carter currently has the best understanding of God and Jesus.  His questions are deep, his prayers are genuine, and he claims he’s loving God more everyday… because as he recently stated to Grace, “God does everything for us.” Two of my favorite conversations lately….

    Carter: “Mom, Grace was being really mean outside. So I prayed that Jesus would help me so I wouldn’t hit her.”

    I had a hard time not laughing but was also so proud that he is understanding the many ways that Jesus can help and empower us.

    Carter (emerging from my bedroom): “Mom, I was in your room praying several times.”

    Me: “Well what were you praying about?”

    Carter: “I prayed that God would help me behave.” (then giggling) “I also prayed for something that I know God won’t do. I prayed that He would give me $5,000…tomorrow!”

    Well at least he knows God doesn’t answer those types of “gimme” prayers! 🙂

    Grace

    My sassy princess has been going through a tough time.  She never really had the terrible 2’s, so I suppose the 3’s are her time to test boundaries.  She’s rebellious, mischevious, disobedient, loud, and very needy.  She’s dealing with the normal emotions of having a new sibling. She also continues to process through her roots and background. Here’s the conversation we had this past week:

    Grace (out of the blue): “I want to go to my China.”

    Me: “Why?”

    Grace: “I want to see my China mommy and live in her tummy. I never got to hug her goodbye.”

    Me: “Oh honey, I bet your China mommy gave you lots of sweet hugs and kisses before she had to say goodbye.”

    Grace: “Do you think I ate her tummy?” (She refers to breastfeeding as “eating one’s tummy” and is constantly interested when I’m nursing Maryn.)

    Me: “I don’t know, but I think probably so.”

    Grace (walking into my arms): “I want to eat from your tummy. I want to be in YOUR belly. Like Maryn. And like Carter. Why were Carter and me not in your belly together?”

    She recognizes the intimacy of nursing and struggles with the idea that she didn’t grow in my belly. While we’ve talked about China and her China mommy ever since we brought Grace home, she is now beginning to truly process her adoption and all that it means. I know we have some difficult questions and conversations ahead of us. It just hurt my heart to see her so sad.  My mom suggested rocking her and letting her drink a bottle or sippy cup in my lap just as I feed Maryn so that she can have this same experience of intimacy that she seems to be craving.

    Grace’s favorite thing to do is to sing. And she sings all. the. time.  She especially loves making up her own lyrics. And sometimes they’re pretty funny. Maybe we have a songwriter in the making!

    Maryn

    Our little one is quite the chunk! At 4 1/2 months, she is a whopping 17 lb 10 oz, placing her above the 95 percentile! And this is with me exclusively nursing her and not giving any baby foods yet. She is incredibly laid-back and happy, rolling with the crazy schedule we keep and smiling at every opportunity.  She lights up when her siblings appear.

    Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a little roadblock. She began having loose stools that eventually turned green and mucousy before evolving into complete diarrhea. As in, it just wets the diaper. Sorry for the TMI, but I want to help anyone else who might be experiencing the same symptoms. After a few days of these diapers, bright red blood appeared in her stools. With research and a visit to the pediatrician, the diagnosis is food allergies coming through my milk.  So the current plan is to cut all dairy and soy from my diet, which is already gluten-free.

    Let me tell you…cutting dairy is easy. I’m familiar with dairy-free products because of Carter’s allergies. But EVERYTHING contains soy. And you can find foods that eliminate two of the three allergens mentioned above, but it’s pretty difficult to find ones that eliminate all three!  I’m already starving because I’m nursing, and now I’m very limited in what I can eat.  No more Pumpkin Spice Lattes. No more cheese.  No more casserole or baked goods. No more steaks or hamburgers. (I can’t have beef either.) No more diet coke. (Yep, did you know many sodas have soy in them???)

    I use coconut milk creamer in my coffee, and I’ve eaten a ton of veggies, meat, and hummus. I’ve even discovered SO Delicious’ Amaretto Cherry coconut milk ice cream and Chocolate Almond Milk for sweet treats. But it’s almost impossible to eat out anymore. I am dreading the upcoming holiday parties.  The alternative is to stop breastfeeding and to put Maryn on formula. However, the only option is a prescription-only formula of amino acids, and it costs around $800/month (IF insurance pays 50%).  I’m committed to nursing Maryn until 12 months, but I’ve been having a really hard time depriving myself. That’s why I’ve never been good at diets. I don’t have willpower when it comes to food. I’m a foodie and I enjoy it all! I’ve been surprised by how emotional I’ve been about my inability to endulge in foods I love.  Food has controlled me a lot more than I ever realized. And I’m truly learning the meaning of sacrifice.

    Despite cutting out dairy and soy (and also wheat) for 2 weeks, Maryn’s stools have not returned to normal. The next step might be to eliminate eggs and nuts. Surely the upside of all this is that I’ll lose weight, right??? 🙂

    More details to come on Maryn in her monthly updates.

    Other News

    On October 2nd, we lost my grandmother (my dad’s mom). Mimi was 89 and suffering from throat cancer and other ailments. When hospice came in, she was at peace and passed away with a sweet smile on her face. However, it’s never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, no matter how long they lived or how great a life they had.

    Now I could say that the school year has kicked off without a hitch and that I have it all together. But that would be a big fat lie.  Being a mom of four makes me feel like my world has been turned upside down.  We limit each of our kids to 1-2 activities (one sport/one arts pursuit), but our days still end up chaotic with carpool lines, lessons, help on homework,  meals, and nursing a baby.  I don’t find all our days stressful or overwhelming…they’re just BUSY.  I feel like I don’t stop, and I’m continually reviewing in my head items that need to be taken care of.  Thankfully, I’m very organized by nature, so my planner helps tremendously. But it’s still a tough season of life, particularly having such a large age span between Caroline and Maryn.  When you have little ones, you are often home for the afternoon and evening. With a teenager, the busyness is just beginning at 3 pm.  There’s got to be a way to simplify life more without depriving my kids of opportunities to pursue interests. Any advice from moms who’ve been there, done that?

    A high school friend, who is also a mother of four, told me this week that she gets up at 4:45 am simply to stay ahead of her kids and have some “me” time before the day gets busy.  I’m working my way backward (maybe to 5:30 am) because I think I would feel much less rushed going into the day if I have my coffee, quiet time, and an uninterrupted conversation with Scott before diving into daily responsibilities.

    Overall, our family is in a good place. We’re “stable” for the first time in years, meaning we’re not pursuing another adoption or managing a pregnancy. When the six of us are together, it just feels right. Like our family is complete. Only God knows if it is or not, but I’m enjoying the memories we’re making. Like spending time in beautiful Maggie Valley, NC last weekend for my cousin’s wedding.

    My grandmother, MaMa, with some of her great-grandchildren and grandson Mike (the groom).

    We rented a cabin with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. And we were pleasantly surprised to have this incredible view from the deck.  Oh how the mountains soothe mine and Scott’s souls!

    Happy fall!

  • January2nd

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    Call me sentimental. Or old-fashioned. Or perhaps habitual.  The simple truth is… I’m a lover of traditions.

    Many traditions are tied to holidays or special occasions.  So as our first Christmas and New Year’s Day with a child approached in 2008,  I suddenly felt pressure to nail down the practices we would hold for years to come.  For some reason, I thought I had to have it all figured out from the get-go.  Adding to some family traditions which Scott and I had celebrated since our childhoods, we had begun to establish some new traditions after we married.  Scott assured me that we could add in family customs throughout the years. After all, would our 11-month-old even recall his first experience of traditions? And isn’t it fun to discover and establish new rituals throughout the years?

    Reading through Noel Piper’s beautiful and practical book Treasuring God in Our Traditions (a book that I return to often for ideas, direction, and encouragement),  I was reminded that “our celebrations are occasions to look back and remember what God has done in the world and in our lives.” (Piper, p.64)  Piper, wife of renowned author and pastor John Piper,  also shares this great quote from Milo Shannon-Thornberry: “Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”

    Now that our children are at ages where they can understand, communicate, and contribute, new traditions have been springing up.  And it’s so much fun!  Ever since getting married, Scott and I have entered each new year with a planning retreat.  Well, I say “retreat” with a liberal meaning.  The first two years, we got away for a couple of nights to do our planning and evaluating.  During the last couple of years, our “retreats” occur on our living room couch after the kids have fallen asleep.

    We originally got the idea from our pastor and his wife who have been doing this same planning every year. They even shared a basic outline of topics they discuss and evaluate. Scott and I elaborated on the outline and have covered everything from dietary/health goals to financial plans for the next year to marital goals.  We not only establish goals together but also make lists of our personal hopes and plans.  For example, I often make a list of books I want to read. Or hobbies I want to pursue. Friendships I want to rekindle. Or habits I want to build. We generally cover these topics: health/physical, marital, family, spiritual/ministry, career, hobbies, social, personal, and financial.

    Making a list of anticipated expenses, whether in housing repairs or vacations, we are able to prioritize which item needs attention first. So we end up being on the same page when those expenses come down the pipeline.  We’ve made goals of weekly or monthly dates, reading a marriage book each year, and other relational issues.  (And I bet all you parents of young children can guess which topic we annually address and vow to give time and intention to! 🙂 )  We’ve even included goals as silly as vowing to eat a green vegetable at least twice a week (we just aren’t vegetable lovers).

    I’ve never really been one for making resolutions. But our planning retreats are helpful in leading us to reevaluate our desires and plans vs our actual activities and pursuits.  We know that we will fall short of our goals and lists, but putting them on paper helps us be more intentional.  And it’s always fun to look back on past planning lists and see how God has worked.  Last year, I smiled as I reviewed  some of our dreams from years past.  From completed adoptions to my first published article, I giggled at the fulfilled plans which once had seemed like distant possibilities.  We have some plans and goals which remain constants every year, but reviewing them reminds us that they are priorities.

    Yesterday, in celebration of the new year, we sat down with our kids to help them determine their own goals and plans for 2012.  Carter’s top two goals were: (1) to learn how to fight bad guys, and (2) to not be scared when the toilet flushes!  He also decided he wanted to learn how to read a book all by himself.  Caroline hopes to study ballet, master English, and win Super Mario Kart on the Wii.  Grace declared she would be potty-trained, learn more ballet, and learn how to write her alphabet.  Their plans are not deep or even remotely spiritual.  In an effort to divert them from focusing solely on themselves, we encouraged them to set a goal of memorizing a  new Bible verse each month and to find a project to serve the community.  But it’s a start.  Next year on New Year’s Day, we can whip out the list and see what they have accomplished.  I also hope that they will take this tradition as an opportunity to trace what God has done in their lives and the community throughout each year.

    I have to confess that I failed my parents yesterday in not carrying out their own tradition of years past…making black-eyed peas and rice on January 1st.  But I must remind myself, it’s never too late to start a new tradition or bring back an old one.

    I’d love to hear what traditions you celebrate with your own families.  I should have posted this before New Year’s to garner ideas for this holiday, but we can print them and save them for 2013.  Whether it’s rituals for birthdays, Easter, Advent, or any other holiday/occasion, feel free to share how you make the celebrations special.

    Happy 2012!

  • December24th

    1 Comment

    This morning, I awoke to cheerful exclamations of “Santa Claus is coming TONIGHT!!!”

    This year is the first Christmas that has invoked true wonder and excitement in our children.  From anticipating Santa’s midnight visit to celebrating Jesus’ birthday with our gifts to each other, the kids have a gleam in their eyes that draws all of us adults into high spirits.  It makes me recall those few magical moments in childhood when I became so caught up in the beauty of the Christmas lights, the harmonious swell of the Christmas carols, and the  fascination of Jesus’ birth. When awestruck wonder transcended the reality of the moment, and the emotion was so intense I couldn’t determine whether it was extreme delight or pain.

    As an adult, those moments of joy (as C. S. Lewis names them) come fewer and farther between.  Maybe it’s because we have so many distractions and responsibilities.  Maybe our expectations have become tainted by past disappointments.  Maybe we feel weighed down with emotional, physical, or financial burdens.

    Christmas hasn’t always been an overwhelmingly joyous occasion for me.  Years ago, when Scott and I were broken up over the holidays, I moped and pouted while listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” on repeat.  For weeks straight!

    Two years ago, while visiting my parents here in North Carolina, I spent Christmas Eve in the Cary ER with a sprained ankle. And I fought back tears throughout the whole trip because Carter was going through a phase when he wanted nothing to do with me and wouldn’t even let me walk into the room where he and Daddy were playing.  It was probably my most difficult Christmas holiday to date.

    This Christmas, there are people around the world who are enduring tough moments.  In just the last day, I’ve learned of a critically ill 3-year-old girl who is hanging onto life by a thread. And a woman my age who lost her husband Thursday night to an 11-year cancer battle, left with their 2-year-old son and a baby due in February.  I have a friend who miscarried months ago, and their due date of December 26th looms without assurance of another baby to come.

    With these weighty situations on my heart, I clicked on BabyCenter.com’s calendar of pregnancy milestones. Each Saturday, I move into the next week and read of new progress that my lil’ bean is making. Today, the site says this: “Your baby sees light.”

    Though his/her eyes are still fused shut, our baby can sense light and may even move if a flashlight is shown at my belly.  Physically and biologically, this milestone seems amazing.  But the spiritual significance struck my aching heart even stronger.  How incredible and appropriate that this baby should sense light today…the eve of a miraculous birth when the Light of the World came to earth to dwell among us.

    It was this reminder of Jesus’ light that brought me encouragement this morning. Not just for myself, but for each person who feels trapped in darkness this Christmas.  Whether you’re mourning loss of life, your marriage, your plans, etc., there is a Light that will illuminate your next step. He may not reveal your whole path, but He will guide you that next step further.  And it’s usually that next and immediate step that seems so paralyzing.

    I supposed what I wanted to share this morning is that we can become numb and blind to the wonder and light of Christmas.  We can miss it as much in our bliss as in our pain. And some individuals are hurting so much that a celebration seems almost unbearable.  On this Christmas Eve, I’m praying that as we meditate on the most perfect Gift ever given, our minds will be illuminated with insight and emotion that transcends our current distractions or troubles and transports us to that magical place where we can experience true joy.

    “Silent night, Holy night!

    Son of God, Love’s pure light

    Radiant beams from Thy holy face,

    With the dawn of redeeming grace,

    Jesus, Lord at thy birth;

    Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”

     

    God bless and Merry Christmas,

    Kelley