Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year from the Erdners

    We have had a wonderful time this Christmas season, though it seems to have been even busier than usual.  As usual, we love to take a little time during this season to reflect on the last year.  There have been a lot of ups and downs, and we are truly thankful for everything.  I'll try to give a little update on everyone without writing a novel!
    Todd has been busy as usual, still working for Intel as a manager. Of course, his work pays the bills, but his passion is his family and investing in their lives.  Todd coached basketball and soccer for the younger kids and is very hands on with all of the kids.  He's a great dad.  Todd has also been very consumed with working on a 2100 square foot addition to our home!  We were able to move into our new master bedroom shortly before Christmas, and Todd is still finishing details in the new space, but we are at least moving in the right direction.  It is so wonderful having the extra space, and we look forward to finishing everything so we can complete the rearranging of children and kitchen items so we will be less cramped.  I am especially enjoying having our own bathroom and a real closet after 8 years of sharing the bathroom with the kids and not having a closet in which to put all our clothes. 
    I've kept busy homeschooling the children, and starting a new speech and debate club in South Austin along with a good friend.  I also help manage our little farm with the help of mainly my daughter Nina.  I have recently been challenging myself to get into shape after the birth of our 10th baby, and I feel really good about that.  Life is good.  I am so thankful for everything The Lord has blessed us with, and sometimes I can't believe the bounty in our lives.  Mostly my wonderful husband and children, whom I will be describing next.

    Abby is now 17, a senior in high school, and looking forward to graduating in May. I can't believe my little girl is all grown up!  Abby continues to take classes at ACC for dual credit, along with a couple of classes through One Day Academy and a few at home.  She is playing select soccer and is very committed to speech and debate.  She went to Nationals in June with her Persuasive speech and Duo Interpretation.  She plans to compete in Team Policy debate as well as 5 speech events this year.  On top of all of this, she is working part time at a doctor's office helping with billing.  Abby is excited to have been admitted to the University of Texas at Arlington where she plans to pursue a degree in nursing!  We are very proud of the young lady that Abby has grown up to be.  She loves the Lord and is excited about what He has planned for her in the future.

    Datiya is 16 and became our second licensed driver in October!  She is doing well with that so far.  Datiya continues to be the wittiest, spunky girl.  We love her fun personality and the way she makes everyone feel comfortable and welcome.  Datiya easily befriends everyone she meets, and they all love her.  She is taking 2 classes at One Day Academy and the rest at home. She is riding with her sister, Nina and her cousin on an IEA equestian team.  A few weeks ago, Datiya had major surgery on her upper and lower jaw for orthodontic purposes.  She is recovering well.  It hasn't slowed her down too much.  In fact, she was back on social media almost immediately after being wheeled out of the recovery room. Datiya will compete in speech and debate in at least 5 speech events and Team policy debate.   Datiya is creative and artistic, and I can't wait to see how God will use all of her talents and her gifts with people.  

    David is 14, and becoming a young man!  He has long ago outgrown his older sisters, and all of his little brothers idolize him.  David plays select soccer, and he has been invited to join a team that will be traveling to the United Kingdom this summer to compete.  He is so excited about this opportunity. We are proud of him because in order to make this particular team, the coaches look not only for athletic talent, but also for young men with excellent character.  David was chosen based on both, and we couldn't be happier for him.  One thing I love about this opportunity is that in order to go, the boys must raise the money themselves by working, not simply asking for donations.  So, if you are in Austin and need any manual labor, you can call David!  David is taking 2 classes at One Day Academy and the rest at home.  He does well in school.  He is also competing in Team Policy Debate as well as 2 speech events.  I'm trying to convince him to add a platform speech along with Duo Interpretation and Impromptu. Even with all of his successes and accomplishments, what I love most about David is his way with his younger brothers.  He has 4 (5, including the baby) little brothers who are watching every move he makes, and he treats them very lovingly.  I'm always reminding him that he is setting the example for those little boys, and I'm proud of his example.  He's a wonderful young man, already on his way to making a difference in the world.

    Nina just turned 13, and she is truly going on 17!  I need her to slow down a little bit on this growing up stuff. With two older sisters, she just has always been very mature.  This year, Nina is taking World View (Starting Points) at One Day Academy along with Forein Policy (with her three older siblings).  She is by far the youngest student in that Foreign Policy class, and she is certainly holding her own.  Nina has always been a very diligent student.  Last year, her first year competing at the senior level of speech, she qualified to Regionals in 2 speech events!  She was competing against students as old as 19!  This year, she is competing in Team Policy debate and at least 5 speech events. Can you tell she is really into speech and debate?  Nina also continues to ride horses, and she is competing on an IEA equestrian team with Datiya and her cousin this year.  She is already qualified for Regionals in walk, trot and canter!  Nina also enjoys cooking and baking.  Recently she has expressed an interest in attending culinary school. She will be showing turkeys again in 4H along with a variety of home skills.  Nina is a spunky, fun-loving girl who is well-grounded in her faith. 

    Enoch is 11 and an active and bright boy.  Enoch plays select soccer.  He is small in stature, but fast on the field.  I think that sometimes his opponents don't know what happened when this little guy whips past them to the goal!  Enoch is good at math and gets his school work done quickly, so he can spend his time free on our land!  He has enjoyed building forts with his brothers, jumping on the trampoline, and riding his bike.  Enoch and Lillah competed in Juniors for speech last year, and they did really well with their adorable Duo Interpretation.  Enoch is well on his way to being a great speaker.  He is probably one of our more social children, always wanting to call a friend to "hang out."  Enoch is a kid who knows what he wants and goes after it!  This summer he wanted to make some money, so he put up signs advertising his lawn-care services, and he got his first job!  The people who hired him were very impressed by how hard he worked and what a good job he did.  Enoch is still as sweet and tender as ever with his baby brothers. He is sensitive and caring.  I know God is going to do great things through this bright, confident, caring, outgoing young man!

  Lillah is 9!  She is active, free-spirited and loved by all.  Lillah is very bright and does well in school, but she doesn't have a lot of patience for school right now.  She would love to spend her days running on our acres with the wind in her hair.  She is a tomboy, keeping up with her brothers with no problem.  When we had another boy instead of the little sister she was hoping for in April, she said, "That's ok.  I'm used to boys."  That pretty much sums it up.  Lillah is still the strong leader she always has been, thoughtful and fair.  I think someday God is going to use that in her life.  She always makes sure we save treats for anyone who may have missed out for whatever reason.  She tries to make sure everyone gets to play what they want some of the time.  Lillah loves horses, and has taken some lessons this year.  She would love for us to buy her a pony (like most little girls)!  She and Enoch will compete in Junior speech again this year with another adorable Duo Interpretation. She also is taking piano lessons along with her older siblings.  She even played along with the rest of the family on Christmas Eve as we sang a rockin' version of "Silent Night."  I think she wants to grow up and be the next Taylor Swift.  No matter what, this sweet, thoughtful girl is sure to grow up and do great things for God.

    Simeon is 7, and our most serious child.  This doesn't mean he doesn't goof off and have fun.  He can be very goofy.  Simeon is very pensive, and thinks about a lot of things.  He is gaining ground as a reader, and soon he will be drinking in vast quantities of knowledge about all of the things that interest him.  I can hardly keep up.  Simeon has become very diligent this year to get up and get his school finished.  He has been keeping up with the older kids in Bible memory, and has the verses down better than the other kids at times.  Simeon plays soccer with daddy as his coach, and he loves it.  He is fast and scores lots of goals.  Recently, he and his siblings have been using the large great room that is in the addition as a giant roller rink for their rip-sticks.  They are having a blast.  Simeon is the one that Jed and Hezi really look up to.  It is sweet how he takes them under his wing.  Simeon is also the most precious, loving boy.  He will often spend all of his money to buy a gift for a sibling, grandparent or mom and dad.  We regularly get love notes and picture from him left on our pillows.  Whenever we go out anywhere, Simeon runs over to give us hugs and kisses and to say, "I love you more." I'm excited to see this sweetness remain in him as he is growing up.

    Jedidiah is our spunky, active little 5-year-old.  He radiates energy. I'm so glad we get to homeschool him.  Here at home, he can be himself and be loved and secure in who God has made him to be.  This boy never stops moving.  He runs and jumps and wrestles and climbs.  He spins and flips.  He is the most accident prone child we have, already sporting 4 scars on his face.  When you sit next to Jed, you can feel the electricity jumping from his little body.  Jed got to play Upward basketball in February on Simeon's Kindergarten team, and he just ran up and down the court.  It was pretty funny.  Jed also plays soccer now.  Jed is extremely bright, and there is always some extraordinary thought rolling around in his brain.  Every now and then we get to hear some of these thoughts, when he slows down enough to share with us.  He says the funniest things.  Right before the baby was born back in April, we had a rare moment when Jed was just sitting inside with me and my mom as we waited for our overdue baby.  He was talking on and on about how he has done all of these amazing things so far in his life, like jumping over a HUGE shark in the ocean ("it was actually 2 sharks!").  Then he got quiet for a minute and started talking about things that are "annoying."  He said, "You know what would be really, really annoying?  I mean soo soo annoying?  If you were born without a brain!  Because then you'd be soooo stupid!!!"  Umm, yes, I guess you could say that, Jed.  Haha!  Jed is the child that one minute is making you want to scream (for example for no apparent reason, he took his new baseball bat he just got for Christmas and smashed a new toy the baby just got for Christmas--whyyyy, Jed???), and the next minute is melting your heart with his sweet hugs and kisses.  He, like Simeon, always says, "I love you more!"  He will look you right in the eye with his beautiful green eyes, and you just see heaven.  If you take a moment to see past his super-activity level, you can see the precious heart that God has given to Jed.  This boy, I'm confident, will change the world someday.  God is really going to use my little Jed, and I am so privileged to be his mama.  

    Hezekiah has grown up so much this year. He turned 3 in November.  His sweet little face is precious with huge brown eyes framed in long dark lashes.  Hezi is happy, sweet and talkative.  He can be a little hard to understand even now, but he will patiently repeat himself until you understand what he is trying to say.  Hezi is much quieter than Jed, and will play for hours alone with his little cars.  He can often be overheard making the cars talk, having them act out little stories.  Hezi is a very friendly, loving and happy little boy.  His big sisters love to make him say funny things.  Ahh, the life of a 9th child with teen siblings.  I can't wait to see how his personality develops as he grows. It's amazing how much joy these little ones can bring.

  Our precious little Toviel Zechariah joined our family a week overdue on April 23rd, 2014.  He surprised us by deciding he really did not want to emerge from his cozy cocoon as easily as his predecessors by pushing
backwards during the pushing phase of labor.  After his heart kept dropping alarmingly during contractions, we elected to have a c-section, which no one expected after 9 relatively easy births.  We felt like we tried every position and everything we could do, and he was not meant to be born any other way.  We are so thankful for the goodness of God in keeping me and Tovi safe through it all.  We believe God orchestrated every aspect of his birth, including the decision earlier in the pregnancy to have the baby at the hospital instead of the home birth I had wanted.  I'm so glad I was in the right place for this birth.  God knows what is best and we trust Him completely.  Toviel means, "goodness of God."  Our little son is beautiful and sweet and such a reminder that yes, our God is GOOD!  

    We are so very thankful for all of the blessings in our lives.  I haven't even begun to touch on everything that has happened this year.  We hope you have had a blessed Christmas season.  It really is a wonderful time of year.  Whether you believe Jesus was actually born in December or not, it is so wonderful to see the openness and receptiveness people have this time of year to hearing about God who was the baby born to save the world.  I love seeing the kindness people show this time of year.  And, yes, I love to see the people who come to church only once or twice a year, because perhaps this time they will hear and believe the story of the most precious GIFT ever given to men.  
    May 2015 bring you joy and blessings!

With love,
Michelle and Todd 
Abby, Datiya, David, Nina, Enoch, Lillah, Simeon, Jedidiah, Hezekiah, and Toviel

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Shadows of My Father

Several years ago, when my older children were very young, the oldest being only 4 or 5 at the time, we were invited by some friends to ride on their boat with them.  My husband is a very good water skier, and our friends had water skis on their boat; so we decided Todd could show off his ski skills.  He was doing great, shooting back and forth over the wake, looking like a pro.  The kids were cheering for daddy, their faces lit up with admiration and pride.  Their daddy was pretty cool.  Then, suddenly Todd hit a big wave and went down fast.  My children reacted by screaming in panic and fear, then bawling while our friend steered the boat back to get him.  They were terrified that something had happened to their daddy.  It took several minutes for our oldest daughter to calm down and realize that everything was fine, and that daddy was not hurt.  In those moments, I realized just how much my children adored their father.  I thought about how much a part of their life he was, how important he was to them.  In those moments, I wondered what life would be like if something ever happened to Todd.  It gave me a glimpse of the profound loss it would be for us all.  This may seem kind of dramatic after a little fall while water skiing, but the way my children responded in those moments when they thought their daddy was badly hurt really caused me to reflect.  It was a moment and a feeling that burned into my memory.

I remember feeling the same way about my own daddy, when I was a little girl.  The first memories I have are of times with my father.  He was larger than life in my little world, with his big, wide smile and  thick Cuban accent.  My father is fun-loving, gregarious, charming, and engaging.  He was always laughing and playing with me when he was around. When I was nine years old, my father decided to leave our family.  I was completely devastated, wondering what I had done wrong.  Why didn't he want to live with us anymore?  Surely, there was something I could do to win him back to us.  I spent the next countless years subconsciously trying to be the perfect child, perhaps secretly hoping he would come back to us someday. That wasn't to be.  Over the years, I accepted that.  While I had my reasons to resent him and what he had done to our family, I always loved him and longed to see him.  I enjoyed the times I had with him growing up.  I am a lot like my father in many ways.  My dad was an intellectual who enjoyed reading the paper, journals, and articles to gain more knowledge.  He would photo copy articles he found interesting and send them to me and my sisters.  I have always loved learning, so I looked forward to receiving his little educational blurbs in the mail.  When we were together, we could talk for hours.  As I got older, I valued talking to him and listening to what he had to say.  Once I began following Jesus, I was able to let go of all the resentment I had held onto over the years due to the divorce and abandonment I had felt from him.  I was able to see him as God sees him, and I was filled with compassion for my dad. 

We recently spent a week visiting my dad and stepmother at their home on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico in the Florida panhandle.  While we were there, in a setting so beautiful and peaceful, I finally saw for myself the reality of what is happening to my father.  About 1 1/2 years ago, my dad was diagnosed with "probable" early-onset Alzheimer's disease. I was not willing to accept this diagnosis.  At that time, much of his lapse in memory could be blamed on absent-mindedness.  He had always been the "absent minded professor," so I didn't want to believe that his memory issues were anything out of the ordinary.  He was getting older, and of course, memory issues usually come with age to some degree.  I struggled to make excuses for his apparently increasing lapses in memory.  My dad was forgetting things like dates and other seemingly minor or more common things for people to forget as they get older. I rationalized that he had depended on secretaries to keep his calendar and schedule for so long that it was natural for him not to remember things like what day of the week it was.  Just one year ago, my sisters and I visited my dad with our families, and I was able to explain away the little stream of forgetfulness we all saw widening into a river. Reality began to set in, however, last October, when I was speaking with my dad on the phone while I was in the car with one of the kids.  I felt like there were two different conversations going on at the same time. I would say something, and he would respond with something that seemed completely unrelated.  That was the first time I thought that maybe there was something deeper going on with my dad. He mostly stuck to easy, nonthreatening things like the weather.  He kept asking me if the kids were enjoying the trip.  I had to remind him a couple of times that I was with only one of our children and we were just taking our goats 1/2 hour away to get validated for 4H.  Three months later, at the follow up visit at the Mayo clinic, the doctors confirmed the diagnosis and said that my dad had declined significantly since the visit the year before, and that he was very progressed in the disease of Alzheimer's.

It really wasn't until this recent visit, however, that I truly saw how bad things are getting, and how far gone my father truly is.  Not once did my own father spontaneously refer to me by my own name!  He called me, "baby's mama" or even "hey, you!"  He was still laughing and gregarious, and we managed to get him out of the house and to the beach several times during our visit.  It was so sad for me to see him puttering about the house going through familiar motions over and over, such as watering his plants.  The problem is, he now repeats this little ritual a few times per day, and my stepmother tells me that he is actually killing some of the plants with over watering.  The rest of the day, he spends blankly staring at a TV he isn't really watching.  He sits in his favorite chair and stares at the screen; or he may turn and look out the window at the gorgeous view of the ocean beyond his back porch.  I know that when we aren't there, he spends hours like this.  It grieves my heart.

My father hurt our family deeply and crushed my little-girl's heart when I was 9 years old.  But years ago, because of the grace of my Lord Jesus, I was able to forgive him.  I was able to release the bitterness and exchange it for compassion.  I was able to see him the way God sees him.  Now, I wish to be closer to him so that we could see him more often.  I long for him to be able to be around all of my wonderful children who so obviously brought him joy when we were together.  I want to have as much time as possible with my daddy before he slips further and further away from us.  

A few days ago, we were on FaceTime with my dad, and as the children came by one by one and spoke to him, he just smiled, laughed and had a grand old time.  At one point, he saw my face fill the screen, and he exclaimed, "Oh!  Look!  You haven't changed at all!  My daughter!  My daughter!"  My heart was filled with a mixture of happiness and grief.  He recognized me, but he didn't say my name.  I felt like I was watching my dad water skiing behind the boat, waving at me with a smile before he fell into the deep waters below.

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted 
And saves those who are crushed in spirit."  Psalm 34:18

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Addicted (...To Speech and Debate)

I have just returned from spending a week in Virginia with my oldest daughter and my 7-week-old baby boy.  We were there for my daughter to compete in the NCFCA 2014 National Championship.  What a whirlwind of activity we had!  It's hard to explain, but I have post-tournament high.  We also have a term we call "post tournament hangover" which is the state of exhaustion in which one finds oneself after a speech and debate tournament.  This time, however, I'm mostly feeling the high. 

I have to admit it.  I'm addicted to speech and debate.  The funny thing is, so are my kids.  If you had told me a few years ago that my children would be so into speech and debate, I would have laughed out loud!  Our journey to this point began several years ago.  June 2007, our oldest child had just turned 10 (which at the time seemed so old!), and we were expecting our 7th baby any day.  Our dear friends, our college pastor and his wife and family, were coming to our neck of the woods for the national championship of their speech and debate league.  They had shared with our family previously how valuable they felt speech and debate was for their kids.  We decided to go up to Belton, TX and see what this was all about.  We were able to watch our friends' children in their events, and of course we were so impressed with them.  But they weren't the only ones with whom we were impressed.  The campus was crawling with teenage boys in suits and ties and teenage girls in business attire.  Everyone looked so professional and put together.  Appearances are one thing, but then I was able to hear them speak.  I took the older children with me that day, and we listened to persuasive speeches, interpretive pieces, and speeches on current events and our responsibilities as believers in this day and age. I was so impressed with everything I saw.  I knew then that in a few years when my children were old enough, this would be a very worthy activity for our family.  Little did I know then how much time and sacrifice this would involve.

Fast forward three years.  Some friends of ours were involved in a speech and debate club that was affiliated with NCFCA, the very league we had witnessed in action at Nationals 2007.  I wasn't sure if we could make it happen that year, as we had a year-old baby (again! But what else is new?), but we went to meetings that fall.  I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea where to start.  I heard there was a steep learning curve.  Todd was skeptical, mainly because club meetings were on Friday nights.  So most of the meetings I attended were by myself with all the kids.  I wasn't able to be in on many of the meetings since I had to keep an eye on my little ones, so by the time the practice tournament came along, we were still clueless.  My girls prepared "illustrated oratory" speeches about the trip to Israel they had taken with their dad that October.  They brought bright orange posters with pictures from their trip.  Umm, the problem is that the boards are supposed to be black or white boards of a certain size, and not flimsy like poster board. Not to mention the elaborate and intricate things competitors use on their boards to enhance their speeches.  Looking back now, I can laugh at our mistakes.  But that day we realized how truly clueless we were, and so we gave up for that year.  I didn't even try to take the children to any tournaments.  The following year, we were expecting another baby in November, so I didn't attempt going to the club.  However, God is so good, and we somehow decided to sign up for a theater class at One Day Academy.  A few months into the year, the teacher told me that the girls could actually compete in NCFCA tournaments with the "duet" literary interpretation they were working on for that theater class.  We decided to take the girls to a tournament ("just one") the Spring of that academic year (2012).  I knew that we weren't anywhere near competitive, but I wanted to get us to a tournament and see what the girls thought.  I forced each of them to prepare a persuasive speech as well as the "Duo" they had been preparing for theater class (oh, they just thanked me so much for that).  We went to our first tournament in Granbury, with some friends we had met through the theater class.  As much as the girls were against going to the tournament, especially with their persuasive speeches, they had a lot of fun while we were at the tournament.  I was immediately hooked!  We signed up for one more tournament the next month in Houston.  This time, with all 9 of my children in tow, including our baby Hezekiah who was only a few months old, we threw ourselves into the tournament.  The girls competed, the younger siblings who were old enough timed speech events and debate.  I was even able to judge one speech round while someone watched my little ones.  

I was doubly hooked after that tournament.  Not only did the girls have fun, but we connected with people from the club we had attended the year before, and everyone was so welcoming to my kids.  That tournament was what we needed to commit ourselves fully the next fall.  This time, my husband was 100% on board.  We got our friends from the theater class to join us, and our kids teamed up as debate partners.  Abby, our oldest, and her friend Ethan decided to do a duo together that year, and everyone had speeches they prepared.  David, our third, debated with another friend. That was the year we learned so much.  I judged every chance I got so I could better learn what the different events involved.  The kids were thrown into the lions' den in debate, and they learned mostly through experience (trial and error--mostly error 😜).  We never missed a club meeting that year, and by the end of the year, we *all* were hooked.  Abby and Ethan actually won third place at one of the tournaments in which they competed that season in duo.  I couldn't believe it, but that summer the kids were even willing to attend debate camp!  

This year, we again were fully committed.  My fourth child was old enough to compete, and we went to 4 qualifiers in our region.  The kids did so well--all four of them qualifying to Regionals in at least one event, and Abby qualified to Nationals in both persuasive speaking and duo interpretation.  It's safe to say that we are all extremely excited about this activity.  My kids keep up with happenings at tournaments in which they are unable to compete, and national opens as well.  They talk about debate even when it's not the assignment of the moment.  In fact, all of my competitors are already planning what events they want to do next year.

We love going to tournaments.  As I keep mentioning, I am completely addicted.  I'm addicted to the atmosphere at these tournaments.  I am addicted to seeing all of these young competitors dressed up in their tournament attire.  I'm addicted to being around them, talking with and interacting with them, and observing my children with their speech and debate friends.  What a great environment for them!  I'm addicted to attempting to judge every round I possibly can.  This Spring, just weeks before our baby Tovi was due/born, I took the kids to their 4th tournament, and I was able to judge (thanks to some friends from church helping at home with our little guys and for my awesome husband for keeping them home instead of having me take them with us).  I judged almost every preliminary round at that tournament, and two outrounds.  I am addicted.  Why did I judge so much?  It wasn't for the grand prize for most rounds judged (haha), but it is because I am addicted to hearing these outstanding young speakers.  I LOVE hearing them speak on topics about which they are passionate.  I LOVE hearing them debate skillfully and courteously (call me crazy, but I LOVE to flow rounds). I LOVE watching the creativity of the interpretive speeches.  I LOVE getting to fill out ballots and write lots of comments that can help speakers improve their speeches.  I truly LOVE getting to encourage them with words that express to them how much they encourage *me*!  I love to pray for them and tell them that I'm praying God's blessings on them as they continue to strive for excellence and above all strive to glorify a God and learn to communicate well for His glory.  I LOVE getting to know the other parents, hanging out and talking with them. I have been encouraged and inspired by so many wonderful parents over the last few years.  I truly, truly LOVE this activity for my kids, for my family and for myself!  Oh!  I can't forget to menttion how I LOVE this activity for my younger kids, who get to time events so they can be a captive audience and hear great speakers and be inspired for their own future communication.  They have even had the chance to compete at the juniors level at some tournaments.

This is all wonderful, but it does require commitment and sacrifice.  It takes a lot of time to prepare and compete.  Traveling to tournaments can be costly as well.  We are at the point where we like to go to as many qualifiers as we can, so this all adds up to lots of time, money, and the sacrifice of other activities at times.  But I am here to tell you that it is all worth it.  The benefits both Todd and I see from participating in speech and debate, even for the younger children, far outweigh the sacrifices we make to do it.  

So, I see this as just the beginning of our family's adventures in speech and debate. With all of my children down to our tiny little 8-week-old Toviel, it is one activity to which we will remain committed.  We hold this activity above so many others in which our family can be involved because it is so important for our children to learn to communicate well as ambassadors for Christ in this fallen world.  If we have to give up activities for whatever reasons, this one will be the last to go.  Abby, Tovi, and I flew from the National Championship in DC to Florida to spend the week with my dad.  The rest of the family drove to meet us here.  I have had a few days to reflect on this tournament "high" that I felt last week.  One thing is certain: I can't wait til next year!  

"...sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." 1 Peter 3:15

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Year Gone By: From Loss to Life!

So much can happen in a year.  Today marks one year since we discovered that we were losing the baby that was in my womb.  I was almost 12 weeks along, but that day one year ago, I found out with certainty that what I somehow already knew in my heart was true.  Wheeled into a cold, sterile room, I stared at the screen during the ultrasound, hoping to see the familiar flutter of a little heartbeat.  Instead, I saw a still little form, arms floating out to the sides, little legs still, no pulsing little heart.  My baby was gone.  Forever in the arms of Jesus.  In the sadness that followed that week, I knew that God was holding me and that my baby was with Him.  I was so thankful for the beautiful ways that the Lord revealed Himself to me and my family during that time of loss. You can read more here:
Of course, time goes on as it will.  God blessed us with another pregnancy just one month after the miscarriage.  What a joy!  I blogged only a couple of times during my pregnancy.  Life was so full, and everything was moving along so quickly.  We had joined an academic co-op which was keeping us on track with school, but which also was taking most of my time due to having to prepare and keep the children going with their studies.  It was very good for our family.  The blog posts I wrote during my pregnancy focused on my desires to have a home birth with baby #11 (10th living).  I was so upset at first, but after a couple of months, I felt such a peace about delivering again at the hospital.  I looked for a doula, and I found out that a friend of mine from a few years back is a doula.  All the pieces were falling into place!  God was definitely directing us that we should deliver our newest blessing at the hospital.  I knew He had His reasons, but of course, we can't predict what will happen.  I thought maybe the Lord was humbling me and reminding me that I always must follow His direction, even when it goes against what I desire for my life.

Our very active little baby was growing fast and keeping me aware of his presence by constantly kicking me, and turning somersaults in my belly.  I even nicknamed him "squirmy" because of his nonstop activity.  Towards the end, he still moved around a LOT.  I felt that I was carrying him higher than most of my previous babies, but I knew God was in control.  My due date approached.  Then it came. Then it went.  How frustrating!  My mother arrived, and we waited for a week past my due date.  FINALLY, we had some action, and I began having contractions.  Things were happening! We were finally going to get to meet our newest baby!  Over that weekend and in the hours when I was in the early stages of labor, several friends texted or emailed me to tell me that God had laid me on their hearts to pray for...  Interesting,  I thought.  I felt that something was going to happen.  I was not worried because I knew that the Lord had wanted us to be at the hospital.  I felt that there was a reason.

 On Tuesday, April 22nd, my contractions picked up a bit.  My doula has a friend who is a midwife who lives near me.  She came over to check me in the afternoon, and I was already about 5-6 cm dilated.  She thought that once I had a few strong contractions, we should head to the hospital.  She did mention that the baby's head seemed to be a little cocked to the side.  Neither one of us thought much of this.  After all, this was to be my 10th birth.  A couple of hours later, I had a few good contractions within an hour, but still nothing regular.  I called my doula, and she decided to come over before traffic hit.  While she was here, I did have some stronger contractions, so we headed to the hospital.  Todd met us there.  I was excited, and all of us thought we would be meeting our baby in just a couple of hours.  All of my labors had been under 5 hours once things got going, and I was already 6 cm dilated.  But the hours dragged on.  I labored all night, taking turns relaxing in the deep bathtub filled with warm water, and getting up to the bed to have the baby's heart rate checked.  I was having a lot of pain on the right side of my body.  I felt like I was in a time warp--like things were taking forever, but also that hardly any time had gone by.  Was it really almost 6am??  We had arrived at the hospital at 6:30 the night before.  I had been certain I would have been holding a new baby in my arms by midnight!

FINALLY, around 6:30am, the nurse checked, and I was complete!  Strangely, I didn't really feel the urge to push.  Usually I feel that urge before I am even completely dilated.  My water hadn't broken, so I thought maybe that was why.  Everyone got set up, and I was ready.  But nothing happened.  No contractions.  No overwhelming urge to push.  We all sat there.  The doctor checked and then decided I wasn't really fully dilated.  I was so discouraged!!  We thought it might be a good idea to break my water so I would most likely dilate fully very quickly and deliver the baby.  The baby was still pretty high.  The doctor left the room, but they told me she would be right outside because they thought things would go very fast.  Well, that wasn't to be. Another hour passed, and I began to feel such intense pain on the right side of my body, my back and my lower abdomen.  It was nearly unbearable, not to mention I was so discouraged because things weren't happening the way they should! The doctor had me push a little to see if the cervix would melt away.  I felt the baby was pushing on my ribs and not moving down as I pushed. The doctors changed call shifts, and my own OB arrived. When she checked me, she thought my cervix was beginning to swell on the right side. Also, the baby's heart rate began to dip alarmingly low with every contraction. I asked for an epidural, thinking that maybe I was too tense from the intense pain on my right side.  I thought that if I could relax it might help.  The anesthesiologist was reluctant because everyone thought that I would be having the baby at any minute.  But I insisted it would help.  I got a 1-hour epidural.  I was able to relax and rest, and my swelling went down, thankfully.  I was complete and the doctor wanted me to push.  But the epidural had worn off, and that horrible pain on my right side was returning.  We tried several different positions to try to bring the baby down as he was still so high up.  Nothing seemed to work and by this time the baby's heart rate was dropping into the 30's and 40's with every contraction and every push.  They put an oxygen mask over my face to supply more oxygen for the baby. I was pushing with every ounce of strength I had, and I felt the baby was just lodged in my ribs and that his body was over to the right side.  He just wasn't lined up right, and I was getting very worried about his heart rate.

My doctor really didn't want to say the word "c-section," but by this time it was about 10:00am!  I had labored naturally for over 12 hours, pushed for more than 2 hours, and the baby was not descending.  We had even tried the squat that had helped with baby Hezekiah during his birth.  Nothing seemed to help.  I pushed a few more times, really giving it all I had.  Baby's heart rate was in the 30's and everyone looked worried to me, though they were reassuring me that the heart rate was coming back up between contractions.  I knew in my heart that I should have had the baby long before if I were going to be able to do it.  It seemed unreal, but necessary for me to have a c-section.  The doctor really didn't want to do it.  She offered for me to try for another 30-45 minutes.  I was worried we would try and end up with an emergency c-section anyway if the baby's heart rate stayed too low.  I felt disappointed but at peace about our decision.  Everything was calm and there was no panic.  I was wheeled into the room where the c-section would take place, and everyone was helping me remain calm as by that time the pain was so excruciating.  Todd was with me.  Within a few minutes, I was ready, and completely numb from the ribs down.  I had such a caring nurse anesthetist who stayed by me and talked me through everything.  I was able to have my hands free, and to be awake and aware of everything.  The moment the baby was born, I was able to hear his little cry, hear my husband exclaim, "It's a BOY!" They wrapped him and brought him right over to my face where I could see him up close and kiss his precious, soft little face.  It was not the way I wanted it to happen, but it was still such a profoundly beautiful moment.  I sobbed with tears of relief and joy!  Our GOD is so GOOD!

My two oldest daughters were so sweet, and stayed through the labor.  My second oldest was there through the entire night, waiting for her sibling to be born.  She was the only one still there when the baby was born via c-section, and when they brought him back to the room, even before I was there (I was still being put back together), she was the first sibling to get to hold her new brother.  It was sweet for her to get to bond with him in that way.

We had two lists of names: a boy list and a girl list.  None of the names on the boy list seemed to be just the perfect name.  It took us almost 2 days to figure out the right name.  We found the name Toviel which means "my God is goodness."  The middle name is Zechariah, which is Hebrew for "the Lord remembers."  How GOOD is our God, who remembers us in every moment and circumstance in our lives, especially when we need Him most.  I am confident that had we been at home for this birth, my wonderful midwife would have transferred me, as it seems that was what would have been necessary.  So things would have most likely been just fine, too.  But we were right where we needed to be--no rushing to the hospital, no panicked feelings.  My nurses were all wonderful and very supportive of my natural laboring, and my desire for no interventions.  My OB was also so wonderful, trying as hard as she could to allow me to have the delivery I was wanting and working so hard to achieve.  She never pressured us to have the c-section.  When it was time, we just knew.  The nurse anesthetist was so kind--I would have been a wreck had it not been for his calm presence, and his words talking me through everything step by step.  How GOOD of the Lord to lead us to deliver in this hospital in the first place.  For those of you who have read my previous blog posts, you know that I was longing for a home birth or birth center birth.  The Lord said NO.  Now I know why.  Toviel was meant to be born just where he was born, in just the way he was born.  I still do wish I had been able to deliver him naturally.  We did everything to make that happen, but the Lord knew his story from the beginning of time.  This is little Tovi's testimony, and part of mine, too.

Now, exactly one year to the day that I found out that our little one had gone to be with Jesus, I am holding another precious little one.  Another reminder of the GOODNESS of our God!  I am overwhelmed with thankfulness, and so hopeful for the future.  This year has been full of times that have built up my faith and drawn me closer to the Lord, to Todd, and to all of my children.  I am at peace.  And I know with confidence that the Lord will continue to walk with us and guide us through this life.  I'm filled with joy and peace.  Next year, on this date, what will I look back and see?

"O taste and see that the LORD is good; How 
blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" Psalm 34:8

Friday, March 7, 2014

Extreme Nesting! 6 weeks til DDay!

I am not a huge Facebook Dweller, but I do like to post almost every day.  I post Bible verses and words I find encouraging nearly every morning.  I post pictures of my family and what is happening on the farm.  This month, in observance of Lent, I have decided I would like to give up browsing on Facebook and reading through the news feed.  I can get sucked into spending a little too long looking through my news feed and then reading various interesting articles people are posting.  So, I have decided instead to just post a link to my blog posts on FB and then avoid any browsing during the 40 days of Lent.

It has been quite a while since I posted.  The last post was in December when we were still trying to figure out where I would be delivering sweet bambino #10.  I was struggling a lot with my desire to have another home birth, which we decided against purely for financial reasons.  Then we were hoping to get coverage for a birth center birth.  Sadly, the birth center wanted to charge us $1200 more in out-of-pocket charges that would not count towards our out-of-pocket maximum, so we would have had to pay an extra $1200 for the birth beyond our maximum, which we will most definitely be reaching this year.  Todd felt that with all the expenses we have this year building a large addition to our home, that we should have the baby at the hospital.  At first I was very disappointed, but it didn't take long for me to find peace in our decision.  God will bless no matter where we choose to deliver our baby.  Also, I really do love my OB, and I've had 7 hospital births, with 3 of those being natural deliveries.  My fourth birth was probably my second best, peaceful birth aside from the water delivery we were blessed to have with Jedidiah, baby #8 and our first home birth.  The LORD holds us in the palm of His hand.

After we decided on the hospital delivery, I began searching for a birth doula who would be able to help me with the delivery at the hospital.  As I began my search, I was discouraged, because some of the charges were almost as much as the birth center delivery would have cost us out of pocket.  That would not have been feasible for us.  I posted a request to my Facebook friends, to see if anyone knew of a doula who charged a lower fee, and I received a message from a sweet friend of mine I had met several years ago through our homeschool field trip group.  We had recently reconnected on Facebook.  She told me she is a trained doula, and her fee was completely within my budget!  I had just been praying that morning that the LORD would bring just the perfect doula at a price I could afford.  When I received the message, I cried tears of joy!  What a blessing!  I know that it wasn't anything I couldn't live without, but the Lord was showing me His graciousness, and in my mind confirming our decision to deliver our baby at the hospital.  I am so excited!  I know the Lord's hand is in this pregnancy, and He will be with us every step of the way.  I am at peace!

So, now we have 6 weeks to go til baby's due date!  Up until very recently, I have been pretty worn out in the evenings, the time when I would normally be cleaning stuff out and nesting.  I was beginning to think that the nesting instinct would never kick in.  Just a few days ago, I came across another idea for Lent.  It's called 40 bags in 40 days.  You take 40 days, and every day you clean an area of your home and try to have at least one bag of trash or one larger item to take out of your house to give away or throw away.  I started a day early because that will take me right up to my due date.  So far, I have cleaned out the linen closet downstairs (2 bags of trash and stuff to give away), tiny pantry (2 more bags of stuff to throw out), and some toy shelves we have in our family room (1 bag of trash and 1 plastic drawers set filled with stuff to give away).  I'm so excited about this because it fits in with the Fly Lady mentality of just taking baby steps to reach the goal of decluttering your home.  So far, doing a little area every day with the goal of just 1 bag of stuff to get rid of has seemed very doable.  Now I feel like the nesting instinct is taking hold, and I am on a roll!

Here are a few pictures of my progress so far in these little areas:

Day 1: Downstairs Linen Closet: Before

And After:

Day 2: Tiny Pantry Before
And After:
 Day 3: Toys Shelves Before


Feeling a sense of accomplishment!  More to come!