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:  http://embracingabundantlife.blogspot.com/2013/11/of-loss-and-love-god.html
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