Monday, November 27, 2017

{7} Days in the Homeland

Oh, Monday.

Let's be honest. I'm a stay-at-home-mom, so Monday usually feels like Thursday or any other random day to me. But this Monday is the first back in Midland after a 7 day sabbatical in the beautiful backwoods of Arkansas.

Our trip "home" started the Friday before Thanksgiving. I say "home" because out of the 4 people in my little family, I am the only one who is actually from Arkansas and thus consider it home. People there will often ask Cash, "When do you think y'all will move back?" He always tells me later, "Avery, do they not realize that is not back for me? I am not from there." Point noted.

So we were a mere 10 miles outside of Midland when traffic came screeching to a halt. For. An. Hour. That was a good start. But the kids ended up doing great, and we finally rolled in at 2 AM. I had taken over driving duties around midnight and felt gas station coffee would do the trick to keep me going those last two hours. It worked! In fact it worked so well that when we got there at 2 I was a jittery mess and stayed up talking to my dad until 4:30.

Luckily, my sister and her kiddos came over the next morning to help with my kiddos so Cash and I could rest up. We had a big day ahead of us, so that was life-sustaining at that point.

Saturday afternoon we went to our sweet Hub sister Abby's wedding. Y'all. I cannot even explain how happy I am for this girl. She is everything I hope AnnLouise becomes. She has the heart of a saint. She is sweet and kind, truly beautiful starting at the very core of her heart. Her new husband is also made of gold. I can't get over how perfect they are together. They are a fairytale.

the beautiful bride and her sweet daddy (and my sweet daddy looking like a bodyguard at their entrance)

We got to see the Hub at the wedding. The Hub is my parents' group of friends. When one of the kids was little bitty, he couldn't say "club". He began calling it the Hub, and it stuck. He's a freshman in college now.

My little Aggie and Mac

eating crumbs, literally what her dad gave her (How do you like that retro highchair compliments of Calvary Baptist-Ozark?!)

The kid has never met a cupcake he doesn't like. Takes after his momma.

My Hub momma Mrs. Helen and my real momma

Cody was getting a drink and heard the lady behind him ripping some coaches. Not missing a beat, he turned around and said, "Ma'am, we're doing the best we can out there." Cody is a roper and owns a trucking company. He also had no clue who the lady was.

a Hub sister Heather

I don't remember life without the Hub. In Midland I have some really cool friends and get to meet people all the time. In my mind I'm always wondering will they be my hub?

Anyway. Beautiful (and freezing cold) wedding. Beautiful people. Beautiful hub.

Straight from the wedding we headed for Mansfield, where my nephew Braeson's team was playing in the Arkansas/Oklahoma River Valley District Championship in football. I can't even contain my excitement as I set out to type this. The game was so fun to watch, and it came down to the last play of the game with 5 seconds left. Ozark (our team) and Charleston were tied, and Charleston had just turned it over on downs. So Ozark got the ball back on their own 20 yard line (for those who don't speak football lingo--that's 80 yards away from the end zone they need to get into).

Braeson, being the QB, got the ball and threw a beautiful spiral about 20-30 yards where his buddy MJ caught it with 2 defenders on top of him. MJ took off down the field, the 2 Charleston kids at his heels the whole way. They finally tackled him..IN THE END ZONE!! Ozark WON!!!

I get it. It's a team sport. But I got to watch my nephew throw a game winning touchdown pass for a district championship. My little buddy Braeson. Gahh. How stinkin' cool.

Ozark fans stormed the field. Seeing how Arkansas's coach got fired less than a week later, you have to understand this may have been the biggest game Arkansas fans have seen all year. They even got a couple of shout-outs on various radio shows.

He was so happy he was crying.

Brae and his sister

one proud Uncle Cash
On Monday we made the scenic drive up to Oark (nope, different town, I didn't misspell Ozark) to eat at the Oark Café. If you are ever in NWA, this is a must do. You can thank me later.

Bumpy & Henry

Nothing like finishing lunch and seeing a horse parked by your car. They did have on orange though. After all, it is deer season.

Tuesday my parents watched the kiddos while Cash and I went up to the Fayetteville/Bentonville area to shop. Then that evening we met one of my high school best friends for dinner. My sweet, dear Natalie Jo. She lights up my world every time I get to hang with her. She is one of those friends that you may not see for 2 years, but you instantly reconnect with when you are together. Everybody needs one of those friends. I'm so glad Nat Jo is one of mine. This is the same girl who pierced my ears in the Agri room our senior year of high school. We've been skinny dipping in the creek, prom dress shopping together when our moms were both too busy turkey hunting to go with us, and took naps in front of Dierks Bentley as he played a VERY small concert at the National FFA Convention. We have done the countryiest of things together, but Nat Jo does it all in leopard print and make-up. You have to love people who can hang like that.

The next couple of days we devoted to Thanksgiving celebrations. I saw someone write a while back, "Why do we get so dressed up for Thanksgiving when we just walk around our house and eat a bunch of food?" I laughed so hard at that, and it is all I can think about at Thanksgiving now.

feeding the chickens

petting the bull

Oh, Dad, when will you learn not to be ridiculous when I'm trying to take a picture?!

Henry got to be a Hillbilly for an hour and visit the new primary school to see where Aunt Sis works
playing with Brother's new toy

somebody has to check the cows
Cash, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I all gave into peer pressure and were consumed into the Black-Friday-but-really-Thursday shopping. I know a lot of people are against shopping on Thanksgiving, but here's the deal: after you eat and visit a bit, there is literally nothing else to do on Thanksgiving day. I don't have a problem with people who do Black Friday shopping. I have a problem with people who don't.

Friday morning we were up bright and early as our friend Kit (she married a Hub brother) came out to the family farm to take pictures. I am going to post some of these pictures, but first I want you to understand why you should hire Kit. Our photo shoot was probably 1 1/2 hours. About 87 minutes of that Henry was crying. Those 87 minutes were not fun for me nor were they fun for Cash. But Kit captured the 3 minutes in there that Henry smiled. And, guys, those 3 minutes were not consecutive. That's just the cold, hard truth about photo shoots with a 2 year old. But I absolutely love the mess out of the pictures.

I met this guy on this blog almost 7 years ago. So much has changed, but the fact that I still think he's the hottest thing that has hit this blog remains the same.

That evening we had Henry's birthday party: a hayride with the Hub and grandparents. Henry is obsessed with 3 things right now: tractors, trucks, and his Bumpy (my dad). He got all 3 that night, and the kid was in Heaven. We had chili in the dutch oven, hot dogs roasted over an open flame, and all the hot chocolate a kid could want on a chilly night. We had the Razorback game going and watched the end of the Bielema era, and Henry got to play until his little legs could barely even go anymore. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful week.
Nana & Bumpy gave him a tricycle

getting all set up-- Bumpy had to move the hayride inside the fence since the cows were eating the hay

no hayride party is complete without a firepit for your chili, hot dogs, and hot cocoa

Bumpy getting ready for the hayride

even Sissy got to help set up

Cash helped too--he kept us up to date on football scores :)

my sister--the only person who wakes up at 7 AM on a Saturday to come watch my kids so I can sleep in

Happy birthday, farmer Henry

Saturday we came home so Cash could get a jumpstart on the week and go into the office on Sunday. It is always hard to leave The Natural State (yes, Dad, it is The Natural State now. It is no longer the Land of Opportunity. Not since 1995.), but it is always good to see those desert sunsets too. After all, there is no place like home.

driving a long 600 miles

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Finding Our Purpose

On Thursday my Bible study group went to lunch together for the first time. While sitting in a little nook in Panera Bread we all shared how we met our husbands. Funny, warm memories abounded. I am sitting here laughing at my own memory now--meeting Cash on this little ol' blog. This blog has seen me through a lot of phases in life and has been my outlet when I needed to sit and just hammer out my feelings in words. But I beg of you as I did of them, please don't go searching my old posts. I. Could. Shutter. One of the ladies asked me what I even wrote about before marriage and children. I don't know. Stupid stuff I'm sure. But it was my outlet for that season of my life too, and even though it would be downright humiliating to be forced to reread those posts I am so thankful for getting to express my life through writing.

Lately I've had on my heart what purpose means to me and to my family. A lot of times when we are kids or raising kids, we wonder what their purpose will be. For the first few months of AnnLouise's life I would stare at her in awe and think, "Baby girl, what are you going to do? What is your purpose? I know it will be huge."

Then about a month ago it hit me. She already has a purpose. So does Henry. So do I.

We began visiting folks from our church, mostly shut-ins and widows. It did not matter where we went, the kids were a hit. They adored AL's smile and laughed at Henry's boyishness. One day I sat there and just took it in and watched as little ladies at a local retirement home lit up when AnnLouise would throw a smile their way. And the men, oh those precious men, they would laugh at Henry daring his mother to chase him around the parlor.

You could almost see the memories in their eyes as they watched my children laugh and play. One lady, whom we had merely passed in the hallway, was overjoyed with their smiles and waves. I heard her tell another resident, "I needed that today."

When I got to my car, I could have wept. Neither of them have to wait for a purpose. They have a purpose today. Their purpose may change as they grow older, of course it will. But today, today they already have a purpose. And those shut-ins? They have a purpose too. They STILL have a purpose, and they need to know that.

We all have a purpose. I mean, we are told that from day one in the church. For me I think I've always looked at that as "big picture" purpose. Sure, I have a purpose--something that when I look back in life it will be the really big thing that sticks out. Yet I've come to realize our purpose is daily, hourly even. Our purpose changes over time and evolves. It can look big and life-changing. Or it can be small and life-changing too.

all giggles before a football game

He only takes a picture standing still if I am with him. He also had to have his rain boots. The high was 84. No chance of rain for about a year.

playing with Mr. Lion

The Bible study I'm in right now has the theme of making room. They've talked about making room for your kids, the brokenhearted, our neighbors. Then Thursday they talked about making room for orphans. I thought I would zone out. I mean, I don't even know any orphans to make room for.

As the lady spoke I tried to choke back tears numerous times. I'm not a crier in public. When I told my group last year that we were losing the child I was pregnant with I just said it stoically and did not shed a tear in front of them. So when I was choking back tears throughout the talk on orphans I did not know what to think. Where was this even coming from?

The speaker described one of the foster children they ultimately adopted. When he was first placed with them they were shocked to find out (after some time) that the child has a rare condition. When they took him to an annual check-up in Austin, the doctor told them he was doing great as usual. And then she recalled his words, "It is amazing what love can do."

That came full circle for me. Purpose. Making room. Love. That's it. That's what we are called to do. Love--that's our purpose.

Whether it is the widow in the nursing home, the pre-teen boy who can't quite figure out how to navigate his way through middle school, the innocent girl who was thrown a medical curve ball, the orphan who longs for a home--our purpose is the same. It is to love. When we do that, we will be amazed at what God can do.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Looking Back One Year Later

Last year on the first day of the Bible study I attend, we were just starting up when the doctor's office called and told me we were having a girl and thus our child would not survive. My world crashed around me with that one devastating blow.

Today was the first day of that same study. The entire time I thought through this day 1 year ago, the month of funeral planning that followed, and the miracle with which God blessed us. Though I never tire of telling AnnLouise's story, this week it has been on my heart and mind even more. A week that could have been eternally imprinted on our hearts with pain is now a week in which I can share God's grace and mercy and shout from the rooftops that His miracles are not over.

It is still hard to remember those days of suffering. Last night at church and this morning at Bible study I shared the pain of walking into the funeral home to plan our daughter's funeral as she turned and kicked inside of me. Now I stare at her smiling face when she looks up at me from her crib. Bone chilling.

Sometimes it is easy to get stuck there, thinking of the heartache and bringing back the misery. But God never ends our story, our purpose, in misery. He did not do that with the Israelites. He did not do that with Jonah. He did not do that with His own Son. We see them in their misery. Oh, we see their sorrows and we see our own sorrows when we are there. But He didn't leave them. And He doesn't leave us. Even when the fiery furnace is so hot that our faces already feel the flames, He doesn't leave us alone in it. He stands with us. We may come out a little burned from the heat and a lot tired from the endurance, but God uses that to share Himself.

So while it is easy to get stuck in how hard things have been, I want to push past that and focus squarely on the love of Christ, the grace of Christ, the mercy of Christ. For us the other side of that pain was the sparing of AnnLouise's life. For you it may look differently. But for all of us, I can promise you one thing: it doesn't end here. We are assured that God uses all things for His good.

One year. As I reflect on this journey these are my top takeaways that God has taught me:

1. Miracles still happen. Big, small, seen, and unseen. Miracles weren't reserved for just Lazarus.

2. Get on your knees. It is easy to pray for something as big as praying for my child's life, but it is so hard to remember to pray for something as small as Henry having a good night of sleep.

3. God really does have a purpose, maybe even multiple purposes. When I met Cash, I was love struck immediately. However, when it came time for me to say I would move 600 miles from my family, well, that was a bit harder. But I was reminded last week that Cash and I didn't have 1 town or 1 church praying for us. We had 2 towns in 2 states and multiple churches in both praying for us. God allowed us family and friends literally all over the world. We were covered, no, SLATHERED in prayer.

4. You're not alone. Sometimes I got stuck in a bubble and felt so bad for myself and my little family. But it wasn't just the 3 of us going through it. We had mommas who were crying and praying for us daily. We had dads who had protected us our whole lives struggling with how to still do that. We had sisters and brothers trying to figure out the words to say to their own children. And we had those very nieces and nephews who ached at the thought of losing their cousin. We had friends, clergy, co-workers and bosses who wanted to give so much love and never knew how much that hug meant. We had doctor's offices who felt lost knowing they couldn't help. God was with us, we knew that. But looking back it is easy to see God shine through all of these people. Yet these very people were also going through our hurt. They may have hurt in their own way and dealt with it in their own way; but they were hurting nonetheless.

5. Be still. Be still and know He is God. Be still and maybe just listen to your friend instead of giving advice. Be still and quit trying to take control of a situation. Be still and quit going to the next big thing or the next big job or the next big house. Stillness is so hard, especially in a world where life happens at our fingertips and through our phones right here and right now. Just. Be. Still.

Thank you for all those who prayed us through this year. As I've said many times, I often could not pray for myself yet you prayed for me. I count AnnLouise your miracle as much or more than she is mine. Thank you. I am reminded of your thoughtful prayers and God's good, good grace every time I see that big, toothless grin.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Irony of Prune Belly Syndrome

When we decided that Houston was our best option for AnnLouise's delivery, it was bittersweet. I felt like we would be all alone in this big city. Of course I wanted the best care at our fingertips, but I didn't think I would be able to handle the emotion of being so far from comfort. But of course, as God always does, He provided comfort in numerous ways.

Since AL's birth, we have been navigating another unknown. This one is even bigger than Houston. Receiving the news that our sweet girl has Prune Belly Syndrome was hard to digest. Even with a great medical team in one of the greatest medical centers on earth, we often felt alone in our questions and struggles. 

Prune Belly is rare. 1 in 40,000 are born with this condition. Of those few children it is expected only 50% survive past their second birthday. Some live a long, normal life. Some have a "mild" form of PBS and the next day are on dialysis. It is cruel.

Even more rare than Prune Belly itself is having a daughter with it. Less than 5% of Prune Belly survivors are girls. They are anomalies amongst anomalies. 

When my daughter was born, I went from being a mom who got to innocently play with her child at the park to a mom who was thrust into the world of kidney preservation, bladder excretion, and abdominal muscle development. I have learned the lingo for urology, nephrology, gastrointerology, physical therapy. I have sung praises when I saw my child blow out her diaper because that meant the miralax and her stomach muscles were working. I went from having conversations with moms about Mother's Day Out to wondering if I could ever trust anyone to keep my child and help her empty her bladder in order to prevent a UTI. 

Life changed. The moment I stood in the NICU and heard the words Prune Belly Syndrome, life changed.

With such a rare condition, it is hard to find a doctor who truly knows the ropes let alone folks in a casual conversation. Through this you often feel alone. Despite all the calls, texts, cards, prayers, it is easy to feel like no one on earth fully comprehends your struggles medically and emotionally. 

But last week a new world opened for us. After months of trying to find an excuse, I finally registered us for a Prune Belly conference in Dallas. In all honesty I was nervous to go. I was nervous as to what we may see or hear or learn. It is one of those things that sometimes you want to be ignorant because it is bliss. I thought about that. I really wanted to back out. But we went.

And it was the absolute most amazing week of our lives. 

PBS conference with our girl

Definitely one of the two prettiest PBS girls there!

Dr. Linda Baker and her team of doctors and researchers were there studying Prune Belly Syndrome. From drawing blood (which Cash brags he gave blood in a hotel room to a kidney doctor) for research to being examined by physical therapists, the entire study was all-encompassing. And for a mom with a prune belly child, it is exciting to know someone is finally researching this condition and trying to determine both a cause for it as well as how to make their lives better.

We learned from a multitude of doctors. I was so impressed with the direct access to them as well. Throughout the week if I was curious, I could just turn to Dr. Baker and ask her about AnnLouise and the various topic at hand. We don't have that now. Our urologist is great, and we adore him. He says to call any time. But he isn't usually sitting next to me for a week.

But on top of all the research and all the doctors, meeting the prune belly survivors and their families was one of the highlights of my life. It was an instant connection. Some of the older survivors talked about their childhood. Doctors told them they would never meet another person with PBS. Yet here they were amidst 47 other survivors. 

Patrick, a 41 year old survivor, serves in the Civil Air Patrol!
On the first night they held a dance party for the kids. We sat next to 2 younger families and immediately hit it off. It is one of those things. You don't even know each other's names, but sharing the diagnosis of PBS allows you to know their aches, their fears, and the worry that keeps them up at night. You know the feeling they had the moment the ultrasound turned dark. You can almost feel yourself in the room when the news came their child may not make it. You have wondered the same thoughts of "Will my child do normal kid things?" or "I hope I'm a match if my child needs my kidney." You have cried the same tears and grieved the same pain. The hospital may have been different, but the four walls closing in on you have been the same.

We met a lady named Jenn, a 34 year old survivor. AnnLouise was the only other female survivor she has ever met. In tears she held AL and said, "I see so much of myself in her."

Jenn and her man Miles were high school sweethearts!
Love this sweet family! 

AL and Beaux--Prune Belly besties!

Of course the girl is the one crying...but she got the boys to look. Ha
We met families from Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, New Jersey, California...all over the U.S...Canada, Mexico, Colombia, even Taiwan. Some did not even speak English, yet here we were knowing what they were saying.

One night they held a prayer vigil and read the names of those who had passed. Many of the names were babies who were born and died the same day. One of those names read was from last year, the same day we were set to have AnnLouise at 19 weeks. I gasped when it was read and buried my head into Cash's chest while I held AL tightly. 

Prune Belly Syndrome. The cruelest thing in our lives ultimately brought us some of the closest friendships. But isn't that just how God would do it?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Heartbeat of America

One of my favorite things in the entire universe is waking up at my parents' house and enjoying the picturesque view with a cup of coffee. Then I like to check cows.

My parents would be the first to tell you I probably wasn't much of a farmhand growing up. A set of knees and elbows don't lend themselves well to manual labor. But as I've gotten older I long for the days of working cattle and just being on the farm. (Side note: For those of you from Texas, we call everything a "farm" where I'm from. You have a crop farm or a cattle farm. For those of you from Arkansas, people from Texas are very particular about a farm versus a ranch.)

I grew up in this little community called Jethro. Back in the day Jethro had a schoolhouse and post office, but that was way before my time. Now Jethro has a few family farms, access to the Mulberry River, a Pentecostal church, and nostalgia of hay meadows and friendly neighbors (half of whom are related). Every time we plan a visit back home, my mom asks what I want to do. Every answer has some version of riding 4wheelers to see the cows and the neighbors, and no trip would be complete without Mrs. Helen coming for breakfast at least once.

A couple of weeks ago we finally got to go back. It was the longest stretch of my life without being in Arkansas--6 hard months. Some may laugh at that, but I was having one of the most homesick spells of my life. Mom knew I was homesick something fierce, so she scheduled for their hay to be cut as we were getting into town. My heart exploded from the smell of freshly cut hay (one of my two favorite smells--I also love the smell of horse sweat).

During the week Cash and I took out on the gator by ourselves in what I would call the longest date we've had since having 2 children. We checked cows (well, we will say check loosely), rode around the farm, drove to the river, and stopped at the cemetery. It was at this stop that I realized so much of what I love today, despite now being 600 miles away, is because of this little community.

Oak Ridge Cemetery, across from JCC
My first time I ever voted was right there in Jethro, Arkansas, in the community building. At the time it wasn't even as nice as it is now. I remember a lot of older folks working the polls and people bringing in homemade pies for the workers. I remember a stove that helped heat the place. I remember voting for George W. Bush, and although my vote was only 1 of millions I felt a part of something so much bigger than me. (Who knew less than 10 years later I'd be living in his hometown? Smaller world than I thought.)

Jethro Community Center

Jethro Community Center

Throughout college I would drive home on election days and vote right there in the Jethro Community Center. I grew to love politics, and it is no doubt that that love was revealed while checking a ballot in a place most of America doesn't even know exists. Well, there and in my parent's living room where my dad and I would talk politics in great detail only to have my mom annoyed and frustrated by the 4th hour of Fox News.

Although I hold to the nostalgia of the Jethro Community Center, it is only one of thousands of places just like it. All across America folks are voting in churches, libraries, city halls, and fair buildings. Heck, my great uncle even had a barn that his community voted in. It's places like these that make up America. Places that even though they are so far removed from voter ID laws they don't even know why they became law, they still make their second cousin show ID because, well, it's the law.

It is the Jethro community centers across America that thousands of us go vote and collectively prove that democracy is not dead. That even with a difference of political opinion, we can still share a great homemade pecan pie. It is where little girls and little boys go with their parents when they vote and then grow up to love politics. Maybe they even become politicians who enact laws, or maybe they become stay at home moms who read books to their children about our country's history. It is a place that we get to share with those who came before us in a process that so many others have never had the freedom to do. It is all these little places that politicians forget exist that really make our country go 'round.

This year on the 4th of July we will gather at baseball games and parades and fireworks shows and be thankful for our freedoms. We may long for a departed soldier who is halfway around the world or visit one who came home in a way we had not hoped. No doubt we will unite in that this is the best country in the world only to go back to our differences tomorrow. America, what a funny country. The place where we debate politics on big stages in front of large crowds, yet the scores of those debates are settled in small towns with infinitely smaller community buildings with nothing but a person and a secret ballot to know what was marked.

It has become cliche and overused, but my gosh am I proud to be an American. Thank you to all those who paved the path for our freedoms yesterday and all those who still fight for them today.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Greatest of These Is Love

Y'all. I was cleaning up the house tonight and got into the nursery closet. I have all of the cards from both babies and kept saying I wanted to organize them, so tonight ended up being randomly selected.

As I dug into AL's side of the stash, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of love. I read through cards so many of you sent. I found contracts with the funeral home. I thumbed through books we were given about infant loss. These very things held us together during that difficult time.

I put my mind back there, to the place we lived in a mere 8 months ago. My stomach lumped to my throat as I heard AL in the living room with her dad as I read through these reminders of how close we were to not hearing those laughs or kissing those chubby cheeks.

I sat there in that little closet reminiscing too on the absolute love that filled our souls then and still does. Sometimes we don't realize how much a card or phone call or smile means to someone. But for me your words, your love, kept me going and gave me strength. And as AL came into this world, the cards and sweet gifts didn't stop. You all have loved us so well.

Maybe I've said thanks before, but I can never say thanks enough.

I get tired and frustrated. Sometimes I complain about checkups and blood work and prescription refills. I would do a lot of things just to get a nap. I may have even flipped out on the girl at the Wal-Mart pickup today because I absolutely did not want to go inside with 2 babies. I've told Henry too many times that I have household chores to do and I can't read a book right then. In the middle of the night my first emotion of being hurled from my sleep is not "Oh, how blessed we are."

But my goodness. How much was I reminded tonight of the loved poured on us? Love is the greatest gift God gave us. And y'all gave it abundantly (and you still do). Thank you.

AL says THANKS too for the love and prayers!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Walking the Green Mile

Finally we are headed out of Houston. It was a busy few days, and although we are thankful for the care it is time to go home. (Well, actually on to Austin, but then HOME!)

We started Wednesday at the pediatric dentist as AL's physical therapist noticed she has a lip tie. The dentist confirmed this and also noticed a tongue tie. So I got to help hold her down while the dentist lasered them both. I had in my mind this would be painless for AL. It wasn't. At all. It basically cauterized her. So I felt terrible about it all despite knowing it had to be done. That little baby has been through it already.

The next day AL had her first big girl ultrasound. Obviously they did a gazillion when I was pregnant and a couple in the NICU, but this is the first once since. She was such a big girl watching Paw Patrol and never had a care in the world. She is already such a sweet, calming spirit. Lord knew that we needed that.

Getting ready

No worries when cartoons are on!

Her nephrologist was very pleased with her progress. Her kidneys are growing well! Her right kidney is still good and the left is still dilated. But, hey, all you need is 1 so we will take it for now.

We had been concerned that she would need a low sodium diet, but based on her creatinine and electrolyte levels both the nephrologist and dietician said for now she can have a normal diet. This was great news.

I remember in college I went on a few dates with a guy who could not have sodium, and the more I thought about it the more I didn't think that was a possibility for me. So, obviously, relationship ended. But I felt so bad for this guy having to cook everything from scratch and never getting to eat pizza rolls. That sounds ridiculous, but it worried me with AL. I am thankful that at this point we are throwing extra salt on our chips at Dos Compadres.

As we got off the elevator we decided to pop our heads into the fetal center to say hi to Dr. Johnson, our Houston fetal specialist (and co-director of the fetal center) who first told us her condition was no longer fatal, and Blair, the sweet genetic counselor who saw us through the amnioscentesis and genetic testing (and even helped us find housing). Dr. Johnson had convinced us to deliver in Houston despite some talk that it may not be necessary, and every day of my life I'm thankful he did. We had some rough patches after delivery while there, but once I called Dr. Johnson he personally ensured we were well taken care of. (Sadly, McDreamy wasn't there yesterday.)

Dr. Johnson, our Houston fetal specialist

Blair, our Houston genetic counselor

This morning we had a checkup with urology to mostly discuss a possible abdominoplasty. While we had hoped this would happen near her first birthday, it looks as though we will keep monitoring and discussing until closer to her second birthday. He also talked with us about going to his clinic instead of the medical center and getting back to our NICU nephrologist instead of the one we were placed with after her hospital stay. For this we were thrilled!

I have lots of feelings about Houston. The medical center brings out the most emotion. Last time I could barely handle it, but this time it was almost therapeutic. I love Houston and I hate it.

Houston is too big for me. All the people on top of each other in a cloud of humidity just makes me feel disgusting. It is where we learned AL has Prune Belly and where I stormed out of the NICU mad and in tears. It is miserable.

But it is also where we spent our last days as a family of 3. It is where we were told officially God gave us a miracle and that AL would make it. It is where I made a friend in the girls at Magpies in Bellaire. It is where our children first met each other, first hugged, first knew how to instinctively love. In these ways I love that place.

The day we packed up our house in Bellaire to go home to Midland, I sat and cried. So much had happened. We had lived a mere 3 weeks in that house but our lives had been changed forever. It was our bubble and a time in our lives that stands out from the others. No comforts of home or friends with dinners greeted us when we brought AL into that little house. It was the place where the only people who knew our family of 4 existed was us. So when we go back and are in that life again, it is as if our normal life pauses and our Houston life comes out of a dream. I feel like I didn't just fantasize that it all happened. Our reality becomes real again.

On Thursday morning Cash took Henry to Hermann Park while I took AL to her ultrasound. As I carried her down the windy skybridge, I reflected on the other times we had been on the same walk. The first time I ever ventured down that long walk with her was as we walked in as 2 young, nervous parents going in for the induction. Then for a week I walked those halls without her. Those walls saw tears of sorrow as I left my baby girl in the hospital, tears of fear as we learned of her diagnosis, and tears of joy as we finally got to take her home. This time she and I walked in together again, and I felt God remind me of all the times He had been there on that walk with us. That walk, which used to be my green mile, is now my parade of triumph.

Walking the skybridge together again

Hermann Park
Picking up my stay at home dad from the park

Houston, until next time...

Avery Jane