Saturday, January 28, 2017

If One Falls Down, His Friend Can Help Him Up

Over the past 8 months I have plead to God for mercy and praised Him for His miracles, yet I still often have moments of doubt that what if something else is to happen. I know I have to let those what ifs go and move forward with what today is offering, but it is hard to completely come out of the moments we were in not too long ago.

Midland is a much bigger place than where I grew up. It is over 30 times the size of the little town I called home! But even in this big place I have found some of the deepest friendships I've ever known and closeness of a community that resembles that little bitty place in Franklin County, Arkansas.

Due to mutual friends I have known whom the Charbonnets are for several years, but it was the timeliness of our journeys through fetal medicine that encouraged our friend Micah to connect Lisa and I. When you deal with these intense issues with your most innocent children, it takes only that mutual understanding to allow you to relate to one another on a different level. Lisa and I have only exchanged a few messages and texts, but because we have endured so much simultaneously I feel like we have walked this journey together. We read each other's blogs and pray for each other's children; and I long to give her the biggest hug when we get to Houston in less than 2 weeks.

Lisa and her husband are dealing with real and raw emotions right now. In this time they are bearing witness for Christ, even if it seems so hard to understand why or how. I encourage you to read her blog as she is a true light even in the midst of the hardest time of her life. Below I have posted the link to the letters she and her husband wrote to their beloved little Piper. Their story began much farther back than this, but I have sat here and wept tears reading these letters, because they so eloquently express how deep their pain is yet reveal how awakening their faith is. It takes me to a place I really don't want to think about but a place I imagine all too often in my thoughts.

We love to see miracles, and God is so good to provide them. It is easy to see God in miracles. But what about when the miracle is different than we expected? Can we still see God in that? Please read sweet Lisa's blog and know that despite all hardships that this amazing family is going to God through it all. And please pray with earnest hearts for their healing, their peace, and their strength. Here is the link to the most recent (and very real, raw, emotional) post:

The Charbonnet 7: Letters to Piper

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Our Journey Through Fetal Medicine: Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

An oldie, but a goodie. Sometimes we like to look deep into scripture to find a verse we did not know before. Sometimes we just need the comforts of the familiar ones. This week I've needed the latter and just wanted to be reminded that God has the plans for us.

On Tuesday we went to the fetal specialist here, and we were surprised to find that AnnLouise's right kidney is a bit enlarged. We've never seen this before. Her left kidney has always taken the brunt of the fluid retention, so with both kidneys dilated it was a shock to us. The doctor showed it to us, but he said several times it was nothing he was too concerned about at this time. While her left kidney has some scarring, her right kidney does not.

I still left...worried. We have 6 more weeks to go; what will happen during this time? My mind has thought of a thousand things.

The specialist also said that the MRI showed the ureterocele is not there anymore. They only see scar tissue of what at one time appeared to have been an ureterocele. I told him I was disappointed with the urologist at this point, because we saw him several weeks after the MRI and even then he said his first likely surgery to perform was going to be the removal of the ureterocele. Since she does not even have one, I feel like everything the urologist said was bogus. Honestly, I feel we wasted a lot of time and money to go to Houston on the 28th if he wasn't even going to look at her chart.

I know once she is here everything that can be seen and done is totally different. I'm trying to be patient for that. But at this point we've been given such high hopes by the urologist, and apparently he has no clue what is going on with her. I am glad we chose to go to Houston for the delivery, though, since it was the recommendation of the urologist that we could deliver in Midland because "what she has is not even that big of a deal."

And you know what? Once she is born, it might not be a big deal. I wish, however, he would not have told us this without actually knowing what she has. I feel like a cruel joke was played on us.

Naturally I left the appointment this week pretty down on the whole situation. I'm nervous for AnnLouise, but more than that I was just kind of...pissed...that no one seems to be on the same page. Maybe that is asking too much since I have no idea what goes into it, but I am pretty bitter toward the urologist at the moment.

So there I was sitting at the dining room table sulking for myself when one of our priests called. He had just gotten word of a family whose baby was stillborn, and he was asked to do the funeral. He wanted to talk about what got us through that time so that he could have something to say to the parents. I immediately started digging out books, cards, phone numbers. I was yet again blown away by the love and support we have been given this whole time. It took me back to the place we were in this fall when our outlook was funeral planning.

A couple of things came to my mind. The first was a revelation for me individually: I need to fight for AnnLouise, of course, but we aren't that far removed from a moment when our fighting was much harder and our outlook much grimmer. To open back up the book that described what holding my dead baby would feel like, I opened back up my heart to those emotions. That is the saddest I've ever been in my whole life. I wasn't mad at anyone or mad at God. I wasn't blaming anyone. I was just sad. My heart bled for the parents who were now enduring this.

The second was a revelation for me as a friend: even when it seems things have gotten better as in our case, things can still be hard. Just because we received a miracle does not mean we don't have really hard days or diagnoses that are easy to swallow. I am in no way saying that because someone has made me feel that way...I'm saying that because I know for sure that in the past when someone has had a rough patch and things started to get better, I kind of just quit praying for them. Instead of helping them all the way through the dark, I helped them perhaps get to the outskirts of the shadows and then thought all was glorious and I moved on. As friends, we all need to be better than that. And I needed that reminder.

As we have been dealing with this, we had an unexpected bombshell drop. Last Monday I was trying to get in a nap when Cash tried to call then texted to call him. He rarely does this while at work (read: never), so I called back immediately. I heard him shut his office doors and knew that something great or bad just happened. But he was still at work with a work cell phone, so I knew he hadn't been fired. (In the oil industry you always know the day may come when it is you, especially with $50 oil.)

I'm still shaking my head in disbelief. He informed me they had just received word the company was selling. The press release had just gone out within the past hour, so the whole industry was learning of the shock. He wanted to talk to me before I saw it on the news.

After the shock came sadness. As one of the last original wildcatting companies out there (not that they wildcat today--they are just run like the good ol' days--and we love it), it is extremely hard to imagine a world without the old guys who built the industry. That is probably the hardest part for me to digest. Cash has had 10 great years there, but he is still one of the younger ones since a lot of them have spent their entire careers there. They effortlessly have a culture that other companies spend tens of thousands of dollars a year trying to emulate but can't. Cash loves his job. He loves his co-workers. He loves his boss. I've never known anyone who loves getting up for work everyday (or 3 in the AM when a rig calls) as much as he does....and as much as he has for 10 years.

My heart breaks for him that while other great things are in his future, this company will soon become the past. The ranch parties, deer camp, fly fishing in Wyoming, tequila shots in the board room, the high ranking politicians walking through their many memories he has there that few in our generation ever got to experience. We are blessed that he has had the best 10 years in the industry, but we are sad knowing that chapter is closing.

The past two weeks have been filled with changes we never dreamed up. We are always on guard during AL's appointments, but we did not expect a company sale. I've had moments where I've been reminded that things can always be worse, yet I've definitely had my moments where I just sat down and cried. It seems like a lot right now. It is a lot. But just as God has known our plans all along, He still knows them. And He is out in front leading the way for us to walk in the path He so lovingly is paving for us. So the comforts of Jeremiah 29:11 have been my heart song for the past 10 days. I wish I had something profound to say, but all I have for you today is that God is still there. We aren't sure about the future with AL, but God is. He knows her plans. He knows Cash's plans. He knows our family's plans. And He plans to give us hope and a future. That's all I have today is that verse, but today that is all I need.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lessons from Joshua

Sunday morning Cash and I started attending a new class at our church. The teacher was speaking that day on Joshua 3-5. As the class discussed the implications of the various lessons in those chapters, I thought about God's never-ending possibilities.

You can go here to read Joshua 3. Or here is my best paraphrase:

The Israelites were needing to cross the Jordan. They were unsure of how they were going to do this, especially with the river in flood stage. But God told Joshua what they should do. So Joshua led the Israelites to the Jordan and followed through with God's commands of taking the Ark of the Covenant in front and putting their feet in the water. As soon as they did this the river stopped flowing. Ultimately they were able to safely (and in dry clothes) reach the other side of the Jordan.

As we read this I wondered if a single Israelite had this set of circumstances in mind when they wanted to get across the river. Did anyone pray to God particularly for the river to stop flowing and they all walk across dry land? I seriously doubt it. If they were like me, they would've prayed for the best boat to get them across the river (preferably more of a yacht that had sweet drinks and treats at my disposal). But to think of the flooded river stopping so that they could walk across? Not likely it was on anyone's mind.

The cool thing about that is that God's answers to our prayers are mannered the same. We think of a plan to our problem and ask God if he would do _________ to fix our issue. In the meantime God already has a better way out. The resolution is not the same for every person even if their problem is similar. God sees a bigger picture than we do and His ways of answering our prayers are bigger than we could hope for.

In our journey with AnnLouise I have stopped to pray to God and to praise God countless times. He gave us a miracle we had begged for but were not certain we would receive. Yet at times I have also felt tremendous guilt that God answered our prayers in this way as I have friends whose answers in this moment are much harder to grasp. Last week I had a friend lose one of her babies at only 1 week old. I have wrestled with that. The answer to my prayers for AnnLouise was a miracle; my friend's answer seemed to be a miracle until sudden tragedy struck. Now she is grieving this deep loss, and I cannot find the understanding in that.

As I reflected on this hard time for my friend on Sunday morning, I realized that death is not God's answer. Perhaps His answer for my friend has not been wholly seen yet. As the Israelites did not expect God to just stop the flow of water, we also do not know what to expect for how God takes us through various journeys. Let it not be lost that He does not leave us to pain; His Son's blood was already shed for that. We get to lay this at His feet and take His unending love back with us.

Going through this journey has opened my eyes to the hurt of loss/infertility/miscarriage that so many of my family and friends have experienced or are experiencing. Before these past 8 months I did not know the deep sting of pain that these can cause. Yet today I find myself hurting for so many in these situations. God is still answering prayers, but let Joshua be a reminder for us that our answers may be different from hers over there and that our answers may be different from what we expected. 

Just this morning as I walked into Bible study I was told about an old friend and his wife who had lost much hope during their infertility struggle, but now they have been given new hope that they had never imagined was possible. Although IVF treatments did not originally end how they had hoped and left them with little insurance money, now someone has come to them with a large amount of money for them to try using an egg donor. They are so encouraged in Christ that the answer they are getting is far different from the answer they had hoped for.

I've watched as friends and family struggle with adoptions. I can only imagine the hardship it places on a mom and dad's heart when they think they have gotten the call for their child only to be told weeks later...never mind. My heart breaks for them. But just as God showed the Israelites a path that was not ever there before, He will show these families their very own path He has for them as well.

I don't know what your struggle is right now. Maybe you are blessed to be in a season where life is just overall good. Or maybe you are having a hard time with a pregnancy, your marriage, school, work, making friends, knowing which major to pick. I don't know--maybe you are just downright struggling through a hard time in life. Remember that God is still fighting for you. He is still a Father who loves you unconditionally. Maybe he is letting the river flood today so that He can control her flow tomorrow.

As I heard a preacher man say one day when I was going through a hard time, "If you are going through the biggest struggle of your life, you are in the perfect position for God to give you the biggest miracle of your life." Our miracle may look different than the miracle she received down the street, but our miracle is coming. We just have to be willing to dip our toes in the water and let God control the river.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Our Journey Through Fetal Medicine: Appointment Catch-Up and Sermon Link

I just sat down after our 3rd trip to the doctor in 8 days. It seems like it has been weeks since I've sat down! Cash and I came home from Arkansas on Sunday and left little Henry with his grandparents, so we have been busy getting the house reorganized after the holidays. How is it that we spent zero holidays in Midland yet my house is a disaster? Oh, well. We had fun.

Last week we were in Arkansas enjoying some time on the backroads of Jethro. If you can't find peace on that farm, there may be no peace to be found. It was a great trip that seemed to last but a brief second. During our time there we had to fly down to Houston for a few appointments, so it seemed even shorter. The day in Houston was definitely a whirlwind.

We got the chance to walk through one rental house and drive by another, so we were able to truly see how long the drives would be and what the area around each house was like. I think we have found the house and should be able to move in right after the Superbowl.

Our first appointment that day was to meet our delivering OB. This is now the third OB I have met with during this pregnancy. It is kind of nice because I'm a bit of a baby with pregnancy pains, so I have been able to discuss different issues with each doctor and so no doctor gets worn out with me complaining about various issues. :) Like yesterday I asked the doctor if I had a hernia because it was hurting very bad. He poked me in the belly button and said NO, THAT IS A HERNIA! I screamed a little bit out of shock. Who pokes your belly button? But then he said that I did not have a hernia but probably just a sore tendon. And as far as he knows that's the only complaint I've had this whole time!

We really liked our new OB. She and I really hit it off when she commented how much she liked the Jordans I was wearing. If her love of shoes and presumably basketball shows us what kind of doctor she is, I think we are in good hands.

Then we went upstairs to meet the pediatric urologist. Have you ever watched Dr. Ken? Cash and I love that show, and we both kept thinking in our minds that this urologist was the muscled up version of Dr. Ken. His mannerisms, facial expressions, language...all of it was quite entertaining (in a good way). He also seemed to be extremely knowledgeable about our case and how he was going to go forward.

His PA drew a diagram for us showing the possibilities we may be facing with AnnLouise. Here is what is normal:
Image result for diagram of kidney ureter and bladder
normal kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra
So sometimes the ureters may not connect to the bladder properly, and a lot of times that is due to a double ureter system. That just means that one kidney has two ureters (and the other kidney has one). That is where a lot of ureteroceles are formed. However, they do not see a double system with AL; they see a regular, singular system (on both sides--but mostly we are talking about just one side here as the other side shows no sign of enlargement). They do know she has an ureterocele though. The kidney on this side is a bit enlarged but honestly not so much that they have major concerns. They suspect it will be a full functioning kidney, but if it is not then the other kidney should be enough for her. Amazing.

The first thing they imagine they may have to do is go in and eliminate the ureterocele although they do think it is likely all of this fixes itself after delivery. Apparently that is common in urologic issues after birth. 

Another train of thought is that the side with the enlarged kidney did not embed in 3 muscle layers in the bladder as it should, so AL could have some reflux there. They will do a test after she is born that will tell them if this is the case. If so, they can put her on a low dosage of antibiotics until surgery a year or whenever later. Again, it may correct itself if that is an issue.

Overall, the urologist felt very good about her prognosis and thought it was such a minor case that perhaps we could deliver in Midland. He also told us she should get out of the hospital in regular time--like 2 days. I can't even tell you how I felt in that moment. Going from fatal to a pretty normal delivery was full circle for us. To add to it he said she should go on to live a very regular life. I wish you could've felt my heart when he said that.

He gave us a list of 3 tests for the doctors to run when she is born. After those tests he will tell us when we need to be back in Houston (or go to Houston) for evaluation/surgery/etc. We will go to him for checkups every month then every 3 months and progressively begin seeing him maybe just once a year. 

Our last appointment that day was a bit rushed as we had to get back to the airport, but they measured AL and talked to us for just a minute. The fetal specialist wasn't as keen on the idea of delivering in Midland as the urologist was and said he is still scratching his head on all of this. We also learned she is measuring a bit small. It could have something to do with everything else or it could just be she is small. Overall, they are not too worried about her size (and this momma is a bit giddy about delivering a small baby).

The fetal specialist called us the next day so we could go more in depth about everything they have seen. He said he wanted me to meet with our fetal specialist here in Midland/Odessa before we decide either way on where we are delivering. The urologist felt okay with Midland, but the fetal specialist in Houston was still leaning pretty strong on Houston.

Yesterday I went back to my original OB--the one who poked me in the belly button. He said he would be glad to deliver us but felt that overall the team in Houston is best equipped for those just in case moments. Cash and I both feel pretty strong that he is right about that. We have gone through too much for us to make a silly mistake and not be cautious enough at this point. No harm comes from going to Houston but great harm could come from delivering here.

Today we had our weekly appointment with our fetal specialist here. I love him. Have I mentioned that? Every time he comes in the room he asks me how baby is doing. And most times I tell him I think she is good but was kind of hoping he would tell me that. Then he scans her body and always tells us how cute she is. He takes his time and will show us things that are just interesting. Like today he stopped on her heart and was saying how great of a heart she had. Then he showed us a small hole and said all babies are born with this hole that begins to close up once they take their first breath. He paused and said, "Who even thinks about those things?" I wanted to tell him only God does, but I just sat there in awe and wonder of how intricately our bodies are formed. 

He went on with the scan and said he did not believe her ureterocele was there anymore. He thinks it is now scar tissue. That was a first--but after all God has done it is not surprising. He also began to talk about her lack of uterus. I stopped him and asked what he was talking about. He explained that on the MRI it was not clear that she had a uterus, so they have some suspicion she does not have one at all. My heart did not seemed like such a small deal. And I think at the end of the day with what we have been through it is not huge. The doc even said just recently in Houston they have done a transplant on a uterus. They give the woman a uterus when she is ready to have a child and take it out after the child is born. 

While that may not be everyone's ideal version of pregnancy, I think it is miraculous. I hope for her sake she has a uterus so she doesn't go through that later in life, but just the fact that she's going to have a life I am thankful and will take these other issues as they surface. Plus, okay, let's be honest. If she doesn't have a uterus, we don't have to stay up late worrying about her getting pregnant in her teenage years. That doesn't give her a free pass, but maybe we will get some of our sleep back when she's 17 that we are missing out on now. Am I the worst mom ever for that being a thought? If I am, then I am I suppose.

The doc today talked to us again about delivery. He did not think Midland was a good option but that Odessa is. He said he understands if we go to Houston though as I would be stuck in Odessa while Cash flew with AL to Houston in the event anything showed up after delivery. I want so bad to be here in my own bed while I'm 9 months pregnant, but I don't think either of us would feel 100% comfortable if we weren't in Houston with the best doctors in the world. It is not what we desire, but at the end of the day we have to do what is the absolute safest route when all possibilities are put on the table. 

It looks like we are headed to Houston, hopefully about the time the Superbowl traffic is leaving. But it is not lost on us the miracles God has worked to get us to this decision. Right now the toughest decisions we are facing are 1) do we go to Houston and 2) do we get a Moses basket or a dock-a-tot. In October we faced if we were going to deliver at 19 weeks or at 40 weeks and then what songs to play at her funeral. That alone is God.

In my last update I mentioned I would be speaking this past Sunday at the church I grew up in. I have wrestled with the idea of putting the link to the recording on here, because I feel a bit vain for doing so. And my husband told me once or twice my Arkansas accent came out. But I've had a few people mention they would've liked to have been there. Bless all of you who were there in body and spirit---and thank you for encouraging me through it all. I loved hugging the necks of friends, grandparents, aunts, siblings, (former) church family. It was one of the greatest privileges of my life to stand in the same spot of the same church where I asked Jesus to be my Savior, where I stood by my sister as she got married, where I myself got married and to give to those people who poured into me all those years the testimony God wrote for us. When I finished and people clapped, I wanted to let them know that while they were clapping for me I was clapping for them--they were the ones who taught me about Christ from nursery to graduation. They are the ones who imprinted His love on me. They are the ones who smiled for a little, scrawny girl who would fling her dress up during children's specials on Sunday mornings. And when that little, scrawny girl grew up to be a (much) bigger pregnant girl, they loved me hard and prayed for miracles. What an amazing family that has loved me through so much. So, I wanted the applause turned back on them for giving a little girl with knees, elbows, and a deep sense of shyness the courage to walk through this journey and share God's miracles on the other side. 

You can click here for the link to the whole service. It is the January 1 service. While I go by my married name now, it just tickles me that they still have my maiden name on the post. And it is just fine by me if I am always seen as that little, scrawny Avery Kuykendall who left drool marks on her momma's dress when she slept in the pew on Sunday mornings. Somehow through all the naps the sermons got to me anyway. 😊