2018 Goals

I spent a lot of time toward the end of 2017 thinking about what I wanted my goals for 2018 to be. 2017 was a crazy intense year. I’ve told a few people recently that I felt like I had about 800 balls in the air, and I dropped almost all of them at least once, and I’m slowly trying to pick up what is important. As we – hopefully – move toward a time of less necessary intensity, I’ve been wanting to be intentional about what my priorities and goals are, and I’ve come up with a few things.

  1. I want to try to cultivate peace and joy, both in my heart and in my home. First and foremost, I think this is a spiritual battle. I want to be more intentional about spending good time in my Bible and in prayer. I’ve started getting up earlier and doing a Beth Moore Bible study – just on my own – to help me stay in a pattern of doing that. Beyond that, I need to take some practical steps to enable peace and joy to flourish (like not over-committing myself to too many things). And I need to commit myself to examining my own heart throughout the day, practicing mindfulness and prayer and self-regulation, and I need to establish more patterns of treating every member of my family with respect, not yelling or expressing myself with sarcasm, even in my most frustrated moments. I think this is key to my growth as a person and as a wife and mom this year. 
  2. I want to rebuild our emergency savings fund. We basically wiped ourselves out financially to complete FangFang’s adoption at the end of 2016, and 2017 was such a crazy year with medical and travel expenses and just not having the mental or emotional energy to buckle down and commit to spending less money, so we pretty much just held steady financially. In 2018 we’d like to get back to a place of more financial security.
  3. I’d like to read 12 non-fiction books. I’ve been doing really well with keeping up with and enjoying some good fiction books lately. I read them on the Kindle app on my phone, which allows me to spend 2 minutes here or 5 minutes there reading as I’m able, which I so enjoy. But with non-fiction, I find that I am more thoughtful about what I’m reading if I read it in a paper copy, not a Kindle book, and I want to devote time and mental energy toward really integrating what I’m reading into my mind. That means I can’t just read it anywhere and everywhere and in 2-minute increments. But I am, at heart, a student and an intellectual. Matt and I are dorky people – it’s one reason we love homeschooling so much. I find that I feel more myself when I’m engaging with ideas, when I’m growing and learning. I want to make that a priority, reading and thinking on my own, and to that end, I’m making a goal of reading approximately 1 non-fiction book per month in 2018. And oh my goodness, I cannot wait to dig into this pile of books. I’ve started the first already, and it has been such an encouragement to my soul. 
  4. I’d like to get healthier. Exercise was sporadic, at best, for me in 2017, and I think my body feels the effects of that. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that my metabolism isn’t what it used to be, and I’m needing to adjust to that. We remain committed to our pescetarian lifestyle and try to follow a fairly healthy, whole-foods, plant-based diet, but I think toward the end of the year, our meals tended more toward whole wheat carbohydrates and less toward vegetables, and I’d like to flip that around again. I’d also like to get a healthier amount of sleep – always a challenge with young kids 🙂 Overall, I’d just like to make progress toward being healthier.

Those are my top 4 personal goals for 2018. I’ll try to keep you posted here about how I’m doing in working on those, and I’d love to hear what your 2018 goals are!

China said yes!

This morning I sat down and started to write, sharing my heart and my disappointment that we had not yet received our Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC)/Letter of Acceptance (LOA). A number of families – many of whom had submitted their dossiers after ours – received theirs on Wednesday, and to say that I was disappointed when ours was not issued at the same time was an understatement. I had been so sure it would come. Our case worker assured me that this often happens, and there’s really no discernible rhyme or reason for it. She believed that if the CCCWA had any questions about us or our dossier, they would already have asked them during the dossier review phase, and our agency had never had the CCCWA deny an LSC/LOA to a family, so she really thought it was coming and would be here soon. The wait and the not knowing were still hard, though, and I felt very discouraged this week. I tried to trust that God would lead us where we should be when we should be there, and focus on the things I actually could and should be doing – preparing freezer meals, doing school with the girls, etc.

And then today the call came – the CCCWA computer system showed this morning that our LSC/LOA has been issued!

China LOA

This is China’s official approval of us as adoptive parents of our precious baby #4, Fang Fang, as her foster home calls her. We couldn’t be happier! As I spoke with our case worker on the phone, I had to go hide in the play room, as the girls were running around screaming in their excitement, “We got our Letter of Acceptance! We got our Letter of Acceptance!”

Travel before Christmas is still by no means guaranteed, but it just got a whole lot more likely!

This news was particularly wonderful to receive today, as it follows a rather difficult week for us. First was our disappointment that we didn’t receive our Letter of Acceptance on Wednesday with so many other families. Then later that night, after the kids were in bed, Matt ran over to the art department to get some files he needed for a talk he’d be doing Thursday morning. He was gone for half an hour, then an hour, and then I texted him to make sure he was okay. No response. I knew he had his phone with him, because he’d come back inside specifically to get it before leaving. I waited 20 minutes and texted again. No response. I called and got his voicemail. I figured that the most likely scenario was that his phone had died, but I was still getting concerned. We were approaching midnight, and he was almost certainly alone in the building, so if anything was wrong, there probably wasn’t anyone there to help him. Finally I messaged one of our friends, a colleague of Matt’s, and asked if he’d mind going to check on him. He did, and actually right as he pulled up in the parking lot next to our van, Matt texted me that his phone hadn’t been working and needed to update its operating system, and he had just then gotten my messages. Phew!

So Matt came back home, but it was less than 14 hours later that he sent me a text message, “I am at hospital,” and we had the following exchange:

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That’s a picture every wife wants to get from her husband! A friend graciously came over to hang out with our kids, and I drove to the ER to be with Matt (whose colleague had, thankfully, talked him out of driving himself there). They ran a number of tests (bloodwork, head CT, x-rays, an EKG), and everything came back normal, so essentially they think he was tired (it hasn’t been a great week for sleep here at our house) and potentially dehydrated and probably fainted for a moment. They told us what symptoms to watch for but discharged him and said they expect him to be fine. He’s pretty banged up and sore today but generally feels alright.

And now, we are heading into a weekend that we hope will be filled with catch-up sleep, catch-up work, and some time for Matt to rest and heal, but also some celebration that we are officially approved to become parents of our FOURTH child! This is a great feeling, my friends 🙂

Our New Diet

In the 2 months since we’ve returned home from New York, some of the most frequent questions we’ve gotten have been about the dietary changes we’ve made. This area was really overwhelming for me at first – I wasn’t sure what changes we needed to make or how to find meals that met whatever standards we were going to follow. My first resource was the American Heart Association’s diet and lifestyle recommendations, which advocate for a low-sodium, low-cholesterol diet, featuring primarily chicken and fish, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. That sounded doable, and in fact many of the recipes we were already using met those criteria.

As we did more research, though, we began to wonder if those recommendations were really the best we could do, particularly with regards to heart health. There seems to be general agreement that consumption of red meat is harmful, but what we began to read was that even consuming a diet high in animal protein in general seemed problematic. The Lyon Heart Study demonstrated that patients following a Mediterranean-style diet (primarily plant-based foods, whole grains, limiting salt and red meat) had significantly better outcomes than patients following the standard diet prescribed for patients with cardiac issues. We watched Forks Over Knives and heard about the China Study and saw and read stories of people who had serious heart disease who had been able to reverse it by adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet. We read about the better health outcomes, particularly regarding heart disease, that vegetarians have relative to omnivores. The arguments were compelling.

Curried Tempeh Grilled Cheese with Mango Chutney and Tomato Bisque
Curried Tempeh Grilled Cheese with Mango Chutney and Tomato Bisque

We discussed what we were finding with Matt’s doctor, who talked with us about how the American Heart Association’s recommendations are based upon collections of large-scale studies, which necessarily means that they are never going to reflect the absolute latest research. He and other doctors believe that the direction they will head in the next 10 or 15 years, though, is further away from animal-based foods and toward more plant-based foods.

And so, based on the evidence we’ve been seeing as we’ve researched healthy eating, particularly with regards to cardiovascular health, we’ve made some pretty drastic changes. We try to eat fish once or twice a week but otherwise avoid meat when reasonably possible (we’ve had about two servings of non-fish meat in the last 2 months), and we are reducing our dairy consumption (so far by about half). We’re also focusing on consuming whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, oats, and bread made with whole wheat flour. We’re making sure that vegetables – instead of being a last-minute add-on to a meat-based meal – are rather a centerpiece of what we’re eating each day.

Smoky Chili with Sweet Potatoes
Smoky Chili with Sweet Potatoes

At first it was really difficult to find meals and recipes that met these criteria. So much of what we consume in American culture is based around meat and simple, processed carbs. However, over the last couple months I’ve gotten better at finding, assessing, and sometimes slightly modifying recipes for our health and enjoyment. So that you all don’t have to suffer through some of the inedible meals we’ve tried, I’m including information here about some of the recipes we have enjoyed in recent weeks. In no particular order, these are the vegetarian meals we’ve been enjoying:

Homemade Pasta Sauce
Homemade Pasta Sauce (before its encounter with the immersion blender)

My very favorite new cookbook is Moosewood Restaurant Favorites – do yourself a favor and order it. Seriously, it’s glorious. I believe people should be compensated for their work, so I’m not going to post their recipes here, but I’d encourage you to get it. Many of the recipes we’ve most enjoyed are contained within this book, in particular the following:

  • Thai Butternut Squash Soup (p 58)
  • Thai Noodle Salad (p 100)
  • Southwestern Sweet Potato Corn Soup  (p 56)
  • Creamy Herbed Potato Soup (p 49)
  • Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon Sauce (p 224)
  • Peruvian Quinoa and Vegetable Salad (p 99)
  • Summer Vegetable Curry (p 123)

And here are some of the recipes we’ve most enjoyed for eating fish:

The same cookbook I mentioned above has also been a blessing with regards to recipes for preparing fish. So far we’ve tried and liked:

  • Spicy Caribbean Fish (p 240)
  • Creamy Fish Stew (p 247)
  • Teriyaki Fish (p 241)
Creamy Fish Stew
Creamy Fish Stew

I’d encourage you, if you’re concerned about your health and, in particular, want to enjoy a heart-healthy diet, to do your research about animal-based foods and plant-based foods. So much of what we eat and the diets we advocate in American culture are really harmful to our bodies. Not everyone is facing the same medical circumstances we’re facing, and not everyone has to make the same choices we’ve made, but I think many of us can do better than we’re doing to care for our bodies. So far Matt has lost about 20 pounds and is feeling immeasurably better than he did before, and I’m feeling good, as well.

If you’re interested in pursuing more of a plant-based pescetarian or vegetarian diet, I hope some of these recipes can be a blessing to you in your journey!

post-heart-attack – where are we now?

It seems like these last weeks have flown by, but now it’s been almost 7 weeks since Matt’s heart attack, and I’ve been reflecting on the changes and transitions contained within those weeks.

Perhaps the most obvious are the physical, tangible changes. Matt’s incorporation of regular exercise into his schedule prior to his heart attack was sporadic, at best. Sure, he got in his 10,000 steps a day, but he didn’t have time set aside purely for working out. He has now been going to cardiac rehabilitation 2-3 times per week to exercise, we try to take walks at least a couple times a week on his off days, and we’re committed to fitting exercise into his schedule regularly.

We’ve also completely changed our diet. A big part of that change has been Matt himself – I knew he didn’t make the best decisions with his lunch and snack purchases away from home, but even I wasn’t aware how bad his choices really had gotten (read: how much fast food he was eating). He’s had to stop that cold turkey and now generally takes food from home or gets salads when he’s out.

We’ve made some big changes as a family, too, though. We’ve gone from eating somewhat-but-not-entirely healthy, mostly chicken but fairly frequently also pork meals to eating almost entirely vegetarian and fish meals. We’re trying to center our eating around plant-based whole foods. That has changed virtually all the meals we eat and the way in which I grocery shop. I now need to shop closer to weekly (instead of being able to make it 2 weeks between big grocery shopping trips), I spend a lot more time in the health food section, I read the labels on practically everything, and we’ve added an additional grocery store to our regular rotation, bringing our current total to 3. Meal prep also takes longer.

These dietary changes have been something of a challenge. At first the logistics were overwhelming – I didn’t have any idea where to get good recipes, how to judge whether a meal was high or low in sodium, or any of that. Now that I’m finding my footing in those areas, I can start to address secondary logistical matters (like figuring out which meals would freeze well so I can get back to my time-saving, sanity-saving freezer meal cooking!), but I’ve also found that new emotions are surfacing. I can no longer use almost any of the recipes from what used to be my “go to” blogs for new meal ideas to try. We can’t go to just any restaurant and assume we’ll be able to order something healthy. Getting together for meals with friends is more complicated. It feels somewhat lonely – but it is absolutely worth it. Maybe if you’re 70 or 75 years old and you have a heart attack, you figure you’ve had a good run and you keep living life just as you were before? But with Matt having a heart attack at 39…we’ve really got to make some drastic changes, so that’s what we’re doing. We’d like to keep him around for another 30 or 40 – or more! – years.

I’ve had to face the reality that he really could have died there in that hotel room in New York. I’m thankful I didn’t know exactly what was happening at the time, and I’m thankful I didn’t know the statistics on cardiac arrest survival at the time. And the fact that it happened once means that it’s more likely to happen again – and that’s a scary thought.

I am scared.

But I have a choice. I can let fear control my life and my choices – or I can let love be the driving force behind all that I do. I can’t have it both ways. And thankfully, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). The more I love, the more I choose to operate out of love, the less my chest tightens in fear.

We are trying to be wise and prepared for any scenario. We’re doing what we can – we’re prioritizing exercise, we’re changing our diet, and Matt is taking all of the medications his doctor has prescribed and paying attention to his body. And I’m collecting information. I’ve found out what benefits I’d be able to retain through the university if Matt died. I’m aware of what life insurance he has – and am trying not to be bitter about the fact that we were in the middle of applying for additional life insurance when this happened, and his application was obviously rejected. We’ve talked with our kids’ pediatrician about measures we need to take to keep them as healthy as possible, now that 2 of them have a family history of early heart disease. But we’re still living life – in fact, check back later this week for some exciting news about one way in which we’re pursuing that 🙂 We still want to have adventures and be committed to pursuing God and going wherever He would lead in order to love those around us.

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It’s interesting, the faith journey that has been the undercurrent throughout these last 7 weeks. I haven’t always felt close to God, I haven’t always felt the truths I know to be true – but I still know them. I know that God is in control. I know that He loves me, and I know that He is good. Not once has it even entered my mind to doubt those truths.

If it did…I think I’d wonder if the object in which I’d placed my faith was truly the self-existent God of the universe or just some fictional genie of my own creation. Either God is good even when I don’t get what I want…or He’s not God – He’s simply a super-powered version of myself, desiring exactly as I desire, willing and able to give me exactly what I want. But that’s not who the true God is.

There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that I’ve always liked – “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” That quote has become more and more real to me over these last weeks. God is not put to the test by Matt’s heart attack; God exists outside of space and time, and God is good – and Matt had a heart attack – and I interpret the latter in light of the former, not the other way around.

And we have much, much for which to be grateful – and gratitude is the overwhelming emotion I feel when I think about these recent events. Matt did survive his heart attack. We have been blessed, oh, so very blessed, by so many friends and family over these last 7 weeks. We’ve been given time to make changes that will – we hope and pray – get him healthier, and we have the means and the motivation to make those drastic changes we need to make. The God we follow is loving and good. We are blessed, and I am thankful.

the heart attack (part two: Rome)

If you haven’t read part one of this story here, you may want to check that out before continuing to read here!

It was snowing outside, and it was about a 35-minute ambulance ride to the nearest hospital. From the ambulance, I called my mom and my friend Tammy in Chicago and asked them to let people know what was going on and to pray. I texted Matt’s mom and let her know where we were going, and I texted with her some about what the kids might need. I talked with the ambulance driver, who had known Matt’s older brother and sister growing up – Matt’s sister Denya’s husband Tim is a volunteer firefighter, and all the EMTs knew Matt’s family. And I prayed and prayed and prayed. I was nervous and shaking the entire time, but I knew I needed to be as calm as possible. Matt was unconscious for the entire ambulance ride, and it was pretty harrowing. His jaw was clenched shut so tightly that they were unable to intubate him through his mouth, and he vomited at one point, and while no one was panicking, it wasn’t exactly smooth, either, and it was a long ride. A few friends texted short prayers and notes of encouragement, and it was so reassuring to know that others were praying with me during that drive.

Once we arrived in Rome, a team of doctors and nurses was already set and waiting for him in a room. They had me wait in the hall for what seemed an eternity. I could hear them talking but couldn’t make out what they were saying. It seemed pretty calm, so I assumed things were stable, but I didn’t really know what was happening. At that point I felt pretty pitiful, alone in a hospital in a city I didn’t really know with my husband unconscious behind the door after some sort of traumatic event. It was actually a relief when the woman in charge of checking in and billing came to talk with me, and eventually a nurse came out to talk with me, as well, and some of the EMTs stopped to talk, too. Matt’s mom had reached out to her sisters, and it wasn’t long before Matt’s Aunt Sue was there, followed soon after by his Aunt Cathy and Uncle Roger. Though I’d met them only a handful of times, it was a relief not to be alone in those uncertain moments. And as an added blessing, Aunt Cathy and Uncle Roger are both nurses and were helpful in explaining exactly what was happening and in knowing what questions needed to be asked.

Finally they opened the door and let me come in. Matt was intubated to help him breathe and had had a GI tube placed to drain his stomach. They told me that he was sedated, but he could hear me, so I was welcome to hold his hand and talk with him. I did so, though I wasn’t sure what to say, in part because it was by now rather late at night. The nurses and doctors asked me to tell them about what had happened and asked some questions about Matt’s medical history. They told me that they were obviously admitting him, and they were ordering consults from neurology, pulmonology, and cardiology, but since Matt was stable now, it was unlikely anyone would come to see him before morning. In the meantime, they ordered a number of tests. He had a chest X-ray to check the placement of his breathing tube; a chest CT to look for blood clots; a head CT and an EEG to look at his brain; an echocardiogram and an EKG to evaluate his heart; and blood work to measure his troponin level, among other things. I’d sit with him and hold his hand (and one of the aunts and uncles would stay with me) when I could, and we’d wait in the hall when he went out for tests. His aunts and uncle dozed a bit, but I was pretty nervous and wasn’t anywhere near sleep.

We were finally settled in a room in the ICU around 4:00 in the morning, and Matt’s Aunt Sue and I went in and sat with him.

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While he had been stable since we got to the hospital, there were still so many questions. It was surreal to close my eyes and know that the background noise was a ventilator breathing for my husband. I tried to rest a bit, but around 5:00 various people began coming in for more bloodwork, labs, and tests. Respiratory people were the first to come, and they explained how the ventilator worked and what all the readings on the monitor meant. That was encouraging, as the monitor showed that Matt was generally starting breaths on his own, and they had already turned down the percentage of oxygen he was getting.

Mid-morning Matt’s aunts and uncle left to head back to Camden to be at Denya’s funeral. I knew Matt would be so sad to be missing it, both because he wanted that closure and because he was supposed to give the eulogy (which he later published here). They had arranged for Matt’s cousin Sarah (also a nurse) to come and be with me, though, so there wouldn’t be that much time I’d be there alone. They were willing to stay if necessary, but we all wanted them to get to be at the funeral.

A neurologist also came to see Matt, and they turned off the sedation to try to wake him up briefly to check his brain function. With great effort, he was able to open his eyes as directed, and another encouraging sign was that, of all the voices talking to him, he was particularly tuned in to my voice. He was really agitated, though, which is understandable – he had been unconscious since the night before in the hotel room and was now half awake in a strange place, surrounded by strange people, and probably most disconcerting, was intubated. We tried to reassure him, but he kept gagging and then vomited and aspirated, and they turned his sedation back up right away. It took a while to get him cleaned up and settled again, but his nurses that day were great – they did an amazing job taking care of him and also helping me as I worked through everything that was happening. Good nurses, those who do their jobs well and go the extra mile to be kind and considerate and helpful, make all the difference in the world.

Cardiology – the ones from whom I was most interested in hearing – was the last major consult to come see him. The cardiologist said that we really needed to transfer to a different hospital that had a cath lab, so we’d be able to find out what was going on, and he was going to arrange that. It took a while, though – from about 11:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon.

While Matt was stable and I knew what the immediate plan was going to be, those 5 hours were pretty rough for me. I knew this was probably ultimately a cardiac issue, but I didn’t know anything else. Perhaps hardest was that I had had to leave my kids so quickly the night before – after one of the most traumatic events of their lives – and I hadn’t seen or talked to them since, and because Denya’s funeral was happening that day, I wasn’t really able to talk much with the people who were with them and even find out how they were doing.

And I had to make decisions about who to tell and how and when – all without consulting Matt. Many of our closest friends and family already knew, but I knew I was missing key people, and I needed to talk to people where we both worked, and I just needed to let more people know what was happening, both to inform them and to ask them to pray. Matt and I always talk through those types of things together – we’re a couple, a team, and we complement each other well. I felt alone having to make those decisions for us without him. But I called his department chair, texted one of my colleagues, and put together a Facebook post.

Matt developed a fever that afternoon, and they gave him Tylenol and eventually packed his body with ice to cool him off. No one seemed surprised, but, particularly since he’d aspirated twice and pneumonia was a significant risk, it was an unwelcome development.

Matt’s cousin Sarah stayed with me through most of the afternoon, taking off only once it seemed that our transfer was reasonably imminent. It was such a blessing not to be alone much during that uncertain first day.

And, for some moments of levity in the midst of a generally pretty dark day, our good friend Dan, and his father, who had been Matt’s 6th grade teacher, stopped by. True to form, Mr C arrived with a bag full of fast food cheeseburgers, hoping Matt would be awake so he could taunt him about the food he’d no longer be able to eat. Matt loves this photo I snapped of the two of them.

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And finally that afternoon I did get to text with Matt’s sister Stacey and hear that our kids were doing great, and eventually I connected with Matt’s mom, as well. That was reassuring, though I still missed them like crazy. Matt and I don’t leave our kids all that much, particularly overnight, particularly without prepping them well ahead of time, and I’d never been away from Atticus overnight before. This was not part of the plan. I talked with one of the nurses, through tears, about how I was still nursing Atticus, and I’d need to pump if I didn’t get to see him soon. It was so touching to me that she said she’d try to get me a pump or find out if I could use one in Labor and Delivery, but if she couldn’t, she was actually still nursing her daughter so had a pump with her at work and would let me use hers. Labor and Delivery had a supply of new mother bags, though, which included simple manual pumps, and they graciously offered one to me, which was very helpful during those days in the hospital.

I also received multiple offers from family and friends to fly out and be with me and/or help with the kids, which I so appreciated. After talking with Stacey, I finally decided to take my brother Danny and his fiancée Sharon up on their offer to come. Since they live in Washington, D.C., they could be in New York in a matter of hours without having to fly or rent a car or worry about any of those logistics, and in a scenario in which I knew nothing about what the next few days would hold, that seemed optimal.

Around 4:00 everything was finally arranged to transfer Matt to St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Utica. It was agreed that I could ride in the ambulance, as long as I promised that under no circumstances, no matter what happened, would I leave my place in the passenger seat of the vehicle. Having sent Mechell’s coat back with Sarah, I left wrapped in blankets over my stylish ensemble of yoga pants with knee high black boots and a nursing tank top and plaid pajama top with bright orange sweater on top. We departed Rome Memorial Hospital with lights on and sirens in use – Matt was stable, but it was still important that we make the trip quickly and get him back to a hospital setting. And while we drove, I was moved to tears watching the other cars on the road pull over. I thought of the Mr. Rogers quote about looking for helpers in times of tragedy. When they saw the lights and heard the sirens, people moved out of the way and did their part to sustain my husband’s life. I continued to pray and thank God for bringing us this far.

Part 3 to come in another day or two!