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.

on identity and hope

I’ve been thoughtful, these last few weeks about my identity and about the source of any hope that I have. Honestly, these recent days have been discouraging. Matt and I started winter break talking about everything we’d like to accomplish during these weeks in which he had no teaching obligations and I had no extra baby-watching obligations. At the top of the list for me were getting Atticus’s room more organized, cleaning out my closet, working some extra hours, finishing up thank you notes that I’d meant to write over the summer but never finished for people who helped us after Atticus was born (you know, a mere 13 months ago) , and maybe even reading some fun books or writing some blog posts.

And with about a week of winter break left, I’ve accomplished exactly zero of those things. Matt threw out his back the weekend after Christmas and was in excruciating pain for days afterwards. Just as he was beginning to be able to move around a bit, we were struck with the great plague of 2016 – Miranda woke up at 4:00 am on New Year’s Day with a stomach bug, which ran its course through all 5 of us before departing to the homes of some of our friends (sorry). Due, in part, to those unanticipated events, we’ve been far less productive than we’d hoped during these Christmas vacation weeks.

As a naturally task-oriented person, it’s so easy for me to fall into frustration and discouragement in this situation. I want to catch up on all of these items that perpetually occupy my “to do” list. And while I love my husband and children to no end…

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who could resist these cuties?

…I also like to feel like I exist as my own person, distinct from them and from my serving of them.

I’ve been wondering, lately, how do other moms stay themselves? Particularly other homeschooling moms, who are with their children 24/7 – what do they do? How do they take time away from their families as a blessing, enjoying it but equally enjoying their reentry into family time, taking care of the dishes that have piled up in the sink and the crumbs that have covered the floors during their few hours away, without complaint? What do they do that is their own, not about their husbands and children, and how do they do it while still caring for their husbands and children?

As I’ve contemplated these ideas, I’ve become convinced of a few things –

  1. My life doesn’t begin the instant I move outside of serving my family but exists in serving and loving my family. I can (and do!) find joy in building a train track on the living room floor, curling up on the couch and reading together, tickling my baby, and hanging out with Matt at the end of the day. That those moments constitute a large majority of my time is a blessing and fulfills the calling I believe God has on my life.
  2. In many cases, I can choose the lens through which I see my life and circumstances. I can accept with gratitude and thanksgiving whatever God sends my way, or I can spend my time wishing for something else and becoming increasingly discouraged.
  3. My sense of self and ultimate hope cannot be based in my checking tasks off my list, in meeting budget goals for the month, or any other earthly accomplishment. When Peter exhorts us to be prepared to give an answer to “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15), he’s referring to nothing less than our trust in Christ. If I am binding my sense of self and hope to anything else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Only if I center my life around God and being and doing what He has called me to can I live a life filled with true hope and joy.

Lord, please help me to live a life of gratitude, even if my hours are filled more with cleaning up vomit than with accomplishing tasks on my to do list!

thankfulness 2015

This year I’ve been particularly reflective about the blessing of family. This time last year we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our third baby, little Atticus Garrett, for whom my labor started the morning after Thanksgiving.

This past year has brought much growth in all of us. My girls became big sisters to a baby brother, and they have been challenged to love him well but also to grow in their own independence. They’ve also continued to develop in their own right, growing closer and closer to being the women they’re going to be. Matt and I have been so encouraged by the ways in which they’ve grown this year, and we’re enjoying them more and more as people.

And that Atticus boy – I’m trying to soak him in. There are his adorable curls and the way he smiles and reaches for me when I walk into a room. There’s the way he curls into my chest and reaches his hand inside my shirt when he’s wanting to nurse. There’s the way he tucks his head into me and scrunches his eyes shut when he’s ready to go to sleep. There’s his increasingly steady gait as he practices walking longer and longer distances. There are his excited squeals and gesticulations every time he sees an animal, whether cat or dog or even fish. There’s the amusing way he seeks a way to climb on anything and everything, whether stove, staircase, or couch. I want to take every part of this fun time and sear it into my memory for revisiting in the future when my little guy has moved beyond this stage.

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And of course there is my relationship with Matt, my partner in parenting and beyond. With the girls at Awana every Wednesday night, we’ve been able to get out for some regular date nights this semester, which we’ve very much enjoyed. This year we’ve been studying parenting, experiencing the writings of Madeleine L’Engle, and trying to dream big about future possibilities for art, writing, learning, building, ministry, and travel.

I feel myself, now a mom of three, being stretched and growing into more and more the mother I’d like to be. I’m more comfortable in this role of constant out-pouring of love, energy, and grace. I have the perspective of five-and-a-half years in this parenting role to know that the interrupted sleep and the need for constant supervision of my baby-almost-toddler will come to an end. I’m realizing that focusing on the difficulties of certain stages is less helpful than enjoying their positives and strategizing about parenting well in the midst of them. I’m content in not being able to do all that much ministry outside of our family (though it is a blessing to be able to do what I can with some lay counseling and children’s ministry and hosting our missional community group and a few other things), realizing that this is a season, and there will be other seasons that look different. For now, I can focus on loving my kiddos well, reading that extra book, taking those minutes to snuggle, listening to that made-up joke, rubbing that back, rocking that baby.

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And this year at Thanksgiving we are immersed in the added blessing of being with my family – my always-serving mother and game-playing father and my awesome brothers and Danny’s fiancee, Sharon. I see now what I didn’t as a child, that the friendships I had then were important, but it would be with my brothers that I would have my most enduring and meaningful relationships. I’m grateful that even as we live spread across the country from one another, we’re able to maintain relationships and support, encourage, and enjoy each other.

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And of course I am grateful to the God who is the author of it all. I find myself yearning to know and understand Him more and more. As Atticus cries for me and only me at night, I wonder what it would feel like to know that He and only He has what I need, to cry out for Him and refuse to settle for anything less. I pray for that.

Summer 2015 Goals – Mid-Summer Update

It’s the middle of July, so we’re about halfway (or more!) through the summer, so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how I’m doing with these summer goals! See my initial thoughts about this season’s goals here.

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Yes! We joined a pool, and we’ve been going multiple times every week, weather permitting. Both girls did great with their swimming lessons and definitely grew in their comfort with being in the water. Miranda in particular has been growing by leaps and bounds even since then. Earlier this week she was celebrating her ability to put her head under the water unasked and without plugging her nose by doing it over and over again. I’m really happy that they’re making progress toward swimming, and we’re all enjoying our pool time!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

We’re working on it! One encouraging development has been that we’ve been having some times in which the girls are really playing well together without my constant refereeing. I’ve been honest about the fact that we’ve been in a difficult season of parenting, and it has been very encouraging to me to see these glimmers of hope.

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3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

We’re doing pretty well with this! Our summer has been pretty laid back so far – on most days we work through half of a day’s worth of curriculum, so we’re almost halfway through our 3rd week, which puts us on track to have about 4 weeks finished by the end of the summer. I’d love it if we were closer to having 6 weeks done, but really, we’ve been enjoying our weeks of summer, and we’re all learning and growing, so I’m not going to sweat it 🙂

4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

We’re working on this – in actually a much bigger way than I’d anticipated. I mentioned to Matt one day that I had an ideal vision in mind of what I’d like to do, but I wasn’t sure what to do in the meantime. When I told him about what I really wanted to have long-term – essentially floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves in the playroom – his immediate response was that we should just build that now!

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We (and by “we” I really mean Matt) are actually quite a bit farther along than this picture shows. It’s all coming together really nicely, and it’s going to be such a huge help to me!

5. Organize the playroom.

See above! Right now the room looks like a total disaster – toys piled on top of each other, tools all around – but we’re making real progress, and I’m excited about the room’s potential.

6. Blog!

I have pretty much dropped the ball on this. Between the playroom bookshelf project and doing some extra work to train a friend who is starting to work for my company, our last few weeks have been very full, and there just hasn’t been much free time. I’m hoping to get a few more posts written during the last half of the summer, though!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

I’m working on this one! After finishing No Drama Discipline, I started Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s, and I finished that a couple weeks ago, and I’ve now started How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which I’m enjoying. Matt bought me Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Oprhans Taught Me About Moving Mountains for our anniversary, so I’ve also been reading that. Its author founded Half the Sky, an organization that worked in the orphanage Madeleine CaiQun lived at, and I’m so thankful to them for the benefits I know she received from their care. My heart is feeling increasingly drawn back toward adopting from China again.

8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We’re definitely having fun this summer! Spending time at the pool has been a big way in which we’ve been doing that, but we’re also having popsicle picnics on the porch, reading books, doing science experiments, and just playing together. This afternoon the girls and I rolled around on the living room floor, and I tickled them and gave them airplane rides – we all had a blast simply playing, and this evening at dinner all of us listed that as the “high” from our day.

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9. Enjoy Atticus.

Of course there is always more I could be doing to enjoy our little guy, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of taking time to snuggle him, play with him, laugh with him, and generally enjoy him. He really is such a sweet little boy, and even though parenting kids over a larger age range feels like more of a challenge than just having our close-together girls, this boy is such a blessing for our family, and I’m so thankful he’s here.

10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

So far I’ve written in Atticus’s journal but not the girls’ – I need to get to theirs soon!

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’ve written a few more of these but still have a lot to do.

12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

We did this in June, and we’re scheduled for another date night this week, so I just need to plan one more for July, and we’ll have hit this goal for 2 months in a row!

13. Replenish our savings.

We’re working on this! Thus far it hasn’t been so much of a replenishing of savings as much as earning enough to keep up with the playroom update expenditures, but we’ve been able to do that, so I think it’s a win so far, and I think by the end of the summer we will have been able to put more money away in savings.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

Honestly, working toward this goal has been one of the most encouraging parts of my summer. I think, as a mom of littles, I am constantly seeing new areas in which I need not to let the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good.” What I would like for my prayer life is to have a long period of totally uninterrupted time each day to read my Bible and actually write out prayers to God in a prayer journal. That just isn’t going to happen right now, but that doesn’t mean I should throw in the towel. I realized that I do have multiple periods of the day that are quiet and somewhat solitary – when I’m nursing Atticus before he takes naps and goes to bed at night. After he would start to drift off to sleep, I’d been using those times primarily for checking my Facebook feed, but, wonder of all wonders, when I made Facebook less of a priority, there was more room for prayer! I’ve also been re-reading David Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes with some friends, and I’ve found his words about prayer to be particularly helpful and encouraging. I’ve also been faced with daily reminders to pray as a young man from our church came down with a sudden illness a few weeks ago and had to be life-flighted to a hospital 2 hours away and is still fighting for his life there, and our church family has been praying for him continuously. I’m praying more often with more depth and am feeling anew my dependence on God and the contentment that comes with that realization.

Overall I’m pleased that I’ve been able to make progress (or recruit my husband to make progress!) on a number of these goals, and hopefully I’ll have more progress to report at the end of the summer!

Visits from Family

Most often when people ask how we are adjusting to life as a family of five, my thoughts jump immediately to my “to do” lists and how well I’m keeping up with them – and as an afterthought I consider our hearts, how we are loving each other and taking care of ourselves. Really we’re doing pretty well on both fronts, but I definitely need continual reminders to address the latter. And so today, as the girls are upstairs enjoying their rest time and Atticus is sleeping beside me (because this boy is a snugglebug – why sleep in a bassinet when you could have full body contact with your mama?), I open this page to write. Writing, even if not profound, reminds me that I still have a self that is distinct from care-giver-for-the-littles – while that occupies most of my time and I truly believe that it is my calling and I love it, it does not make up the entirety of me. I enjoy these few moments I can grab from time to time to write…and writing also reminds me of what we have celebrated and for what we are thankful.

One of the things for which I am thankful that I haven’t yet shared here is our December visits from our NY family. Matt’s younger sister Stacey flew out for a long weekend about a week and a half after Atticus was born, and Matt’s mom joined us for a few days after Christmas.

They, of course, were quite willing to spend some time holding our little guy 🙂

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And that truly is helpful! With 2 other kiddos for whom to care and a household to run, I certainly didn’t mind other people spending some time snuggling with and getting to know the newest member of our family!

The girls also got in some great quality time with both their aunt and their grandma, which was a blessing for them and also for Matt and me. Since they live over 1,000 miles away, we don’t get to see our NY family very often. We still want our kiddos to have good relationships with them, though, so it really was wonderful to have some of them here and spending so much time with our kids.

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And of course it was great for Matt and me to get to see his mom and sister, too! We so appreciate the fact that we can keep up with far-away family through Facebook and phone calls and texts, but there’s so much ground you can cover in a few days together that the sporadic long-distance interactions don’t provide. It was so nice to have some time to get more caught up on each other’s lives! And we hope to make it out to New York this summer to have the opportunity to re-connect with the entire New York side of the family and introduce Atticus to them!