Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Family Times

Nearly 13 years ago Jeannie and I decided it was time to start a family. Like most people who make this conscious decision within a marriage it was like going on an adventure -- learning first of pregnancy, then traveling along the 40 weeks or so of doctor visits, sonograms, childbirth classes, and baby showers. Well, I don't know much about the baby showers, but you get the point.

Coby came along and he was our pride and joy. The cutest baby boy on the planet, in the history of the planet. Then less than a year later we discovered with a bit of shock that we were pregnant again, which happened to be Melody. Again, we were the proud parents of our first baby girl, the perfect match, a boy and a girl, separated by just 18 months or so.

That was our family, for eight years. We grew together, established our niches within the family structure, marked our territory. Jeannie and I had plenty of time to grow used to the different wants and needs of both our children, and we did everything we could to try and satisfy those wants and needs.

Then about four years ago, we got the idea that it was time to have another one. Coby and Melody had grown into strong young children of eight and nine years old, and my wife and I weren't getting any younger. The Lord somehow put it in our hearts that we needed another little one in our family, and Abby came into our lives on Dec. 27, 2006. She was everybody's baby, including ours, especially her older brother and sister. As her father, I admit I had gotten out of practice. We had some long nights and tough times there for a few months, with Jeannie patiently waiting out the growth spurts and feedings pretty much by herself because I frankly couldn't readjust. But in our minds, we were done, and Abby was going to be our baby forever.

Then of course two years later we got another little unannounced, not-asked-for gift from above when we found out we were pregnant with Lily. I don't think I ever adequately expressed the shock and total feeling of being unprepared for a fourth child in this blog, or to anyone, for that matter. For some reason, having three children is still considered an average family. But when you add a fourth -- and, as a man and father, you are turning 40 -- well, you have officially jumped into LARGE FAMILY status.

Large families must make sacrifices. Large families require a certain amount of order and preparedness that, quite frankly, has never been in my nature. Lily was born in July and we had four kids in a three-bedroom house. Another round of diapers and formula. Another round of doctor bills for both mom and baby. And so on, and so on...

Jeannie and I have had to realize that we are a large family. We have four children -- all of them precious and special in our hearts in their own special little ways -- and we would not trade the world for any of them. Coby, Melody, Abby and Lily -- separated by a total of 12 years between the locomotive (Coby) and the caboose (Lily) -- are our little family train.

But recent events have shown me that as their parents, Jeannie and I need to be better conductors. Me especially. I was more than willing to allow my precious wife to shoulder the load while I was away, treating life as though it were an amusement park in general rather than just one big rollercoaster. Because that's what I'd done 13 years ago, when we had just one child. Then it's what I'd done when the second one was born. And pretty much what I'd done ever since.

The last month or so has been eye-opening for me as both Jeannie's husband and my children's father. My job on earth is not to make sure I provide every little want and need in their life, because those things -- especially the true needs -- are taken care of every day by their heavenly Father. But my job as dad is to show them a way of doing things that allows them to prepare for their own lives. I am to be an example, not an afterthought. I owe an extreme apology to my wife and my family for simply not being the Biblical dad I have been called to be, whether to a small or a large family.

My wife is a real trooper. She trooped and trudged along trying to be mom until being mom AND dad simply was too much. We are continuing to work on finding a balance between our lives as individuals, as husband and wife, and as mom and dad. Our kids mean everything to us, but as Jeannie has pointed out over the years and I know now to be ultimately true, before the kids, there was US. We need to make more time for US while also being the Christian parents God has ordained us to be.

I know this post rambles and I know it's been six months or so since I last posted, but this was something I had to get off my chest. Thanks to all our friends and loved ones who have prayed us through the last few weeks. We have come through by the grace and leadership of our Lord and we are continuing to move forward. All six of us. And that sounds really, really, good.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"I Don't Know Why You're Alive..."

I love my life. I really do. Like everyone else we get busy and believe the world is crashing down around us, and I'm no different. But deep down I know I am a lucky, lucky man.

I have a beautiful, loving wife who for the last 20 years has also been my best friend. We have a relationship that allows us to joke and kid around with each other a lot but there's no one on this planet I'd rather spend time with. I don't say that often enough, either. Jeannie is my soulmate and to a large degree has been divinely put in my life to keep me sane and grounded.

I have four lovely children, who I write about frequently in this blog. I love each and every one of them will all my heart and don't know how I lived the first 28 years of my life without them. I pray every day that God will teach me and mold me into being the father they all deserve.

I have a job that allows me to work in an environment centered around Christ and different people. The hours are sometimes long and the pay frankly isn't nearly as much as I'd like, but especially in these times, in this country, I am thankful to have a place to work. ETBU has been good to me.

I also love my church. I grew up at IBC and continue to worship there, and hopefully if the Lord sees fit I'll be there until Jesus comes back. I have wonderful friends, a great pastor and staff and people who genuinely care for one another. What else could a man want?

I almost lost all of this back in June of 2001, however. For some reason I've been thinking about this episode a lot lately. Not sure why, which worries me a bit, but as I learned back then I have no control over my life. It's all in God's hands.

I just completed my first year here at ETBU and had taken a couple of really long bus rides cross-country in May. No big deal, I'd been riding on buses my entire life to athletic events, either playing or covering them. I'd also finished what for me was a very physically-demanding Easter drama at IBC, "The Sacrifice," during which I thought I pulled a calf muscle. For several weeks my left leg was in severe pain from the knee down, but with time the pain subsided a bit and I moved on with my busy schedule.

In early June, once everything had settled down from the past school year and all, the pain returned in my leg, around the knee this time. This time it got so intense it was literally difficult to move. It didn't feel like a knee injury, as the area was just gosh-awful sore and swelling. The pain centered around an area just above the knee, where the thigh meets the knee, and on the inside portion of my leg. It became painful just to touch, very red, swollen and you could actually feel heat around the area.

Again, I thought I had somehow pulled a muscle, maybe related to "The Sacrifice." I went on an overnight golfing trip with some coaching buddies and on the first day found myself having difficulty breathing. I was so fat and out of shape this was regular occurence so I didn't think too much about it. But as the day wore on my breathing became more and more difficult, and I could feel a huge tightness in my chest, like when you try to take a deep breath but can't. I went to bed that night feeling pretty bad but thinking I'd maybe gotten too hot during the day or something. The pain in my leg had also subsided, so I didn't think too much about it anyway.

I woke up the next morning and the pain in my leg was back. I played another round of golf and came home but by the next day it was painful just to walk again. I decided to make a doctor's appointment to check out the pulled muscle and get some pain medication. Things had gotten that bad.

The doc ushered me in and immediately sent me across the street to test for a blood clot. I'd had a bloood clot in a similar area of my leg a few years earlier and was hospitalized and placed on blood thinners for six months. After the six month period I was taken off the blood thinners because they couldn't find anything that would have caused the clot, so I wasn't considered high-risk.

Anyway, because of that previous problem the doctor wanted to first rule out a blood clot in my left leg. They took an ultrasound of my left leg and then actually admitted me to run more tests, because of the shortness of breath I'd experienced a couple of days earlier. Jeannie and I checked into the hotel and were there for a little while before she needed to leave and for a hair appointment or something. I kicked back in the bed and felt quite comfortable, actually; I was going to do nothing but rest and have people wait on me for a day or two in the hospital, no big deal, then I'd go home.

It had just gotten dark outside when the phone rang. It was my doctor. After I said hello he said words that have haunted me for the rest of my life ever since.

"Mr. Weaver, you have what is called a pulmonary embolism. It's a blood clot in your lung, a very large one. Apparently it developed in your leg and broke off and moved into your lungs. This is very dangerous and we are going to have to put you on blood thinning medication immediately to break up the clot....Mr. Weaver, frankly, I don't know why you are still alive. You should have died on the golf course."

My relaxing mood was gone. I was rushed into a medium intensive care unit where I was watched and monitored around the clock. The shortness of breath, the pain in my chest, was all a result of a large blood clot making its way through my lungs. Apparently, and I'm a little vague on this, but the clot was very large but somehow managed to push its way through my lungs and away from my heart. Had that not happened, yes, I would have dropped dead on the golf course.

Ever since that stay in the hospital not a day goes by where I miss taking blood thinners. Over eight years now, every day, I take medication to keep my blood thin enough to avoid clotting. I have a filter in the main vein of my chest to block any clots that may arise and try to come up through my lower extremeties. As it turns out I have a genetic clotting disorder that makes it very easy for my blood to clot up, and in this case the combination of pulled calf muscle from the Easter drama, two long bus rides where I did nothing but sit for hours, and the stress of work all led to the P.E.

Unless you've ever had a doctor say those words to you, "I don't know why you're still alive," you can't understand how helpless you feel. For months after the hospital stay I would lie awake in bed, unable to sleep because I was afraid to close my eyes. I was afraid that if I closed them I wouldn't wake up, and the fear was very real that it caused me to nearly hyperventilate at times. All I could think of was missing my wife and my then-two young children, Coby and Melody, who were only 4 and 2 respectively. Abby and Lily were not even considerations yet.

I had people come up to me with "God's just not finished with you yet," but you know that isn't much consolation quite frankly. I know God saved my life literally that week, for whatever reason, but coming that close with death years ago was a very big deal for me. A simple "God has plans for you here" wasn't what I was looking to hear.

But I do know that He does have plans, for all of us. What I try to do now, and this has been a long process I'm working out to this day, is simply live each day and not worry about tomorrow. If you worry about what happens next you miss what is going on now in your life. And you also miss interacting and loving the people around you, living life with you.

Yes I am a lucky man. And yes I know God saved my life back then for a reason. But only He knows why. And some day yes, I hope to ask Him when I get to heaven, and I firmly believe He loves me enough to give me the answer. But for now I will just try to live, the best way I can, and be the best husband and father I can, without worrying about tomorrow.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Setting The (Arm) Record Straight

Okay, okay. I need to clear up a couple of rumors and accusations out there that have been popping up since my wife's unfortunate accident this past Sunday in church.

1) No, I did not trip Jeannie as she was exiting the pew with Lily for a routine feeding in the middle of the pastor's sermon, thereby causing her to fall following an impressive somersault that saved the baby from injury.

2) No, Jeannie was not "slain in the Spirit," thereby causing said fall.

3) No, I am not the worst husband/father in the world for returning to my seat after helping her up off the aisle floor in front of 300 or so shocked church-goers. "I'm fine," "I'm okay," what more do you expect when you hear this come out of one's mouth?

4) No, apparently there is no such thing as a "little cracked" bone.

5) Yes, the arm is broken and now in a huge cast stretching from my beloved's shoulder to her hand. She's gonna be checked out again next week and after that, hopefully, the cast can be removed in three weeks or so.

All joking aside, the Lord has been good to us once again during a trying time. I wouldn't say he's put us in a valley this summer because that would be saying the birth of a precious baby is a valley which is not the case at all. But our patience and stamina, especially Jeannie's has been tested over the last month or so through Lily's birth, resulting jaundice issues and now a painful fall resulting in a broken arm.

But we have been surrounded by great friends and family who have swarmed us with love and care. Our Sunday School class has kept us fat and fed, and we have wonderful family who have spent their time helping around the house, with the kids, even giving me a night off for much-needed rest by spending the night and helping Jeannie and the baby.

Jeannie is the true hero here. She's had the natural challenge of caring for a premature newborn -- who, by the way is no longer premature as of Sunday, ironically, which was her due date...and the day her mother's arm was snapped at the elbow. Now she's having to provide mother's care for the baby with one arm free and the other in a heavy, bulky cast that has actually helped things considerably than the previous sling she was in for the first two days.

She's tired and worn out, and in pain occasionally, but she trudges on for Lily's sake. Little Abby has some issues with the whole situation we're afraid, but I don't think they have anything to do with Mommy's arm. We are all trying to be extra attentive to the two-year-old whose world has been turned upside down with the new baby the last few weeks.

And our older kids have been God-sends as well. Melody is the perfect big sister -- she took Abby and cousins Triston and Lydia outside yesterday for a while and was the best babysitter you'll find. Coby is also willing to do anything we ask...but like most 12-year-old boys, we do have to ask most of the time.

I could write individual thank-yous to everyone but I would most certainly leave someone out, so I will resist that temptation. But thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone -- and I ask that you will continue to pray for our family. We are going to come out on the other side of all this with more faith and love for the Lord than we had going in, that's for sure, and as I've been trying to tell my sometimes-despondent wife the last few days...

This too shall pass. Now, be careful with that weapon on your arm.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Field of Dreams

Our three-year long saga of select summer baseball ended last week with Coby's team, the T.H.A. Stix (T.H.A. stands for Thomas Hitting Academy) winning the Super Series 11U national championship in Round Rock, Texas.

Coby had a wonderful tournament and as his dad I couldn't have been more proud of his accomplishment. Not only was he as good as ever on the mound pitching, but he got hot at the plate and won Offensive MVP honors for the whole tournament. That's something we'll be proud of for awhile, considering he's struggled the last couple of years with the bat at times and had been dropped to ninth in the batting order late this summer.

But he got in one of those grooves last week. It was one of those type deals where everyone in the stands and on the field expected him to hit the ball out of the park every time he came to the plate. He finished with three bombs and was 6 for his last 9 over the final four games.

We had a good time and it was nice to win the big trophy finally. But the entire week I found myself thinking about a lot of things as we went to the ballpark day after day with 25 other teams participating in the World Series. I thought a lot about all the times we've traveled all over parts of five states the last three years, playing select baseball. I would guess that over the last three years Coby has played in between 175-200 baseball games, which is more than a major leaguer in one season. That's a lot of baseball.

But we've missed a lot of church along the way, and deep down that bothers me. We do all we can as a team when we're on the road to give the boys something spiritual on Sundays -- we haven't missed a devotional in three years and I honestly believe our boys are hearing the Word in some fashion while still playing baseball.

But I kept looking at the hundreds of people at the World Series last week and I just couldn't help but wonder -- does EVERYONE at these tournaments every weekend hold a 10-minute devotional with their players? How many times in the last three years has any one of a nameless young man heard anything about Jesus on a Sunday while at a ballpark?

I'm not one of those people who think it's a sin if you miss church just because the doors are open on a Sunday or Wednesday night. Going to church never saved anyone and it never will. What saves someone is that still small voice, and it can be heard anywhere at any time.

But I also believe that church should be a top priority, especially for believers. I hadn't been to a church service in over a month when I attended this past Sunday, and I could feel the groaning in my spirit. I'd missed it. I can only imagine how much my 12-year-old son had missed it all these weekends, despite the little nibbles and nobbles he was getting through a Sunday morning devotional with his teammates.

There is a huge mission field out there, away from church, and I believe for some reason God has put me and Coby on the baseball field around these boys for a reason. Not as an excuse to miss worship. But as a witness to the Light.

I'm not quite sure where all this leads but I really feel a calling to do something in terms of ministry for these baseball kids who are pulled away from church, and their families. Not sure if it means expanding the devotionals to include other teams or even writing devotional booklets specifically geared for young baseball kids. But the message needs to get out as always and we as Christians have to adapt and adjust to God's will.

I don't know, maybe it's the baseball itself. At some point as a parent we have to put our foot down and say you know what, playing 50 baseball games a year doesn't matter if your child ends up missing two months of church and Sunday School. Again, going to church and being involved doesn't guarantee you anything, but it's sure better than a lot of the alternatives.

We do enjoy baseball, and Coby has a talent for it that I believe God has given him. So there's the quandary. But I would ask for prayer that God would show me a way to mix the two and make it a ministry with Kingdom goals while we enjoy the game. And our worship time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

The outpouring of God's love and grace for me and my family was nearly overwhelming this past weekend when we had to rush our week-old premature baby girl to Shreveport's Sutton's Children's Hospital via ambulance Friday night.

There's nothing more helpless as a parent than watching EMTs load your four-pound baby girl into an ambulance and tell you that per hospital policy you have to follow them, without riding with your child.

Lily had experienced some dehydration issues in the first week of her life caused by a handful of different things, not the least of which was that she simply has entered this life way too early. She and Mom have been nursing well, but a variety of factors -- including an infected umbilical site on her belly button -- sent Jeannie back to the doctor with her Friday on a trip that eventually landed us in Shreveport.

Lily's bilirubin level (don't ask me to explain it, just Google it) had jumped back up to around 19 Friday. That's high but not dangerously high, or so the absolutely fabulous nurses and doctors at Sutton's told us. The important thing was to put the baby back under the bililights and work on her jaundice while also treating the infection on her belly button. The bad part about that was we had to be separated from her at all times outside of the three-hour intervals when she needed to nurse.

Lily instantly began to improve and by Sunday was out from under the lights. We received some much needed tips on watching for her dehydration, which is very common in premature babies we were told. She is nursing now much much better and longer, and we are making sure she gets more than she needs by supplementing her diet with a few millileters of breastmilk and/or formula at feeding time. As of this morning Lily has gained nine ounces in a week, based on her weight last Monday at the pediatrician's office. Since Friday alone she gained seven ounces in less than five days. She is much more alert and stays awake more often (high bilirubin makes a baby sleepy, which can cause them all kinds of trouble getting started at feeding time) and we have been instructed to be more careful with her in terms of making sure we are as clean and germ-free as possible when handling her. With all this in hand we were discharged and returned home Monday after the longest four-day weekend of our lives.

That's the personal update on Lily. The great thing for us as parents is that not only is our little baby well but we are now reunited with our other children, who had been scattered to all points over the weekend. We had some nice little family time Monday night and yours truly is back at work today, with mounds of catch-up stuff to do before going officially on vacation next week for Coby's annual World Series.

A couple of observations I wanted to make about our weekend at Sutton's Children's Hospital. First of all, I can't imagine a better facility for parents to take their sick baby. From the time we walked into the door -- actually before that, with the nurses in the ambulance who came over to assist Lily's transfer -- we felt like every person who came in contact with our child truly and deeply cared for her and her well-being. You know, it wasn't like some times when you might go to a medical facility and you feel like you're just providing someone's paycheck.

We arrived at the hospital about 10 minutes after Lily and within 15 minutes one of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) doctors came out to the lobby to talk with us. By then they had the baby under the lights and were starting the antibiotics. After briefly talking with the doctor, who was just as caring and open as the nurses were, we were allowed to go see Lily for the first time.

She had been placed in an isolation room, away from the other premies, because she actually had already been home and out of a hospital. The other children there had come straight from a delivery room or via ambulance from another hospital. Every child at Sutton's NICU has a personal nurse at their bedside 24/7. They can't cough, pee or poop without medical personnel knowing about it instantly.

The care Lily received this weekend was unbelievable. Her doctor at the NICU hugged us and the baby repeatedly when we left Monday; I can only imagine the love and care you might get while staying a longer amount of time. Within a matter of days Lily had become a member of the family. She was repeatedly held, stroked and hugged throughout the weekend, and it wasn't just me or her mother or her siblings or family.

The second thing is that while I am so thankful for these dedicated medical personnel, I am also quite saddened and my eyes were opened once again to the tragedy that abortion has brought to our nation. Sutton's NICU has 41 spots open for premature babies, and as of Friday night when we arrived 34 of those spots were filled. That was 34 tiny, tiny babies, all of them born long before their due dates, and every single one of them on some level was fighting for its life.

We saw babies that made Lily look like a high school senior. No kidding. We saw one baby that was just barely over two pounds -- I could have held it in the palm of my hand. Most of the babies were in their incubator boxes which were covered with thick blankets, to simulate the dark conditions of the womb. Tiny, tiny, tiny little babies.

And every one of them was fighting to stay alive. Some of them had been there for weeks, and we noticed that some never seemed to have any family by their side. We asked about this and were told that some babies have to stay at the NICU for so long that their parents/family have to go back to their hometowns, work during the week, and them come back over the weekends.

Yet anyone can walk into an abortion clinic and immediately snuff out the life of one of these tremendous fighters at any given moment in America. No questions asked, no crime committed. We have ignorant Senators in the U.S. Congress belittling the banning of partial-birth abortions during the Sotomayor hearings this week while some little two-pound, two-month premature baby boy battles for every breath with a patient nurse caring for him every second while his parents work to pay the bill.

You tell me. Does that sound like something that should be decided by some congressman or judge? Or does it sound like cold-blooded murder?

Anyone who is pro-choice or pro-abortion, I would encourage you to take a tour of a NICU facility similar to the one at Sutton's in Shreveport. If you can come out of there with the belief that abortion is something that should be defended, after watching those little babies fight to stay alive, then I would truly say there is little hope left for our nation.

God bless the little children and the little babies, and the ones who have been gifted with the ability to care for them. And I thank Him from the bottom of my heart for Lily and all my children, and for my wife, who helps give them life from the time they are born until they will one day leave us.

And we thank all of our friends and family who helped us through the past couple of weeks. Your phone calls, text messaging (thank God also for Facebook!), visits and prayers were intimately appreciated. God truly cares about us and can take even the darkest times in our lives to teach us some of the best things about living in the Light.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's All In His Timing

Our children's train is now complete.

Lily Ann came rushing into the world officially at 11:34 a.m. on Thursday, July 2, 2009, weighing just a feather shy of five pounds. To put that in perspective, I usually gain five pounds every 10 hours, which is about the time it took Jeannie to deliver our newest little girl once her water unexpectedly gushed forth early Thursday morning.

Jeannie has referred to Lily as our "little caboose," which is fitting -- she is the last car in the train for sure. We took that means to an end about an hour after the delivery when my wife was whisked away to the operating room for a quick little procedure that hopefully will dry up the well, so to speak.

Having Lily and all that it entails is really no problem for us. We've had three diffferent prior experiences to get it right and whether we succeeded or not experience counts.

But when you are literally not prepared for it, it takes a few days to comprehend and put all the thoughts on paper, you know? Besides, I haven't had access to a viable computer for blogging so I apologize for the lateness of this commentary.

A couple of entries ago I mentioned some of the memorable highlights of each of our children's births. Lily apparently sensed she wasn't getting enough attention already and wanted to make a splash.

Of course we fully expected to be early with the delivery -- Jeannie's never been late with a single child. Coby was a week early, and Abby was induced a week early. Melody literally came on her due date -- Jeannie's water broke at five minutes after midnight on the due date. So, we were expecting Aug. 2 or a little before to be the time Lily arrived.

All that to say this -- we were nowhere near ready for this baby to be here. When I say we had nothing, we had NOTHING prepared. No diapers. No wipes. Certainly no clothes. As of about 10 days ago, we hadn't discussed where the baby would even sleep.

I should have noticed the signs. Around Monday of last week Jeannie started worrying more about such things as sleeping arrangements. We have two bedrooms in which to house four children, and three of them are girls. For me, the math never added up other than putting three girls in one room.

That, of course, was not an ideal solution. Melody has been good rooming with Abby but quite frankly wasn't up much for a second baby sister to be sharing a room with -- especially with her big brother Coby all snug and comfy in his own private room.

So Mom and Dad had to make an executive decision, meaning we approached Coby about at least sharing his room with his tiny baby sister for a few weeks-months-years. I've got to admit my selfish nature would never have allowed me to do such a thing. But my son isn't selfish. He readily agreed to the arrangement and was quite excited at the prospect. I'm not sure how excited he will be once Lily actually moves into the room, but that will play out later.

Jeannie was busy for about three days moving beds around, vacuuming, cleaning. By Wednesday she'd put up Abby's new toddler bed and moved the old baby bed into Coby's room, where it was still about halfway put back together. We were concerned about Abby adjusting to the toddler bed, but she has made the switch as smoothly as could have been expected or hoped for.

I came home Tuesday evening from work to find that every stitch of clothing I owned had been washed and dried. That hasn't happened since the day we exchanged wedding vows, and even before then my own mother never had my clean clothes meter at 100 percent. I should have noticed something supernatural was taking place but...

I got sick. Sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, some sort of stomach bug hit me with a vengeance. I bravely trudged into the office Wednesday morning but couldn't make it past 9 before heading back home. Jeannie was sitting on the couch folding more clothes when I arrived and said something about my stomach churning. I went straight to the bedroom and climbed into bed, where I slept soundly for nearly five hours. I woke up, watched some TV for about 45 minutes or so before crawling back to bed and getting in another couple hours of slumber, complete with chills and stomach cramping. I felt good enough to munch on a small bowl of oatmeal with toast later Wednesday evening but hit the sack early again, hoping more rest would allow me to return to the office Thursday. Besides, we'd planned a busy Fourth of July weekend excursion with Stu and Lauren to Stu's parents' house on Lake Jacksonville, with plans to leave Thursday night. I would certainly feel rested and ready for Independence Day.

I was sleeping soundly before I remember opening my eyes facing the bedside table. The clock said 1:45. Jeannie was hovering over me, and said something like "you're going to think I'm crazy but I think my water just broke."

I did think she was crazy. We were a full month away from Lily's due date. Babies don't come that early, I was fairly certain.

"What do you mean, your water broke?"

"Either that or I'm really going to the bathroom."

Without getting too graphic here, let's just say we both quickly determined the problem wasn't kidney- or bladder-related. I was pretty certain she was sure of what she was feeling when she told me she'd first felt the sensation around midnight but, rather than wake me up for a false alarm had waited to make sure. At some point she became sure -- she had already packed a bag and done her hair before rousing me from slumber.

Thankfully Donnis was available to come and stay with our other children rather than us waking them in the middle of the night and trying to find a spot to drop them. There was still a part of me thinking this was just some sort of weird coincidence and that we'd be back home before the sun came up, therefore I didn't pack a bag for myself.

We arrived at the hospital in Marshall about 3 a.m., and Jeannie was whisked into a tiny exam room in the LDR unit. We sat there for about 45 minutes or so and a nurse confirmed the bag of water had ruptured. A quick call to the doctor got us admitted to the hospital, and moments later we were in one of the bigger, more comfortable LDR rooms.

Once I knew Jeannie was settled, I grabbed a quick nap on the pull-out bed in the room. The doctor arrived a little after seven, confirmed everything we'd already been told and then did a quick sonogram to determine if the baby's head had even dropped, which was something I'd feared all morning.

Yep, Lily had turned and her head was in the birth canal. Everything was on go, and labor officially underway. Four hours or so later, we had our newest little girl -- a full four weeks before her due date.

The blessings of this experience have been tremendous for us. It's such a blessing to have a) a family that is always ready to help and be there for you in times of stress, b) friends who are like family, and c) a church that supports and loves one another. We had people going back to the house to try and make some semblance of order for a baby that wasn't expected for weeks. We have had food delivered to our house ever since we came home, and the only thing I've had to make for anyone while Jeannie recovers is Pop Tarts at breakfast.

The biggest blessing of all, however, is Lily Ann. When she was born I could literally hold her in my forearm and her legs not touch my chest. A lot of that is that she still pulls them up into a fetal position most of the time, especially while sleeping. It's hard to look at her and imagine she still should be in her mother's womb, yet she is going to develop over the last month in utero out of utero.

Our kids have been great too. Coby and Melody went nearly 10 years as the two kids in the family, and they've had a lot of responsibility put on them to help out around the house since Abby was born two years ago. The two big kids were just as excited as us about the newest arrival. I'm still not quite certain Abby full comprehends Lily's place with us, but she has gotten in probably more kisses and hugs on her little sister than anyone. The biggest challenge we face here in the early going with her, apparently, is convincing her that Lily is actually not a dog or cat, because all Abby wants to do is "pet" her.

No, I never expected to have Lily get her so quickly. But it just goes to show you that God is in control of our lives whether we want to admit it or accept it. This could not have happened as smoothly as it has without His hand in it every step of the way. I firmly believe that my long period of sleep the day before the birth was divinely generated, because I was rested and ready to go for the long day Thursday and into the weekend.

And finally, Jeannie is the perfect mom. One thing I've learned in 16 years of marriage (as of Friday the 10th) is that my wife has one of the strongest wills of anyone I've ever known. She nursed our older two children and had planned on doing so with Abby, but for whatever reason the nursing thing never really clicked between those two and Abby had to settle mostly for formula. I knew this bothered Jeannie for a long time and once we found out we were expecting Lily I began praying that the nursing experience would be a pleasant one this time around so she could enjoy what only mothers and babies can enjoy one more time.

The first few hours were typically and predictably tough, although Lily had shown very promising signs of wanting to nurse. Long story short, after a couple of good cries brought on by the hormones and some tough moments, Jeannie pushed through with the determination that has become her trademark and mom and baby are doing extremely well at feeding time. And still, remarkably, she's found little bits of time over the past few days to stay connected with the other three children in the house, especially little Abby who is still our baby as well and just needs attention. The older kids help with that as well as me trying to give as much as a dad can, but sometimes, well, sometimes a two-year-old just needs her mommy. And Jeannie has been there as well as being there for little Lily as well. It's a delicate balancing act that only moms can appreciate and understand.

So there it is. We expanded the family as expected but much earlier than expected. It's been a great experience, and God has been evident every moment of the journey.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Father's Day

My 12th day as a father came and went Sunday with little fanfare really. Wait, that's not right...my 12th Father's Day I should say.

That still doesn't necessarily sound correct but let's move on.

What is Father's Day really? I mean, c'mon guys, moms do all the work. There's a reason why Mother's Day comes first, and why it comes at a time of year when you can actually enjoy some outdoor activity. The temperature here in the 'Ville on Sunday reached triple digits. Who's gonna get out and fire up the grill in that furnace?

Yours truly upset his wife early Sunday morning by getting up early. Yes, I got up and couldn't go back to sleep and decided to rise for some early coffee by my standards. I entered the kitchen to the smell of eggs, bacon and biscuits, and was promptly greeted with something akin to diaper rash.

"What are you doing up? You're not supposed to be up," is how the love of my life greeted me from a night of unrestful slumber.

I briefly wondered if I'd missed something on the calendar, because I just knew the one I was living by said this was supposed to be FATHER'S DAY. A simple "good morning" would have been better appreciated.

Turns out I had walked in on my surprise. I was to have been served breakfast in bed. We settled for breakfast on the patio, because I wasn't going back to bed.

My kids gave me their respective cards, all hand-written and created personally. Coby signed his simply with "Your Only Son," overstating the obvious. Melody was quite respectful and creative with hers as well, as she always is. My oldest daughter is most like her dad in that respect.

Little Abby wasn't quite sure what was going on that was any different than the previous morning. But she gave me a card nonetheless, and it contained her own little scribble, literally. I'm talking crayon on construction paper, but it's as good as gold for me.

Jeannie, who'd gotten up at the crack of dawn to prepare my Father's Day feast, also gave me a card. I'll not tell you what it said; some things just need to remain secret.

Coby was finishing up a baseball tournament across town that afternoon but I had already made the decision to attend church and trust we'd make it to the game on time. It all worked out and it was good to worship the Lord; I'd missed the last two Sundays and was needing a good dose of reality.

We high-tailed it home and made it to the game 45 minutes early. The temperature at that point was only about 120 degrees or so, but the boys came through with a solid 4-0 victory. We had about three hours off, so a couple of us visited the local McAlister's for a snack and some sweet tea before I zipped back to the 'Ville to pick up the girls, who'd decided to sit out the first game and hope there would be a second.

Went back to the ballpark to watch Coby pitch a nice ballgame against a pretty good team from Carthage. "My Only Son" left after four innings of work with a 4-2 lead, having thrown 75 pitches on a sweltering day. Thirty-seven of those had come in the top of the fourth when he pitched out of jam and left the bases loaded after allowing just one run. We went on to win 5-2 and advanced to the championship.

We then faced the Texas Thunder in the championship game as the sun began to set, and the temperature fell into a somewhat comfortable 80-degree range. There's really nothing like watching the sun set at the ballpark, no matter what ballpark it is, after a long day of baseball.

The Thunder was playing its fourth game of the day and brought some big momentum in the game, jumping out on us 2-0 in the first inning. We answered with two of our own and took a 3-2 lead an inning later, only to have them tie it up and 3-3. It stayed that way till the fifth, when they scratched a couple of runs to take a 5-3 lead.

We picked up a run in the bottom of the fifth to make it 5-4, and figured Coby could use some more work. He was going to be on a strict pitch count this time, having thrown earlier in the day, but as it turned out it wasn't needed. He threw 13 pitches in the sixth inning and we picked up the tying run in the bottom half to send it to extra innings. "My Only Son" pitched the seventh inning and took only seven pitches to get out of it, and we won it in the bottom half with a bases-loaded single.

Got home a little after 11 p.m. That was Father's Day for me. I don't have a whole lot of money and I'm not the greatest dad in the world by far. But I got a heck of a family whose company I adore, and spending the time with them is the ultimate gift for me.

Championships only add to the enjoyment.