2013 in Review

One of our favorite things to do at the end of each year is remind ourselves of some of the year’s highlights. Originally I intended to post the “Top 10 Blog Posts of 2013”. However, as I looked at what those posts were, I realized that most of them were the first Abby updates. Rather than include ten Abby updates, I’ve edited the list slightly to give a fair view of some of the favorite posts of the year:

10. Wasted Seasons

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This is one of Dan’s favorite posts of the year.

9. Anniversary Date

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A sweet story of a special date just days before Abby was born.

8. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

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Some thoughts on the lessons I’ve learned this year about suffering.

7. Ten Things I’ve Learned in Three Years of Marriage

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An anniversary post.

6. Abby is Home!

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This was the highlight of our year!

5. A Letter from Abby

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Abby hijacked my blog one day and wrote this sweet letter of thanks.

4. Abigail’s Birth Story

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A detailed account of the day Abby was born.

3. The Birth Story I’ll Never Tell

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In this post, I shared why we will never have the birth story we had always hoped for, and how God helped us to accept the situation.

2. Abby Update: 66 Days Old

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This is the day Abigail was transferred from St. Joe’s over to UofM Mott’s Children’s Hospital due to her excessive spit up and weight loss over the past several weeks.

1. Introducing Abigail Faith

 photo pregnancies_zps233c3fe6.jpgWas anyone surprised? This was the first post published after Abby was born announcing her early birth at just 28 and a half weeks.

Our Christmas…a Poem

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Christmas stockings, Christmas lights
Christmas music played at night,
Angel ornaments made by (great) Gramma
(no we don’t believe in Santa)

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Dancing on our living room floor
Snow falls just outside the door
Taylors come to celebrate
And all the presents are homemade

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Cookie cutter biscuits, those are neat
Hurry up, it’s time to eat!
Exchanging gifts is so much fun
We made something for everyone.

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A calendar made with Lydia’s hands
so Grandma T can keep track of plans
Grandpa got some special tea
Grown and homemade by Mommy

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Too soon it was time to go
So no one gets (too) stuck in the snow
Goodbyes are always very sad,
but there was more fun to be had.

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Christmas morning is coming quick
The roads are getting pretty slick
Christmas eve we head out the door
because we need just one gift more.

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Christmas morning comes at last
The night did not pass all to fast
Except for Mom, hope she’s not crabby
She was up with hungry Abby

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Christmas pjs, pretty dresses
Lots of wrapping paper messes
Candles in the morning dark
The party is about to start!

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Lydia can’t believe her eyes
A big girl bed! What a surprise!
Now Daddy reads some from God’s word
Stockings are second, presents are third

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Abby’s gift: to be snuggled all day,
She wouldn’t have it any other way
Mommy got a pretty coat
Daddy got some workout clothes.

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Christmas came and Christmas went
But the best gift was still heaven sent
Baby Jesus come to earth
We love to celebrate His birth!

Meaningful Traditions and Christmas Noise

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On Saturday night I was sitting on the couch holding Abby and looking at our Christmas tree. I was remembering the message brought to the shepherds by the angels on that very first “Christmas” night (of course, I have to include this in the KJV. Thanks to Charlie Brown, it’s hard not to believe these were the exact words spoken by the angel, in English and everything.)

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

What triggered my thoughts about those angels and their message? We had just celebrated the Taylor family Christmas with Dan’s parents, brother and sister-in-law. In addition to their own gifts they had brought gifts from Dan’s grandparents. And every year Dan’s grandma makes each of her family members an ornament. A lot of the ones on our tree are angels, and those special ornaments had started my Christmas reminiscing.

In the background we had an “all-Christmas, all the time” radio station playing. And at that moment the song playing had nothing to do with shepherds, angels, or Baby Jesus. It was probably either a love song or something about Santa Claus. To me, right then, it just sounded like noise.

There is a remarkable difference between the deep and true story of Jesus birth, and special traditions that help us remember it, and the emptiness of Christless traditions.

A couple of years ago I became slightly obsessed with starting some Christmas traditions…meaningful traditions. I asked families in our church what they do, I asked Dan for ideas, I even searched online. And slowly we have started our own traditions.

We have our Christmas moose. There’s nothing especially Christmasy about him except that he promotes a lot of family fun and laughter.

We put up our tree and decorate as a family. And we take out the ornaments one-by-one and remember the story behind them. Most of our ornaments are those special one stitched by Dan’s grandma. I’ve also taken a page out of her book and combined it with an idea from my dad and cross-stitched an ornament each year to symbolize something significant that happened.

No, these traditions don’t directly tell the story of Jesus birth. However, the love and joy our family shares are only possible because He came. I’m still developing some even deeper traditions to instill Christmas truths in our kiddos.

One of the traditions I’d like to start is one that a friend does with her family. Each December she wraps up 25 children’s Christmas stories. Every night the kids pick out a book, unwrap it, and read it together.

I’d like to ask for input from some of you readers. I’m hoping that, in the next year, I’ll be able to start our own Christmas story collection. However, I want this tradition to be something that will instill honorable qualities and Christmas truths in our kiddos. Top-notch books with good pictures too. Any ideas?

And, just for fun, I’d love to hear what Christmas traditions you enjoy most or enjoyed as a child. Opening pajamas every Christmas eve? Swedish meatballs and pickled herring Mom’s oreo ice cream dessert at Christmas dinner? What were and are some of your favorites?

Taylor Christmas Letter 2013

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Hullo there,

Let me introduce myself. In the summer of 2008, Justine was a counselor at Lake Ann Camp. During the last week of the summer, one of her sweet young campers gave Justine a stuffed moose from the camp store. That’s me. Not much happened in my lonely life until two years ago when Justine went crazy decorating for Christmas. Between the tree, the green blanket on the couch, and the plaid stockings on the wall, she decided the home looked a little like a lodge, and she threw me into the mix. That happy year I was renamed “The Christmas Moose”. (Although I’m pushing hard to become an all-year moose, as the 11 months in a box aren’t too exciting).

Well this year, I’m proud to say, the Taylors have given me the honor of writing their Christmas letter. So, here I go!

It’s been a year full of changes for the Taylor family. Can you believe it was only a year ago that they were living in their little apartment on campus at Eastern Michigan University? Dan was working many hours as he held an internship while taking classes toward a Master’s degree. The little munchkin (she’s since been upgraded to “the Big Girl”) was much more of a baby as she had little hair, very few words, and she still army crawled everywhere.

Early in the year Lydia pleased everyone by walking for the first time, just the night before she was scheduled to start physical therapy because she wasn’t walking! Because she was wearing a purple layered tutu from her Aunt Steph at the time, the tutu has been dubbed “the power tutu”. You can watch her first steps here.

Lydia has come a long way since those first steps. She has learned many new words, begun memorizing her first Bible verses, and developed her signature Munchkin Laugh. Lydia is a sweet helper, and awesome big sister, and cute beyond words. See?

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I just love that little Munchkin.

Well, anyway, Dan was gone a lot at the beginning of the year and we all missed him. Yes, even me. Even with that little Munchkin army crawling around, then walking on her knees, then on her little legs at last. In the spring we were all thrilled when he graduated with a Masters degree in Math. That’s right, he is now a master of mathematics. Feel free to call him for help with your math problems or your kiddo’s homework.

With the end of Dan’s college career, the family packed everything else up (I was already in my box) and we moved to a big condo in Ann Arbor, right next door to Dan’s new job. The company he has been interning for hired him full time and he has been working there ever since. We loved living so close to work! Dan could come home for lunch, and was still home for an early dinner.

It was a good thing too, because Justine wasn’t feeling too well at the time with another munchkin on the way!

Lydia spent a few days in the hospital after coming down with some sort of stomach bug, but the whole family got sick after her hospital stay and didn’t seem to get better. Finally it was determined that the place was moldy and was making everyone, but especially Dan, sick. The family quickly packed up again (who am I kidding? The family didn’t pack up at all, but the ladies from Bible study came over and packed everything up. Sweet ladies they are too.)

It was off to Plymouth for a lovely, flowery summer home. The place was already fully furnished and the yard was landscaped with constantly changing flowers and plants. There was a park nearby and the Munchkin and her Mommy enjoyed the playground almost every day.

Everyone had warned Baby Number Two not to come until after the summer ended, because the home was only a short-term solution and there was another move planned in September. But that little Munchkin didn’t listen and she surprised everyone by coming even earlier than her sister. But you can read all about that here if you haven’t already.

Well, you all know what the next three months held, so I won’t repeat it here. The family was apart and gone a lot while our new baby, Abigail spent 82 days in the NICU of two different hospitals.

And you know what happened because of all that? I didn’t get taken out of my box until nine long days after Thanksgiving. I guess I won’t hold it against them, because it sounds like they didn’t want to stay at the hospital that long.

Well, now we’re together again, me included. And we love it. There is a lot of smiling and laughter. There is a lot of Christmas music and dancing and spinning around the living room (“swimming”, as the older Munchkin likes to say). And we all are going to be together on Christmas and for a whole week afterwards too (Dan gets the time off work).

We do love to be together.

So that was our year, in a long nutshell. As I wrap this letter up I just want to tell you all to take the time to enjoy your togetherness this holiday season. It’s a gift not everyone gets to enjoy. Don’t forget that we’re celebrating the birth of another baby, Baby Jesus, who came to be the savior of the world. And, if you talk to Dan or Justine anytime soon, put in a good word for me so that maybe I’ll get upgraded to the all-year Moose.

Merry Christmas to you all, on behalf of the Taylors.

Already Worth It

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Before I was ever a Mom, I had a conversation with a mother of four. She was telling me about a friend of hers who had recently had her own baby and “would already do it again”. She was encouraging me because we had recently announced that we were expecting our first baby.

Now anyone who has a baby goes through some period of pain, especially those who choose to have an all-natural birth or who have to have a c-section (I can’t speak for those who take any other route as I’ve not experienced them myself, but I’m assuming they have their fair share of pain too). However, once the baby comes, the pain passes and the new mom enters a new state of euphoria at the joy of welcoming her new baby into the world.

For us, the “labor pains” last much longer, extended through weeks and months in the NICU before we finally get to bring our baby home. But, even with the labor pain, the painful time of separation, and all the difficulties that come along with a NICU baby, I just wanted to let everyone know it has already been worth it. Our long hospital stay is over (sometimes I still can’t believe it!) and it feels like an old dream or a distant memory.

Every long night spent apart from our baby, every frustrating day of weight loss, every minute spent apart from Lydia while we were in the hospital, the messy house, the infrequent sleep and meals, the stress of dealing with a hospital change and new nurses, doctors, and practices…

Having our sweet little blessing at home for the past 17 days has already made it all totally worth it.

When Life Gives Us Lemons

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Last week Lydia was eating sunflower seeds out of a cup. I noticed her sneeze as she reclined in Abby’s Boppy and then saw something come out of her nose. Surprised, I called her over to discover that it was a sunflower seed she had stuck up her nose. I quickly informed her that she should never again put anything up her nose, especially a sunflower seed and then told her to throw it in the trash can.

She shoved it up her nose again.

I quickly grabbed her and looked up her nose, but there was no seed in sight. I told her to blow her nose, but she sucked air in instead. Thinking to myself, “I have to get her to sneeze”, I put some pepper in my hand and told her to smell it. No sneeze. I called Dan while Lydia kept pouring out pepper and sniffing it, something she now thinks is hilarious.

Dan searched online and found some instructions on performing a “Mother’s Kiss”. I plugged Lydia’s other nostril (the one without the seed in it), covered her mouth with mine, and gently blew. The seed didn’t come out, but Lydia thought this was hilarious too. I finally gave up, but a few moments later Lydia walked over to me with the seed in her hand. It worked.

The next day we had a container of cherry tomatoes sitting on the table, leftover from a meal provided by a family from our church the night before. As I was taking care of Abigail, Lydia wandered over to the table, crawled up a chair, and started eating the tomatoes. “Well, tomatoes are good for her”, I thought to myself and didn’t pay much attention. A few minutes later Lydia started screaming, “Salsa! Salsa! Pants!”. I didn’t know what she was talking about and told her everything was just fine.

When she didn’t calm down I came to her to find out what the problem was. She had overeaten on tomatoes and thrown up all over her pants. I cleaned her up and chuckled about the situation and then got on the computer to do some work. Lydia asked to sit in my lap and a few moments later threw up again, all over my pants this time.

As you can see, things are sometimes crazy around this home now that we have two little ones. While we are happy to have Abby home, I would be lying if I pretended everything was going perfectly. But, at least the exciting happenings are something we can laugh about…later. Along with Lydia’s shenanigans, Abby is contributing to the madness and Dan and I haven’t been getting much sleep.

Now, Dan manages ok without sleep, but I tend to get a little, well…moody. One minute I’m snuggling my girls, the next I’m angry, the next I’m crying, than we’re all hugging again. Sometimes the only good thing to do is laugh.

Last week Abby decided she only wanted to sleep while being held on the couch…all night long. Around the same time I followed some internet instructions on washing a pillow that Lydia had thrown up on. The pillow came out of the wash not only torn open, but completely deformed. And so, between my nights on the couch and in bed on a lumply pillow, I have developed a terribly stiff neck.

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Now Abby likes to sleep on her Boppy during the day, so one day I was inspired to follow her example and I took a nap on the floor lying with my head on the Boppy. It turns out the Boppy is pretty comfortable! Well Dan blessed me with an early Christmas present this weekend: a new pillow. But we still took the time last night to marvel and the comfort of a Boppy and thought how strange it would look if we just replaced our pillows on the bed with Boppys for one and all.

Last night I was having some of my sleep-deprived mood swings. I had been happily snuggling with Dan on the floor next to the couch as we played with Abby. Then we got dinner ready (well, a family from church had given us dinner and we heated it all up). Somewhere in there I got mad and by the time we were eating I was crying. Once that was over there was a moment of silence. Dan looked at some cut up lemons that had been given to us by the family from church. He said, “Want to see who can eat a quarter of a lemon faster?”

Of course, that was the best thing to do at the time, so to break all of the tension we had a brief lemon-eating competition. Even though he hates anything sour, Dan finished his in about one tenth the time that I did, but cheered me on for finishing anyway.

All that to say, things are pretty crazy around here, but we’re trying to stay good humored. And while we may not be laughing at it all just yet, we have at least learned how to cope. When life gives you lemons, have a lemon-eating competition.

Wasted Seasons

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Two and a half years ago, after Lydia was born, we missed the best weeks of summer. They happened while we passed our time in the hospital. After Abby was born I kept hoping she would come home while the weather was still nice. I love fall. And I wanted to really enjoy it with Abby at home.

Instead, the days, then weeks, and even months passed and the season went with them. Occasionally, during a drive to pick up Dan from work, I would notice the brightly colored trees lining the highway. Those were the in-between moments when I was able to enjoy fall…just a little. There was no apple picking, no pumpkins, no walks in the crunchy leaves for us. I kept telling Abby, “You have to come home before it gets cold.” She didn’t.

Somewhere in there I was having a conversation with a friend at church. She had just gone through her own share of troubles that had “interrupted life”. It was after this conversation that I noticed a running theme. A lot of people were going through different difficulties that were interrupting their life. Mold problems in the home, sickness, hospital stays, unemployment…and our lives were all put on hold until the troubles passed.

And I realized that day that I have to stop putting my life on hold, because what I thought were interruptions in life were actually the seasons of life slipping away while I neglected to enjoy them.

So I made a renewed effort to make the most of my season. I tried to enjoy the leaves during our in-between drives. I took Lydia to the hospital garden and watched her balance as she walked along the short stone wall. And I captured a precious moment in the picture above when Lydia marveled in one of the first snows of the year while looking out from Abby’s NICU window.

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I realized that three months in the NICU were not a chunk of my life just wasted. Life is too short for me to decide certain seasons are “interruptions” in the real thing. “That’s life”, as the saying goes, and I have to make the most of it or it will slip away from me unenjoyed.

Now we’re in a new season. It’s a lovely one. Abby is home and Christmas is coming. But, like all seasons, it has it’s own difficulties. For now, though, I’m remembering my lesson. If I was too absorbed in the difficulties, I wouldn’t have time to enjoy this cuteness:

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A Letter from Abby

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Dear Everybody,

I heard my Mommy and Daddy talking about a blog where Mommy writes things about our life and people read them. I had something to say, so I thought that maybe this would be the best way to do it.

My name is Abigail. Since Mommy writes about our family, maybe you’ve heard of me before. I was born a long time ago, but I just got to come home last week. I love being home! Mom and Dad snuggle me almost all the time. Even Lydia holds me. And I love it when they sing to me. I get to lay in my toy jungle, take baths in my whale bathtub from Nana, and I even get to lay on the floor and stare at the lights on the tree that grew in our living room just in time for Christmas. Except for the snuggling, that’s my favorite.

Well, I wanted to write a little bit on here to say thank you to some people. You see, Mommy and Daddy must always be late for things, because they weren’t ready for me when I was born. While I was all snug and warm in my isolette, Mommy and Daddy were running around like crazy trying to do a zillion things. And they told Mommy not to run around like crazy trying to do things because on top of having me she just had surgery too! Well anyway, Grandma and Grandpa and Nana and Papa all came down and helped watch Lydia and take care of Mommy so she wouldn’t cry as much and so she and Daddy could come see me.

Then my family finally got into a routine, but sometimes Lydia wasn’t very good at the hospital. She liked to push buttons and pull out cords and things. I can’t really blame her. Oh, and she was loud too. And me and the other tiny babies don’t like loud noises. So some nice people from church offered to play with Lydia so Mommy and Daddy could come and play with me. I liked that a lot.

I don’t know what stress is yet, but Mommy and Daddy said they had a lot of it. One night Mommy had so much that she didn’t want to go home and clean everything. I guess she makes a lot of messes or something. But later I found out that the nice lady who was watching Lydia sleep had cleaned up all of Mommy’s messes! Mommy was so happy she almost started crying again (which I don’t understand at all). She said there were two nice ladies who would clean up her messes every time they watched Lydia sleep. Cleaning must be really not fun because Mommy sure liked not doing it.

Sometimes I heard Mommy and Daddy say they were really hungry but they didn’t have time to eat. They must love me a lot because I can’t imagine anything more important than eating. Well some other nice people gave Mommy and Daddy food. It was all cooked and everything. And some other people gave them little plastic cards that turned into food when they took them into a special building called a Qdoba. Well I don’t understand all that, but I know how important it is to eat so I sure am glad other people fed my parents so they could come and feed me.

Most of the things I’m thankful for I only heard about, but there’s one thing I did get to see. A few different times people came to see me! They talked about me and sat with me and even prayed for me. I sure liked that a lot. Mommy and Daddy said lots of people were praying for me. I must be pretty special to have so many friends already.

Well, I don’t know how long these letters are supposed to be but there was just one more person I wanted to thank.

You see, Mommy and Daddy sacrificed a whole lot to come see me every day. But even with all their sacrifices, they were still gone a lot. I wasn’t afraid when they left though. Do you know why? They told me that even when they left me I wasn’t going to be alone because someone named Jesus was staying with me all the time. He sent His angels to watch Lydia when Mommy and Daddy couldn’t be with her and He and His angels took care of me too! Sometimes those really smart doctors made mistakes but Jesus would tell Mommy and Daddy what to do so I was never in trouble. Jesus stayed with me every night. He even came with me when I had to have surgery, and he helped those doctors do a really good job.

Now that I’m home, a lot of those really great people I mentioned aren’t around any more. Nobody comes to watch Lydia and no one cleans up Mommy’s messes anymore. But when I came home, Jesus stayed with me even then. I don’t know if anyone else out there has to stay in the hospital all the time, or doesn’t get to eat because they’re so busy, or has any other problems that make life less fun, but I sure hope they know Jesus too. He can take care of you like no one else ever could.

Well, Mommy’s naptime is almost over, so I better go. Thanks for reading my letter. And thanks to all those people who helped Mommy and Daddy take good care of me.

Abigail Faith

This is Love

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A few nights ago I was up at three in the morning with Abby. Dan had taken a few days off of work when Abby came home but he went back on Thursday and Friday, and he had asked me to start taking over all of the night time feedings, which was what both of us had planned on happening all along.

But I was so tired. As I sat in the glider with Abby my mind drifted off to all of the couples I have seen lately who have recently become engaged, or married, or celebrated their first wedding anniversaries. According to their Facebook pages their days and nights have been quite full with a lot of dates, love letters, flowers, and special time together.

My mind drifted through Dan and my own early days of marriage, then fast-forwarded to the past few months. We spent almost three long months with Abby in the hospital. At times, it felt like one long nightmare. Three emotional, exhausting, painful, long months. There wasn’t time, energy, or money for flowers or chocolate or date nights. We didn’t even have a free moment to just sit together on our couch.

And now Abby is home. Things are happier and much less crazy. Our house is cleaner than it has been since we moved in. But things are still busy, as any mother of two or more would surely understand. And once again there has been no time, money, or energy for date nights or flowers or love letters…you get the idea.

So as I sat there with Abby, so tired, thinking about all these latest events in my life and others, I was struggling to have a good attitude. I began to pray.

God reminded me of the reasons I married Dan. And I remembered my first joy I at being the one who gets to serve him for the rest of his life. I remembered how Eve was created to be Adam’s helper, and how that’s my main job today. And then God brought to mind a passage from Philippians:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

It occurred to me then, that this is true love. It isn’t always happy, or easy, or pretty. This is how Jesus loved us. He humbled himself, came to earth, suffered, was rejected, and died. If this is God’s great example of love, then I can follow His example in how I love Dan. So even when there’s no money for flowers, no time for date nights, and no energy to stay up a few minutes longer together and talk at night, I can still love Dan like Jesus did.

During the late nights, the hard work, and the times apart I can still demonstrate real love to Dan.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the other stuff.

I know it’s an old lesson, and I’ll probably need to learn it again. But it was a good one I thought worth sharing. I made it through the three AM feeding with a song in my heart and a smile (a sleepy smile, that is) on my face. And a couple of nights later the girls were asleep and Dan and I, for the first time in a long time, had the time and energy to sit together on our couch chatting and looking at the lights on our newly decorated Christmas tree.