Overwhelmingly Blessed

Growing up, I always thought it was weird when my classmates would celebrate Christmas on any day other than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But now that Dan and I live four and a half hours away from most of our family, we’ve joined the club. Dan’s parents came down the weekend before Christmas, in part, to celebrate Dan’s brother’s graduation, and in part, to celebrate Christmas as a family.

Lydia enjoyed new additions to her dress up closet, and Abby loved her new little piano. The gift opening was a lot of fun.

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Oh, and the food in Abby’s stocking was also a big hit.

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Just a couple of days later, my parents came down for another Christmas celebration. They made one of my favorite Christmas treats with Lydia and we enjoyed the afternoon together before opening presents. Abby got a little ball she loves to chase around and Lydia opened a new baby doll which she now carries with her everywhere.

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It was such a blessing to be able to see both sets of parents. We weren’t sure if they would be able to come this year, and we weren’t really able to travel at this point in my pregnancy. So it was exciting when things came together at the last minute and we got to do our family Christmases after all.

And then…Christmas Eve came, and we scrambled (ok, I scrambled) to get last minute preparations done. Between my overdoing it and Abby’s decision to almost choke on some plastic, things sort of fell apart at the end of the night. We threw some spaghetti in a pot and decided to keep things a little simpler next year.

But the girls were finally put to bed, the living room cleaned, and the presents wrapped. The advent calendar was filled. Lydia finally got to put on the sticker of Baby Jesus in the manger. The stockings were stuffed, and the food was prepared. Dan and I headed off to sleep before midnight.

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Then…Christmas morning.

I have an unwritten rule that I don’t take any pictures Christmas morning during the gift opening. We just enjoy our time together, technology set aside. Lydia got a toy doll stroller, perfect for her new baby doll. Abby got a toy train that we all love playing with. And, even though there’s no snow right now, the girls got a sled. It turned out that sleds do work(ish) on grass and carpet.

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After gift-opening, everyone enjoyed breakfast and got dressed. Dan read us the Christmas story. Then, we all played inside for a while, then the kids went outside with Dan to play on their new sled while I cleaned up from breakfast and worked on lunch. After a snacky sort of lunch, the Taylor girls got in some nice naps.

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Soon enough, it was dinner time. After dinner, we decided to give Lydia real treat and let her watch her very first video: A Charlie Brown Christmas. She also got to eat dessert in the living room. It was epic. Abby was unimpressed.

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And then it was time for bed. All day long Dan and I just felt overwhelmingly blessed. Our hearts were full. It was such a happy day. And then we got Dan home for three more days. Needless to day, it was a happy weekend. I hope you all enjoyed Christmases as happy as ours was, celebrating Jesus Birth with the ones you love the most.

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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?

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

Abby Update: 37 Days Old

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Weight: 4 pounds, 3 ounces
Feedings: 36 milliliters fortified to 24 cal every 3 hours by gravity

One of the most exciting things to track as NICU babies get closer and closer to discharge is how much milk they’re able to take in on their own, either by bottles or nursing. Abby hasn’t started on bottles yet, but here’s her success nursing from the past few attempts:

Wednesday night: 14 milliliters
Thursday morning: 28 milliliters
Thursday night: 26 milliliters
Friday morning: 2 milliliters

Wednesday night our nurse was skeptical about weighing Abby before she ate. “It’s still early. We don’t want to set parents up for disappointment”, she told us. Then, after Abby ate for a short amount of time, and fell asleep, we weighed her again. I couldn’t see the weight but I heard the nurse say, “Well, look at that!” when she saw that Abby had taken in 14 milliliters. The next morning was her personal record so far: 28! When doctors came for rounds they were surprised at her progress. Babies aren’t really expected to succeed until about 35 weeks. Abby was only at 33 1/2 at the time.

So the doctor asked us when we’d like to start bottles. However, she also told us that Abby is so young and small that she probably still won’t come home for two, maybe three weeks. Well, we don’t necessarily think it’s going to take her that long to figure out bottles (it took Lydia less than a week) so we haven’t started them quite yet. We will probably give her her first bottle tonight or tomorrow. Often, the bottles are the last step for NICU babies, but because Abby is so small and young, that may not be the case for her.

This morning we were told that Abby has not had a dirty diaper in quite a while, although she did have another solid weight gain (3 ounces). Dan and I suspect that the HMF (human milk fortifier), which is cow’s-milk-based, may be part of the culprit, as it is known to cause gas, pain, and constipation. Tonight we may talk to the doctors to find out if there’s any possibility she could come off of it, since she has been having quite large weight gains.

Our doctor also examined Abby’s foot yesterday and announced that she thinks it looks good. It is still turned in, but she’s getting better and moving it on her own. We probably will not need to do any more to fix it then the exercises we have been doing with her. Abby also gets to come off of the sodium supplements. Yay!

The real disappointment came today when Abby didn’t have any interest in eating. She took in a whopping 2 milliliters. Not at all impressive in light of her 26 ml and 28 ml feedings yesterday. Again, she hasn’t had a dirty diaper in quite a while so she had a very full belly. We suspect that is probably the reason for her lack of appetite.

Over the past couple of days I have been reflecting on what God has been teaching me over the summer. With two moves, three months of being unable to unpack, weeks of morning sickness, Abby’s early birth (right before a third move!), and our time in the NICU, I’ve been realizing a bit of pattern. I’ve mentioned before that I thrive on a schedule. Routine, stability, and familiarity make me feel comfortable and happy. When something happens to disrupt those pillars I freak out and then stable myself by thinking, “Well, as long as …. I’ll be fine.”

As long as we don’t have to move again
As long as I can unpack at the end of the summer
As long as we can get onto a routine
As long as I get to take a nap
As long as I can still have another baby
As long as…

then I’ll be fine.

Over and over again Dan and I have been put in situations that are just beyond our control and over and over again I would pick out one little thing and say, “well, as long as…”. I realized last night that God is teaching me something. We need to trust Him with no “as long as” attached. Even if He took it all away: all the routine, structure, and comfort. All of the hopes, dreams, plans, and expectations. My hope should be in God, not in my “as long as”.

I decided it’d probably be good to learn this before any more crises arise.

After pondering all of that last night for quite a while, I started off today without really thinking about it. After Abby only took in 2 ml this morning I started to get a little down, and a little stressed. On the way home from the hospital I caught myself thinking, “Well, as long as she does better tonight…”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

God is the only pillar I can stand on that won’t crumble under my feet. He is the only cleft I can hide in that won’t fail me. So I am learning to stand on that rock and not my own little sand castle, to hide in that cleft, and not my own little nook I’ve carved out for myself. Everything else will fail, but God won’t.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

I could go on to make some bold statements about how I will choose to trust God “even if _____”, but I won’t do that here. I figure, my future actions and blog posts will reveal enough of that. Hopefully they will reveal that I am learning to stand on Christ, the only solid rock.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Praise the Lord
We are thanking God for:
-Abby’s continued weight gain and nursing success
-no more sodium and no need (it looks like) for further foot treatments
-important lessons in learning to lean on Jesus instead of happy circumstances

Please Pray:
-that she will get back to her successful nursing and have a smooth transition to bottles
-that Abby will be able to come off of the HMF if that, indeed, is causing any problems
-for wisdom as the doctors are allowing us to make more of the (timing) decisions