Billie has been at camp this week, her first time at "sleep-over" camp. She comes home tomorrow, and I am ready! We got a letter from her yesterday; it said "Dear Matt and Mommy, I got your letter you sent me. I love you you are so cool. Love, Billie" And she drew a little picture for us, too. So sweet, and so frustrating. I so wanted to hear how camp was! Was she hot at night, did she fall in love with her horse, has she made a new "BFF," how is the food, how is your counselor?! I suppose I should have maybe told her something like that before she went, I just assumed she would write a letter explaining something about her experience at camp. I was so disappointed last night when I read the letter, I almost cried. But Matt was quick to remind me that if she didn't say "Help!" or "Come get me," she was probably having the time of her life. Tomorrow can't get here fast enough for me. I am so glad she was able to go, and I know she has had a great time, but it is hard not hearing from her. The letter yesterday did help a little, but, like I said, it wasn't enough information for me! I will try to blog Saturday and share her experience with you all.
Before: After: We tried to grow grass several times. It was always pretty nice in the middle of the yard, but around the fence and in the corners it was yucky, muddy, moldy and messy. So this was a super fix for us. We planted juniper, knock-out roses, spirea, burning bushes, rhododendron and a couple different trees. Then we dug a trench and put a border in to keep the rocks in, and we finally put pea gravel in over everything. We still need to do something under the deck where grass just won't grow. Our yard is tiny, so we really want to put something green in there. Any suggestions anyone has will be greatly appreciated. We have thought of placing some pea gravel there or even pavers, just to keep the dogs from getting muddy, but we hesitate to change the illusion of a bigger yard by covering up all the green under there. We have also batted around the idea of some kind of ground cover like a low evergreen, or ivy. Whatever it is has to be able to grow in deep shade. We love our "new" back yard. It is so nice to be back there. I can't wait for the weather to cool off a little now so we can also enjoy it in the day, not just evening and morning. Every plant was planted in honor of the boys birthday, and it makes me feel so good to have given life to something in their memory, even if it was only plants. It just feels good to be doing something positive. There is always that little nagging urge to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head and just wallow in my grief and I am so glad I am able to turn that into such a positive thing for my family to enjoy for years to come. We have to be out there several times a day with the new puppy, so it might as well be a pleasing place to be!
Update on Billie's Ears: All is well! She is all better from the infection and the swimmer's ear is all cleared up, too. We took her to the Audiologist and while she does have tiny bit of hearing loss, it should repair itself on it's own and quickly. The doctor said she has "selective hearing loss" which we already knew, anyway! He cleared her to swim and enjoy the rest of her summer!
Billie goes to camp soon. I can't believe I am letting her go for 5 days! But she has a friend from church going with her and I know she is going to have a blast. Let's just hope I survive the week!
On a sad note, today is the anniversary of Michael's death. I will find time to sneak over to the cemetery, but I do not mark it in Billie's memory. I want her to have positive thoughts of her Daddy, so we celebrate his birthday and Father's Day and not his death. Who knows if I am doing the right thing, but I know I promised him I would always keep his memory alive, and marking his death just doesn't feel like I am doing that; it makes me sad and why would I want to make Billie sad? She already misses him without me saying a word. I will probably hug her more today and talk about her daddy more today, but I will not tell her why. Of course if she asked anything about his death, I would always be honest with her. When she thinks of her Daddy I want it to be happy memories, and I know that is what he wanted for her, too.
Just a quick post to share the cupcakes we made to celebrate the boys birthday with. I'm not sure how good the picture will show up, but there are crocs, hippos, koi and reed- supposed to be like things you find in the river in Africa. I know koi aren't in Africa, but it was the easiest kind of fish to make! And the reed is probably found more in the ocean but I thought it would look cute. We are headed to the lake to be with Brian and Cathie and celebrate with them. I am actually posting this from my phone. This is my first time using this app, so I have no idea how it will look or work. But I think it's so cool that I can now blog from anywhere! It's slower, though, typing on the phone so they will have to be shorter posts. I'm sure I will have plenty of typos, so don't hold it against me. Last night we had my mom and Danny over for dinner. We had a great time. We were excited to share with them Blue and our newly revamped back yard. It was a fun evening. Now on to the lake for more fun and the finally to our birthday festivities. We plan on continuing the tradition Amy started last year and writing messages to the boys on balloons and sending them up to sky. I am so thankful to God for helping us heal and giving us the strength and ability to remember and honor Joshua and Caleb without sadness and longing. God is good all of the time.
Happy Birthday Joshua and Caleb! I can't believe it has been two years, (or it will be around 4:30 today) that I held my beautiful miracle twin boys! I know I have said this before, but on one hand it seems like yesterday and on the other it seems like a lifetime ago. The good thing is we have healed so much since July 15, 2008. Yesterday Billie and I made this wreath and we are going to take it out to the cemetery later today. I don't know if you can tell, but I hand painted each little letter to look like African animal print. It turned out really cute! It was very fun to make, and it kept me busy yesterday while Matt was at work. It is good to keep me busy, then I am not able to get too sad. I don't want to get sad this birthday, I want to stay positive and count my many blessings. Billie and I also completely transformed our back yard yesterday. I will put before and after pictures up tomorrow or this weekend. We planted shrubs and roses in memory of Joshua and Caleb. This is a surprise to Matt. He hasn't seen it yet, since he got home yesterday after dark and it just wouldn't look good in the dark, we are making him wait until this morning to look at it. We have to be back there a lot now to walk the puppy on a leash, and I really thought we would enjoy it much better if it was pretty back there. We have a little more work to do, somethings that I couldn't do without Matt's help, but once that is done it will be our own little haven to go and sit and relax in. It turned out really good, and I am very proud of it. That said, I have an aching back this morning and blisters and cuts all over my hands! Every rose has it's thorn, and they got me - several times! But it was worth it. I have wanted to do something back there since I moved in four years ago, but I just kept procrastinating. Now we can think of Joshua and Caleb's second birthday while we enjoy the pretty back yard. That also kept me very busy yesterday, and I woke up this morning just feeling excited and happy. I feel so close to the boys today - it's such an awesome feeling! I know I am OK. I am where I should be. I am out of "The Great Sadness." If you haven't read The Shack, you need to. He talks about his "Great Sadness" in the book, and I was able to recall two periods in my life that fall into that category: losing Michael, and losing Joshua and Caleb. It took me 3 years to come out of it after Michael's death, and it has only taken me 2 years with the boys. That is an improvement, at least. Part of it I know is because I have Matt to share my grief with. When Michael died I had lots of support and loved ones that were also grieving his loss, but no one that had been his wife and I didn't have my best friend there to cry on his shoulder. He was gone. He felt so out of reach; I felt absolutely separated from him. When the boys died, I had Matt that was feeling their loss the same way that I was. I could tell him what I was feeling, and he was feeling the same thing. It just helped so much to have someone there that really was going through the exact same thing as me. I am sure going through the loss of my husband also made me stronger and better able to deal with the loss of my sons, too. So I guess I have Michael and Matt both to thank for helping me through the loss of my sons. God has blessed me so much with wonderful men to love me whole-hearted. So today I will count my blessings: Michael, Matt, Billie, Joshua and Caleb. There are many other blessings in my life; like my wonderful family, and both of my in-laws who are my family, as well, and I will take today to thank God for each and everyone. If you are reading this and you are in this list, know that I love you so much and I am so thankful for you in my life.
Today we will go to the cemetery and then we are going to Elkmont. I am making us a picnic lunch and we are taking Blue with us, too. It is going to be a great family day, and we are going to celebrate it and be happy. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOSHUA AND CALEB! I love you with all my heart.
Today I thought I would share with you an excerpt of the funeral message given by Dr. Crocker. This part of the service is where he explained why we named the boys Joshua and Caleb...
"You recognize that Joshua and Caleb were named for biblical characters by those names. This was not simply a case of names that sounded good but names that represented people who demonstrated extraordinary faith. Their stories are told in the Old Testament.
Joshua and Caleb were part of a team of 12 men sent into Canaan before the people of Israel occupied that land. Their job was to recon the land and report to Moses and the people what they found. Ten of the 12 reported back that the people were massive and they lived in fortified cities and Israel would never be able to conquer the Canaanites. But Joshua and Caleb had a different view. They agreed that it wouldn't be easy, but they were confident that God who brought them out of Egypt and safely to the borders of Canaan would also give them strength and wisdom to prevail. However, the people went with the majority report and turned back and, as a result, spent an additional 40 years in the desert.
For his faith and trust in God, Joshua was appointed by Moses to succeed him in leading the people, so that when they returned to Canaan, it was Joshua who led them in their conquest of that territory. To this day Joshua is known as one of the more faithful, courageous, and successful leaders of the Hebrew people.
Caleb was among the people when they moved into and took the land away from the fierce Canaanites. When it came time to divide the land among the people, Caleb pulled Joshua aside. I can just see him with his arm around Joshua's shoulders saying something like this: 'Joshua, do you remember when we came here as spies? And do you remember what we told Moses and the people about how God would give us this land? Well, that is precisely what has happened. And do you remember what Moses said to us? He said that one day we would live in the land we saw. He said our trust in the Lord would pay off for us one day. Well, Joshua, here we are. See that mountain in the distance? I saw that mountain 40 years ago and I haven't stopped thinking about it. Joshua, I want that mountain! When you parcel out the land, give me that mountain. I know there are powerful people living there, but I am confident that God will give that land to me. God promised it to me and now I've come back to receive what he promised to give!'
Joshua and Caleb are still worthy models for God's people not because they were leaders but because they trusted God totally. In naming their sons Joshua and Caleb, Matt and Crystal set a course for themselves throughout the remainder of their journey to trust God totally. And every time they have said their names, they were reminded of the crucial importance of trusting God throughout, and that is precisely what they have done."
Dr. Crocker was right. Every time I speak their names, even today, I am reminded of how we are called to trust God completely. And God was so faithful and good, he didn't let us down. Maybe it didn't play out the way I was praying it would, but God saw us through it and we are stronger people individually and as a couple because of God.
As some of you know, we have had more losses in the form of early miscarriages since the boys were born and we have been seeking help from a doctor for this. I will admit there have been days that I have been so bitter and angry that God won't "fix" it for us. But then He always gently reminds me that He has a plan for us, and I just have to trust Him totally. God's timing is perfect as well as His plan. I trust that God has a wonderful plan for our family, and I just have to trust Him totally and watch it unfold. When I think of it that way, I am very excited for what the future holds for me and my wonderful family.
I have been thinking of how excited the boys must be to be turning 2 years old tomorrow. Not only were they born two years ago, but they went home to be with Jesus two years ago. I am certain there will be a HUGE party in heaven to mark the blessed day tomorrow. I am also certain everyone is anxious with anticipation and excitement to celebrate. I can see the boys in my mind with little party hats on, balloons all around, and a magnificent birthday cake with two sets of two candles for each to blow out! I am going to try to take tomorrow and celebrate, and not be sad for my loss, but rejoice in the knowledge that my beautiful two boys that brought so many people to their knees before God are spending their second birthday with Jesus. I have said it before and still mean it, as much as I want to hold them and kiss them, I would never take them away from Jesus to do it. That is where they belong, it is where we all belong eventually. And I will rest in the assurance that one day I will be with them again.
Let me introduce you to Blue, our new boxer puppy! She is so sweet. She is very smart, somewhat stubborn, very loving, very playful and very fun. We got her Sunday after church. She was in the second litter of puppies we looked at. We went to see another littler on Saturday but decided they were a little too "rough." They had been kept outside, not with the family, and they lacked vital social skills. They were older and we were afraid they were too old to learn what they had already missed. They were adorable, too, so it was a hard decision. But I am so glad now that we waited. Blue is perfect for our family. She LOVES Billie, and Billie loves her. She follows Billie around everywhere, it is so cute. Bob is doing great with her. She even left her "bed" last night to cuddle with the puppy that was sleeping on the rug in the living room. All of that said, it is hard having a puppy. She got up this morning at 4:30. I took her potty and then put her back in her kennel to go to sleep, but she cried and barked until I got her back out at 5:20. Bob got up then, so I figured it was just time for everyone to eat breakfast. She is doing pretty good with potty training. It just takes time and patience. She is only 7 weeks old, so it will not happen overnight. She loves to please us, though, so I don't think it will take long. Matt taught her to fetch yesterday! She is so smart. She doesn't bring it back, but she goes and gets it. She loves to play, as all puppies do, I guess. But she also loves to sleep and cuddle. She is very loving, and she enjoys praise and love more than treats. That may change over time and probably will. She is also learning to go on a leash. Matt has his heart set on teaching her to go into her kennel by saying "go to the Big House." For those of you that do not know Matt is a huge Michigan football fan and their stadium is called "The Big House." It is funny to say, but it doesn't bother me if it makes him happy! I admit I feel a little silly saying it, though. Blue is an excellent addition to our family. I will be sure to update the blog with pictures of her as she grows, and I know I will have plenty of funny stories to share with you about her as she gets more adventurous. She has also been a nice distraction for all of us, helping us not to concentrate on the boys birthday which is on Thursday quite as much. It doesn't completely erase it from our minds, but it allows us to smile and have something positive to put our energies into.
I thought I would share with you how wonderful the nurses, anesthesiologist, respiratory therapists and doctors were during our pregnancy, delivery and after. First of all, everyone at the perinatologist were pretty much at our beck and call 24/7. Every question we had, every request we needed, all of it was attended to immediately. Sometimes they couldn't answer our questions. And they were honest about that and always tried to get us the answers we needed. No one there had ever seen conjoined twins before, we were their first, so it was scary not only for us but for them as well. About 6 weeks after we had the boys, they had another set of conjoined twins at the perinatologist. We had them give the couple our contact information, but they never got in touch with us. We were comforted by the fact that we had "broken them in" at the perinatologist and that they were fresh and up to date on conjoined twins. They also could tell those parents with confidence that they had seen and delivered one set of conjoined twins. I am sure that helped the experience both on the staff and the new parents.
The people at Children's were so amazing. They had a whole team dedicated to our boys. We sat down in a conference room with them several times and just shot questions out at them. "What if this happens, what do we do?" They were able to "dumb it down" for both of us and explain all of our options so we had a good birth plan in the event of anything. It all went so smoothly because we had no decisions to make once the boys were born, we had already made them and signed on the dotted line and everyone working with our boys new exactly what we wanted and didn't want. I feel like they loved our boys as much as we did, different than us, of course, but I know the boys had an impact on the lives of everyone they came into contact with, and even on those that only heard about them. That is an awesome and inspiring thought. They did everything they could to help give our boys everything they needed to sustain life. There just wasn't anything anyone could do. They were meant to be here only a short time. God's timing is awesome, even if I do not understand it. He gave us exactly what we needed. At the time, I wanted them to live long enough to at least bring them home. But I know now that would have been so much harder. Watching them live, and then seeing them die would have been unbearable. God knew exactly how it would go. He had a plan for us and for Joshua and Caleb.
Everyone at Ft. Sanders was equally amazing to us. They were also prepared for us. Roger, our anesthesiologist, was hoping he would be working the day we went into labor. He had heard of us, as most of the staff had, and had been following our blog and praying for us. He prayed with us twice before the surgery. He was sweet and wonderful to us. He came back the next day to check on us and brought us the book "The Shack." We both read it while sailing with Bob and Nancy to Catalina and were inspired, strengthened and changed forever. He also played the Curious George CD during delivery and that soundtrack now always takes us back to that day, in a good way. We used the music for our slide show of the boys, too. Sometimes the songs make me cry still, but most of the time they just make me feel closer to the boys. The funny thing is, we already owned the CD-it just didn't have any meaning and we really didn't think it was that great before. Jack Johnson is now one of my favorite artists. Just hearing his voice makes me think of Joshua and Caleb.
The nurses at Ft. Sanders were all great. Some of them came in just because they had signed up to be on our team. They came in just to be there for us, for the boys. It is very humbling that so many people would sacrifice their day off just to help me, someone they didn't even know, through a hard time. They had let everyone know they were going to have conjoined twins, but they were not allowed to talk about it outside of closed doors, not in the elevator, not in the cafeteria, not anywhere. They knew that we wanted our privacy, and they were going to keep our secret. Our friends that had conjoined twins said that it turned into a media spectacle at their hospital, and we didn't want that. If the boys had lived, we would have been forced to share them and at the least let the hospital make an announcement, but since we knew they might die we didn't want to have to deal with media while trying to grieve. Everyone at both hospitals respected that. There is not one person that worked with us that I can't still picture their face. They all hold such a special dear place in my heart and always will. They make me feel closer to Joshua and Caleb. I am so lucky to have them. Thanks for putting up with my reminiscing. It is so good for my soul. Thursday my boys will be 2, it is hard to imagine that on one hand, and on the other it seems like even longer since they have been gone. God is so good to let me be healthy and happy even without Joshua and Caleb in my arms.
I was just thinking about the day I went into labor. It actually started the night before, on July 14th, but I didn't know. I just starting crying and I told Matt "something is wrong but I don't know what." We had a doctor appointment the next day, so Matt mentioned this at the appointment to Dr. Bruner so he checked me and sure enough I was dilated to 3 and fully effaced. I remember I said "OH NO!" and Dr. Bruner said "It doesn't mean you are in labor for certain. Are you having contractions?" Of course I had been all day, I had already taken two of my pills to try to stop the labor, I can't remember now what it is called but it is actually a breathing medicine but what it does is relax the smooth muscle so it can make the pain of false contractions go away. I guess I was pretty much in denial. So they hooked me up to a monitor and started timing my contractions and sure enough I was in labor. Dr. Bruner came over to me and said "We are going to deliver today. What did you have for breakfast?" I immediately started crying because I wanted to just keep them in my belly. I knew they were safe there- they didn't have to breathe on their own there. I would have stayed pregnant with them forever just to save them and keep them with us. He let Matt come in then, even though only patients were allowed in the monitoring room. He had a nurse take us over to the hospital and we started getting prepared and making our calls. My contractions really kicked in once we got settled. I was glad we were there at the hospital, and not trying to get there. It was still a long day, they didn't take me back until 4pm. We had lots of friends and family visit us, and we had a lot of people from Children's Hospital come in and go over our plan with us again. Everyone there was ready for us, I felt so safe with them. I was terrified, of course. I didn't have that excitement that I had with Billie that I was actually about to meet my baby for the first time. I was so terrified that they would be still born, or that they wouldn't live long enough for me to get to hold them. I was also terrified that I would either die during the surgery or lose my uterus. OK, I can admit now that was a stupid fear. But I had the weight of the world on my shoulders and I was unable to think very clearly. Of course the doctors have to warn you of any complications that might come up, and since our babies were conjoined and were the first set ever delivered at Fort Sanders- they were scared and that made us scared. Dr. Bruner, however, was very calm and seemed very confident everything would be fine. I will save the rest of the story for later in the week. It actually makes me feel better to get these thoughts out like this. I think it is good for me to remember and grieve and I am able to do it and not wallow in my sorrows, but remember the miracles that we were blessed with in Joshua and Caleb. Man, do I love those boys! I think about them in heaven all of the time, and to me they are separated and two years old. My mind just pictures them that way. But their faces are always blurry. I can never get a real clear look at them. I am hoping for another dream of them soon, it has been so long. Until then, I will hold on to my memories.
My cousin Kelly was in town from Virginia to visit us this week and took some great photos of Billie and I in Elkmont. We enjoyed Kelly's stay so much and were all sad for her to leave this morning.
I wanted to give everyone an update on Billie's ears; the infection is all cleared up, thankfully! She does have some hearing loss still, though, so we are going to have them tested by an audiologist at the ENT. Hopefully they can get to the root of the problem and we can get her back up to hearing 100% quickly. Molly (our nurse practitioner that is treating Billie) said that she could see some scarring on the ear drum. She also said there could still be some fluid back behind the ear drum that she just can't see but that the audiologist would be able to find and tubes would be an easy fix to the problem. I am hoping by our Monday appointment that she has regained a lot of her hearing if not all of it and we get a clean bill of health. I do ask you all to pray for her, though. I feel just awful about the whole thing still. I should have taken her in earlier, and I will not make that mistake again, hopefully! Bless Billie's heart - and EARS! She loves music so much, it would be absolutely horrible if her hearing is permanently damaged. But Molly does not think this hearing loss is permanent, so we are just praying that it is temporary and short lived!
I can't finish the blog without mentioning July is a huge month for us. July is sad and a very hard month for me to get through. We lost Michael six years ago on July 21, and of course the boys were born and passed on July 15, 2008. I can not believe it has been two years since I held my beautiful babies, and I can't believe Michael has been gone six years. We also lost my grandma on July 29, 8 years ago. Needless to say, I could take the whole month of July and stay in bed and hibernate through it, but I choose to push on instead. Some days I am so bitter, and I am angry. But other days I am just thankful that God saw me through my losses and try to hold on to my faith that He has a wonderful plan in store for me and my family- so much better than I can even imagine. I am pretty ready for that plan to be shown, but I know I have to wait for God's timing not my own. I know there is a reason for everything that happens, and that God will use it all to glorify His name, but I am not a very patient person. It is hard to remain faithful but when I am struggling I continue to remind myself that when I am weakest He is strongest and God's Grace is sufficient for me. Some days I have to repeat that to myself over and over again, but it eventually gets through my stubborn bitterness and it always makes me feel better and gives me renewed Hope in God's plan for our lives.
I promise to update the blog as soon as I know something about Billie's ears, and I am also going to try to put some pictures of the boys up next week as well as blog about some memories from our pregnancy and their birth. Love to everyone!