Thursday, June 30, 2011

Coke Floats & Pinky Promises.

Today our family is keeping in tradition for the 10th year and having Coke floats together to honor Teagan's memory and make a new one at the same time. It's our annual "Coke Float Day"! We never dreamed ten years ago that having a late night spontaneous Coke float with Teagan would become such a cherished memory. But as circumstances would have it, just one month later as I stood at her hospital bedside and wrapped her tiny pinky around mine and promised to love her forever, I said the most difficult goodbye in my life. I still can't fully wrap my mind around how life took such a dramatic and twisting turn in just a blink of an eye.

Sometime after Teagan died, and likely one of the days where all the strength I could muster went to feeding Wyndham bottles with medicine in it and the rest of my time was spent with tears streaming my face, I flipped through photos and recounted happy times we'd spent with Teagan. It was the one thing that I did to keep my mind off the hoorror of what we'd been through- I had to concentrate on how lucky we had been to have such a great little girl in our life and we had been blessed with lots of wonderful "ordinary" moments with her in 4 short years.

When June 30th rolled around that first year after losing Teagan, we made a special point of recreating the moment of Chip and Teagan's late night Coke Float with Brock. We wanted his life to have some happy times too- even as difficult as life had become for us. In doing so we found that not only did we get the chance to remember a wonderful time with Teagan, but it was a chance to turn our heartache into a new happy memory at the same time. And goodness knows our hearts needed opportunities for joy in life again!

We had lived and learned how quickly life changes unexpectedly and also just how quickly our days go by- no matter what is going on in them. Big stuff, little stuff; everyday, routine stuff, or extraordinary, amazing stuff!

You can click to enlarge the photos here to read the journaling on a scrap page I made when I first started scrapping back in 2006. I remembered this night with Teagan and Chip so clearly. If tragedy hadn't struck it would have just been one more picture among so many others I snapped through the years. But in light of what happened, it became a treasure and a gift that now lives on each year as Coke Float Day.

Our family will be "celebrating" this ordinary, special day out at Chip's golf club with some frothy mugs of root beer or coke and ice cream. But we invite you to join us by having your own round of Coke floats or whatever it is in your life that would be meaningful and memorable and fun. Don't wait for a "reason" to enjoy today. Don't wait for a crisis to be reminded that today is a gift- just as it is every single day! Pop some popcorn and enjoy a movie together, or go for a walk and feed some ducks at a nearby pond or bring a fresh bunch of flowers to a neighbor who needs a pick-me-up or even call a loved one that you haven't spoken to in a long while and say, "I've missed you and love you!" simply because you have the chance to do so.

We've lived through some dark, grief-stricken days and still have ongoing challenges that affect us every day. We've learned it's so important to take time and intentionally live in the moment. We aren't superheroes when it comes to happiness and sometimes the biggest life lesson we've learned from our heartache and loss of Teagan is to never take the little moments for granted. We're so thankful we had Coke float night with Teagan and we're so thankful that we can enjoy it each year (and sometimes several times each year!) with the rest of our kids too. We hope you are moved to take an ordinary moment in your life and make it memorable and extraordinary in your own special way because of the legacy Teagan left to us. She was truly a gift to us. To you, and to whoever chooses to celebrate life- in the big and little things. Happy Coke Float Day from the whole Ferlaak family today! Find something to celebrate!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Her fragrance in life...

Today is my Grandma Shirley's birthday. But she's not here with us on earth as she passed away last October. I have written on occasion of my dear Grandma as her life was filled with such twists and turns. I still wish she would have written a book- it would be full of tragedy and yet ultimately beauty, love and grace. That's what my Grandma's legacy is for me and so many others whose lives she touched.

The baby picture of her is so special because just like one would expect, my Grandma came into this world in a very unique and special way- yet even her birth story holds some heartbreak. She was born June 22, 1924 in Mitchell, South Dakota to a young woman who left her at the hospital. The nurses grew fond of her after caring for her for a few months and one of them in particular wanted to adopt her. But she was a young, single woman and that's not how things played out back in the 1920's, so this nurse called her married sister in Minnesota and asked her to come and adopt the baby and that's just what took place. My great-grandma, Lydia and ,y great-grandpa Ray Michel, took the train out and back and that's how my Grandma's life story begins.

On days like this her story makes me wonder. I wonder about her mother and father and their families and how they lived their lives never knowing what happened to the sweet, tiny baby left at the hospital. I wonder how my Grandma's life would have been different had she been taken home and grown up under totally different circumstances. Thinking about the circumstances that fell into place in order for me and all my siblings and cousins and my mom and her siblings to be here is an amazing thought. One major detail in my Grandma's life ended up determining so many other things- it's startling to think of what might have or could have been.

My grandma would make the point, if she were writing or telling this story, that she believed that God was ordaining each event and person in her life. She would tell you that even though the circumstances were unusual and even though she faced tragedy and trials like some never have in their lives, that God was in each hardship and He was her steadfast rock and strength. He never failed her.

She would grow up in Minnesota in a very loving family- the oldest of 3. She was a happy girl with laughter and song and a smile for everyone she met. She loved music and I still remember countless songs sung around her piano in her home when I was a girl growing up. My memories of going to Grandma's and spending time in her home are all wonderful. In fact the worst memory I have was a happy one that went bad in a big hurry, but still turned out good in the end.

At about age 5 I was staying at my grandparents while my parents had to be away- and my 2 brothers and 2 sisters were there too. We decided to dress up and play "Here Comes the Bride" and when the plastic flowers were tossed I tried to catch them but ended up hitting my forehead on one of the end tables in the living room. I hit my head hard and ended up needing about 6 stitches on my forehead. It was my grandma who got a warm towel and loaded me up and sat next to me while the doctor stitched me up. I got a tiny piggy bank on the way home and it was my Grandma who put a silver dollar inside of it. She had a way of making even life's tearful moments something to smile about.

* * * * *

I've been getting up early to go biking the past several days now that summer is warming up and really it has less to do with me wanting to get in shape, as much as it's my time to think and have some breathing room from all my kids that demand so much of me while Chip is busy with the golf season in full swing. It's been so nice for me to catch my breath and to clear my head and I realize how much I crave quiet! I never knew how much I like solitude- it makes me think that maybe I could be a "real writer" at some time in my life. Quiet space lets me collect my thoughts. What I love about biking and how this all plays into my thoughts about my Grandma today is this- there are lots of different homes that I ride past each morning- depending on which route I take. But one in particular made me think of Grandma's house a couple of times as I rode by and smelled breakfast coming from the open windows. The other morning it was the scent of bacon and eggs that almost made me ride up to the front door and ask if I could come in for a quick bite. =) I'm sure it was the kind of breakfast where there would have been plenty for one more to join in. It's exactly the thing that made me think about what made my Grandma so special and it is what I've been thinking about as a frazzled mom most days.

The thing is my Grandma wasn't a wealthy woman. She married a farmer and they worked hard to just keep things going as they started out. There was nothing glamorous about the pigs and chickens she helped to raise. I've heard the stories so I know that firsthand! One of the tragedies that struck her life was when their farmhouse had a terrible fire on Memorial Day in 1953 and she lost her young son in that fire and her husband, Royal, suffered horrible burns and was hospitalized and endured surgeries for over 2 years. He was out of the hospital for such a short time when their familiy had a terrible car accident and then he was killed and my Grandma was hospitalized and laid up for months after that. Several years later she married the Grandpa I knew and loved all the years I was growing up and he was a minister. It goes without saying that he wasn't in a profession for money and they lived humbly all their years together. So money and things and a fancy home or trips or anything that people think they wish they could give or pass on to their family isn't what I recall when I think of my Grandma. It's the memory of the savory breakfasts she cooked up when we were lucky enough to stay over at her house. It's the memory of the hours she spent in the kitchen, especially on Thanksgiving, to pull off a feast that I'll never be able to recreate. The food was outstanding because she poured her heart into it. It never mattered that her house was so crowded with all of the relatives that sometimes you got a seat where once you were in your spot you knew you wouldn't be getting out of that spot until at least 6 other people moved from theirs first! =) Her home always smelled welcoming- whether it was a holiday or not. She made it comfortable and it was the way she met us at the door with the best hugs and 'hello' that we all looked forward to the most.

Life sure tried it's best to un-do her so many times. She had a rough road and yet I grew up loving her jokes, her stories, her pies, her music, her friends and especially hearing about how God had seen her through it all- the good AND the bad. She loved Jesus with all her heart and she shared the love He calls us to share with everyone she came in contact with. Her life fragrance is something I can close my eyes and still imagine it so clearly. She lived her life in a way that attracted people to her- you wanted to be around my Grandma because there was just something so likable about her.

There are some beautiful homes on my bike route. Some have gorgeous landscapes and manicured lawns. I don't know what kind of people live inside of them. I'm sure they are nice, but what struck me on my bike ride is how I was so drawn to the humble home- the much more lowly home where the scent of "goodness" was one that nearly drew me in. My grandma was like that home. Granted I think she was beautiful inside and out- so she's sort of a mix of the nice homes and the lowly home. But her legacy makes me want to live my life so that the aroma I give off- the attitude that I express, the words that I say, the manner in which I show love or not- makes me want to strive harder to be the kind of person that will be remembered for being a "sweet scent" in this life.

I'm so fortunate that the unique circumstances that surrounded my Grandma's birth led to the family she was adopted into and grew into the family I feel grateful to be a part of today. I am striving to follow Jesus the way my Grandma lived and I am thankful for her example of steadfastness no matter what comes our way. I think of her so many times and I'll never forget the way she smells to me... she's that wonderful. One day I know I will see her again; oh what a day that will be!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Still doing the juggling act...

Sometimes I wish I had been in juggling club back in high school because I feel it might have better prepared me for this time in my life. By this time, I mean having more kids, demands and activities going on around me than I do the ability to meet all those demands and do everything well. I keep trying to remind myself that I am doing the best with what I have, but I still can't shake that feeling of mommy guilt that it's not enough. Why is it so hard for us to let go of our ideals so often? I'm working on that. I'm learning I am more of a perfectionist than I wish I was and with a family as big and diverse in age and skills as mine, it's just not practical to be perfect anymore. Although I think Chip would tell you've I've been less than perfect for a long time now! =)

A couple of these photos I just took this morning as Bella and Ava headed out with Chip to the golf course for the kick off of Junior Golf this year. They were happy to be getting to do an activity and the kids always love to spend a little extra time with their dad this time of year too. Well, they love to spend extra time with him anytime- but especially so during his long summer hours. He makes such an effort to do things with the kids when he has the time. He took Brock and Crew out to hit some balls and play a few holes on Sunday afternoon. I need to give him more credit for all the things he does to lighten the load and make life more fun for us around here than I do. I tend to jump on him most when I get stressed out and overwhelmed and the truth is I need to point out more often all the things he does right and well. We all love him and are grateful to have Chip's flexibilty to help life keep moving along for all of us. I think it's okay for me to wish him a Happy Father's Day a few days early because he is so deserving of praise and also you and I both know I probably won't get a chance to blog again in time! So thanks, Chip, for being such a great dad and an example of what a leader and hard worker looks like. You are loved so much and we promise to tell you and show you that we mean it more around here too!

Now for a quick update on Wyndham and her current situation... we had an in-depth meeting with her surgeon last week and we're all in agreement (we her parents, case manager and therapists) that something hasn't been going well/right with her rehab for several weeks now. Chip and I have been so patient, but growing more and more disappointed and frustrated with how she's just not getting better, and in fact, in some ways has been getting worse. So after more x-rays and examination the doctor seems confident that there shouldn't be a reason for her to not want to bear weight on her feet. We're just unsure why she doesn't want or can't get back to walking. The decision was made to spend the next 2-3 weeks with an intsense physical therapy program as well as adding aqua therapy to her routine. So we're going from a couple of hours a week to sometimes twice daily workouts in hopes that we might see some progress and also to see if we can get her to build some muscle that she keeps losing. Yesterday was Wyndham's first time in a pool in over a year at a therapy center and she did great! She loved it so much she didn't want to get out of the water. It was the one posotive thing we've seen happen in a long time. Now I am hoping and praying that it not only will feel good for her- but that it will actually make a difference for her. If this extra hard work out schedule doesn't yield the results we are hoping for the next step would be to have to admit her to in-patient therapy in Grand Rapids and right now, honestly, I don't know if I can handle the stress and change that we demand of her, me and all of us as a family. I feel like we're already stretched so thin and I don't know where we would get the time, energy or opportunity for us to spend the time with her at a hospital setting for several weeks or months. Not to mention that it's not an easy thing to send your child away for such a lengthy time knowing she has needs unique to her and understood best by tose of us here at home. So feel free to join us in prayer and wishing Wyndham the best outcome we might expect as she is pushed harder the next couple of weeks.

I think one of my biggest life lessons since the death of Teagan and the trials we have endured since then has been to realize that as much as we strive to always do the right thing and to want the best and safest environment for our kids to grow and thrive in so much of what happens is still out of my/our control. There has been an ongoing 'theme' of surrender in our hearts and lives and I still struggle with giving it all up and saying, "whatever happens I simply trust You" and lay it all down for God to do in our lives as HE sees fit.

Life is hard... but God can use it all for His glory. Such a wonderful truth, but so hard to swallow!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

I think it's more me than her...

How is it June already? I guess the previous month really got away from me more than I thought it would. I always have good intentions of dropping by here and posting updates or things that are happening, and then I find that it's 10 or later at night and I have nothing left to give anymore! So it's not for lack of topics- like I think I've mentioned before, but simply that the days are getting longer, warmer and even {somehow!} busier than they have been at any other time.

Teague is growing like a little weed. Or should I say a jumbo cupcake. =) The cupcake above was one I got up and frosted at 5:30 am the other morning so Bella could take it to her end-of-year 3rd grade class party. It happened to be her teacher's birthday too- so I had to go big instead of just ordinary. I find that baking makes me happy and baking fun, creative things makes me even happier. Even if it does cost me an hour or two of sleep and my blog suffers as a result too. I think the class appreciated it this time.

So Teague is growing and changing and finding new things to get himself into or onto each day. He has Crew and all his other bigger siblings to learn from and follow their examples- I just wish he wanted to take it a little more slowly at times. We found him near the top of a flight of stairs more than once this week. He's quick and he doesn't even look back! He is totally unaware of the danger involved and gets the biggest, proudest look on his face the higher he goes. I foresee a trip to the ER for stitches in his early childhood at some point in time. He's a little daredevil already!

I snapped a couple of pictures that are so routine around here right now with Wyndham still almost 100% of the time in her wheelchair and with Teague totally intrigued with everything about it despite the sharp edges, knobs and screws on it. You might notice he has access to a basket of toys and things all around the room he's in- but he has very little interest in anything if the chair is in sight. The only thing I found that catches his attention more than Wyndham's wheelchair is my pink vacuum. Just the things for a 9-month old baby to play with and chew on! I've been so frustrated and angry with how slow and drawn-out Wyndham's recovery from her feet has been. We have a doctor appointment coming up and are hoping to get some answers or even new direction/help on how to get her back to her previous state or at least more independent and we would LOVE to see her able to even use a walker rather than a chair. We have just entered the 9 month of having her unable to move around on her own and to say that I am tired and weary of it is an undertstatement. It has actually gotten much harder in many respects, rather than easier as the months continue to drag on.

The more I reflect on it, the more I can sense that my attitude and perspective have gotten clouded and I've begun to doubt that life will ever get back to "normal" again. It's only been in the last about 72 hours that I am convincing myself that if this IS the new normal and it IS as good as it may ever get, well then, I can accept that and even see that it will be okay. But I certainly don't want to believe it's true if there is still hope that things can turn around.

The picture of Wyndham smiling is one I took of her on a good day. She has had some major personality change- if you ask me- and sometimes I think she is just more accepting that this may be as "good as it gets" and she just endures her days in her chair. She certainly shows signs of wishing things different though- especially the other day when her sisters and little neighbor girls were out on our front lawn and she sat watching them out the window. They were running, jumping, laughing and rolling down the grass; Wyndham kept pointing outside.

My heart both leapt and broke at the same time. We have no ramp on our house and therefore because of the size and bulk of the chair and her I have very limited ability to get her outside. I've since been able to get her up and down our front steps with much effort- but it is really not an ideal situation. I call myself a prisoner in my own home whenever Chip has to be away. Which, as you can imagine with golf season in full swing, is often. We are working on getting one built and in place, but in the meantime it has been a mental and physical hurdle for me that we never even thought much about when went into this surgery last fall. I am feeling guilt and regret and wondering how much of me is what's holding Wyndham back.

Today is my day to fully, 120%, embrace a new outlook, attitude and big dreams. Not for me- but for her! And if she never gets to the point where she is wheelchair-free, well then my dreams will include that too. What I do know is that I can still get Wyndham to stand up and even as I provide support and stability, we can still dance together. This morning I held her up next to her bed and we danced a couple of measures- even with no music playing. So therein lies my hope and contentment today. I know that whatever happens we can still dance- even with no music at all. =)