Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happy Birthday Abigail

In less than an hour it will be October 19, 2010--one year later.  One year after the birth of baby Abigail Rose.  I will forever measure moments by their distance from that day.   We’ve looked forward to this day for a long time--partly because a first birthday is a watershed moment in one’s life, and partly because October 19th will also be a special day, a special place to return to whenever we forget what matters.

A few weeks ago we got to reminisce (in person) about those days at Stanford, a time when our circle of concern was small and each moment of life was packed with joy and meaning.

The setting was familiar.  The context was not.  It was just me, Lisa, and Abby in Palo Alto.  It was a similar time of year:  temperature in the 70’s, college football was in full swing, our kids were in school, and grandma was in charge at home.  This time, though, there was no uncertainty to our trip--other than the question of which restaurants to visit (and even then, we had already put our “favorite” Palo Alto eating establishments on the itinerary).

Lisa, Abigail, and I returned to Palo Alto in September for a weekend trip. We went under the guise of attending a NICU reunion that is held each year on the “Dean’s Lawn” at Stanford.  I use the word “guise” primarily because the NICU reunion was really our “excuse” for going--that extra little motivation needed to justify a weekend escape from an otherwise over-programmed and over-committed life; it was our excuse to spend time together with our baby--time we really haven’t spent since leaving Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) last year.  Perhaps "spent time” is the wrong choice of words.  We’ve spent plenty of time since last year.  We just haven’t created enough opportunity to invest our time.  And weekends like this are investments of time whose returns compound over time and yield very fruitful returns; they are deposits into the safest investment accounts that result in what every stock broker wishes he could always deliver for his clients:  consistent and predictable returns that still yield exponential returns; the one stock that can be both safe and very lucrative.

Lisa and Abby back for a second visit to Leslie Neumarker's English-garden backyard.

So, the NICU reunion was the excuse behind our investment, but despite telling everyone that we were going to Stanford to attend the reunion, we knew that we weren’t really going for that event.  We went there mainly because the Stanford community is a “happy place” for us, and we wanted to relive the memory of our unique and beautiful stay there just over 11 months prior.

We left Orem on a Thursday after work, and returned late that Sunday night.  As we left our house, I hugged Emma, our eight year old--the child who used to be our baby; the child whom we figured would forever be our baby before the surprise of Abigail.  Emma, a sensitive and affectionate girl, squeezed a little longer than normal.  As I loosened my grip around her body, I placed my big “daddy” hands on each side of her face, and without premeditation said, “This goodbye is a lot different from the last time Mom, Abby, and I rushed off to California, isn’t it?”

Just after I asked that rhetorical question to Emma, I suddenly felt like part of me had experienced some type of time-warp back to the past.  I felt it again.  Though not nearly as intense, I felt a tinge of the emotion that Lisa and I experienced last October when we hurriedly kissed and hugged our children goodbye, as the Life Flight team whisked Mom, Dad, and the encased Abigail out of the NICU at Primary Children’s en route to board a Life Flight to Stanford.  Just as smells, music, and sounds can flood a soul with very real and poignant memories bulging with emotion, every time I see a Life Flight helicopter pass overhead (our house lies very near its path between Salt Lake and Utah Valley Regional Medical center), I pause, and part of that emotion returns.   I hope that a helicopter always stimulates that emotion.  It’s good to pause and remember.

The walls of my throat thickened as I pulled away from Emma.  As Lisa we walked through our mudroom and into the garage, I said, as my voice teetered and cracked, “That was hard.”

Lisa and Abby at Stanford

There were several moments that brought back sweet memories during the trip.  Another was Lisa nursing Abby on the plane.  Abby has been an on-again, off-again nurser, and the in-flight nursing wasn’t much different.   She didn’t want to nurse for too long, but I watched with amusement as Lisa patiently endured the following.  Abby followed a familiar pattern of latching on, then pulling off and looking up and smiling at Mom while she gurgled out baby speak, trying to carry on a conversation with Mom, as if she were at “afternoon tea,” then latching back on only to pull off a few minutes later, and so forth.  The scene caused me to remember those first tenuous days of nursing--the anxiety we felt about whether she would eat enough to gain sufficient weight to be released from the hospital, the challenge of latching on to the breast after a month of being fed by a tube, and the concern that she may, like many heart-patients, never learn to nurse.

Abby has nursed in waves.  She has nursed everyday, but sometimes her patience seems to wane, and she opts for the easy approach--the bottle. Other than the occasional two-week hiatus where Abby nurses sufficiently to fill her up, Lisa has dutifully pumped just about everyday since Abby was born.  That pump was a good investment, and Lisa has had the patience to consistently use it so that her baby could partake of the "good stuff."

Abby, happy to be at Stanford, tube-and-worry free.

The plane ride to California this time was certainly different, with Abby standing most of the time on Mom or Dad’s legs, and wiggling constantly back and forth between the two of us.  Her bedtime was long past due, as our flight was delayed by an hour out of Salt Lake.  Like most babies, the later it gets, the louder and more volatile she becomes.  I am quite certain that our fellow passengers were thrilled to have the flight come to an end.  By the time we got our rental car in Oakland, Abigail was down for the count.

Our trip to the delightful town of Palo Alto was fantastic.   We visited the Farmer’s Market, Stanford Campus, and made multiple stops at our favorite Super Market, Andronicos, for a pastry, some cheese, and soup.  We spent some time with our gracious host, Leslie Neumarker, with whom we stayed for the three weeks that we were at Stanford.  We also spent a day in San Francisco, and rented bikes (mine came equipped with a baby seat) and rode through the Presidio District, like I had done with the kids the November before.

The NICU reunion was what we thought it would be--balloons, punch, cookies, a clown, about 150 people that we hadn't ever met nor probably would ever see again.  Unfortunately, no doctors or nurses that we knew were there, nor were there fellow NICU parents from the year before.  But that was okay.  Our visit wasn't about the reunion.  It was about returning to a happy place.  Stanford is a happy place for us, just as Primary Children’s will always be.  And it is good to return--not only physically but spiritually and mentally.

On a bike ride in the Presidio District in San Francisco

On our way to dinner with Leslie Neumarker

So, as I sit here on the eve of Abigial’s birthday in a familiar spot--in a comfortable chair with my computer in my lap late in the evening--my thoughts return to that day almost a year ago.  Lisa is dozing off to sleep, and I am writing.   Those days seemed to last forever.  In fact, the month in the hospital with Abby seems like a longer span of time than the 11 months that have followed it.   As my mind and heart return to that day on October 19, 2009, I get contemplative and quiet.  I want to slow down and remember.

I try to remember a good friend who spent his night with me at Primary Children’s, a friend who had the ware withal to ask questions to doctors that I was in too big a of a fog to ask.  I think of a cardiologist who stood up for me, and got the NICU to break their rules and let that friend give my baby a blessing that night when they wouldn’t let me and my “swine flu” near the NICU.  I think how grateful I am that the cardiologist was worthy to hold the priesthood, and ready and willing to volunteer to assist.

I try to remember grandparents, who put their lives on hold for four weeks to play parents to our children.  I try to remember a social worker at Primary Children’s who arranged for my children to see their sister before she was whisked off to California, and who made the Life Flight staff be patient enough to wait for the kids to have sufficient time with her.

I try to remember NICU parents, who struggled with far greater trials than we faced, who reached out to us, and were kind and solicitous.  I try to remember the admissions clerk at Lucile Packard, a man I referred to as the benevolent “Steve,” who volunteered an hour a day after worke to spend time with a four year-old, terminally ill girl, whose parents weren’t able to visit all that often.  I try to remember when I think about Steve how good, despite its many evils, this world still is.

I try to remember the pediatric heart surgeons at Primary Children’s who had the humility to send Abby elsewhere, as I think of a neighbor of Abby’s in the CVICU whose first surgeon in Phoenix wasn’t so humble, and whose first surgery was botched just prior to him being shipped to Stanford for someone else to clean up the mess.  I try to remember the United States Air Force who volunteered to fly that baby from Phoenix in a cargo plan because the life support equipment to which he was attached was so extensive that the baby couldn’t possibly be transported with Life Flight.  I try to remember how lucky I am to live in a country that values life enough to do such things, and that spends so much money to save babies.

I try to remember what it was like to travel through so much uncertainty in those early hours and days following Abby’s birth, and yet to feel so much peace.  I try to remember leaving Timpanogos Hospital to update our kids on Abigail‘s condition, wondering if I would get “the call” from Lisa, telling me that Abby hadn’t made it.

I try to remember myself sitting alone in the cafeteria of Primary Children’s, and for the first time a long time completely and unequivocally surrendering to God, telling him that I would accept and embrace with any outcome.  And interestingly, I really meant it.  There was no superficiality nor contrivance to that statement--there was no “sense of duty” to compel me to say that God, or no “this-is-how-I-should-feel-so-I-better-say it” feeling.   I try to remember how liberating that was, how much peace that gave me, and how much happiness that brought me.

Sadly, I too often forget all of that.  And so every once in a while, when a birthday rolls around, or a Life Flight helicopter soars overhead, something tells me to remember.   And whenever I do, I feel happy.  Happy Birthday, baby Abigail.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

Today we blessed you--a tradition in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, where a priesthood holder (typically the father of the newborn) presents his child before God and before his congregation, and states the name by which the child shall be known upon the records of the Church and then proceeds to pronounce a blessing on the child.  It's a beautiful and tender thing. By the time you are able to read this post, you will have witnessed many such blessings.

Big sister, Emma, holding Abigail at home after church

And though I am quite certain that your spirit comprehended the experience and the goings-on of the day, I wanted to record some of my thoughts from the day so that someday you'll know what happened.  And while there were no (visible) heavenly manifestions during or after the blessing, I suspect that when you read about this someday that you will receive the subtly powerful confirmation that the priesthood is a real power.

I looked forward to today with some angst.  We hadn't decided to take you to church yet, as we are trying to desperately to keep you away from large crowds.  If we can make it through this winter without you catching the flue, we're home free.  We're still afraid that you're recovering body may not take well to a bout of RSV or the flue.  But even though we were nervous about taking you to church, we wanted to perfrom this blessing before you started walking.  We thought about just doing it at home, but somehow that didn't feel right.  We wanted to share this experience with our congregation, the Hillcrest 8th Ward, who had exercised so much faith in your behalf. 

So we decided to bring you to church today, the first Sunday of the month--the Sunday where such blessings typically occur.  Our plan was to keep you safely cocooned in your car seat, then take you just before the blessing, and have Mom leave with you just after the meeting.

Do you think Abigail gets enough love in our house?

I didn't expect the emotion I felt as I stepped foot into our church building today.  It hit me.  There I was in a building where a fast for you had been consummated, a building where I have spent almost every Sunday for the last 13 years, a building that for a bit of time, I wasn't totally sure you would ever see.  My throat suddenly seemed to swell, and my eyes started to moisten,  just as they did when we left your siblings in the hallway at Primary Children's or when we walked beside you at Lucile Packard, as the surgical team rolled you and your bed from the NICU to the operating room. 

On both of those occassions I tried to conceal those emotions as best I could, trying to not look anyone in the eye, and just marching toward an open pew.  I struggled through the opening hymn, after which I leaned over to your Mom and said, "I am not going to be able to make it through this."  I'm going to be a blubbering, bawling idiot up there.

However, they were happy tears. They were grateful tears.  They were humble tears.

After the opening hymn and prayer and the obligatory announcements and ward business, we were invited to begin the blessing.  Mom had already taken you out of your car seat, and had handed you to me.  There you were in your simple and elegant white dress, a whiteness that symbolizes the purity that defines you.  I took all nine pounds of you from Mom, cradled you carefully, and walked up to the front of the chapel, where several members of the family met us to assist in the blessing.

Abby was excited to be at church today as well.

As you will have seen by now, when we bless a baby the father or person giving the blessing stands in a circle of people (typically with family and/or friends). Each member of the circle rests his left hand upon the shoulder of the person next to him, and with his right hand he joins the other members of the circle in holding the baby.  That circle and the physical unity of its members has symbolic significance, just as most elements that make up such ordinances do.  Today that circle represented lots of things:  the love that your uncles, cousins and grandpas have for you; the fact that many people will join hands to bear you up and lift you throughout your life; and the fact that many loved ones will unify their faith and their prayers that you might become the person that God wants you to become.

Standing next to me in the circle was your older (and only) brother Jeffrey.  Though Jeffrey isn't old enough to hold the Melchizedek Priestood, he stood in the circle to hold the microphone so that Dad's voice could be amplified to the congregagtion.  By the time that you undergo your next priesthood ordinance--baptism at the age of eight--Jeffrey will likely be serving an mission somewhere in the world, and he won't be there. I am grateful that Jeffrey, who loves you with a tenderness and a maturity that is not typical of a 12-year old boy, got to participate.

As is typically of your father who is burdened with a mild speech impedement--a blessing for which I will always be grateful (it keeps me more humble than I would otherwise be)--I began the blessing with a bit of a stammer, but as it progressed, and as the spirit grew thicker, that stammer disappeared.  Every time I give a public blessing or a talk, I worry about that stammer beforehand. I worry how bad it will be; I worry about whether it will get in the way of me being able to communicate what needs to be said.  I worried about that this week, and I prayed that it wouldn't get in the way.  And it didn't.

Nothing like those big blues. You should see her eyelashes as well.

I spoke about your heart--a heart that has been repaired both because of the expertise of skilled surgeons, nurses, and doctors, and because of the faith of many.  I blessed you that your heart would not only remain physically strong, but that it would be spiritually strong, and that it would a receptacle of purity throughout your life.  I reminded you that your life so far has inspired others to be better, and I blessed you that your future actions, words, and thoughts would continue to inspire people to become more like Christ.  Finally, I blessed you that someday that you would be able to find a companion like I have in your Mom, someone with whom you can kneel across the altar of the Temple, and with a pure heart and clean hands, be married for eternity.

Abigail, there was something else that I didn't mention in your blessing that I would like to close this letter with.  There are three women that I hope you will emulate.  The first is your mother. I hope you will always look into her eyes with that same gaze of love, wonder, and trust with which you now shower upon her.  Your mother is a beautiful person on every level.  Your mother doesn't appreciate or even understand the depth of character that she has given your siblings and is giving you know.  She is a compassionate, caring, and selfless person.  Yes, she isn't perfect.  She will probably even teach you a few bad habits like your father and all parents do.  But she will teach you an infinitely greater amount more of good habits.  Most importantly, your mother will love you unconditionally and will serve you unconditionally.  You will feel that.  Please continue to love her back.

We continue to be proud parents

There are two other women that I want you emulate--both of whom you were named after.  The first is Abigail Adams, who is not only one of the greatest American women, but one of the greatest Americans. Abigail loved her husband passionately, but she also loved true principles passionately. She loved her country.  She understood the concept of duty, and she understood that doing what is right is not always convenient and that it is sometimes expensive.  Primarily self-educated, she never stopped learning, reading, or writing.   She enjoyed discussing big ideas and was never afraid tangle with the brightest of her age.  She knew who she was and the confidence that came from knowing who she was made her a powerful women.   I pray that you too, Abigail, will learn who you are.  You are a miracle.

Finally, you are also named after your great-great-great Aunt, Anna Rosenkilde, affectionally referred to by the patients and staff of Primary Children's Hospital as "Mama Rose."  I don't know enough yet about Mama Rose, and I intend to study more about her. But what I do know about Mama Rose is that she served people passionately.  I believe she actually lived at the hospital for a good period of time.  She committed her life to the care of others.  She understands what all truly happy people understand--that happiness is found when you stop thinking so much about your own happiness and worry about the happiness of others.

I love you, Abigail.  Though I gave the blessing today, I have received far greater blessings because of your life.  Good night.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Check out these new pics of Abigail

My cousin, Larry Reeves, who is a professional photographer (Weddings, Kids, Family Portraits, Nature, etc) took these photos of Abigail on Saturday.  Check them out on his blog. They're precious, and much better than all those I've taken with my cheap digital camera:  http://larryreeves.info/

After you read a paragrpah on Larry, scroll down to the heading Baby Abigail/Utah Infant Photography.  Larry didn't ask me to say this, but if you're looking for a photographer with a great bedside manner, he's your man.   He isn't quite as good looking as his cousin from Orem, Utah, but he's a close second!

Larry is from the Mesa, AZ.  I'm not sure how much work he does in Utah, but I'll let him comment on that in the comments.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lessons Inspired by Rivalry Week

Abby, in her rivalry week garb

Five BYU fans on their way to the game

Both of Abby's teams, BYU and Stanford, won in heroic fashion last night. Both victories came down to the last play with each teams' fans rushing the field following last minute victories.  As fun as the BYU victory was, I couldn't help but reflect on the post-game ugliness on both sides.  This post does have something to do with Abby, so hang on as I develop this.

First there was Max Hall's post-game interview where he revealed how much he hated Utah, its players, its fans, its university, and its entire "classless" organization, and stated in an ironically classless way that Utah "deserved to lose that game"  (Really, Max?  They deserved to lose? They just held you to about 130 yards passing and forced you to throw more incomplete balls than you've ever thrown in a game. Did Utah really deserve to lose?)

Then there was the 40-year old male, Utah fan, who, as my 14-year teenage daughter was passing by him on a crowded post-game stadium stairs, ripped her BYU hat from her head and threw into a crowd of people, where it wasn't to be recovered.

About that same time, the wife of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, was getting punched by a BYU fan in another scuffle.

Prior to all of that ugliness, I was sitting in the stands next to my older brother, David, and I asked him, "Is it bad to be so caught up in who wins this game?"  The hour before the game, I couldn't eat anything, as my nerves made my stomach queasy.  I continued, "I've been nervous all week, as I've thought about his game for much of it. Is that good or bad?"

Dave responded, "I don't think it's good.  I've been trying to temper my emotions too, and it hasn't worked."

"However," I said, "the rivalry is fun. It's fun to care so much that your knees are week, as mine are right now.  It's fun to want to win; it's fun to want to beat a team so badly that you have a hard time eating before the game.  I guess the big question is:  what does the game do to your soul?  Do we feel hatred?  Does losing ruin the rest of our year?  The hatred, the post-game loathing of the other team, and even the loathing of the defeated self is not good.  So, if I don't feel that way, I guess it's okay to be nervous and to get caught up in winning this game."

Of course, even "getting caught up in winning games" was so trivial just a few weeks ago. Let me touch on two memories.

The first was the 10-minute drive that we would make every day from Leslie Neumarker's home in  Menlo Park to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.  We made that drive in Leslie's Nissan Pathfinder.  The first time I sat behind the wheel, I noticed that the radio dial in the Pathfinder was set to KDFC 102.1, a Bay Area classical music station.  Despite being a AM Sports and Political talk-radio junkie, I didn't change the station from Classical until well into our third week in town.  I remember distinctly thinking, as we made the drive to and from the hospital each day, how much I enjoyed the soothing sounds of that classical music.  Prior to the surgery, while uncertainty was at its peak, the music complemented The Spirit that was so deeply touching our lives.  We wanted nothing to distract from the peace that we were feeling. Talk Radio would have.  And in the immediate days following the surgery where we felt that strange mixture of gratitude for the blessing of what the surgeon called a "complete repair" and the melancholic feeling of being humbled by the fact that not everyone receives the same blessing, the things of The Spirit continued to weigh heavily on us and the classical  music of KDFC again did not distract from that but complemented it. I was involved in holy things, and I craved holy things, and I didn't want anything to get in the way.

The second memory is of my experience with the BYU-TCU football game that I didn't get to see.  This game was played four days prior to Abigail's surgery, and one day after our arrival at Lucile Packard.  I had waited 12 months for this game, a chance to avenge last year's humiliating blow out in Fort Worth. Of all the games that I wanted to be at this year, the TCU game was it.  The fact that ESPN's College Game Day's broadcast was coming to Provo for the game made it that much more important to me.  Even the national media was caught up in this game.

Naturally, the game's significance for me all but disappeared about 6:30 p.m. on October 19 when Abigail was ushered into the NICU.  But by the time game-time rolled around, we were settled in at Lucile Packard with a clear picture of what was in store for Abigail, and I was curious to watch or listen to the game, though my passion for it was appropriately tempered.

I stepped out of the NICU just before game time, and tried to find the game on the TV in the Parent's Lounge.  Because BYU games are broadcast on obscure cable channels, the game was not on the lineup offered by the hospital's cable feed, so I pulled up KSL on the internet, stuck my earphones into my laptop, and listened to Greg Wrubell call the game. I recall being interested in the game, and hoping that BYU would win, but not being a tenth as emotionally invested as I was at last night's Utah game.

As TCU proceeded to methodically dissect BYU's offense and defense en route to a 38-7 win, I recall a another curious emotion.  I was disappointed, as I wanted to believe that BYU's team was better than they were showing.  However, I distinctly remember that despite a little bit of disappointment,  I just didn't care too much about the loss.

These were sacred moments at Lucile Packard, moments that classical music complemented and moments that were not enriched by getting too worked up about a football game.

Yet, slowly the world and its cares butted its way into my life.  I recall the first time I was angry after Abby's birth.  It came about four days after surgery.  I had read an email from work, and some issue angered me.  About an hour later, I was driving in the car on the main highway, El Camino, that runs through Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Another driver did something that angered me and I felt justified (for about 10 seconds) in getting mad.  On both occasions, I remember feeling shocked by my anger--a feeling of shock that I wouldn't have had a few weeks prior.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am not a naturally patient person. Whether it be at work or on the tennis court, I tend to erupt quickly.  I am a reactor.  I react angrily when things don't go well. Fortunately, those eruptions are usually short-lived, and I often come to my senses quickly, "chill-out" and get to the business of solving the problem in a more emotionally stable way. I rarely stay mad for longer than a few minutes, and rarely let anger boil within me.

But still, my life prior to Abigial's birth was filled with many moments of quick outbursts of impatience and anger. Thus, the fact that I found myself shocked at those outbursts was in and of itself shocking.  Since when have I have been surprised at being angry??  But I had gone probably two weeks without any anger, which I attribute to the Spirit, and a re-emergence of the few priorities in life that really matter.

I realized after those first two outbursts that I had entered a new phase of this experience--the phase where I began to step foot in the "real world" where I would have the challenge of maintaining the spirit as I dealt with the necessary cares of the world.  At some point I had to go back to work.  At some point, I would have to respond to the big kids who wouldn't always make the right decisions. At some point, I would be at another football game, faced with the choice to either appreciate the good things about a rivalry or to hate the rival.

Of all the lessons learned from our journey with Abigail, I have pondered this one the most:  how do I keep one foot in heaven and one foot in the real world?

I have often wondered why it is that we spend nearly one third of our lives--30% of our probationary period--working, and being consumed with the things of this world.  I spend 30% of my life trying to earn money--something that the scriptures tells us must be a lower priority.  So, if the pursuit of money must be a low priority, why do we  have to spend 30% of our lives working?  Because it is precisely in work-type environments where we learn who we really are, and  where we are prove our worthiness or lack thereof.

It's easy to be a nice person in a Children's hospital. It's easy to think good thoughts, to say nice things, to have your priorities in line, and to be genuinely concerned about the welfare and trials of others when your child is in the NICU. It's easy to be Christlike when you're faced with matters of life or death, when you are compelled to rely on mercy of God for the health of your child.  It's easy to feel the spirit when  you have no other choice. Saints aren't made in Children's Hospitals; saints are merely inspired by Children's Hospitals--but they prove their worth and pass their tests when they're back in the real world.

Unfortunately, I've failed several of those tests since entering the real world after Abigail's surgery.  The first failure was my first Sunday home. I had looked so forward to getting home, and savoring the Big Four; I had plans of being the greatest, most patient, most invested father ever.  I was going to love them like I never had.

That lasted about twelve hours.

Twelve hours after our celebratory homecoming we found ourselves in Sacrament Meeting.  Lisa was at home with the baby, and I sat with the Big Four in the overflow in cultural hall on the metal chairs that are stored under the stage.  The speakers at the service were a missionary who just leaving for Brazil, and another missionary returning from Spain.  The missionary who was leaving was prepared, and the missionary who was coming home had obviously served a dedicated mission.  I wanted my kids to participate in the spirit of that meeting.  Unfortunately, to put it mildly, they didn't share that same desire.

At one point, Sami had Jeffrey in something resembling a headlock, and Daphne and Emma appeared to be in a contest of who could speak the loudest.  The first five or six times I asked the kids to be more reverent, I did so kindly, and with patience.  But with each ignored request for reverence,  my patience was growing exponentially more thin.  Before too long, I had forgotten all the intentions I had for their spiritual enlightenment from the meeting, and was now set on just getting to be quiet.  As embarrassed as I am to admit it, my motivation for helping kids be more reverent turned from a concern for their welfare to my concern about those around us might think of my parenting:  I quickly became more concerned about how my kids' noise was affecting those around us, and I was now embarrassed at what I imagined they were thinking:  Why haven't the Reeves taught their kids how to behave?  You know that you're no longer in tune to the spirit when your motivation for being good or for teaching your children to be good is based on a desire to "look good" for the neighbors.

Not surprisingly, the more I worried about our neighbors' opinion of me, the more angry I got, until my anger climaxed with a tight squeeze of Daphne's bare arm, a squeeze that was intended to inflict sufficient pain to stop to the talking.  I then threw a verbal dagger at Sami and Jeffrey, as I whispered, "You two should be proud of yourselves.  You've succeeded in ruining this meeting not only for yourselves, but for all those around you.  Nice work, you two." Not one syllable of that verbal reproof was spoken in a spirit of love.

As I finished with Sami and Jeffrey, I glanced at Daphne, who was inspecting her father's fingernail prints in her bare arm.  I had failed.  Twelve hours after our celebratory homecoming, I had momentarily forgotten everything I had learned in the last month; I had forgotten all the promises I had made about how great of a father I was going to become; I had forgotten how my heart had changed.

When sacrament meeting ended, I said goodbye to my kids, as they went their separate ways to Sunday School and Primary.  I stood in the cultural hall,  watching my kids disappear, a bit distraught that I was the same old Jeff that I was before Abigail was born.  As I stood in the cultural hall, I began to reflect on an email that I had sent to a friend while I was at Lucile Packard.

My friend had emailed to me thank me for writing the blog, and for sharing this experience with him.  He then shared this:
I know this sounds retarded because I would never want to go through what you guys have been going through, but a little part of me is jealous of the experience.  Times like this really do help remind you of what is important, and I know I certainly need that reminder from time to time.
I replied with the following thought that returned to be as I stood alone in the cultural hall:  
Yeah, I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but then again I would in a minute.  So hard yet so beautiful.  Your time will come in some way--it may not be the illness or death of a child or spouse, but it will be something that will try your faith and cause you to completely surrender.
The challenge for all of us who emerge from such a trial is to not forget what we've felt.  When you go through something like this you lose all desire for things that aren't holy, and then slowly, as your troubles fade, your interest in unholy things returns.  I can only hope that this feeling lasts, and that if I tend to forget it, that I can return to it when I need strength.  My father wrote me a letter when I was a missionary and he said the following, which has some application here:  "Make sure to keep a journal; it will be a reservoir of spiritual experiences from which you can drink in times of spiritual drought."
I hope that the pages I have written will be a reservoir for me when I'm in a drought sometime in the future.  That drought will come--it always does. The question is--will I remember which reservoir to turn to?
At that moment I thought of the reservoir of spiritual experiences that we had filled for four weeks; I thought of how my heart had changed, and the tender prayers we had offered; I thought of the perspective I had gained and the love I had felt.  I was in a drought, so I drank from that reservoir; I was back in the real world, so I put one more foot back in Heaven.

That is the challenge that we all face.  We all have to spend most of our time in the real world.  We work.  We go to rivalry games.  We make dinner.  We clean the house.  And in all those experiences, we are tried.  At work, a vendor, a customer, or a co-worker angers us.  At home, we clean the house, only to see the kids mess it up within minutes.  At the game, an opposing fan gets in our face. This is the real world that we always have at least one foot in. Our challenge is to remember in those day to day moments what we have felt when the spirit was with us, when God provided us a flood of light and Heaven; to keep one foot in Heaven and to return to the reservoir when the real world tries us.

It has been two weeks since that first failure. It disturbed me so much that I used it as leverage to change.  I have had a few more failure since then, but I am pleased to say that I have had more successes than failures.  I have been a little more slower to react, a little slower to forget, and lot quicker to remember and to return to my reservoir. And each time I resist the urge to jump back into the world with both feet by returning to my reservoir, I gain additional patience and additional light.  Sure, I continue to fail daily, but I tend to run back to that reservoir faster; I tend to want to repent faster.

As I said in an earlier post,we never arrive. We will continue to fail, but if we are humble enough and willing enough to return constantly to that reservoir our path to Heaven--though full of ups and downs--will trend gradually upward. Good night.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Another Answered Prayer

Above is a photo of an all-too familiar Abigail with plastic all over her body.  No worries. Nothing is wrong.  This photo was taken last Friday at her first follow-up appointment at Primary Children's.  All of this plastic was the various leads to monitor her vitals, all of which came back perfectly normal.

Seeing her, though, with all this "stuff" attached to her body brings back vivid memories of the recent past.  It brings back one memory in particular--the memory of Lisa and I kneeling nightly at the side of our bed in Menlo Park, an antique bed frame with a thick box spring and mattress so tall that our arms rested on the same plane as our shoulders as we knelt.  We would pray each night that our children at home would be touched by the goings-on of Abigail, that the spirit that we were feeling would touch their hearts too, and that the lessons that we were learning would be taught to them as well.  We learned yesterday that those prayers were answered.

The setting was thanksgiving dinner at Grandma and Grandpa Reeves' house.  All of my siblings and their families except for Marc and his family, who live in Seattle, were present.  Sometime after dinner we all met in  Grandma's living room to discuss and share the things for which we were grateful.  Grandma Reeves had handed to everyone in the room at sheet of paper titled "My Gratitude List."  Underneath the title were about 20, numbered, blank lines upon which we were to write the things for which we were grateful.

After we had each taken the time to write, everyone in the room shared the top five items on their list. Samantha was the first in our family to share.  Her first item was Abigail:  "I'm thankful for Abigail.  She has changed all of our thinking," which is Samantha's way of saying, she has changed our hearts.  Of all our children, Samantha, who is 14 and the most independent of them all, was somewhat aloof to the idea of us having a baby.  Throughout the pregnancy, she seemed to be the least excited about the prospect of having another addition to the family. She was respectful, but we could sense that Sam wondered if her parents were simply too old to have another child.  And though Samantha usually refers to Abigail as "The Child," we sense that heart warms each day to her sister.

Sam usually keeps her emotions and faith close to her vest. She's a deep thinker, who doesn't like to show emotion.  But I have sensed lately that like Enos in the Book of Mormon that the words of her father often sink deep into heart--despite her not wanting  you to know that.  Apparently, that had happened during our journey with Abigial.

A few moments later Jeffrey, our 12 year old, spoke. He too began with Abigail:  "I am thankful for Abigail.  She has brought our family closer to Christ."

Then Daphne, our 9 year old:  "I am grateful for Abigail.  She has given me us a testimony."

Those few words spoken by our three oldest children were worth every moment of anxiety and worth every dollar spent in Abigail's behalf.  Today, I am grateful for yet one more answered prayer .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lucky--First Full Post By Lisa

Jeff often says that I am the best sell he ever made.  He then proudly goes on to tell about how we met.  A little embarrassed by the attention, I quietly sit by and wish I could express how much I love him as beautifully as he does.  I definitely got more than I bargained for.  He is far better than I ever expected.  I often wonder how I got so lucky.

I sit here with baby sleeping nearby and Jeff at work.  And again, wish that somehow I could pay tribute to the man who exceeds my wildest dreams!  Jeff went to work for his first full day yesterday.  I miss him!  It was a wonderful blessing to have him by my side for almost 4 weeks!  While being 800 or so miles away from our "Big Four" and having our child in critical care was very difficult, in a way it was a blessing, as it allowed Jeff and I to be on one continuous date for a month straight.  We got to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together everyday--just the two of us. We got to sit by the bedside of our infant, talking, laughing, and sometimes crying.  The only thing that mattered was us, our family, our friends and our faith--everything else was pushed to the side.  That month together was in some ways the most romantic time we've ever spent together--a long overdue second honeymoon 15 years into our marriage.

Jeff is very passionate about his work.  He is a wonderful provider, but he dropped it entirely to focus on us.  I was so appreciative to have his undivided support and attention.  He was an amazing strength and blessing.  Jeff was has been so compassionate and concerned about my recovery.

He has supported me, protected me and spoiled me- washing out pump parts in the middle of the night, taking freshly pumped milk down to the freezer (also in the middle of the night), dropping me off right at the door and picking me up everywhere we went, parking the car and making a solitary walk a zillion times to the hospital, staying with Abigail while I slept, running countless errands, handling all the logistics and headache of hotels/airline flights/ insurance, making a heroic effort to make sure that all my pumped milk made it on the airplane instead of being dumped down the hospital sink, getting me a massage, arranging for our kids to visit and then spending time with them while I stayed at the hospital etc.

Jeff was definitely a father bear watching out for Abby.  He was so on top of everything that was happening with Abigail in the hospital:  asking questions, pushing for things to be done, taking countless pictures, blogging etc.  Abigail was a daddy’s girl from day one.  Even in her tiny and sedated state she would recognize and respond to his voice.

Jeff loves his little Abigail as he does Samantha, Jeffrey, Daphne, and Emma.  He is so tender with Abigail and I love to watch him.  In the middle of the night a few nights ago, Jeff was feeding Abigail- at time that most people are not happy to be awake- he made the comment, “I love having a baby.”  How blessed am I, and how blessed are my children to have a husband and father like Jeff.  We love you!

Abigail Update:

We went to the pediatrician yesterday, and she's on the right track.  She had even gained a half pound since Friday; of course, who really knows--it was a different scale.  Weight gain really is the last major milestone Abby must meet.  The Stanford doctors had been fortifying my breast milk with formula to add calories to it.  They called for us to continue to do so for the time being.

But there's a tiny bit of rebelliousness in us, and we chucked the formula just after we left the hospital.  We've never been big formula fans, and synthetic stuff can never come close to real thing.  However, when she weighed in less at Primary's on Friday than when she left Stanford, we started to wonder if our disobedience was going to come back to bite us.  We were grateful to see some gain on Monday!

The pediatrician wants to see us in a week to check her weight gain.  If it doesn't increase by enough, then we may be back on the formula fortification plan.  As her nursing increases, however, formula fortification will only get in the way of that.

Well, I'm heading off to pump--yet again.  Abigail hasn't caught up with my milk supply, so I continue to pump to keep the supply up.  I spend most of day  nursing, pumping, and feeding her a bottle.  And I'm loving every moment of it (okay, so I'm sick of pumping, and I now know what those dairy cows feel like--but everything else Abby-related is wonderful).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thoughts on President Eyring and an Abigail Update

A few Sundays ago I received several emails and a phone call regarding a regional conference in Utah, were President Henry B. Eyring spoke.  Sometime during his talk he referenced a recent experience where he had gone to Primary Children's to give a blessing to an infant with a serious heart condition. The timing of his talk led those who heard it to believe that he was referring to his blessing of Abigail.  His comments have inspired today's post.

I was not there, and so it is likely that some of what I say is in accurate, but I believe that I grasp the spirit of his point.  President Eyring was apparently speaking about purity, and of our need to become more pure.  He then referenced his experience with what was likely Abigail.  He said that he had two impressions as he left his office to minister to this baby.  The first was a sense of reverence for how pure this child was.  The second was that as he reflected on her purity he began to hope that he might be someday be like her.  It is that second statement by President Erying that I wish to discuss today.

Here's a man that most of us would consider pure.  Whether you believe, as I do,  that he is a prophet, it is impossible for one to listen to President Eyring speak and not consider him a pure and holy man.  Here is a man who has spent a lifetime trying to keep himself pure enough to be receptive to the spirit. And here is a man who has made and kept thousands and thousands of small commitments to do what is right--despite how inconvenient those commitments must have been at times.  This is a man that is pure and that, from our perspective, should just be able to "coast" into heaven.  What more must he do?

Yet, in the moment that he is called upon to give a blessing, his thoughts are not on his own righteousness and purity, but in contrast, he marvels at the purity of a newborn, and hopes (and surely prays) that me might someday be this pure.  That is spectacular.  President Eyring apparently doesn't believe he has "arrived."  And if he doesn't believe that he has "arrived" then none of us should be resting on our laurels either.

It is a natural law that no living thing ever stays the same--we're never in neutral.  We are either progressing or digressing.  Just as our muscles atrophy if we stop working them, our spirit does the same. Such is the nature of all eternal and living things.

Some of us might feel weighed down by the fact that we never "arrive" and that we have to keep pushing forward, trying to be more pure and more holy.  Some are burdened by that.  I don't believe that such a feeling comes from Heavenly Father.  I don't think that President Eyring is burdened by his need to continue to progress and to reach higher.  I suspect that he finds joy and peace in the process of trying to progress.  He finds that same joy and peace as he repents of whatever small sins he commits. "Enduring to the end" is such an ominous phrase, and it implies to some a certain kind of agony that those walking the path of righteousness must put up with.  I don't believe that is true.

Even though life will contain its fair share of agony, I believe that "enduring to the end" is can be a process mostly full of joy, light, and happiness.  After all, we are promised that "he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come" (DC 59:23, italics added).  Note that the reward for righteous strivings is not just a big fat prize at the end, but is the reward of peace right now.  I only hope that I will have the courage to continue to hope for purity like President Eyring so that I can always have the peace we've had since Abigail's birth.

Update on Abigail

Abigail is still as dainty as ever.  Most have commented when they see her for the first time that she is smaller than her pictures online suggest.  She is still tiny, and according to the scale at Primary Children's on Friday, she is still under her birth weight.  Check out her bird leg below:

Those who are familiar with our babies know that this bird leg is a typical sight.

Apparently, she has lost a little weight since leaving Lucile Packard, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, as she has been chugging milk like it's about to go extinct.  I was a little nervous as I was reading the blog of a fellow heart patient parent (www.cooperandmadison.blogspot.com--a darling girl that is a twin).  Madison's mom said that one of the things that alerted them to the seriousness of Madison's heart condition was the fact that she wasn't gaining much weight.

However, Dr. Mack, the cardiologist we saw on Friday, wasn't terribly concerned about the weight because she isn't exhibiting all of the other signs that typically accompany a condition like Madison has--excess sweating, over exertion when eating, a heart beating extra fast.  Abigail has shown none of that.  Dr. Mack chalked up the lack of weight gain to the fact that every hospital has a different scale.  He said that the only scale we should use as a benchmark should be that of her pediatrician where she will visit most often.  I am chalking the weight loss up to (1) the scale and (2) all of the cords attached to Abigail at Lucile Packard (that the nurses claim are somehow excluded from the weighing process) that gave Abigail a wrong measurement.

Other than the lack of weight gain, Abigail's vitals seem to be functioning perfectly:  oxygen saturation is at 99 to 100%, her heart is pumping at a good, solid, consistent speed.  Her breathing is consistent with that of an infant.  She eats without laboring.  Amazingly, she takes to the bottle AND the breast equally well.  When bottle feeding, she consumes about 3 ounces of milk at a feeding (4 yesterday).  So far so good.

In the meantime, we continue to love and spoil this little miracle.  Below is a picture of Jeffrey holding his sister just after he woke up yesterday (12 year old boys usually don't wear shirts when they sleep!).  Is this not sweet?  There is nothing better than to see your children love their siblings.

Big brother getting a little "skin to skin" with baby sister.