Friday, July 31, 2009

We've had better days...

Today we were back in the doctor's office. Among other things, Luke developed a head-to-toe rash this week. The doctor who'd been treating his lump was out today, so we had to see a different doctor. This was okay with us; after all, it was just a rash and a new set of eyes and ideas couldn't hurt. I was very surprised when the doctor looked up from examining Luke and said that he'd found a new lump that "did not feel like a lymph node". He ordered an ultrasound and used the phrase "mass on right side of neck". So, back to Children's radiology department a couple of hours later. It was a bit unnerving.

The results came in late this afternoon. The "mass" is a cluster of enlarged lymph nodes surrounded by fatty tissue. The doctor says it is most likely just a mean infection. He said to check back in with the doctor we'd been seeing later next week and, based on her judgment, we may be seeing a surgeon after all. If we see a surgeon, it sounds like he will perform a biopsy to determine what we're dealing with. It may be an "atypical infection" that will only respond to a very specific medication. The doctor believes the ugly, itchy rash is a reaction to 17 days worth of antibiotics. Being off meds between now and (IF) when we have to see a surgeon and go on another drug will hopefully give Luke's body a chance to recover.

I am so very thankful today for two things in particular... My sister-in-law. She came to get Zach between the doctors appointment and the ultrasound appointment. Hanging with his cousins was far more fun than hanging out at the hospital --- and then she took the kids out for greasy burgers, brought Luke and me some frozen custard, and kept Zach till later in the afternoon. This gave me some much needed time to digest this new information without Zach's sweet little eyes on me. I took a bubble bath too. I am also just pretty much in love with anyone who works in pediatrics. Everyone at the doctor's office seems to be familiar with Luke's situation and they are so sympathetic every time they talk to me. A phone nurse even told me jokes to give me a laugh before hanging up yesterday (after delivering the cruddy news that the doc thought we needed to be there at 8am today to address this week's symptoms). Luke had a somewhat difficult time today; he is getting fearful and emotional about doctor's appointments. The doctors, nurses, technicians, check-in people, even the security guard have done everything possible to put us at ease. I think it takes a special kind of person to work with sick kids. To those of you who do - from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My sweet treat

This is so cheesy... But, I feel like it is my treat to get to make the kids' cakes every year. I bought Zach's first birthday cake. It was cool looking, but wasn't very tasty at all. Plus, I didn't get the joy of making it. So, the following year his party had a construction theme. I made a cake in the back of a giant dump truck - the cake looked like a mound of dirt! It was easy and really didn't require any skill. The following year he had a Cars party. I made a cake with white icing and then made a road out of crushed oreos (the same thing I did for the dirt the year before), some grass out of green sprinkles and placed real cars on the road - the lines down the middle of the road were from a squeeze tube of icing! Not a lot of skill was required for any of the cakes so far... Then, for his 4th birthday he chose a Cat in the Hat theme. Time to step it up on the cake! I ended up taking a fun cake decorating class with my friend Marci and made a cake in the shape of the cat's Hat. I iced it using the star tip in alternating red & white stripes. So, that was the first of my "more complicated" cakes, and this Spiderman cake is the most complicated one I've made yet. Marci introduced me to an awesome technique for Spiderman. It was very easy, once I figured out how long to freeze for, not to touch the frozen icing with my bare hands (made it thaw immediately!) and how to pull the wax paper off. Everyone loved this cake! I'm still not good at free-hand drawing yet, which is why the webs and text are not spectacular (Spiderman pun intended). Perfection will come through practice and I only have two kids - which means I only make a couple of cakes per year!

A happy birthday indeed!

Luke had a great birthday. Since the kids are always in on the party planning and cake decorating, the decorations are the big surprise. With each birthday Bryan and I come up with a new way to hang streamers - before long we're going to have to get a new house in order to come up with something new! When the birthday boy comes down, it's like Christmas morning when they see that beautiful tree lit up with gifts all around it...

Here's a picture of Luke on the phone telling his daddy all about the webs, water guns and birthday donuts he's about to have.

As I filled 200+ water balloons in the morning, I let the kids get into the pool. Luke couldn't stop loving on Spiderman - hugs, kisses, and cuddling in his lap!

This is what 200+ water bombs looks like!

Minutes before all of the guests arrive - the cake I spent hours working on was devoured in no time flat!

Our traditional family picture... However, this is the first time we've shot webs and made silly faces!

Luke received a lot of great gifts

Almost done eating cake - sooo ready to get wet!

It would appear that Bryan is chasing after one of the kids with purpose!

Everyone re-loading (again, Bryan appears to be up to no good!)

Boys with water guns - I love the look on Zach's face!

Zach spraying with Spidey's wet web

Luke takes a bucket-o-water as the party wraps up

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

He'll be three tomorrow

On the eve of Luke's 3rd birthday, we are busy getting ready for a party. Icing the cake, wrapping presents, straightening the house, hanging streamers, mowing the lawn, unveiling the new Spiderman pool, agonizing over the hundreds of water balloons I will fill tomorrow... Throwing birthday parties for our boys is just so much fun! As we run through all of our to-do's, I enjoy thinking about Luke.

When Luke was born, he looked exactly like Zach. Differences in personality began to show at 4 months, and they just keep coming! Luke absolutely adores his big brother and copies everything he does, but Luke has a style all his own...

Luke is fiercely independent. This can cause some difficulty at times, but I am so proud of how he is beginning to accept assistance when needed. I am always curious to see how his independent, strong-willed determination will impact his career choice. I've always said this child believes he should be running a small country!

Luke is tough. He cracked his head open a few weeks ago and only cried for a couple of minutes. He was laughing and climbing all over the room when we went to the hospital for a staple. He makes for a very pleasant patient, but can also be difficult to treat since he laughs through pain! You just never really know how he feels.

Laughter... This child loves to laugh! He loves to tell jokes. He loves to hear jokes. He listens to comedians using his dad's ipod in the car!! He does impersonations. He was born to laugh.

He loves puzzles and he's very good at them. He has dozens. He can do any of the Melissa & Doug variety of puzzles all by himself, and is beginning to do some 70 piece puzzles with smaller pieces (and some assistance). The box I read the other day said age 7+. I am always mesmerized when I watch him do puzzles. I'm pretty sure he's better at it than I am.

Luke has a love affair with all animals. His favorite changes everyday... A trip into PetSmart for dog food is never a quick trip, as we have to visit every animal in the building.

Luke is rarely still and even more rarely quiet. He is a chatty little boy who makes friends easily and can hold a conversation with absolutely anyone. His conversations usually lead to something very silly that causes him to show off his big belly laugh and precious dimples - he has a dominant one that you can always see on his left cheek, the other shows up when he flashes a broad smile.

I probably use the phrase "monkey see - monkey do" five times a day. He does absolutely everything he sees Zach do. One day this led to a broken vase in a furniture store... Ah, the little brother syndrome.

Luke is a very physical young man. He is always climbing or swinging and he loves sports. As Zach plays soccer on the field, Luke is on the sidelines cheering him on and practicing his own moves.

I think that Luke loves risks too. We have become used to it, so we don't freak out anymore when he's doing something we would never have let Zach do at his age... So far, he hasn't had an accident as a result of a crazy risk. We continue to pray over that one! We fully expect him to have a frequent flyer card for stitches, staples and fractures. We're just praying that it's never anything serious.

While Luke fancies himself a BIG BOY (and I sometimes forget that he's not), there are reminders that he is still only two years 364 days old. He sleeps with a satin sheep and sucks his precious thumb in bed. He tries to give the thumb up every now and then, only to take it back with a shy smile. It's comforting, so we let it slide for now. An orthodontist will thank us one day!

Luke loves to try things on his own - playing with friends, some pretty serious pretend fighting, going off to Sunday school and VBS with his little buddies, riding bikes with the big kids. But, he always comes running when Mom or Dad throw open that garage door after even the briefest of trips away from the house. He is a little boy who loves his family - Mommy, Daddy, Zachary and Apollo.

And we love you, Luke. We are blessed beyond words to know you. God is so good to us! Happy birthday, my little Spiderman in training.

Surgical consult

Are you checking for an update on Luke's surgical consult? Great news... The Augmentin is working so well that the lump is actually smaller now than it was when we found it two weeks ago! This is great news. When I notified the surgeon of this yesterday, he determined that there was no reason to explore surgery!!! Today's appointment was canceled. He asked us to call him back if it begins to grow again, but otherwise Luke just needs to finish his meds and go on with life. Luke has no idea what surgery is, but he's very familiar with Augmentin. This is probably the worst possible news for Luke -- having to keep taking this disgusting medicine for a few more days! We've promised a "no more medicine" party after his last dose. What a trooper.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why worry?

Tonight was the first time we have attended church as a family since February. On the night shift, Bryan was working Saturday nights and sleeping on Sunday mornings (he returned home from work around 4am). Sometimes I took the kids to church by myself and other times I caught sermons online, but I felt so disconnected from my church family... I even found myself becoming so busy and distracted that I felt I was drifting away from God. I missed church in a big way! An extra special bonus tonight was that our favorite guest pastor delivered the message. He's always great, and tonight was no exception.

His message was titled "Why worry?" Given our previous week, I was eager to hear what he had to say. As he delivered all the usual stuff, I just kept thinking, "Yeah, but what if your worry is not about material things, or even where the next meal is going to come from, but your kids health? How do we not worry about that?"

Frankly, I am able to surrender most things to God. But as I thought about it, those things that I so easily surrender are things that don't really matter to me to begin with: money, house, cars, jobs. Those things are all replaceable. If we lost them all, we would just start over again. We'd still have each other.

One thing I do not find easy to surrender is my family. If I am worrying, it's most likely about my kids' safety or health. When we first discovered that lump in Luke's neck, I was not okay with the possibility of it being cancer. As we pursued tests to rule out cancer, I was angry with God. My exact words were, "It was one thing for me to lose my childhood, but it is not okay with me for Luke to lose any part of his." At the time it seemed like a completely natural reaction from a mother... But as I've thought about it this evening, I've realized that I was angry that my plans might possibly get interrupted. A serious illness was not in the script; I didn't care what God's plan was. I wasn't interested in seeing what kind of glory He could bring from this; I just did NOT want to be in that situation. As a dear Bible study teacher would say, "I was kicking and screaming" at the prospect of this plan.

Last week a lot of people encouraged me to not be anxious, to be prayerful and to rest in the knowledge that God loves Luke even more than I do. I was so short sighted by my plan for Luke's life that I really struggled to understand what they were saying.

Pastor Randy wrapped up his sermon tonight with three steps to win over worry:

1. Put God first

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
Matt 6:33

2. Take one day at a time

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matt 6:34

3. Trust God

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow it is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matt 6:30

The bottom line is that I did not trust God. In fact, I completely rejected his plan if it had anything to do with Luke being ill. I prayed fervently, but I prayed for my will. I could not even consider how this would unfold if it was cancer, because I was certain I could not handle that. But as we sang tonight, I was reminded that...

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.
We will wait upon the Lord,
We will wait upon the Lord.

Our God You reign forever,
Our Hope, our strong deliverer.

You are the everlasting God,
The everlasting God.
You do not faint, You won't grow weary.
You're the defender of the weak,
You comfort those in need.
You lift us up on wings like eagles.

I know and love this song. I believe every word of it, but was so caught up in my own fears that I'd temporarily forgotten this truth. I am only strong with Him. He is my hope, my deliverer. He doesn't grow weary... And my favorite - He lifts us up on wings like eagles. Praise God.

First Friday

The most disappointing thing about Bryan's old night schedule is that he has missed nearly our entire summer - those long nights when you can do anything you want without worrying about bed time. So... On our FIRST FRIDAY night together, we decided to do something very fun. Bryan had come across a little blurb in the paper about a special guest appearing at the zoo (not the zoo we were at the other day) -- a perfect surprise for our kids!

Bryan was pretending to be stuck between these rocks. Luke immediately got the joke and went to work playing along. He is (pretending) to pull his dad through. I just love how
hysterically funny this child is.

As we waited to see the zoo's special guest, Luke could not resist the temptation to climb this doorway like Spiderman. He tried so hard to brace himself, but his legs just weren't long enough.

And the main attraction... SPIDERMAN! The boys loved shooting webs with Spidey. They practiced their "technique" while waiting in line.
(This is the first time Zach has come near a grown-up in a costume.)

A great picture of Zach and Dad

Thursday, July 23, 2009

So far, so very good!

The doctor's office called early again this morning with more good news. They are still waiting on a couple of labs, but so far everything is either within the normal range or negative. I believe that every test that would be an indicator of cancer is back and they've all been clear. The doctors felt from the beginning that cancer was very unlikely, but we are relieved to hear that all of the tests concur with that opinion.

Luke's medicine is absolutely disgusting, but I think it's working. The old medicine was yummy pink. This medicine is gross white. I rushed back to the pharmacy after his first dose to have strawberry added to it. I tasted it on my way home and it still made me shudder with disgust. The flavoring didn't change the color, so the pharmacist told me that I could add food coloring to make it pink. Changing the color was the most helpful, I think... He doesn't take off for the nearest closet when he sees it, but this morning I did have to wrestle him to the floor and hold him down to make him take it. No fun, but if it makes the gigantic lump go away and helps us avoid surgery, we'll just pretend to be members of the WWF twice a day for ten days!

We also went back to the pediatrician this morning to have his TB test read. As we expected, it was also negative.

It could be a mother's hope, but I feel like the lump is beginning to get smaller. To me, it feels like the hard swelling is going down and that I can actually make out the swollen lymph node again (as opposed to the entire side of his neck being swollen). Unless the lump goes away completely by Tuesday (every doctor has said it would probably take months for it to go away completely) we will keep our surgical appointment. I would imagine that if Luke is showing good progress and his pain is diminishing, he will probably not have surgery -- especially if tests indicate that this is a curable infection.

We could not be happier with the care of our pediatrician's office. Their efforts to call us first thing each morning with results is so kind of them. I appreciate the good news with my coffee! Perhaps I will add a chocolate croissant to the mix tomorrow morning... Thanks to all of you for your prayers and encouragement. We say it all the time, but it's true -- we are richly blessed with wonderful friends.

There's a first time for everything

Bryan called home at 8:30am yesterday to see what the kids and I had planned for the day. I said I really didn't know, but thought we should do something special since the weather was perfect and the day before had kept us busy in doctor's offices and labs. Plus, I didn't want to sit around staring at the phone all day waiting for the doctor to call. Bryan suggested the zoo, so the kids and I started making our plan! Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang again and I was surprised to see that it was the doctor's office. CHEST X-RAYS CAME BACK CLEAR! We are still waiting for the lab results to come in, and Luke is reluctantly taking his "very yucky" medicine twice a day. Zach has junior golf this morning, so we will go straight to the doctor to have the TB results read once golf is over. After that I think we'll stop by WalMart to pick up some water guns for Luke's birthday party next week. My kids would be delighted to talk your ear off about this much anticipated "Spiderman water party".

So... Today was a day of firsts. The kids and I drove an hour away to visit the zoo... This is not the zoo closest to our house, but it's small enough that you can walk the entire thing in two hours, the animals are close enough that you can really get a good look, it has a great park across the street - plus we have friends that we were trying to visit while we were out that way. We have been to this zoo several times before, but I'd never taken the kids by myself and, for some reason, we'd never been to the park!

We'd never noticed this bench before. Luke took one look at it, raced over, laid down and said, "I'm a monkey!" He LOVES monkeys!

I've been to a lot of zoos, but I've never been this close to a tiger. It had me wondering just how thick that glass is.

Mama and her three-week-old baby. Zach loves giraffes, so he was so happy to meet this newest addition to the zoo.

He's still a monkey!

Earlier this year, the hippo that had been at this zoo for 42 years passed away. When we were here in February the hippo tank was empty. Today we found that a new friend had moved in!

Where did you come from? In all our walks through the tropical rainforest, we have never met this little creature.
I love Luke's body language.

Just hanging around... Another creature that apparently has always been in the rainforest - we'd just never noticed them.
And there were LOTS of them.

The boys loved feeding the ducks, something we rarely do since I hate letting animals eat out of my hand. It just seems so gross, but my boys find it delightful.

As we were leaving the zoo, the boys found some rocks to climb on (sooo not a first!)

...and a shady place to sit and watch the ducks.

The park is FULL of these huge animals for kids to climb on. They've been in the park for 30+ years and the kids just love 'em!

"My very first ride on a see-saw!" and they loved every minute of it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A lump in Luke's neck

Eight days ago I noticed a lump in Luke's neck as I was helping him brush his teeth. We called our pediatrician and made an appointment with one of the doctors in the practice. This particular doctor is the head of their walk-in sick clinic and I really like her. She performed a very thorough physical exam, ran a CBC and checked for strep throat (he'd recently been exposed). Everything came back within the normal range, so she did her best to reassure us that it was probably just a viral infection that would need to run its course. Aside from this lump (lymph node just under the jaw line, near the ear) absolutely nothing appears to be wrong with my son.

The very next day, I had to take Luke to our local children's hospital for an unrelated issue. While we were there, I asked the doc for his opinion on the lymph node. He said all the same things the pediatrician did, "Not alarmingly large, moves around, probably just an infection." He thought it was probably bacterial as opposed to viral... Probably staph. He prescribed an antibiotic and said to call our ped if it gets any bigger or doesn't show significant signs of improvement within two weeks. Both docs used the words, "I don't think this is a bad lump", so we took comfort in that.

Last night I noticed that the lump feels larger; moving farther up towards the ear and down his neck. You can see the bulging from several feet away. (I wish I were exaggerating.) I took him back to see our ped today. She agreed that it was bigger, gave another very thorough exam and ordered a lot of labs and a chest x-ray (looking at the lymph nodes in the chest). We will go back in to have his TB test read in two days (apparently there is a strain of TB that is not upper respiratory). Part of his blood labs and the chest x-ray report will be in the ped's hands later this afternoon. The remainder of the labs will come in later this week. We don't expect the doc to call until she has them all... Until then, we wait.

While we were at our children's hospital getting all the labs done, our ped personally called a pediatric surgeon that she highly recommended. His schedule is packed, but he agreed that Luke needs to be seen sooner rather than later. (Exactly how I am supposed to take that?) He asked our ped to call in a stronger antibiotic, and said he wanted to give the labs time to come in and the new meds time to work before seeing him... So, he had his assistant fit us in next Tuesday morning.

The surgeon told our pediatrician that in all his years of surgery, he has never once seen a lymphoma present this way in such a young child. He has seen secondary lesions appear this way (secondary to a pre-existing cancer), but he believes that Luke would have been very ill for some time if he has an undiagnosed cancer. His CBC (from last week), his physical exams, his diet.... there are NO indicators other than this lump that anything is wrong with him! We are encouraged by that.

The surgeon and our pediatrician believe that this will most likely prove to be an infection. Quite possibly an infection that will end up being surgically removed, but an infection all the same.

I am so very grateful for our pediatrician. I hesitated to take Luke to the doctor today because I didn't want to inconvenience anyone if the size increase was only in my imagination. Our doctor was so kind, compassionate and thorough. I felt like she was treating Luke the way she'd treat her own child. And as my eyes welled with tears at the mention of surgery, she handed me a tissue the way a dear friend would. The nurses and technicians at the hospital were wonderful too. Their kindness and understanding made our not-so-pleasant morning bearable. My kids loved the slushes they received after Luke gave up three vials of his blood!

I have prayed constantly over these last eight days that God would make it clear to me if something is seriously wrong with him. I have prayed that I would know what I was supposed to be looking for, since I have no medical training at all. And I've prayed that our doctors would be skillful and correct, and that I'd be covered with His peace as we wait for this to be resolved. I cried on the way from our ped's office to the hospital, but managed to put on a smile for the kids when we were face to face. I'm amazed that I was able to hold Luke while his blood was drawn! That is one thing I never, in a million years, would have expected I'd be capable of. I give the credit for that to God!!

My prayers now turn to the coming week. That Luke's new meds will obviously be working (prior to our surgical consult) if this is an infection that can go away without surgery. We pray that his labs will come back with clear answers, definitely ruling things in or out. And we will pray for the knowledge and skill of the surgeon we will be meeting next Tuesday. We beg for this not to be cancer. Of course, we continue to pray for His peace and patience as we wait.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What I learned through night shift

Bryan began working a night shift, Monday thru Saturday (and some Sundays) in late February. He was offered this switch to night shift in lieu of a lay-off. We were told that it would last 3-5 weeks. It lasted SIXTEEN weeks. Considering the number of lay-offs that take place each month in Bryan's field, we are always so very grateful to even have a job. Let alone a job with as much overtime as the last year and a half has given us. Still, the long hours and much shorter weekends as a family left a lot to be desired. We made it work well for us, but we are elated to have Bryan home for evenings and weekends again.

As I slipped out of bed this morning and actually made it, it was a moment similar to slipping into a great bubble bath. Ahhhh..

Some things I learned through night shift (5pm-3am, M-Sat):

1) It is virtually impossible to make the bed when someone is almost always sleeping in it! Same goes for cleaning the master bedroom and bathroom.

2) It requires diligent effort for husband and wife to remain connected when there is very little "us" time without kids... I had no idea how much that time between the kids' bedtime and ours meant to us, until it was gone. Or even those hours of merely sleeping in the same bed at the same time!

3) The kids and I are capable of far more than I thought. Previously I'd have said that we just "couldn't handle" a packed schedule or Daddy's absence, but we had a lot going on this summer and did it all very well.

4) It is fun to have a "never say no" attitude towards invitations. We accepted every invitation that we could, and had a blast!

5) Walking, biking and swimming are great ways to pass the time, get some exercise and keep the kids in "a happy place"... These activities are also free! Evenings spent with friends and neighbors also make the time fly and are just plain fun!

(Mosquitoes have been really bad for us this summer... One thing I haven't discovered is a great insect repellent for all these evenings spent outdoors!)

6) Having Daddy volunteer in Zach's class and attend things like soccer camp, junior golf and VBS closing program were such a blessing to the boys and me. These are things his normal day schedule never permits.

7) Bryan is "indulgent" (by my definition). He goes overboard with movie snacks (we've been seeing $5 movies on Tuesday afternoons), video game rentals and "special surprises" of things like massive amounts of bubbles, water balloons, and Happy Meals. These are things Mommy almost never buys, so the kids really love this about Daddy!

That's all I can think of with two kids whizzing past me, one ready for breakfast and the other ready to head to the park. Today we are shifting our schedule; moving the evening outdoor activities to a morning activity. Good thing Taylor's mom called to invite us to the park!

Looking forward to seeing Bryan after work tonight. We can hardly wait for our first Saturday as a family (excluding vacation and holidays) since late February!

Friday, July 17, 2009

He sets the lonely in families

A friend posted a question on Facebook today about family... I think the question was, "Do you know your family?"

The branches of my family tree are pretty split and fractured. It goes way back. I was adopted by my step father, my birth father was adopted by his step father and my birth father's birth father was adopted by neighbors when his parents gave him away. By my count, that is four generations of estrangement and abandonment. Sadly, that is only a small part of the brokenness in my family.

Today, if I'm defining family by DNA relations, my family is pretty small. I even have a brother that I have never met; in fact, he probably does not even know I exist (he's my birth father's younger child, whom my birth father left on the child's 5th birthday).

After all these years, my heart aches as I write this. How can parents leave their kids so easily? Although I have been left repeatedly, I cannot answer that. As a mom, I cannot fathom it.

There has been substantial loss in my life, but the blessings are so great that I sometimes forget about the losses. Bryan and the boys give me more than I could ever have asked for or imagined. Through my relationships with them, so many wounds have been healed. The Shrader family as a whole has been very good to me, which has also been life-giving. As Bryan and I began to get more connected in our church, we discovered a body of Christ that soon became like family to us. And as I developed meaningful friendships inside and outside of the church, I found myself surrounded by even more dear "family" members.

I think family is what you make of it... More accurately, I think family is what God gives us, if only we would recognize and cherish it. It was never his design or plan for things to happen in my birth family the way that they did, but everyday was marked before it happened, so He knew what lie ahead for each of us. He planted people in my life (and no doubt the lives of my parents and other family members) who would love me and become like family, but it was up to me to recognize it, hold on to it, and nurture it.

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families." Psalm 68:5-6a

For many years I was very, very lonely. Without my knowledge or consent, God placed me in a family with Bryan. Our union was different from any other that I'd ever experienced. I knew it was family. Forever. As I embraced my forever with Bryan, it became easier to embrace a meaningful relationship with Christ. Out of that faith - in my marriage, in humanity and in Christ - our family grew by leaps and bounds!

I am not estranged from my entire family. I am in touch with a few cousins, all of my aunts and my dear brother. It's just that the loss of my parents (mom, birth father, adopted father), grandparents (birth father's side), and my younger sister have left a hole in me that I thought could never be filled; a pain that I thought could never even be lessened, let alone healed. Bryan and the kids, my in-laws and our amazing friends are not replacements for those that I have lost.... But these loved ones absolutely bless me and provide a happiness and contentment that I never knew was possible. I am generally not short on words, but they fail me when I try to express my gratitude to the Lord for this provision. He is a father to the fatherless. He sets the lonely in families. How great is our God.

Simple summer fun

As Bryan worked again last night, the kids and I headed out on a bike ride. We can see this trail from the road - and I'd heard it had a playground halfway down the trail. So, after living here for 7 1/2 years, we decided it was time to check it out.

Heading out to explore

We spot the playground!

Possibly my new favorite picture of Zach

Typical Luke, our fearless adventurer
Cool trees + cool brothers = cool photos

Always on the move... Luke is mid-jump!

One of the dozens of super hero moves Zach had me photograph

The boys were yelling, "WE ARE SUPER STARS!"

We found this creek on the backside of the trail

It's about time for this big wheel rider to move up to a small bike!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A wonderful day

The bike-a-thon came and went way too fast. In the days leading up to the event, a wonderful story ran in our local paper. Our boys were pictured on the front page! The story quickly circulated among our city, Facebook friends, email, and our church family. A lot of people were inspired by our kids' heart for other children... And we are so humbled by the interest and support of our community.

A lot of our dear friends, family, friends of friends, and even some complete strangers came out to the event to serve as volunteers. One little boy called us to offer the use of his little bounce house!

I had the honor and privilege of talking with parents about how our family came to be connected with the Sunflower House. I shared my story of an abusive childhood, God's saving grace, and the support groups that I now lead at our church. There were numerous conversations about the proactive steps parents can take to keep their kids safe, and even conversations between parents and children about how sometimes adults hurt kids. A friend of mine said that as she and her children baked goodies for our bake sale, that her children had questions about the purpose of this event. As their mother began talking with them about foster children and child abuse, it occurred to her that their family had had many conversations about families that struggle financially due to job loss, or families where a parent or child has lost their battle with a terrible illness, but she'd never talked with them about how sometimes parents hurt their children. When their discussions were over, her children understood that, through this bike-a-thon, we were helping to make lives a little easier for children who have struggled through some things that should never ever happen. I believe that in many households compassion grew through this event. We are so honored to be a part of that growth and awareness.

During our family's interview with the newspaper reporter, Zach was asked who he hoped would come out to the bike-a-thon. He said he wanted all of his friends to come, but also wanted people he didn't know to come. When asked for an exact number he replied, "Fifty-five. Or 76. Or 99." By our count, 98 people came! We are very, very happy with that.

A quick count...

We had 25 volunteers (7 teenagers, 3 kids ages 2-11)
36 bikers
37 parents (non-volunteers)

To-date, we have raised $596 with checks still arriving in the mail each day. Dozens of toys and gift cards were also donated!

We are so very proud of Zach & Luke. They helped with every step of the planning and they cannot wait to hand this money over to the two organizations. This has been such a wonderful experience for our family. Bryan and I look forward to seeing what the kids come up with next.

Pre-biking entertainment. Teenagers keep kids busy with the Limbo and 11 year-old Zak makes balloon animals!

Grand Marshal Steve. He was awesome - he didn't quit riding until the last biker was done.

Kids begin taking laps

We were surprised that Zach was the very last child to stop biking. He really LOVED this day! He cried a little when we got home, "Mom, I just wish we could have more bike-a-thon. And more balloon animals."

After biking, kids enjoyed some carnival activities - a bounce house, face painting, tattoos, colored hair spray, popsicles, baked goodies, writing letters to foster children, and a resource table for Mom and Dad.

Awesome volunteers at the registration table. We'd never met them before Saturday - just folks in the community who care about kids! (They are all friends of friends.)

Kids getting faces painted, tattoos & hair spray. (More balloon animals being made off to the left.)

One of my oldest friends manning the bake sale. Thank you to all of my dear girlfriends for making all those goodies!

The Shrader family meets Happy Bear

Kids from the community who could not wait to be a part of the bike-a-thon.

Thank you to everyone who supported this event. So many of you gave of your time, talent and money. We appreciate you so very much. We are richly blessed with an amazing group of friends, terrific family and an amazing community in which to live. There are countless children and families who will benefit from your generosity. On their behalf, we thank you. You are making life a little easier for someone today.