Christmas 2012

The eleven months leading up to this December have been teeming with joy and pain unmatched. Ten of these months I have known a little boy named Finn, and he’s changed my life in many many ways.

looking dapper

looking dapper

Firstly, selfishness is no longer, under any circumstance, an option for me. His naps come before mine. His dinner is prepared instead of my own. I wipe his tears and let mine fall. Secondly, he gives me courage. I thought I was strong until I met this little fighter who squeezes my hand when he’s scared and smiles when he has every right to be shaking his fist. Thirdly, I have hope. Hope for his future. I cannot wait to unravel the layers of his complex personality, discovering how God made him uniquely Finn.

Santa Baby at Nana and Papa Armstrong's

Santa Baby at Nana and Papa Armstrong’s

As I get older, I’m more aware that Christmas carries joy and grief in its red satin bag. Just days ago a friend held her disabled daughter as she left this earth to meet her King. A client’s mom died, another client’s father is ill, my dear friend’s grandmother is withering, Connecticut families are grieving over unopened packages under their tree, one cousin is alone on Christmas Eve…

We all need a little cheer; a little good news.

I’ve heard the stories, questioned the theology, researched the history, become frustrated by the inconsistencies, rolled my eyes at the hypocrisy, wept on my knees, been humbled by my own hypocrisy, sung with arms held high, screamed prayers in my car, and one year in college I stopped reading the Bible altogether. But here’s the best news I know:

Jesus, God incarnate, is born.

He came down from the sparkle and purity of Heaven to this dingy, tainted place to show you and I how it’s done. How to love your neighbor and your enemy. How to trust God with the details. How to pray…alone on a mountain. How to tell a good story. How to feed your friends. How to stick to the plan. How to forgive the unforgivable. How to drop the stones of judgment from your hand. How to live and how to die.

Team Armstrong...in pj's

Team Armstrong…in pj’s

My family moved so often while I was growing up that no Christmas was the same. Mom did a fabulous job of creating tradition out of transiency, but Christmas, like her tree, was different every year. Joey and I’s Christmases are looking different too…on staff at a church, we can’t visit far away family on Christmas Eve and we trade holidays every year in Tulsa or San Antonio. Christmas doesn’t look the same from year to year. But one thing that will never change (however cliché) is why we celebrate…

Jesus, God incarnate, is born.

This is good news, friends. I hope you know that deep within your soul.

Matching houndstooth bow ties!

Matching houndstooth bow ties!

Baby Church

One generous infant gave Finn RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) for Christmas. Everyone keeps telling me Finn’s immune system will become so strong from daycare…when does that kick in, exactly?

We had planned to drive to Tulsa after church today to make it for Joey’s mom’s family Christmas get together. Change of plans. Finn needs to rest and get over this wheezy cough (he’s on antibiotics and breathing treatments) and we don’t want to infect cousin Everett.

So, while Daddy led worship at church this morning, Finn and I decided to have a service of our own. Baby Church.

photo-178The organphoto-176

The Wordphoto-177

The congregationphoto-175

We sang songs to the hum of the Vick’s vaporizing humidifier, Finn played multiple instruments at once thanks to Baby Einstein, and I read from Really Woolly’s Bedtime Prayers. Oftentimes I prefer the theology of children to that of adults. It’s simpler; less contaminated. I don’t know about Finn, but I was ministered to by this little poem:

The Lord, He is my Shepherd;

He keeps me by His side.

He guards my steps

And holds my hand,

In case I slip or slide.

The Lord, He is my hero;

He rescues me from harm.

From troubles big

And worries small,

From danger and alarm.

The past three months have been difficult. From Finn’s penal surgery at the end of September when he couldn’t pee on his own to a month of frustrating doctor appointments that culminated in an emergency shunt revision, to eye surgery and now RSV. We are exhausted by our son being uncomfortable and in pain. I’m sooooo over it.

This morning I’m praising God for being my hero and rescuing me from “troubles big and worries small.”

Father, grant us a peaceful 2013.

TGIF

Thank God. It’s Friday!

A synopsis of our day thus far:

Rushed out the door…with real clothes on (like riding boots, jeans and a sweater…not athletic clothes) to get Finn to his orthotic fitting appointment. Our Sooner Start therapist is a rock star and advocated for Finn to get fitted for a standing frame before the end of the year. This device helps Finn stand upright. He can’t feel his feet, so although he has some leg strength, if you put his feet down, he won’t bear weight because he doesn’t know his feet are touching anything. The standing frame and AFOs (ankle foot orthotics) will help strengthen Finn’s joints and bones and keep him upright. It is good for humans to be upright.

Therapist and orthotics doctor (orthopod?) measuring Finn for frame

Therapist and orthotics doctor (orthopod?) measuring Finn for frame

Then we came home quickly to turn off the outdoor Christmas lights, pick up Jersey and the flat jogging stroller wheel. Joey dropped me off at Starbucks where I met my dear friend, Joanna. We hadn’t seen each other since about 10th grade…almost fourteen years ago! We picked up right where we left off and she’s still the incredible person she was as a middle schooler. We were best buds when I lived in Omaha, NE. She now lives in Cambodia working for World Relief. I have the coolest friends.

Bad picture, good friend.

Bad picture, good friend.

While I was reconnecting, Joey got our stroller wheel fixed at a bike shop, went to Target and dropped Jersey off at the vet to get her anal glands expressed. If you don’t have a dog and don’t know about anal glands, I won’t educate you.

Joey picked me up after a big hug and a couple quick pics with Joanna. Came home to eat some yummy leftovers from our “friend Christmas” last night. Again, I have the coolest friends.

Big kids and Finn

Big kids and Finn

Coerced Finn to take a nap after feeding him pears and oatmeal.

Watched a recording of The White House Christmas, a documentary on the history of Christmases spent at the White House. Apparently Amy Carter liked to eat candy off the annual gingerbread house.

Excited to go on a date tonight! Seeing The Hobbit with my husband in the balcony of the Warren Theater. Sitting in the balcony is the only way I’ll see a movie…we pay too much and go too seldom to be annoyed by the popcorn chomper or the text messager behind us throughout the movie. I’m not as big of a Lord of the Rings fan as Joey, so if I find it boring, at least I’ll get a three hour nap…which sounds great right about now.

Thankful for Fridays and the random happenings that comprise them.

Big Sigh

Finn had eye surgery on both eyes early Monday morning. The doctor discovered that both were actually pulling in, the right more than the left. The muscle behind the eyes was too tight, so apparently he cut it…I asked him not to tell me any more details. Gives me the creeps.photo-167

We watched with tired, blurry eyes the sobering Sandy Hook shooting news coverage in the waiting room, thankful for a child who is alive. My heart has been heavy all week in the wake of such senseless evil. Joey and I discussed the reality that Satan “prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour.” His depravity extends far beyond simply tempting me to be selfish or worry or even smoke a cigar. He delights in death…of innocent children. Big sigh.

“Finn,” the nurse called toward us into the waiting room, snapping us out of our sadness. I’m never prepared for the recovery room. I’m just so excited to see Finn and thankful that it’s over that I forget this is often the worst part. Children are moaning and crying and parents are on edge. Even if Finn is sedated, he cries in unison with the baby behind the curtain next to us. His IV is still in, bruising his tiny forearm. It’s not a fun place. Remind me to prepare myself next time.photo-168

Aside from very bloody inner eyes, Finn is doing well. Happy as ever (this kid amazes me) and his eyes look straight. photo-169 photo-170

They can turn in again; however, so I’m not getting my hopes up. We’re told another surgery is likely, but we’ve witnessed bigger miracles. Let’s just not talk about giving him his 3x daily eye drops…trauma.

We are ready for a break. I’m sure you are too.

Morning

“Ash! Getttttt up!” My mom’s Minnesotan accent booms from the bottom step. She tried most everything to get me out of bed. One house of ours had an intercom system and she tried playing music through the speakers. She sent the dog in to lick me. For about a week she tried spraying water in my face with a misting spray bottle. In high school I would sometimes go turn the shower on, then hop back in bed to make her think I woke up. Sorry, mom.

I hate waking up in the morning and always have. I was late for my 8:00 classes throughout college (now 8:00 seems like sleeping in). Once I’m up, I’m very productive and even delight in the stillness and silence of the early morning. But swinging that right foot out of the covers often feels impossible. It’s even harder for me to get out of bed in the winter. The blankets are just too warm and snuggly.

So this morning when I heard Finn coughing and babbling on the monitor, I tried to convince Joey it was his morning to get up instead of mine. He wasn’t fooled. But once my eyes adjust and the dog and the baby have been fed and I settle on the couch to snuggle with this fuzzy headed child of mine, I’m convinced that waking up to him is a blessing, no matter the hour on the clock. photo-164 photo-165 photo-166

Pirate Finn

It’s been a buuuussssyyyyy few weeks. December is always social for us. We’ve had the privilege of catching up with Baylor and OBU buds, attending birthday parties, baby showers, Christmas parties and sharing meals with dear friends.

Finn loved Van and Raymond!

Finn loved Van and Raymond!

Finn loved Clint and Megan!

Finn loved Clint and Megan!

Finn and Navy...silly babies.

Finn and Navy…sweet, silly babies.

We’ve been to six doctor appointments already this month. Last Friday we finally made it to the eye doctor to see why Finn’s right eye has been turning in. He has perfect vision, so no glasses; but the muscle is weak. Doctor said surgery is inevitable but we could try patching the good eye to make the weak one stronger. Only two hours daily, but the adhesive has left a pink ring around Finn’s baby blues. Boo. Joey and I actually decided to just get the surgery over with. We’ve far surpassed our deductible for the year, so we made the decision not to drag our feet and get it done before the end of 2012. It’s scheduled for Monday morning.

photo-158It makes me terribly sad that on Tuesday of next week, my sweet little pirate will have had five major surgeries in nine months of life.

Not fair. Not fun.

Waiting for ultrasound...

Waiting for ultrasound…

Today while I was waiting with Finn on my lap for his urology appointment, I watched several parents struggle to control their children..severely handicapped children. I observed at least six with severe mental/behavioral disabilities. One teenager even shoved her grandpa against the window because she didn’t want to enter the elevator. My eyes welled with tears…I was embarrassed to be crying in such a public place, so I did all I could not to let my tears drop to the vinyl seat beneath me. I looked down at Finn, playing with teething keys and was humbled by how “normal” he is. I quickly shut the door on my pity party and praised Jesus for Finn’s healthy mind.

photo-163Think of Finn as he recovers from an eye surgery over the Christmas break (it’s out-patient and shouldn’t be too invasive). Also pray that we only need one. Many times it requires multiple surgeries.

The Virgin and I

This time last year I was pregnant. About seven months…Finn was the size of a butternut squash, I believe. Circumstances were such that I was pregnant at just the perfect time of year. I did not have to endure the stifling hot summer months (I’m SO SORRY for those of you who have), I could wear stretchy leggings with boots on the weekends and feel semi-stylish, my internal temperature was perfect, I never once wore shorts and I had the holidays to blame for any extra poundage.

photo-157

Three stockings this Christmas!

My favorite reason to be pregnant during the winter, however, was the Christmas carols. Odd, I know. But being pregnant with a baby boy, I related to the Virgin Mary in an intimate way. She became a real person, no longer a felt Bible character in Sunday School. I obviously wasn’t feeling the kicks of the Christ Child in my ever-stretching belly, but I was bearing a child we were told would be different. One that may not fit in with my friends’ kids, a child that may have more struggles than most. I can’t imagine being told in my first trimester (by an angel, nonetheless) that my baby would be the Messiah…talk about not fitting in!

“Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?”

Fear crept into this young mother as I’m sure it crept into Mary. I felt anxious about the unknown and doubtful that I have what it takes to mother such a special child. I felt this overwhelming desire to protect him from the world; to just keep him inside my tummy where it was safe.

“Mary did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?”

Tonight was our annual FBC Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Last year it was freezing so only about 30 people showed up, my sweater didn’t fit over my belly and even my hot cocoa tasted icky. This year was quite the contrast. There was an excellent turnout, kids were running around in shorts and t-shirts and I was holding my nine month old baby boy, fresh shunt revision on his head and very little fear in my heart. I’m thankful for the hope I see when I look into Finn’s clear blue eyes. Thankful for Mary’s example of a brave, faith-filled mother, and thankful for ears to hear and be affected by Christmas carols year after year.photo-156