Friday, October 2, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday, Kieran!

* Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.

Come with me and you'll be in a world of
Pure imagination. Take a look
And you'll see
Into your imagination

We'll begin with a spin
Traveling in the world of my creation

What we'll see
Will defy explanation.

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it.

Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There's nothing to it.

There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination.
Living there you'll be free
If you truly wish to be. 

Happy Birthday, Kieran.  God truly blessed us on the day you were born ten years ago.  You are kind-hearted, loving, and creative.  You have a passion for God's Word, and know it better than most adults.  Your parent have given you a pretty crazy life, but you have embraced it.  You love to learn new things, and you would stay up reading all night if we'd let you!  God has big plans for your life, and he is already using you to further his kingdom.  We love you!

* Pure Imagination from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Celebrating Elyse! Happy 7th Birthday!

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine.
You make me happy

When skies are gray.
You'll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don't take my sunshine away.

Elyse, you are truly our sunshine!  You came into this world like a ray of light and you shine on everyone you meet.  We are so proud of the way you make friends wherever you go and love others without hesitation.  Life isn't always easy for you, but you face it head on.  You are always honest and upfront.  We can't wait to see what God has planned for you this coming year. 
Happy Birthday!

Friday, July 24, 2015

3 Years

Three years ago, our feet touched the soil of our new home.  We never imagined how quickly the people, languages, food and culture of this country would penetrate our very souls.  God has taught us so much these past three years.  We are not the same family we were when we arrived.  We have learned to lean on God and trust him in all circumstances.  There are really no words to describe the experiences we have had, but if you see us, ask us to try.  We want to share them with you.  Thank you, God, for these first three years. 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor the fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food, 
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3:17-18

Friday, February 13, 2015

Waiting, Trusting, and Taking the Next Step

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:14
It all comes down to waiting and patience and trust.  Unfortunately, those are not easy things and most definitely not second nature.  We wait on doctors.  We wait on appointments.  Most of all, we wait on God.  We try to have patience.  We really do.  It is easier to be patient when we know what is coming, but while we are waiting on God to lead us to the next step, patience does not always come naturally.  Finally, there is trust.  Trusting God is not a one time deal.  Trusting is an active process.  It is a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute decision to hand over our worries, concerns and problems to the One who has never for a minute lost control of the situation. 

We walked into our appointment on Wednesday full of hope and anticipation of what the panel of experts was going to say.  We walked out deflated and disappointed with their response of, "there is nothing we can do."  We thought we had waited long enough.  We though we had been patient with the process.  We trusted that these doctors would have the answers.  Suddenly, those things came crashing down.  We were reminded in that moment that there is only One whom we can trust completely.  One who holds us while we wait.  One who has ALL the answers.  The response of these experts did not come as a surprise to Him.  That door was being closed and our prayers for a clear direction had been answered.  Time to take the next step forward.  (Insert a short period of crying, trying to take in the shock, asking why, praying for direction...just being honest) Okay, moving on. 

Deep breath. 



Be patient. 

We were ready to wait patiently for the next step, but God showed us he was ready to move now.  Thursday morning, Kris contacted a hospital which had an Adult Congenital Heart Defect Clinic.  They specialize in working with adults who were born with heart defects and, praise God, survived.  The call was made at 8:30 am and at 2:50 pm we were sitting in the doctors office.  For the first time in his adult life, my husband sat with a doctor who did not look at his medical history and tests and say, "humm...that's strange."  He sat with a doctor who listened to his symptoms and said, "that makes sense" and "I've seen this before".  Kris' numbers and symptoms didn't surprise this doctor because this was his area of expertise. It was like a breath of fresh air.  Our kids were in the room with us and at one point, after the doctor left, our son said, "I think that appointment was very helpful.  It's like the doctor actually listened to us." (He's a pretty insightful 9 year old.) 

Now, we wait for the doctor to review all the imaging Kris has had done over the past 2 months to make sure that there is nothing the doctors missed and to make sure the anatomy of his aorta will support having a stent put in.  Once those things are confirmed, we will move forward with scheduling the procedure to repair his re-coarctation. 

Our waiting isn't over and we still trust that God is going to continue to move and work in our lives.  No matter the situation, God's plan is always the best.  His strength is always perfect.  We can always put our complete trust in him. 


Celebrating a good doctors appointment!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Putting A Broken Heart Back Together

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 
Wearing red for our favorite heart "child"
We all have those moments that we will always remember.  I'm not talking about the national level "you know exactly where you were when X happened" moments.  I'm talking about the personal moments.  The moments that make your life pause for a second or two.  The moments that don't just blend into the next moment.  One of those moments for me was in 1997.  Kris and I had been dating for a few months and there was a group of college students hanging out at Steak-n-Shake (it was probably in the middle of the night when we should have been studying).  I don't remember what the conversation was about, but I do remember Kris saying (very casually, of course), "I had open heart surgery when I was five years old."  WHAT?  How did I not know that?  I remember my mind being flooded with questions.  What was the problem?  Was he okay now?  Was he going to have problems in the future?  Yes, I tend to be a worrier.

Fast forward eight years to another memorable moment.  I was sitting in my OB's office.  Kris and I were excited about becoming first-time parents.  This was my first visit and the nurse was asking me a slew of questions.  I felt pretty good answering "no" to the questions like do you smoke, do you drink, do you eat tuna?  I was in a rhythm when the nurse asked, "Was anyone in your immediate family born with congenital heart disease or other birth defects?"  I was about to answer "no" like all the other questions when suddenly, I flashed back to that night in Steak n Shake.  "Yes," I said.  "My husband was born with an aortic coarctation."  It had never dawned on me that this could be hereditary and that my baby could have a problem with his or her heart, too.

I admit that I was very uneducated when it came to congenital heart disease (CHD) or heart health in general when I sat in the doctors office that day.  Even though I was married to a "heart child", I didn't really know what that meant.  The facts, however, are staggering. One out of every 100 children is born with a congenital heart defect which means about 40,000 babies are born every year with CHD in the USA.  It is the #1 cause of infant deaths in the United States.  Even though technology has come a long way in the 30+ years since Kris' open heart surgery, CHD research is still very underfunded.
Kris was just a few months old when he started having problems keeping down his formula and then his lips started turning blue.  After some tests, the doctors discovered that he had an aortic coarctation.  This is when the aorta is crimped making it harder for his heart to pump blood.  At the time, infant surgery was not as common, and the doctors decided to hold off as long as possible to give Kris the best chance of survival.  Kris remembers how it felt before his surgery.  He wasn't able to run or jump and had very little energy.  His legs and feet were always tired and cold (caused by the lack of oxygen getting to his body).  When he was five years old, he had open heart surgery to open up the aorta and put a patch on it.  They also discovered that he had a bicuspid valve.  Kris' mom shared with me many years later that during his surgery, she prayed the prayer of Hannah from the Old Testament (1 Samuel 1:11). If God would save her son, she would give him back to the Lord for His service. 

I can only imagine what it was like to be Kris' mom.  There were no Facebook support groups or awareness weeks back then.  She was an amazing woman who put her faith in the greatest Supporter, Comforter, and Healer.  When I had my 20 week ultrasound with our firstborn, I remember holding my breath as the tech took all the heart measurements, counted out 1, 2, 3, 4 chambers of the heart, and made sure everything looked just right.  Thankfully, I was able let out a deep sigh of relief. 

Kris has a big heart (literally and figuratively)
This week is CHD Awareness week and we are more aware than ever that this disease can last into adulthood.  This week Kris has at least three doctors appointments for more tests and a meeting with a panel of experts who will be reviewing his case.  We are blessed beyond measure that Kris is one of the almost 1.8 million people LIVING with CHD.  Heart babies can grow up and get married and have families (and play softball and climb mountains and change the world)!  My husband is living proof of that.  We want even more of these precious babies to have the same chance. 

If you'd like more information on CHD and want to know of ways you can help, please visit my friends' sites below.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Walk Down Memory Lane - Christmas Version

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year.  The music, the decorations, the food...they all bring such joy to my heart.  I think the reason I love Christmas so much is because of the happy Christmas memories I have from my childhood.  Every year, my parents would take me and my sisters to my grandparents' house about 45 minutes away.  As a child, I thought I had the coolest parents around who would allow us to spend a whole week with our grandparents!  Now that I am an adult and parent, I know I had had the coolest and smartest parents in the world!  A whole week of kid-free Christmas shopping and preparations...WHAT?? Way to go mom and dad!

The stocking were hung...
During this week, my sisters and I took care of decorating my grandparents' Christmas tree and did a little Christmas shopping of our own with our granddady.  He was the big shopper in our family.  Our shopping list almost always included Jean Nate bath splash for our mom (this was way before the fancy stores like Bath and Body Works) and maybe a pocket knife or wallet for my dad.  Of course, our granddad would always throw in a treat (or ten) for his girls.  If we were really good, he would take us to the Daytona Beach Mall and let us ride up and down the escalators.  Did we have an exciting childhood or what?!

Christmas in Florida was rarely cold, so we could enjoy running around in shorts and t-shirts as we drank hot chocolate and looked at lights.  Speaking of lights, another tradition we enjoyed was loading up in our grandparents mini-van and driving to Ormond Beach to visit one of the biggest light displays in that area.  This family went over the top with their light display, and we loved it!

Opening presents with my mom.  I seem a little confused by the football.
Our grandparents were not content with sitting around being retired, so they were involved in many things and we were often involved right along with them.  I remember playing piano and singing at the senior center.  We almost always had extra visitors at our Christmas dinner table.

Our grandmama wasn't the best cook, but she hid it well.  She had perfected a few meals which just happened to be our favorites!  We could always count on having roast beef, rice-a-roni, green beans and cornbread at least once during our visit.

When Christmas Eve came around, we would get dressed up and attend a Christmas Eve party thrown by some friends and then usually go to the candlelight service at church.  Sometime after the service, our parents would pull into town like Santa's sleigh filled with home-baked goodies and gifts.  We'd always open one gift that night and then off to bed.  My sisters and I would all squeeze into one bed upstairs, discuss the possibilities that the nearby radio tower was Rudolph's nose, and sometimes drift off to sleep while harmonizing to the tune of "Silent Night".

For several years, our granddaddy dressed up like Santa.  My mom still has his old costume.
Needless to say, over the years, our traditions have changed.  I remember those initial changes very well...the first Christmas after my grandfather died...the first Christmas my older sister stayed in North Carolina.  Now, my family is spread out between three different states and two countries.  Our traditions continue to change.  This year, we also said goodbye to our wonderful grandmother.  She passed away a couple weeks ago surround by family and lots of love. 

I've learned over the years that tradition isn't just doing the same thing every year.  It is about loving the same people and celebrating the same timeless message of God's love sent down to earth.  No matter where we live or where we find ourselves celebrating the holidays, those are the traditions to which we will hold tightly. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Overflowing with Thanksgiving

I stopped by our blog the other day and realized it has been over three months since I've posted an update.  Life has been a little busy, needless to say.  I thought Thanksgiving was the perfect time to give a quick overview of this fall with the Toler Family. 

We stayed on the go this fall, but all our trips were very productive and fun!  At the end of August, we went to our linguistic center in Oaxaca to attend a workshop with one of our friends from the village.  Elyse celebrated her birthday with a Frozen themed party.

Elyse and her best friend have birthdays a little over a week apart.
Making decisions about the writing system of a language is hard work but still fun!
The beginning of our Pame library
We left Oaxaca and picked up my parents from the airport for their three-week visit.  We divided our time with my parents between the village and the city.  We needed to be in the city to submit our paperwork for visa renewals.  As usual, it took several trips to the immigration office, but we finally received everything we needed.

Vacation Bible School came to us this year.  Agency D3 - Discover, Decide, Defend
Enjoying the historical downtown of San Luis Potosi
Da finally got to enjoy a real Mexican burrito. 
We are so thankful that they were able to visit us, meet our friends, and experience village life.

Visiting a nearby village with a historical church in the background. 
My dad really enjoyed learning about the agriculture techniques in the village.
Kieran and his granddad had a lot of good man-to-man conversations.
We ended our village trip with a visit to some nearby waterfalls
After a wonderful three weeks with my parents, we dropped them off at the airport on our way back down to Oaxaca.  We had another workshop to attend and our kids attended their biannual homeschool program.  This is always a highlight for our kids (this was Elyse's first year to participate).  As much as our kids enjoy their friends in the village, there is something about hanging out with other third culture kids who understand this crazy life their parents have given them. 

The kids studied about oceans this fall.
We are so thankful for the wonderful volunteers who come to invest in our kids.
They love our kids like their own.
This trip it was Kieran's turn to celebrate his birthday.  We arrived in Oaxaca a few days after his birthday, so we just had a small celebration with a couple of friends.  Kieran has really enjoyed reading Charlie Brown (Peanuts) comic strip books this year and wanted to carry that theme into his birthday.  I baked the cake, but he took over the decorating.  I thought he did a great job on the Charlie Brown face!

Opening presents
At the end of our stay in Oaxaca, Kris started having chest pains and shortness of breath.  Once we returned to the city, he visited a cardiologist, had various test done, and then met with a cardiac surgeon.  In the midst of doctor appointments, we still squeezed in some time to go trick-or-treating with our friends.
Baseball daddy stayed home and rested...
but Spiderman and Anna were ready to collect some candy!
Now, we are in the process of packing up for a stay in Dallas while Kris meets with a team of doctors to see what needs to be done to help his heart (I'll write more about medical stuff in another post).  We are so thankful for the generosity of others and the overwhelming amount of prayers being lifted up for our family.  We are thankful for life, love and laughter. 

Tonight as I was putting Kieran to bed he said, "I love my life.  I'm so glad God gave me this life."  I agree.  We are truly blessed.  Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.