Fall

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It’s amazing how a small thing like having a baby will limit your time for all non-essential activities, including blogging. It feels like just yesterday we were enjoying the last, long, warm days of summer. Hard to believe it will be November in two days. A lot has happened in the last couple of months.

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At the park. In short sleeves. Must have been July.

Lucas has had a great start to second grade! He’s growing in different ways and learning a ton. We love his teacher this year. Lucas’s first grade teacher was great too but his teacher’s approach to homework this year is so much better for us. Last year we would get a packet on Friday which was due the following Thursday. We are just not the kind of people who are good about doing a little bit each night. We were constantly realizing it was Wednesday and we hadn’t started even the first page. It made for a lot of long, unpleasant nights. This year his teacher sends home one page of homework every night. It’s so much more manageable and Lucas has even realized he doesn’t hate math. Lucas’s three best friends from school all ended up in his class which has been great for him too. Earlier this week he programmed a video game in his technology class. A couple weeks ago his class went on a field trip to the botanical gardens. It’s been a great year so far!

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“Dad, you don’t have to walk me to the bus stop anymore.”

Lucas has been playing a lot of soccer! He just finished the fall season with his school’s rec & ed team. He’s played with most of those boys since kindergarten and it’s been fun to be part of that community over the last three years. He also joined the travel club that I coach for this past August. It has been a really different experience for him but he’s learning a lot and has had fun wearing a real uniform and playing in a legit tournament (we took second place!). We finish up our fall season this weekend!

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We play a lot of soccer.

Alena is seven months old which blows my mind. She has become so interactive recently. You forget how much and how quickly they change when your kids are almost eight years apart. I came home one day and she was sitting up all by herself. Now she’s trying to pull herself up on furniture. Crazy. Alena definitely seems to be an extrovert. She is energized when she is around people. She always has a smile for people, even strangers (Lucas would always hide his face…he still sort of does, haha).

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At Trader Joe’s. On the lookout for new friends.

Alena is trying solid foods. So far the experiment has been met with mixed reactions. Alena loves her big brother. She is always excited when he gets home from school and she loves to sit on the floor and watch him play. Lucas loves to make her laugh!

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Sibling love

Alena needs remarkably little sleep. I guess I am to blame for that. I tend to be more of a night owl and function pretty well on five or six hours. Alena sleeps more than that (don’t worry) but her naps have been inconsistent and recently she’s been more wakeful at night too. It feels like she just doesn’t want to miss out on anything. She’s growing and happy so I guess it’s not a huge problem (apart from the fact her parents are buying a lot more coffee than usual).

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Who’s got time for sleep? (Photo taken at 4:21 AM)

One of the biggest developments of the past few months is that Betsy was approved to start taking a new drug aimed at the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis. There has been a lot of scientific breakthroughs over the last several years but until now, the new treatments didn’t work for people with Betsy’s genetic mutation. We knew that this new drug was in the pipeline but thought it would still be six to twelve months before it would be available to patients. Sometime in September, though, we got a call from the doctor saying she could apply to start the new drug early. She was approved in October! We had to frantically work out a few logistics, namely how to wean Alena. Initially, we were under the impression that Betsy would have to stop nursing the baby but thankfully after a few different consultations, we determined that reducing the feedings and supplementing with formula would be sufficient. Whew. Betsy has been on the new drug for less than two weeks but I don’t think using the words “life-changing” is an exaggeration. Her symptoms are greatly reduced. She doesn’t spend the first three hours of her day coughing. The other day, Betsy carried the baby and a basket of laundry up from the basement and didn’t feel overly winded. She is starting to exercise again. It’s remarkable. I am sure Betsy will write more about this but we are so thankful for this new development. It feels like we’ve gone back to a time when her disease seemed more like a footnote rather than the essay itself.

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Living her best life.

For years we have been participating in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Great Strides campaign. The sole purpose is to raise funds for cystic fibrosis research. This new drug is a direct result of that research. We are so thankful for our good friends, Ross and Deb, who organize our Great Strides team every year. We are so thankful for everyone (many of you who are reading this) who has ever donated money to the Great Strides campaign. Every single dollar contributed has led to this medical breakthrough. We are so thankful for the scientists who are doing this important work. And it’s not done. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has recently unveiled a new research agenda to continue the development of treatments for every person with cystic fibrosis with an end goal of finding a cure for the disease. It actually feels like this could happen within Betsy’s lifetime.

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Great Strides 2019

So that has been our fall! We are excited, tired, and thankful but above all, our hearts are full of hope.

All About Alena

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It’s been 12 days since our little girl made her appearance! I thought I would tell you a little bit about her so far. I’d like to come back to the blog soon and write about my pregnancy and her birth, but for now I’ll just give you a few details about her and share some of my favorite pictures.

Her name:

Alena Abigail. Alena is pronounced a-lay-na. It means “bright, shining light.” Abigail means “source of joy.”

Alena’s likes:

This girl loves to eat! She cluster feeds, sometimes for hours at a time. But then she’ll take a good long snooze, so I’d say it’s a fair exchange.

The bouncy seat! This is very similar to big brother Lucas, and she even turns her head to the right, just like he did. She likes to sleep in there and will hang out there when she’s awake as well.

Mommy is her favorite for obvious reasons. Lucas is quite sure he’s her second favorite with Jaime bringing up the rear. I’d say there’s a tie for second 🙂

Alena likes getting her hair washed! I think she appreciates a good scalp massage.

She likes snuggles and kisses. It’s a good thing, because none of the three of us can stop kissing her and holding her.

She likes her hands up by her face and sometimes sucks on her fingers or fist.

Alena’s dislikes:

Diaper changes! I mean, they really are the worst. She does not like being cold.

She likes getting her hair washed, but hates getting the rest of her body washed.

She does not appreciate being passed around when she’s found a cozy spot.

Recognizable features:

Alena has a full head of blackish brown hair. I’m sure you can guess where that comes from!

Her eyes, nose, and cheeks look a lot like big brother Lucas’s.

She has very long fingers and very long toes. They look just like mine.

Clues to her personally:

Alena will let us know very loudly if she’s upset. However, when she’s done expressing herself (and we’ve rectified the issue) she’s able to calm her self down and be content without much intervention from us.

She seems a bit more laid back and independent than her brother…at least for now!

She’s also more flexible and will sleep in a variety of places and nurse or take a bottle. Yay!

She’s a tough little one. She had jaundice and endured what seemed like countless heal pricks. If she was being held when they poked her, she didn’t cry. If they put her on a table she cried but would stop immediately when back in our arms.

Lucas is a loving, doting big brother. He’s eager to help and showers her with affection. It’s so sweet! It’ll be fun to see how their relationship develops over time. Alena stares intently at him, I’m guessing because of the contrast of his dark, dark eyes. He was the first to get a smile and although I’m sure it was involuntary, he felt pretty proud.

Jaime and I are doing well too, and adjusting to our life as a family of four! We feel so blessed and thankful for this precious new baby. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Thirty-seven weeks

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In some ways it feels like the pregnancy has flown by. Well, at least to me. Betsy might give you a different answer. When we found out Betsy was pregnant it was hot and humid. In the last month, Lucas has missed eight days of school due to snow, ice, and polar vortexes (vortices?). I guess the change in weather is as good as any indicator to show how far we’ve come.  This past Wednesday, Betsy reached week thirty-seven of the pregnancy. It hasn’t been an easy road to get to this point. Betsy recently went back on IV antibiotics. Her breathing wasn’t quite where it should have been and in an effort to make sure she is in the best possible place heading towards labor and delivery her doctors decided it was the best course of action. Betsy also came down with a stomach virus (which she got from Lucas, which he might have gotten from me) which has been pretty draining. Still, she’s made it to thirty-seven weeks and that feels like a pretty big deal!

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The day we found out Betsy was pregnant (miss you summer)!

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Thirty-seven weeks!

It’s particularly significant because Lucas was born at thirty-six weeks! The story goes something like this: unsuspecting couple is having a quiet night in; they decide to watch a movie; pregnant wife suggests some ice cream; dutiful husband goes to fetch ice cream; husband returns with ice cream only to find his wife’s water has broken; frantic couple rushes to the hospital; baby is born twenty-seven hours later. Just like in the movies! We were caught off guard, to say the least. Betsy was bound and determined that this time around there would be zero chance that we weren’t ready for the arrival of our little one. The baby’s room has been ready for close to two months. All of the baby clothes have been washed and put away. Hospital bag has been packed since about November. 🙂 The infant car seat was installed a couple weeks ago. We have the name picked out (true story, Lucas was born so early we hadn’t even decided on his middle name yet!). We feel ready!

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We’ve got a name, even if all my suggestions were rejected! 😉

Of course, we have no idea just how big a change we are in for. It’s been seven and a half years just the three of us. And in the last few, in particular, we’ve found a certain equilibrium. That familiar, family dynamic is bound to be disrupted with the introduction of another human being. Last weekend we had one last “Lucas gets to make all of the choices” day. After church and a quick lunch we headed off to a park nearby to check out some great horned owls who nested and had babies. Then it was off to an arcade for a couple of hours of fun and games. We finished the day seeing The Lego Movie 2 and snagging some of his favorite chicken quesadillas from Qdoba for dinner. Of course we are all thrilled for the arrival of our baby girl but we have also loved every minute of being a family of three!

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Betsy and Lucas tearing it up at the skee-ball lanes!

So, yes, all is well! We feel blessed. We feel ready. We have no idea what weeks 38-40 will bring! And we are looking forward to introducing our little girl the next time we post. 🙂

P.S. As it’s International Women’s Day, I thought I would take a moment to pay tribute to all of the extraordinary women in my life. First and foremost, my wife Betsy, who has done what seemed impossible and soon will be the mother of two all while educating children and finding all of my stuff! To my mother Debbie and my mother-in-law Mary who raised 10 children between them without even one iPad (how, I’m not entirely sure!) and who are now a huge support to Betsy, Lucas, and me. To my sisters Tina and Ede and my sisters-in-law Carolina, Kristi, Julie, Laurie, and Carrie who are all raising families and pursuing meaningful work. I salute you all!

Dreaming Still?

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Have you ever woken up from a dream so vivid that you thought it was real? The kind of dream where you are almost surprised to find out it was a figment of your imagination? I haven’t! I almost never wake up even remembering my dreams.  I’m sure there is a psychological explanation for that. Betsy thinks it’s weird. It probably is.

Lately though I’ve felt like I have kind of been stumbling around in a dream. A vivid dream that feels real but hardly seems possible. Back in July we found out that Betsy was pregnant. Pregnant. We are overjoyed! It is a blessing that we did not imagine ourselves experiencing again. We had always wanted a second child and a sibling for Lucas but time and circumstances seemed to suggest that it was not a part of God’s plan for us. And, after a period of sadness and disappointment, we found true peace and were truly in love with our family of three. For the last seven years we have developed a rhythm and equilibrium and so much love among the three of us. And now we are going to be four? It hardly seems real.

But of course, it is real.

I am reminded daily by Lucas’s musings about his soon-to-be little sister. His excitement is palpable.

“Dad, do you think Lightbulb (we are keeping the real name a secret for now) will like animals?”

“Dad, how big is Lightbulb this week?” (Asparagus? Celery? Squash? I always forget!)

“Dad, I can’t wait to show Lightbulb her new room!”

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Lucas getting some practice holding his new cousin Elías.

There are other, daily, reminders that there is actually a baby on the way. Betsy is getting bigger and bigger. We can all feel the baby kicking regularly. Betsy has nearly eclipsed the 31 week mark. Generally speaking this pregnancy has been significantly tougher on Betsy.  She was really sick during the first trimester and there were some really rough days. Even some days when she thought she might not make it to 31 weeks. Still, she bore it all with a smile. Betsy’s lung function has held steady throughout the pregnancy and for that we are grateful. She completed a round of antibiotics over the holidays which actually gave her a much needed boost.

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There’s either a baby in there or an alien!

Still feeling the positive after the effects of the medications, Betsy has moved on to a serious nesting phase of late. Betsy has been busy washing up all of the baby clothes and setting up the baby’s room. Lucas was born four weeks early and honestly we could not have been less prepared. Betsy is determined not be caught off guard this time around even our little girl decides to make her entrance to the world before the due date.

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More pink this time around!

In spite of all the circumstantial evidence, sometimes I’ll still look over at Betsy and say, “WAIT. You’re having a baby?????” Most days I really do have to stop and pinch myself to be sure I’m not still dreaming. I’m pretty sure I’m not. 🙂

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Can’t wait to meet you sweet girl. ❤

 

 

Gone But Never Forgotten

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This past weekend we drove to Western Michigan. We were attempting to enjoy our annual beach weekend, although the weather had other plans.  Luckily we got one really nice evening in at the beach before the storms rolled in.

After a dip in the lake, some soccer and a little dune climbing (for Jaime and Lucas), we arrived at my parents to spend the night. Lucas said hello and deposited a considerable amount of sand on my parents’ entry way floor before heading to their refrigerator. He wasn’t after snacks as you might suppose, he wanted to see the pictures they have displayed of our family. He loves to look at his aunts, uncles, and especially his cousins. There was a new picture up there that he noticed right away. It was a picture taken on my 40th birthday of five of the Waterloo girls.

“Aunt Dianne printed that for us so we could hang it up,” my mom explained. “I like it because I can look up there and see my daughters.”

“But not all your daughters,” Lucas replied without hesitation.

Hearing Lucas include Sheri and recognize her enduring place in our family gives me so much joy. She is gone, but not forgotten, not even by my son who has never had the pleasure of knowing her first hand.

He does know her, though. He has been asking about her a lot lately. He is piecing together her story, the story of our family, where she fits in, and where cystic fibrosis fits in. So what will I tell him? What do I want him to know about his aunt–who she was, how she lived, even how she died?

Sheri was fun, creative, smart, and resourceful. She was also stubborn (just like he is!), and very determined. She was bright and full of life, even though death so frequently tried to choke out her life. She loved a good bargain and had a knack for sniffing them out. She was an artist, a musician, a teacher, and a mentor. She loved flowers.

When she learned that she only had months to live, Sheri didn’t breathe a sigh of relief. In spite of all she had suffered and all she was suffering, she still fought. She wanted to live. She didn’t give in until the day she felt God telling her that her work was done, and then she rested until He took her.

I have learned so much from Sheri. I have learned not to wait around for a set time or life circumstance, not even wait for things to get easier, but to live life today, with all I have. There is just as much purpose and meaning in a sick day as there is in one where I go out and (figuratively) conquer the world. There will be bad days, likely bad weeks or months, maybe even bad years. But here is always joy in the midst of pain, there is always goodness and grace to be found, and the sweetest victories come after a hard fight. She used to say that God never wastes our pain, but uses it for our good and for His glory.

I have learned not to put such high esteem on physical wellness. Sheri was not physically healthy by almost any standard, but she had a vibrant, healthy soul. Her life was shortened by her disease, but no one who knew her could argue that it wasn’t full, meaningful and well-lived. She took each day God gave her and she made it count.

I ran across a quote from theologian Jurgen Moltman in Philip Yancey’s book Where is God When it Hurts which resonated with me. Yancey was discussing our tendency to wish for and idolize a physically healthy life–one that is characterized by the ability to work and to enjoy life without being weighed down by illness or disability. He quotes Moltman who says,

…true health is something quite different. True health is the strength to live, the strength to suffer, and the strength to die. Health is not a condition of my body; it is the power of my soul to cope with the varying condition of that body. (p.190)

By this definition Sheri was healthy. She wasn’t perfect, but she weathered the many storms of her life with resilience and grace. And to the very end, the strength and beauty of her soul shone through.

She is gone, but never forgotten. Aspects of Sheri live on within me, my sisters, my parents, and maybe even my son who is getting to know her now.

We all love you, Sheri. We miss you. You will never cease to be part of us. We hold you close until we meet again.

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ALL the Waterloo girls, circa 1983.

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Sheri Leigh Van Bruggen, September 26, 1968 – September 4, 2004

 

SEVEN Years Old

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Happy birthday to our rapidly growing boy! True to my predictions, six was a great age, and we’re ready to see what seven holds. Lucas is more independent but still likes to spend lots of time with me and his dad. He has become more social this year (thanks, school!) and has told me several times this summer that he needs some kids to play with. I’m glad he’s expanding his social circle, but I hope to stay in the mix for a while yet!

Here are his current favorites:

  • Color: still ORANGE! 
  • Food: Chicken quesadillas
  • Song: Beach Bummer by AC Newman
  • Sport: All soccer all the time!
  • Animal: I think cats have officially edged out chickens although he still loves chickens. He just really REALLY wants an orange cat. (Don’t tell our dads, but he might just get one someday).
  • Book: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (I mean, who doesn’t like to laugh at poor Alexander?!) He also loves Frog and Toad books written by Arnold Lobel.
  • Movie: The Lego Batman Movie

His biggest interest at the moment is Lego DC super heroes and the Justice League. The Flash is his favorite hero followed closely by Batman, Batman’s team and Wonder Woman. He spends hours in his room playing with his Legos and has amassed a rather disturbingly large collection in a short time. He makes original movies with the heros and villains and after rehearsing and perfecting them, performs them for us. When he makes a new movie, he designs a DVD case for it complete with a photo of the action to come on the front and a summary on the back.

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DVD case for “Batman versus the Rogues”

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Disc plus bonus disc

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Back cover summary: This is a wonderful day in the USA. Now the clown prince of crime, the Joker, broke into the Planet. As the Joker works with Bane, Harley Quinn, Trickster, Darkseid, Moth Man, and Catwoman, will Batman and Robin, Batgirl and Cyborg fix it?

He recently recreated a Lego Batman game he plays on Jaime’s phone with his Legos. It included obstacles and battles and earning coins to “unlock” new super heroes for the game. He wrote out a clue card for each villain with tips to defeat them. I thought it was such a wonderful idea, until I realized that executing his plan would require me to make 13 small white boxes to conceal unearned super heroes. That’s a lot of small white boxes and a lot of folding. A lot.

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Lucas also made up his own team of super heroes.  That group is called Team Betsy and I am the main hero (*blush).  He made himself along with Jaime and me, and then each one of my sisters and my parents by mixing and matching Lego minifigures! My mom is styling in her bright pink pants and red cape and my dad has some sweet bat wings! It is a special kind of awesome 🙂 I’ve seen one “movie” called “The Delamission of Betsy.” And no, I don’t know what a delamission is, even post movie.  We battled some pretty intense villains but made it through. Go Team Betsy!

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Grandma and Grandpa Waterloo as super heroes!

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Blond Jaime, Lucas and me. (I’m a little drab…I might want to switch outfits with my mom!)

Lucas has taken to writing stories down in his journal, too. Many of them are from the action and adventure genre although there’s a few personal narratives in there as well. Like a true writer he starts stories and then gets a new idea and skips some pages and starts another. There are several completed stories in there but I’m still waiting on the conclusion of our Chicago trip personal narrative from March.  Perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath. I bought him a new journal the other day. He was like, “Ooooooh, fresh pages!” He prefers to do all his writing with an orange mechanical pencil, 0.9 lead thickness, with a good eraser.

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Lucas still wants to be a farmer but overall his interest in farms has diminished (*sniff). I think this is largely due to being in school full-time and the resulting decrease in visits to our local petting farm.  We put his toy farm in the basement a few months ago but he did gets parts of it back out this summer so he could restart his barnyard soccer leagues. A few of the animals got new names (such as Gretl the cat who is a spitting imagine of his cousin-cat named Gretl). Thankfully we still get to enjoy performances from some of the old favorites: Henny, Goaters, Donkers, Peacocky, and Hirman.

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The animals are facing off at the farm!

Soccer continues to be a big part of Lucas’s life, and not only at his toy farm. He loves to attend Detroit City FC games with Jaime and his buddy Greyson.

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DCFC’s biggest fans.

This year he got to do a walkout with his favorite player Shawn Lawson which was so exciting! Shawn is such an awesome guy and pays extra attention to Lucas which has been so special. It’s pretty amazing to have a hero who is accessible, knows your name, and goes out of his way to acknowledge you!

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Lucas and Shawn

Lucas loves playing soccer on his King Cobras Rec and Ed team and wants Jaime to coach his team forever. It’s been fun to see him develop soccer skills but also to work on broader skills like determination, perseverance, and confidence.

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King Cobras!

Lucas still loves deer signs, especially when we unexpectedly find new ones! He is a notorious night owl. We have had a loose bedtime of 9:00pm for the summer but we can often still hear him knocking around in his room after 11:00. He despises getting up early. He likes reading, riding his bike, and being in perpetual motion.  He enjoys a good potty-related joke. He is stubborn, creative and affectionate. He is introverted but loves to spend time with family and friends. He’s sweet and loving and occasionally spices things up with an impressive outburst of temper. He is protective and caring and loves God. He asks difficult, thoughtful questions. You know he’s comfortable when he breaks into song or talks incessantly (it happens!). Lucas is the most wonderful gift. We love him so much!

Happy 7th Birthday, Sweet Baby Boy!

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40

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June 30, 1978.

Jimmy Carter was president and Grease was #1 at the box office. Chesapeake by James Michener was atop the list of New York Times bestsellers and “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb was probably playing on the radio. Fans of the San Francisco Giants watched Willie McCovey become the 12th player in Major League Baseball history to hit 500 home runs and in Ann Arbor, Michigan a baby girl was born to Ron and Mary Waterloo. Their sixth daughter!

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June 30, 1978. Baby Betsy.

This past Saturday, we celebrated Betsy’s 40th birthday. It was a great opportunity to gather together with many of the people that love her the most. People have mixed feelings about turning forty. I know, I do! This October, I will…cease to be in my 30s (see, I can’t even say it!) and the pendulum of emotions swings back and forth on a daily basis. On the plus side, I still have my hair. But it has become a losing battle trying to pluck all of the grey out of my disheveled mop. I can afford to buy the really nice soccer shoes I used to dream about but often I can barely walk the day after I play in them.

I could go on.

For Betsy, turning forty feels different. When Betsy was born in 1978, the average life expectancy for someone diagnosed with cystic fibrosis was around twenty years. To have made it to forty and to be thriving is an unqualified victory. If Betsy had any grey hair (she doesn’t), it would be a badge of honor. Betsy has been through a lot in her forty years. There have been more than a few health crises along the way. Life now looks a lot different than it did twenty years ago but Betsy has not given in to discouragement. Betsy’s day-to-day existence is not without its difficulties but it is mostly full of joy and laughter and hope.

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1998. Bae (I think that’s what the kids are saying these days) home from college.

And we are hopeful! Betsy is feeling as good if not better than she has at many points in the last ten years. She is still chasing after our six and a half year old son, Lucas. Betsy is a great mom – always at his soccer games and school events. Lucas adores her! She has resumed a little running after some breathing and back difficulties forced her to take an unwanted hiatus. Her time for the mile isn’t quite what it was when she was tearing up the Mackinac Island Eight Mile Run back in college but she is running! She is still operating a successful tutoring business and making a difference in the lives of her students. She even manages to still have the time (and patience!) to help me find all of the things that I misplace.

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Betsy and her favorite boy (yes, I’ve been displaced 😉 )

There are a lot of exciting medical advancements too. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is constantly pushing the boundaries for new treatments and medications. We participated in the Great Strides fundraising campaign on a rainy Saturday this past spring. Our team amassed over $5000 in donations and nationwide nearly $30 million was raised, all of which goes towards funding cystic fibrosis research. Betsy’s pulmonary specialist is hopeful that maybe even within the next two years, there will be a new medication targeting the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis for people with Betsy’s particular gene mutations. A company called Planetary Biosciences has been working on new dietary supplements that have made a huge difference for Betsy and others. We feel optimistic!

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Team #Breathe4Betsy

To see Betsy at age forty is a testament to God’s faithfulness. It’s a testament to Betsy’s determination and perseverance. And it’s a testament to the love and support that we have received from our family and friends. Psalm 139 says “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” We are thankful for each one of those days! We don’t know how many there will be (none of us do!) but I know Betsy will live them to the fullest, surrounded by love.

Just like Saturday. Happy Birthday, Betsy!

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June 30, 2018. Betsy & her sisters.

A Year in Review

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Look to the Lord and his strength, seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done.

~I Chronicles 16:11-12a

Happy Holidays a little late! I’m sorry I’ve been absent from my blog for so long. Jaime told me I’d better get something published before people started to worry about me! My writing has gotten pushed to the back burner. It’s not as though life is busier than before, it’s just been different since school started in the fall. Somehow when my routines and responsibilities got rearranged, the blog got pushed out of the mix. I miss writing here, so stick with me. I’ll be back in 2018.

Last night Jaime and I were talking about the highlights and low points of 2017. I like reminiscing about the past year before I venture into the new one. It’s fun to remember and relive the happy times and good to note that we did, in fact, survive our challenges. And there were a few–Jaime had a really tough, busy stretch at work for the first few months. I had a rough summer health-wise and had to have both IV antibiotics as well as oral antibiotics and steroids during what are usually my healthiest months of the year. A bunch of my hair fell out (gotta love side effects). I lost some lung function. I had back problems and spent months in therapy. We had to cancel a trip to Chicago in the early spring because of the Jaime’s work situation and we missed a planned vacation to Tennessee in July due to my illness. I woke up with pink eye on Christmas Day (apparently I was on Santa’s naughty list) and I am on antibiotics now for a virus gone rogue. Those were some of the low points.

Ah, but the highlights! There were many more of those. The tooth fairy made two appearances here and one at Grandma’s which was a fun first for us and Lucas. Lucas played on his first two soccer teams with coach Dad, and so far has not broken anything  in spite of all the soccer balls he kicks and scoops and does who-knows-what-else with around the house. Jaime’s mom courageously fought cancer with surgery, chemo, and radiation and was given a clean bill of health. We participated in the Great Strides walk for CF in May and were showered with support. We had several gatherings with Jaime’s family and visits from my family. We traveled to West Michigan for beach time and reunions. Lucas, Jaime, and Grandpa Ventura took a trip to Washington D.C. to see Manchester United play. We went to Wild Kratts live and Detroit City FC games. We hung out with our friends. Lucas did great in Young Fives and he transitioned smoothly into Kindergarten.

I realize at this point I might be overdoing it, but I hope you’ll allow me to share a few more highlights. 🙂

Lucas helped me brush up on my geography skills and he learned to ride a two-wheeled pedal bike. There were ten new deer signs installed within a few miles of our home which was mega exciting for our resident six-year-old. We did some nice landscaping in our backyard and my garden was extra beautiful. I had a healthy fall and even got through my first virus in November without needing antibiotics.  My back issues improved and I was able to start jogging again. I got to go on two field trips with Lucas and his classmates and Jaime went to two in-class parties. We both got to see him read a self-authored book to his class about what he was thankful for, and we both made it onto the book. Lucas got interested in Legos and I’m living vicariously through him as they were not marketed to girls back in my day. (I didn’t know what I was missing.)

We laughed a lot this year and experienced much joy. We cried a bit too, and faced some tough disappointments. But our consensus is that we have a really great life and we’re extremely thankful to God for all the blessings and the challenges and the various facets that make it ours. God has always been faithful to us and we know that will never change.

And so we look forward to whatever 2018 will bring.  Jaime and I will both turn 40 which is shocking (and somewhat disturbing). It’s quite a milestone from cystic fibrosis perspective though, so I think we’ll celebrate rather than mourn (any black balloons that show up on my doorstep will be immediately popped). I’m sure there will be more soccer and Legos and more visits from the tooth fairy. There will be good times with family and friends. There will be struggles. I always feel some nervousness as I look out toward the future, wondering what is coming my way. I can’t quite see how certain things in my life are going to work out. But it’s not my job to know. I don’t need to be afraid because God has promised never to leave me, always to help and strengthen me, and He’s promised to finish the work He has begun in me. And so with a nod toward last year’s challenges and a heart brimming with thankfulness for the blessings, we’re stepping forward into a new year.

May your new year be full of blessings, may you know God’s love, and may you take hold of His strength during the tough times.

Happy New Year from our family to yours!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever.

~I Chronicles 16:34

Sheri’s Answers

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A few weeks ago, Jaime, Lucas and I left for our annual beach weekend in western Michigan. We started this tradition when Lucas was three and now it’s something we all look forward to. We’re fortunate that my parents live just a little more than a half hour from Lake Michigan so we have the most wonderful place to stay!

This year we left in the early afternoon on Friday and drove straight to the beach. I figured we would have a few hours of sunlight left to enjoy the sand and watch the waves. It had been cold and windy earlier in the day so we knew we wouldn’t be able to swim but the air was fresh and the water and sky were so beautiful.

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It was only a short time before the park emptied out, and finally, we were the only three left on the beach. “Mommy, I just love watching the waves,” Lucas told me as he snuggled on my lap. Me too. It was wonderful.

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As I gazed at the expanse of the lake, it struck me how peaceful it was on the beach. It wasn’t quiet–the waves were choppy and rough and they crashed forcefully onto the shore. Seagulls were squawking and scuffling.  But still it was peaceful, natural, lovely. A gentle breeze danced around us and I found myself breathing deeply of air that felt clean and pure. I could practically feel my heart disarm, setting aside its indignant complaints and surrendering to God’s peace. Peace amidst the turbulence.

The words of the old hymn, Be Still My Soul, came into my mind, and I was transported back, again, to the summer when Sheri was dying. That hymn was meaningful to our family around that time. I quoted from it in a letter I wrote to Sheri just before she died. I posted it on my refrigerator as a way to be strengthened in my grief. My sister Julie wrote a beautiful piece incorporating its words on the first anniversary of Sheri’s death. Sheri died on September 4, 2004–thirteen years ago, today. It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone that long. I miss her so much.

I think of Sheri all the time, perhaps even more now that I find myself wrestling so much with the effects of this disease. I often wonder what advice she might have for me. Her faith in God sustained her, this I know. I saw it with my own eyes. But would she have specific suggestions for me? Would she attempt to answer the unanswerable questions? She fought through a seemingly endless string of challenges in her life without bitterness, and left a mark on this world that no one who knew her would deny. She was so faithful and so incredibly strong. But I know it was hard. She told me it was hard and I saw her struggle. I imagine that sometimes, when the house was quiet and the night was dark, she too felt overwhelmed by the burden of the fight and surrendered to the tears. Knowing that makes me feel close to her, even though 13 years have passed since I’ve talked to her and touched her.  Sometimes I just go ahead and ask her the questions. I don’t know if she can hear me, and I know for sure I won’t hear an audible reply, but sometimes just giving voice to them brings me comfort.

Sheri trusted God. She had hope, she had confidence in His goodness and love, and she knew God was in control. She knew He would give her the strength she needed to live and love fully until the day He took her home. And He did. There were good days, great days! Days filled with joy and hope and love. She touched so many lives and accomplished so much in her 35+ years here on earth. There were bad days full of hospitals and doctors, medicines, loss, and pain. Some days were downright ugly and filled with darkness and despair. But the beauty of her spirit is what we remember most of all–how hard she fought, how victorious she was, how strong, how loving, how generous. We remember those things because she refused to be defined by the disease that plagued her. At times cystic fibrosis ruled her body but she staunchly refused to allow it to break her spirit. Her husband Pete once told me that rather than allowing CF to define her, Sheri defined CF. Cystic Fibrosis on Sheri’s terms.

As the lyrics of the hymn scrolled through my mind that evening on the beach, I began to think that the words contained some of the answers she might give me, answers to the questions of how to weather the losses and disappointments, how to face my fears, how to resist bitterness and choose thankfulness and joy even when I feel battered and bruised. “Be still my soul” is a good start.

“Be Still, My Soul”
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1752
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

I love you so much, Sheri. Thanks for loving me. Thank you for being a great example, leaving for us a legacy that continues to guide and inspire our journeys of life and faith. I’m so grateful for the 26 years I had with you, and that I’ll see you again, when the vale of tears is lifted and love’s purest joys are restored. Until then, you will remain forever part of the fabric of my being, my dear and beloved big sister.

Sheri

Sheri Leigh VanBruggen, September 26, 1968 – September 4, 2004

 

 

Six Years Old

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Happy Birthday to our sweet boy Lucas! I have to say, I loved five. What a great age it was and what a nice year we had! Lucas has changed so much over the past year. I suppose that happens every year, but at age six, he seems so much older and more mature than he did a  year ago. That’s not to say he still isn’t unreasonable at times, and he’s definitely still stubborn, but he’s taking many steps towards being more flexible and more independent. *Happy sigh.

I peeked back to the last few years’ birthday posts to read what Lucas was up to at those times, and it seems as he gets older, his interests are staying more consistent. There’s more crossover from last year than any other year, but of course he’s into new things too.  Every child is special and unique, and here’s some of what makes our little boy tick!

  • Lucas favorites:
    • Color: ORANGE! 
    • Food: a three-way tie between grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken quesadillas, and tacos
    • Animal: cats and chickens
    • Book: The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller
    • Movie: Inside Out
    • TV Show: Wild Kratts
    • Sport: soccer
    • Song: Time by the Black Lips

 

  • Deer signs. Oh, deer signs. Lucas’s infatuation with deer crossing signs was just getting started a year ago and now it’s turned into a full-fledge adoration. He used to just like to see the four deer signs that are within a mile of our house, but now we actually go on deer sign hunts where we drive around remote places looking for more. He called them “Deer Sign Adventures.” The record is 16 deer signs in one adventure. He knows where each deer sign he’s ever seen is located and can show you on a map.
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We have deer signs at home too, because as you can see, we have problems with deer in these parts.

  • Speaking of maps, he loves maps and roads and has an impressive internal compass. One of his favorite apps on the iPad is the maps app where he can look at all the roads in the city where we live to see how we get places and zoom out to figure out various routes to further destinations. Sometimes while we’re he’ll ask me randomly, “Mommy, why are we going south?” True confession, if it weren’t for the compass on my dashboard, I wouldn’t know if he was right or wrong half the time. (He’s almost always right). When Aunt Julie was here, he successfully guided her to his favorite bakery two cities over with the proper road names and directions. When Aunt Tina was dropping him off at home and ran into construction, he decided the marked detour was a bad idea and gave her directions to get around it a different way. He regularly draws maps of our neighborhood. He builds road systems on the floor complete with street signs. Even the grout lines in our entryway are roads, sometimes with construction, so watch where you step.
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There was a baaaad traffic jam in the city on this day!

  • A new hobby for Lucas this year is geography. He spent many months poring over our globe learning the continents and various countries. For a while he really wanted to take a trip to China and was convinced we were headed there any day now. I got the book The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller which then shifted his attention more to the U.S. He knows the names and shapes all 50 states. He is constantly noticing things that remind him of one state or another. He told me last week that our backyard is shaped like Nevada and he was delighted to discover he had a potato chip that looked just like Vermont! His favorite states are Minnesota, California, Tennessee and of course Michigan.
  • Lucas has also gotten into calendars and dates this year. He paged through and learned the months and figured out how the days and dates work. He stole my calendar and wrote all his farm animals’ birthdays on it. He has a great memory for what he considers important dates. The other day when we were talking about how much he had loved his Young Fives class, he reminded me that he had one bad day, on May 19th. He also remembers that his buddy Greyson came with me to pick him up from school. “Remember Mommy? On April 26?”
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Adding “Friendly’s” birthday to the calendar

  • Soccer is a huge love in Lucas’s life right now. He played on his first team this past spring.

We have been playing all summer in the house and in the yard. He also loves watching soccer on TV with his dad and even got to go to Maryland with his dad and grandpa in July to see his favorite team, Manchester United!

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He also loves Detroit City FC and went to most of their games this season–mostly with Jaime but sometimes with me and once with his best friend, Elliot. When we play soccer at home he pretends to be his favorite player from Detroit City, #32, Elijah Rice.

  • Lucas still has a great imagination and it’s so fun to hear him playing! He still loves to play with his farm, although more often than not, he’s conducting a soccer game at the farm with his animals these days. The teams that most often face off are Manchester Barnyard and Chelnsea (don’t forget to pronounce the “n” because this is obviously a different team than Chelsea!) He sings all the songs and does all the chants he knows from the Detroit City games. He also sings the national anthem…or something resembling it with lots of mumbling and confusing phrases like, “as the twilight lost beaning.” When I suggested to him that I could teach him the actual words, he informed me that this was a different song that they sing in pretend life.
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Manchester Barnyard vs. Chelnsea!

His imagination extends beyond farms and soccer too. He constructed a pretty elaborate “Headquarters” from the movie Inside Out and puts on different “movies” he makes up with those characters for my viewing pleasure.

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Headquarters complete with the console, memory spheres, emotions, and mind manuals.

He still likes to sing and has taken to using a Ziploc bag top as a “progress bar” so we know how much longer we have in the song.

He finds creative ways to act out his favorite stories.

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Acting out the scrambled part of Scrambled States

I love all these things that make Lucas the special little boy he is! But my favorite is still all the affectionate hugs, kisses, and I love yous.

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Happy, happy birthday Little One. We love you a billion.