Monday, July 9, 2018

He is Faithful

That's just the kind of life that made me who I am
Just taking my mind on a visit

Back in time 'cause I miss it
You wouldn't know to love it like I love it
Unless you lived it
And man, I lived it

My parents sold their house today.  They've emptied it of everything except the furniture, and they'll load a moving truck tomorrow to head out.

One might think that's the beginning of the story, that their move to be closer to us is the very beginning, but it's not.  We'll call it more of the middle. They're embarking on a new chapter and we are all so excited to see what God has in store for them (and us) as we get to experience life a little bit more "all together."

But I'm a storyteller, and this is a good one.  So I'd like to take the time and look back at the chapters that came BEFORE the one that is about to be written.  I'd like to acknowledge God's faithfulness and share their story.

(Chapter 1) My mom grew up in Sherman and my dad in Celeste, both living most of their lives in one place - my dad until college and my mom until marriage.  (Chapter 2) They moved a bit and ended up back in Sherman where my brother and I were born and my earliest memories begin.  (Chapter 3) We lived across town from my grandparents, faithfully attended FBC Sherman, and my first "Friday Night Lights" were in the stands at Sherman High School (where I was on the field my senior year with SSHS as Wally the Wildcat).

(Chapter 4) My family moved to Sulphur Springs when I was 4 years old for my dad to be the high school tennis coach.  Over the years he would do film for the football team, keep score for the basketball team, and I would attend more hours of sporting events than I can ever count...not to mention hours in the car, late nights on the road, and weekend trips for tennis tournaments.  (PS. I wouldn't change one single second. I loved every single bit of it, the relationships we made, and the memories I will always have.) My momma also worked for the school district, and there was NOTHING like having the same schedule as my parents, and them being off for all the vacations/holidays with us. I know we were so very blessed with that!

(Chapter 5) Here's the interesting part of the story, and a little known fact to most: Prior to my junior year, my parents both came over to Mansfield and interviewed for teaching positions...that was 2003 and the first time they really desired to live here. (I say HERE because that's exactly where God ended up planting my own family.)

God didn't open any doors for them to move here at the time, in fact He actually closed them, repeatedly.  But He was so faithful in providing some answers to my parents for specific needs/desires they had at the time, and it meant I got to go to SSISD schools for my entire education.  I got to graduate with my very best friends and make memories that will truly be with me for a lifetime.  I'm grateful for that, but I'm also grateful that those closed doors came with other options for my parents at the same time. So, after 23 years, my dad retired from coaching my junior year.  I can't even explain how weird it was to be on the sidelines my senior year as Wally the Wildcat and see my dad up in the stands.  It was nice, but it was SO different.

(Chapter 6)  My brother and I both attended Baylor University after graduating from high school, and with my dad out of coaching, this allowed for the freedom my parents wanted to be able to visit us when they could. There were SO. MANY. Saturday football games cheering on our Baylor Bears.  God also opened doors over the years, which included different jobs for my dad, building houses at one point and then working for the school district again, and then finally working for SSFBC at the ROC.

(Chapter 7)  Since this story is more about my parents than myself, I'll skip the details about how I got from Baylor to Arlington, but I moved to the Arlington/Grand Prairie/Mansfield area with my brother in 2006 when he began his masters at DBU and I finished up my bachelors at UTA.  My parents trips changed from Waco to Arlington, and we grew from a family of four to five, then six, and now we're at 10. My brother moved from this area with his family to work for a church in Conroe.  Brad and I have settled in to our home/church here in Arlington, and the desire my parents had to move here has lasted over the years...add grandkids to the mix and it only grew stronger.

(Chapter 8)  My mom retired from SSISD in 2015, and my dad "retired" for the 4th time in May of this year.  I've seen God's faithfulness more in their lives over the last year, providing friendships, providing financially, providing wisdom and guidance, providing a buyer for their home (quickly), and providing a second buyer when the first one fell through (also quickly).  We can see God's hand at work in every step from 2003 when they first wanted to be here, until today, when they are officially on their way!

A Trip Down Memory Lane
This past weekend, I made a surprise trip to Sulphur Springs to help my parents pack, and I had NO idea the emotions that would come with it.  I may or may not have cried halfway there, and ignored all the facts on my way out of town to avoid crying the WHOLE way back.  While I was in town, we took a fun little tour and drove by all of our old houses, the schools, and other places that were special to our family.

This was our very first house in Sulphur Springs.  I LOVED this house.  There are countless pictures of me "performing" on the stage fireplace in the living room, and I remember the coziness of that house made me feel SO safe and protected.  It was the beginning of a great life in our hometown.  We planted two trees we got from McDonald's happy meals in the front yard, and much to my disapproval, they're no longer there.  But the memories certainly are.

The Texas Street Rent House
We moved down the street (Alan and I moving our things in a little red wagon) to the house that would become HOME for the next 12 years.  I left for kindergarten in that house...and I left for my senior year in that house.  We built a pool in the backyard that is at the center of countless memories with dozens of my very best friends from church/school.

The Westbrook House (AKA The House that Built Me, as Miranda Lambert likes to say.)
My senior year of high school, with my brother away at college, we packed up our home of over a decade and moved in to a rent house while our new house, on the other side of town, was being finished up.  The rent house was the one we lived in for the shortest period of time, but it holds some VERY special memories from my senior year of high school - including getting ready for prom in a make-shift beauty salon and heading off to college (after unloading and re-loading our car because my parents battery died and Alan met everyone in my dorm before me...).

The Rent House, directly across from the Wall Mart ;)
Every one of these houses are special in their own way, and although I didn't live in this house as long/much as the others, it's a huge part of my story because life changed in this house.  In this house, I came home to visit from college.  In this house, I moved home and lived when I decided that Baylor wasn't the best fit for me (hands down the toughest decision of my life) and experienced some of my darkest days.  In this house, I talked on a land-line to my then boyfriend, Brad Hammons, and I brought him home to this house to show him what Sulphur Springs was all about.

The Austin Acre House
I got ready for my wedding in this house.  I don't think there really needs to be much more detail beyond that to explain how special this house was.  My grandmother also stood in a chair and unplugged the microwave in this house, so there are those memories as well. ;)

The House that Pappy Built
The last two houses my parents lived in, I never actually LIVED in, but that doesn't mean they're any less special, and considering I brought my babies "Home" to this's absolutely special to me!!  This house is the house that the grandkids know as "Mimi and Pappy's House."  This is the house where the cousins had slumber parties and rested up after days at the ROC.  This is the house where we surprised both of our parents on the days of their retirements (mom's first and only, dad's fourth and not final).

The Kelli Circle House
Beyond the houses are the PLACES that have meant so much to our family.  The places where we met our friends that became family.  In SS, we started going to the same school as 5th graders, so from 5th grade on - the majority of our friends went to church AND school together.  Needless to say, we built memory upon memory.  I went to elementary school at the same place my momma worked, and then went to high school where my dad (and aunt, and uncle, and cousin for a year) worked. I don't have the time (or the tissues) to share all the amazing memories this town gave me, but I am forever grateful for every single one of them.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Jesus Makes Me Brave - #BryleighSays

One thing I will FOREVER be grateful through our journey is the massive amount of love, support, and encouragement we have received from friends and family (not to mention lots and lots of prayer).  After my last post on Facebook asking for some prayers for Bryleigh, people have been asking how the babes are doing, so I thought I'd take a little time to update on both of them here.

BRYLEIGH GIRL: We've been on this journey for a little over three years - watching as things happened with Bryleigh that we knew weren't normal, but not really putting all the pieces together and knowing how to help her until MUCH later.  We've got a pretty good handle on her diet (praise the Lord!) now that we have had an actual test tell us things that her body just can not tolerate.  After being off of those 10 things for a solid year, any time she gets even the smallest amount, even by accident, she usually ends up throwing up for about 12 hours.  She's extremely sensitive to her allergens now, but we are thankful for how well we know we can manage her diet, and that SHE takes ownership over what she can and can't have. Cleaning up her diet and adding some supplements to help heal her digestive tract have made a HUGE difference on her quality of life.  When she does get a flare up now, we can usually pinpoint what caused it, and we have all the tools we need to help get it taken care of (QUICKLY!).

We are SO very thankful that God led us to Dr. Heather and the answers she has helped us get. We are thankful to be in a completely different place than we were this time last year and that she is not in as much physical pain as she was for so long.  With that being said, she's got some pretty crazy sensory issues that she deals with - like changing clothes between the seasons over the last year - as well as anxiety, leading to night terrors and now panic attacks.  All of these things we are trying to calmly and patiently work through with her, both as a normal 4 year old and as a chiropractic patient with a history of some pretty yucky stuff. Dr. Heather has been so great at answering our questions and continually working with us to find things that work for our B-Girl. Bryleigh tells us almost daily things that she is going to do that we know she is fearful of, but she always finishes with, "But I can do it because Jesus makes me brave." Yes He does, baby girl! Yes He does!!

Wearing shorts and a t-shirt these days is a huge praise!
Even if they don't match, and have a fur vest added!!

WILD MAN WILL: Sometimes it feels like we are watching Will grow up with our breath held just waiting for something to happen...and with good reason as he's showed most every sign that Bryleigh did, and most of the time in more severe ways and at earlier ages.  Just like Bryleigh started to fall off her growth chart at one year, Will has started to slow down on his growth as well.  Foods that Bryleigh had severe reactions to, Will has reacted to in even smaller amounts. Signs of digestive issues that showed up in Bryleigh at 2, showed up in Will at birth.  Will had the added bonus of feeding issues (PTL for his growth in this area!!) and problems stemming from his circumcision that are still not correct.

We get the question all the time, "So does Will have what Bryleigh has?" And what a question that is considering we still don't really know WHAT Bryleigh has.  We have some answers to different things (-we have all the answers we need to truly help her at this time-), but we don't have a NAME for what has gone on and what to look for in Will or in both of them as they get older.  But the easiest answer is: Yes.  Will faces the same difficulties that Bryleigh does in digesting his food, among other things we see in them.  We just introduced green grapes to him this week, as Bryleigh is allergic to red ones and hasn't had a single grape since long before her diagnosis (we KNEW that this was a huge culprit of her issues without a single test).  Almost immediately, Will began to have strong reactions to the grapes, and it brought a lot of flashbacks to what life was like with Bryleigh when we had no answers.

This little "Cheese" face is my favorite thing he does!

WHY TODAY IS DIFFERENT: But we have answers.  We KNOW this time around what is causing reactions in Will as it is happening. We know what to do and how to help him when he does have these flare ups and reactions.  For the longest time I feared more than anything the day that would come that let me know Will is going to fight the same battles his sister did/does, but that day happened on Wednesday of this week (with a few other confirmations along the way) and after a mild pity-party for myself, I realized life is NOTHING like it was when we were at this place with Bryleigh.  In those days, I was full of despair.  I wanted God to fix it, immediately.  I wanted every single answer that I could possibly have regarding my child's body, and I wanted it as fast as I could get it. I felt like I was fighting the battle all (or mostly) alone.  And without knowing it, I didn't fully trust God with my life, or (especially) with my children's lives.

I have learned so much over the past few years.  I have seen the promises of God stand true, and I have seen how faithful He is to our family in every single need.  I have learned to pray for what brings Him glory and to thank Him for every piece of our journey, no matter how difficult it may seem.

PRAYERS MOVING FORWARD: You, our friends and family, have been SO faithful to pray with us and for us, and we are so grateful for that.  People are always asking how they can be praying so I wanted to share that as well.  For Bryleigh - prayers for peaceful sleep each and every night.  Prayers that she would learn to share with us what she is feeling so that we can help her work through those feelings.  Prayers for us to have wisdom to know what is just 4-year-old growing pains and what stems more from her body and how she is made/what she has experienced in her little life.  For William -  our most pressing need is healing for his body from this current flare up.  They're extremely painful and uncomfortable, so the sooner it's over, the better.  Prayers as we decide when to give him the same test Bryleigh had so we can best know what foods he needs to eliminate as well.  Prayers for the issue Will has had from his circumcision to improve with the current medicine and guidance/wisdom on next steps if this round doesn't work. My prayer, above all, is that we would honor and glorify God with each step we take, teaching Bryleigh and Will how much God loves them as His children.

Friday, May 18, 2018

To the allergy momma - One Year Later

One year ago today I got a nice little list of 10 things that had wreaked havoc on my baby girl’s body - some of them daily, some of them from the moment she had been born. You could say it’s been a year of LOTS of learning.  I remember sitting there in the doctor's office thinking, "This isn't THAT big of a deal. It's only ten. It could have been worse." And then reality set in of how BIG some of those 10 are. Every single one has snuck in on us in one way or another over the last year, but as our doctor said yesterday, "Ignorance is not always bliss."

Our little Allergy Warrior has AMAZED us this year!

To the new allergy momma,

Take a deep breath. The days and weeks to come are gonna be rough. But you’re gonna make it. You will survive this and come out stronger. You WILL get the hang of this new life and learn how to be the fiercest advocate your child needs.

But hold on tight, there are tireless days ahead. LONG trips to the grocery store.  Expensive trips to the grocery store. And a lot of wasted “tries” at finding “replacements.” There will be frustrations as you slip up and watch your child have that dreaded reaction because you missed something and the guilt will be almost unbearable. But that overwhelming guilt is because of your fierce love for your child.

I’ll leave you with the top 10 things I’ve learned in the last year:
  1. These babes are resilient.
  2. Make it all, from scratch. It’s so much easier and will give you complete piece of mind.
  3. Look for yourself. Not everyone will “get it” and that’s okay...check the labels for yourself, every time. I’ll repeat that: Check the labels every time.
  4. Find your tribe - shout out the Allergy Moms page on FB for being mine.
  5. It’s okay to not be okay with all of this, but know it WILL eventually be okay.
  6. Forgive yourself. Quickly. You’re going to mess up, so own it, take note, and move on. (I can guarantee you it won’t happen twice.)
  7. Be prepared to do a LOT of dishes. (See item 2...which doesn’t even touch cross contamination.)
  8. Write it all down. Think there’s a new reaction? Write it down. Have a question for the doc? Write it down. There are going to be a million things going through your head every day, you’ll never remember it all. But your Notes App will. (Which is where I typed this whole post out to begin with.)
  9. Don’t look at anything else out there except what your child can eat. Research on “growing out of it,” food challenges, therapies can all wait. Get a grasp on what foods are safe first.
  10. Pray. Trust God with ALL of it.  This is all a part of His story He is writing, and He can use it for His glory. #HisStoryHisGlory
Well, I couldn’t stop at 10, so here are a few *bonus* things I’ve learned.
  1. Eating out is a thing of the past.
  2. When you DO get the hang of things and venture out, enjoy the same restaurant 500 times in a row. 
  3. You WILL cry in the middle of the grocery store. And it will take you an hour and a half to find 7 items that total $100. (Only the last part was exaggerated…by like a dollar.)
  4. Just because something is “safe” today, doesn’t mean it will be “safe” tomorrow - this includes restaurants AND store bought foods.
  5. It is empowering when your child starts to figure it out for themselves. Be ready, your heart might explode.

New allergy momma, I can guarantee you that it will ALL be worth it!

Our pantry before and after removing everything she couldn't eat.
(Some left on the right was for mom and dad to eat!)
One year ago this week - The day before, the day of, and the day after.
Her sweet smile helped us all and lifted our spirits.

And life today with these outside-loving besties. SUCH a joy!

I'll leave you with a quote/dedication I read in one of the new cookbooks we were given in the days following: "To all of the children whose dietary restrictions created division, isolation, or sacrifice.  May these recipes bring you comfort, inclusion, and joy in both your healthful journeys and life's many celebrations." YES! This is how we've chosen to live.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Potty Praises

One month.  Somehow it's already been an entire month, but it seriously seems like yesterday since I wrote this post ::Diaper Days to Diaper Years:: updating you on an area that we were desperate for friends and family to join us in praying over.

I KNOW that God is able to do anything at all in this world, no matter how impossible it seems (or how "unimportant" it may feel)...but I just really didn't know what to expect or even what those answered prayers would look like.  I was prepared for months of agonizing over this issue.  I had no idea how to know if those "big issues" (like nerve damage) were going to get in our way or how to really TRAIN Bryleigh on using the potty (other than telling her every 5 seconds to go sit on the potty...which hadn't worked).

We had/have a follow up appointment set up for March with our GI doctor.  I really thought we were going to painfully pass the days until that appointment, giving it our very best effort, and then I would bring up all of my questions and concerns to him, hoping he would be able to help us figure out about things like nerve damage and tips to keeping the pull up clean and dry.

{{BUT GOD.}}  God had FAR better plans for us.  He has spent the last month reminding us that HE is in control of our lives, that He loves our girl far more than we could ever imagine, that He has good plans for us, and that He cares about every little thing that affects us (including potty training).

In the last month, this one has worked like daddy, baked a cake from scratch, 
gone grocery shopping, taken her bible to church and bible study, 
played massive amounts of dress up, danced in the rain, 

The month started with enthusiasm from Bryleigh.  A very quick answer to prayer there.  She was genuinely on board with the potty training and began to take ownership of what we were doing, as opposed to the crying and major anxiety any time we had tried in the past.

A big breakthrough came for us when I sat on the couch at their chiropractor's office  (which has become beneficial beyond anything I could have ever imagined or could begin to explain) a week after my last blog post, and she opened up my eyes to where we truly were.  She encouraged us to treat the potty training area of B's life as if she were a 2 year old, since that is essentially where her body was in the process.  We talked through that and it really made sense to me.  Taking the anger/discipline out of it, I feel, was a huge turning point for all of us.  That one conversation freed me from getting so upset over her not "getting it," which made her 100 times more comfortable.

The next big breakthrough came the following week when I was getting Will out of the bathtub and ready for bed - which includes drying him off, dressing him, brushing his teeth, combing his hair...etc - and Bryleigh informed me (while still in the bath) she needed to use the potty.  I told her to hold it as best she could and I'd get to her as quick as possible.  I rushed the process with Will, and as I was coming back into the bathroom, she had a look of terror on her face...she had just peed in the bath.  And you know what, Brad (on FaceTime) and I CHEERED FOR HER.  We cheered for her because she KNEW she needed to potty and then she held it for a good 10 minutes while I tried to get Will taken care of.  We let her know over and over how proud of her we were, and for the first time I really felt like we were going to be able to give this a good shot.  This meant that she had enough nerves/feeling to know when she needed to go and the ability to hold it, at least for some time. HUGE ANSWER TO PRAYER AND MAJOR PRAISE!!!! We've praised God for this a million times since that moment.

Since that day we've taken steps forwards and backwards and sideways and every other way, but here we are a month later, and I can honestly say our girl is making major progress.  The last two weeks have been major steps forward to getting her completely trained and ready for PRESCHOOL in the fall...which coincidentally registration opens up TODAY.  I never imagined this day would come and we'd be able to confidently sign her up.  I really thought we'd be holding out until the very last moment praying there was a spot still open and then praying every day that she'd make it through with no accidents (which I will probably still do...). BUT GOD.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Diaper Days to Diaper Years...

People are always asking us how the babes are doing, and thankfully we haven't had too much to update on lately.  Will is rocking his feeding therapy and meeting goals weekly, blowing us away with all his improvement. (God is good!) Thanks to our incredible chiropractor we see weekly, and the grace of God, we are in a pretty steady routine and have found some nutritional supplements that really seem to help both of the kids. We are SO grateful to be where we are today.

We are in a bit of a holding point for any more answers with them, as we don't go back to their GI doctor until March.  We have some questions regarding Bryleigh's spine and spinal cord as well as her nerves, all of which we will address once we see him again.

Our biggest prayer request right now is for our Sweet B to get potty trained!! If you're praying for us, and that's all you need to know, then you can just stop here, but if you'd like a little more background on WHY and HOW you can be praying, that's what the rest of this post will include.

We brought this tiny white potty home for our tiny little girl when she was just 17 months old.  Sometime between the end of June and the beginning of July 2015, we wanted to go ahead and get some things we would need for potty training in case we started to see any of those early signs that say, "HEY MOM AND DAD...I'M READY!"  And then she did it.  The day we brought the potty home, she sat right down, and she tee-tee'd on it, and we all jumped up and down, and we danced, and we cheered for her. She LOVED it.  And a little later on that day, she did it again.

I REMEMBER telling Brad, "Now just so you know, this is probably not going to actually be this easy."  I had NO idea what to expect, but I knew that none of the major parenting milestones were going to pass us by quite that simple. (But one can certainly hope.)

First time's a charm, right?

And then it happened.  The bottom fell out. (Kinda-sorta literally.)  Bryleigh spent the next 2 solid weeks without 1 solid diaper...if you get my drift. Although some "solid" diapers returned, she would continue to have diarrhea everyday for the next 60 days.  We would spend the next (almost) year, going back and forth between somewhat normal to something well beyond not-normal.  Needless to say, potty training was out of the question.  Each time we would start to discuss it and get all geared up, Bryleigh would have another flare up that would shut everything down, sometime for weeks and even months at a time.

Right at the one year mark (July 4th is pretty easy to pinpoint, and that holiday in 2015 AND 2016 will be ones we won't ever forget) we noticed a big shift.  Bryleigh went from going too much to not going enough. Like hardly at all. And when she did, it was almost unbearable to watch (and sometimes hear).  I won't get in to any more details other than that, but those first days are something I'll never, ever shake from my memory.  I can still picture the exact first time I ever saw it - and then a thousand times since then I've seen it in some form or another...including about 30 minutes ago as I typed this up.  (I shared way more about what she's gone through HERE a little while back.)

So here we are, 2 and a half years later with a 4 year old girl that's not so "tiny" anymore and a cute pink potty that resembles our own...and we are no closer to being potty trained than we were that day in 2015.  We've started and stopped more times than I can count, gone about it every different way (Rewards System, Punishment System, hands-off-go-when-you-want, set-the-timer-every-15-minutes...), and questioned everything we ever thought we knew about what parenting would be like. (Brad sent me a text just this week that said "Parenting is hard work." Bless him. Please don't tell him it gets harder than this.)

Even Princesses have to potty!

We've talked to each of her doctors about this issue, and they've all brought up new questions.  There are different, actual medical possibilities that we are questioning that require time and testing to determine, and then there's the possibility that it's just a strong-willed and stubborn 4 year old, or the possibility that she's just behind developmentally because of all of the other issues she's faced that it will just take her some time to catch up.  (Our sweet chiropractor and go-to for ALLLLL medical questions essentially told me to treat that area of her life like she is a 2 year old, because that's essentially where that part of her body is.)

I don't love that my 4 year old isn't potty trained.  I hate that she has missed out on a year of school because we couldn't get that area of our life together.  But I haven't done one thing to hide the fact (like covering it up in pictures on social media...the girl went clothes-less for almost a solid year.)  It's not something I'm going to be embarrassed about or allow Satan to attack me and make me feel like I am failing in any way.  We've done the very best we could with what life (and God) has given us.

I know that some people pray big-picture (Lord, show favor on Bryleigh and allow her to get potty trained) while others take each part and pray for specifics, so that is why I wanted to share a little more in depth with the details of where we are. 

I am praying that the Lord would give me wisdom in this area - when to push in and when to back off, when to look at things medically and when to let go of the "what-ifs".  I am praying that the Lord would make those medical issues clear - if there is something going on that is causing this difficulty, that we would be able to get those answers.  I am praying for perseverance and patience, encouragement and compassion.  Mostly, I am praying for our sweet little girl, who has already been thrown so much in her little life, to "get it," for each day to bring a little bit of light for her in this area...and if He wants to bring it all at once, I'm good with that, too. ;)

Over the past few years I have learned so much about God and my relationship with Him, about how to pray and what to pray (we pray ultimately and always for HIS will and His glory), and to always, always be thankful no matter what our circumstances are.  So that's what I'm doing today.  I'm praising Him and thanking Him while I'm crying out to Him, telling Him that I desperately want our girl to be potty trained for so many different reasons, but also telling Him that I trust Him completely, even with this area of our lives that seemed like something I'd never even think to pray about before I was a momma.  It's gonna happen, and we give Him all the glory and praise for that.  Thank you for the way you love us and pray for us.

Just a little note on fits perfectly with my thoughts today - desperately praying for Him to answer my prayer just as I'm asking Him, but knowing that I have SO much to be thankful for in Him and from Him, and trusting that even this is His will for our lives...But this is a picture I found in my files while I searched for that tiny 17 month old sitting on the potty.  I saved this very verse at the very beginning of this journey, having no idea where God was leading me and how much we would camp out on this very verse, struggling through it as we learned just what it meant. We REJOICE.