What My Prayers Sound Like …

image“He’s My Son” : by Mark Schultz

I’m down on my knees again tonight
I’m hoping this prayer will turn out right
See there is a boy that needs Your help
I’ve done all that I can do myself
His mother is tired
I’m sure You can understand
Each night as he sleeps
She goes in to hold his hand
And she tries not to cry
As the tears fill her eyes

Can You hear me?
Am I getting through tonight?
Can You see him?
Can You make him feel all right?
If You can hear me
Let me take his place somehow
See, he’s not just anyone
He’s my son

Sometimes late at night I watch him sleep
I dream of the boy he’d like to be
I try to be strong and see him through
But God who he needs right now is You
Let him grow old
Live life without this fear
What would I be
Living without him here
He’s so tired and he’s scared
Let him know that You’re there

Can You hear me?
Am I getting through tonight?
Can You see him?
Can You make him feel all right?
If You can hear me
Let me take his place somehow
See, he’s not just anyone
He’s my son

Can you hear me? Can You see him?
Please don’t leave him
He’s my son

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Back Home, but without Eli … For Now.

imageFrom J …

So after a few days of being in Louisiana, we have decided to head home, and unfortunately without our son. “How can this be?” … You might be asking us. Well, the bad news is that Eli, although healthy and doing well, is simply not ready to be home with us. Although Eli is gaining weight, and looks rather handsome, his doctors think that he needs to progress more in his ability to self-sooth, develop a more consistent sleep pattern, and feeding abilities.

The crazy part about Eli’s short history on this planet is that he was doing great when he was first born. He was sleeping well, eating well, and quite calm. But some things have changed over the last couple weeks. Unfortunately for Angie and I, it took us going down to Louisiana to receive a more clear picture of Eli’s progress within the NICU. Because we are not his birth parents, we were only given limited information, regarding his stay in the hospital, from the paralegal we are working with. Now, let me be clear, she gave us all the information she had available, and never withheld the good or the bad. We just did not get a full picture until we were introduced to his caregivers, because we were not entitled to his complete care information.

Basically, we visited Louisiana without knowing a true end date on Eli’s release. We left yesterday, obviously upset Eli was not heading home with us. But about half way home, both Angie and I were more at peace with our decision, knowing he was in the best place he needed to be, at this moment. Eli has some more progress to make, and is safely held in God’s loving hands, and in the capable care of his loving nurses. Moving forward, we basically have all access to his care, and are being treated by the staff as his parents … Because that’s exactly what we are, and we could not be more excited to eventually have him home, in our arms.

From Angie …

Anticipation is a funny and interesting concept to me. Often times, my anticipation of events or situations results in increased anxiety and sometimes in disappointments. The anticipation of meeting our son, Elihu James (pronounced Eli-hue), included a lot of angst about my ability to connect or bond with him. I believed that God provided this child for us, and that this was all apart of His plan for our lives, but generally, I am not the most maternal person. I have always felt rather awkward holding babies and engaging in baby talk has never really been natural for me. I was nervous that the nurse would hand me my baby and I would be a mess instead of a mommy, but God intended for Eli to be mine all along and squashed these nervous feelings and wonderings immediately.

As J mentioned, we are now at home in Indiana, and Eli is still in Louisiana. While this was extremely difficult for the both of us to acknowledge, Eli requires further time in the NICU before coming home. We are hoping and praying that, through the amazing nurses’ and doctors’ interventions and treatments that he will be ready to be discharged in the coming weeks.

We are beyond grateful for the nurses who are lovingly treating for our son. One nurse, Rachelle, has loved on Eli from the moment he was born. She is kind and concise in communicating with J and I. She told me that it was easier to let her baby boy go, knowing that he was going home with a good family. Rachel shared that when Eli fusses, she always sings to him. Dawn, Debbie and Janelle all bring in their personal CDs to play for Eli while he sleeps. These nurses told us that Eli prefers a wide selection of music to sooth him to sleep, and will become fussy when the music becomes redundant. Debbie taught me how to properly burp my baby, and giggled when she said, “You’re not gonna break him!” in her sweet southern drawl. Maricia gently explained the ins and outs of the NICU and the life and cultures of New Orleans, her hometown. The social worker, Linda and nurse Janelle, held me as I said goodbye to my son and promised to take good care of him so that I could bring him home soon. I will be forever indebted to these amazing, skillful women and am blessed that they are loving treating my sweet son.

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We Have Finally Met our Son!

imageAfter a week of being at home, awaiting the news from Eli’s doctors on when when he might be released from the hospital, we decided to just head down to Louisiana.  Both Angie and I were very excited to meet our son, and were indecisive on when to leave, to be with him.  A great resource to us has been another adoptive mother, named Jamie, who also is a NICU nurse in Baton Rouge.  She instructed us to come down and begin the bonding process as quickly as possible.  So we left on Monday morning and the trip went very smoothly.

Another reason Jamie thought it would be best to come down was that Eli’s doctors have been delaying his release from the NICU.  The reason for this was due to some regression in Eli’s eating habits and ability to self-sooth.  After his birth, Eli showed great signs of preemie progression, and little sign of withdrawal.  Over the last week, however, he become fussy at feeding times, and is not eating at a pace they nurses are hoping they would.
Basically, we need to take 50 cc’s of formula within a half hour.  What Eli has been doing is  instead of taking quality sucks off the bottle, he is sometimes gumming the bottle instead.  The nurses have expressed that he is wound up and frustrated a bit, which has lead to his fussiness and also a lack of attention to sucking the bottle consistently.
When Eli does not eat the full amount within the time frame allowed, nurses in the NICU have to take note of this and score him.  The scoring system is essential to the NICU’s decision to release Eli and our eventual trip back to Granger.  With that in mind, here comes so positive news …
Eli was receiving some high scores before we got here, so his release was delayed, and his medical treatment was increase.  The meds they NICU has him on is being administered to combat the drugs his birthmother used during he relapse.  The Meconium test we were waiting for came back incomplete, due to a lack of quality test material.  This is not as important as his current treatment going on now.  His meds need to be reduced / weened, however, before we can expect a final release.  To get the weening process started, Eli’s eating and fussiness has to improve.
The good news is that ever since we have been down here, and have had one on one contact with Eli, his demeanor has shown improvement.  He not completely fuss-free, but we can tell that he is much happier when he is being loved on, rather than just fed, bumped and then put back to bed.  By no means do we believe the nurses are not loving on our boy.  We know for a fact that all of the nurses love Eli, and that have been doing all that they can to help correct his unfortunate regression.  You should see these people work!
I’m now gonna quickly brag about my wife.  She’s a natural!  As soon as we enteredthe NICU, and became a mom right in front of my eyes.  They let Angie feed Eli on our second visit yesterday, during lunchtime.  She bumped him, rocked him and chatted with him for easily thirty minutes.  Wile Eli did not eat as well as we wanted, and a nurse had to finish his feeding, Angie did sooth him to sleep after his feeding.  It was amazing how well he responded to our first constant with him.  Seeing her with Eli made me fall even more in love with her!  It changed me, and our relationship, for sure.
Eli did have issues sleeping later that afternoon, and was pretty tuckered out when we visited him later that afternoon.  I got to hold him a bit, but did not feed him during that visit. Both the nurses and I thought it would be best to get his feeding issues moving in the right direction before we try feeing him again.  There may be some cramping going on for Eli, so if you feel led, please consider praying about this and his improvement.  Other than that though, Eli’s very healthy and gaining weight.  Once the regression turn to a progression again, weening him off his meds can happen, and eventually we can head back.
Thanks for coming along with us on this journey.  Your prayers are appreciated and are evident in our lives.  There will be more to come … I promise.
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While I’m waiting…

Since J has been mostly communicating the happenings of our adoption story, I wanted to share my perspective a little bit.  This process has been a long time coming for us, and now there’s a little light at the end of the tunnel.  Everything seems to be just outside of our reach as we wait to bring home our little Eli.

This entire week, I’ve been singing in my head or listening to While I’m Waiting by Jon Waller.  Yes, it appears in that cheesy Christian movie, Fireproof, but it’s a great song that really resonates with my current situation.  I highly recommend making it the soundtrack for any times where you’re struggling with patience or waiting for God’s plans to unfold in your life.  To be completely open-and-honest, I sang it aggressively yesterday as my patience has really been tested with this process…it probably was an ineffective way to deal with my situation, but alas.

This week was extremely bittersweet for me.  It was my last week as a teacher at the Early Learning Center at Granger Community Church.  The ELC is an amazing place where little ones can learn and grow, both in faith and academics.  Prior to teaching at the ELC, I taught for six years as a special education teacher at Oak Manor Sixth Grade Center in the Niles Community Schools District.  I love teaching.  There’s something about watching a child learn something that makes my heart beat fast.  Specifically at the ELC, I gained a new perspective for teaching children about Jesus.  This huge responsibility made an impact on my own walk with Christ, and for that I’m truly grateful.  Listening to children pray and retell bible stories has been humbling and transforming.  While I’m sad about leaving my teaching responsibilities and terrific co-workers, I am beyond excited to be a stay-at-home mom.  It feels like I’ve waited for this for a very long time, and I’m totally ready to embrace mommy-hood.

As I finish up this reflection, I have to smile at how perfect God’s timing really is.  We literally just finished our home study.  Our social worker, Fran, is completing her side of the paperwork tonight and will have it ready for us to pick up at her home tomorrow…just in time for our trip to Baton Rouge on Monday.  (Someone please cue Garth Brooks’ Callin’ Baton Rouge!)

This all seems so surreal and super-fast.  I cannot effectively communicate the peace both J and I feel.  That’s how we know that this is God’s doing.  Everything is simply falling into place.  Please continue to pray for us.  Pray for Eli’s continued health gains.  Pray for the doctors, lawyers and staff, and social workers.  We also ask you to pray for Eli’s birth mother, Daune.  We pray for her to be at peace, to know God’s love, and to walk each step of her recovery path.  Even though it is unlikely that I will ever meet her or hold her hand to thank her for this unbelievable gift in my life, I hope she knows that she will always carry a special place in my heart.

Our hearts are full, friends.  God is always good.

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Delayed in Colorado … But also a Daddy !!!

What !?! … Exqueeze me?  Baking Powder?
You have read this correctly.  I’m stuck in the Yampa Valley Airport, hours away from home.  I’ve been hanging out in Steamboat Springs, CO since Friday, taking part of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School.  We trained for two days on how to properly correct and manage winter conditions, focusing specifically on ice covered roads.  Myself and three other coworkers learned how to power slide, the “Scandinavian Flick”, and the 180 degree Rockford File reverse.  All on ice covered snow.  Pretty cool, huh?
What?  You’re more interested in the later half of this blog post title?  Well, I can totally understand why, because believe me … It has been a stressful last uncouple of days, eagerly waiting to share with all of you the following news …
Angie and I are proud to finally introduce to you our long awaited, three years in the “making”, prayed over, heart’s desire … Ladies and Gents, boys and girls, children of all ages …
The Aquila Villa would like to introduce to you our son, Elihu James.  But you can call him “Eli” for short.  He was born on Monday, the 13th, in Louisiana.  Weighing in at the time of birth : 4 lbs, 10 oz.  Measuring seventeen inches long.  The little guy was born about 4 weeks too early, due to the following story, which Angie and I are obviously willing to share, but with a little reservation.
Eli’s mom had a past with some unfortunate drug use.  She was three-years sober; however, in the week before giving birth to our son, our birth mother had a relapse use, after three years of being clean.  Obviously, this was something Angie and I were not expecting because we came into the process of this private adoption knowing that all birth mothers going through our lawyer’s office were very well taken care of.  But just like in my last post, I didn’t know that God had a better story planned for us.
A better story?
That’s right … God’s story for both my life, Angie’s life, and little Eli’s as well.  Drugs suck.  Plain and simple, but they are a part of this story.  Nobody can tell us for sure, but it is believed that drug use could have caused the early birth.  Eli was meant to be born in February.  Since he is early, he has to stay in the NICU for a little while longer before Angie and  I can bring him home to meet everybody.  But before I go further … Here are a few God sightings that we are seeing so far in Eli’s short life so far.   We will start with his health …
Eli is …
1) Not in an incubator, And is sleeping in a crib.  So he is regulating his body temp just fine.  Some premature babies have issues with this, but our boy is good to go there.
2) Is eating from a bottle.  This means he can suck without any issue, which means his lungs are developed enough for feeding, and normal breathing.
3) Not showing any signs of withdrawal.  This is the most important, as it shows to us that ongoing use of drugs was not prevelant  during pregnancy.  His size and birthweight also is backing this up as well, showing no signs of Inter-Uterain Grow Retardation (IUGR).  Basically, this means ongoing drug or alcohol use (because there apparently was none) has not effected his growth.  If he was born, as scheduled in February, he would have been several pounds heavier, at a normal birthweight.
Eli is only in the NICU, at this point, to gain weight and to be sure of a clean bill of health, regarding our birthmom’s relapse.  A meconium (stool sample) drug test is still yet to be delivered, which should show exactly if any drugs made it into Eli’s system.  His urine drug test was negative, but the meconium test will be conclusive.  Either way, the good news is that Eli is healthy and not showing ANY signs of withdrawal or dependency.
Here is another cool God sighting.  Because Eli was born early, we believe God was protecting our son from future exposure to drugs by putting him into the care of the NICU.  Who knows what all could have happened if Eli was born at full term?  God saw to it that our son came into this world and avoided more potential drug exposure.  That’s awesome!
Angie and I also believe that God provided us our Eli because we were first in line for a little boy.  Our preferences were wide open, but it turns out all other prospective parents all wanted gabby girls.  So whether Eli was born in February or January, white or brown … he was destined to be ours.
So … What’s in a name?
Angie and I gave him the name Elihu because of it’s meaning: “My God is Yahweh”.  We know that Eli is a gift from God, so we plan on teaching him and raising him to know from whom he came from.  He will be baptized and dedicated right back to God, as soon as possible.
Angie’s great-great-grandfather was also named Elihu, and it’s also her brother’s middle name.  The “James” comes from my grandfather, and is also my middle name.  Angie and I both found it important to honor our family members within our naming process.
To end…we are so excited to have you meet the little guy.  Right now, we are awaiting his release from the hospital, so we can make our first “Family of Three” road trip.  As always, we will keep you posted, and well informed once we know more.
Image
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A New Story Worth Telling

b176d2845dcb11e29bea22000a1f90d2_6So … It’s been awhile.  A loooooooong while.  Ages, really.

Awhile back … Almost three years ago, Angie and I decided to let nature take its course and see if we could start a family.  With me being five years older than Ang, and because I didn’t exactly get married straight out of school, I did not want to be an OLD man when my kids graduated high school.  So I decided to start putting in work quality work … (grin).

And while that was all fun times for Angie and I, for some reason the work never produced results.  There were a couple of “maybes”, and a lot of pregnancy tests taken, but no plus signs.  We were pretty bummed and frustrated for a good portion of the last two years.   Watching others start a family was really hard for Angie.  I was disappointed as well, but always knew there was a plan, and God had it all worked out.  I just encouraged Ang to stay patient / positive, and everything would work out.  I just knew we would get pregnant eventually.

We, as a couple, had seen others struggle with getting pregnant.  We saw those couples eventually become pregnant naturally, or find another way to conceive.  One of our favorite couples even had an amazing experience through adoption.  And while we were stoked for them, and thought we even might be interested in the potential adoption option, we still believed that in only a matter of time, nature would do it’s thing.  Our story involved us having our own child, naturally.

But time went on … and on … and on.  No baby.

We eventually agreed that both of us should get “our stuff” checked out, since timing and persistence did not appear to be a concern.  We had been using birth control for a while, but Ang had also been off that for some time,  so we thought there had to be something else potentially off.  Angie had a procedure or two, to check for setback culprits, but all came back with zero concerns.

It was then my turn.  I provided my specimen for the urology folks, and was initially told that my count was really high, but there were some concerns on the quality of the product.  I scheduled a follow-up with the doctor, to get a more detailed explanation … and then waited, and waited, and waited … just for a follow-up appointment. They said the best doctor was scheduled out three months! Eventually, I just got torqued off and decided I did not to wait for my scheduled appointment to come around.  The nurse eventually got me bumped up the wait list, after showing I was flexible with taking any potential cancellation opportunities.

The doctor finally fit me in back in September, and said although my “stuff” was not perfect, that it would be harder for us to have normal expectations.  I had a hard time with this.  I was shaken, to be honest.  All I wanted to do was provide something we both wanted.  I thought I knew how to make this happen, and felt that “time and chance happens to us all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) – but it turns out I had no idea what the real plan was.  If I’m really wanting to be honest … I was ignoring the same advice I was offering to my wife, and that was to stay open to God’s plan for us.

After coming to this realization, I had my moment of grief, and then told myself to move forward.  To find another way to make this happen.   Although Angie was all about finding another way, the pain of not having the opportunity to be pregnant was a pretty big deal to her.  There was disappointment, hurt, and jealousy moments from time to time.   Being around peers who were starting families became really hard for her.

We shared our struggles with the same couple I mentioned above (Ryan and Ashley Clough), who adopted a little guy named Garrett, after dealing with a somewhat similar story to ours.  Because they had dealt with similar disappointments, and frustrations, they knew just how to encourage and mentor us.  Their struggle was hard, and they knew our pain … AND then some.  We were there for them, when they went through life’s wringer, and felt terrible for them at the time.  But now we finally felt Ash and Ryan’s real pain.  It was a humbling experience, and has also drawn us closer as friends.  I thank God for them all the time, and for His brilliance in putting those friends in my life, way back at Taylor University.

181343_10151057593590719_390631939_n

After many tears, and a lot prayer, we finally decided that our plan just might not be God’s plan for our family.   But family WAS still God’s plan for us.  Adoption was going to be our next move, because waiting any more just was not an option.  We felt God was telling us that our child was out there, and that the hunt was on!  But where and how do we start?

IMG_3780Fortunately, Angie has this great group of friends, who pretend to read books.  The truth is, they are all beautiful women, who like getting together and share stories, and occasionally bring up the assigned book for the month.  They are all moms, so for the longest time, you can understand why Ang was close to quitting the group.  But while we went through our struggle, Angie met a friend, who we’ll call “Helen” … because that is her name.   She is 2nd from the left, in the top row.  Her story is completely different from ours, but the impact of her son’s adoption has made a HUGE impact on our story and plan to adopt.

Helen set us up with the same private adoption attorney out of Louisiana, who introduced her to her son (Finn), who also only accepts referrals for his services.  These adoptions are completely closed, which means that once the child has been signed over into our care, they are ours, and there is no possibility of the mother changing her mind down the line, expecting to regain access to the child.   The both of us strongly believe that by doing things this way, that it leaves the child’s future wide open for the best of EVERYTHING.  Basically allowing God to have His way in the child’s life.

Right now, we are in the process of having a home study done.  Our paperwork is in, and our lawyer will soon match us with a mother.  Our preferences are WIDE open … so again, God’s gonna do what He’s gonna do.  If you haven’t caught on yet, we strongly believe this, and that belief is the theme of our story.

To end … We will keep you all posted.  We are very excited and hope you’ll check back with us either on Facebook, or through this blog.  If you have our number, you can text or call, but don’t always expect an immediate response, or much progress.  We don’t know a timetable yet or any more details than what you have now.  This is hot off the press for us as well.  We also will only share something once we feel it to be rock solid, and progress is being made.  No sense in getting worked up until there is real work being done.

Please keep ALL of us in your prayers.  By this, we mean the mother, our lawyer, his staff, and our families.  We know these people are all essential to making this work, and are a part of God’s plan.   So that you know, you are part of the team as well.  We appreciate your prayers and encouragement.  We look forward to introducing you to the  someday soon.  Until then …

“Glory to Jesus
Ancient and strong
Giver of love
And the theme of my song

Glory to Jesus
Ancient and strong
Come to Your people
And carry us home” 

– Andrew Peterson

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Behold the Lamb of God : An Advent Narrative

I know it been forever since I’ve contributed to this blog, and I also knew it would take something significant to get me to actually sit down and write again.  The good news is, friends, that I’ve found that something significant to share, and it’s a book I’ve been reading this month.

I strongly suggest you get a copy of Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God : An Advent Narrative.  I first discovered this book earlier this fall, while visiting one of  my favorite websites, www.RabbitRoom.com , where you can read about our God’s love for the arts, in the beauty of His creation that is this world.  The book also shares its title with an amazing compilation of music from Andrew Peterson.  Each Christmas, Andrew and a troupe of artists travel the country to share Behold the Lamb of God, live in concert, to tell the musical story of the coming of Christ.  Angie and I have seen this concert several times over the last six years.  Each time taking friends to come along and enjoy the beautiful evening of music and laughter.  It’s the perfect way to start the Christmas season.

Just like Peterson’s music, Ramsey’s book has been a blessing to me this 2011 Christmas season.  It has allowed me to receive the all so familiar Christmas and see it once again with new eyes.  A lot of people try to do this every year, during the holidays, and present the Gospel story with a new spin, in efforts to reach those who have yet to hear it.  Or to reach out to those would normally let the greatest story ever told fall upon deaf ears.  Although I appreciate those people’s efforts and their creativity, I’m choosing to write for the first time in …. for Pete’s sake …. almost a year … to tell you how I’m reconnecting with the “old, old, story” that I love this Christmas.

Behold the Lamb of God, not only is an amazing narrative for the season of Advent, but it is also a clear and beautiful reminder to yours truly how the coming of Christ is the also the climax to the even larger adventure / love story, that is better known as the Bible.

(Insert Screeching Halt Sound Effect)

Some of you are now wondering one of two things …

a) “Wait just one minute, Aquila … What are you talking about? The Bible is a bunch of stories, which took place sooooo long ago, and are now amassed together in one book …” A book most of us will never take the time to read from cover to cover, because we’d rather just skip around and hit the stories we remember from flannel-graph time during Sunday school.

OR  b) “Hey J … Duh.  Why do you think all of those amazing stories we put together in one big book?”

I’ll admit that, before reading Ramsey’s book, I found myself encamped with group A.  I loved all the Sunday school stories from my childhood.  I understood how each story displayed how God used significant characters in the Bible to avoid a flood and save some animals and their family from drowning, or a mission to free slaves from the bondage of work camps and create a new nation of their own, and how one man can make a difference with a rock and sling.  I loved hearing the stories of how God used people to change the world for His glory back in those days.  Each story was remarkable all on its own, and I can recount most of these stories without the use of the Good Book as reference.

And yet somehow, through recently starting to read this Advent narrative, at 33 years old, I’m finally piecing together how each Biblical story (Old Testament and New) is uniquely connected to the telling one major, overlapping story.  And that the story being told is how God loves His creation so much, that ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, He has been fitting to win us back.  That He loved us enough to leave His high place, at the Throne of Heaven, to come down to Earth to be amongst us in the flesh.  He became a messenger of redemption, and declared Himself the Son of God, in hopes of drawing His creation back to Him for good.

Behold the Lamb of God has shown me that every piece of the puzzle, that are the stories of the Old Testament, leads up to humanity discovering the one missing piece of the puzzle, which is Jesus.  He’s the piece of the puzzle that makes assembling the rest of the puzzle so easy to finish.  Only through finding Jesus can we clearly see the masterpiece, that is God’s unending love for His children.  This year (through the help of Ramsey’s book) the true, tall-tale of the Coming of Christ, makes both the Old and New Testament come alive, once again in a way I have never been able to see before.

I know this is going to change everything about how I read scripture and how I attend church.  It has to.  There’s simply no way to going back to how I used to see the Bible and my relationship with God.

I only wish I had come to this realization sooner.

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