Monday, January 31, 2011

Minnesota Girl

My mom got me this shirt awhile ago.


It says (in case it's hard to read): "sassy, stylish, snowmobile-racing, wool-socks-wearing, fish-filleting, yah-you-betcha-saying, all american, Minnesota girl (do I look like I grew up in a little house on the prairie???)" I'm not modeling it because my modeling career is temporarily on hold (large belly making any camera angle not so flattering).

Now, for a little theology. I would never say, "God caused me to live in Minnesota." I wouldn't say that because I don't think God would cause anyone to live in MN. I don't care how Calvinist one might be; I'm not sure any Calvinist living in MN would say, "God caused me to live here." It's just too harsh of a statement:).

However, I will say that it has certainly prepared me for living in the Czech Republic. Thankfully, it doesn't get as cold here! My days of youth in Minnesota have definitely given me the strength to survive a winter. So, when my dear friend, Lauren, text me today and said, "wanna take the kids for a walk", the -8 degrees fahrenheit showing on my iPhone did not stop this Minnesota girl from bundling up a two year old, grabbing the dog, and braving it. I'm a little humbled that it was the Pennsylvania girl's idea (Lauren), but still:)!

And, Cecelia? She doesn't seem to mind the cold at all! In fact, both days this weekend, we bundled her up and sent her outside with the dog, and Cece lasted for a good 20 minutes before coming to the door and saying, "I'm done." This is the girl that can't play in another room by herself for more than two minutes (she's a people person). So, she didn't mind our walk today at all; she loved it, especially because Toby and Lia were with her!




By the way, the shirt is 100% correct, except the "yah-you-bettcha-saying" part; let the record stand, that I have never in my life said, "yah-you-bettcha"!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ultrasound 4

Today, we had our fourth ultrasound since the laser ablation procedure. As he was doing the ultrasound, the Czech doctor just kept saying, "this is good . . . this is good . . . this is good". As we watched the boys move on the monitor while the doctor got his measurements, Brian and I just kept whispering things to each other--what a difference from three weeks ago . . . that's the heart beating . . . there's a full bladder . . . the amount of fluid is good . . . the smaller one is moving so much more. Now, of course, we listened to hear the doctor confirm our "readings"! The doctor reminded us again, that while things are great today, we still need to monitor these little guys week-by-week! But, ultrasound four went well. Brian said afterward, "you're going to need a double stroller". I took that to mean--buy whatever you want sweetie:)!

In all seriousness, we are just overwhelmed. Again, we are overwhelmed by all the love, support and prayer that we have received. Every time I think about the reality of TTTS (Twin-to-Twin-Transfusion-Syndrome) twenty years ago, I am overwhelmed that God uses his people to bring about a truly miraculous procedure that changes the outcome so dramatically. Mostly, we are overwhelmed at how personal our God is, and despite the vast needs throughout the entire world, He is so real to us individually!

Thank you again for all your love and support!

Much Love,
Aleisha (for all of us)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cece's Afro

Cece is two years old now, and the 'fro keeps growing. I love her hair, and I love the 'fro, but it's just not fair to her to have her wear it like this too long. It gets so tangled and styling protects it, but every two weeks, I comb it out and admire it for a few minutes.



After a brief moment of "freakin' awesome free hair", I stalk some amazing hair-doing moms online and get some inspiration.




I was trying to take pictures of her newest style, but a song came on, so Cece had to dance.




Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ultrasound 3

Today we got a really great report from the ultrasound specialist. First, as soon as the doctor put that magic wand on my belly, Brian and I said almost in unison, "their bladders are both full." The doctor laughed and said, "you must be experts; there are doctors who can't tell that." I think he was exaggerating on our behalf, but none-the-less. So, both babies are peeing well! Their amniotic sacs are almost the same size now. And, the "doppler" issue, which was described to us in more detail today, is not showing up anymore, which is a good thing! The doctor said, "today, things look good."

My brother Rollie said to me today, "there are some things in life that rationale can't teach you." I feel like this last week has been a culmination of almost three years of trying to better understand faith and God's "will". I have read books, heard sermons, listened to podcasts, and read God's word. All of which have been really helpful. I was learning, but I was in one of the first stages of understanding, and I just couldn't put it all into words.

Then, in one week, we lived what I had been trying to put into words for the past three years. Tonight, as I finally described some of it to my brother, I found myself beaming because I was able to articulate some new things that I believe about faith and how God works. They really aren't so profound, but new to me in the deepest parts of my soul.

Right now, Brian is making Nestle chocolate chip cookies (the chocolate chips are imported from the states:)), which is really one of only three desserts that I like. Cece, after carefully examining the "owie" on my stomach and saying, "looks better", is tucked into bed. And, I am feeling really thankful--both for the good news of ultrasound number 3 (only 8 or so more to go), and thankful for a new understanding of what it means to have faith.

Like we've been saying, we don't know the outcome, and we still have a long road ahead, but what we do want is to amaze God with our faith in the process. Thank you for standing firm with us in faith and for praying on our behalf! Please keep praying--8 more ultrasounds to go!

With love,
Aleisha (for all five of us)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Awaiting Ultrasound 3

I just watched Brian and Cece walk out the door for church. I stayed home. I am not sure what contractions feel like. But I was having some mild pain today, and the doctor told me that while I have no real limitations, if I feel any pain, I should rest. I'm feeling better now, but I cried as I watched Cece and Brian leave. Why? A lot of reasons (probably a lot of hormones).

We are waiting for ultrasound number 3. Despite the tears of the last few minutes, there is a lot to be thankful for. First, upon arrival back to Czech, my dear friend, Lauren, contacted the doctor who delivered two of her three children at a hospital 30 minutes from here. After getting advice from a specialist in the states and the doctor in Belgium about the kind of care that I would need now, Lauren asked her doctor, who is the head of the department, if he and his colleagues would be able to provide the kind of care needed. Much of the need comes in the level of NICU as the babies are likely to come early. The doctor here in Czech explained that their NICU is one of the two largest in all the Czech Republic. He said they can handle all levels except severe congenital heart abnormalities. We are very confident that we can finish our care here in Czech.

We have an ultrasound with one of the specialists on Tuesday. He will be checking to see that the level of amniotic fluid is growing in the sac of the smaller baby (pee little guy, pee:)) and not growing too much in the other. He will also be checking the heart of the bigger baby--as they were still a little concerned about that when we left Belgium. I will be getting an ultrasound once a week for the next month and once every two or three weeks until I give birth.

Also, we found out this week that our landlord is willing to talk about selling the house we are renting to us. The price mentioned seemed very fair, and we are meeting with them tomorrow to discuss details.

I am sure that every pregnancy is one of faith. I have lived vicariously through three of my dear sister-in-law, Karen's. Asking her all kinds of questions that she was gracious enough to answer (and just not shy about answering:)). So, I know that the days and weeks between doctor visits can require a lot of faith. I was feeling that way before I found out the babies had TTTS. Now, I feel like it's a minute-by-minute pregnancy of faith. It's not that I'm not believing in God's ability to redeem this or that I'm not standing firm. It's just that it's taking a lot more energy than I realized it would.

There is a verse that my cousin Melanie pointed out to me many years ago from Psalms 84:

5Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
8O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!

The NIV says "who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage". That's kind of how we feel tonight as we await ultrasound number 3 and 4 and 5 and . . . . It's going to be a long road, and it's going to require going from "strength to strength". However, that's kind of real-life. I also think there can be something really beautiful about going from strength to strength and needing God so much that it makes you cry!

Thank you for trudging along this road with us!

Much Love,
Aleisha (for all of us)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ultrasound Two - Email 5

Hello everyone, this is Brian.

We just got back from our second ultrasound. It was fun seeing both of the boys moving around and to see such amazing differences from when we arrived on Friday night. The smaller boy is starting to pee a little more - while they would like to see more, they are encouraged that his sac is growing. The larger baby is still as active as ever and it makes it difficult for the doctor to get accurate readings. But they can see that there are still abnormalities in his heart rate and are hopeful this will turn around in the coming weeks.

The doctor's exact words were that they were "mildly optimistic". That isn't the resounding confirmation that we were hoping for, but it is hope... something we had so little of just a few short days ago. And those words also don't tell the entire story. God is not done moving, and we are not done praying. And these past 3 days have provided us with an understanding about the power of prayer and an appreciation for the mystery of prayer in phenomenal new ways.

When we arrived back at the room this morning, Aleisha repeated the words that have brought us this far - stand firm against the attack. As we step forward, we know that the road is still difficult for our sons, but we now have new understanding of how to stand upright with hope and courage having taken this journey to Belgium. And we know there is great reason to not just be optimistic, but to be expectant.

Tomorrow afternoon we get to go home and grab hold of Cece and squeeze her hard. We have missed her so much, but she has been very well taken care of by our family back in Czech. I have been thinking a lot about Cece and how God brought her into our lives. It seems he has a knack for making miracle stories in how he expands our family. We can't wait to tell all 3 of our kids how God brought them to us - these are stories worth cherishing.

I told Aleisha I was having trouble finishing this email. I want to find some way to express what each and every one of you (and the countless who aren't even on this list) mean to us. I am convinced that there are not words. Your emails, your messages, your hope, the scripture you have sent, the ways you have put into words the emotions we are feeling, and most importantly... your yearnings on the behalf of our boys. Thank you. We love you.

We earnestly ask you to keep praying for our boys.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ultrasound One-email 4

We just wanted to send another quick update to let you know that we had our first ultrasound post surgery this morning. The doctor told us that they are very happy with the results. The smaller baby is peeing a little bit; the doctor said that was good, and the amount of fluid in his sack is growing--another good sign. The larger baby is doing good as well. We have one more ultrasound tomorrow morning; after that, I will be released from the hospital, and we fly back to Czech on Tuesday.

I have never in all my life experienced this kind of love and support from a group of people believing in the power of Christ's redemption. There really are no words; just tears that I wish you could see to communicate how much we appreciate how you all have stood with us through some of the most difficult, yet beautiful days in our lives! Oh, I just wish I could hug you all!

Much, much love,
Aleisha (for all of us)

Update Post Precedure-email 3

Hi everyone. This is Brian. I wanted to give you all a quick update on how things went today.

The doctor's flight landed at 11:00 and Aleisha was in the operating room at noon. At 12:30, Dr. Deprest came to see me and said everything was done and went very smoothly. He made it seem like he was just in the other room brushing his teeth!

Aleisha was awake during the procedure and heard them as they easily split 4-5 veins. While our boys had been sharing the same placenta, after today they will each essentially have their own placenta to grow with. Tomorrow and Monday we will have ultrasounds to determine whether the procedure was a success. What we are praying for is that the donor baby (smaller one) begins to urinate. This will be a very good sign. And now that the recipient donor has less fluid and is not receiving from the donor, his heart no longer needs to work as hard - this is a good thing since the doctors said he is really the sicker baby right now.

Aleisha also had 2.5 liters of amniotic fluid removed during the procedure. This is an indication of just how much excess fluid there was and how far this had progressed. She feels a huge release of pressure on her belly.

The next two days are important, and we ask you to pray that these two boys would adjust well and that we would go home with hope. This procedure results in an 85% chance that one of the babies will survive and 50-60% chance that both will. But we know that God extends beyond these numbers, and we are praying that every step from here forward would be steps of health for both of these boys.

Thank you for standing with us.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Prayer for our Boys - email #2

Dear Ones,

Forty eight hours ago, we could not have dreamed that we would be in Leuven, Belgium awaiting a laser ablation procedure to be done by Professor and Dr. Jan Deprest, one of the top specialist in this field in the world with the hope of saving the lives of both our babies!

On Thursday, after finding out that I was diagnosed with Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), my brother, Joel, called his mother-in-law, a doctor in Minnesota. She immediately contacted a specialist who does laser ablation surgery, one of very few doctors in MN who does. Joel called with the contact information. I called his office and spoke to a nurse. Within several minutes, another specialist, Dr. Block returned my call. I explained my situation to him as best I could. Maybe it's because I live so far away, but I feel like never in my life has a doctor's office been so helpful and patient. Dr. Block told me that he would be hard pressed to tell me to fly back to the states because the experts in the field, who trained him and his colleagues, were located in Belgium. He offered to email Dr. Jan Deprest personally about my situation.

Friday morning, I awoke to an email from Dr. Deprest with information about who to contact from his team. I called this very helpful Belgian women right away; she said, "come today." Brian booked the flights at 9:30am Friday morning and at 7:10pm, Brian and I were the hospital in Leuven, and I was getting an ultrasound. (Our dear friends, the Ellenwood's who also serve on the Bteam in Czech, are watching Cece.)

I have to say though, your prayers were so important. I'm not sure I've encountered such spiritual warfare in all my life. An amazing friend, Petr, offered to drive us to Krakow (two hours away) to catch our flight to Belgium; his car wasn't working right the whole way there. When we arrived in Krakow, the plane was delayed and we were told it may not even fly that day. When we were finally able to confirm our reservation, it took so long that we passed the check-in deadline. We were able to get through security in time. However, once we began boarding we were told that we needed a doctor's note because I am visibly pregnant. Three airline workers, including a supervisor, stood between us and the gate, despite our best pleadings, saying that we could not board. I called the helpful Belgian women, who also tried to talk to the airline, and she began working on a fax. Then, suddenly three seconds after saying an adamant no again, suddenly they were asking for our passports and telling us to board. Only God knows how that happened; there was no way the fax had arrived in that amount of time.

We arrived several hours later to the hospital here in Leuven. A doctor did an extensive ultrasound to confirm the extent of the TTTS. He explained to us that we are in stage three, and after consulting Dr. Desprest, they wanted to do surgery the next day (today at noon Belgian time). Maybe it was because we already knew the severity of the situation, so we weren't focused on that, but I can't even communicate to you the hope that this doctor infused us with as he explained the procedure and the various outcomes. This surgery is by far the best way to save both babies, and with relatively no risk to me. If left alone, in my situation, there is a 99% chance that both babies would die.

As I lay in bed last night, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with thankfulness that God uses his children to bring about change in this world. To think that there is a procedure not even available twenty years ago that has incredible success at reversing such a grim prognosis. Incredible.

Please continue to pray. We are standing with so much hope that both babies will be born healthy.

Like I said, I have the procedure at noon, and then we are to stay in Belgium until Monday. We will know then if the surgery itself (like what they hope to accomplish) was successful. Beyond that, we will need to closely monitor both babies to ensure they continue to grow properly.

You have no idea how much it means to us to be so well loved and prayed for!

With so much hope!
Aleisha (for all of us)

Prayer for our Boys - email #1

Dear Friends and Family,

We are writing to you tonight in need of your prayers.

I (Aleisha) had a routine doctors appointment (19 weeks) that led to the discovery of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Brian and I are still unclear about what all that means, but we were told by the doctor here that the prognosis, in my case especially, is not good.

My appointment today was a difficult one. A dear friend came with me and was crying as she was translating what the doctor was saying in Czech. I tried my best to ask as many questions as possible, but there are still some unknowns. The doctor is sending the results and measurements of my ultrasound to a specialist who will be contacting us tomorrow. We will see that specialist early next week and are sure to know more then.

Here's what we know now. One of the babies is growing faster than the other (about two weeks ahead of the other). The twins are identical, so they share the same placenta. They each have their own amniotic sack, but one of the twin's amniotic sack is significantly smaller than the other one. There is a procedure that is commonly done in this situation; however the location of my placenta makes the procedure even more of a risk than normal.

Also, this afternoon, on a less crucial, but still discouraging note, we found out that our landlords are hoping to sell the house we are renting. They have a buyer in mind. This could mean that we would need to find a different living situation by the end of March.

In our bible study this week, we studied Mark 9. The disciples tried unsuccessfully to drive out a demon from a boy. Jesus arrived on the scene, focused on the battle with the demon, and the boy was delivered. Surely, there is so much to learn from this passage. However, through our discussion, what hit me the most is the need to stand firm against attack. I know that can sound cliche. It can also be hard to define what that means in individual situations. However, for me today, one thing that I am standing firm against is the temptation to believe that we are not supposed to be here in Czech. I am not believing that. I know we are supposed to be here. I'm not sure why all of this is happening, but I am praying for strength to continue to stand firm.

Please pray with us! One of the most difficult decisions we are facing is whether to continue to receive care here in Czech or to go back to the states. I'm sure that's hard for some of you to understand. Please know that we are continuing to gather information from trusted doctors in the states to help us navigate that.

Like never before--thank you for standing with us!

Aleisha (for all of us)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas Break

Over ten years ago, I came as an intern with Josiah Venture and served with the Carlson's for a summer. Now, over ten years later, we serve full-time with JV an hour away from them. It still feels surreal sometimes!

Here's Kelsey, the Carlson's oldest, and I the summer of 2000.


Here is Kelsey and her sister, Jillian, playing with our daughter (and Chloe, the new puppy) in our backyard over this Christmas break.






Love it!!