A Battle for Life: August’s Birth

12314574_10153283054171608_6435122065943222663_oAugust turned 8 years old on Monday, which is hard to believe.  The night of his birth was definitely one Robyn and I will never forget.  After three kids, we didn’t expect that our fourth child’s birth would be the most difficult, and easily one of the scariest things we’ve ever gone through.

Luckily, I wrote the whole thing down just two days later.  Here’s the original version of what happened on September 12, 2008–the night we battled for the life of our youngest child before he was even born.

It has been a whirlwind weekend. What was supposed to be an easy delivery turned into a night of fear and worry and a battle between life and death. Sounds melodramatic, but it’s not, because life is what we are always fighting for against the Evil One. He hates life and will do anything he can to snuff it out.

Some may call it just a delivery with complications, but I will truly forever remember the birth of my son August as a day when God confirmed for me that my children are a gift of life, precious beyond words, and each to be cherished and protected against the powers of the enemy.

We went in at 1:00 pm on Thursday, September 11, to be induced. The doctor was worried that August was going to be too big. That Robyn would have a difficult time delivering him if he went all the way to term.

We made arrangements for the older kids. Got to the hospital and were placed in a room with a great view of the outside–lush green trees and beautifully, unseasonably blue, Seattle skies. The process began, and within hours, the contractions were strong and things looked good.

But an alarming pattern started as well–with every strong contraction, August’s heart rate dropped. At first, it only dropped a few degrees, from a baseline of 145 to 120. But as the evening wore on, and the contractions got stronger, the more his heart rate fell. 90. 80. It would always go back up after, but the consistency was beginning to worry our doctor and nurse.

They decided to slow down the process. Austen had had a drop in heart rate during birth, but it had rectified itself. Perhaps the umbilical cord was in the wrong place, being squeezed too tightly? I went out to the family members who had been waiting and gave them an update. It wasn’t going to happen tonight. Go home, we’ll call you.

We said goodnight. It was around 10 pm.

Our doctor came to the room and would not leave. She stayed as Robyn received her epidural, holding her hand through the process. Now the pain was less–but the contractions, and August’s reactions–were getting worse. We signed a consent for a Cesarean, just in case.

As I wrote the words above 8 years ago, I suddenly realized that the story was much more intense than my narrative made it sound.  This is why the rest of August’s birth story is written in the present tense.

At 12:23 am, August’s heart rate drops to 60, fights its way back, and drops again. In an instant, what was routine becomes a battle for the life of my son.

Robyn is moved to a gurney. There is a rush of activity, nurses coming from nowhere, the rushed conversation of “there’s someone else scheduled–no, I’ve called it–we’re going first.” Robyn is being readied to leave the delivery room and head to the OR. I have time for three thoughts, all of them involve prayer.

I call my mother, who is watching Audrey and Austen. I quickly tell her that Robyn is on the way to the OR–please pray. I call my mother-in-law and tell her the same–and to come quickly, Robyn wants her there. I quickly compose a text message and send it to a random selection of friends and family. I ask them again to pray.

By 12:34 we are in the OR, I am putting on scrubs, a mask. I am terrified. Thoughts of loss and death overwhelm me. I am going to lose either my child or my wife. Life will lose tonight.

I enter the room and see my wife on a table. She is being covered, prepped. There are three doctors, several nurses, and the team from the Infant Intensive Care Unit awaits in case they need to revive my boy. I cannot hold back the tears. I weep.

Robyn sees me. “Don’t cry. I need you to be strong.” I tell her I am not crying and I manage to stop the tears–but I am still terrified. I can’t see straight–tubes, scrubs, machines, a sterile clang of instruments. The doctors begin working in hushed tones–I focus on Robyn and try to distract her from what is going on. She is awake, only slightly uncomfortable, and getting very tired.

The noises stop. The doctors do not move.

Robyn and I fear the worst. Then suddenly, a cry. I see my boy. He is screaming, angry, scared. But alive.

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He is quickly wiped off and taken to the nurses who examine him and determine that whatever happened in the womb did not hurt him. He is beautiful, loud, and pink. A little dried blood is on his nose, but he stops crying when they hand him to me. I take him to Robyn and we both cry. Life has won.

Turns out that the umbilical cord was wrapped around one shoulder, through his legs, and over the other shoulder–almost like a harness. There was no way he was going to come out the natural way. But he is here, alive, and sleeping loudly in the room next door.

Life wins. The prayers of the faithful are answered, and a little boy whose name means “Revered and Exalted,” helps me do both to the very giver of Life. I revere Him for His power, His glory, and the fact that He reveals Himself to me. I exalt Him for His life, for His nature, and for His providence.

Sleep well, August. The battle for your life has just begun.


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I am thankful for Doctor Robertson, every nurse, every attendant, friend and family member who did their part to bring this sweet and wonderful boy into this world.  We can’t imagine our lives without our Goose, Gus-Gus, or any other name he goes by.  He’s one incredible kid.

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3 (More) Things Every Kid Needs

As I’ve mentioned before, there are 3 Things Every Kid Needs.

A Job to Do. Something to Celebrate.  To Say Thanks.

But there are three more things every kid needs, too.  These three other things can help make the difference in how your kids turn out.  Remember, parenting isn’t just about what happens today, in the now, but parenting about what you want your kids to become, in the future.  This is parenting with the end in mind.

Those three other things?  Here they are:

Kids Need Other Adults Who Can Speak Into Their Lives.  While you might be the biggest influence on your child’s life, you aren’t (and can’t be) the only one.  Smart parents will help choose who those people are, instead of leaving it just to chance, or to your kids (who will choose celebrities, movie stars, singers, and the like).

Find some great adults who can speak into your kids lives about the stuff you can’t or aren’t able to.  These people can be coaches or directors, church leaders or mentors.  They can be the mechanic who works on your car, or the neighbor who has that amazing yard.  Find quality, well-respected, mature, good people, and help your kids connect to them.  Church, school, neighborhood, sports field, neighborhood theatre.  They can be found everywhere.  They can encourage and cheer on your kids in ways that you never can.  Your kids will have other influences–why not be intentional about who those influences are?

Kids Need Experiences More Than Things.  We place a high value on things in our culture.  Having what is new, owning what is now–it’s very important.  Trouble is, things don’t last.  That great new TV you just bought has already been made obsolete.  Your phone is out of date, and you’re still in a contract for two more years.  And don’t even talk about that computer.  Sure, you will probably hold on to your house for a long time, but the furniture in it–it’s already dated, right?

It’s not new to hear that memories are the only things you can hold on to, but it’s true.  If you have a house full of all the newest and nicest things, but never spend your money creating memories, you’re teaching your kids the wrong thing.  Possessions come and go, but memories last forever.  The National Parks I visited with my family growing up?  The road trips I’ve taken my kids on?  Those are shared experiences that we will never forget.  I don’t even remember the color of the last two couches I had.  Things are great, but they don’t last.  Doing things with your kids and creating memories together?  That lasts forever.

Kids Need Grace.  Your children hear all the time about how they’ve messed up, how they don’t measure up, where they have gone wrong.  As parents, it is our job to correct and train our children to make wise choices as they grow up.  But when they don’t, what is the response?  Parents, disappointed in their own failures, often maximize or blow out of proportion a child’s failure.  I know–the response I’ve given to my youngest son over his lack of appetite when my wife has made an amazing dinner far outweighs the actual circumstance.

But what do I want most when I screw up?  I want grace.  And yet, I can’t show grace to a kid who thinks anything with green in it is poison?  You get it–if we want to have grace-filled children, who are quick to forgive, slow to anger, and generally awesome, we need to be grace-filled parents.  When your kids gets a less than perfect report card, it’s fine to have consequences–but measure them with grace.  When your child spills that glass of wine all over the carpet, remember the grace you received for a much greater slight.  When kids see grace lived out, they will live out grace as well.

 

ME Time

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 18 years of marriage, parenting, working, etc., it’s how much I value my personal time.  When you don’t make time for yourself, you quickly lose yourself.  I know from experience.  Is carving out an hour or two a week easy?  Not always.  But is it necessary?  Yes!  There’s a reason so many SAHMs get jealous of their husband’s lunches out, meetings, and even time alone in the car.  Sometimes a mom’s (or SAHD’s) time spent in the car is listening to the Disney Junior Soundtrack.

The reason I decided to go back to work 5 years ago, was because I needed some alone time.  I know that seems like a strange reason to work outside of the home, but with 4 kids, a desire to find out who I am, and desperate love of adventure, this seemed like the most logical decision for me and my family.  I needed to be away from my family, just for a few hours a week.  Without the distractions of a sink full of dishes or kids tugging on my clothes, I could figure out what I really wanted and who I was created to be.  So many people lose sight of this went they get caught up in their work or families or even in themselves.  In the last 5 years, I’ve come up with 3 ways to help you reclaim your ME time.

  1. Schedule your ME time.  I talked a couple of weeks ago about how important keeping to a schedule is.  Put some ME time into that schedule.  Seriously.  Even if you have to schedule in a mall sesh and hire a babysitter. Do it and stick to it. This should be as important as your work schedule, grocery shopping, or doctor appointments. Make your schedule and stick to it.
  2. Find something you love and do it often. I have several loves. I love to work out.  I don’t compromise my workouts.  I love to spend time outside.  If I have a free hour during the day and it’s nice out, I spend it outside on my patio. I love pedicures. I try to save $20 out of my budget each month (only $5/week, so it’s a no-brainer) for pedicures.  But you better believe that it gets scheduled!  What do you love?  Even if you have to start small, figure it out, do it, and do it often.
  3. Give back to someone else.  Ok, you’ve found yourself, you take care of yourself, now it’s your turn to help someone else. If you have friends or family members that are struggling to figure out what they need, offer to help.  If you can watch your sister’s kids so she can take herself out to to a movie, do it.  If you see that your best friend is too busy at work, invite her over for dinner. Once you figure out what you love and you make it a priority, help someone else find their time and passion, too.

 

3 Rules Every Family Should Live By

Since my eldest was born 17 years ago, my wife and I have realized there are many things people say children should learn, many things parents should focus on to ensure their kids turn out great, to have a happy family.  We’ve tried a few of them.  Some of them have worked, but many of them have been real stinkers.

We’ve done our best.  We’ve had some highs, and we’ve had some lows.  We don’t focus a lot on grades, we don’t sign up for a lot of extracurricular activities.  We may have yelled more than we meant to, and I’m pretty sure we’ve frustrated our kids’ teachers more than once with those middle of the school year vacations.

Yet, in spite of our mistakes, I’m told quite often, “You have great kids,” or “Your family always seems to have so much fun.”  I like that.  I love it when someone compliments my children and says nice things about them.  It means a lot to me when someone notices the smiles on our faces.  As a parent, we know all the ways our kids screw up, so when someone stops and says something nice, it makes me stop.  When they compliment our family, it makes me pause and wonder–maybe we’re doing something right?

Recently, I think I discovered what my wife and I are doing right. In our flawed but fun way of doing things, I think we’ve hit on the right formula for having a great family, and some pretty good kids.  Here are our family’s three rules.  I’m hopeful these will work for you, too.

Rule #1: Create memories.  Wherever you can.  Whenever you can.

Whether it’s a National Park, a trip to Disneyland, or just dressing up like pirates for free donuts–memories are a lasting gift we can give our kids that will outlast us.  Do we go to Disneyland a lot?  Yep.  Have we worn out vehicles by driving on long road trips to National Parks across the West?  You bet.  You can save a lot of money, have a great plan for retirement, and have nicer things.  But I’d really rather have the memories, because these will stick with me–and them–for the rest of our lives.  Because of these memory-making adventures, we’ve created an incredible familial bond.  The bonus?  We actually like being together.

Rule #2: Serve others.  Individually. Collectively.

As a pastor, my kids are stuck at church.  A lot.  This could either be a cause of resentment, or it could be a way to help my kids discover ways they can make a difference in the life of someone else.  When we serve others, we get the focus off ourselves and start thinking about others.  All three of my oldest kids serve in some capacity at our church.  My oldest kids have acted in various Vacation Bible Camps, lead worship, run media, and lead small groups of elementary age kids.  My youngest daughter serves every week leading 2 year olds.  There’s nothing better than seeing them leading kids younger than themselves, and finding ways to use their talents for the good of someone else.  And to be honest, my favorite moments in ministry have been those days when we all get to do it together.

Rule #3: Show honor.  At home.  At school.  Everywhere.

We are all inherently selfish people, and we all naturally think of ourselves first.  When we focus on honoring others first, in our words and actions, we remember that “It’s not all about me.”  We use an honor chart to keep track of whether we are acting honorably or not (even the parents), and it really helps us put others first.  If I can teach my kids to live and act and speak honorably to others, then I will have done something good for the world.

There you have it.  Our three family rules.  If you do #2 and #3 right, go out and celebrate, which leads you back to #1.  Repeat as often as possible.

5 Ways to Make Every Minute of Your Day Count

Preparation is everything.  In fact, I save time, money, and excuses by being as prepared as possible every day.

I prep everything from laundry to dishes to dinner.  Everyone has their own way to prepare for what is coming their way, but I believe one of the best ways is a list.  The old-fashioned note pad and pencil kind of lists.  Tangible, where I can stick it on the fridge or leave it out on the desk so I don’t forget it.  Apps on the phone are good, but once you close it, you can forget what you made the list for in the first place. In nearly 18 years of marriage and managing the lives of two working parents and four kids–including two teenagers–lists of every kind have kept us organized, on budget, on time–and sane.  Here are the top 5 ways to prepare your lists and make every minute of your day count.

images-21.  MAKE LISTS.  What do you need to do?  Write it down.  I have a calendar. I have a menu planner.  I have a shopping list.  I have a budget tracker. I have a honey-do list (don’t freak out, hubby and I share this list). I actually keep a notepad in my desk for potential vacation dates.  (You have to have something to look forward to, right?)  By making lists, you know exactly what you need, when you need it, and it helps with mommy-brain.  It cuts down on your excuses and makes you feel more productive. (Chore lists help with the kids, too!)  The trick to so many lists is to THROW IT OUT as soon as you are done with it.  Clutter is a nightmare and if you don’t need it, out it goes. If you need help finding or planning lists, Pinterest is a great resource.

2.  PLAN YOUR MENU. Menu planning can save you money, time, and those annoying “What’s for dinners” as soon as the kids get home from school. Plan your menus based on seasonal selections.  We eat a ton of salad in the summer because almost every single vegetable is in season and it’s inexpensive. But be careful to just plan out a week in advance.  Sometimes schedules change and if you plan too far in advance, you may have just thrown away some good money at the grocery store not to mention the planning that went in to your menu for 4th of July weekend. Just to get an idea of how our week looks, we eat at home 6 nights per week.  One night is a dine-out night. And we always have at least one night a week for leftovers.  Not my kids’ favorite, but it needs to be done.

3.  SHOP FROM YOUR GROCERY LIST. I plan all of our family meals, all the way down to snacks, for the week and shop from my list. Believe it or not, I can feed our family of six on an average $100 per week of groceries. And it’s because I shop from a list. Shopping from lists also helps cut down on those “Oh crap, I forgot lettuce at the store and tonight is chicken caesar salad night,” which also result in spontaneous purchases. Believe me, I’m the queen of spontaneity, so I know it happens. You just need to stay diligent and use your shopping lists. Keep a tally on your calculator (I use the one on my phone) and be honest. Use coupons or check grocery websites for sales. If you plan your menu based on what’s on sale and in season, you will save loads of money. Then use that extra money for a splurge. I try to get in one splurge a week. It’s a challenge and sometimes not fun, but once you start figuring out how to shop and save, it gets to be more fun than challenging.

4.  USE A CALENDAR.  This isn’t a new concept for most people, but I tried to get away without using one for about a year after I went back to work.  It didn’t work very well for me. Now I use a couple of different calendars.  I keep a family calendar right next to my desk.  It is 100% just for keeping schedules straight.  I write down my work schedule, my daughter’s work schedule, family appointments, and anything I need to remember on a daily basis. I only update my desk calendar a month in advance, so it is the most current and up-to-date.  I also keep a calendar on my iPhone.  This calendar links my schedule, my husband’s schedule, kids’ schedules, and anything else that I need to  remember from the near and far future.

5.  MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT. More important than lists is time (it’s a big thing with our family). This is a tough one for me because I am a procrastinater at heart. I love to meander.  And the more I have to do, the longer the meandering becomes.  So, how do you snap out of it and just do it?  GET OUT THAT LIST OF STUFF TO DO–AND DO IT!  I save my luxury time for when I’m done with my to-do’s. Don’t wait to do your 3 loads of laundry until you’re 30 minutes away from picking your kids up at school. Don’t wait until the rain clouds come in to get your run in.  Do it now.  Don’t wait. Then relax and bask in the fact that your do to’s are done.

If you have any tips or ideas that work great for you, share them!  I love to hear how other mommies (and daddies) are making their time work for them.

The Most Important Thing You Can Give Your Kids This Summer

Why does your family go on vacation so often?

Not long ago someone asked me this question, and I was surprised, because I don’t go on vacation more than most people.  I’m allotted a certain amount of weeks off per year, and I take that.  Three weeks, to be exact.

But then I also realized it appears like we go on vacation because we are often off on some sort of adventure.  A night in a hotel here, a trip to Portland there.  A quick drive to Sonic for milkshakes or a trip to Mt. Rainier National Park to play in the snow.  And suddenly, it looks like we do go on vacation a lot.  So why do we do that?  Why do we create these “Montague Adventures” as often as our schedules allow?  Because of the most important thing I can give my kids.

Time.

This is why my family puts such a big importance on creating adventures wherever we can.  It’s why we have chosen to forego a bigger house and why my wife and I both work extra hours and more jobs.  The greatest gift I can give my children isn’t a big check after I die. The greatest gift I can give them is a lifetime ofmemories, shared moments that we can never get back and never recreate.  So vacations and little adventures matter because it’s how I give my children the gift of what matters most: time.  It’s the one thing that no matter how I try to save it, I can’t.  Already, in the time it has taken to write this paragraph, my children are older and one step farther away from my home.

EPCOT_ECENTR3_7577874971We spend so much time apart: at work, at school, at this thing or that.  Giving each other the gift or your time is the best thing you can do, which is why I believe vacations matter.  Because they get you away from the everyday world, away from being apart, and if you’re lucky, standing in a long queue at Disneyland playing Heads Up on your iPhone.  It’s that easy.

Yes, vacations can be hard to save up for.   You may feel the need to justify to someone why you spent the money on it.  It’s not easy to save up for a vacation, because there is always something that is important that you need to do or pay for or replace.  But carpet always needs to be cleaned, clothes always need to be replaced, and things always seem more important than a vacation.

But here’s the hard truth: you only have a limited number of days and hours and minutes to create memories with your kids.  Which one is going to be more worth it it in the end?

DSCF0093You’ll never have another first trip to Disneyland, or first visit to Yosemite National Park, or whatever it is your family decides to do for vacation.  You’ll never get another chance to get that first Junior Ranger Badge, the first fist bump with Dale or laugh about the awful hotel you stayed in or the time a cow stared at you in the middle of the highway or the wild donkey you fed through the window of your minivan.

You’ll always have carpet or a car or a pressing engagement or whatever that other thing was.  Which do you think your kids will cherish more after you’re gone?

Vacations and mini-adventures may seem like a frivolous or expensive thing to spend money on.  But I wouldn’t ask for any penny I’ve ever spent at Disneyland back, give up any mile I’ve put on my van, because for every dollar, I have at least ten more memories like the ones I’ve just mentioned.  With my kids, with my best friends, with my wife.

The most important thing you can give your kids this summer isn’t another camp, another sport to practice.  It’s time with you.  Big vacation, small adventure.  A night out for milkshakes or a road trip to Mesa Verde National Park.  It’s not the what that matters, but the fact that you are doing it.

Time matters.  And one day you’ll have moments when your family says, “Remember the time…?”

Balancing Kids

We have two big milestones in our family this week.  Today, our oldest daughter, Audrey, turns 17.  Tomorrow our youngest son, August, goes in for surgery.  Trying to make sure they both get all the attention they deserve or need has proven to be challenging.  So, how do you make it all work?  I don’t have a good answer.  But I can tell you what I have done to make sure they feel like they are mom and dad’s #1 priority when they need it most.

Most importantly, I want my kids to know that they are loved.  Not just on their special day, but every day. When I kiss them as they walk out the door for school or when I tuck them in at night, they know that their mommy thinks they are the center of her world.  By doing that, you are solidifying the fact that even though they may not get 100% of your attention on their special day, you still love them.  I want my kids to know, without a doubt in their minds, how much they truly mean to me.

balancingkidsI like to set aside some time in my day and week to create special moments and memories. Today, on Audrey’s birthday, we had a whole slew of events planned. We start planning her birthday in March because Audrey LOVES her birthday.  But with August’s surgery tomorrow, she’s not going to get an entire day from us like she normally would.  We have a bit of prepping to do for Gus’ surgery. But by creating extra special moments today, we will have created memories for her.  And that’s more important than an entire day spent doing nothing.

I love to let them help with the planning or prepping of their big day.  I ask them what is important to them.  I let them choose dinner on their day.  Take them shopping for what they think will make their day special.  Like I said before, Audrey starts thinking about her birthday as soon as New Year’s has come and gone. August was excited when we he got to choose a toy to play with after his surgery.  By including them in the preparations, you are helping them realize that this is their day and that their opinion matters.

By helping your kiddos know that they are your center of your attention on their one big day you will have created those moments and memories that they, and you, will cherish forever.  Balancing kids is tough work.  But by letting your kids help with the balancing and prioritizing, you will find it’s more fun than challenging. You may not get it right all the time, but that’s OK.  We all have wins and losses.  I’m not even sure how today or tomorrow  will go, but I’m hopeful that I’ve done just enough to make two of my kiddos feel special. But I will be adding in a few extra hugs, kisses, and “I LOVE YOU’s” for good measure!