The Arrival

Timing is everything.

The irony of course being that it’s only after you realize you’ve done nothing to manage life’s significant events that they tend to yield the most serendipitous harmonies. That’s about how you could describe the events of January 19th, 2015. When the day started, Liz had begun experiencing some mild contractions. At least she thought that’s what they were, not having experienced the real deal yet. Our official due date was still 4 days out, although the baby could have come at any time. But with the plumbing and drywall repair scheduled for the morning, and the dentist appointment set for the afternoon, these uteral quirks would have to be chalked up to what they were: distractions.

The plumbing repair did go surprisingly well, given that it had all the makings of something far more serious. A long-ago rodent (or squirrel) had decided to make a nest for itself around an attic drainage pipe. While occasionally bored or hungry, it also decided to nosh on the pipe, creating cracks for condensation to collect and drip down onto the downstairs ceiling in the convening years. At least the varmint was festive about it, having packed his nest with wrapping paper and Christmas tree garland (feet and feet of it), pinched from the holiday decor stash of some previous home dweller. But with the pipe fixed and the drywall sealed and mudded up, the contractions had by now intensified and the dentist appointment had been called off. As the last bit of drywall crumb was being swept up, Liz turned to me and said, “we should probably go to the hospital.”

We scrambled about the house for an hour or two, making sure we had everything we needed, should this turn out to be the actual arrival. Sort of like going on vacation, with the added realization that the new souvenir you’d be bringing home would need constant care and feeding.

We reached the hospital by 6:30pm, the contractions now worthy of timing, and hand squeezing. But it was a popular night to have a baby, as there was no room for us in triage. So they sent us down the hall to the family waiting room. There, beneath the drone of nightly news from a nearby TV, Liz hunched over a chair, anticipating each painful wave as cow-eyed hospital visitors looked on with concern. After an hour our patience had worn thin. We marched back to inquire, but before we could protest, we were promptly ushered to a free room.

As Liz prepped, I started working through the catalog of things I was going to need to say and do over the next several hours, realizing I’ve always been pretty lousy as a coach. I only hoped the circumstances would inspire me beyond hand-patting with an occasional “there, there.” When the nurse finally came in to check conditions, she informed us, that despite the pain, Liz wasn’t dilated enough to be in “active labor.” There was no way we were going back home, so it appeared a long night was ahead. This was further confirmed when it took two nurses about 30 minutes just to get an IV drip in (her veins apparently like to roll away). As I watched the vitals on the baby monitor with a cautious optimism, I knew one way or another, those heartbeats would soon be on the other side. And yet, something about the flux of the beats (from the 160s down into the 140s) began tickling my calm.

I asked one of the nurses if I was correctly reading the monitor and she confirmed everything looked good. We were in the normal range. And yet, despite the affirmation, the numbers looked… off. Almost, as if by watching, I was willing the heartbeat downward. I tried to ignore the unease. This wasn’t the time to second-guess the process. There was far more labor and delivery left to go. But about ten minutes later, the head nurse nurse came back, herself unimpressed by the EKG readings. The baby needed to make more overtures that he was indeed planning to show up. So she had Liz move to her side. And within 30 seconds the baby’s vitals crashed. In a flash the world seemed to end.

True terror is not merely the arrival of an unfortunate circumstance. It’s when that circumstance drops onto what would have otherwise been a moment of joy. It is the unsuspecting theft of happiness, when darkness willfully and irrevocably obliterates the light for no other reason than to destroy what is good and right when it’s most fragile, and when you are the most unsuspecting. It is chaos set loose.

The nurse had Liz quickly try more positions to no avail. The heart rate continued to drop, falling under 100 beats per minute. Darkness pressed further onto our little room. There was no pivoting back to the calm of the previous moment. The nurse looked at me directly and with barely a change in her voice said “a lot of people are going to be coming in here very quickly.” I was grateful she was not panicking, but her chill, emotionless tone set my teeth on edge. This was for real. And within seconds the room flooded with other nurses and techs. My chest tightened as I retreated to a back corner of the room, pacing, praying with desperation as the monitor gasped for life. 60 beats and falling. The space between each beat like a long, cold agony. He was giving up.

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Save him please. Save my baby” was about all I could choke out, as my own lungs felt like they were collapsing, every limb turning to rubber. It flashed in my brain the irony that moments earlier I had shuffled away the thought of asking the nurse if I could pray for her this evening, and here I was praying aloud for this team of strangers scrambling to save my child’s life.

Almost as soon as the crowd had rushed in, they had rushed my wife out. I trailed behind, still in prayer, feet clomping the floor in weightless futility, all but everything in front of me a blur, surreal, not even there. How could we have traveled such a hard road to get here, pushed aside all of the fear and doubt, all to lose everything within a matter of minutes? Would he survive if he was falling away so quickly? Suffer brain damage if he did?

I was given some booties for my shoes, but before I had even secured the second one, I was told I couldn’t be in the OR. Not in this case. Liz was being put under general anesthetic and there was no time for me. I would have to wait. Out here. In the sterile and quiet hallway. I was quickly abandoned at a small computer station. I collapsed onto the chair and looked down at my trembling hands. In each, a cell phone – Liz’s and mine. I had sent a happy text to a group of family and friends earlier in the evening to let them know we were here and in process. Now I needed their prayers. I opened the text app on Liz’s phone and desperately tried to type out a message. Most of it was legible, but I discovered it is nearly impossible to text a clean message when you’re in meltdown. Thankfully it was understood and replies came in that people were praying. “Without ceasing” one friend texted back.

I had time to call one person – for whatever reason, the one man who popped into my head was my boss, Adam She. Something within told me “Adam first”. He answered and I had barely enough time to tell him what was happening. He would pray. I had to go. It was 9:33pm.

I was taken by another nurse to a recovery room, presently being vacated by a happy mother and father with their newborn. I slumped into another chair, tears streaming down my cheeks. I wonder what they must have thought, if they thought of me at all. They were brimming with quiet joy, mother with baby in her arms being wheeled out by a nurse, the proud father alongside. The reality of a thousand and one parents this very moment across the state. Not me.

I looked down at the cell phones again, the stupid booties on my shoes. As I thought through the worst of it, I realized the next nurse to come through those doors was going to have one of two expressions, that in an instant I would know from her body language what the truth was. In silence I spoke to God and I simply let it go. A pastor’s story from 20 years back dotted my memory. He had experienced a similar birth-related complication for his daughter and in his most desperate moment had felt the overwhelming peace of God that “surpasses all comprehension.” Rarely experienced, and yet, here it was. It didn’t blot out the pain. It wouldn’t preclude any tears to come, but it flowed over me. He was still worthy of all praise, no matter what came of this. I would live my life in thanksgiving regardless. If I had to lose my only child, my firstborn son, then God’s grace and holiness were more than enough to fill the void. It is the peculiarity of faith—that in the face of true terror, light will still flicker in the darkness for those with eyes willing to see. Even if it’s a light we had not expected. Even if the hope of it is dim.

Within moments the doors flung open and the nurse who had admitted us rushed in, tears in her eyes… a weary smile on her face. He was here, and crying. Liz was fine. We were finally a family. Ten minutes after that they handed my son to me—a rare occurrence that the father would be the first to hold the newborn, as Liz wouldn’t come out of the anesthetic for another 30 minutes. He was a tiny red faced burrito, still a little frustrated looking for having his evening so rudely interrupted with being born. I took this photo in that moment.

hospitalselfie

Timing is everything. Looking back on that day, it’s amazing to think that so many pieces of it happened in just the right way, at just the right moment. As I survey the past year, all of the previous moments that led to this one also had their own purpose. Maybe not as perfectly timed as a movie, but story-worthy nonetheless. Even the terror of this evening had been given its place – allowed to happen so that God might vanquish it when I was powerless enough to let Him. He rescued our son through the hands of a team of doctors and nurses who didn’t hesitate to act for a second. And more importantly, God had shown us that indeed, the darkness would not prevail.

It seems a universal that our prayers in the moment of rescue are never quite as fervent as the ones we pray to be saved. I was no exception in that moment. But the waves of thankfulness broke over me again and again over the next several days, especially as I recounted the events of that night.

Gabriel James Hansen arrived with much fanfare on January 19th, 2015 at 9:40pm. 7lbs, 6oz. of miracle. He was given back to us after I had given him up to God. I only pray we can remember to hold him with the same fluid grasp for the rest of our lives.

gabe_smilerFB

Liz & Gabe New

On Home-Owning

It’s official. The Hansens are homeowners!

We had intended to save up and pay cash for our first home. We got quite a distance down the road, but the sudden jump in the housing market made us decide to jump, too. And now we’re fully responsible for .62 lovely wooded acres.

Our rocking chair front porch still needs a rocking chair. Or at least a porch swing.

Enter! On the left, you’ll see our dining room. Which doubles as a book and music room. You can never have too many of those.

The kitchen has a handy tile floor. Dark tile. Meaning that it hides schmutz with aplomb.

Every good kitchen sink needs a window. Sadly, our downstairs windows were all carefully caulked shut by the previous owner for purposes of energy efficiency. Replacement windows are high on the rapidly growing list of House Projects. (At least we can see good neighbors through our inoperable windows.)

Also, we now live in a home where the microwave is no longer three inches above my head. This is a Good Thing.

A handy bay window in the kitchen for our dueling Macs. Bay windows in both front rooms, as well.

Apparently, the bay windows ran out when the builder reached the living room in the back. But we’ll forgive him for the sake of the wood burning fireplace. Now if we can only survive the remaining four months of Georgia summer…

Come on upstairs. It’s worth it for the books. First time in my adult life I’ve been able to shelve every single book!

And last, but not least, our beautifully open, fenced back yard. Nina approves. She’s already terrorized the squirrels, and holds a regular stake out at the small hole into the next backyard where lives a most interesting coon hound.

Speaking of Nina, she’s not a fan of the hardwood floors downstairs. They provide a significant lack of traction, resulting in an animated running-in-place effect when she gets excited.

Apparently, we need rugs.

Apparently, we need a lot of things. We’ve been making Lowe’s and Ikea very happy.

And YOU will make us very happy should you choose to visit. We have a handy guest room. Nina has claimed it as her own, but we promise to de-fur it before your arrival.

The Fall Files

Autumn is hands down (and thumbs up?) our favorite season of the year. Especially in Georgia, where summer seems to set in by the end of April and squeeze us in a humid death grip through September.

Fall is when our fuzzy dog doesn’t go through insta-wilt every time we step outside.

Fall is when when my pyro-husband can exercise his fire-making skills.

Fall is our anniversary.

And this, year — year 5! — we wanted to savor our fall with every possible chance.

CASE FILE 1: In Which We Climb a Mountain, Are Rained Upon, and Nearly Lose a Dog in the Adirondacks

New England fall color is legendary. And as we’d never been to Boston in the fall (a la the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything), well, we didn’t go to Boston. But we did drive all the way up into the Adirondacks, visiting Dave’s family in Pennsylvania on the way. That’s twenty hours, folks. Each way. And we were still married at the end of it! Though it rained on us almost our entire time there, the color was indeed breathtaking…

Low clouds, mist and all…

…None of which stopped us from climbing Whiteface. A mountain. A Very Tall mountain.

My husband claims he does not photograph well. My husband is wrong.

Four miles of near vertical scramble…

Our crazy dog.

A short time before she disappeared into the wilds of the mountain.

Two thousand miles from home.

With no one else around.

Just as the downpour started.

For thirty Very Long minutes.

Detailed elsewhere

She returned, guilt plastered all over her face.

We recovered.

She stayed home the next day.

While we went in search of maple syrup…

Tea (for Dave) and coffee (for me) overlooking Lake Placid. We are a mixed marriage.

Lake Placid in the mist. There are mountains back there somewhere…

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CASE FILE 2: In Which We Go Camping with Bears

Dave and I love to hike — but we also aren’t hard-core, climb-Kilimanjaro enthusiasts. So while we have basic camping gear, we’d only been camping a few times. We fall somewhere in the gap between state campgrounds where tents and RVs are on top of each other and canvas doesn’t mask the late-night party next door… and back country camping where everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink gets lugged in on your back in one trip.

Our friends Josh and Mandy discovered the perfect, happy medium. Bear Creek Campground is well out in the midst of nowhere with a small gravel lot and (happily) natural toilets, back several miles of twisting gravel road. Once there, you cross a creek and can spread out in unmarked campsites that cover a half a mile along the creek. We had company, but mostly out of sight, and set up camp in the curve of a creek that caught the drifting fall leaves and swept them downstream.

Josh and Mandy went up a day early and captured our spot. The Davises joined us later in the evening.

For fire.

Which is one of the key reasons for camping.

Camp cookery at its finest.

Vera taught us all the necessary sign language for “leaf” and “tent”. Good stuff.

Dave and Vera hung out.

Nina is not impressed.

If you think you’ve seen anything more adorable than a sleeping bag for a one-year old, you need another think.

We all did a spot of hiking the next day…

…and crossed paths with the tallest tree in Georgia: the Gennett Poplar.

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CASE FILE 3: In Which We Hike In to the Hike Inn

Back in early September, Dave and I hiked the trails at Amicalola Fall and discovered a small sign at the top pointing the way to the Hike Inn. A handy internet search (because what would one do on a hike without one’s iPhone?) revealed that this fascinating inn can be accessed only via a five-mile hike into the back country. However, at the end of the trek, home-cooked meals, hot showers, and comfy beds await. Really, how much more perfect can you get? We called the next day and reserved a night for what we hoped would be peak leaf time.

In actuality, we missed North Georgia peak time by about a week. But we sacrificed color for some incredible views.

Please forward all mail to our new place of residence…

Waiting for sunrise: good.

Waiting for sunrise with coffee: better.

I don’t do puzzles. Seriously. They irritate my OCD tendencies. But Dave conned me into this one, and I actually enjoyed myself.

Until…

Horrors!

Missing piece.

What in the blazes?

Trees have biceps, too.

The Inn lived up to all expectations and I will now be haunting the interwebs for off-season discounts…

Anyone want to join us?

(un)Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day.

That means a lot of you got extra-crispy toast in bed and artistic scrawls in finger paints and colored pencils. You deserve it. Yours is a 24/7 job with no time off, and this small recognition is hard won. Most of my friends are mothers and I’m more grateful than I can say for the unfailing love and patience of my own mother, my grandmothers, my mother-in-law. I don’t begrudge any of you mothers either the joy or the difficulties of your role.

Still, this is not an easy day for some of us to navigate.

While you’re curled up on the sofa with your kids, some of us are doing time with our ovulation calendars, trying to figure out why on earth the thing that happens so easily, almost accidentally, for many… appears to be a complexity that, inexplicably, we may never find our way through.

This morning at church, the mothers were asked to stand. As nearly every woman in the room rose, someone behind me laughed and whispered, “Pretty much everyone!” That’s the moment I lost my emotional nerve and had to leave—not out of anger or frustration, but simply because it kicked me once again in the gut: motherhood seems to be a clique that a few of us simply can’t access.

Here’s what those few of us might say, if asked.

1. Most of the time, I can be pretty dispassionate about the situation. Physically, this is possible and should happen at some point. I believe that God can and will give us a child at the right time. But there is a deep emotional core for a woman regarding motherhood that I don’t fully understand and, at least right now, have no ability to control. Sometimes, something taps into that core—and then I lose it. When I do, it’s not a demand for sympathy or pity; it’s the way I’m wired.

2. Yes, I am aware that motherhood is possibly the most difficult thing I will ever do. I frankly don’t look forward to losing “my” time and current level of flexibility and independence. But I do crave the opportunity to grow and stretch further into the person God has designed me to be. Of course He can and will do that in other ways than motherhood. But I see it in a similar light to marriage; while marriage is the most difficult thing I’ve tried to date, it has also shaped and deepened me in ways I would never chose to give up.

3. Yes, I know that there are many, MANY children desperately in need of mothers. If we’re unable to have biological children—and possibly even if we are—we desire to adopt. But adoption takes a high level of emotional, financial, physical and spiritual investment, and right now, those resources are going into navigating the complexities of treating infertility.

For now, I’m trying to learn from all the moms in my life who are such fantastic role models, even through their lack of sleep, the terrible twos and various heartaches.

I hope to join you soon.

Making Space

It always seems a bit early to begin Advent in November. But here we are, once again. Waiting.

We (singularly, collectively, culture in general) are so busy, so full of data and to do lists, that waiting is a lost art. The moment I’m stuck in line, out comes the iPhone. If I’m on hold, I answer work emails. Maybe that’s why I generally don’t bother with an iPod on walks or runs… a last bastion of in-between time that forces me to stew in my own thoughts.

Waiting makes space. It increases the likelihood that I might be still enough to hear from God instead of yet another Kohl’s ad or CNN.com.

Last night, we rearranged furniture and cleared space to make room for the Christmas tree we’ll pick out this afternoon. If we were true to tradition, we’d wait for the tree – just as we await Christmas itself – until Christmas Eve. Chop it down out in the pine forest and haul it in on a sleigh, setting it up with hot cocoa and candles to welcome the coming of the Savior that night.

But we didn’t chop down a cedar and haul it from southern Indiana, and the Georgia tree lots will be thinned out by the 24th.

So we’ll make room for Advent today.

Southern Blood

It would take a lot to make me break blog silence at this point, but fall in Georgia has done it. After five miserable months of unbroken 90s with smothering humidity, we’ve finally hit a run of crisp, sunny days in the 60s with nights dipping below 40.

If Georgia could just give us, oh, say three months of this, we promise we’d quit threatening to move north every other week.

But within a month, we’ll drop down into the 40s and maintain a gray, damp chill through March. Where the White Witch made it always winter but never Christmas in Narnia, those of us in the peach state are consigned to endless, monotonous winter without the solace of snow.

Just for these few weeks, though… I’ll call myself a Georgian.

Advent

I suppose we are technically beyond advent, this day past Christmas. But waiting is such an inherent part of our lives in the grand scheme of things that I’ve grown to like living in anticipation. No matter what’s moving, something else is on hold, sitting on the back burner, simmering.

I’m particularly fond on this image of Nina at my parent’s door. Her waiting is not particularly patient, but it’s always eager. In this case, she’s yearning after my mother’s kitties who have permanently taken cover in the wood shed for the week. Nina wants a kitty for Christmas. Very Badly.

All fall, I have less than graciously been demanding that God provide snow for Christmas. We were excited a week ago to see that snow was predicted for Christmas Eve. Then the radar went fickle and we dropped into deepest despair. Finally, Christmas Eve at dinnertime, snow began sifting down. Within a few hours, we had several inches. I can’t recall a single Christmas where we’ve ended up with such a beautiful fall of snow so perfectly timed. God even dropped an inch on Atlanta while He was at it!

There’s another family waiting. Near midnight on Christmas Eve, David and I hiked back through the woods and down to the field near my old high school, Nina frolicking through the white stuff and collecting a feathery white sweater. A graveyard edges on the field, and as we approached, green and red lights glittered faintly from one headstone. An inch of snow dusted over the headstone:

CONNER
“Conman”
February 29, 2008 – March 9, 2010

… a handful of wrapped packages, a tiny basketball and hoop, blinking Christmas lights, and music box Christmas carols.

Somewhere, near, a family’s hearts are shattered as they wait for mending. I don’t know whether they wait in hope or despair. “Hark the herald angels sing…” the tune was plaintive.

…Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth…

I hope they know what they’re waiting for.

As David etched in the snow, “May Christ be with you.”