27 November 2013

What we are most thankful for this year.

So, what are we most thankful for this year?

...for all of the 300 of YOU who make up Bennett's Brigade!!!

I cannot express enough what it means to have people around us as we fight this terrible disease.  These are the faces of just some of the many people who have encouraged us and loved us this year.  Thank you to each of you for reminding us that we are not alone in our fight.

And to all of those who gave money and/or gathered to walk at our five CF Walks around the US this year, thank you for helping us raise a tremendous amount to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis!!  

Exactly how much did we all end up raising, you ask??  
Click below to see.

19 November 2013

Avonlea's Baptism and Dedication

On Sunday, November 3, we baptized Avonlea Brooklyn Gamel at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  (To see Bennett's baptism, click here.)

We have chosen to baptize all three of our children.  However, since our church home does not baptize infants (only adult baptism), we chose a church close to our hearts in which to have her baptized.

Father Chuck is a really wonderful guy.  We were honored to have him baptize our sweet baby girl.

Pictured here are the godparents (Mat and Kristin and their three boys), Father Chuck, Brian and myself with our boys and our dear friend Josh.  Josh is the our pastor of our church.  He stood with us as we presented Avonlea for baptism.  He was there at the hospital with us shortly after we found out Bennett was sick.  He was there when we gave Avonlea up for baptism. We are very thankful for his continued friendship and presence in our life.

We are extremely thankful for the gift of Avonlea to our lives.

"Just because I'm all dolled up, doesn't mean I don't still want my paci!"

Mat and Kristin are dear friends of ours.   Brian and Mat are in the same program at Baylor getting their PhDs in Religion.  Kristin and I originally met through our mutual best friend Chelsea from Durham, NC.  Kristin and Mat lost their first son, Isaiah, to childhood cancer at age 6.  We have seen them cope courageously with the loss of a child.  They have three other little boys but no little girls.  It was a gift for us to be able to ask them to be the godparents to Avonlea, our much wanted baby girl.

Avonlea's cake, which we shared with those who came out to celebrate this special day.

Although our extended families weren't able to be there, we were thankful to have Aunt Brooklyn there.  Brooklyn is Avonlea Brooklyn Gamel's namesake.  Our little boys really enjoyed Avonlea's baptism.  It helped them understand the idea of baptism so that now when we share with them about their baptism, they better understand.

After Avonlea's baptism, we headed to our church to have Avonlea dedicated.  We felt it was really important that we introduced Avonlea to our church community and made the commitment to our church body that we will raise Avonlea to love Christ and to know that she is loved by God. Kristin and Mat, who attend our church as well, prayed a prayer for Avonlea.  Our church presented Avonlea with a certificate and a Bible.

I loved seeing this photograph after we were done with the Baby Dedication.  Oliver reached up to grab Avonlea's hand while I was holding her and listening to another family in the church dedicate their son.  Avonlea has two protective and adoring big brothers!

10 November 2013

Goodbye David, Welcome Avonlea

Last weekend was a memorable one for our family.  It was a weekend marked by surrenders.

It was the weekend that we, as a community, said goodbye to our friend David Hurst...

(Picture taken by Glee Glude Smith, friend of David and Dana)

and it was the weekend that we, as a church community, welcomed Avonlea in to the body of Christ through baptism.

Brian and I said both goodbye and hello last weekend - moments spent recognizing the significance of life and death, physically and spiritually.  It's times like these when we are reminded how thin the boundaries between those things are.

Ironically, this is the exact same theme we had the weekend of Oliver's baptism six years ago. While living in Durham, North Carolina, we attended the funeral of our dear friends' loss of their stillborn daughter the day before we baptized Oliver.  Last weekend, the day before we baptized Avonlea, we attended the memorial service of our dear friend's husband and the father of her young children.

Each experience, juxtaposed with the other, presents a picture of the bigger story we live in.

Last weekend, Brian and I watched Dana surrender her claim her to husband's presence.
The following day, Brian and I surrendered our claim to ownership of our daughter through baptism.

On Saturday, Dana committed her husband to God, letting him go, trusting that God will get the last word on David's life.
On Sunday, we committed Avonlea to God, entrusting Him to guide her and care for her heart as she grows.  

Dana continues to teach me me what it means to surrender at the end.
Baptism is teaching me what it means to surrender at the beginning. In both places, God is present.

(Picture taken by Glee Glude Smith, friend of David and Dana)

For those friends who have followed David and Dana's story, I thought I would share my experience of David's memorial...

David's Memorial Service was really beautiful.  Everyone wore black, a sign of mourning, but with emerald green accents.  I loved all the accents.  Men could be found wearing black suits with a green tie.  Women wore black dresses with a green scarf or green jewelry.  Everyone was given little green ribbons at the door to the church.  Green was David's favorite color.  But green also became the color of "Team Hurst" - a community of family and friends who offered hope in the midst of loss.  Looking across the sea of people who attended the memorial, I noticed lots of black.  But I also saw green, tiny reminders of hope scattered amongst the mourning.

David's Memorial began with the family walking in to take their seats.  I watched Dana gracefully lead the family in to the sanctuary, holding the tiny hands of two children dressed in black, here to help say goodbye to Daddy.  She, Parker and Audrey lit a candle before the children left the service as it began.
We sang several praise songs and listened to friends of David share their memories of him.  There was a slideshow of David's life in pictures.  The most moving moment was when a video of David came on where he said goodbye to Audrey and Parker before he left for a ski trip.  Hearing David's voice and seeing David's mannerisms on video reminded me again of the significant loss that we were all grieving.  

After the emotional video, David and Dana's pastor came up to the pulpit and spoke about grieving well.  Brady, the pastor, spoke about how the Bible teaches us to grieve but to do so with hope.  Brady reminded us that David himself set an example of how to do this.  he said, "David knew for two years what was going to happen...and yet he trusted God in the midst of that great pain."  I want to hold these words very close to my heart.

I think David did demonstrate what it means to grieve with hope.  How would I face knowing I was going to leave this earth much too premature, leaving my spouse and children behind in the process?  Would I become angry at God for what would feel unfair and violating?  Or would I embrace God and lean in to Him during that time?  Grief is inevitable.  But grieving with hope is a choice.  I appreciate very much knowing David and knowing how David chose to live his life.  When he was told he was going to die, he chose to trust God more than ever before and live.

At the end, Dana came up on to share her thoughts.  She was, at moments, composed, at other moments, incredibly vulnerable.  She shared how this week is David and Dana's 10th anniversary. She shared how "this was not how I had expected it to be."

A bell was purchased in honor of David to be placed in the new cancer center at our local hospital (the one Bennett and Avonlea were born at; the one at which David was an ER doctor).  This bell will be the bell that people at the cancer center will ring when they go in to remission.

Dana ended the service by sharing that her anniversary gift to David is to ring the bell for him...because, he is now...cancer free.

At that time, Audrey and Parker rejoined their mother to help ring the bell.  It was a significant and emotional moment.

After the service, we were given a chance to hug the family and share our condolences.  It felt good to hug Dana.  The hug wasn't just me comforting her but her comforting me.  

Brian and I briefly had a chance to talk to the kids.  We knew they didn't fully grasp what was happening but they stood patiently next to their mother while she thanked those who had come out to say goodbye to David.  I whispered to Audrey, "Audrey, you did a great job ringing that bell!"  She smiled with her sweet kindergarten snaggled-tooth smile and said, "I wanted to ring it like this!" as she showed me how she would have loved to have been cut loose to ring the bell as hard and loud as she could have possibly wanted.  I smiled and said, "I bet you would have!"

And then, before we left, Brian and I spoke softly to Parker.  We said, "Parker, will you come back to our house sometime soon?"  And he said without missing a beat, "yes! I want to go to a football game."  This made my heart full knowing that Parker had very much enjoyed coming along with us a few weeks ago when Brian and I took the boys to a high school football game.  We promised Parker we would make that happen very soon (which it did...this weekend, in fact).

(Picture taken by Glee Glude Smith, friend of David and Dana)
We continue to support and pray for David's family (Dana, Audrey and Parker) who now must learn to live on without him.  If you would like to read more about their journey and follow them as they create a new normal, read more here: 

(Picture taken by Glee Glude Smith, friend of David and Dana)

03 November 2013

Pumpkin Patch 2013

One of our family's favorite fall traditions since moving to Waco is joining our friends, the Carneys, to visit a local pumpkin patch.  Unfortunately, due to both of our family's schedules this year, we weren't able to go to the Pumpkin Patch until the end of the season - the very last day, in fact.

For the entire week before we were set to go, I worried that our time would be rained out.  But my friend Lindsay kept reassuring me to stay positive that it wasn't going to rain.

Thankfully, to Lindsay's credit, it didn't rain on the day of our visiting the Pumpkin Patch.  So, our two families packed up our six and a half kids (the Carney's are expecting #4 this Spring) in two vans and drove the 45 minutes it took to get there.

We were all SO excited.  This was our 5th year going to the Pumpkin Patch - our 5th year to experience the tradition of a Hayride that went nowhere, silly games that were overpriced and a kid maze made out of nothing more than a bunch of old pieces of wood.  But it was also our 5th year to enjoy eating freshly cooked pulled pork sandwiches together, letting each child pick out their very own pumpkin and helping our kids feed the farm goats.  It wasn't the activities we were so much looking forward to but getting to do everything one more time and doing so together.

But would you believe that as soon as we drove up to the farm we noticed no one was there?  We were heartbroken.  The parking lot was sectioned off and a large white sign was tacked to a fence post with big red letters on it that read "CLOSED."

No, it didn't end up raining that day.  But apparently, the multiple days of rain beforehand forced the Pumpkin Patch to close due to the ground being too wet for people to park.

And so, the four of us adults had no choice but to turn to our poor little children and explain, "There will be no Pumpkin Patch this year."

It was like having to tell our kids there is no Santa Claus.  It was terribly difficult to have to tell them.  Their faces were so sad.

But, we made the best of it.  Since we would not be having pulled pork sandwiches at the Pumpkin Patch, we decided to just go to lunch at Texas Roadhouse which Lindsay announced to the children, "We aren't going to the Pumpkin Patch, ya'll.  We are going to the Peanut Patch!"  And somehow, they actually were ok with it!

For the record, here is officially this year's "Pumpkin Patch."

Instead of picking out pumpkins this year.  We picked out our favorite peanuts...and then ate them. :)

Her is our annual "Pumpkin Patch" family picture.

The Carneys

Here is our annual all-the-kids "Pumpkin Patch" picture.  (Avonlea was our new little one to be added to the picture this year.)

No, we didn't get to enjoy the Pumpkin Patch this year.  But we did make a really great memory with our friends!  

01 November 2013

Comparing Pumpkin Pictures

As I do each fall, I took the kids pictures with our pumpkins.  Here are how much Bennett has changed through the last 4 years:

2010: 1 Year Old

2011: 2 Years Old

2012: 3 Years Old

2013: 4 years old

Here is how these sweet brothers have changed:

2011: Brothers (Bennett, 2 years; Oliver, 4 years)

2012: Brothers (Bennett, 3 years; Oliver, 5 years)

2013: Brothers (Bennett, 4 years; Oliver, 6 years)

This was our first Fall with three children:

2013: All the Gamel Kids (Avonlea, 3 months; Bennett, 4 years; Oliver, 6 years)

2013: The outtake. :)