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Posted on Jul 20, 2017 in Devotional, Health, Love, Parenting, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 14 comments

Peace

Peace

***This post is a continuation of my previous post, Fear, about the birth of my recent child who had severe medical complications and Down Syndrome. To read more about Redmond and our story about him, you can see my public Facebook posts beginning March 1, 2017, and click here.***

 

In the middle of my struggle with fear surrounding Redmond’s birth and the first couple months of his life, there were pockets of peace too. Although fear threatened to swallow me up, I didn’t have panic attacks. I didn’t come undone. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and I used the tools at my disposal to get to peace.

From the moment I knew I was pregnant with Redmond, a sense of dread and unrest came over me. I spent the first two weeks after that positive pregnancy test praying desperately for God to intervene in whatever was wrong. I gave Him my permission (as if He needed it) to take the baby if there was something terribly wrong. I waited for a miscarriage. I could not shake the sense of dread.

After two weeks of crying out to God, I felt His presence one morning like a soothing balm pour over me. My hands flew to my belly and the words that came to me were, “Life and health, joy and peace.” Peace came with those words. Every time the fear and dread tried to return, I comforted myself with those words.

The morning of our 20-week ultrasound, which was an extra-fancy one for high risk pregnancies, I felt like I was trying to walk in mud. My feet simply wouldn’t go. I was stuck. It was everything I could do to lift them up and move them forward, so afraid of what I might find out that day. After the hour-long ultrasound, we were ushered into the grim-looking doctor’s office. As she launched into a lecture about managing gestational diabetes, I struggled to comprehend what she said.

Finally, I stopped her and asked bluntly, “Is my baby okay?”

“Hmmm?” She looked up from her paper, confused.

“Is. My. Baby. Okay?”

“Oh, your baby is fine. It looks perfectly healthy. Were you worried?” Clueless doctor.

“No Down Syndrome?” I remember that I specifically asked about that. They measure EVERYTHING in this ultrasound. A friend told me how she was warned that her daughter had a shortened nasal bone, which is a soft marker for Down Syndrome, but her baby was born just fine.

The doctor explained to me that they can’t tell for sure without several more tests, and even then they can only tell you something like if there’s a one in four chance that the baby has DS, but she’d be happy to run them if we wanted them. At the point where we were, she felt confident that there was only a slight chance that the baby had DS.

Relieved that the extensive ultrasound had shown no markers for DS or other birth defects, we again declined further testing. We agreed that we would love and accept any child God gave us, and there was little point worrying ourselves to pieces about it before we could know 100%.

I spent the remainder of the pregnancy feeling harassed and annoyed by the management of gestational diabetes and hyperemesis gravidarium (which included extreme motion sickness, making me sick even when I walked). Pregnancy is a real challenge for some of us, but I determined that 9 months of difficulty was worth the lifetime of joy that a child brings.

Towards the end of the pregnancy, I received weekly ultrasounds and non-stress tests. The baby’s heart never did what it was supposed to during the NSTs. It was supposed to go up 15 beats per minute for 15 seconds, but it never did. So I’d get another ultrasound, which would confirm that everything was okay, and we’d go on another week. We also knew that I had high amniotic fluid and the baby had a small amount of water around the kidneys. Both of those can be indicators of DS, but DS babies typically measure small, especially their heads. Redmond topped out in the 98th percentile with an average head size.

There were multiple tests and concerns from the doctors with my previous pregnancies and everything worked out just fine. I kept reminding myself of that, repeating the words, “Life and health, joy and peace“, and doing my best not to worry.

On the morning Redmond was born, I watched a YouTube video by a naturopath about managing anxiety. I’d seen it before and was looking for it to send to a friend. During a time when I should’ve been the most anxious, I was fairly calm. When Rick came back that morning, I firmly told him we had to get to the hospital. I was very concerned about the baby, but I wasn’t freaking out. When the nurse told me that the midwife was coming to break my water, I stayed calm. When they told me that the baby was in distress and I was headed toward a c-section, I handled it well. The words of the doctor replayed in my mind. I had a choice how I would handle the situation. God had promised me “Life and health, joy and peace.”

As I stumbled through those first few days of Redmond’s life, I found it hard to comprehend the things the doctors said. The words they used were terrible, and they definitely brought fear with them, but I also had a sense of peace. My baby would be okay. He didn’t have Down Syndrome. It may look like that, but the test would come back clear. Wouldn’t it?

I had to sort through what was numb denial, what was actually happening, and what might happen in the future. God might have promised me life and health, joy and peace, but at that moment I was facing sickness, fear, and sadness.

At my command, Rick left my side to be with Redmond and calmly talked to him and held his hand so our baby would sense something familiar in all the chaos. When I squeaked out the words “Down Syndrome” and “sickest baby in the NICU” to my sister, barely able to make my mouth form the words, she dropped everything and flew to my side. When the doctors determined that Redmond needed the last-resort heart and lung bypass (ECMO), my mom came to be with us. My dad, who was working and couldn’t take time off, hit his knees. For that first week of my son’s life, my dad fasted and prayed. He barely slept, waking every few hours to get back on his knees and pray some more. He prayed for Redmond, but he also prayed for me and the rest of our family.

When fear tried to take me over, I had a husband like a rock, standing firm and telling me it was all going to be okay, I had a sister and mother helping me laugh and letting me cry. I had a daddy interceding for me. He reminded me that I found strength and felt God’s presence in music. Thanks to his prompting, I turned on the praise music and sang my heart out.

Every morning while I got ready to go to the hospital, I sang. When I went to the pump room for 20 minutes every three hours, I listened to praise music and sang. I sang over my son. I sang praise to God. I couldn’t concentrate to read the Bible much. I barely had words to pray. But I sang and sang and sang. Phrases that stand out to me from that time…

The waves and wind still know His name
It is well with my soul
This mountain that’s in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea
Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well.

When I listened to the words of the doctors and nurses, when I got my eyes off Jesus, fear snuck in. I’d often find myself staring at objects, trying to figure out if I was crazy for believing that my baby would be okay, if I needed to accept reality and stop living in denial. But I had this peace that he’d make it through. We’d take this precious boy home with us. He wouldn’t need heart surgery. Surely by the time we left, he’d be off oxygen and his feeding tube.

During my pregnancy, “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, pour out our praise…” were song lyrics that swept over my heart. I’d think of the baby growing inside me and pray for his lungs. Another song that ministered to my heart said, “Your love is like radiant diamonds, bursting inside us, we cannot contain… God of mercy, sweet love of mine, I have surrendered to Your design. May this offering stretch across the sky, these hallelujahs be multiplied.” I’d think of the cells inside me, dividing and growing (bursting!), only able to be contained for about 9 months. I’d think about my “offering”, submitting to another difficult pregnancy and trying so hard to be gracious and patient through it, and beg God to honor my sacrifice. As I sang those songs, there was no medical evidence that he had any issues at all.

My main problem finding peace during the storm was not questioning God, but questioning myself. Was I sane to believe Redmond would be okay? Was the peace I felt actually shock and denial or a gift from God? Or both?

Much of my fear stemmed from the knowledge that God is running the universe. He has very seldom seemed to take my wants or desires into account as He does, so I braced myself for the gut punch of disappointment, the disbelief that what I had hoped for was gone. My brain played tricks on me. Strong medication taken for pain from surgery affected me. I felt acid rising in my throat, burning me when I tried to pray for God to save Redmond’s life and heal him. Hope and peace were mingled with fear and dread. Surely God would do what was ultimately best for us, but how much was I going to hurt in the process?

I submitted myself to His will and waited to see what He would do. I asked my friends to pray because I couldn’t. I allowed the Holy Spirit to intercede for me with those groans I hear so much about.

Romans 8:26 – 27 says, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the word of God.” (NKJV)

Please save my son, Lord. But not my will but Thine be done.

I kept hearing the words, “He spared not His own son.” I had no guarantee that He would spare mine.

Please hear this point before you close your computer and shut out these horrific thoughts… Please understand me. I knew that if God did not spare my son, He would give me the grace to get through the horrific loss. I had no doubt that if my son didn’t make it out of that place alive, God was indeed running the universe and it was somehow in His perfect will for my life to take Redmond home so early. The thought horrified me, but even in the worst moments, I knew that God would walk me through it all. I was not alone.

Knowing so well that God owes me nothing, that any loss I face is nothing compared with the trauma of His own son’s death, I relish even more, savor, and bask in the beautiful YES that He gave me.

My precious baby boy, a cuddly bundle of smiles and love, sleeps soundly in my arms. This baby who came so close to death, who should be terribly delayed and have all kinds of problems as a result of the very medical interventions that were used to save his life, appears to be doing just fine. He coos and “talks”, sings with me. He actively rolls from back to front and back again, chewing on his thumb and reaching for toys. He laughs out loud, startling himself with the sound. He’s growing like a weed, wearing nine-month sleepers at 4.5 months old. He sighs deeply when he sleeps, burying his face in my neck, and tries yet again to pull the oxygen tube out of his nose.

He’s still on a feeding tube, still needs supplemental oxygen, which I wish away many times every day. But after all he’s been through, what are these little annoyances? I adjust my attitude to thanking God for these tools that I have to keep Redmond healthy, thriving, and growing. He should’ve had hearing loss, but he hears perfectly. He should’ve needed heart surgery, but the holes in his heart are closing. Pulmonary hypertension is GONE. He’s active, alert, and cheerful. He sleeps through the night like a little champ.

The chromosome test for Down Syndrome came back positive, and it took us a while to deal with that. He has an extra chromosome, which was present at conception and not a result of the complications of pregnancy or the medical treatment he needed early on. With it comes low muscle tone and the possibility of many other physical and intellectual handicaps. I have prayed over this child though, emboldened by God’s miracles in his life so far. I pray that he has the mind of Christ, that his eyes see truth, and so on. I pray that he is ABLE, not disabled.

A few days ago, I whispered to God during a rare moment of quiet, “And please God, would you heal him from Down Syndrome?” Very swiftly and firmly, I heard a voice whisper back, “It’s a gift.”

My heart lurched.

Many parents of children with DS report that they feel very lucky to have a child with DS, and Rick and I have shaken our heads in confusion. Why are we lucky to have a child with physical and intellectual impairments? Is low muscle tone and a congenital heart defect a gift?

But this God I serve, He works in mysterious ways. What is mystery to us is great glory to Him. And so, although I cannot claim to understand at this point, I have decided to embrace this gift in the same way I embrace the God I do not understand.

My child, the one with the extra chromosome I so greatly feared, is Life and Health, Joy and Peace to me. He is Life and Health, Joy and Peace to the entire world. The fact that he has a chromosomal abnormality is not a burden, but a gift.

I will still pray for him to be completely healthy and whole, to have perfect vision and a strong body. I will still pray for him to be able to walk and talk with ease, to be able to comprehend all that he needs to understand in this world. This child, and his amazing siblings who have embraced him with all their hearts, will drive me to my knees more than anything else ever has. I will pray for all three of them with all my heart. But Down Syndrome is off my prayer list. I write this with a thankful heart, full of peace: It is our mysterious gift.

Photo credit: the beautiful, blue, professional ones are all by ErikaMarie Photography. The rest are me.

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Posted on Jun 20, 2017 in Devotional, Fertility, Health, Parenting, Spiritual Life | 7 comments

FEAR

FEAR

Although there are many things I don’t recall, fear is one thing I remember well from the first few days of Redmond’s life.

Unplanned c-section because the baby was in distress. Baby taken from me without so much as a glance. Phrases like “very sick”, “breathing problems”, “Down Syndrome”, and “NICU” scatter through my mind.

Day two of his life, words like pulmonary hypertension and oxygen levels suddenly became things I needed to understand. Lungs and heart that weren’t working right. Ventilators, nitrate, blood sugar, monitors, and nurses and doctors and help. Lots and lots of help.

“Sickest baby in the NICU.”

I was so numb and confused, in shock, the words barely phased me. But they got the attention of the nurses and doctors who cared for me after my c-section. Suddenly, less than 24 hours after surgery, I was showered, dressed, given a fist full of prescriptions, and driven to the NICU an hour away to sit with my baby, hold his hand. The baby’s doctor stared at me in shock. “Why are you here. In JEANS?” I wasn’t sure where else I was supposed to be or what I should’ve been wearing. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. He gave me a lecture about how I needed to take care of myself if I was going to take care of my baby. I was to eat regular meals, sleep as much as I could, and not push myself too hard. I was to remember that I’d just had major surgery and take it easy.

I heard the doctor and followed his orders. Through blind tears, I allowed myself to be wheeled around in a wheelchair, driven back and forth from the hospital to the Ronald McDonald House, and told when to take the medications I needed for pain. I tried to sleep, but had to wake up to pump every few hours.  Then I’d wake up in a panic every morning, wondering what was happening with my baby and how I could just leave him in the hands of strangers.

The numb confusion started to lift when the phone rang early on the morning of his third day of life. We’d been told the night before that he’d made it for the first 36 hours, so he was not likely to need to be transferred for the one kind of care our hospital could not offer. But when the phone rang, we learned he was to be transported to a bigger hospital, about 40 miles away, to have the chance to go on a heart and lung bypass machine. He might not need it, but they didn’t want to wait any longer to chance it.

Redmond was very sick. He needed more help than what he could get at the hospital he was in. Suddenly, I was very aware that this was serious. My baby might actually die. I jerked into action, signing papers and asking questions and trying to focus on what each person said to me.

Emotions flooded over me. Guilt. So much guilt. I was 41 years old and the likelihood of Down Syndrome increases exponentially with the age of the mother. I had gestational diabetes that wasn’t well-controlled, in spite of my efforts. He had complications from that. If I had been in better shape. If I had tried harder. If I had listened to my gut and ignored the strange rules from the doctors and nutritionists to eat carbohydrates, he wouldn’t be so sick. Shame. I was so ashamed. Memories of studies I’d read stating that the age of the father is now known to affect the baby’s health as well flooded over me. My husband was 52.

Illogical, panicked thoughts woke me up with a jerk every time I fell asleep. I was like King David of the Bible. God took the son of King David and Bathsheba. David fasted and prayed for the child’s life, but when the baby died, he got up, washed, and ate. In my muddled state, I forgot that David was punished by God for serious sin – including murder and adultery. My son was not the result of any sin, but I had irrational thoughts that he would die and I’d have to get up, wash my face, and get on with life. (I discovered that one of the medications I was taking for pain sometimes caused people to have terrible dreams and jerk awake in a state of panic.)

I flew down to the baby’s room at the crack of dawn, walking rather than taking the prescribed wheelchair (because my husband wasn’t moving fast enough for my panicked mind), nearly hyperventilating with fear. I couldn’t breathe. I just knew I’d arrive in his room to find him gone, hospital workers waiting to tell me in person, rather than call and disturb the last peace we’d ever know.

But there he was, laying quietly, an enormous machine run by four people beeping and humming, keeping him alive. ALIVE.

I dissolved into tears, breathing for what felt like the first time in minutes, barely able to stand with the relief that flooded me. As they stared at me, I tried to explain. But the words wouldn’t come. Instead, I stumbled to his bedside, took his limp and swollen hand, and poured out the words that God placed in my heart in that moment. God had felt so far away from me, but in that moment His presence rushed in and I spoke truth.

“Redmond Samuel Wyse, you are a gift from God. Every moment of your precious life is a gift. And whether I have you for six days, six months, six years, or a lifetime, I will be grateful for every single moment. You are an answer to my prayers, and I cherish every moment I’ve had with you – every moment of that horrible pregnancy, and every fear-filled, terrible moment since you were born. You are a gift and I’m grateful for you.”

And with those words that I hadn’t felt just moments before, things changed. Love rushed in, replacing numbness and thoughts that maybe it would be better if he didn’t make it. Love replaced efforts I’d been unwittingly making to protect my heart from the pain of losing him. Love reminded me that in Christ, every life is precious and worthwhile, even the lives of babies with Down Syndrome, congenital heart defects, and pulmonary hypertension. Love rushed in, reminding me that God is greater than any fear, any doubt, and any lie from Satan.

That was very early on a Sunday morning. It would be six very long days before he’d be taken off the heart and lung bypass machine. It would be six scary days of praying that he wouldn’t have a bleeding event. It would be six days of feeling helpless, eating hospital food that was brought to me, pumping to provide milk for him when he was able to eat, sitting on bright orange chairs in front of large windows that overlooked a massive cemetery, riding in a wheelchair back and forth to the Ronald McDonald House, jumping every time the phone rang. But on the sixth day, he was taken off the machine and his heart and lungs functioned well enough to stay off it.

The next day, when he was ten days old, I was able to hold him for the first time. I cried the ugly cry, tears and sobs and gratitude all mixed into a snotty mess. He was covered in tubes, wires, cords, and contraptions. It took three people to pick him up to place him in my lap. His ventilator was pinned to my shirt. I couldn’t get close enough to kiss him until they put him back, at which time the nurse held his little head close to mine for a quick kiss. But I was holding him. I sang him songs and marveled at his tiny body, then fell asleep in a blissfully rare moment of relaxation and joy.

For a week after that, I was able to hold him once a day. One time, Rick held him, although he grumbled quite a bit about it, worried he would pull on one of the tubes going in and out of him, worried he might break the fragile boy.

When he was four days old, the day they put him on the bypass machine, I called my in-laws and asked them to bring the older kids up to meet their baby brother. I was seized with fear that he would die before they got to meet him. It suddenly became a terrible fear. How could I explain to them that the baby died if they never got to see him alive?

And so they came, arriving just moments after Redmond’s surgery to have giant tubes inserted into his neck. The tubes allowed blood to be pumped out of his heart, artificially oxygenated by the machine, then pumped back into his heart. It was a terrible time for a visit, straining the nerves of the nurses and specialists, but still very important to me.

The kids were held up by their daddy, allowed to touch the baby’s hand, and then taken out quickly. We went to a play area in the hospital where the kids could get out some energy. I sat in my wheelchair and cried, the numbness worn off, so very sad that my baby was fighting for his life in another part of the hospital. Sad that I couldn’t run and play with my older kids while I had them with me. Sad that I had ruined our perfect, lovely life, free from hardship and pain.

A few days after the bypass machines rolled out of his room, the fear in my heart began to let loose a bit. When they took him off the ventilator, the fear let go some more. Every step along the way, fear has had to go, little by little.

Today, at home with weeks having passed without any need for hospitalization, fear only pops up from time to time. It’s still hanging around, but it isn’t hovering, dark and sinister, taking up all the space in my mind.

“God hasn’t given me a spirit of fear.” It’s the truth. Fear isn’t from God. But it’s very real when a baby’s life hangs by a thread. God gave me ways to manage fear and get through it, but it was very real and present.

Those early days in the hospital, I kept looking around for someone to come and offer me a temporary fix for the fear and sadness. Where’s the wine? Where’s the Xanax? Where’s the massage therapist to work the stress out of my muscles? Where’s the counselor to help me with these crazy thoughts?

The people that kept showing up, over and over again, were my church’s pastors. They prayed. They sat and listened. My sister and mom helped me remember that in the worst of times, we laugh to get through it. We find the funny, even through our tears. The nurses and doctors didn’t offer me a temporary fix. I didn’t take one nerve pill, didn’t drink one drop of alcohol. I slept. I ate. I leaned hard on my husband. I sang praise songs. A few days before we left the hospital, I got a massage. A social worker showed up one day and helped me work through some of my guilt and shame. Then I never saw her again.

I don’t know how to wrap up this post. I could write and write and write. I’m not sure I’d ever run out of words. In fact, I have written and written. Thousands of words. I try to edit them down and just write more. In the coming months, I’ll try to post them. I’ll try to share a bit of what this has been like. And you’ll have to forgive the repeats and the stumbles and the grammatical errors. Or point them out to me so I can fix them later.

All I know to say in closing is that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but fear snuck in anyway. What God did was help me through my fear. What God continues to do today is help me through the fear. Gratitude is slowly taking over as I cuddle and nurture the sweet, sweet baby boy He placed in my arms. My heart is at peace.

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Posted on Oct 17, 2016 in Devotional, Love, My Crazy Family, Parenting, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 3 comments

A Good Father?

A Good Father?

When I was a senior in high school, I got caught with beer in my car at after prom. Seriously. Me. Beer. Did I drink beer? Nope. I still don’t. Nasty stuff. How anyone can stand it, I don’t know. But nevertheless, it was my car, my friends, and beer. I knew about it, allowed it, and got caught. The principal had to call my parents in the middle of the night. I was pretty sure death would result from my sin. Either that or every single privilege I enjoyed, including the car and the beach trip I was planning with those friends after graduation, would be taken away from me.

Shaking in fear, I walked into my dark house that night, wondering what punishment was waiting for me. I expected all the lights to be on, my parents furiously pacing the floor.

Instead, they were quietly laying in bed, just like always. As I tiptoed in their room, wondering what type of new torture this was, I saw my dad’s arm go out and beckon me toward him. Slowly, I walked toward that arm. He pulled me in closer. Then he pulled me down onto the bed. Instead of yelling (or killing me), he just hugged me tight. As my fear melted away, I began to cry. Somehow I managed to blubbler out the story: I’d agreed to let my friends bring beer because I wanted them to have fun. They’d said they were unable to let loose, dance, and have fun without it. It had never occurred to me that I could get in trouble for it. I wasn’t drinking and driving. I wasn’t drinking at all.

My mind often goes back to that night. My parents taught me a valuable lesson in the middle of what must have been very frightening to them. They said that a person shouldn’t be dependent on alcohol to have fun. If a person can’t have fun without alcohol, they have a problem. I’ve always remembered that lesson. A nice glass of wine with a fine meal is a different thing than the inability to enjoy oneself without it.

Beyond the alcohol though, another issue strikes me. I learned a lot about a father’s love. He could have raged at me, punished me extensively, or demanded that I stop hanging out with those friends. He didn’t though. He trusted that I’d learned my lesson (I certainly had) and let it go. He treated me tenderly, and he treated my friends tenderly too.

There’s a worship song that’s very popular right now, “You’re a Good, Good Father.” The first verse says,

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love
In the dead of night
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father.

Like my dad, my husband is a good, good father. He is the one who scrambles out of bed in the middle of the night at the slightest cry of a child. He answers their cries tenderly, holding them, rocking them back to sleep, and sometimes really irritating me. Why does he have to be such a softy? Can’t he command them to go back to sleep? But he doesn’t.

Not everyone has such a good father. Many fathers are callous, hard, and ready to pounce on their children at the least provocation. They yell and issue commands, not taking the time to listen and understand. And some fathers simply abandon their children altogether, or are so evil that the child would be better off if they did. Into the mess of this world, we have this beautiful song about our Heavenly Father. HE is a good Father, no matter what our earthly fathers are like.

So why is it that so many of us, myself included, run from this good Father when we sin? Why is it that we avoid God when we are ashamed of ourselves? We have a good Father who loves us fully.

He beckons us with open arms, welcoming us into His embrace, even when we have sinned woefully. He wants to hug us, talk to us about what happened, and help us learn something from it. He wants to deepen our relationship, not push us away.

I see it at times in my own life. When I feel deeply disappointed by the way things have turned out, so different than what I thought God had in mind, I struggle to embrace Him. I feel a little like an angry teenager, arms crossed, back turned to God. I haven’t left Him by any means. I’m still leaning against His throne, and I don’t want to leave. But I am so hurt and disappointed, I don’t think I can crawl into His lap right now either. Constant questions plague my mind. Did I do the wrong thing? Is this somehow my sin? Am I missing something? And I’m facing outward, away from Him, because I’m watching so expectantly to see what He will do next.

I have a good, good Father. Surely He has sent an answer, an unforeseen blessing, and it’s making its way up the road to me now. But I’m very near-sighted, and I can’t make it out yet. But I’m watching.

2016-03-27-11-52-05How much better could I watch from the perch of His lap? If, like my tiny daughter does so freely with her daddy, I could crawl up there, grab hold of his shirt and snuggle down, knowing without question the comfort and security I would find there, wouldn’t life be so much better?

What if we started running toward God when we sin? What if we cry into His arms, pour out our sorrow, share our frustration and disappointment openly? Our good Father can handle our pain, and He knows exactly what to do with it.

A good, good Father is exactly who we have. No matter who our earthly fathers were, or are, we can rest in the embrace of God.

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Posted on Feb 18, 2016 in Before Marriage Blog, Devotional, Spiritual Life | 0 comments

Some Things Never Change

Some Things Never Change

I had just finished my first year of seminary, I was working as a summer intern at my church in Nashville, TN, and my supervisor asked me to share a testimony with the women’s group.

As I was going through some old notes today, I found my notes from that day and have decided to share them with you here. They are a good reminder to me of where I’ve been and what God has done in my life. I hope they’ll be an encouragement to you too.

 

~July 30, 2005~

Back in the day...

Back in the day…

After a year away at seminary, several of you have asked what motivated me to pursue this degree. The truth is that I really had no other choice. There are all the logical answers, like I wanted a master’s degree in SOMETHING, it was time for a change, my gifts and talents lie in that area… Blah, blah, blah…

The real story is that God has been calling me to ministry all of my life.

My dad tells the story that when I was barely old enough to talk, he told me about Jesus and asked me if I wanted to accept Him into my heart. I eagerly said yes and every time he shared the salvation message with me thereafter, I always wanted him to pray with me again. He says I must’ve gotten saved 100 times before I was 5 years old. At five years old, I responded in church to a call for salvation that I remember well. A deep love for the Lord was instilled in me at a very young age.

My parents were raised in the Mennonite church where, at the time, only men were able to be church leaders. I was taught that my purpose in life was to marry a godly man and assist him in his calling. My greatest dream, then, was to marry a pastor. In my fantasy world, he could preach and do weddings and funerals and I would take care of the rest!  Teaching classes, administration, discipleship, worship, and so on would all happily be my responsibility. It never crossed my mind that I had a call to ministry on my life – regardless of what a possible future husband might do.

By my mid-20’s when I found myself single and bored with my career, I began to revisit the plan I had for my life. I sought God for some direction – any direction!  I prayed for hours at a time, fasted, had other people pray for me, read books about it, took personality tests, and continued to be desperate for some direction from the Lord. And then it happened – driving in the car one day the Lord spoke to me very clearly. He said “I want you to go to seminary.”

This was completely outside of my realm of thinking and as foreign a concept as it gets!  I was shocked and scared and thrilled all at once. Me?  Seminary?  A woman?  Really, God?

“Yes. And I want you to go to Regent University.”

While the first part had thrilled me, the second part concerned me. I knew a little about Regent and that it was located in Virginia Beach, VA – and I had no intention of leaving Nashville!  When I graduated from college, I felt like the Lord had called me to Nashville and I absolutely loved it. My family had moved a lot while I was growing up and I hated moving. I’d determined I was going to find one place to live and stay there forever. For three years, I battled with the Lord over leaving. Regent has a distance education program and I tried to find a way to take classes that way while maintaining my full-time job in Nashville, but that didn’t work. It was three of the hardest years of my life, facing failure upon failure. By the time I left, I had lost nearly everything and felt like I was being spit out of Nashville.

During this time, the Lord spoke very clearly to me – and by now He had my full attention. He used a song on a songwriter named Jill Phillips to get my attention and bring me to a place of rest. Here are the lyrics from “Hanging On.”

The weight I fastened on trying to make my world run
Almost pinned me to the floor
I could not orchestrate one solitary day
The more I worked I found my efforts all in vain.

I believe that I need to let go of these things to be free
S0 help me stop this hanging on and on.

All my worry got was more of what I did not want
The love of power and control
Every hour running kept me in that starting place
When I finally rested I began to win this race.

I believe that I need to let go of these things to be free.
So help me stop this hanging on and on.

Cause you provide.

There is only so much I can do with these two hands
Precious is the freedom that I finally understand
I believe that I need to let go of these things to be free
So help me stop this hanging on and on.

That song nailed my problem down as clearly as it could be said. I had tried to run my own world – to build the life I thought I should have – and I got nowhere at all. Frustration, failure, and pain were all I had to show for my hard work.

God opened my eyes to see that no matter what I said – all the proper Christian phrases – reality was that I didn’t trust Him with my life. I loved Him and wanted His approval, but I wanted things MY way. I wanted to do it myself and expected Him to applaud my efforts. It came as quite a shock to me when He disciplined me instead!

So I threw up my hands and decided to do my best to put my full trust in Him. And when He said “Go to Regent” this time, I put aside my lack of understanding and went. I went with great fear and trembling. But I went.

God has yet to disappoint me. 

I sold nearly everything I owned before I moved, paying off debt, and God has provided replacements for EVERYTHING – including my car!  He has provided amazing jobs (including this internship), and I’ve been introduced me to some of the most influential people at Regent. He’s provided me with a student government position that I was too afraid to apply for until He confirmed it for me several times – and that position carries with it a 50% tuition scholarship. He’s provided me with wonderful friends and professors who love and encourage me. He’s even provided me with a good church.

It’s a daily struggle for me to give over control to God. There are times when I realize that I have yet again charged in on my own and attempted to make things happen. When I’m faced with failure, I look for God and find Him waiting for me somewhere other than where I’m at. I run back and take His hand again. In fact, this last year for me has been one lesson in trust after another. When I think I finally have gotten it, I mess up again!  How many of you can relate to that?

Here are a few words of encouragement from Scripture:

Psalm 127:1 (NKJV)
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

AND

Proverbs 3:5-8 (The Message)
Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to GOD! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!

Sometimes I actually find myself apologizing to God because I need Him so much. In those times I can almost feel Him laughing at me and saying – I want you to need Me!  I’m trying to remember to bask in my need of Him and enjoy the fact that when I have a need, He is my knight in shining armor – He is the one who desires to rush to my rescue!  I do not have to do it on my own. I do not have to prove my capability to God or impress Him with my ability to handle a situation!  He longs for me to turn it over to Him. He wants me to ask for His advice.

Several times this last year when I have asked, God has required me to take a giant leap of faith. He has required me to quit one job before I was assured of another. He has required that I make myself very vulnerable, but every single time He has come to my rescue.

So my encouragement to you today is to trust God as your champion!  Trust Him as the one who truly longs to take care of your every need!  Believe in God as your knight in shining armor!  He is the only one that you need.

Even if you’re having a hard time with trust, step out in faith and do that thing that is tugging on your heart right now. That thing that He asked you to do and that you’ve been battling Him about. He’s not going to make your life a barren wasteland. He wants to redeem it and make your very bones vibrate with life!

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Posted on Jan 20, 2016 in Devotional, Love, Marriage, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 4 comments

Marriage Mahem

Marriage Mahem

2016-01-20 21.15.13Marriage is hard.

I married a wonderful man. He’s sweet and kind. He helps out around the house. He changes diapers and gets up with fussy babies in the night so I can sleep. He is an excellent provider with a great sense of humor. There are times when I look at him and cannot believe how lucky I am. He would die of embarrassment if I told you all the things about him that I find attractive and exciting. I believe with all my heart that he is God’s gift to me and we are a great compliment to one another. We grew up with similar values and beliefs. We have a lot of fun together. I could go on and on about the magnitude of his magnificence.

And still I am writing that MARRIAGE IS HARD.

I love him with all my heart, but we are two very different people with very different ideas about things – trying to build a home together. We have to deal with one another every minute of every day. There is NEVER a break. There is NEVER a moment where what I do doesn’t mean something to him. There is no point in which I can say, “Well, these past four years have been fun, but I’m a little tired right now so I’m going on vacation. I’ll see you in three months.” This commitment I made is FOR LIFE.

“Well, of course it is,” you might think. Duh. What’s her problem? But if you’ve ever had issues with anxiety, I bet you hear the panic in my tone. The trapped, claustrophobic feeling. I bet you aren’t judging me for admitting these unspeakable truths.

I was warned that marriage is hard, many times by many people before I got married. I was told to enjoy the freedom of my singleness and be grateful that I can spend $100 without having to explain myself to anyone. These words were not lost on me. I heard them, I tried to absorb and understand them, but I simply couldn’t hear it because my aching need for all the benefits of marriage was screaming so loudly. How do you tell a starving woman that there will come a day when there’s so much food around her that she feels physically ill and wants to go on a fast? It’s ridiculous.

And of course I don’t really want to be without him. The idea of losing him, of grieving that loss and then starting the whole process over, exhausts me. I’ve adjusted to his help, his strength, his support, and not having him besides me would devestate me.

But the day in and day out of marriage can feel a little overwhelming at times. This person, this life, forever and ever, amen. This conflict we’re in, we HAVE to work it out. There’s no escape. There’s no other option. We simply have to work it out or one of us is going to spend the rest of our life angry with a side of disconnection.

Part of what I’ve been doing is looking at myself. How have I disappointed him? How have I created a situation where he is sad or hurt? How can I behave differently, adjust my expectations, compromise? Truthfully, it’s part of my decision to BE AWESOME. My mediocrity is hard on this precious man.

Part of what I’ve been doing is giving myself permission to have an opinion and insist on it. What??? As a Christian who wants to honor God, I may have gotten a little confused on the whole “submission” thing. It doesn’t help our relationship when I die a little inside every day because I’m so unhappy trying to fit into a mold not made for me. I can smile brightly and try with all my heart to fit for a while, but eventually the truth comes out. I’m giving myself permission to say what does and doesn’t work for me.

The most important thing I’ve been doing is PRAYING. Desperately praying for God to give us unity in our hearts. We are such different people that at times it feels like we’ll never be unified. We’ll both always find ourselves compromising, but not terribly happy about it. Why should we live like that? God has ordained this marriage and blessed us with children. It’s understandable that we should be in agreement, 100%, on some of the very important things in our lives.

I admit that the day that prayer came to my mind, the audacity of it nearly knocked me over. I felt like I asked God to turn apples and oranges into pears. It was ridiculous. But God is a miracle worker! He loves it when we bring our big, audacious prayers to Him. He loves it when we believe strongly enough in the power and might of GOD to trust that miracles can actually happen. And what a beautiful prayer! In hindsight it’s seems silly that I was afraid to pray it, but it was wild.

I’m not writing that I think married couples should agree on everything all the time. We are individuals for a reason and it’s good to have some diversity. But there are some big issues that it’s really helpful to agree on. For example, basic parenting practices, what church to attend, and how much time to spend with your extended family.

I’ve come to believe that unity is possible. It doesn’t mean one person gives up everything so they can pretend to agree with the other person. It’s possible for God to so radically change each one of our hearts that we truly, in the very core of our beings, want the same things. At the very heart of who each of us is, we can desire the same things.

A friend of mine married a man who seemed like a good fit for her in every way, only to discover such tremendous differences after marriage that she was despondent and afraid. Over the last 10+ years, I’ve seen that couple become unified. When I spend time with them, I hear the same ideas coming from him as I do from her. Their expectations have changed, their habits and plans have changed. They’ve truly become united in their hearts. It’s been a really neat thing to see. And they’ve told me it’s been really, really hard.

I’ve seen other good friends do the exact opposite. I’ve seen them marry with grand ideas that they’re perfect for one another and want very similar things in life, only to gradually move away from one another. I’ve seen couples with tremendous chemistry and nearly identical values turn on one another in fury and attack, tearing one another to shreds. I’ve seen the shock on their faces as they emotionally limp away, trying to figure out what just happened. I’ve witnessed the devastation of divorce much too close up, heard the wails of hurt and anger. I’ve seen the stunned children whose worlds have been ripped apart while their parents struggle just to survive. It has ripped my heart to shreds too. This horror is one that I never want to experience again. If you are considering divorce and want someone to coddle you and tell you it’s okay to leave, don’t call me. You don’t want to hear what I have to say.

Divorce is not an option. I believe when we take divorce completely off the table, remove even the remote possibility of it from our minds and vocabulary, we can truly learn how to love. (There are some extreme cases where I’d advise differently, but they are too horrible to even put into words. Use your imagination, if you must.) When we allow that slightly claustrophobic, anxiety-producing realization that there is NO ESCAPE, that we are in this thing for the rest of our lives, it forces us to find a way to make it work.

No matter how mad I ever get at Rick, no matter how hurt or betrayed, unless there is some kind of true, unrepentant evil involved, we are in this together. Forever. Because we have the rest of our lives to work it out, we don’t have to have all the answers today. We don’t actually have to come to an agreement before we go to sleep tonight. Sometimes a little sleep allows us to reset and puts things back into perspective. Because we cherish our children and want to give them the best possible lives, we will work it out. We will find a way to make it through.

Marriage is hard, but we can do it.

My friend with the unified marriage didn’t sail through the first ten years with ease. She did hard, aching work to build the marriage she knew she wanted. She allowed her husband to try and fail. She humbled herself over and over again, suffering things in silence that no one speaks of openly. She went back over and over again, opening herself up to hurt and frustration because she believed in her marriage. Maybe one day she’ll allow me to tell her story from my perspective. It’s a story of God’s faithfulness to a disciplined and determined woman who wouldn’t give up.

If you’ve been through a divorce, my heart hurts for you. I’m not standing in judgment. I repeat: Marriage is Hard. When I hear the word “divorce”, I hear heart break, betrayal, and devastation. Even in the worst of situations, God can heal, restore, and make whole again. I pray that God will heal your heart and restore back to you everything that’s been taken. You are precious and loved.

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Posted on Jul 28, 2014 in Devotional, Love, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 4 comments

A Prophetic Word?

A Prophetic Word?

 

Sometimes I find it hard to believe my life these days.

 

Charlie - 3 months

Charlie – 3 months

There are times when it seems like every single little thing I ever wanted in life has been handed to me on a silver platter.  I look around in wonder and stop for a minute to lift my hands in praise to God.  I wonder if it’s somehow wrong to be so blessed and happy.

 

Other days I get out of sorts and frustrated with less glamorous aspects of life.  At times children may be impressive little destroyers, husbands may forget to speak tenderly, extended family and friends may disappoint, and there may even be an unrecognizably puffy, middle-aged, graying woman staring back in the mirror – but isn’t that just the stuff of life?  It’s not a perfect life, but the frustrating and difficult days are much fewer than the good ones.

 

I’m a stay-at-home mom whose husband works from home and is also able to be around much of the time.  Rick often works long hours, but he can typically set his own schedule and work around the needs of our family.  God has gifted us with two little blessings who are now 19-months old and 3-months old.  They’re very close in age because we weren’t sure how many years of fertility we had left, so we figured we’d better get it done.  They are light and joy to us.

 

But taking care of two babies, plus trying to keep the house up, cook meals, manage the farm books, volunteer at church, spend time with friends, exercise, shower regularly, and squeeze in time for writing just can’t all be done well by one person.  At least not THIS person…  As helpful as Rick and his parents are, they have other responsibilities too.

 

Our wonderful helper

Our wonderful helper

Thankfully, we were able to bring in someone to help out with the housework and the kids.  She stays with us three nights a week and is a tremendous blessing.  I know I could make it work without her, but having her around means that our household is much more peaceful.  Chores are done, children are nurtured, and we’re all fairly well-rested.  It makes a huge difference – the difference between surviving and thriving!  I’ve been encouraged by the model of a godly woman in Proverbs 31.  Verse 15 says that she has servants.  This amazing woman in the Bible doesn’t do it all herself!

 

As I was puttering around the house this morning, wondering in awe at the beauty of God’s redemptive work in my life during this season, I was reminded of something I still don’t completely understand.  There was a couple who came to our church and ministered to the church staff one day.  They didn’t know us.  Our pastor knew them and trusted them.  When he told us what was going to happen that day, I burred up inside.  I was skeptical and just the tiniest bit hopeful.

 

The couple that came to our staff meeting are prophetic ministers.  Hearing that they were coming to pray over us individually and to give prophetic words to us as they heard God speak filled me with mixed emotions.  I grew up in a Charismatic church and have seen prophecy used to manipulate people’s emotions, have seen those who claim prophetic gifts be completely wrong, and have seen the rare occasion when it raises the hair on the back of my neck and proves true.  I’d often longed to have someone give me a prophetic word from God, some inkling that He knew my situation and wanted to speak to me, but there had been very few.

 

When this couple began to pray and speak over my co-workers, my defenses started to come down.  They seemed to know intimate, personal details about them that couldn’t be fabricated.  How did they know that my co-worker was a potter and an illustration from God about pottery would mean so much to her?  Over and over they accurately spoke about the person they prayed over.

 

When they came to me, I was ready to hear what they had to say, hopeful that they would tell me and all my co-workers that I was going to be mighty in the kingdom of God.  (Yes, I admit that was what I wanted to hear.)  I hoped to hear I’d have a ministry greater than Joyce Meyer or Beth Moore.  God does say “exceedingly, abundantly”, doesn’t He?

 

Instead, they told me my past.  They told me the place in my heart that was aching.  They told me how I thought the things that had gone wrong in the last few years were my fault and that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could’ve done differently.  Then they told me there was nothing I could’ve done differently.  God was working things out in me, making some adjustments, and nothing I’d done was a surprise to Him.  I was exactly where He wanted me to be.

 

Then they told me about my future.  Their eyes bored into my soul and they saw that I was terrible at receiving, preferring to give to others.  I had no idea how to receive and was often suspicious of those who wanted to give to me.  And while the Bible says it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), it also says that God will cause us to receive blessings from others – a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.  (Luke 6:38)

 

The word I was given was that I was going to learn to receive, and that I would find it wasn’t weakness but just openness to God.  They encouraged me to take the time I’d been given in my current season to press into the Lord and get to know Him more.  Without realizing how much I love butterflies, they compared me to a caterpillar in a cocoon, soon to be released as a butterfly.

 

I did as they said.  I pressed into God’s presence, spending time in Scripture, fasting, praying, and ordering my life around Christ.  I received one other prophetic word in the months that followed – received it from several people who had not spoken to one another about it.  They all told me that the answer to my prayers was already there, like it was in the shadows of the room, just waiting to step forward and be seen.  I was told to be still and stop struggling.

 

DSC_0588All my attempts at wrestling my life into the mold I had in mind for myself stopped at that point.  Obediently, I became still and stopped struggling.  Everything seemed to turn upside down, but I waited like I’d been told.  Rick finally stepped out of the shadows of my life and claimed me as his bride.  He became the person God used to provide for me.  Through his love and through the covenant of marriage we made together, blessings from God have poured into my life.  I have become a grateful receiver.

 

My aspirations to become a big deal have melted away as I’ve stepped into my role as wife and mother – a big deal to the three people God has given me to love and nurture.  The experience of waiting in stillness, aware that nothing I was able to do on my own could bring me one step closer to God’s plan for my life, has taught me to relax into what God is doing NOW in me.  If God has other plans for me at a later point in life, it’s His job to bring them about.  Not mine.  I have learned to walk in obedience and to believe that He is working out the details.

 

Sometimes fear tries to creep in, whispering that I shouldn’t get too comfortable because it could all be taken from me in a moment.  Whispering that I’m not doing enough with my education, that I’m supposed to be striving to BECOME SOMEONE.  While I know that nothing is ever guaranteed, I refuse to let fear rule my life.  For the time I have my precious husband and these beautiful children, I will soak up every moment with gratitude and praise.  If everything I’ve been given is ripped from me tomorrow, I will deal with that sorrow then.  During this season of my life, I will joyfully change diapers, wipe noses, sing silly songs, give lots of hugs and kisses, and teach everything I can to these sweet little treasures.

 

For today I choose to wrap my arms around the amazing little loves that call me mama, give all I can back to the gracious man who calls me wife, and shine with all the love I’m receiving.

 

Thank You, God, for the many blessings You’ve given me.  Thank You, thank You, thank You.

 

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