Today I'm praying for/about:

Today, (in no particular order) I'm praying for...
- Fresh ideas, inspiration and diligence to post regularly again

- My dad fighting mesothelioma too far away for me to hug him

- Children, parents, and teachers everywhere preparing to return to school

- My single friends as they seek God for His guidance in relationships

- Broken relationships; for grace to abound where grace has been withheld

- You; I'm praying for every single person who views this blog.

Thank you for standing in agreement with me for these precious souls!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't Fret, Pet

I've felt led to post something the last couple days but was at a loss what to write.  I went digging into some "e-votionals" that I wrote a couple years ago for a group of us who were praying and fasting corporately.  The following has been slightly modified but it's a topic that's been on my heart recently.  I pray it ministers to your heart...

We've all heard it said that "money is the root of all evil" (though it's actually "all kinds" rather than "all").  However, I suggest that fear is the greatest culprit for evil.  Every issue we face that I can think of can be traced back to fear or a variation thereof.  Anger, rage, lust, jealousy, coveting, thievery, murder, extortion, complacency, over-acheiving, neglect, you name it, they all come back to a fear of something.  Fear, on its own is a sin but opens the door to propagate a myriad of others.  However, God says: "I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you.  I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  "All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.  Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them.  Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.  For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." (Isaiah 41:9-13)  Let God know what you struggle with and together He can help you find and address the root fear, repent of it, and forgive anyone whose offense planted it there.  

Last year my husband had the opportunity to fill in on a Sunday morning for our pastor to deliver the message.  His topic was "Fear Not" and during his sermon he shared that in the Word, God reiterates over and over, with varying terminology ("fear not", "be not afraid", "be anxious for nothing", etc).  In fact, it must be vitally important because He tells us that 366 times!  That's enough for every, single day of the year... including leap year!  Another beautiful thing is, that no matter what we fear, God has already made us promises to the contrary.  There is absolutely nothing we face that God has not already dealt with and promised you He would take care of.  Not job loss, not death, not terminal illness, not natural disasters, not family feuds, not crime, not tragedy of any sort, is outside God's reach and thus, you have no reason to feel anything but peace day in and day out.  I know, I know... it's the application that's tricky.  For the average one of us, living in complete peace is something of a biblical fairy tale that only legends lived, long ago and far away.  But that's not what God wants for us.  He wants us to "go in peace" and "sin no more".  In fact, I wonder, if we're at complete and total peace, is it possible to sin?  If we trust Him completely for everything then will we, theoretically, not be susceptible (or at least way less susceptible) to the temptation of sin?  As I was searching on the topic, with plans to use a small, simple scripture reference, I came across this passage and I had to include the whole thing...
"But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him.  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.  He bestows rain on the earth; he sends water upon the countryside.   The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.  He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.  He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.  Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night.  He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.  So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth.  "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.  For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.  From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will befall you.  In famine he will ransom you from death, and in battle from the stroke of the sword.  You will be protected from the lash of the tongue, and need not fear when destruction comes. You will laugh at destruction and famine, and need not fear the beasts of the earth.  For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with you.  You will know that your tent is secure; you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.  You will know that your children will be many, and your descendants like the grass of the earth.  You will come to the grave in full vigor, like sheaves gathered in season.  "We have examined this, and it is true.  So hear it and apply it to yourself." (Job 5:8-27)  It's a much longer passage than usual, I know, but what a promise!  What blessed assurance!  My mom tells me that my great-grandmother used to tell her "Don't fret, pet."  What an excellent summation of the above passages!  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Change the World

I posted some time ago entitled "Butterfly: Affect"; about what an impact small actions, choices, words, etc. can have on our world.  It was inspired by a small book written by Andy Andrews; quick, easy, and extremely empowering read... I highly recommend it.  I reference it now because I want to tag onto my most recent post regarding our fifth baby who is waiting for us in the arms of Christ.

We had a beautiful memorial for him.  Part of me, honestly, wonders why... The logical side of my brain says that was kind of an unnecessary use of our time and resources... No one knew him, he never even took a breath...  However, the emotional and spiritual side of me says that every (and I mean EVERY) life matters and we chose to celebrate that.  As Dr. Seuss taught us, "a person's a person, no matter how small".  God says He has a purpose and a destiny for every life He creates.  We knew, even in the moments of our deepest ache of loss, that God had destined for Tobias to "accomplish" something in only 32 weeks worth of heartbeats.  Because of the impression Andrews' book made on me, because of the peace that God-given frame of mind brought us, we chose to use butterflies as a theme for the memorial.  I used the example of the chaos theory of the butterfly effect in what I shared that day and we finished the memorial with a release of monarchs outside the church.  Sadly, one butterfly remained in the box after we opened it but even that was a little "kiss" from God... I took it home, and carefully glued it to a piece of paper that says "You flapped your wings in secret... And changed the world".  It's in a small frame on my dresser now.

God is showing us the impact that Toby, our little "butterfly" is already making on the world.  The care team at the hospital sent us cards thanking us for the privilege of helping deliver him, friends have shared our story with others to bring them comfort and encouragement amidst their loss, I have people coming to me who need someone to talk to about their own experience, the link for the previous post is being passed, reposted, and shared, and the stats show me that Toby's story has reached as far as Poland, England, China, and Romania.

God is using a tiny baby, who never took a breath of air, to change the world.

He wants to use your tragedy too.  He doesn't want us to stay victims; He wants us to be victors.  He wants us to see our tragedy through Him, not try to see Him through our tragedy.  He wants us to see an opportunity to praise Him, honor Him, glorify Him, and serve Him in that ordeal.  Tragedy needs not be tragic.  You have purpose.  Your pain has purpose.  You have a destiny to reach into someone else's life and let them know they are not alone.  I can reach out to a woman who just lost a baby.  Maybe you can reach someone who lost a spouse.  Maybe you're battling a disease or other physical malady.  Maybe you survived a violent attack.  Maybe you're just... surviving.  Whatever you're going through, wherever you are, He has dropped you, like a pebble into a calm pond, with a plan to use those ripples to reach shores you may never see.

There's a family we got to know while part of a church up in Washington for a time.  Their 15 year old daughter, Jacoby, is a level 9 gymnast (for those that don't know much about gymnastics, this is just a level or two shy of the "elite" level where the Olympians compete).  Almost three months ago she was practicing her bar routine and, in the middle of the double-back dismount she's practiced countless times, she "got lost" mid-air... She opened up at the wrong time in her rotation and landed on her neck. She immediately lost feeling from the chest down.  Already she has been through surgeries, a long hospital stay, a lot of rehab, and adjusting to life in a chair.  We have followed the family's ordeal via their blog, Get Well Jacoby, prayed for them, and praised God for how He is using their story to reach people.  In the first week after her injury her dad said in a radio interview that they can now empathize with a group of people they never could before.  They do not know how much motion, feeling, or function Jacoby will ever regain (though she is working as hard as she can to get back on her feet!) but they do know that God has a plan for this and they have, the entire time, continued to praise Him for it.

I cannot remember the exact passage but during a study of Revelation I remember us discussing that there will be two different "judgments" before Christ (we were cross referencing between several books as we studied so I'm not sure the passage was even in Revelation); one being the judgment where Christ determines whose names are in the books of Life and Death; the other is the "bema" judgement.  "Bema" was the platform where an official presided over a contest and where victors were presented awards for their accomplishments.  I remember us discussing that this particular judgment will not take place at the end of our individual lives but rather at the end of everyone's lives.  One reason we pondered for this is because of our "ripples"...  Your story won't be complete until everyone else's story is complete whose life you touched.  Whether directly or indirectly, your life will affect other lives for generations.  You don't need to win a Nobel prize to change the world.  God can use you to change the world with even the smallest, seemingly mundane, actions (or, even, INactions if He calls you to not do something).

I know that praising God in the storms of our life runs counterintuitive to our nature.  It doesn't make sense to thank God for trials, does it?  That's like thanking a cop for a speeding ticket, a patient thanking a dentist for a root canal, an athlete thanking their coach for a brutal workout, or an employee thanking their boss for a heavy work load!  However, the testimony we bear beyond our trials correlates directly to how deeply we cling to and trust Him as those storms rage.  God wants to use you to change the world... will you let Him?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Surviving Death

*** NOTE:  The following is an account of something very emotional I went through; please be warned if you have a tender heart.  You may need tissues.  I pray God will guard your heart with a spirit of peace as you read. ***

Sometimes you know it's coming; like the rumble of a distant train.  The far-off whistle.  It gets closer.  It passes.  The noise, the enormity, the power, it's still overwhelming but you had a chance to brace your senses.  Sometimes, though, there's no warning...

Like heading down a main thoroughfare and all is well until life hits you like a Mac truck from a side street at 70 mph.  No way to brace yourself, you just have time to look before you're hit.

Life's trials.  Some you see coming; some you don't.

I realized in August of 2011 I was pregnant.  I was troubled because I really didn't want to be pregnant but found I was also upset with myself for not being joyful.  After all, God says children are a reward and a blessing.  There's so many people who WANT to be pregnant, and here I am, grumbling because I AM. I have to admit, I'm not sure I ever completely surrendered joyfully to this pregnancy and in some ways, I think I am still wrestling with it (but more on that later).

We found out in time to put it on our 2011 Christmas cards that we were looking forward to welcoming Tobias (our fifth boy) to our family in May of 2012.  So many friends and family had been praying we'd finally add a girl to the mix but I had resigned myself ahead of time, to avoid disappointment, that it was another boy.  We were content and spent the next couple months trying to convince our other boys not to be disappointed he wasn't a she!  (One of them, despite several reiterations, continued to tell anyone who would listen, that he was having a sister).  We had boy clothes, boy bedding, boy toys... we know boys so life would continue with familiar rhythm.

My fifth pregnancy was going nearly as text-book as the previous four.  The only exceptions were that I'd had the most severe morning sickness in the first trimester I'd ever had and a varicose vein that was throbbing if I didn't have my leg elevated or full-length support hose on (note: full-length maternity graduated support hose are an ordeal to get into, way too warm for Florida weather, and are by no means any kind of sexy... but they make a huge difference if you have circulation problems!)  Besides that, my weight gain was minimal, baby was growing, we were both healthy, and all was going normal.

With my OB's blessing, two of my boys, and my support stockings, I had to take a cross-country trip to Seattle in February.  My dad's wife had gone into hospice care, nearing the end of her battle with cancer; I wanted to see her before she passed and try to comfort my dad as he faced what was coming.  It was a nice trip, despite the reason, and the boys and I got some wonderful time with family and friends.  I was honored to be a vessel for God and pray peace and encouragement into my dad's sweet wife as she prepared to meet Jesus.  We flew home and back to life as usual...

A couple weeks after I had got back, my husband settled into bed, wrapped his arm around my round belly, and asked if "Toby" (as we were already calling him) was moving.  Not thinking much of it, I said no and assumed he was comfy and resting (most likely waiting for me to be nearly asleep before he started his nightly acrobatics!).  I didn't ponder it further, went to sleep, then had a pretty typical day following.

It was a Wednesday night.  There was youth group and then my husband had to attend a meeting with the church leadership.  There were a lot of problems going on, stress levels were high, and a lot of things were coming to a head.  I went home to put our kids to bed and one of the youth, my best friend's daughter, came to help.  After we got the boys settled and sat down on the couch, my young friend asked if the baby was moving and could she feel him.  I told her he wasn't and our conversation moved to other things.  My mind, however, did not.  It was in that moment the memory banks began to spin backward...

How long had it been since he'd moved??  I remembered the night before... Had it really been THAT long since he moved?  What kind of mother was I that I couldn't remember WHEN I last felt him!  The embers of panic began to smolder but I kept myself calm.  I went through checklists in my head of where I was when he last kicked me, what things I could do to get him to move, reassurances that he was probably fine and I was overreacting.

The panic wouldn't go away.

I can't remember if I asked my best friend when she came to pick up her daughter or if I texted her later,  sharing my concern, but I went and called my mom and poured a bath immediately.  I texted my husband.  No matter which way I lay on our bed, he wouldn't move.  I texted my husband again.  In the bath, he wouldn't move.  I sobbed prayer upon prayer as I went through my bath.  I dried off, dressed, and called my mom again.  She said call the hospital.  They said I was probably fine but go ahead and come get checked.  I called my best friend.  She came immediately.  My last resort... a cold pack from the freezer against the corner of my belly where I could feel him laying.  Nothing.  I called my husband.  He had finally gotten the texts and now my call and was heading home immediately while the pastor prayed.

I already knew.

I put on some comfortable clothes.  I couldn't decide whether to pack a bag; it was early enough in the pregnancy I hadn't done one yet.  The tears came in waves.  My husband rushed in and changed his clothes.  My friend arrived to stay with the children.  She had been crying already as she prayed.  We all hoped I was wrong.

As we got on the freeway to the hospital all that came to mind were hymns.  I did not grow up in church and I had only started learning any of the old hymns over the previous few years.  But, the words came.  When I didn't even know what to pray, words of praise and faith came in singing sobs all the way there.  I knew what was looming.  I knew Christ had felt what I felt... dread of what I was about to have to experience with no way around it but with an odd peace that I cannot describe.

We arrived at the hospital and had to tearfully explain to the check-in desk why I needed to get to the maternity wing.  (It seemed like every staff person from the door to the discharge had to ask what was going on... I felt like I explained it a hundred times).  Every one of them reassured me that all was probably ok and we'd be heading home, just fine, in no time.  Comforting smiles.  Attempts to hide their own concern that I might be right...  I felt sorry for them.

The poor little triage nurse in labor & delivery who had to do the initial ultrasound.  I actually apologized to her.  I know things like this are the hardest part of their job.  She tried to find the heartbeat.  Said the equipment must not be working right.  I knew.  I've been dopplered so many times.  I know that echoing sound as the sensor searches my belly.  I also knew how easy it had always been before this to find every baby's heartbeat.  I knew.  I prayed for God to rescue me.  He spoke into my heart "My beloved, I cannot... but I will be WITH you through it."  It was like the Holy Spirit squeezed my hand...

One of the midwives came in to do a confirmation scan.  I felt bad for her to be the one to say "I'm so sorry."  I felt bad for them now having to prepare themselves emotionally for my delivery.  They were all so kind.  Gentle.  Loving.  Patient.  The care team was a blessing.

It was all so surreal; so vivid and yet such a blur.  They said I had already begun to dilate, an indication my body already knew before I did.  They got me a room, an IV, a drip of pitocin to bring on labor.  They promised to do it slowly.  They offered to add something to my IV so I could rest while it progressed.  I couldn't decide.  I wish now I hadn't.  Or, at least asked for only half the dose.  While it was nice to let my brain go numb and doze off for a while, the drug left me foggy long after that.  Somehow I knew I should avoid the drugs but I didn't.  I would have liked to be more cognizant and aware than I was after delivering.

I don't remember what time it was but the contractions wouldn't let me sleep.  I didn't take long before it was time to push.  Then, it was all done.  They said his cord was attached to the placenta at the bottom, not in the center as is normal.  They said he probably got big enough that at one point he got comfy on his own cord, went to sleep, and never woke up.  They said when it happens it only takes about two minutes.  No way to foresee it.  No way to prevent it.  No way to undo it.

We held him.

We cried.

The nurses cried with us.

He would have looked just like the others.  Dark hair.  Cupid's bow lips.  Same nose.  So tiny.

They put a little gown on him with a hat so we could hold him a while.  Even more surreal; a very odd mix of emotional thoughts dancing with the analytical and logical.  Thoughts of what might have been and now would not be along side thoughts that this is not him, he is with Christ.

The care staff was wonderful and we were given a beautiful memory box, his footprint, a little flannel heart of the same material as his gown.  The nurses took pictures and even put them on a disc for us.

I was discharged less than 24 hours after arriving and we were home before dinner.  I would be thankful for my own bed and my husband's cuddles.  As soon as we got home we gathered our boys and shared, in words they would understand, what had happened.  They cried with us and asked a lot of questions that we did our best to answer.  This process repeated itself several times over the course of a couple weeks and tapered off.  Save for one aspect... Our eldest.  At almost 8 years old he "regressed" in some behaviors in the week following our loss.  We were befuddled at what was going on.  Thankfully my mom had flown in to visit for a week and got him to open up.  He was convinced his baby brother had died because he'd been praying for a sister.  He felt a deep guilt because he believed he was to blame.  We all took some time to love on and pray with him, reassuring him that there was nothing he could have done to make this happen nor prevent it.  It was a tender opportunity to share God's mercy and sovereignty as best we could to such a sweet, tender heart.  Not surprisingly, the behavior issues were remedied at the same time.

We met with a local funeral director who took care of everything that the church did not.  Paperwork.  Cremation.  An urn.  A memorial.  Music.  Words to say.  Scriptures to share.  All of it, so surreal.


The most profound thing I experienced through the entire thing was "peace that surpasses all understanding".  It was inexplicable.  I'm not sure I've felt God's presence so tangibly at any other stage of my life.  I could almost feel Him holding me up when I didn't think I could do it myself.  I don't think the question of "why?" ever entered my mind.  I had (have) such an absolute belief that the first thing my boy ever saw was the face of Christ.  I believe unshakably that he never experienced pain, fear, hunger, or sorrow but instead only knew God's love, peace and joy beyond the warmth, safety and love we tried to convey to him as he grew.

I learned through this that tragedy will, at some point, strike every one of us BUT tragedy does not need to be tragic.  While Tobias' life was cut short according to our expectations, God showed us that even in just 32 weeks, his little life had purpose.  I have a new testimony, a new purpose, I have discovered a new depth of faith, and I have experienced God's peace, all in ways I would have missed if all had gone according to our idea of "normal".  I can reach out to an entirely new group of people that I couldn't before.  (And, incidentally, have been embraced into a group I never knew before... I found out that stillbirths actually happen to about 1 in 200 women; when Toby passed I was shocked at the number of women I knew coming out of the woodwork to share their own story and offer comfort)

God has taught me a lot in the last several years about surrender.  This was the most intense test yet.  Through it though, He showed me that we must never hold on to anything (or anyone) so tightly that losing it (them) would shake our faith.  This is another post for another time, but we nearly lost our fourth boy at birth due to a completely different issue and in the year following God allowed me to ponder long and hard on life, death, His absolute sovereignty, and how much control we do not have.  In the moments leading up to my fourth son's birth the Holy Spirit reminded me "You talk about how your days are numbered; remember his are as well.  Some people get 30 minutes, some 30 years, some more, some less.  I am in control."  It was that experience, that, while nothing can prepare someone for a stillbirth, that was as much a preparation I could have had.  By the time I was in the car heading to the hospital I already felt the still, small voice, whispering "surrender" in the most comforting way.

I cannot fathom how I (or anyone else) could survive life's tragedies without faith that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28, paraphrased).  There have been some other, less epic, trials over the last year but this has brought such perspective.  It has given me a plumb line of sorts, a keel, a genuine depth of peace, that every trial is part of His plans for our lives.  That's not to say that God wanted me to lose my son; but rather He knew it was coming and had a plan to use it for glory, not despair.  He wants to do the same in your tragedy.  Nothing surprises Him, nothing catches Him off guard.  Your prayers will never find Him sleeping.  He is with you through it, holding you, even when you don't realize it.  He will always win with the cards you've been dealt, no matter how bad the hand looks.  No matter how impossible it looks, trust Him to use it.  Don't try to figure out how or decide what the best thing is for Him to do.  His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts.  All that matters is that He promised.  He didn't say how or when.  Life's tragedies will come.  If we try to hide from them, prevent them, or just wring our hands while we mourn what hasn't even taken place, then we'll miss out on blessings beyond measure.

Like the lyrics to the children's song "Going on a Bear Hunt" that say "Can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it, gotta go through it!", such is life.  It is a bittersweet adventure but He is inviting us to even survive death.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's Been a While

It's been more than a year now since my keyboard and I spent much time together.  For any who I may have upset by my hiatus, I apologize.  I had a whole lot of "life"bombard me in the last year and while writing would have been very therapeutic, I was too raw to put much of it down in uplifting eloquence.

When I first stopped writing in November of '11 I was struggling with the worst morning sickness five pregnancies ever produced.  Having four boys prior and many friends and family hoping for a girl, I tried to keep it to myself how terribly ill I felt so they wouldn't take it as a sure sign of our family finally getting a baby girl.  After the Christmas season we prayerfully made the choice to homeschool our oldest boy (watch for a post about God changing my heart in that area!), which then of course required more of my daytime focus and caused more night time exhaustion.  February brought a trip to the west coast to try and comfort my dad and say our farewells to his wife as she neared the end of her battle with colon cancer.  Two weeks after my return would begin the real roller coaster ride that defined our 2012...

March 22, 2012, our fifth baby, Tobias, was stillborn at 32 weeks.  The cause is unknown but speculated to have been where his cord was attached to the placenta (marginal insertion, for all you medical types out there).  I'm still crafting the post for this one because it was so painful but so profoundly spiritual at the same time.

Two weeks later my dad's wife passed.  Two more weeks, a friend from church passed.  Two more weeks, our church was divided and split.  Two more weeks, another friend from church passed as well as some friendships suffered with the division.  Somewhere in all that God called my husband to resign his position within the church and for us to move to a new church home.  (There will probably be posts about all that as well...)

About two months brought four deaths, one church split, and many broken hearts.  Our world was upside down.  Thankfully we knew right where God was leading us for a new "home" but there was time that we needed to breathe, recover, heal, find our footing and process the hard lessons in surrender, boldness, humility, grace, forgiveness, and perspective.  Several months later, my husband in a new position with our new church family, a new school year (where we are now homeschooling all the boys), a visit from my mom and step-dad in December, and now, a new calendar year...  I believe we are getting settled in our new normal.  I can't fathom how we could have got through all we did without the "peace that surpasses all understanding".

Where I grew up west of the Cascade mountains, it rains.  A lot.  Not like the kind of rain here in Florida... as if God just up-ended a bucket over our heads... No, it drizzles.  For days.  Weeks.  Even a month or more solid of gray, gloomy, drizzle.  However, the summers are absolutely PERFECT!  Low humidity, comfortable temps, light breezes, breathtaking sunsets, life in full-bloom...

I know a lot of people outside the Northwest don't understand why anyone would want to live there.  (In fact, there are people IN the Northwest who don't understand why they themselves choose to live there!)  Ministry, parenthood, homeschooling, they're all similar...  So many tough days that it's easy to question why you do it.  It's the beauty.  Even though the ratio of beauty to gloom, numerically speaking, is at a significant deficit, the beauty is so beautiful that the gloom is worth it.  The promise of sunshine is enough to get you through the rain storm and the rain storms often intensify the brilliance of the beauty on the other side.

Glimpses of Heaven to get you through the trials of life.

Rays of SONshine between clouds of tribulation.

God has held me in my storm, He has set my feet on dry, solid ground, He has made me promises.  He will do the same for you, dear one.