Thursday, December 20, 2012

Santa's Helper

This was Allyson's second year to help Santa pass out gifts at a local nursing home. This time Bill got to go with her, and he said she was very popular with the residents. She tells me she gave out a lot of hugs.

This year the nursing home requested gently used stuffed animals. Allyson donated about five from her ridiculously large stash. She could have donated three times as many, but as we sorted through them a week or two ago, she just couldn't part with most of them. "That's one's special," she said. "That one too."

No matter, they had plenty to go around.

Here she is with the best Santa I've ever seen, our coworker Mike.

Yes, that beard is real. And he keeps it all year long.

My Next Kitchen Gadget
On Tuesday night, I took a pasta cooking lesson with my brother Rick and his daughter Mindy. Working in groups of eight or so, we made a thick dough from all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and LOTS of eggs. Then we rolled it through a pasta roller a total of 11 times, at 7 different thicknesses. Each portion started out about the size of a paperback book (only thinner) and ended up over 6 feet long.

As the dough got longer, it became a two- or three-person job. One person pressed the dough into the roller, one person turned the crank, and a third person caught and straightened the dough as it was extruded from the roller.

We cut the pressed pasta into six-inch segments and then ran it through the other side of the pasta roller, cutting it into fettucini.

Rick, Me, Mindy, and Our Fettucini

We also made a gorgonzola walnut alfredo sauce. Technically all I did was strip some thyme leaves off their stems; Rick did most of the work.

The best part was eating our freshly boiled pasta and sauce. Good times!

Rick and I are going to buy a pasta roller soon and have family pasta nights. I'm sure you will hear about it when the time comes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Many Hands Make Light (But Stinky) Work

The oddest thing has been happening as I've taken on some unpleasant new responsibilities in recent weeks. Take yesterday, for example. It was the first time Ethan helped me pick up dog poop. I braced myself for a big battle, but Ethan just said, "Okay, I'll be down in a minute."... And then he actually came!

I told him the shovel was a little heavy for me, and would he please do the scooping while I held the grocery bag for him? He shrugged. "Sure."

Just like that, my 15-year-old boy calmly scooped up a week's worth of poo, literally about 15 piles. There was even a sense of camaraderie as we commented over each new find. "Shoo! That one really reeks.... Did that seriously come out of Lola's butt?... Man, that's a big one."

And then we were done. No big deal. It was almost fun. (But ask me again in the summer, when the smell will surely be much more rank.) I was so proud of my boy!

Fluffy's Contribution
Next came my first time to clean the hamster cage. Bill had shown me how to take the cage apart, replace the bedding, and clean everything up. He made it look really easy, but apparently I didn't pay close enough attention.

After two weeks, the cage was smelling pretty ripe, and I knew there was no more procrastinating. I asked my mom and Allyson to help me, or at least to provide moral support.

The first task was to snap the top off, catch Fluffy, and put her in her ball. Allyson eagerly volunteered for this, and I was happy to let her do it. She got the job done, but first she gave me a heart attack when she squealed, "She's getting away!" Not to worry, Allyson scooped her up and set her gently in her ball.

The rest of it was pretty easy and not all that gross, except when it came time to put it all back together. Getting those thin wire walls to line up inside the grooves on all four sides was tough! And while it seemed there was only one way to put the second floor in, the way we initially chose wasn't it. We sweated and grunted and shoved, but that piece would not fit. Just when I was about to call Bill and have him come get Fluffy and her stupid cage, Allyson said, "Mom, the food bowl goes on this other side. Turn it around."

I narrowed my eyes. "No, because then the slide's pointing the wrong way."

Allyson grabbed the slide and twisted it into position.

"Ah, you're right," I admitted. And the three of us managed to screw it into position. But it took another ten minutes to figure out how the exercise wheel went back in. Whew!

After that, Allyson expertly chopped a bit of carrot and some lettuce into tiny fragments and set them inside the cage on a tiny Tupperware lid. There! Now that wasn't so bad, was it?

I have to say we made a pretty good team. I certainly couldn't have done it without Allyson, who obviously paid much better attention all those times she watched Daddy clean the cage.

Some Things Don't Change
In addition to cleaning pet excrement, I did a few more enjoyable things this weekend. On Friday, I went to Ethan's Christmas concert. Mom, Allyson, and Bill came, along with Ethan's father Byron and stepmom Jen. It felt so good to sit there all together clapping for Ethan, just like we do every year. My heart was positively bursting with pride during his band's first song, in which Ethan expertly set the tempo on the lone snare drum.

I was very moved by the symphonic band's performance of Amazing Grace, which was dedicated to the families affected by the school shooting in Connecticut that same morning. I wanted to lift my hands to heaven like I do at church when we sing that song, but I was afraid I'd scare off Ethan's girlfriend, who sat on my right. Instead, I grabbed my mom's hand and held it as tears of sorrow and peace trickled down my cheeks.

Byron and Ethan After the Show - So Handsome!
On Sunday, I went to Allyson's annual choir concert with Mom, Dad, my sister Amy, Ethan, and Bill. And I felt the same joy and pride I always feel when I see her singing her heart out and concentrating fiercely on her dance moves. But this year, the songs about family were a lot more poignant than ever before. There were happy tears and sad tears and I-don't-know-what-I'm feeling tears. But it was all good.

Life goes on, doesn't it?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Joy in the Struggles

Doggie Duty
In the short time Bill's been gone, I've gained a new appreciation for all he did around here. Now I get to gather the trash, clean the leaves out of the pool, clean the hamster cage, and... pick up doggie doo. This past Friday was my first time to take on that unpleasant task. Ethan made himself scarce, but Allyson eagerly volunteered to help. The only problem was that the shovel was too heavy for her, and she just about conked me upside the head. Plus she flung poo dangerously close to my ankles.

So I took the shovel from her and handed her the plastic grocery bag full of poop. She stuck with me through the first three or four of Lola's "deposits," but then the stink was too much for her, and I was on my own. I held the bag in one hand and the shovel in the other. It wasn't nearly so easy as Bill makes it look, but I managed to get the job done.

I was just putting the shovel into the shed when Allyson shouted, "You missed one! Over here!" I shouldered the shovel with a sigh and plodded over to the swingset, from which Allyson gleefully pointed out the pile I'd missed.

I set the bulging grocery bag on the grass and headed back toward the shed. I hadn't gone three steps when Allyson got Lola riled up, so that she tore across the yard and right over the bag of dung. It split down the middle. Argh!

I got another bag and gingerly eased the broken bag into it. Whew! And Pee-u!
Allyson and Lola on Poop Scooping Day

A More Pressing Concern
Doggie doo is really the least of my concerns right now. My biggest problem has been insomnia. Although I've felt at peace in the daytime, trusting God with all of my worries, I've passed hours and hours of sleepless nights in my big, empty bed. The first night I realized we were going to separate, I was not at all surprised to be up the entire night. My mind whirled with thoughts and fears.

But over the subsequent two weeks, the insomnia did not subside. During that time I got only one full night of sleep. The other nights I would sleep from one to four hours, or many nights not at all. I can't explain it. I don't lie there worrying or even thinking. My mind is mostly still, and if it's not still I'm praying or praising God. But my body refuses to let go and drop into sleep. If I do manage to doze off, I usually jerk myself awake with a violent kick.

About a week in, I saw my family doctor, who prescribed a sleep aid which worked wonderfully.... at first. And then I seemed to develop tolerance.

This past Thursday night, I asked my mom to come stay with me so she could help me get Allyson ready for school the next morning. Before bed, I soaked in a lavender-scented bath, took a preparation of melatonin, lemon balm, and chamomile, and then prayed over the phone with my friend Rhonda while my mom hugged me.

I was so relaxed! I felt like a limp noodle, deliciously drowsy. I fell right asleep.... and was wide awake just 30 minutes later. At first, I was calm. I read over the scriptures about rest which I'd copied down during the day, and I read over the prayer my friend Gentle had emailed. Here's a portion of what she wrote:

"I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint." (Jeremiah 31:25)
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
He doesn’t say, “Let me think about it, maybe tonight, maybe another night.” No. Your Father says “I will give YOU, my sweet daughter, the rest you seek.” Believe it Sarah. All your HOPE is in Him for everything else. Put all your hope for sleep and rest in your Father…who will surely give it to you.
"I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me." (Psalm 3:5)
"In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)
I lay down again, comforted and quieted, and waited for sleep to take me. It didn't. I prayed, thanking God for sleep. I praised him for the rest that I knew was coming. I felt that rest, but there was no sleep for me.

At 1:00 I climbed out of bed and knelt in my bathroom. (I think I was too aggravated with God to go in my prayer closet.) I rocked back and forth, in a full-on panic attack. My chest was so tight that I felt the knot of anxiety as a physical pain. Tears trickled from my eyes, but I didn't even have energy to cry.

"Why have you forsaken me?" I whined. "Why don't you help me?"

I don't really remember what happened next because I was so tired. But I remember rereading Gentle's email and turning to the book of John. In chapter 4, I read the story of the official who asked Jesus to heal his son. He wanted Jesus to come with him, but Jesus said, "Go. Your son will live." (John 4:5)

Here's what caught my eye and set my heart thumping, in the next verse: "The man took Jesus at his word and departed."

"Okay, Jesus," I said aloud. "I'm going to take you at your word. Your Word says I can come to you when I'm weary and burdened, and my soul will find rest."

Kneeling on the bathroom floor, I sang a song that has brought me much comfort these past months. "Just as I am, I come... Oh, Lamb of God, I come."

After four choruses, I thought maybe it was time to go to bed, but then I felt the need to open the Psalms. My Bible fell open to to Psalm 62, and my eyes were drawn immediately to verse 1: "My soul finds rest in God alone."

"Yes!" I said. I meditated on that whole chapter until my eyes felt too heavy to read anymore. My mind was calm, but my chest still felt tight.

I climbed into bed anyway and asked God to wrap his love around me. Within moments, I felt absolutely soothed. The pain in my chest dissolved, and in its place was a warm sense of security. As I dozed off, I woke twice with a grin. I clearly felt God saying, "I'm taking care of you. This is my plan." And then, "I'm taking care of Allyson too. This is all for your good."

This was around 1:30. I'd like to say I slept peacefully until morning, but I didn't. When Allyson joined me at 3:30, I woke up and couldn't settle back down. But I was able to enjoy the warmth of her sweet body against my chest, which had grown tight again. I breathed with her breaths and delighted myself in this time with her, and again the anxiety melted away.

It wasn't until morning that I was awake enough to recognize the sacred echo God had given me. First  there was Gentle's email about putting all my hope for rest in God, and then the same message in Psalm 62. In retrospect, I know it was worth a sleepless night to hear so clearly from God.

 All the next day, the peace and love I'd felt in the night stayed with me. I knew God was close to me, and He was giving me strength. Since then, I've continued to struggle with insomnia, but God has given me grace and comfort. I'm also taking a different prescription sleep aid, and that helps too.

Life Goes On
In the meantime, life goes on. Christmas is still coming, with all the joys it brings. Last night my family and my friend Elizabeth came over to decorate sugar cookies. We had such a wonderful time together. We ate a crazy meal of cheesy beans plus asparagus, sauteed zucchini, and a delicious salad that Elizabeth prepared. Plus lots of sugar cookies, of course.

Allyson Pouring Lots of Sprinkles

My Sister Amy and My Silly Niece Savannah

My Sister Emily Cleaning My Wreck of a Kitchen

Allyson with Beautiful Cousins Hillary and Savannah

Nephew Charlie Being Cute

So many treasures in the darkness!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Alive in His Hand

There's no easy way to say this. Bill and I are separated. I didn't choose this path, and I don't want to walk it, but I have to believe God has a purpose for me that I don't understand right now. It'll be a week tomorrow, and up until last night I was taking it pretty well.

Over the last six months, and again in the last few days, God has led me to these verses, which give me great comfort:

  • And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

  • I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

  • Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Over the last week, I have definitely had the peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have a lot of wonderful people who are loving me and taking care of me and my family. Many of them have told me, "You are so strong, Sarah."

I let myself believe I was strong, and maybe I even patted myself on the back now and then. 'Round about bedtime last night, though, I realized the truth. I am NOT strong. Not at all. I am absolutely weak. But that's a good place to be. For when I am weak, then He's strong. To quote a favorite song, I'm empty handed but alive in His hand. And that's a start.

Please pray for all four of us. Pray that God continues to make his comfort real to me, that I feel his unfailing love even now when the pain is so strong it takes my breath away. Pray that I will have strength and wisdom and love to walk with my children down this hard road. Above all, pray for God's mercy on us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sacred Echoes

I'm sorry I have been so quiet. I'm just weary. I've had a blog entry growing in my head for a week or two, so hopefully this won't be too long. I'm not making any promises.

A few weeks back I told you about the manna God was giving me, showing me little signs of his love on a daily basis. As I've begun to feel better, I haven't always needed daily reminders, but God has continued to lavish His love upon me on both the good days and the bad days.

One way He does that is through sacred echoes, Margaret Feinberg's term for how God speaks to us in a repetitive nature. I've always called those instances confirmations, but don't you think sacred echo sounds so much more... mysterious?

Don't know what I'm talking about? Let me give you some examples.

It so happens that Margaret Feinberg spoke at a ladies' retreat at our church weekend before last. On that Saturday morning, as I enjoyed my daily walk with Jesus, I suddenly thought of the Apostle John, and how he always called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. I remembered my strong connection with that sentiment. "Lord," I prayed, "please help me to remember that I am Sarah, the woman Jesus loves. Help me to really live like that."

Can you guess what Maraget spoke about just an hour or so later? Yep, it was John's assurance that he was the one Jesus loved. She said we need to live like John, so full of God's love that we're dripping with it, like when you step out of the shower and reach for a towel, and you fling water everywhere. Oh Lord, make it so!

I'd experienced another sacred echo just the day before, when I hosted a Moms in Prayer meeting for Allyson's school. Our group leader was late, and I thought maybe we should get started the way we normally do, by praising God for one of the attributes of His character. Since Elaine had the prayer sheets, I had no idea what was on the agenda for the meeting. The moment I started thinking about it, God's compassion popped into my mind. "Boy, am I thankful for compassion," I thought. I was just opening my mouth to suggest that theme when the doorbell rang. Elaine came in and set the prayer sheets on the table. Right there at the top of the sheet, in bold print, was "Compassion." Goosebumps rose on my arms, and I felt an extra sense of awe as I praised God with the other ladies.

Over the weeks before that, there were sacred echoes at each Sunday service. Whatever I prayed for most fervently in my morning prayers was echoed in the worship services. For example, I prayed, "Lord, please bring these dry bones to life. Let your spirit come alive in me." And the first worship song that morning was Bones, by Hillsong. The words sent shivers up my spine: "You can take my dry bones, Breathe life into this skin.... Oh, Jesus, Alive in me."

On another Sunday, I was struggling with remorse over past sins. Picturing myself at the foot of the cross, I knelt on the landing of my stairs (one of my oddest favorite places to pray) and prayed for Jesus's grace to wash over me. At church, we sang a song with the very same words, about a river of grace flowing down from the cross and washing over us.

I could go on and on, but I'll content myself with just two more examples. Earlier this week, my friend Fran sent me a devotional about coming boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). At the very moment I was thrilling to this promise, my ears tuned in to the song playing on the radio: "Take Me Into the Holy of Holies." How does He DO that?

And here's my favorite, because my sign took such an unexpected form. Last Wednesday I was watching Allyson's first gymnastics lesson--she loved it!--when a young man's tattoo caught my eye. Ever since I got my own tattoo, I've been noticing them everywhere, the way you get a new car and then notice the same model everywhere you look. This tattoo wrapped around the forearm in very ornate Old English script. The first letters were "Jo." I immediately thought of John's gospel. I craned my neck for a better look. The end was "33." Yes, a Scripture reference! After five minutes of shameless staring, I determined that his tattoo said, "John 16:33." Although I had no idea what that verse might be, I felt a flutter in my heart, as if this were a personal message for me.

Back at home later that evening, my fingers trembled as I looked up the reference. Yes, a message for me!

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

So are you thinking, "Yes, but where's the echo?" I'm getting to that. Yesterday Fran forwarded me another devotional, this one about God being our refuge in time of trouble. Nestled in that message was a reference to John 16:33. Even without the message from the tattoo, I would have been encouraged by that verse. But seeing it twice in less than a week really drove the message home.

While I Was Still Praying
I have to share one more story, the one dearest to my heart. One night last week after a hard day, I was feeling sorry for myself. As I knelt on the floor of my beloved prayer closet, I let the tears fall. "God, I just need you to hold me. Please hold me!"

Even as I made that plea, I thought, "Now how is God going to hold me? What I want is a real hug."

But thank God I was wrong! While I was still praying, I heard a faint voice behind me in the bedroom. "Mom?" It was Ethan. I guess he realized then that I was praying. "Just wanted to say good night," he said, turning for the door.

"No, wait!" I said, leaping to my feet and crossing to him. I pulled him into a hug. "Thank you for coming to tell me good night," I said. "I appreciate it."

He ducked his head and grinned. "You're welcome."

"Have a good sleep," I said. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

Back in my closet, I thanked God with wonder. It wasn't only that my 15-year-old boy sought me out to say good night, though that was surprising enough. What really amazed me was that Ethan had already said good night and shut his door, and I'd heard his box fan go on, which meant he really was in bed. I had the distinct impression that God told him to go look for his mama, because He knew I needed a hug. Who says God can't give you a real hug?

What made this story even more meaningful was a lesson I'd just completed in my Beth Moore Bible study on the book of Daniel. I had marveled at the story of the angel coming to Daniel with the answer to his prayer--while he was still praying (Daniel 9:20-21). So I guess this story was yet another example of a sacred echo.

How about you? Would you share examples of the sacred echoes in your own life?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Pirate's Fondest Wish

For Halloween this year, Bill helped Allyson pick out a pirate's costume, complete with a sword and a skull necklace with "ruby" eyes. I had jury duty that day, so I had the misfortune (or good fortune, perhaps) to miss the annual trip to Party City with its throngs of rambunctious children and grumpy adults. But I did get to share the fun when Allyson modeled her costume and props.

And I was there on that first day when she broke both the sword and the necklace. "Maybe Daddy can fix them," she said, her voice barely over a whisper.

"I bet he can," I agreed.

"But let's put everything back in the bag so you don't wreck anything else before Halloween," Bill said.

In the weeks that followed, Allyson often repeated her hope that she'd be able to wield the sword and wear the necklace on the big day. But her fondest wish was something that seemed much more iffy. Her front tooth had been loose for weeks, and she dearly hoped she would lose it before Halloween; she figured a missing tooth would give her pirate's costume a more authentic look.

"I don't know, sweetie," I said. "It's not that loose yet, and it takes a long time to lose a tooth."

She continued to wiggle her tooth morning and night, day in and day out, and hoped for a Halloween miracle.

Last Sunday, before we took Allyson to Trunk or Treat at our church, Bill managed to mend the sword with a bunch of clear Duck tape. Good as new! And then he broke out the hot glue gun and affixed the crossbones behind the skull pendant.

"I knew Daddy could fix them," I said.

Allyson grinned, but then she frowned. "I wish my tooth would fall out before we go."

"I don't think it's going to fall out in the next hour," I said.

Even with all her teeth, she made quite a convincing pirate:

And, for a one-eyed pirate, she did amazingly well at all the carnival games. There were beanbag tosses, soccer and basketball goals, and even a game where she threw rolls of toilet paper into a stuffed "toilet." Her favorite game by far was a big inflatable (like a bounce house) with holes to kick a soccer ball through. The holes were way over her head, but she came so close to scoring. She went back over and over, making more than 20 attempts. Despite her tenacity, she never quite got the ball through the holes. But she never got discouraged, and I was so proud of her spirit.

The day after Trunk or Treat, Allyson rushed in from school and greeted me with a huge, toothless grin!

That tooth had come loose during class, creating quite a commotion among the kids as it dangled wildly, blood trickling out. Her teacher waved her to the bathroom, where Allyson held a paper towel to her mouth. And then the tooth popped right out. Losing a tooth wasn't the only first that occurred that day; she also got to go to the nurse's office! The nurse put her tooth into a tiny tooth-shaped container and hung it around her neck.

That night, she wrote this note:

The Tooth "Fariy" left this reply that night, along with three whole dollars! (Bill explained that you get a bit more for the first tooth since it is so special.)
You will get it back one day.... T.F.

So all of our pirate's wishes came true. On Halloween night, she went trick or treating with a snaggle-toothed smile, an almost perfect taped sword, and a skull necklace-with crossbones. I think she was right. That missing tooth added just the right touch:

She had a glorious time, I'm told. I was in Las Vegas for a conference at the time, and believe me when I say, Halloween is craazy in Vegas. As for Allyson, would you believe she broke that sword again?

Jack O Lanterns
This year it was only Allyson and Bill who carved pumpkins as Ethan had decided to pass on that tradition this year (sigh). As usual, all I did was take pictures.

The cat was Allyson's own design. Pretty nice, huh?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Pooper Troopers

Today I walked five kilometers with Team Rick in the Undy 5000, a fundraiser to benefit colon cancer research. Altogether, we raised $1135. Our team consisted of:
  • my brother Rick, a colon cancer survivor
  • Rick's wife Diane
  • his daughter Mindy
  • his son Mitchell and wife Michelle
  • his best friend David, wife Annette, and daughter Holly

Team Rick in Front of a Giant Colon
David, Mindy, Rick, Me, Annette, Holly, Mitchell, Michelle, Diane

I rode out to White Rock Lake with Rick, Diane, and Mindy, having reluctantly crawled out of their comfy guest bed at 5:45 A.M. Here we are looking relatively bright-eyed and bushy-tailed a little after 7.

The frigid morning (41 degrees F/5 Celsius) reminded me a lot of day one of the Susan G. Koman 3-Day. But I wore lots of layers, and once we got to walking and talking, only my feet were cold. (I wore my Five Finger shoes, of course.)

Mindy managed to take the shot below while walking backward just in front of me.

"Slow down," she said.

"No, you speed up," Rick said.

"I'm walking backward," she protested.


"So this is the best I can do." Not bad!

There was lots of slightly off-color humor, all in good taste--enough to make us laugh even at 7 on a Saturday morning. Check out the Nothing Butt Fun team, for example:
Those Are Plastic Booties

And some of the T-shirt slogans were hilarious:
It's Your DUTY to check your BOOTY

Stay in the Clear - Check Yo Rear
Everyone was supposed to be running or walking in some sort of underwear; our team wore the standard-issue Dulcolax Undy 5000 boxers. But we saw one man running in just underwear, very little underwear. We all almost got whiplash watching him streak past. I didn't have to wonder long whether anyone else noticed his fine physique. "I look a lot like that, you know," Rick said with a chuckle. "Or maybe I did once upon a time." Yeah, right.
Rick and Me After Race

All to soon we were crossing the finish line together and waiting for Rick to take his place with the other survivors on the small stage. I can't tell you how thankful I am that Rick is alive and well, coming up on his 10-year anniversary this spring. "We'll party until the police come," he said.
"Better invite the neighbors," Diane said.
I'm sure you'll hear about it when the time comes.
After the walk, we headed over to Breadwinners Cafe and Bakery to replace the calories we burned (to quote Mindy). I think we replaced them several times over. The food was phenomenal. And the conversation was even better. What a wonderful morning!
Next year, we will do it all again, and we've already chosen our team name: Pooper Troopers.
Speaking of poop, I can't pass up this opportunity to ask you a very important question. Have you done your duty and checked your booty? Colon cancer is treatable if discovered early. What are you waiting for? Go get that colonoscopy.

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's a Girl!

Here, after six months, is the next chapter of my love story with Bill. Please note that these events occurred in 2006, when I was pregnant with Allyson.

Excerpts from Allyson's Journal
Friday 1/6/06
Last night, Bill was lying beside me, and I was propped on pillows. He was cupping my belly, and he said he felt something. But his hand was too high, and he was feeling gas bubbles. We laughed. He left his hand in the same spot, feeling the movements of my digestion. I felt very loved.

When I rolled to my side, Bill wrapped his arm around me. I suddenly asked, "Was this what you imagined when you thought about marriage?"

He thought for a moment and said, "Yes, I guess it was."

I said it was much better than I ever imagined.

Saturday 1/6/06
I forgot one of the best moments of the Vancouver trip: When Bill was throwing snowballs at Minday and Brandy, he said, "Don't think I won't hit you just because you're sitting next to my pregnant wife!" There was a little pride in his tone when he called me that, and I felt proud, too.

Monday 1/16/06
We went to church, and I was enjoying the worship service. I whispered to Bill that the baby must be enjoying my singing; I'd read that babies at this stage can hear internal sounds such as their mother's voice.

When we were singing "Face Down," I was very moved and began to cry. The song says, "I'll fall, face down, as your glory shines around." I suddenly thought of what the baby might be experiencing. When I feel God's presence, I feel it throughout my body, as if I am bathed in a peaceful glow. I imagined that peace settling over our baby, imagined it shining with God's glory, and I was overwhelmed and almost wept.

Sunday 1/22/06
I'm struggling today with worry. Ironically, I worry about worrying, over the effect it could have on my baby. I've read that babies' personalities might be shaped by their mothers' emotional state during pregnancy and in the infant days.

I worry when the baby has quiet days.... Yesterday I didn't feel a lot of movement, though I did feel some. I was very busy cleaning, and I think all that activity could have lulled Tator Tot to sleep. Today, though, I haven't been overly active, yet I've felt even less movement. That's not to say I've felt nothing, but the movements have been sparse and seemingly less vigorous.... I know with the rational part of my mind that worrying won't help, and that the feelings are normal. (There's a section in my pregnancy book on these fears.)

My heart tells me I can trust God to take care of me and my baby no matter what happens. I know I don't have to be anxious, that I can present my requests to God with thanksgiving, and the peace of God will guard my heart and mind (Phillipians 4:4-9). I also know he has a plan for me, that He ordained all of my days before one of them came to be (Psalm 139). I know that He works in all things for my good, and that absolutely nothing can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8).

I'm thankful that God led me to memorize these passages that I need now. But so far, I've been unable to shake this nagging anxiety despite going over my scriptures and praying. I feel frustrated that I can fall so easily into this old trap of worry, the same worry as before, but with different surrounding circumstances.

Lord, I know you carried me through my struggles with fear and worry in the past, and I know you can do that now. Teach me the lesson again, Lord.... Be with me tonight when I share this with Bill. Draw us together, and please encourage me through him.

Wednesday 1/25/06
I had a good talk with Bill after Ethan went to bed. We sat on the couch in the loft, and Bill held my hand as I cried. He said he knew nothing he could say could take away my worry, but he was very supportive. I asked him to pray for me, though I knew that he prefers for me to do the praying. He said a very nice prayer that made me feel comforted and loved. He prayed for me first, then the baby. He asked God to help me feel secure and very loved, that I would know I would be okay no matter what happens with the baby. He asked God to cover the baby and make it grow strong and healthy. And he asked God to make the baby kick now and again to ease my worries.

It was the longest and most heartfelt prayer I'd ever heard from Bill, and I was touched. I realized that a very good effect had come out of my struggle, and I was thankful.

Tuesday 1/31/06
We had a sonogram today. We're having a girl! I can't believe I'm going to be a mother to a girl, then a young woman! I sort of had a feeling it was a girl, but of course I didn't really know....

In the car, I didn't make it out of the parking lot before I started sobbing. I started imagining a little girl in a ruffled dress, a preteen getting her first bra, her first period, her first date as a teenager. I just let the tears fall as I contemplated the wonder of watching our girl grow into a woman.

I must have been crying pretty hard because my cell phone rang, and it was Bill checking on me. He was in his truck, taking Ethan back to school while I headed to the airport for my flight to Chicago. He said, "What are you doing back there?"

I laughed and admitted, "I'm crying." I assured him they were happy tears, and I asked if he was happy. He said very. I asked if he was afraid about raising a girl, and he said, "Of course." He told me to take it easy and not get into a wreck.

I had to call him back a couple minutes later to report that she had woken up and was kicking. During the sonogram, she'd been sleeping, and no amount of jiggling and poking would rouse her.

But she was beautiful! We could see her head, her arms and legs, her fingers and toes, her spine and ribs, and... her face! We had a clear view of her profile, and we could make out her features. She was sleeping with her arms crossed over her face....

Ethan didn't say too much during the exam, but he told Bill later that he'd gotten his wish--he really wanted a baby sister. And when he got back to school, he showed his sono picture to the receptionist.

January 2006
It strikes me as I read my thoughts from six years ago that I am learning the same lessons about worry and trust yet again! And just as I said then, I'm finding that God continues to carry me through my struggles. And that something good can come out of them. Thank you, Jesus!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Little Sweetness to Brighten Your Day

I ran across this old video of Allyson the other day, and it brought me such joy I thought I'd share it with you. It's from November 2010, when she was four. She was rehearsing for her Christmas program. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Just Enough Manna

Ever since school started a few weeks ago, Allyson has been asking to walk to school, but I've been busy with work and other obligations, and it wasn't until this past Thursday that I actually walked with her. I woke up with a smile on my face that day and thought, "This is going to be a good day."

Bill and I managed to get her ready 15 minutes early, which was quite a feat given how slowly she moves in the morning, and the two of us set out at 7:35, just as the sun was climbing through the rosy glow of the morning sky. It was a glorious day, and with each step I felt my spirits rising.

Allyson held my hand the whole way there, often lacing her little fingers through mine. She told me all the reasons she loves first grade, the most important being her beloved teacher, whom she was thrilled to see at our church recently. We talked about the day to come and prayed that God would help Allyson to enjoy learning and to share His love with others.

When we got to the crosswalk where Ethan used to dismiss me when baby Allyson and I walked him to school--he was in fourth grade then--I asked Allyson if she'd like me to cross with her. Of course she would! I grinned.

But when we got to the door, she told me I could hug her, but not kiss her. "That would be embarrassing in public," she explained. I laughed as I gathered her into a tight hug, and laughed harder when she couldn't resist slipping me a furtive peck.

On the mile back home, I talked with God, thanking him for the joys of the day, and then just enjoyed walking in silence with Him. When I got home I felt so happy--HAPPY!--that I just had to send a quick text to some loved ones about what a great morning I was having.

My sister Melody replied, "God gives us just enough 'manna' for one day at a time. He is faithful! Praise the Lord!"

As I look back over my week, I can see that manna is the best way to describe the little (and big) ways God has reminded me of his love. I haven't undergone a radical transformation so that suddenly I can trust God and let go of all doubts forever. Instead, I've come to the realization that it's okay to be weak some days because God always has the encouragement I need, just when I need it. But I have to reach out and take the manna every day. Like the Israelites, I can never collect extra for the next day.

Here are just a few examples of the manna God has given me this week:

  • Phone calls, emails, and text messages from loved ones
  • Hugs all around at Tuesday night Bible study
  • Laughing with my Bible study friends during introductions as I recounted the story of my trip to the fabric store with Gentle when we decided we were going to make cloth pads
  • Multiple reminders to BE STILL
  • Reading a passage in Romans 5 about perseverance, character, and hope, and then having someone else read it to me the very next day
  • A card from a friend just when I needed it most, reminding me that God is holding me close to His heart
  • The way my friend Angel's face lit up when I walked into Pilates on Thursday morning
  • At Ethan's drumline competition, recognizing the faint strains of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" on the marimbas during another school's performance, amid the clashing cymbals and the snares' staccato rhythms. This same song had so encouraged me at church last Sunday. Encountering it twice in one week shocked me since it's an old hymn I scarcely ever hear. 
And then there was the unexpected laughter yesterday morning at 6:30. I was taking Ethan to band practice before school, and three times when I tried to start the car, the engine wouldn't turn over. After it finally started, Ethan, who literally never utters more than a grunt on the way to school, remarked that I need a new car. 

"We have to replace Bill's truck first," I said. "It's much older. It'll be a year or two before we save the money to replace this car." 

"You should get a moped," Ethan mused. I chuckled, pretty sure he was joking. "My friend Bryce's dad has one," he went on.

"Yes, we saw Brice on the back of it on the way to band camp, remember?" I laughed at the mental image of Bryce's father, a former body builder, hunched over the handlebars with Bryce clinging to his waist. 

"They get 50 miles to the gallon," Ethan said. "And if you get one that's freeway legal, they go up to 70 miles per hour." 

"Yes, I should get one." I snickered. "And you can ride on the back in the mornings." 

"No way."

"Of course, it might be crowded when we need to take a friend home," I said solemnly.

"No way. Not happening."

"I'll post a picture on my blog. Hey, you could take Meggie's color guard flag and let it flap along behind us," I said. And then the laughter broke out. Not the little ha-ha kind, but belly laughs that filled my entire body with joy.

Wonder of wonders, Ethan laughed too. At 6:30 in the morning. Sounds like divine intervention to me.

Speaking of school, I've been meaning to post the pictures from the first day. Here they are...

Allyson in a Tartan Skirt She Picked Because It Reminded Her of Bill's Grandma, Who Was Scottish

Ethan and Allyson Enjoying First-Day-Of-School Ice Cream 
And here is some of the incredible scenery I mentioned in my last entry, in Portland, Oregon.

Hiked to Top of Multnomah Falls With Friends Nancy and Rita

Rita Snapped This Shot of Me at the Top

You must have been praying for me. Please keep it up!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

He Will Continue to Deliver Us

This is one of those entries I am hesitant to write, for two reasons. 1) It's humiliating to admit my weakness so soon after my last, top-of-the mountain post. 2) I know some of you worry about me, and I don't want you to. In any case, I really must share because it's another one of those times when God amazes me way too much to keep it to myself....

Remember how I said in my last post, "I'm sure this trial is far from over"? Of course I was right, but even I didn't expect that my joy would be so short-lived. Within 48 hours, I began to entertain worries about the future, and by the following morning, this past Sunday, I was in a full-blown anxiety attack. It wasn't even the worries about the future that got me, it was the frustration that I could be so vulnerable to my negative thoughts even after such an amazing revelation about why God is allowing me to go through this difficult time.

My typical tendency toward anxiety had been compounded by lack of sleep, and after an hour of trying to read the Bible and pray, I had myself convinced that I was surely losing my sanity. They'll have to carry me off, I thought. I just don't see how I can go on.

At that point, I sent a text message to my sister Amy asking that she and Mom request prayer for me at their church that morning. "I feel like I'm drowning," I told her.

And then I sat on the back porch drowning in my tears, gripped by a formless fear that constricted my chest. "Please God," I whispered. "Please. Please rescue me."

Amy's response encouraged me a bit, especially since she said she and Mom were praying against fear even though I hadn't told her I was afraid. But I still had a hard time holding back tears when I woke Allyson and made her breakfast. If she saw the tears that splashed into my cold cereal, she didn't say anything.

The first song at church was Our God is Greater, by Chris Tomlin. When the music minister reminded us that God is bigger than any problem we could have brought in with us, I started to sob. I cried through most of the worship service, while Bill silently squeezed my hand. These weren't the happy tears I usually shed during worship, nor were they tears of relief. They were tears of hopelessness and longing.

But when Pastor Bill stepped out to deliver his message on fear, everything changed in an instant. Here's the verse that flashed on the screen:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I grabbed Bill's arm. "Hey, that's the verse Amy just texted me. She and Mom were praying that for me this morning!" I could barely keep my voice to a whisper.

"Weird," he whispered back.

"Not weird, wonderful," I said. "That's God."

The sermon was perfect for my situation. What stuck with me most was the admonition to be persistent in my faith, to expect opposition from the enemy but to keep my eyes on God's promises.

I walked out of the church in awe, humbled at God's grace. I felt ashamed to need so many reassurances, and grateful for His patience with me. I felt very loved. But I still felt terribly sad and tired.

Bill and Allyson dropped me at the airport that afternoon for my flight to Portland. I passed through security numbly and then wandered through the airport looking for something to eat, wayward tears slipping down my cheeks at random moments. I didn't even bother to brush them away. The airport was so crowded that strangers kept bumping me, yet I felt utterly invisible.

I called Amy and Mom from the gate and told them the story of the pastor's message. We were all excited about how God had so clearly spoken to Amy about my fear, and how he'd given me exactly the same message twice in one hour.

But I was still teary when I ended the call and walked down the jetway. God, I thought, could you please sit me next to someone kind? But then I dismissed the idea, for of course the seat assignments had been arranged long before.

The girl next to me did seem quite pleasant, and she willingly loaned me her only pen for the first hour of the flight while I poured out my heart in my journal. After that she took a nap, and I read several chapters of The Hunger Games, which was quite captivating but not at all cheerful.

I closed the book when I was down to the last three chapters, saving the rest for the return flight this Saturday. I closed my eyes then, but sleep wouldn't come. Instead, the scary thoughts tried to worm their way back in. "You're all alone on this plane. There's no one to talk to, no one who understands. You're probably going crazy."

I opened my eyes and stared out over the wing at the fluffiest white clouds I'd ever seen. The sky was full of God's majesty, but all I wanted was a friend to hold my hand. I turned away from the window with a sigh. My seatmate was awake, and she was looking at me. "Are you enjoying that?" she asked, gesturing to my book.

I shook my head slightly to clear my thoughts. "Hunger Games? Oh, yes. It's a great book. Have you read it?"

She had, and she also saw the movie, which she said was good but nowhere near as good as the book. We talked easily for a few minutes, and then gradually the conversation turned more serious. I learned that she is a nurse manager who works in an addiction treatment center, and that they work with their patients to help them overcome negative thought patterns.

So I took a deep breath and told her about my negative thought patterns. She was kind, compassionate, and very reassuring. We talked about scriptures that apply to my situation, agreeing that the only way to combat the lies is by replacing them with truth.

We talked for over an hour. As the plane made its final approach, I told her how I'd prayed that God would put me next to someone kind, and I thanked her for ministering to a stranger. She told me I'd ministered to her just as much. She'd had a hard trip, and she hated to have missed church, and the best thing that could have happened was having someone to talk about Jesus with. She also confessed that she never talks to people on planes--neither do I--and that she is very shy and doesn't like to start conversations with strangers. So neither of us had a doubt that God had orchestrated our encounter.

When we pulled into the gate, I finally thought to introduce myself. She said her name was Molly. When we parted ways at the terminal, she gave me a hug. I smiled all the way to the hotel as I marveled at God's providence. He knew all along what I would ask, and He'd already granted my request. At the same time, he met Molly's need even though she hadn't asked anything.

In the two days since, God has continued to lavish me with little signs of his love. I've laughed with colleagues whom I haven't seen in two years, eaten salmon that melted in my mouth, walked everywhere in the most glorious weather, drunk in the sight of towering trees that belong on a serenity poster, and eaten cookies and scones lovingly made by the locals on my team. Today at lunch was the icing on the cake. I met a girl from class who is a fervent Christian. She's my age, and we seem to have a lot in common. We shared tips for insomnia, and we talked about Jesus. When lunch was over, she gave me a hug, and I called her my sister.

I was positively grinning as I walked back to class because I realized that truly I had just found a sister I'd never met before. How incredible is that? I have sisters and brothers everywhere. How could I ever feel alone?

Again, I'll readily admit that this trial is far from over, but at this moment I am overflowing with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). And the next time I feel like I'm drowning, I know God will pull me out of the deep waters. He will rescue me from my powerful enemy who is too strong for me, and he will bring me out into a spacious place. He will rescue me because he delights in me (Psalm 18:16-19).

Now, a request for you. Please don't worry about me. Instead, pray for me when I come to mind. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1, I felt in my heart the sentence of death, but it happened so that I might not rely on myself but on God, who raises the dead. "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope, that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers" (emphasis added).

You keep helping me by your prayers, and God will continue to deliver me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Steps Up to the Very Gates

As you've seen from my last few posts, I've been going through a very difficult season in my life. I've been able to see spiritual growth from day one, mainly because all of my pain and fear has drawn me to Jesus day in and day out, morning to night. But the sorrow has worn me out. There have been days--and sometimes just hours--when I could lift up my eyes to see what God is surely doing. Times when I could say with all my heart, "Lord, I trust you. I surrender my broken dreams to you because I know that what you have planned for me is so much better."

But those moments of faith were not able to stand against each fresh wave of pain and disappointment. The disappointment was often with myself. Why can I not learn the lesson and move on? Why am I so weak? Why can't I have a steadfast heart?

In the past week or so, I did have some breakthroughs. I could feel God changing my heart, and it excited me. But the enemy redoubled his efforts, and I felt so beaten down that I longed for heaven. "I'm so tired," I sobbed to God. "I'm tired of hurting, hurting, hurting. This is too hard for me.... No, I know your plan is good. Not my will, but yours. But please help me see past this storm to believe I will have joy again."

On one of those down days, I called one of my dear aunts. She prayed with me and really encouraged me, and she admonished me to reach out to friends and family for prayer when I am down. So I did that. I sent texts to all my friends when my heart was hurting. I held hands with my sister and prayed for deliverance. And I called two other aunts when I felt like giving up. Through all of that, I received just enough encouragement to go on a little longer.

And then came yesterday. Oh, hallelujah! It started in the morning when my dear friend Gentle phoned to let me know she'd been praying for me the day before. That alone encouraged me because I hadn't told her how despondent I'd felt on Wednesday. She said she asked God for a verse to pray over me, and he gave her Deuteronomy 30:11-13, which at first didn't make a lot of sense to her:

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

It took her quite awhile to figure out why the verse sounded so familiar; she had seen it in Joyce Meyer's Battlefield of the Mind. That book happened to be sitting on her nightstand, and she flipped through it eagerly, only to find the verse inside an entire chapter devoted to why God allows us to walk through difficult times.

So yesterday morning, Gentle read me the verses and some of the chapter from the Battlefield book, which she is going to lend me. I was greatly encouraged, but still felt that dull ache in my heart.

In the afternoon, I found a confirmation of the word God gave Gentle from a most unlikely source, an email from Ethan's percussion teacher. At the end of all the band business for the coming weeks, he wrote a couple of paragraphs about how the kids have been responding to the challenges of their rigorous practice and performance schedule. This sentence in particular leapt off the screen and stirred something in my spirit:

I aim to create an opportunity for the students to feel like they are being pushed too hard towards something they cannot achieve only for them to find out that they have achieved what they thought not possible and that in the end anything is possible.

I was floored. I thanked God profusely for this confirmation and for what He is going to achieve in me through this thing that I thought was too difficult for me. God, you are so good! I thought.

I guess God knows me well enough to know that delivering a message two times in one day wasn't quite enough. In order for it to really get planted in my spirit and burst into bloom, I needed to hear it a third time.

I had missed my morning quiet time yesterday because I'd had insomnia the night before, so I planned to do my Bible study last night. But the evening didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped because Bill is out of town, and it just takes me a lot longer to get through all the chores and routines without him. So by the time I had a chance to work on my Bible study it was nearly 10:00, the bedtime I'd set for myself.

I hemmed and hawed. I needed my sleep. I'd lost sleep the night before, and I know that I don't deal as well with stresses and challenges when I'm tired. But I needed to hear from God. I don't deal well at all with challenges and stresses when I haven't spent time with God.

"I love you more than sleep," I said at last, settling crosslegged on the floor of my closet with my Bible and Beth Moore's Breaking Free study, which has been a lifeline to me during these struggles. The topic for the day was The Display of His Glory.

I came wide awake when I read these sentences in paragraph two:

...God's glory [is] the way He makes Himself known or shows Himself mighty. Therefore, when God seeks to glorify Himself through an individual, He proves who He is by causing the believer to be what is otherwise impossible and to do what is otherwise impossible.
Three times, the same message! I read on feverishly.

I found that, according to 2 Corinthians 4:7, God's glory that shines through us is held in our earthly bodies, "jars of clay," to show "that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

Of course! I thought. This is why I've been so weak. So that I would know it is only God's power that delivers me, not my own strength. Of course this trial is too difficult to me. That's why God has not left me to go through it alone.

I wanted to stop right there and glory in this knowledge, but I just had to keep reading.

Beth led me through the account of the Israelites crying out to God for deliverance from their slavery (Exodus 2). I read about God striking down the firstborn of all the Egyptians while passing over the Israelites and about Pharaoh letting them go (Exodus 12). And then I read about how they left loaded down with the riches of their enemies, willingly handed over: gold, silver, jewelry, costly fabrics.  

Next came a quote from Streams in the Desert, by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman:

The gospel is so arranged and the gift of God so great that you may take the very enemies that fight you and the forces that are arrayed against you and make them steps up to the very gates of heaven and into the presence of God.... God wants every one of his children to be more than a conqueror.... You know when one army is more than conqueror it is likely to drive the other from the field, to get all the ammunition, the food and supplies, and to take posessession of the whole.... There are spoils to be taken!

Now, this next part of the story may shock you. You might even think I'm a lunatic. But I'm willing to take that chance....

When I read the part about stepping all over my enemy and up to the very gates of heaven, I cried out, "Hallelujah!" And then I read it again. And again. And then I stood up in my closet and danced for joy. I spun in circles and jumped up and down and laughed. I cried and laughed some more. And then I praised God for about 20 minutes.

"Yes, yes!" I repeated over and over. "I am more than a conqueror through Jesus who loves me!"


I'm sure this trial is far from over, but I WILL hang onto this treasure from the darkness. Not only am I going to survive this trial, but when I come out on the other side, I will be stronger than ever before. And not only that, but the things that the enemy has been trying to steal with me, God will restore them double. I don't know how that works in this case, but I believe it. I am going to emerge from this dark valley loaded down with riches, the spoils from my enemy who thought he would destroy me.

Again, I wanted to just go to bed and fall asleep rejoicing, but I felt compelled to read on. And I'm glad I did, because then I saw the most delicious irony as I read on about the deliverance of the Israelites (Exodus 35). Guess what they did with all that plunder? They gave it right back to God. They freely offered gold, silver, bronze, fine yarns and linens, and acacia wood for the tabernacle and its furnishings. They gave olive oil and spices for the anointing oil and the incense. And they gave precious stones to be mounted on the priests' garments.

So they took the possessions of their enemies and used them to glorify God! Hallelujah!

And that, my friends, is why I sat down at 6:30 in the morning to tell you about all of this. I want God to be glorified through my life. I want to tell others of his all-surpassing power, so that other people who are suffering devastating trials can find the courage to believe their deliverance is coming. Consider yourself told.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Interrupted By Love

Over the last week or so, I felt I was winning the battle against my ongoing personal struggle. The key was praising God for my circumstances. Each time I felt hurt or resentful, I immediately praised God for the work He's been doing in my heart. I praised Him because I trust His plan, and I know He can bring something good out of everything that happens in my life (Romans 8:28).

On Thursday morning, I reflected on the victory I'd experienced over my negative thinking and wondered whether I was truly changing my thought patterns, or just suppressing my negative emotions. "I want to keep praising you," I prayed, "but I don't want to stuff down all my emotions. Help me find the balance."

It was that same day that I suffered a big setback. My heart hurt all day long. I felt alone, angry, even bitter. I tried to praise God and thank Him for continuing to conform me to His likeness, but it didn't work. That is to say, maybe praising God made some difference in the spiritual realm, but my thoughts and emotions continued to spiral. I even knew that I was being disobedient to dwell on these negative feelings instead of surrendering them to Jesus, but I felt powerless to stop.

I was up most of the night on Thursday, and on Friday I felt a deeper, duller sadness as well as a tightness in my chest that signalled the old anxiety returning. It was a busy day with no time for moping because we'd taken Allyson to the Hawaiian Falls water park to celebrate the last day of summer break. She was fearless, riding the steepest water slides without hesitation, flushed with triumph when she reached the bottom. I enjoyed seeing her have fun and also enjoyed riding the slides myself on some level, but the stone in my heart just felt colder and colder as the day wore on.

Last night, Bill had hockey, so Allyson and I spent some quality time reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and then comparing the scene of Aslan's death and resurrection with Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection story in the book of Matthew. This was a precious time to me, but I was still looking forward to some quiet time in my prayer closet.

Naturally, Allyson's willingness to settle down was inversely proportional to my desperate need for some alone time. I prayed with her, cuddled, with her, brought her drinks, and finally started threatening to spank. Nothing helped.

At her request, I stayed in the TV room, a stone's throw from her bedroom, instead of going into my closet to pray. Instead of praying out loud, I poured out my heart in my journal, writing out my prayer for God to help me let go of my own desires and submit to His will.

All the while, Satan harangued me with lies: "You haven't made any progress at all.... You haven't changed one bit.... You're back at square one.... You don't have what it takes to follow Jesus. Maybe you should just give up."

"I can't give up," I thought. "What other hope do I have except in Jesus? Please, God. Please."

Just then, Allyson hollered, "Mommy, please come cuddle me again!"

I groaned. "No," I yelled. "I already cuddled you."


"Go to SLEEP!!"

"Please, Mommy. I'm really scared."

I stomped into her room. "Okay, just for a minute, but you need to go to SLEEP. I am so tired and it's been a long day and I'm sad and I really, really need to pray and you keep interrupting."

When I heard my own harsh words, remorse pierced my heart, and I started to cry. Through all of my struggles for the last three months, I've tried to shield Allyson from my sorrow and not burden her with my pain. But there was no holding these tears back.

I collapsed onto my knees and laid my forehead on the edge of her bed. "I'm sorry," I whispered, and then I just sobbed.

Gentle fingers rubbed at my scalp, tangling in my short hair. "Everything's going to be okay, Mommy."

I sniffled. "That feels nice, Allyson."

"It feels nice to me too. I love to rub your hair."

As she rubbed my hair, Allyson kept up a stream of soothing words that no doubt came straight from my Father. "Everything will get better, Mommy. It doesn't feel like anything is changing, but remember how you told me that God does things in His own time? We just have to be patient and keep believing. And we need to rejoice and feel in our hearts like our prayer is already answered."

"You're right, baby. Will you pray for me tonight?"

"I will if you'll start."

So I repented aloud for clinging to my self pity and desiring my own will. Allyson piped up then and prayed that God would help us feel His love settling over us. We took turns praying whatever came to our hearts.

After we said amen, Allyson tugged at my arm. "Come up on the bed with me so I can really cuddle you."

I climbed in obediently and pulled her to my chest. She nestled under my arm and nuzzled my neck. And then she started to chatter. Part of me figured I should tell her to go to sleep, but I didn't want to spoil the sweetness.

"I think it's hard for people to change," she said. "Especially adults, because they've been the same way a long time."

"Yes, it is. Especially when we want to go our own way. But going our own way brings us heartache. I know this from experience, Allyson."

"It's like when we go to Canada," she mused. "Think about us flying all that way, and when we're almost there, I remember that I left Allum at home. We can't go back for him because we're almost there."

"No, we couldn't go back." I smiled, wondering where she was going with this cute analogy.

"It's like that with you, Mommy. You've gone a long way on this path with Jesus. You can't go back now."

Chills ran down my arms. There was no way she could have known my thoughts of giving up. Surely God was speaking directly through my six-year-old daughter!

"Thank you for reminding me of that, sweetie. You're right. I can't turn back now."

Just then I heard Bill's truck pull into the driveway. "Okay, no more tears," I said. "I don't want Daddy to find me crying."

But Allyson wasn't finished. "Remember what you told me. Sometimes you have to let your tears out. If you hold them in, it makes you sad much longer. But if you let the tears out, you'll feel better."

"Yes, baby." I kissed her cheek, but then she puckered her lips for a kiss on the mouth, and we made a smacking sound. "You are such a treasure, Allyson. I'm so thankful to have you in my life."

"Me too, Mommy. Now will you ask Daddy to come snuggle with me? I've been waiting and waiting for him to come home."

While Bill snuggled with Allyson, I tucked myself into bed. Heeding Allyson's advice, I let the tears pour out in a torrent as I whispered my prayers, surrendering all of my desires and asking God to change my heart, to make my heart want what He wants for me. It hurt so much, but as I cried and gave up on my own hopes, a peace settled over me that truly surpassed my understanding. And I slept like a baby.

Today, I can't stop smiling over how God "interrupted" my prayer time to shower me with love through my sweet girl. Oh, how He loves me!
My Treasure and Me This Afternoon

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to Bacon in No Time

Today was just a wonderful day, all around. We were amazed at how much better Dad looked, and at his good spirits. When Rick and his daughter Mindy went to his room, he tried very hard to communicate something very important. They found a piece of paper and a pen and held them out for him to write...


Somehow they figured out that he was talking about baseball, but what about it? He gestured to Rick's phone, and after some discussion they realized he wanted them to check the Rangers' scores. "I'm not sure you really want to know," Rick warned. "It was pretty bad."

He nodded that he did indeed want to know, so Rick broke the news. The Rangers had lost three straight games to the Yankees.

When Rick recounted the story back in the crowded waiting room, we were all encouraged. If Dad was well enough to wonder about baseball, that had to be a good sign.

Amy and I went in next, and the smile that lit Dad's eyes at the sight of us warmed my heart. He reached for my hand and I clutched it for the duration of my visit. When Amy left the room, I stood quietly and watched his eyelids getting heavy.

"Dad," I said, "I'm going to pray some scriptures over you now, but you don't really have to listen. You just close your eyes and rest."

He nodded, eyes closed.

I prayed all of Psalm 139 over him, with two minor modifications. "If Dad goes up to the heavens, you are there. If he goes into the operating room, you are there.... When Dad awakes from surgery, you will still be with him."

At that second tweak, Dad squeezed my hand firmly. He hadn't been asleep after all. We just grinned at each other then. "I love you so much, Dad. I'm thankful to be here holding your hand." He nodded.

His ICU nurse, Sarah, came in then. Very short and jolly, she appeared to be Indian. She rubbed Dad's bald head and looked in his eyes. "You are such a sweet baba," she said. "You are going to be just fine. You know that, right?"

He smiled.

"He's always smiling, this one. He is always a sweet baba. Yes, you will be fine. You will be back with me very soon."

My eyes filled with tears. "We appreciate your kindness," I said.

She beamed. 

Sarah's predictions were correct. Dad came through the surgery with flying colors. His blood pressure was good, his bowel tissue was healthy, and they were able to reconnect the cut sections. The surgeon told us afterward that he has lost very little of his small intestine, and his nutrient absorption will not be affected. Everything should work just as it did before.

When he asked for questions, Mom informed him that Dad has been eating bacon three times a week. "Shouldn't he stop that?" she asked.

He laughed. "If your husband makes it through all this and gets back home, I think bacon will be the least of his worries. Yes, he should be up to eating bacon again soon."

"Let him eat his bacon, Mom," several of us said.

When Mom and I went to his room back in ICU, we were surprised to find him wide awake. His breathing tube had been removed, and he was anxious to talk after two days of enforced silence.

First he described two dreams. During his first surgery on Tuesday, he dreamed that I hit a grand slam for the Rangers. During today's surgery, he dreamed that Rick's son Mitchell was pitching for the Yankees.

After that, he gave Mom instructions about several of his weekly mowing customers. "Tell them I won't be able to mow for the rest of the year," he said. I smiled at the implication that he'll be back out there mowing next spring. I have no doubt that he will.

Next he told us how he felt when he was wheeled down the hall for his surgery. "I got very anxious," he said. "My whole body got stiff, and I didn't want to go into surgery."

I imagined the horror of feeling that anxious and not even being able to communicate. But I was wrong. Dad was perfectly able to communicate with the only One who could help him.

"I prayed, 'Lord, help me. I don't want to go into surgery like this. Help me be quiet and have peace.' Immediately, I became perfectly calm. I wasn't afraid at all."

My eyes grew wet. Dad had found a treasure in the darkness! "Praise the Lord!" I said.

When Rick, Mindy, and I went in to say goodbye this afternoon, Rick happily informed Dad that the Rangers were leading the Yankees by four runs in the ninth inning. "But the bad news is the Yankees are now up to bat."

"It's okay," I said. "With Mitchell pitching, we have nothing to worry about."

It was so good to see Dad laugh.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Please Pray for Dad

After three days in the hospital, my dad had emergency surgery last night for a bowel obstruction. He was supposed to have a second surgery today to reattach the cut sections of his small intestine, but his blood pressure was too low.

Here are the details that I've posted on Dad's blog:

Dad was in surgery for only about an hour and had a successful result, so far. They resected two segments of bowel, one which was kinked and dead, and another which had adhered to his abdominal wall. Both were due to scar tissue from his previous gallbladder surgery. The dead section perforated when they touched it, but no damage was done. The doctor told us if they had waited until tomorrow as originally planned, it might have perforated and caused systemic infection. So we are very thankful.
He came through the surgery quite well considering how sick he is. His blood pressure was good. The doctor remarked that, given how sick he is, it's a wonder he was able to sit in the hospital bed for three days.
They didn't close the incision yet because they need to watch his small intestine. There was a large section that they were very concerned about at the beginning of the surgery, but once they untwisted the kinked section, it started looking better. If they don't find any other diseased sections in his small intestine tomorrow, they will do surgery in the afternoon to reconnect his bowel.
In the meantime, he is on a respirator and they are keeping him sedated so he won't get agitated. They plan to take him off the respirator in the morning, briefly, so his lungs won't get used to not breathing.
Please pray for his heart and lungs to stay strong and pray against infection, which is the biggest danger. And pray for a successful surgery tomorrow afternoon. After that he will likely be in the ICU for at least a week and will remain in the hospital until he is able to eat again.
This could be a very difficult recovery for him, so please pray that Dad's spirits remain good.
Thank you.

Dad was doing much better today, off the ventilator and intermittently awake and alert. He smiled and squeezed our hands and wrote notes on a tablet. He was unable to speak because he still has a breathing tube.

They were not able to perform the second operation today because his blood pressure was too low. For that reason, they reduced his sedation to help bring it up and also are giving him medication to increase his blood pressure. 

His doctor told us they will have to operate in tomorrow regardless. They will be able to reattach his bowel under three conditions:
1) They don't find any more dead tissue to remove.
2) His blood pressure is high enough.
3) He is off the BP med or on a very low dose. This is because the medication is a pressor, which restricts his blood vessels. In order for the bowels to reconnect and heal properly, they will need good perfusion (blood flow).

If they have to keep him on a higher dose of medication, or if they have to resect more bowel, they will not reattach it but will create up to three ostomies. This means they will pull the detached bowel sections up to the surface of his abdomen and he will no longer have normal bowel function. This would be a permanent arrangement as it would be too dangerous to perform surgery again later. 

So please continue to pray for dad:
-protection from infection
-blood pressure to come to a safe level
-relief from pain
-a successful surgery

We are not clear on the time of his surgery tomorrow, most likely mid afternoon. Thank you for your love and support!

Mom and Dad at one of Dad's Favorite Places - Nov 2011


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