Lost things…

I do this thing sometimes.

I lose my Joy.

One minute it’s there, and somehow, in the demands and disappointments of life, I misplace it.

So I start patting my proverbial pockets. I know it couldn’t have gone far. It was here but a minute ago….

Bereft at it’s loss, the first place I check is prayer. Rummaging through that pocket it’s plump full of confession, repentance, and petitions. Because as is often the case when I misplace Joy, I have a deep awareness and grief over my shortcomings and an excessive focus on my, as yet unmet, needs. There is a lot of stuff in here. But not Joy.

I dig next into the Word. This pocket is usually full of treasures. I scan text after text that normally shines bright with Joy and find it dulled. Experience tells me it’s likely not the text that has dulled, but me. The words, instead of Joy, bring with them an aching memory of it. Like the nostalgia of fried clams on a boardwalk mixed with sand, the sounds and smell of the ocean and burning of bare feet, it brings forth a Joy remembered and a desire to return, but the Joy itself… elusive and the more I return to it, the more keenly I feel it’s loss.

And this is where God does this thing.

One last pocket to check.

Maybe it should have been my first, as this is often what God uses to direct me back to this lost thing.

I sit and listen to a message given by a brother in Christ in which the spoken words ring loud enough to hear through the noise of our daily life.

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

He cares for you.

Then a stop at the church office yields an envelope full of incredible generosity in answer to secret anxiety and one of the many prayers in that other pocket. A need only known to our Father.

He cares for you.

Immediately follows new test results that give some hope and a direction to this gnawing fatigue, infections and insomnia.

He cares for you.

Our pastor’s passionate message on the one lost sheep and His relentless pursuit of … lost things. Lost people.

Luke 15:4

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

Because He cares for you.

And then as I sit in worry about these kids and the pocket full of prayers seemingly unmet and unanswered I get a slow trickle of response. Texts from a small group, sweet brothers and sisters who join in our petitioning. Emails from specialists who care and teachers and staff from school that are eager to help. Oh, not an answer to all the questions, but a sweet reminder that God goes before all of this too. Whether I can see it yet or not.

Because He cares through them.

And with each reminder from community, from fellowship in the Body of Christ, there is a spark of that which I search for. That I’d thought lost. Each spark illuminating the way back to Joy. I hold each one to my heart and pray for that spark to ignite a flame. Joy unsurpassed and uninhibited by circumstance because it is Joy in the One who cares for me.

The One who breathes stars, pursues and cares for me and though I may misplace knowledge, I will never, myself, be lost again.

Dissection of a servant heart

I’ve always loved to read, though the content has changed significantly over the years. One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis and though I return to his books often, I’ve recently found a new love of biographies and auto biographies. My favorites happen to be of some wonderful old saints like George Mueller, Amy Carmichael, and Charles Spurgeon. I read through the lives of these incredible brothers and sisters in Christ and they both encourage and convict me with their faithful perseverance and joyful service to our Lord. If you don’t know them, for the sake of this blog, you need only know that the size and scope of their ministries was only surpassed by their great faith and reliance on their God. Which resulted in great Kingdom impact.

And it never fails when I close the book for the night.

I want to serve like them. I want to minister to orphans. Great multitudes of them (or maybe more realistically, foster children).

To save exploited children and show them the love of their Father.

I want to tell of the Good News to the masses. The underprivileged, forgotten, broken, hurting, starving masses.

I want to do big things in response to the big Love I’ve received.

Don’t misunderstand. I also think that sometimes the big acts of service are the small ones too. I find great joy in loving chatting, giggling, exasperating teenage girls in my youth group, wiping snotty button noses in my Sunday school class, sorting dusty, dirty cast-offs for a rummage sale and even scrubbing toilets and windows in the house of my Lord.

But as I read these biographies I found myself wondering if these beloved saints ever wrestled with where they were called to serve? It seems to me that they didn’t. And it makes me wonder if this is my own peculiar stubbornness.

I sometimes look at our situation with special needs children as an obstacle to service. How am I to do all of the things I want to do when there is a constant stream of paperwork, medical bills and appointments.

If only I didn’t have one fire after another, Lord, the things I could do!!

Then I went to an amazing conference with Hunter’s Hope. An organization that serves families affected by Leukodysytrophy. It was while sitting in on a prayer meeting, fever raging from a kidney infection, that the Lord began to work on my heart.

The chairs were arranged in a circle with Kleenex boxes strategically placed about the small room, as couples made their way in from breakfast. In varying stages of grief, these beautifully brave parents and caregivers shared their deepest, most authentic, genuine, hurts, fears and even heart breaking anger. Then, they collectively placed their burdens in the hands of their Lord, asked for the strength and wisdom to glorify Him throughout the conference, and closed in praise and gratitude for the fellowship and provision given to make the conference possible.

Then, since I was feeling so ill, instead of making connections and asking questions I was forced to just listen and observe. (I tend to do a “doer”, so trust me when I say this was frustrating and decidedly disappointing. NOT what I’d planned.)

What I SAW was HOPE. I saw these same hurting, grieving, struggling servants shining light into what I’ve experienced to be some of the darkest of circumstances.

Because there were many in attendance who were trying to navigate the terminal illnesses and deaths of their young children… without Christ.

I saw these unbelieving families look upon these other, broken parents and wonder at their peace. At their ability to find joy. Wonder at their belief that their God was still good. And it made me wonder…

Did those parents of the prayer meeting realize how well they served their Lord? In and through the pain and daily struggle for peace. It was then I thought of those who God had used to serve me.

A pastor, who having come to Christ at the grave side of his infant daughter and a friend with a daughter with MD would be the only ones I could hear and believe when, in my own grief, I could not believe or hear God. And I suspect these precious families will one day, if they haven’t already, be given the opportunity to serve in a similar way. To be able to say, with confidence, to the similarly afflicted,”He’s still good. And He still loves you.”.

Then, I saw these same hurting parents present all of the amazing ways God has used and purposed their great suffering to ease the hurts and suffering of future Leukodysytrophy families. Dozens of organizations founded, books written, laws enacted, lobbyists created and activists activated to go out and comfort with the comfort they themselves have received.

And then I think, have I truly been willing to serve where He has placed me? In the relentless paperwork, medications, therapies, insurance battles, waiting rooms and fear filled future. EVERY morning when I surrender these children anew, have I surrendered willingly myself to serve where He obviously wants me. And am I doing it as cheerfully and joyfully as I would serving the next project at church?

And the answer is humbling.

Not always.

These last couple of weeks especially I’ve wanted to serve pretty much anywhere but where He has me.

I still want to serve in ways that are more appealing to me. Would still honestly much prefer serving widows and orphans, the homeless and persecuted. Would even cheerfully welcome the opportunity of a great inheritance to pour into God’s kingdom if you twisted my arm.

I’m far more comfortable serving from a place of my own abundance, than a place of my own great need.

Perhaps I do NOT yet have the willing, servant heart I thought I did.

Surgery and Procedures: A Guide For Caregivers

There are oodles of articles, brochures and pamphlets on how to prepare a child for surgery or procedures. I know, I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of them. They’re extremely helpful. What I’ve found over the last few years though, is that they’re not extremely helpful in preparing the adult that is accompanying and caring for the child. So, as we’re headed in for a procedure today, I thought I’d provide my own list of things I’ve found the most useful to know as the caregiver accompanying a small person for what can be a very stressful time.

What To Bring

The hospital should have what’s called a “Child Life Specialist”, or something similar to keep your child entertained during the endless waiting and to lessen their anxiety with activities and electronics. You’ll likely have your hands full doing the same. But, once they’re wheeled in, you will find yourself with plenty of time on your worrying hands.

First, bring your people. Family, friends that are family, church family, whatever. Bring a person that can run for food if you need it, grab some tissue if you need it, enable you to run outside for some fresh air and most importantly, distract you when the hands on the clock don’t seem to move. These people should also ideally be positive, easy going and good at waiting. This goes for a hospital stay if you have one afterwards too! If you’re looking at an extended stay, come up with a schedule ahead of time. I’d really recommend this if you have a large number of people so that both you and your child are well supported, but not overwhelmed.

Bring easy brain activities. I wouldn’t recommend any difficult novels, studying, or important work you can’t make mistakes on. I’ve often wished I knew how to knit. I think that would be a perfect waiting room activity. My personal recommendations are adult coloring books, your Bible, and conversation.

I’d highly recommend dressing in comfy layers. Temperature often varies drastically by the room you’re in and no matter the procedure or surgery you’re waiting on, it’s going to be a long day.

Bring a cell phone charger and let family and friends know ahead of time you may not be able to update at regular intervals. Depending on where you are in the hospital will depend on what kind of cell phone service you have.

On Your Way

On your way to the hospital, allow extra time to stop for your favorite coffee/ tea/ beverage and several snacks. For you. Since your little one likely can’t eat anything, you’ll feel bad consuming a large breakfast in front of them.

Or, if you’re like my husband, maybe you won’t.

But, either way, there are usually few decent food options in the waiting room, if any, and you may not want to make a run for food for fear of missing an update. Also, a muffin from the grocery store is far cheaper than the $5 dry and tasteless muffin wrapped in cellophane you’ll likely get at the hospital.

While You Wait

Once they’ve been wheeled away from you and you’ve said your very brave goodbye, you will get to experience the phenomenon of “hospital time”. The clock that, at times, flies by or stands completely still.

Now is when you want to take any opportunity to eat, drink, and use the restroom. I would advise against too much of the waiting room coffee, however. I still don’t understand why they provide every poor quality diuretic known to man. Not only does the caffeine not help anxiety, but about ten minutes into waiting I’m already too worried about missing an update to use the bathroom. And the only thing worse than anxiously waiting to hear how things are going, is anxiously waiting while simultaneously holding a full bladder.

This is the point I’m currently at. Doing my “busy” stuff, having a snack and trying not to watch the clock. Whatever you do, sit somewhere you can’t see a clock.

Sometimes, depending on the hospital, you’re back in the waiting room and sometimes you’re waiting in the pre-op room. I actually prefer the waiting room, if you have an option.

Here’s why. Look around you. Nothing helps distract you like connecting with other families in a similar situation. One of my best waiting room experiences was an all day affair during which two of my children were having surgery at the same time. Why? Because while I was waiting I was able to talk to another brave, waiting momma. This sweet lady was several states from home, by herself, with a medically complex kiddo while Dad was at home caring for their other young child. She’d been staying at a hotel for a week to have access to specialists, testing and surgery not available where they live. Things practically in my backyard that this particular anxious momma can forget to be grateful for.

Finally, try not to panic about time frames. You are literally at the mercy of the schedules of dozens of medical personnel. It rarely goes according to the schedule you’re given. If you’re worried, never be afraid to ask someone. They’re used to soothing worried parents, especially in a children’s hospital.

Do you have any helpful advice you’d add for caregivers? Please comment with it below!

Know a caregiver concerned about an upcoming procedure or surgery? Feel free to share!

Do you have a procedure or surgery coming up for a loved one that you’d like prayer for? I’d be happy to pray for you.

Buying Into Busy

busy_poem

I pulled into our local big box store’s parking lot and being a creature of habit, pulled into our usual spot. Also as usual, the begging for junk food and toys started hardly before I’d put my beloved minivan in park. This time though, I was distracted by “the smell”. If you were ever a teenager with no money, you know the one. That hot, greasy, mechanical smell that indicates (far more reliably than those lights on the dashboard) something expensive is wrong underneath the hood. If you’re like me, and you smell it while driving, you hope that it’s the guy in front of you. But if it’s still there when you’ve parked, you know you’re in trouble.

I was in trouble.

I sent a quick text to Hubby to break the news. Then, an SOS to Auntie Mamie in case I wasn’t able to go pick up Oldest Son. Whom we had just dropped off at tennis practice. And in that three minute timespan my other two darling offspring decided this was an opportune time to fight over spilled water. It’s almost as if they can smell my nerves fray as strongly as “the smell” coming from the van. I hustle them out of the van, past the Expect More, Pay Less sign, and into the air conditioned entry so they can argue over who is going to clean the germ infested handle of the cart. Really, have they no sense of self preservation at all?!

Considering our property taxes are due the end of the month, Hubby has a bad tooth and no more dental for the year, the dog needs a trip to the vet, and my van has “the smell”, I am now seriously counting on this store to live up to it’s pay less promise. Herding (now wet) cats through the store and trying to remember my grocery list, I’m also texting with Hubby and Auntie Mamie about the van. In light of the impending cost of repairs, I’m mentally crossing off batteries for the Xbox controller as I make plans for Auntie Mamie to follow me home and promise Hubby I will do no further driving. He’ll stop on his way home for parts and we will have to postpone our fishing trip with grandpa.

I’m distracted by the fact that no matter how I rearrange my plan, there is just not enough time, or money, in this day. But still I’m trying to squeeze a few more minutes and a few more dollars for what they’re worth as I squeeze more into my cart. And almost walk, distracted, by a sister. As we talk, I’m reminded of meals I’m getting ingredients to make. And the sweet lady that needs them. I share the request for prayer for that family and possible needs they may have in the future. In those five minutes of conversation, God purposefully drew my gaze from me. And toward Him. Away from my texts, away from my shopping list, away from my undone chores at home, my schedule Tetris, and away from my bank account.

How easy it is to fill my cart, fill my life, with anything but Him! And isn’t that exactly what the enemy would have me do? Fill my every moment, my every thought with something else?

If time is money, where am I spending my time? What am I spending it on?

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

bible-verse-luke-1234-where-your-treasure-is-there-your-heart-will-be-also-2014-for-slideshow-e1455421849201

What am I buying with my time?

I look into my cart and I realize I’m too often buying busy. I’m buying distraction. I’m buying into probably the biggest lie of our age. I don’t need more time. I need less “stuff” to fill it.

This road we’re on the last couple of years has taught us so much. When you walk through the fire, God has this way of burning off a lot of the excess. Out of necessity mostly, we’ve purged not only a lot of “stuff” as far as possessions, but a lot of “stuff” that took up our time. The result being we have less “stuff” to take care of, to spend time on. And, we’ve been trying to be very purposeful in stewarding our time as well. Limiting kids’ activities, electronic time for all of us, and saying “no” more often to things so we can invest our time wisely. (The learning to say “no”, even to good things, to say “yes” to better things, always reminds me of Jesus leaving the multitude to pray.) Turns out though, that this learning and adjusting is apparently a continuous process? Sigh.

Finally in the check out lane I pry Mini Hubby’s hands from the totally fascinating toy he has to have but would forget about by the time we got home and get an email from another box store telling me the things I need to get because I “deserve them”. This is when I may have asked Baby Girl to go put back the box of Peanut M&M’s I may have impulsively grabbed to make me feel better about “the smell” on the way home. (You know, because I deserved chocolate.)

I’m much less frazzled on my way home with Auntie Mamie tailing us to make sure we get there and the post tennis, smelly, teenage boy in her vehicle, not mine. The kids get to work unloading groceries and unorganizing my pantry while I talk with a friend about her latest trial and make plans to have coffee and talk in person. I take a break to video tape Mini Hubby’s latest Imaginext superhero adventure so he can watch it when he’s done and then promise to listen to Oldest Son’s latest favorite song after he’s done showering. Lunch and a nap for Mini Hubby leaves me with a little Minecraft time with Baby Girl before spending some time in prayer.

My van is still in need of repair, Hubby’s tooth still hurts, the dog hasn’t gone to the vet, we still have to cancel fishing plans, my chores aren’t done, but somehow I feel like I’ve made the right investments for the day?

Trying not to buy into “busy”. Jesus, help me!

Treasures-in-Heaven

Blessed by Less

This 4th of July morning bloomed sticky hot in the Midwest. One thing I’ve learned in the 20 plus years of living here is that when the humidity hovers anywhere near summertime Fahrenheit in these parts, folks run for water, ice cream and air conditioning. You see, that long, hard, winter freeze gets right into our blood while we’re hibernating up here and thickens it right up. As a result, our inner thermostats consistently read approximately 20 degrees above the rest of the country. You laugh, but wait till you see us in shorts and flip flops in 50°. (How else will they get a full month’s use?)

So, this morning everyone is running to family cabins, lakes, boats, and barbeques. We’ll celebrate our Independence Day with loads of red, white and blue, fireworks and food. If we have a veteran, we’ll bring him or her an extra hot dog and thank them for their service. Later, at a more reasonable temperature, we’ll break out the Smores and probably some apple pie and sparklers. Off and on today I’ll think about the privilege of living in the land of the free. And because of God’s grace, I’ll also think of the responsibility that implies.

Just a few years ago I bought the kids their “Fourth of July Outfits” that they’d never wear again. Hubby spent a ridiculous amount of money on things that would literally go up in smoke and we had just gotten back from a rather expensive, but fun filled week long family vacation. Things were good. I called myself blessed. I was thankful. I’m even more so now. But a lot has changed since then. The things I considered myself blessed with are quite different. These last few years we’ve been richly blessed with LESS.

I realize this is a very anti American sentiment on a very American holiday, but let me explain. I have this thing about comfort. Sometimes it gets all confused in my head with security and love. And it wasn’t until God removed many of my comforts that I realized the depth of this confusion of mine. If you’d asked me if I believed in a prosperity gospel I’d have told you, “No!”. But, I did on some level, believe that if God loved me he would provide for me the way I wanted. Turns out, since He loves me very much, he allowed me to learn that my security and love comes from Him alone, and not my circumstances. Since I’m a rather slow learner, and I really do desire comfort far more than I should, this is a process that will likely continue until He calls me home.

Here’s the crazy thing. Our lives will never look the same as they did a few years ago. Our bank accounts will never be so full, our credit will likely never recover and all those future plans we had will look completely different. Yet, I feel so richly blessed by less.

Today, I can say “no” to my children and know that it’s okay. That just because I CAN give them something, doesn’t mean I should. I know that even without a penny to my name I’ll still know my Father loves me because I’ve felt that love when I didn’t even have that penny. I’ll watch the town fireworks somewhere and be unafraid. Seriously, this is a big deal for those of you that know me. (Whoever thought explosives were FUN and decided to incorporate them into a celebration for a country that earned it’s freedom through deadly explosions…. well, you see the irony, don’t you??) And I’ll celebrate more than just my freedom of speech, right to assemble and bear arms. I’ll celebrate my freedom from a few idols and fears that held me captive for a long time. A little rain might adjust my plans for the day, but not by any means ruin it. There are far worse things than getting wet.

Yup, I’ll be celebrating my anemic checking account with a day at home, sparklers (hazardous sticks of flaming metal I’ll let Mini Hubby hold) and hopefully a good barbeque and quality family time. Thank you, Lord, for functioning air conditioning and a roof that doesn’t yet leak!

Multiplied

basket-bread-rolls-fish-750x330.jpgI unloaded the kids’ school paraphernalia out of the back of the van to make room for the two black construction size bags filled with clothes that needed to be dropped off at our local clothing center. I was already fighting a panic attack before I’d even left the driveway.

Before you ask, no, I don’t always panic at the thought of being separated from the clothes I’ve dug out of the bowels of my children’s closets. Nope, you see, the donation was a well timed front for my true destination. Which was giving me all the early symptoms of a panic attack.

I pulled into the parking lot at dusk, wishing it was just a bit darker. Shutting off the van I took a deep breath and opened the driver’s side door, right next to a sweet girl I went to high school with. Because that’s what happens when you don’t want to be seen in a small town. All one has to do is not shower, have a bad hair day, or forget to put deodorant on, and you’re guaranteed to run into someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Every. Time.

Except this time I was showered, my hair was presentable and though I was sweating, I was still okay in the odor department. This time, I had something bigger to hide than poor hygiene. No worries! I have my two bags of donations, they’ll never know what I’m up to. It’ll be fine! Until she kindly offers the services of her husband to carry said bags for me. Still okay! I will just drop the bags and they’ll be on their way. As we walked through the parking lot catching up a bit she tells me they’re headed into the building too, for a community education dance class for the adorable toddler holding her hand. My nervous brain finally processes the pink leotard and leg warmers. My too bright smile masking the new panic as I realize they’re headed in the same direction I am.

I drop off the bags, say my goodbyes, and head back to the safety of my van. That’s it. I’m not doing it. I even start the van again before I realize I don’t have a choice. The refrigerator is as empty as our bank account and pay day isn’t for three more days. This is when I start to think I’m suffocating. That someone has snuck up and sucked all the air out of my van and caused this crazy fear to grip my throat. I jump back out of the van, sucking in deep breaths of air. You know the kind. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I stuff all that fear back down to wreak havoc on my stomach instead and jog to the entrance of the food shelf before I can change my mind… again.

That’s right. My super secret, anxiety provoking mission is this tiny little grocery store replica tucked into our community center. I step quickly inside and take a seat with my back to the front door. I fill out the required paperwork and wait for my number to be called. The worst part seems to be over, as far as anxiety goes, but now I’m battling a new fun thing. Shame. I can’t even meet the eyes of the sweet ladies helping me. What I really want to do is curl up and cry. Then, I want to explain why I’m here. Then I start a running dialog with God on why I’m there.

How did this happen?

I did all the right things!

(Whine. Whine. More whining.)

Just as the tears start to win, a lady from the desk comes and stands next to me. It takes me a minute to figure out what she’s saying. And when I do, I’m a little confused. She’s asking about my purse. I think she likes it? I struggle for a minute to remember that I had inherited it from my mother’s closet. I told her I’d considered it a step up from the diaper bag I’d been carrying for what seemed the last 12 years. She laughed. I laughed. And I finally looked into her eyes. Where there was no condemnation, no pity, just kindness. Once she had my attention she started showing me the “ropes”. That it’s just like grocery shopping, only there’s limits listed on the signs. When you’re done, you bring your shopping cart to be weighed to “check out”. And then there’s a very sweet gentleman that will help you carry your things to the car, or you can pull up if there’s room.

As we’re loading my bags, in full cover of darkness now, I still take a few glances around hoping I haven’t been spotted. I thank the volunteer for his help and make a quick exit.

It occurs to me on the drive home that there is something probably wrong with my reaction. That though we’d routinely supported the local food shelf in the past ourselves, I had quite obviously had a few misconceptions not only about the “kind of people” that used it, but the way it was run. As the days and weeks passed, I became more and more convicted of my pride and self righteousness.

As the months wore on it became more and more clear that my faithful, thorough, relentless and loving God was totally committed to purging me of some of these blemishes of my character. Trust me, by the time we’d sold anything with value, come perilously close to losing our house, borrowed from our parents to get our daughter to the latest specialist and still had to dig through the change in the van to pay for the hospital parking fees… all semblance of pride in our circumstances had pretty much evaporated. Everything I have is a gift.

Now, this has been a couple of years ago now and God is continually chipping away at some of these ugly parts of me (which can be depressing) but sometimes I have to look back to see how far He’s brought me.

This week I was reminded of this day when I was feeling enormous guilt. Why? Because we bought new appliances. Like, brand new and delivered. There was a time I wouldn’t have truly appreciated them. A time I would have been the most excited about the way they looked and telling everyone about them (And now, as I’m typing, I realize I’m telling everyone about them. 😅 But in a totally grateful, praise be to God for His provision kind of way, right?).

I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the invoice or agonized over what this money could do for someone else; where it might be better spent. I wouldn’t have thought long and hard on if I truly NEEDED them or not. I certainly wouldn’t have waited until only one burner on the stove worked and the dishwasher was continuously leaking before trying to replace them. And that crack in the sink? That wouldn’t have lasted a week, never mind three years!

Now, I’m not saying I don’t still roll in the mud of pride and self righteousness. That I don’t still care far too much about how my life “looks”. That I don’t regularly hourly need to be washed clean by the blood of Christ. But, every once in awhile I’m reminded that I’m a work in progress. The key word there being… progress!! I may not be who I want to be, but I’m not who I once was! Praise God!!

ef671dea865e9b7c31e033f5d1df6a7b.jpgIn celebration of the gift of another year of sanctification, 😉 I’m asking anyone that might be considering a card or gift for me to instead support our local food shelf. They were not only there when we needed them, but they showed more kindness than I’d imagined. Let’s help Five Loaves continue to multiply.

5 Loaves Food and Clothing