Well, I obviously think this is a blog worth reading. Grateful for the chance to share about the only One who makes it possible to rejoice through tears!
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.
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.
The Other Mothers
This mother’s day is a bit different than the past four. In a good way. Or a mostly good way. It started a few days ago when Oldest Son and Baby Girl had their latest appointment in neurology.
Neurology hasn’t been my favorite. This place of MRI’s, EEG’s, spinal taps, bloodwork and few answers but more questions makes my heart race nervous in the parking ramp. That day though, kids touched noses, hopped on one foot and images stayed the SAME. This momma breathed deep, exhaled grateful and smiled to her eyes for holding steady. Steady hands, steady legs and steady labs. This momma stayed up late overflowing grateful. And guilty. Heart rejoicing and heart weeping. Oh, she sang praises on the floor of her closet, wrapped warm in undeserved grace. Then prayed hard for the other mothers.
All of this mothering is hard. SO hard. But there is some mothering that hurts more than others.
The kind of mothering that happens when you lose a child to mother. I saw that this week. Prayed for that momma and hurt for that momma as she stood in front of a school she no longer had a child at. What does one do when you have a lifetime of love for that child and the lifetime is far too short?
The kind of mothering that happens when a child goes their own dangerous way. Prayed for one of those beautiful mommas this week too as she watches and prays and waits. Waits for that child’s saving, fully aware that she can’t be the one to do it.
The kind of mothering that happens when one does all the things to be a mother, but hasn’t been given the gift of the child. I prayed for one of these precious ladies too. For she has helped mother my own babies. Will continue to pray that she understands the beauty of mothering whatever children God gives you, no matter what that looks like.
And finally, the kind of mothering that happens with a special needs child. These other mothers weighed heavy on my heart this week. Because not all of them get to hear good, steady, news.
These other mothers stare fiercely brave into the hardest things. Things they won’t tell you. But I will. So you can pray for them too.
Their sleepless nights last far longer than those infant years. These warrior mothers navigate hospital halls, insurance denials, government paperwork and medical equipment. Always advocating, always fighting. They have grieved a diagnosis, mourned a prognosis. And if it’s a degenerative condition, they’ll grieve the loss of each ability, one by one, over and over again. And at the end of their hard days, their want to give up days, they might break a little knowing the only break they’ll get is when their heart breaks.
Or, they don’t have a diagnosis at all. Oh, I’m hurting for these other mothers too this week. You see, our diagnosis is CTX. And after years of research, I know about all the mommas before me that knew something was wrong. That did all the things to find the answers. And lost their babies before they found out what they were. I also know that there are likely hundreds of mommas out there right now, praying for this diagnosis and might not get it in time.
You see, I know I’m the momma that’s had a few hard years. But I’m also the one that gets the diagnosis, the treatment, the good doctors and the steady news.
So this Mother’s Day, I’m rejoicing and grateful for good news. And I’m praying for all the other mothers. That they know The Good News. That they find their rest in the only One who can give it to them. And that they know that there are mommas praying for the comfort and strength they need to persevere.
Fighting For Balance
It was the sideways glance and raised eyebrow from the pre op nurse that got me thinking. I can’t really blame her for not understanding because prior to life with medically complex kiddos, I wouldn’t have understood either. That they have medical, spiritual and emotional needs and each are just as important to maintaining some kind of balance in this crazy life of genetic disorders.
So, as they wheeled our oldest son out the door into surgery and I was sitting with our daughter in the same pre op room getting ready for her surgery, I explained to the nurse why I brought my thirteen year old son to see his first concert the night before.
I told her Imagine Dragons is his favorite band and his amazing aunt got the tickets for him for his birthday. I explained that he was very concerned that he not miss the last of soccer season, or the beginning of basketball season so this gave us a very small window in which to schedule the eye surgery. (Because, well, thirteen year old boy priorities.) I tell her that this rare disorder of theirs, Cerebrotendinous Xanthomatosis, comes not only with juvenile bilateral cataracts, but with a lot of anxiety. So, I scheduled the surgery on the only date available in between sports and brought him to the concert the night before. He had a great time and, although tired that morning, he was much less stressed about the surgery.
As the blood pressure cuff inflated and the heart monitor beeped I colored with our daughter and explained that for her, Dad spent the night playing Minecraft to distract her. The decisions aren’t always easy ones to make. Trying to balance all of their needs is hard. They are more than just flesh and blood. In the midst of endless lab work, exams, specialists and testing it has become more and more important that we make all of their needs a priority. Sometimes this means ice cream before dinner rewards for copious amounts of blood work. Sometimes it means skipping homework for prayer, not following that strict diet perfectly so that they can eat what the other kids at the party are eating or taking the injury risk for that activity that they love.
We have two medically complex kiddos and this means we have complex lives with complex decisions. And we’re just doing the best we can to meet ALL of the needs.
And you know what? Much later that day, our son was out of surgery, out of PACU and sitting somewhat patiently with us while we were waiting for our daughter to crack open her precious little eyes and the PACU nurse comments on how easy going and patient our kids are. After 12 hours in the hospital neither one were complaining and both were good naturedly trading jokes with us and the staff.
So, we will keep fighting for balance. We know our kids and their condition better than anyone else we come across, no matter their degree. Tonight, one day post op, they’re going to youth group. Because they want to, and it’s just as important as the medication they’re due for in an hour.
I’m not saying we make all the right choices. I’m definitely not saying we’ve got this thing figured out. Actually, we really screw it up sometimes. But, what I’m saying is, I’ve learned that our kids’ needs are complex and go far beyond the physical. I’ve learned that not everyone is going to understand that. I’ve learned that sometimes I will get a sideways glance and raised eyebrow at my decisions. And I’ve learned that that is totally okay. Sometimes I’m right.
This week marks the anniversary of what I think of as my personal D-Day, or diagnosis day for our daughter. The day our world seemed to turn upside down and no longer made any sense. The repercussions causing me to land in the dark, and the next year learning how to rest in God, over and over again.
Reflecting on the last year, it has been on my heart to share some things with those of you who have, or are, experiencing your own trauma and suffering. Who may still be in that dark place. This letter is for you.
I see you. Always a compassionate person, I can now feel you in a way I never could before. The pain you emanate is palpable. I see the blank look in your eyes in a crowded room, not really taking in anything around you because the darkness you’re caught in has swallowed up the people and conversations around you. Your shoulders are hunched forward, curled around the pain and grief trapped in that place with you. Your smile a mere up turning of your lips. You’ve turned completely inward in the upside down. I don’t know if you’ll hear me, but I want to gather you in my arms and whisper past the shadows under and in your eyes. You’re not alone in there. Keep looking for the light and call out to Him.
Be careful. There may be bright sparks of anger, resentment and blame. Don’t follow them.They may lead you out, give you fuel to keep going, but they’ll only lead you to a life trapped in a place similar to where you are. Void of hope and truth and love.
Wait for His light. Maybe just soft at first, teaching you truth on your way to the surface, or for some people an all enveloping ride full of grace and love.
Whatever that looks like for you, you’re bound to run into the hard but necessary truths. How utterly fragile, helpless and weak we are on our own. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this means you are unloved, or worthless. Just the opposite. You are so precious and loved Jesus will be with you through all of this. There’s no need to do it alone. When you look to the Lord for your strength, lay all your fears and pain at His feet, you can do all things through Him. Even THIS.
There may be friends and family that, unable or unwilling to absorb the shock, will distance themselves from it. But He will take that anger and resentment you may be tempted to and instead lead you to your knees in prayer for them and thanksgiving for those He’s placed in your life for this instead.
I assure you, His perfect sovereignty has the power to reach down and save you from this dark here and carry you all the way home. When you’re ready, He’ll be waiting. His love so powerful, perfect and faithful, He’ll take it all. And His yoke is infinitely lighter than yours.
There, in that place, you’ll find indescribable joy. The joy that comes solely from Him and has nothing to do with your current circumstances.
Dear one. I don’t know what your personal D-Day is. I don’t know if it’s a child’s diagnosis, your own, loss of a child or loved one, a life changing phone call at 2 a.m. I don’t know why God has allowed this in your life, but I know that He does. That regardless of how this feels now, His plans are to prosper you and give you hope and a future. Even if you can’t see any possible way for that to be true.
Look for, embrace and give thanks for every gift of grace. Big or small.
Hold onto Him, as He is always holding onto you. Remember His promises written on your heart and commit them to your mind.
Love and Blessings,
I wish I could say that this particular anniversary came and went without any unwanted or uninvited memories for me. It didn’t. I woke to fresh memories of that day a year ago. Fear and pain springing up in place of my hope and faith. Sure that despite the blessings rained down on me over this last year I still didn’t have enough faith.
But in the remembering, I realized just how far from the dark He’s brought me, and how much joy I’ve found in His light.
The Gift In The Concrete
The last year and a half has been hard. Really hard. Watching your once “normal”, healthy, eight year old decline and helplessly standing by while dozens of tests and specialists tell you they don’t know what’s wrong has a way of slowly turning a parent inside out. You know it’s something serious, and you relentlessly pray for answers, but when you get them, you’re still grossly unprepared for the reality of it.
We now have TWO answers and I don’t like either one. The first is called Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 8. Rare, genetic, degenerative, and would slowly rob her of her mobility over about fifteen years. You can see my blogs, The Dark and Alibaster Jar if you’re interested in seeing where that brought me. The second, newest, is Cerebrotendinous Xanthomatosis. I held it together slightly better (growth?) the second time around. See Hope . Also rare, genetic, and progressive, this one explains her cognitive decline, personality changes, leg pain, etc. The good news is that this one has an available treatment. The idea being to replace what her body isn’t making and pray that we can maintain normal numbers and stop the progression. The bad news is that each of our boys has a 25% chance of having this disorder as well and we are waiting on their genetic test results.
I’ve blogged a lot about the pain, loss, and grief over this journey but He has faithfully brought me through and given me so much love, truth, and hope. Everything I need, when I need it most. Thank you Jesus! The last couple weeks I’ve been struggling through something a little less dramatic. Sadness. The kind of sadness that hovers silently in the shadows of my mind while joy, excitement, hope, love, fatigue, frustration and worry bump around the rest of the space in there, jostling for position. It’s heavy presence is always there. Waiting. Just waiting, for worry or frustration to bump up against it, form an alliance, and squeeze hot tears out of unsuspecting eyes. I’m finding this happens most often when I come face to face with our present reality. Without having a chance to brace myself first.
The other day we were tackling 3rd grade homework when frustration and worry ganged up on me with sadness. We spent an hour repeatedly going over which hand was the hour hand and which hand was the minute hand. Something she had mastered in first grade. Abstract concepts are next to impossible with her short term memory impairment. Twenty minutes later, her newfound impulsiveness led to a screaming toddler and crying 8 year old because she had gotten frustrated, pinched him, and immediately felt terrible. At bedtime, she told me she didn’t want to go to Sunday school because she got confused. There was truly less light in my baby girl’s eyes! By the time I went to bed, I was in tears.
Father, PLEASE! Please don’t let us lose the compassionate heart you blessed her with too! Please don’t allow this disorder to rob her of the ability to understand the huge faith you’ve given her! This heart, this faith, that have been such a source of hope and comfort. Such a gift of grace to us!
Sadness dogged me the next morning and followed me through her occupational therapy session which left her tremor worse, her body sweating and exhausted, and her complaining of the pain in her legs. And as I broke out the Motrin:
“Mom, I’m sad.”
She has a few things to be sad about. “Why are you sad, baby?”
“I’m sad for all of the people that lived before God gave us Jesus.”
Her compassionate heart! But that’s a pretty abstract concept to grasp. Does she really get it?
“I wish He could have helped them get to Heaven too. But I’m sure happy that we were born after Jesus!”
Smiling through tears. “Me too baby girl, me too.”
Tear filled eyes closed and lifted to a bitterly cold Midwest winter sun, being covered in His grace and love, my heart cried out my thanks for a gift so beautiful!
I have little difficulty with the abstract. I’ve been blessed with an exceptional memory. I have no physical challenges. I’m pretty sure I aced third grade word problems involving reading a clock. But, I didn’t know the Gospel until I was in my thirties, and I struggled to understand and accept the love of my Savior for longer than I care to admit. (It really is a kind of illogical love, isn’t it?!) And I’m too embarrassed to disclose how long it took my heart to bleed for those that were, and are, perishing. Her existence in the concrete, the present, has apparently not hindered her faith, or her compassionate heart in the slightest. It begs the question, which one of us truly has a greater challenge?! He will make clear to her all she truly needs to know, just as He will for me.
Baby girl, you bring that beautiful heart and concrete faith, I will bring the abstract, and we will grow in Christ together!
1 Corinthians 12:4-11New International Version (NIV)
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.