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.

The lumpy, bumpy road…

This road we’re on sure has a lot of stones in it. The narrow path can be hard to navigate. Trying not to fall to the left or the right is tough when this road less traveled never seems to stay straight. Instead, we’re full steam ahead on a journey that has more twists and turns than the county fair roller coaster. I heard someone say once that if you’re bored as a Christian, you’re not doing it right. If there is any Truth to that, I have to believe we’re really rocking this following Jesus thing.

But the really cool thing I’m finding about maturity is that my reflexes have greatly improved. Usually, at a new bump or bend at break neck speed, I start with crying out. Right away I know to approach the One Whose stamp of approval has been placed on this detour. I occasionally start with the “Why me”, followed by (a little bit whiney), “What is it about me that requires THIS much correction?” Or maybe “What am I NOT learning?” and sometimes, “How long, Lord?”. This is a much quicker stop than it used to be. Because, well, reflexes. Muscle memory? Practice?

Next, I move on to remembering. Because when I’m nervous or scared or just plain tired, I know that I fail to practice some basic safety measures like looking in the rearview mirrors. Looking at where I’ve been reminds me of how I’ve gotten through, and Who is always traveling WITH me. Over every rough patch, through every close call, I can find strength in remembering that those situations seemed precarious at the time too, so surely there is hope yet for this one.

Then I slow down and remember to check those side mirrors and watch my blind spots. Because, in remembering, I’m reminded that this is when the enemy delights in trying to destroy. Destroy my peace, destroy my calm and destroy my deep breathing exercises. A bit of defensive driving here is absolutely crucial. I grab hold of that manual, that map, that Word of God and speak Truth to myself where lies threaten to sneak up on me.

This last couple of weeks I had some difficulty navigating. We hit a few bumps. The A/C went out in my van. Which isn’t such a big deal unless you have a kiddo that doesn’t regulate their body temperature well. Then, there’s the water heater that suddenly quits. And in the midst of a cold shower, another bump. Or rather, a lump.

In my breast.

And if any of you have experienced this kind of bump in your road, you may know the kind of road I traveled this week. It took a twist at the ultrasound, after the mammogram, when the radiologist ordered the core needle biopsy. Though I’d been in regular prayer over all our bumps lately, I will admit that the big medical words like radial scar and inter ductal carcinoma had me doing more of what would be considered, praying continuously.

I prayed continuously as they prepped for biopsy. I prayed continuously when that room looked more like a crime scene than an exam room. I prayed continuously that I would not lose my lunch, that I would remain conscious, and that they would finish soon. And as it was all over, I prayed for wisdom for the staff that would interpret the results.

Curled up with a couple of ice packs that evening I was still praying. My busy mind in direct contrast to the stillness of my living room, I made a familiar stop at “Why me”. Because I was feeling a bit…. afflicted.

Why us? Why finances? Why always medical problems? Why SO HARD? Why can’t we have “those” problems instead? You know, the ones those other people have? How much longer, Lord? And this whole pity party collided with gratitude for a Father that tolerates the questions of His struggling children.

So I finished my devotional. I finished my daily reading and I prayed for the ability to hand it all over to Him. For a peace that surpasses circumstances. Because I knew He could provide it, I turned off all the lights and crawled into bed.

When Psalm 41 flashed insistent through my head.

I don’t know Psalm 41. Is that in the first book, or the second? I’ll look tomorrow.

I tossed, turned, fluffed and got back up to take some more Motrin. Then tried again.

Lord, I know You already know those biopsy results and You’re already ahead of our every need. Please help me remember that and rest in You.

Psalm 41

1, 2 & 3…

That seemed rather specific so I picked up my phone and looked it up quickly on Blue Letter Bible.

Psalm 41
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.
2 The Lord protects and preserves them—
they are counted among the blessed in the land—
he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.
3 The Lord sustains them on their sickbed
and restores them from their bed of illness.

Giggling and crying, because that’s how I roll when the Creator of the universe lowers Himself to not only hear my prayer, but whispers comfort in illuminated text. I shut my phone off and went to bed. And slept.

The air conditioning is still broken, the water heater still needs to be replaced and biopsy confirmed what’s called a radial scar. Benign, it should require no treatment, but will at least need to be removed.

But I have it on good authority that we are being protected and preserved and we will be delivered in our times of trouble. Not to mention being sustained and restored. I’m feeling far more peace about the road we’re on.

Sometimes I’m wrong…

Have I ever told you I never planned to be a Stay-At-Home mom? It wasn’t what I thought my family would need. I thought my future family would need things like reliable vehicles, family vacations and savings accounts. It turns out my family would need a mom that could devote hours a week to paperwork, phone calls and appointments for a couple of medically complex kids so they could get a diagnosis in one year, instead of the average fifteen. They would need a mom that could stay home and research, fight for answers and fight insurance companies until she got them. Thank God, He knew I was wrong about the career and making money thing.

I was wrong again when we finally got our first diagnosis and I decided to bring Baby Girl shopping for school clothes. At Justice. We don’t normally shop at places like Justice. Because shopping at Justice falls into the same financial category as family vacations. If you don’t have a tween daughter, just take my word for it. But somewhere in my sleep deprived, grieving mind, spending a ludicrous amount of money on Baby Girl seemed like… justice.

So we walked in the door and I said the craziest thing, “What do you like, Baby Girl?”. Two hours later I had agreed to a pile of clothes that not only exceeded our clothing budget (for the year) but also some hard and fast rules I had on 8 year old modesty.

Then there were “the shoes”. Because of Baby Girl’s deteriorating coordination, footwear had been limited to Velcro laces and flat, functional shoes. She did not find flat, functional shoes at Justice. She brought me a pair of the most ridiculous, sequined, flashy, silver platform sneakers… with tie laces.

And I took one look at her hopeful little face, thought of what that doctor had said two weeks before about her being in a wheelchair within ten years… and placed the shoes on the growing “keep” pile. Three years later, we do not believe that first diagnosis is what God has for Baby Girl. And I’m absolutely sure that she didn’t need “the shoes”.

I was recently wrong again. I know, I’m as shocked as you are. I was sure once the kids were all in school, I would be able to go back to working outside the home. We would have things like savings accounts and there would be vehicles we could at least afford to fix. And bless sweet Hubby’s heart and broad shoulders, maybe he wouldn’t have to keep taking all that overtime…

Oh, I knew I wasn’t going back to a career in IT with long hours and longer commutes, but when Mini Hubby started kindergarten this year I was pretty sure a job in the school where Oldest Son was starting High School would be a perfect fit. It almost was.

These last several months my heart grew for kids in tough situations, with big obstacles and even bigger attitudes to overcome. I learned how to better support Oldest Son socially and in academics. And because I had the opportunity to see what he sees of the world on a daily basis (trust me, their world is far bigger, scarier and less restricted than ours was) I know what kind of conversations we need to be having regularly. I also had the chance to work among adults again. I won’t lie, it is far more entertaining than working with myself. I found a whole bunch of new people to love.

There was also puke.

So.

Much.

Puke.

Strep throat.

A few times.

The loss of my mother-in-law.

A surgery for tonsils and adenoids.

Some problems with some crucial labs for Oldest Son and Baby Girl, and finally….

The realization that God was sending me home, again.

Usually when I’m wrong, it feels a lot like… failure.  I’ve made the wrong choice, my plan didn’t work. It can feel like I’m giving up, letting go or making emotional decisions (“the shoes”). Because I can’t see the full picture. My vantage point is far more limited than God’s. But, in hindsight, it is a joy to see how He purposes my missteps. Redeems them all and uses them for my good and His glory.

Right now though? I still can’t see what He’s doing. And that’s hard. So I’m holding tight to a few of these Truths.

And maybe this song. 😉

Twice Saved

I met her twenty years ago, before either of us had met Jesus. Back then she sat in her recliner opposite the matching one her husband occupied, wearing what I would come to recognize as her typical uniform of worn out flannel and faded sweatpants. Hair cropped short and not a stitch of artificial color on it, or her face, she sported twenty year old glasses and a deep, rough, smokers laugh as she told stories of hunting and “mudding” and cleaning fish with her bare teeth. Okay, I made up the last part about her teeth, but she definitely cleaned her own fish, along with anyone else’s. She was “butch” before being butch was cool. She fascinated and scared me in equal measures…and I was dating her son.

Over the next several years, we’d shop together, eat together, smoke together and laugh together. Turned out she wasn’t as scary as she seemed and neither was her son. I married him and gained her.

She liked to tease that she liked me better than him and that there were no refunds, he was mine for good. But she’d prove over and over again that she loved us both the same. She called me her daughter, and he was still her son. She’ll always be my Mom.

We built our home, and our family, right next door to this lady with the men’s size 10 feet. And those feet would regularly make the trek between the houses for awhile. Three grandkids would soften and delight that rough around the edges lady in ways I hadn’t seen coming. They’d light up her face and dull her colorful vocabulary.

Until those work damaged arms screamed loud for pain meds. And the doctors gave them.

And then gave more.

Until that hard working, hard loving, hard living Mom stayed put in that worn out recliner for years. Barely recognizable, she stopped working, stopped loving and stopped living. Sometimes only awake for a few hours a day.

We thought we lost her for good then. That generous lady that sent diaper coupons to distant nieces and nephews starting their own families, dozens of bottles of baby soap and lotion to the ones that were close, paper plates and napkins for every family get together and cards to everyone for every occasion.

Then, just when we were grieving our own personal tragedy…she met Jesus.

Now, when a person taking enough oxycontin to bring down a horse tells you they’ve been talking to Jesus, you don’t take them too serious like. You start believing that this is about to be another personal tragedy. And you start crying out to your own personal Jesus (the One that tends to speak to you through His Word, in your prayer closet, not in the flesh) for some relief.

That’s when it happened. It turned out her Jesus and our Jesus were the same and He told her to dump out her pain medication, that she didn’t need it anymore. So she did.

Because Jesus can reach you even in a drug induced fog and when He tells you to do something….you do it.

Twenty years of narcotic use fell away like as many chains, gone as quickly as those pills skittered and slid to the bottom of the garbage can. And those doctors that gave them to her? Kept her for three days to witness a miracle by the Great Physician. No withdrawal, no pain. Until they finally said they had no reason to keep her and no medical explanation for what just took place.

Her miracle wasn’t without some consequences though. Twenty years of increased doses did some damage to both brain and body but for the next two years she learned to live and love hard again and we enjoyed every minute of learning to live with, and love her, back.

She played BINGO, returned to competitive shooting, watched middle school orchestra concerts and elementary school programs. She went to movies, the town fair (complete with kiddie rides), filled grandkids full of junk food and ice cream, and even learned how to use a debit card. She laughed, and played, and even though she might not have had the capacity to read and study the Bible, I absolutely believe she knew and trusted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

In fact, she’d tell you He saved her twice.

Today, my greedy, selfish, heart is a little disappointed it doesn’t appear that He’s going to save her a third.

I’m grieving the pending loss of our Mom and Grammy from this world while trying to remember to be grateful for the gift she was. Trying to thank Him for giving her back to us once, long enough to soak up her silly personality and sweet generosity at a time we desperately needed both.

Praising a loving Savior powerful enough to save us from both the grave, and the chains that bind us here.

Rejoicing in the knowledge that no matter what, we will meet again, in heaven.

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.

Hand In Hand

Twenty years ago our paths intersected somewhere the other side of Early Adulthood and there was something attractive in the easy, confident, way you walked. Even if I left a safe, observable distance between us for a bit. Eventually though, your persistence closed the gap and we stepped out together hand in hand for the first time. Hearts and fingers tentatively entwined and overlapping. Questioning, sideways glances through lowered lashes revealed a contrast of broad, safe shoulders, thick, strong forearms, but genuine, kind blue eyes and gentle smile. Always smiling. How does a girl resist a combination like that? A girl whose road up until that point had been a little dangerous and lonely?

We continued into a new territory, Together, me and you. Though I’ll admit my focus was most often on you, I was quite amazed at all the new things I could see. With you beside me. Shadows weren’t so long or menacing and you taught me to jump over puddles and sidestep hazards, smiling all the way. Before I knew it, I had almost stopped looking back over my shoulder and was learning to live facing forward.

This next leg of our journey, though, brought us into Commitment and required a quick jump over a broom. Youth shiny new and dressed in finery we glowed and holding hands, made the leap and the promise to stay the course together, forever.

Then, holding our forever hands with new joy and confidence we continued on. The whole world seemed to open up, spacious, in front of us. Oh, how beautiful those days were! The way the sun shone on Possibility in the distance and all sorts of lovely trails appeared as we checked the map. We spent hours wandering along the way, discussing and deciding which one to choose. There were a couple of rough patches (much easier to navigate together) in the beginning then, but nothing that slowed our progress.

Feeling like we could conquer, together, any path we chose, we went for what appeared the most challenging. We took a deep breath and passed the sign welcoming us to Parenthood. Things sure speed up a lot then. Sometimes I wondered why there wasn’t a better description on the map, or more warning signs at the entrance, for it sometimes felt like we’d picked the diamond run as amateurs. But for the most part, we navigated all of the obstacles “Dirty Diaper Ditch”, “Pacifier Pass”, “Sleepless Slide” and several “Trust Falls” together. The going was tough, but the rewards were great and we emerged on the other end with three precious people we’d been entrusted with for the rest of our journey. They’re loud, expensive and exhausting but we found they definitely make the trip more beautiful.

Checking our map again, we realized our choice to visit Parenthood limited our next steps briefly and the terrain looked slightly more winding and definitely slower going (as we’d come out with more baggage than we’d thought). Given our three extra hands to hold, we decided to stay awhile next to Family Forge and focused on raising up and providing for our pack of five. We settled in and made plans for “after”. For when they finished school, chose paths of their own and found someone to travel with. We worked, saved, spent, planned and enjoyed the time and things we amassed here.

Looking out across the hills one day we watched storms gather menacing in the distance. We’d been relatively protected from extreme conditions in that forge but as soon as I saw that horizon turn purple, the little hairs on my arms stood up and I glanced at you scared, waiting.

Giving my hand a quick squeeze, you didn’t smile, but turned away and set to work. This time though, the broad shoulders and work rough hands were no match for the approaching storm. We sold what we could, searched high and low for shelter, to no avail. As the forge flooded and filled we held on to each other for dear life and even though we still had each other, we were tossed so violently to and fro we could barely keep our heads above water. Terrified, my foot brushed up soft against an Anchor. I’d picked it up a few years before, had moved it into our home and had been studying it when time allowed as it seemed to lend a constant, quiet comfort. That moment though, it seemed to come alive and hold me fast. The storm didn’t cease it’s battering, but held firm by the Anchor I was able to once again grab your hand and those of the children.

The waters receded, we caught our breath, but we’d be forever changed. You kept on moving, working, fixing, taking on anything you could to restore what we’d had, to forget about the change of the landscape as if by sheer force of will you could move the mountains that had shifted directly onto our path. We often held hands in the quiet, without words. You with the weight of us on your shoulders and me with my gaze on those mountains. Exhausted, we had no idea what to do or which way to go next. Gone seemed our confidence and definitely our joy.

But during the clean up. Sifting through the debris, I kept resting on the Anchor. The workload for the days seemed unchanged, the mountains remained immovable, the horizon still tinged grey, but there was always the promises of the Anchor to hold me fast. In those promises I found the joy I thought carried away. And it remained, regardless of circumstances.

I’ll never forget the day you tripped on that Anchor. The way you wrestled with it for days.

You didn’t need the Anchor.

It was enough that it was in our house…right?

But that load you were carrying left you too worn out to fight it for any longer. Led to the Word to study the Anchor of our souls, the Creator of our mountains immovable and the love of our Savior, you invited Him in. Into your heart, into our home and into our marriage.

We’re working our way now, hand in hand, following Christ, around our mountains. Sometimes hand in hand is through tears. Sometimes it’s through laughter. But still together. Always thankful. Because now we both know our final destination (even if we don’t know what will happen in between), that we’re never alone, and our God is bigger than any mountain we come up against.

A couple weeks ago you insisted we jump over that broom hand in hand again. Renewing former promises and making a few more that are meant to last the rest of our journey together and acknowledging the source of the love that has, and will continue, to sustain us along the way.

Blessed to make this journey hand in hand, with you, Hubby.