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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brave

Baby Girl had to have two shots today.  I dread these simple trips to the pediatrician like we are going in for major surgery.  Phillip takes it much better than I do and he always offers to go in my stead, but I am also a control freak.  I have been to every single doctor's visit any of my children have ever had and I don't see that changing any time soon.  So usually I make Phillip (and whichever child is not in need of treatment) go with me for moral support. 

I was brave today.  Today I asked Phillip to stay home with Baby Boy while Baby Girl and I took the long drive to Frisco to get the dreaded vaccinations.  I told it to her straight.  We were going to the doctor.  We were going to get a couple owies but they were so she wouldn't get sick.  Then we were going for ice cream.  She took it well.  The forty-five minute car ride was mostly occupied by her singing a song of her own creation that had a simple melody and two words:  "Iiiiiiiiicccccceee crreeeeeeaaaaammmmm."

Now, you may be asking yourself why my pediatrician's office requires nearly an hour drive.  Did I mention I'm a control freak?  And that I don't really like doctors?  I searched the world over, or at least the entire Metroplex, and finally found one that I don't feel like I need to take a Xanex before I walk into the office.  In fact, I love her.  She's practical, holistic, Christian, and her whole staff is super-nice.  She's a gold mine.  So I sacrifice some time, gas, and toll and drive to Frisco.

Our appointment took under five minutes.  Two shots and we were out.  Baby Girl cried, of course, but the tears were dry by the time we reached the parking lot.  She told me it hurt.  I told her sometimes we have to do things that hurt but when we do them and get through them that means we are brave.  This made her very, very happy.  The short drive from the pediatrician's office to the mall to claim her reward was filled with the declaration, "I'm brave!"  And a gentle reminder that I had forgotten to get her a sticker.

Dictionary.com defines "brave" as "possessing or exhibiting courage or  courageous endurance."  My Bible translation doesn't mention the word "brave" a lot, but the word "courageous" is all over the place.  One of my favorite spots where it appears is in God's call to Joshua.  He tells him not once but three times in a single paragraph to "be strong and courageous."  It's practically every other sentence.  He also adds "do not be terrified" and "do not be discouraged."

I don't know about you, but if I was Joshua I would be completely freaked out.  God is not redundant; He wasn't repeating Himself to try and figure out what He was going to say next.  He's God.  Every word He speaks has a purpose and a point.  No, He was repeating Himself for emphasis.   Which means, whatever He was going to ask Joshua to do was going to be really stinking scary.  He said "do not be terrified" because it was going to terrifying!  Nobody has to be strong and courageous for a walk in the park.  Well, unless it's a park in my neighborhood after dark but that's a different story.   

The Christian walk is scary.  At some point, it is going to be painful.  But just like Baby Girl's shots, the pain is for a purpose.  We may not understand it any better than she understands what polio is.  But God understands the why of it all and we can rely on His goodness just as I hope she relies on mine.  God's call to Joshua is His call to us as well.  Be strong and courageous.  Be brave.  It isn't an absence of fear but a resolve to get through it, whatever it is, with courageous endurance.  The pain is for a purpose and we too can expect a reward.  So, like my precious daughter, I'm going to face the challenges with a song of praise on my lips, singing "Heeeeaaavvennn!" the whole way there.

Monday, June 27, 2011

This Little Light of Mine

I have always had high hopes and dreams.  As a kid, I was very into drama and convinced I was going to be a glamorous film star.  I watched the Academy Awards every year, mentally composing my future acceptance speech and deciding which style of gown I would wear.  Though the focus of my ambitions changed over the years, their scope remained the same.  I was going to write a world-changing novel.  My songs were going to turn the world of country music on its ear.  Whatever it was I was doing or planning to do, I was not only going to make a living at it, I was going to be a legend.  

I went to law school really just to buy myself more time for my creative pursuits.  Halfway through law school I decided I was actually going to be a lawyer, but I was still not just going to be any lawyer.  I was going to be the best lawyer ever.  I was going to be one of those recognizable, Johnny Cochran kind of lawyers.  I was still going to be on a magazine cover, perfect business suit, old-fashioned in one hand and cigar in the other.  Oh yeah, I had my cover shot already laid out.  Then I would probably go on to be a consultant on CNN, a la Greta Van Susteren.  My life was still going to be extraordinary.

I am not ashamed of the fact that I was and am a dreamer.  Where would the world be without us?  The problem is:  I burn out easily.  I'm a bit sulphuric that way.  A lot of passion and lot of enthusiasm...for a very short period of time.  The actual work it would take to accomplish any of my highfalutin goals was exhausting and quite frankly boring.  And in my youth, the last thing I could stand to be was bored.

So in the summer of my twenty-seventh year, to quote a John Denver favorite, I burned out on the whole law thing, packed my truck and my guitar (which, incidentally, I can't play) and headed down to Austin.  I was channeling Jack Kerouac at the time and that seemed a pretty good dream in and of itself.  I was part beat poet and a lot delusional.  Anyway, it was a stepping stone to the next dream of becoming the female equivalent of Robert Earl Keen.  All I needed to do was learn the guitar, start doing open mics, get discovered and I'd be touring with Willie Nelson or The Dixie Chicks before I knew it.

Not so much.  Matchstick that I was, I went as far as buying a "Guitar for Dummies" book but never even cracked it open.  I had a series of interesting misadventures which led, not to fame and fortune, but to marriage and family.  My twenty-five year old self would have been horrified if she could see into the future.  My thirty-four year old self, looking back, is grateful beyond words.

Some people look back on the dreams of their youth and see all the missed opportunities, all the sacrifices, all the little deaths of the "could have beens," and despair.  I am saved from this.  I look back on my life and see that it could have been...a disaster.  Maybe I could have been a glamorous film star, a famous singer/songwriter, a best-selling author, or the best litigator since Perry Mason.  I could have been extraordinary by the world's standards.  I could have disappeared so far into myself and my ego that, after that brief, blinding flash of light had burned out, there would have been nothing left to save me.  Because if your life is that bright and shiny, you are blind to your need for God.

Having Eddie made my life extraordinary.  It taught me how desperately and completely I needed my God and that, in my need, He was there.  I still have high hopes and dreams.  I dream of using my testimony to introduce people to the love of my life, Jesus Christ.  To bring people from darkness to light.  I dream of raising my children to know and serve the Lord.  My dreams aren't a flash in the pan anymore.  I'm not a kitchen match; I'm a candle.  I may not have many kilowatts but I'm steady and true.  And I hope to ignite a fire in my children and watch their little lights shine.  And hope that our family's love for God, for the Way, the Truth and the Light, will ignite some others and some others and some others...you get the picture.  My life is simple, but never boring, because I approach it with the knowledge that it is a gift.  So, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Extreme Unction

I love the Catholic church.  I know those of you who currently go to church with me at our awesome, wonderful Baptist church might find this statement a bit of a shock but it's true.  I love the formality of the church.  The smell of incense, the grandeur of the cathedrals, the Holy Water, all of that stuff.  You walk into a Catholic cathedral and it demands that you stand in awe of a God so much greater and more powerful than you can even begin to understand.

My husband was raised in the Catholic church.  I was in the process of converting when Eddie was born.  So it was a Catholic priest who had been called on the night that everyone thought Eddie was going to die.  After some quiet time in the waiting room, Phillip and I went to the chaplain's office and told him we were going to need him to come to the NICU.  We explained the emergency baptism that the nurse had performed for us.  We needed him to bless that and we also asked for the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  I always thought of this as Last Rites, but learned later that Last Rites are actually a combination of sacraments intended specifically for someone near death.  Anointing of the Sick can be done anytime someone is extremely ill.  It used to be called Extreme Unction.  That is something else about Catholicism that I have always found interesting.  Everything has a name that is so striking and extreme it is even a little frightening.  Protestants have Sunday School; Catholics have Catechism.  But I digress...

We gathered as a family around Eddie's little crib.  He was so pale and frail, so unbelievably tiny.  The priest, a West African man from St. Mary's Cathedral, prayed over him, anointing him with oil and praying for miraculous healing.  I don't remember all the details, but I know at the end when he made the sign of the cross over Ed's little body that he used Latin for the Trinitarian blessing "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spritus Sancti."  It gave me chills and I think everyone else in the room as well.  It was fitting for the occasion.  Somehow hearing the words in Latin brought home the extremity of the situation.  This was life and death; this was about GOD, huge, omnipotent, everlasting GOD.

We held hands.  My husband, his sister, my two sisters, my mother, our nurses, and me.  Other nurses and parents from elsewhere in the NICU had gathered behind us.  We closed our eyes and prayed the Lord's prayer together.  I lifted my eyes to heaven and experienced God.  I could feel Him, inside of my soul and surrounding me with light.  For a moment, I left my self behind.  I could see the room as if I was stuck to the ceiling, high above myself and could see, clearly, that we were not alone.  Not only had people joined us from other areas of our ward, but the room was filled to the brim with a heavenly host.  We were surrounded by angels and though I could not tell you what they looked like, I sensed them, not just one or two, but a multitude.  When we had finished praying, I felt an indescribable peace, a further certainty that God was really, truly, physically present with us in this.

I know I may have lost some of you, but this is my experience.  God is still the God of the Old Testament.  His nature has never changed.  He is just as capable of appearing to His people in a burning bush or a pillar of fire as He ever was.  He still sends His angels to watch over us.  He is the great I AM and there is no one like Him on this earth.  He loves His people and He answers their prayers:  Protestant and Catholic alike.  I knew that night that Eddie was not going to die, not right then and there.  And he didn't.

Four days later we talked with the surgeon again.  Eddie's last little bit of intestine was still not doing too well.  His infection was still raging.  He was weak.  We made the decision to put his intestines back into his body (they had been in a bag the whole week) to give him a better shot at fighting off the super-bug, but that was really all we were going to be able to do.  We asked how long he probably had.  He said if things continued this way, a week at the most.  We nodded and accepted it.  A week to be with our baby sounded like a long time to us when it had been hour to hour for so long.  We stayed with Eddie for a little while, then I left him with his Daddy and stepped out to the little chapel down the hall.

There I got on my knees.  I prayed.  I told God that I knew he loved Eddie even more than I did, as hard as it was to conceive of a love greater.  That Eddie was His baby.  So I accepted that whatever His will was for Eddie's life, that it was the best.  But if He would hear a mother's heart, I just wanted time.  Just a little more time.

He gave me twenty-two more months.  At a time when we were at the end of medical options and the best guess was two weeks, Eddie lived nearly two years.  That is my God.  That is God in the extreme.  All-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving GOD and I stand in awe of Him.         

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Closer to Fine

Whenever someone asks me how I am the answer is almost always, "Fine."  I know I'm not alone in this.  It's "fine," "well," or "good" for most of us, right?  No matter what is going on.  We could be ill, have just lost a loved one, flat broke, hungry, or contemplating suicide and if someone says "How are you?" our initial answer is "Fine."  Because if they really want to know, they will probably ask a few follow up questions and, if they don't, we are going to totally freak them out if we say, "Suicidal."

I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not fine.  No one who has survived the loss of a child is really fine.  I say this because I run into people who think that because I can get out of bed in the morning, interact in social situations like a relatively normal person (on most days), and smile a lot that the death of my child doesn't bother me.  That I don't grieve.  That there aren't days when it is very nearly impossible for me to get out of bed.  That the checker at Tom Thumb doesn't think I'm on drugs or brain damaged because I'm so spaced out that she has to ask me the same question multiple times (credit or debit should not require deep thought) and then I walk out without my groceries.  I have bad days.  Really, really bad days.

While this may seem paradoxical what with the whole blog thing and all, I am actually a very private person.  I am outgoing and will talk your ear off.  In fact, it is very hard to get a word in edge-wise.  I will tell you most of the facts about my life with unflinching honesty.  When it comes to my emotions, though, there are very few people with whom I will be an open book.  Some friends and family have seen a glimpse, but it is mostly reserved for my husband.  He knows sometimes I miss my baby so much that I am a raging lunatic.

I don't live there, though.  God lifts me above it day in and day out, faithfully and consistently.  I know people who live in that space, that crazy, all-consuming grief.  My heart goes out to them because I know how it feels and I don't know how they survive it.  Sometimes, when it hits me, I am caring for my children and I have to press past it somehow so that I can function.  I pray and white-knuckle it through my day.  I hate doing that though.  I believe that when you repress grief it is just going to boomerang back at you and that, this time, it is going to be stronger.  So when I can and the grief hits, I just sit with it.  I just experience it, every gut-wrenching moment of it.  I wish I could say it was cathartic, that afterwards I felt better, but it's not like that.  After the wave is over, I just feel tired and a little sick to my stomach.  Sometimes I have a headache.  But I have found I have also bought myself a few days, sometimes weeks, of peace.

I think it is important to mention this because I don't want myself and others who are joyful, even in the face of horrific circumstances, to be misunderstood.  It is through God alone that we are even standing.  The fact that we are standing and smiling is evidence of His abundance alone.  It is proof that the promises of the Bible are true and that if you will seek God, love Him, and submit to Him in everything He will bless you with faith, hope, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, strength, and joy overflowing.  Before I had surrendered my life completely to God I couldn't stub my toe without making a federal case about it.  I was a total drama queen.  It is through Him and Him alone that I rise above the darkness and keep from falling off the cliff.

I love the Indigo Girls song "Closer to Fine."  For several weeks after Eddie died, I heard it on the radio again and again.  It was already many years old at that time so it really seemed like a message, like a touch from beyond.  In the lyrics it says, "The best thing you've ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously.  It's only life, after all."  I love that line.  Eddie did that for me.  Yesterday, on the DART rail coming home from the zoo, Baby Boy threw up all over me.  When we got home, I washed my shorts...with my smartphone in the pocket.  It was one of those days.  But, then again, it was a great day.  I didn't lose my temper or even bat an eye.  Eddie threw up on me more times than I could possibly count and I would give anything to have him here.  He could puke on me all over again and I would be nothing but grateful.  And my phone is just a phone.  It was a great day because I have perspective.  I am grateful for the way in which I received this gift of perspective, but you don't have to have a child die to gain it.

You do have to have a Savior, though.  He already came and died for you.  During one of the first sermons I ever heard at my church, the pastor said if we really comprehended the gift of grace, we would be incapable of being anything but grateful.  I love this; it stuck with me.  Jesus died for me, so that every sin I have ever committed or am ever going to commit is forgiven.  He said it Himself, repeatedly, that I don't have to worry about anything.  Nothing.  At all.  That God is going to take care of me and my only job on this earth is to love God and love my neighbor.  And when it is all over I get to join Him in heaven and have an eternity of incomprehensible joy.  That is a sweet deal.  Yet we Christians, in general, seem especially stressed out and high strung.  The modern Christian image is not a person who radiates inner peace and enlightenment.  I think it is because most of us are taking life, this earthly life, very, very seriously and lacking a healthy, heavenly perspective.  It is within our power to change that.  To spend less time on our careers and more time with God.  To focus less on politics and more on love.  It will definitely help us take our lives less seriously and maybe just move us a little closer to fine.

 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rebirth (Part II)

If you had asked me in the summer of my nineteenth year if I were "born again," my answer would have been a confident and unequivocal "YES!"  I had just had a radical experience of God and was fired up about my relationship with Christ.  Then I went back to college and thought I could face down temptation single-handedly. It never occurred to me that I might need support on this new journey.  That I needed a church family and new, sober friends.  So although I managed not to drink for over a year, I did not understand that this in itself was not enough.  Although I evangelized, I also started allowing my old habits and lifestyle to creep back in.  Although I now felt guilty for my sins, I still sinned over and over again.

I didn't get it.  That for every birth there is a corresponding death.  A death of the old and a birth into the new.  None of us spring fully formed from the heads of our fathers as in Greek mythology.  We grow in an environment that is small, safe and secure, but we don't stay in the womb very long.  We are then thrust into a world so much bigger, brighter and louder than anything we could have imagined.  The change is necessary, but traumatic and we can never go back.

The Bible says that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  That the old is gone.  Not just that the old is less and the new is more, the old recessive, the new dominant.  No, the old is gone.  It is dead.  But unlike our natural births, we have a choice about this.  God doesn't force anyone to love Him enough to die to themselves and live for Him.  He presented Himself to me as a young woman, let me taste and see that He was good.  Then He watched me try to hold on to a little bit of my old self, just a sample at first.  To refuse to give up things that I thought I was entitled to, that the world told me were okay.  To justify by saying that these habits and attitudes were part of the "me" that God made me to be.  It was easy to believe those lies, to let my old self work itself like a splinter from the back of my mind to the fore.  To go from Jesus freak one day to hedonistic party girl the next.  It is what I did, because I failed to die.

I thank God that I'm not God.  I think I would have said, "Well, then, to hell with her."  But God's grace is so much bigger than that.  He lets us stumble and fall so many times and in so many ways it's ridiculous and He is always there, extending the hand of grace.  For over seven years, I lived as if God didn't exist, even though I knew better.  I apologized to Him a lot.  I had brief periods of remorse and sobriety; they became briefer and briefer, harder and harder to sustain as the disease of alcoholism progressed.  Then, as I mentioned in "In Utero," I got pregnant and got sober.  I began to get it.  I was making progress, but it is a process and though I had given control of my life to God by the time Eddie was born, I wasn't dead yet.

I died when Eddie was about four days old.  The first hours after his birth were euphoric.  I was full of endorphins from having a prolonged, unmedicated birth and felt like I could take on the world.  I was able to go see my baby.  He was unconscious, hooked to a million tubes and wires, and his intestines were hanging in a little clear bag above his body.  I found out later that some who saw pictures or visited him in this state were hysterical with tears, some prostrate in prayers for him and us.  I was oblivious.  He looked beautiful to me.  I was grateful to be able to kiss his tiny knee, to put my hand on his head and feel his soft skin.

Within twenty-four hours, things started going badly.  His intestines were turning black.  He had a vascular deformity which gave a limited blood supply to his guts and they were torquing themselves around and further cutting off the supply.  He would be rushed to surgery, they would remove some bowel, then he would be back.  Then we would see more turning purple; he would go to surgery again.  He also developed a bacterial infection that raged through his entire body and seemed impervious to antibiotics.  Nearly every time we left the NICU to eat or try to rest, we would receive an emergency phone call to come back.  It was a nightmare.

We had checked in to the Ronald McDonald house.  On his fourth night, when we had gone over there to try to sleep, we received a call in the wee hours of the morning.  We needed to come immediately.  I don't think I have ever run faster in my life.  I got to his bedside a little ahead of Phillip.  It was dark in his ward so the other babies could sleep, but there was kind of a spotlight on his bed.  One of the surgical staff was standing next to him and there was Eddie, covered from head to toe with a green sheet, only the top of his hair peeking out and his guts spread out on the sheet from a hole in the middle.  I thought he was dead.  I ran to him and put one hand on his head and the other on his feet.  My knees went weak with relief when I could feel the heat radiating from his body, his heartbeat through his soft spot.  It was difficult to stand, but somehow I stood.  The surgeon was waiting for my husband, but I looked at her and yelled, "What?"

Eddie's small intestine had just about had it.  They were going to have to go in and remove very nearly all of it.   It was a radical surgery and in his weakened condition due to the infection, a risky one.  We were waiting for his primary surgeon to be ready, for us to the sign the releases, and then we were going.  Our nurse was arranging for someone to come take his picture.  They were going to let me hold him.  None of this was good.  It meant they thought it was over.  That they were going to try, but that he was probably going to die.

Phillip had called the priest from his church but he had not reached him.  He wanted him to be baptized.  When he expressed his concern over it, our nurse, Cindy, pressed a bottle of sterile into another nurse's hand and said, "You're Catholic.  Baptize him."  The Catholic nurse, Heather, managed not to panic although I think she wanted to.  She sprinkled some of the water on to Eddie's head, said "We baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and we all said an Our Father (the Lord's Prayer for those of you unfamiliar with Catholicism).

They asked which parent was going to get to hold him.  Phillip did not hesitate and said, "Mom."  They did whatever needed to be done to get him ready for surgery, sat me down in a chair, and handed him to me on a secure pillow so that I would not hurt him by mistake.  It was only a few minutes, but just feeling the weight of him, all five pounds of it, was such a blessing and the idea that he was about to be taken away from me, perhaps permanently, was unbearable.  I wept harder than I had ever wept in my life.  Then it was time to go.

Our family, my mom, my two sisters and my sister-in-law, were waiting for us in the waiting room.  I was a wreck.  Weeping inconsolably and falling apart at the seams.  My head had disappeared somewhere into my neck with stress and my eldest sister had me lay down so that she could save my spine.  The nursing staff had called the priest on call for the hospital and he walked in.  He looked at my other sister and said, "Mrs. Espinoza?"  She said, "No, that's Mrs. Espinoza on the floor."  It made us all laugh and I think made the priest think we were all a little crazy.  Anyway, I got up and was able to have a conversation with him and agreed to come by the chaplain's office once Eddie was out of surgery.

Let me make something clear:  I still wasn't dead.  I may have wanted to be, but there was further to go.  I don't remember how long we waited.  I know we were the only ones in the waiting room that night and that the room was dark with spots of soft lamplight.  I remember my sister-in-law giving me a granola bar from her purse.  I was so out of it that I was eating like a three year old and kept having to pick crumbs off of my chin and chest.  We laughed again.  Then the surgeon, Dr. Meyer, came in to talk to us.

The surgery had gone as well as could be expected.  They had been forced to remove all but twenty-two centimeters of small intestine and the ileocecal valve.  Eddie was stable and we could go see him in thirty minutes or so.  He was still in bad shape and fighting for his life.  They had done everything they could and, aside from continuing with antibiotics, were pretty much done at this point.  Then Dr. Meyer looked me in the eye and told me the truth, as gently as it could be told.  He said that even if he survived the immediate crisis, Eddie was not going to have enough intestine to sustain him.

It is very nearly impossible for me to describe what happened to me in that moment but I'm going to try.  I had a split-second to choose.  I could either go with God or fall into the pit.  It was either life with Christ or none at all.  I could choose hope or despair.  I chose hope... and died.  Something inside of me was instantaneously dead as a doornail.  I never asked Dr. Meyer but I am fairly certain from his expression that he saw something change in my eyes.  There was a very real, very physical sensation of the person who I once had been dying.   It was immediately replaced by something new, though.  Someone new.  Someone stronger.  I was enveloped with a sense of peace, the peace that passes understanding.  Not that I thought that the doctor was wrong and that Eddie was going to be just fine.  It was an acceptance that this was what was meant to be and that, somehow, in all of it, we were all safe in the arms of God.

All of that happened in a moment.  In the next, Phillip asked Dr. Meyer what he meant by "not able to sustain him" and I was able to very calmly turn to my husband and say, "He means he is going to die."  Dr. Meyer didn't say anything, but I saw a sheen of tears in his eyes and he nodded.  We all thanked him and he left.  I asked if Phillip and I could be alone for a moment.  I held Phillip while he cried, but did not cry myself.  I was not really Abby anymore.  Abby would have been on the floor throwing up granola bar and writhing in agony.  I was who Abby could be through Christ alone.  I had supernatural strength and a deep down certainty of God's presence, His love and faithfulness.  I was reborn.          

Friday, June 17, 2011

What the Bible Says About...

I have been neglecting my blog lately but I have been tired.  Not just a little tired, but bone-crushing tired.  The kind of tired you get when you're pregnant and capable of falling asleep mid-sentence.  I'm not pregnant; so what is it?  I thought maybe I was being too lazy in the mornings at home with the kids.  I signed them up for VBS this week and volunteered with the ittie-bitties.  So I'm busy in the mornings and still out of juice by mid-afternoon.  I think I would feel better if I exercised but the idea of putting one foot in front of the other seems overwhelming right now, much less breaking out the Pilates video.

I know some of  you will wonder why I don't go to the doctor.  If you read Tuesday's post, you will see part of the reason.  I've had bad luck with doctors.  I'm not a fan of modern medicine beyond extreme cases.  I mean, I give my kids Tylenol or Motrin for their fevers; I'm not mean.  I take an Advil myself from time to time.  But I prefer nutritional/herbal solutions and like to look at health from a holistic perspective.  I know there are doctors who share my views.  I drive almost an hour to the pediatrician even though there is one right down the street because my kids' doctor both will prescribe an antibiotic if it's called for and recommend Briar Rose to boost immunity and pulmonary function.  She rocks.

I haven't found that magic doctor for myself.  I have had a couple great recommendations but they are out of my current price range.  Insurance has a funny attitude toward doctors who prescribe hyssop and whole grains over steroids and narcotics.  I would go into my whole conspiracy theory about prescription drug companies and their plot to TAKE OVER THE WORLD but I'll spare you.  Suffice it to say:  I have to be in fear of death before I will go into a doctor's office.

So, instead, I've gone to the best resource I know.  My concordance was lacking so I typed "What does the Bible say about energy?" into Google.  If you ever want to try it, it's interesting.  I have decided someone has typed that sentence with a different word at the end for just about every topic in the world.  You would be amazed at what pops up as recommendations and if I had not had two little people vying for my attention while I tried to figure out how to gain enough energy to actually take care of them I would have explored further.

A brief disclaimer, if you will allow the lawyer in me to rear her ugly head:  Concentrate on what the scripture itself says on any given topic.  There will be some commentary.  The views expressed by persons on the internet belong to those expressing them and not necessarily the Christian church at large... this blog included.  I know there are some haters out there but there are lots of funky, loving, weird-in-a-good-way folks like me.  I'm sure the truth is somewhere in the middle (closer to my side of the middle, of course, but I am trying to be generous).  Take all of it with a grain of salt.

So my Google search came up with one verse on openbible.info.  "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28.  That is a promise and my God is not a man that He should lie.  Well, I'm definitely weary.  And I'm willing to come to God, but it begs the question, "How?"  Because I've been praying.  Maybe not without ceasing, but a fair share of my time is devoted to prayer and I'm still so darn sleepy!

I remembered that in Nehemiah 8:10, he says, "Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."  If you think about it, you will know that this is so true.  It is hard to be both truly joyful and truly exhausted at the same time.  Not happy, joyful.  Happy is like the Kool-Aid of emotions.  It's fun while it lasts but there is inevitably going to be a sugar-crash.  Happy is dictated by circumstances; joy is from God and is available for use in infinite amounts.  It rises about circumstances and allows you to do the same.  Those days in NICU or PICU, when Eddie's condition was "hopeless" and he was unconscious and hooked to machines, there was very little to be happy about.  But I had a joy that transcended it all.  I slept little in those days but had boundless energy and strength because I did not grieve but was filled, daily, with the joy of the Lord.  I have to ask myself, again, "How?"

Another reason I don't go to the doctor with the sole complaint of fatigue and my current list of circumstances is because I feel confident the diagnosis will be anxiety or depression.  I know I'm stressed out and I may be grieving a little so I don't think it would be incorrect.  But I don't think I need meds.  I think I need God.  If joy, rest, and strength are promises, then I can rely on Jesus, the Great Physician.  If I can rise above the darkest days with a desperately sick baby, then I can take two preschoolers and a lay-off.  But how?

The Bible has the prescription.  It really does have the answers to any question you might ask if you go a bit beyond the basic Google search.  I found mine in the gospel of John.  It comes (no big surprise here) from Christ himself.  He says,  "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love...I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you."  So how to we get joy?  We obey Christ's commands.  What command does he give along with this promise?  LOVE EACH OTHER.  So if my joy is broken, it is a symptom not the disease.  If I don't have joy or strength, if I'm not getting enough rest, then I'm not giving enough love.

We all know the people in our lives who we are loving incompletely.  They are the ones with whom we are quick to anger and slow to forgive.  You may have one or two you could name or you may have whole groups that bring out the devil in you.  It may be someone as intimate as your spouse or general as those who hold certain political beliefs, are of a certain ethnicity, or have made a specific lifestyle choice.  Hatred, the antithesis of love, eats up energy.  Anger absorbs joy.  I was able to have supernatural energy in the face of illness and death, because it was accompanied by an overwhelming love for Eddie and for God.  In those days, it was easy to love everybody.  I spent so much time witnessing the divine in the life of my beloved son that it was easy to see Him reflected everywhere I went.  When you can see God shining in the eyes of others, even your "enemies," it is much easier to exhibit grace.

Normal life, for me, proves harder.  I thought I got tired and then easily irritated but now I think it is the other way around.  I am easily irritated and therefore tired.  I am going to pray to love completely so that my joy may be complete.  I am going to remember what it is like to see with the eyes of my heart, to see others as Christ sees them, and I'm going to pray that my heart be the heart of Christ.  I am going to strive to be loving, not just to the world in general, but to those closest to me.  I am going to ask God to change my heart so that I can love the haters, because judging them exhausts me.  And I know that He will answer my prayer, because it is always His will that we obey Him, that we abide in Him, and that we partake of His joy and amazing grace.
    

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Birth and Hurricanes

I am an information junkie.  When I was pregnant with Eddie we lived in Bastrop, a small town about forty-five minutes from Austin, and I checked out every pregnancy and birth book from the local library (I mean it, all of them).  So once I had exhausted the library's supply, I signed up for a childbirth preparation class in Austin so I could get MORE information.  I am so glad that I did, because it was there that I met Robin.  She led the class and gave out lots of good info.  More than that, though, she was really cool, another neo-hippie chick, and a doula.  I had read about doulas, or birth assistants, in a couple of books (that's what happens when you check out all of them) and I really, really wanted one.  I talked with her and let her know I was broke.  She offered her services for free, partially because she knew of Eddie's special circumstances but mostly just because she is wicked awesome like that.

Ed was due in October 2005.  The end of August brought the agony of Hurricane Katrina and, as those of you close to the coast or close to those in the storm will remember, it was followed by what seemed to be an endless stream of tropical storms and hurricanes.  Rita came toward the end of  September and there was a risk that it's ill effects would be felt as far as the Austin area.  I was in my 36th week and pregnant with a child with severe medical issues.  The idea of downed power lines, lack of utilities and hazardous roads did not appeal to me.  So I spent the weekend with my mom and family on the higher ground of Dallas.  Saturday evening during dinner I felt an odd clenching sensation in the baby's general area that I had never experienced before.  It was just the beginning, but Eddie was on the way.

I made it back down to Bastrop and my waiting husband.  The storm had shifted and our area was relatively unaffected.  We went to the hospital on Sunday, stayed a few hours, but they determined it was false labor and sent me home.  The Nurse Ratched ob/gyn was on duty.  She condescendingly told me that all first-time mothers think they are in labor when they are not and to go home, take a warm bath, drink a glass of wine, and forget about it.  Did I mention I'm an alcoholic?  And besides that, I didn't think anyone recommended alcohol in any amount during pregnancy anymore.  Sheesh.    

By Sunday night, I was certain it was not false labor and we went back to the hospital Monday morning.  They kept me throughout the day and I spent the night.  My contractions were increasing; I definitely could not sleep through them and awoke every five minutes to rub my feet together obsessive-compulsively and chant, "It's okay, it's okay" to no one in particular.  Tuesday morning a doctor I had never met before came in, propped my bottom on an up-turned bed pan and very rudely checked my cervix.  Still at 2 centimeters.  So he said he was discharging me.  I begged him not to.  No matter what Nurse Ratched said about first-time mothers, I knew I was in a lot of pain.  I was also having a ton of bleeding.  I was also having a baby that if born on the side of the road would not live to see a second day.  Eddie's heartbeat was doing weird things, like he was stressed out.  Even that was shrugged off.  Despite all my objections, the doctor said that they could not keep me and "needed the room."  

I hesitated to tell that part of the story because it is not my intention to use this blog to air old grievances or exhibit unforgiveness.  Everything went as it needed to and God's hand was all over it.  Romans 8:28 says, "and we know that God uses all things for the good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose."  I believe this completely.  That doctor should not have acted the way he did, but God used his bad behavior to give me the best birth possible so it really doesn't matter.

I took the long, forty-five minute air-conditionless drive home.  It was hot.  Terribly, terribly hot and I was really, really in labor.  As soon as we walked through the door, Phillip was trying to get me back into the car.  I was out of my mind and completely unreasonable, convinced if I endured the desert-like trip to the hospital that they would just kick us out again.  I agreed to let Phillip call Robin, my doula.  He spoke to her first, then handed the phone over.  The conversations went something like this:  "Abby, this is Robin.  What's going on?  Abby?  Okay, good breathing.  Good job.  Deeep breaths.  You need to go to the hospital now."

Still, I wouldn't get in the car.  One thing about us girls in labor, we're a little irrational.  Phillip finally called a friend.  A friend with a car.  A friend whose car had air conditioning.  She came and got me, Phillip following behind in our metal firecracker.  It wasn't a comfortable trip; I still moaned and groaned, death grip on the handle above the window, but I had cool air.  When we got there, the hospital was packed.  My friend, Christine, dropped me off at the sky bridge that led to Labor and Delivery.  I walked about three feet, stopped to lean against the railing to have a contraction, walked about three feet, repeat.  I refused all offers of a wheelchair.  By the time I reached the front desk of L&D, the lady who had seen me discharged a few hours earlier saw my tear-streaked, sweat-drenched face and said, "Oh, we're having a baby now, aren't we?"

Robin, Christine and Phillip arrived armed with my birth ball, smiles, and comfort.  There was no room for me anymore; I guess that was why they "needed" my room earlier.  It was okay; I wanted to be able to walk around and bounce on my birth ball in peace.  Even though Austin is a very natural-birth friendly city, Brackenridge is not a very natural-birth friendly hospital.  I was like a martian in the hallway, bouncing away like I was at a preggy Pilates class.  We ran into Nurse Ratched while I was walking up and down the stairs, arm in arm with Robin, urging my labor along and walking me through the contractions.  She started talking to me, scolding me for not going home and relaxing as she suggested, asking about my progression, etc.  I pointedly ignored her.  Pretended she wasn't even there.  She got the hint.  I began praying that she would not be attending my birth.  It was not going to be pretty.

When I was officially admitted, there was still no room to be had.  Pregnant ladies who had been in Hurricane Rita had been transferred to Austin and it seemed that they were all having their babies that day.  I think my early delivery had a little to do with all the hurricane-y stuff; apparently they trigger labor somehow?  I don't know the science or statistics, but I know it had been a calm labor ward that morning and now it was chaos.  I was put into a recovery room with two other ladies, thin, gauzy curtains the only thing separating us.  I was assigned my nurse.  Remember me saying God's hand was all over my arguably negligent discharge earlier in the day?  I know it was because I scored Jenny, the third in my triumvirate of attending angels.  She was a natural birth advocate and an all-around fantabulous person.  With Phillip at my side and Robin, Jenny, and Christine cheering us on, it was going to be a good birth after all.

I am an extreme advocate for natural birth.  I will laud its benefits to anyone who will listen.  Let me be clear about something though:  childbirth hurts.  And I had been doing it for days.  I was staying strong, refusing all offers for drugs or an epidural, although I am sure the other two ladies in my little recovery room had ordered theirs immediately upon hearing my first blood-curdling scream.  Jenny was running interference, even taking on another shift so I would not be pressured to use interventions.  Phillip was the best coach ever, rubbing my back, giving me encouraging pep talks, listening to all of Robin's suggestions for how to help me.  I was trying desperately to get comfortable and finally ended up in a squat beside my gurney, doing a little boogie dance and chanting Sanskrit chants from my yoga video.  My sister later asked me if I had talked to Jesus about that part.  I did; He's cool with it.

Then transition labor hit and all of that oogie-boogie stuff was out the window.  I climbed up on the bed, scrambling in a blind panic.  I wanted drugs.  Any of them, all of them.  I thought this part was going to last as long as the rest had and I was having none of it.  Phillip tried to talk to me; he's lucky I didn't hit him.  He said, "Remember, this is what you wanted."  I screamed, "I can change my f-ing mind!"  Christine left to find Jenny.  I deferred to Robin, who was a mother herself and knew what I was experiencing.  She promised me that this meant we were almost there; it was almost over.  I will never forget the kindness in her eyes.  It allowed me to take a deep breath.  When Jenny arrived, I asked calmly, "Will you check me?"  Phillip still teases me about the swift transition from screaming profanities to the Pollyanna-like request.  I was at ten centimeters.  We were ready to have Eddie.

I'm not going into any of the gory details.  Suffice it to say, about thirty minutes later by beautiful baby boy entered this world.  He was wide awake at birth and extremely focused.  Robyn told me later she has never seen anything like it.  He came out giving everyone around him the evil eye, ready to kick butt and take names.  They rushed him to a sterile table to deal with his guts and begin stabilizing him for surgery.  The neonatal doctor in the room made all the students and residents clear away so that Phillip could be near and talk to Eddie.  I was euphoric.  All pain forgotten.  My baby was here.  They started to take him away to surgery in his incubator.  The ob/gyn, who was neither Nurse Ratched nor the cretin who had discharged me earlier (thanks be to God), reminded them to show him "to the lady who just pushed him out."  I had only a moment to see him, a little angry swaddled bundle, visible only from the nose up.  I said, "Hi!" and touched his precious little forehead before he was taken away.  In just that brief moment, though, I fell in love.  More deeply, more passionately, more insanely than I had ever loved anybody ever.  It was like I had been living my life with a puzzle piece missing and God slid it neatly into place.

By the world's standards, it was not a perfect birth.  It was a grueling, rather public event in a packed hospital with rude doctors.  It was chaotic, a bit like a hurricane itself.  Ed was delivered by a man who, although nice, was a stranger to me.  They couldn't hand me my baby and let me kiss and nurse him.  He couldn't "room in" with me.  It was a far cry from what I had envisioned when I signed up at the birthing center.  But I was surrounded by people who loved me and who loved Eddie.  God put everyone where they needed to be so that I would have the strength to persevere, give Eddie the best start he could have, and to do all that came next.

Christ's birth was not perfect.  There was no room for them either.  I imagine Mary never envisioned putting him in a manger, a feeding trough for livestock.  But that was God's plan for His own Son and I know that Eddie's beginning was no less ordained for him even before he was formed in my womb.  I am grateful for my less-than-perfect birth because it brought a miracle into my life and people to share in it who shined brightly in the midst of the storm.                    

               

Saturday, June 11, 2011

In Utero

During my first pregnancy I read every book about pregnancy and birth that I could get my hands on.  One of them was a great book called "Babycatcher:  Chronicles of a Modern Midwife" by Peggy Vincent.  I was inspired by it and, being something of a crazy hippie by nature anyway, decided I wanted a natural, midwife-attended birth.  I got plugged in with a birthing center in Austin (there are lots of them down there).  It was like having your baby in a cozy cabin with the medical equipment hidden in cupboards and behind decorative screens.  I got ready for my perfect pregnancy and birth.

Nothing ever really goes to plan, not in my life anyway.  One day while Phillip and I were hanging out in our own cozy cabin, I started bleeding.  I was about fifteen weeks pregnant and called my midwife, panicked.  She told me to put my feet up and the bleeding stopped.  She also scheduled me for a sonogram a couple days later to check and see if I had placenta previa, a condition where the placenta is overlying the cervix and can complicate your pregnancy.

The sonogram was at a doctor's office in downtown Austin that to me is a perfect blend of homeopathy and technology.  All the normal magazines in the waiting room but the smell of patchouli in the air.  We were one of the last patients this one particular ob/gyn was seeing before he left on a bicycle tour of Indonesia.  I was still in my element and still confident that everything was going to be okay.  He looked at the baby.  I could see strange images in the grey screen in front of me, saw the little heart beating, but could not make out many details.  After taking several shots from several different angles, he excused himself for a moment.  When he came back into the room, he said something I will never forget.  I can remember everything about it, what the room looked like, the nuance of his tone.  He said, "Your placenta is fine.  There is something wrong with the baby."

The next few minutes were chaotic.  Phillip and I asking questions, this very nice but very evasive doctor not answering them.  He did not want to go into too many details.  He pointed to a mass around the baby's belly that should not be there.  He did not want to speculate too much on what it was, could be a blocked umbilical cord or the enigmatic "something else."  He wanted to send me to the specialist the next day to find out for sure.  I remember sitting in the car in the parking lot, sweating in our air-conditionless car and calling my mom, freaking out and crying.  There were no answers, just the ominous "something wrong" and twenty-four hours to wait.

The neonatologist's office did not smell like patchouli but there was complimentary hot tea and a nice, calming water feature.  A really nice technician took us back into a dimly lit room with calming music playing, lubed up my tummy, and began to look at the baby.  The difference in the technology was astounding.  Instead of ghostly, blobby images on a dim screen, I was looking at our baby in crisp black and white.  It looked like a tiny, slightly shrimp-like being from an alien planet, but it was our baby.  Phillip held my hand supportively, looking at the screen with me.  The tech asked if we wanted to know the sex and at our affirmative answer said, "It's a boy."  At that point, Phillip's "supportive spouse" demeanor evaporated and he put his hands on me like I was part of the table as he lunged toward the screen to check it out for himself.  I was no less thrilled to know "it" was a "he," but I still wanted to know what was wrong.  

The tech had mercy.  After a butt-covering legal statement that he was not the doctor, this was just his opinion, etc, etc, he told me it was gastroschisis.  That there was a hole in his stomach that should have closed but didn't and that his intestines were sort of leaking out of it and developing on the outside of his body.  It was a little gruesome, but probably not lethal.  The rest of him was doing really well.  We got lots of cool pictures of all his bits and pieces.  In his facial shot, you could still see his skeletal structure and his skull was kind of spaced out and pointy.  Phillip said, jokingly, "Mira! Se mire como el diablo." which means "Look!  He looks like the devil."  We laughed and loved him.  Our little Diablo.   

The specialist came in a little bit later and confirmed everything the tech had told us, elaborating a little on the details and "where we go from here."  I would have monthly checkups at his office, monitoring how much intestine was visible and the rest of his development.  The biggest in utero risk was that his liver would start to peek out.  If this started to happen, his chances of survival diminished significantly.

So ended my perfect pregnancy.  I could no longer have him at a birthing center since he would have to be rushed to surgery at birth.  Instead I was switched to the "high risk" ob/gyn group associated with Brackenridge hospital.  The office smelled like antiseptic and there was not a water feature in sight unless you counted the cooler with little cone-shaped paper cups in the corner.  My doctor was nice but always in a hurry and there was no guarantee that he would even attend the birth.  The only other of his coworkers that I met was a woman with a bedside manner that evoked images of Nurse Ratched.  I was less than pleased.

I was flexible though and firmly back on the "everything is going to be okay" wagon.  Phillip and I went through the baby name book cover to cover and with very little argument El Diablo became Edward Diego Spain Espinoza.  We thought Eddie Espinoza had a ring to it that should not be passed up.  It sounded like a major league baseball player (and we both really like baseball).  I was more determined than ever to have a natural birth.  Although my doctor said any drugs in my system were unlikely to affect Eddie's outcome significantly, I was not willing to take any chances or compromise my little slugger in any way.  He was coming out with a couple strikes against him as it was.

And so the spring and summer of 2005 passed.  I grew ridiculously big because I was pregnant, newly sober, and craved chicharron tacos and chocolate cake with a vengeance.  I read more books, bought little tummy speakers so Eddie could listen to music and voices other than my own, and did lots of prenatal yoga.  In return, El Diablo gave me lots of heartburn and permanent internal damage by wedging his bootie firmly into my ribcage.  In August I floated around the pool at our apartment complex like a big, pink, pregnant whale.  We got to see Eddie grow, month by month.  Got to see his features develop and sharpen.  One day a few weeks before he was born, I was looking at the big screen projecting his image and, out of the aether, his little face was crystal clear.  He was frowning and fussy and the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.

Part of me could not wait to have him out of my tummy and into my arms.  But he was not going to go straight into my arms and I knew it.  He was going to go to surgery and then to NICU for recovery.  We had our surgical conference with a surgeon who needed to get together with my Nurse Ratched ob/gyn and attend an empathy training.  He informed me that I probably would not be allowed to hold my baby until at least six weeks after his birth and acted like I was a silly, hormonal child when that suggestion made me cry.  Still, Ed's prognosis was good and we were as ready as we thought we could be, but we knew there were a lot of ifs involved, a lot of complications possible.

So, another part of me wanted him to stay with me for as long as possible, safe and secure in my womb.  It was just the two of us in those days.  I get it when God describes himself as a jealous God.  I'm a jealous Mom.  I got to feel the kicks and elbows and it was so worth all the nausea and heartburn.  I talked to Eddie all the time, knowing my voice was the loudest and strongest he could hear.  I sang to him.  I made him promises.  Mostly I promised that I would let him be him.  That I was so grateful that he had come into my life and that I knew he was a unique gift from God, to be celebrated and enjoyed not corrected or molded into something different than what God had made him.  I promised to be a mother who hugged more than she scolded, who learned more than she taught, and who listened more than she talked (that, as it turns out, is the really tricky one).  I prayed with him and for him and I really thought everything would be okay.

Since you all know how this story ultimately ends, you know already that everything was not okay.  Things did not go to plan.  Eddie never grew into the little denim jacket that we had emblazoned with the words "EL DIABLO" in Old English, "Big Ed" in script beneath it.  But, then again, that really is okay.  In another way, everything is okay.  I lost my son, but gained a greater knowledge of my Savior.  Through Eddie's birth, I understand the grace Christ bought with His death.  I have a knowledge that goes beyond information, a peace that defies understanding.  I get to feel all the hope and joy and it is so worth all the grief and pain.  Eddie was always coming just as he was and I got to keep him for a little while, both in the womb and for a time after.  This life is its own kind of womb, where we get to grow and develop before being thrust into a new reality, one so different from these environs that we cannot begin to grasp exactly what it will be like.  We are all in utero.  But this I know, once the birthing pains are over and I cross the threshold, I have a little boy waiting for me and a bright, beautiful world to explore together.                               


Friday, June 10, 2011

Rebirth (Part I)

You may have heard people refer to themselves as "born-again" Christians.  I heard it a lot growing up but never really gave it much thought.  It meant you had accepted Jesus as your Savior and been baptized.  The people who said it were usually really fired up about Christ and that was cool.  Sometimes they were also a little annoying and judgmental though, like they were really special Christians and I was just a regular old Christian, like they outranked me.  I only encountered a handful of these people, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Throughout my teenaged years, the bad taste in my mouth toward Christians grew into an outright revulsion.  Where I used to see joy, I only saw judgment; where I once saw hope, only hypocrisy.  By seventeen I had decided if there was a God, he wasn't doing me any favors and he certainly wasn't this guy they were talking about in church.  I became an agnostic.  Like many agnostics, I was also a nauseating know-it-all and looked at believers with a certain condescending "I, too, was once a lemming" attitude.  I read a lot of Jean Paul Sartre and Irish absurdism.  I was miserable.

When I was nineteen, my mother registered for a women's conference at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK.  There was a college weekend going on at the same time and she called me up to ask me if I wanted to go.  My initial answer, of course, was no.  I could think of nothing I would like less than hanging out with a bunch of whacked out Jesus freaks for a weekend.  I was a college sophomore and had just gotten a navel ring.  I was way too cool for Oral Roberts U.  My mom had been very patient with my attitude through my agnostic years.  I think she prayed a lot.  She also knew me very, very well.  So she said if I would keep her company on the road trip and go to the student stuff, we could go shopping in Tulsa on our off time.  It was a shameless bribe... I accepted.

After twelve hours or so at the college conference, I think everybody on staff at ORU was ready for me to go home.  I would not sign a statement saying that I would follow the honor code for the weekend, because I could not get anybody to show me the details and once they finally did I disagreed with half of them.  As far as I was concerned, they violated my right to free speech and expression and they were sexist besides.  They let me stay anyway; I think they, too, started praying for me a lot.  I would not participate in any of the ice-breaker games in the gym... they were stupid and I had on the wrong shoes.  I went to the talks on different majors and asked really annoying, challenging socio-political questions.  In short, I was a royal pain in the butt.

I skipped out on the evening's worship and activities with the pre-college/college crowd to go to worship with my mom.  I think that the group staffing the college weekend breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Mom's crowd was in a huge auditorium filled with people and the service was led by Richard Roberts.  I don't remember much about the first part of the evening.  I'm sure we sang songs, but I think I was totally preoccupied by how silly it all was and how much my new piercing hurt.  About mid-way through it all, though, Richard Roberts started walked around, saying "God's touch," and touching people on the forehead.  Some people stood their ground, usually with tears running down their face, but others fell down, some shaking convulsively.  It was absurd, I thought.  What a desperate bunch of fakers and freaks.

These were the sort of thoughts occupying my mind as Pastor Roberts approached my row.  I was standing up, out of respect for my mother and her misled religious beliefs.  I smiled patronizingly as he drew even with me, reached out toward my forehead, and said, "God's touch."  I don't remember him actually touching me because I blacked out.

I mean it.  Passed out, cold.  I woke up on the floor in my mother's arms.  She was laughing hysterically.  Her disbelieving, condescending, agnostic daughter had just been knocked on her butt by God.  I would have been embarrassed and even a little angry, if it weren't for the fact that I was awash in the Spirit of God.  From head to toe, inside and out, I was filled with Him, alive with Him.  He was speaking to me, as clearly as He spoke to Moses in the days of Exodus, and what He was saying was I AM.

People have a harder time with this story than they do with most of the other miracles God has performed in my life.  For some reason it is easier to believe the fact that He could bring my child from the brink of death, against all hope as far as the medical community was concerned, not once but several times, than that He knocked me on my hiney just this one time.  They want to believe all that stuff that goes on in "those" churches is fake or hysteria.  Some of it probably is.  Phillip and I went to one that definitely had some odd beliefs.  I will talk more about our times at what I affectionately like to call the Crazy Church in later blogs, I am sure.  People bring up mass hypnosis.  You can believe what you choose, but I know what I know.  I was not seeking; I was not receptive.  I was standing there thinking Richard Roberts was a hack and fool.  Then there He was:  God... in all His glory.

I am humbly grateful that God allowed me to have this kind of conversion experience.  The kind that decimates doubt and blows disbelief right out of the water.  I went back to that college weekend a new creature in Christ, born again and ready for action.  I gave my testimony before a crowd of hundreds.  They were all thrilled and cheered me on.  I didn't hear a single "told you so."  In a town full of Jesus freaks, I was among the freakiest.  And, amazingly, for the first time in a long, long time, I was really happy.  Crazy happy.

I rode this high for almost a year.  Then sin creeped back into my life, subtly and stealthily.  I started drinking again about eighteen months after ORU and all hell broke loose.  It would take me almost another decade of self-inflicted misery to figure out what I was missing and make my rebirth complete.  But I never doubted the existence of God again.  My Savior, My Deliverer, and the great I AM.        

    

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Brains and Bats

I have been sick for over three weeks now.  I seem to be picking up one virus and then, toward the tail end of that illness, trading it in for another.  I have always been a little on the sickly side.  If any kid brought some kind of bug with them to school one day, my mom could count on me catching it.  Even with my somewhat delicate constitution, however, this is something of a record.  I either need to look into some immune-building homeopathic stuff or the zombie apocalypse is here and I am among the first of its victims.

I love zombie movies.  Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, pretty much anything with "Dead" in the title...I'm there.  Yesterday my two year old, who for blogging purposes hereinafter will be Baby Girl, was chasing one of the cats around the house moaning, "Brrraaaaaiiinnnnsss!"  It was among my proudest parenting moments.  And before you send me a strongly-worded email, no, I have not let her or her brother watch either of the aforementioned movies.  I just have a healthy sense of zombie humor and I might have let her play "Plants vs. Zombies" a couple of times.  Maybe.

I think a love of the macabre is more nature than nurture.  I know there are people who don't enjoy horror movies and don't approach Halloween with glee (or own a brain-shaped Jell-o mold).  I don't think early exposure to zombie culture would have changed them.  My kids are thankfully not squeamish and seem to have inherited a love for the creepy.  Just now the three year old, hereinafter Baby Boy, is watching, per his request, a documentary called "Creepy Creatures."  It's about snakes, bats, and stuff.  A few moments ago he climbed into my lap, giggling, and said, "I'm scared.  It's funny."  He stayed for about ten seconds, then it was back to the recliner and his Rice Krispies.

My biggest fear is bats.  Specifically I am convinced a bat is one day going to be stuck in my hair.  It's a real phobia, I'm told; there is a separate name for it and everything.  I think it started when I was a young teen and we would swim at night with the pool light on.  The bats from our big elm trees would swoop around us, snagging the insects that were attracted by the light.  I know supposedly they have some super-sensitive radar hearing system that would prevent them from mistakenly grabbing my hair rather than the intended junebug, but I wasn't convinced as I ran screaming into the house.

I am the kind of person who is obsessed with facing the things I fear.  I am a little iffy on heights, so I just have to do the zip line.  I never voluntarily faced the whole bat thing though.  I would occasionally stare at them through the glass at a zoo or something, but I did not go to Carlsbad Caverns or anywhere else where I knew they would be.  So God took it upon himself to make me face this particular fear.

I went to undergraduate school at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.  I managed to get through about three years of school bat-free, and then came the summer before my senior year.  I was a history and english major and so at this point nearly all my classes were in the same building, a five story antique called Ferguson.  Unbeknownst to me, every five years or so, Ferguson becomes infested with bats.  The ceiling of the stairway would be downright furry with the little creatures, the stairs speckled with guano.  If  I had known about this, I probably would have switched majors.  As it was, I not only had classes all summer in Ferguson, I had a night class.  Since the ancient elevators were unreliable and slow and I was almost always running late, I had more than one sprint up multiple flights of stairs, notebook held over my head, screaming intermittently like a little girl and trying to ignore the rustling, squeaking ceiling above me.  On one occasion, there was a bat in the classroom trash can.  On another, I was in the neighboring Liberal Arts building to see a professor and had to plaster myself against the wall in a ridiculously narrow hallway to avoid a wayward bat gliding toward me at chest level.  Who does that happen to?  People who are scared to death of bats.      

A year later, I graduated and went to law school... in Austin, Tx.  They have bats.  Lots and lots of bats.  Their minor league hockey team is called the Ice Bats.  It is a bat-obsessed town.  During the spring and early summer a ridiculous number of bats choose to hang out under the Congress Street bridge.  People gather on balconies overlooking Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake), on the bridge itself, and even board little boats, Bat Tours, to see them come out at dusk by the thousands.  Some people that is.  I did not.  I went through my law school years managing to avoid bats almost entirely.  Then a few years after graduation a friend of mine got married.  Her bachelorette party was on a boat on Town Lake in the spring.  If I had thought about it beforehand, I probably would not have gotten on the boat, even though I was a bridesmaid.  But I didn't.  I was just thinking about good times with good friends in one of my favorite towns in the world.  Someone brought it up about ten minutes before sunset in an excited, "Oooo!  Maybe the bats will come out tonight!" kind of way.  My throat went dry.  I started looking for lifeboats.  But since our little barge was about the size of a lifeboat itself, there were none to be found.  I was stuck, quickly approaching the Congress Street bridge.

I prayed that they wouldn't come out.  That I would be able to hide under the awning, not look up at all, and it would be like they weren't even there.  I knew there were plenty of times my friends had been disappointed when they went to watch the bats and did not see them.  Something about the weather made it not to the little furry rats' liking and they stayed put under the bridge.  This, however, was not to be one of those times.

We were maybe a dozen yards or so from the bridge when they started coming out.  If you have never experienced it, I don't think any description can do it justice.  It's not as many bats as you think it is:  it's more.  A huge black cloud started pouring out from under the bridge, squeaking and flapping like crazy.  In moments, they surrounded the boat.  I wanted to scream and dive under a table, but something deep inside of me knew this was a once in a lifetime experience and it would be a real shame to miss it.  So I gutted it up and joined the ladies standing at the edge of the railing, hanging their heads over the side to see the spectacle.  And, I'll admit, it was beautiful.  Amazing.  Indescribable and not to be missed.  None of them got in my hair.

There is much to be gained by facing your fears.  The Bible says "Perfect love casts out fear."  I am sure if I had a pet bat named Vampy that I loved with my whole heart and hand-fed big fat insects, I would not be scared of them anymore at all.  I'm not there yet.  Just typing that gave me the heebie-jeebies.  But if we love God perfectly, we love His creation.  If we trust Him and can see Him in a cloud of bats or a slithery snake, we know we don't have to be afraid.  We might have a moment of sweaty palms or goosebumps, but we can also say with sincerity, "I'm scared.  It's funny."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Good Measure

In Luke 6:38, Christ says, "Give and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap."  In its original context, it refers to dry goods being meted out at the marketplace.  I love this analogy, though, not because I buy in bulk very often, but because I cook.  And any cook, I think, can get a really good idea of what God is talking about here.

I cook like I live:  sloppy and a little all over the place.  I usually follow a recipe but it is a suggestion at best.  I tend to use a lot of substitutions.  Once I am finished, the kitchen looks like a war zone.  I have found flour in places that defy explanation.  The result, however, is pretty darn good if I do say so myself.  If you doubt me, come over some time and I'll cook you a chicken fried steak that will knock your socks off.

Despite this unorthodox cooking method, I am a fan of the measuring cup.  Unlike Rachel Ray, I do not often eyeball it.  I also am a fan of brown sugar.  Full stop.  On or in anything or even just by the spoonful.  When the Bible says "pressed down," I always think of recipes that call for brown sugar, firmly packed.  Sorry, I drooled a little when I typed that, excuse me.  If you bake, you know.  A fourth of a cup of brown sugar, firmly packed, is a heck of a lot more than a fourth of a cup of brown sugar.  If you press hard enough, you can fit half a package in that cup.

So this is what God is going to do with our blessings.  He's going to take them, compact them down to where more and more and more fit, then He's going to even take it a step or two further.  He's going to shake the cup, so cracks show around the edges and it settles a little on top.  Then He's going to add more.  He's going to add so many blessings that they overflow over the top of our little measuring cup, spill over into our laps, and we have to gather up the edges of our shirt to even carry them all.  Wow!

That is what happened to me this week.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Phillip is very recently between jobs and I am a stay at home mom.  Needless to say, things were getting a little scary around here.  I trust in God's provision, I know he is Jehovah-Jireh, Our Provider.  It is very difficult to keep anxiety at bay when you watch the number in your bank account and the items in your pantry dwindle, though.  Then friends started arriving.  They came with smiles and love and STUFF.  They stocked our pantry, filled our freezer, and put gas in our cars.  They sent encouraging emails, made thoughtful phone calls, and held us up in their prayers.  Pressed down, shaken together, running over.

Give and it will be given to you.  It doesn't have to be money.  Give smiles; give encouragement, kindness, and hospitality.  A listening ear, a comforting hug.  If you have an extra coat, give it to someone cold.  Let people know that you care about them, that you are with them in their trials, and pray for them.  It will be payed back to you in spades, I promise and so does God.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the family and friends God has placed in my life.  Thank you guys from the bottom of my heart and thank you, Lord God, for that good measure.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

May You Be Blessed

The only reason I have been able to be rather diligent in my posting this week is because my husband is currently between jobs.  In addition to that, he has been under the weather and therefore hanging around the house.  When he is well, he is invariably off working on some handyman project for family or friends.  I don't mind this at all.  It keeps him busy and happy and it is a great way to give back to those people who always help us out in a pinch.  So this morning he is better and it is back to a variation on life as usual.

Life as usual for me means that when I sat down to check my email this morning, a two year old little girl climbed up in my lap, sat on my desk, put her hands on my cheeks, and shook my head violently from side to side while screaming, "I LOOOOOOOOVE YOOOOUUUUU!!!"  Meanwhile, a three year old little boy was scaling the washing machine to sort through our pantry items and see if he could score some candy for breakfast.  Needless to say, I haven't gotten much accomplished.

I have talked to people who think stay-at-home parents have nothing to do.  This attitude astounds and amazes me.  I serve with the preschool ministry at my church (because I'm a glutton for punishment).  One day I was serving with a young woman who I do not normally volunteer with.  She had just graduated from college and therefore knew everything.  She found out I was a lawyer and that was very exciting.  Then she found out I had given up my practice in order to raise a family.  It was like I just told her that I had voluntarily had a medically unnecessary lobotomy.  She told me that she and her husband planned to have children in a few years but that she would never be a stay-at-home mom.  She would be so bored.

I learned a nifty trick from a friend of mine in recovery for times when you encounter a person like this.  Instead of saying something that you are later going to need to make an amends for in order to maintain your spiritual health or biting your tongue bloody, just mentally repeat the phrase "May you be blessed."  It is at times a bit like the "SERENITY NOW!" episode of Seinfeld, but it really does help.  If you say it to yourself long enough, your temper will abate and you might even start meaning it.  I started feeling a little sorry for her.  After all, I said I would never be a Baptist or a blogger and look at me now.  I can see into that young woman's future and it might just involve mornings where she too says things like "That's the cat's breakfast.  Yours is on the table."

So today's blog is going to be short, sweet, and not in anyway related to the meaning of life.  I just wanted to say to all my stay-at-home peeps and to the rest of you as well, may you be blessed.  May God bless you and keep you and may you have some time for yourself today to rest in His presence.  Without it resulting in gum in anyone's hair...

 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Quarter-sized Faith

I have been a Christian for most of my life.  I was raised in a Christian home, the third daughter of a Methodist preacher.  It's part of my family's lore that after my older sister had asked Jesus into her heart she began talking to me about doing the same.  I staunchly refused.  When pressed on the topic, my reply was simply:  "I'm not done being bad yet."  I was four at the time.  It was a prophetic statement.

I did finally get on the bandwagon some time later, but I am still not sure I really got it.  Like many people raised in the church, it was all more form than content.  I believed in God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  I went to Sunday School, memorized scripture and sat through boring sermon after boring sermon, doodling in my bulletin with the short, stumpy pencils provided in the pews.

There is one time I remember a message really "getting me" in my childhood.  We were visiting another church, a pastor my dad knew.  I don't know what denomination it was, but it was held in a huge auditorium and had a primarily black congregation.  Everyone was so joyful and energetic and the preacher was so passionate (and repetitive) that I remember his sermon until this day.  He preached about prayer, about being a kid in the South and about kids back then being able to buy a "penny bag" of candy.  His family was so poor that he did not even have a penny to spare.  So he would walk along praying, "Please God, let me find a penny."  Over and over he would pray.  And every day he prayed it, he would find one.

It got my attention in a big way.  I started trying it out in my life, although with inflation and all my prayer was for a quarter.  Time after time, I would find a quarter.  It was awesome!  Like God was my own personal piggy bank.  This is not sound theology, by the way, but keep in mind I was seven.  I think God answered my prayer then for the same reasons he answered that pastor's childhood prayers.  For one, to let us know He really was there.  He wasn't Santa Claus or the Easter bunny.  He is GOD and He exists.  Secondly, because He likes to give His children good gifts, regardless of their age.  Finally, because we had the faith of a child.

It's easy to have child-like faith when you are, in fact, a child.  Jesus talked about kids a lot.  One of my favorite examples is in Matthew 11:25 when He said:  "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children."  I believe kids are born with an innate sense of who God is and the nature of His all-encompassing love.  Little kids don't get bogged down in doctrinal disputes, they don't struggle with the mystery of the Trinity or whether the tithe should be based on net or gross earnings.  They give and receive the love of God easily.

In many Eastern traditions, parents acknowledge that they have much more to learn from their children than they will ever be able to teach them.  They know so much more of the important stuff because they aren't convinced that they know everything already.  I think in this scripture Jesus is saying the same thing.  We should approach the throne of God with an open and vulnerable heart, not relying on our knowledge but on His.  I did not have the easiest childhood.  My father was a better preacher than he was a dad.  But even with a less-than-perfect past, my seven year old self had enough faith to score a quarter.  As I grew up and became "wise and learned," I lost touch with that faith.

The good news is that we can get it back.  I got so stinking wise and learned, what with my law degree and all, that I am lucky that I even had sight of Christ at all.  When my first baby was born sick, when they told me he would probably not live another week, all of that became dung, as the apostle Paul would put it.  I was a child before my God, stripped of all artifice of control, humble, vulnerable, and powerless.  I asked him for time; just a few more moments with my Eddie.  Just a quarter's worth.  He gave to me in abundance.  I asked for days, He gave me weeks, for weeks and He gave me months.  Just to be able to hold him and He let me take him home.  How great is Our God?

To clarify:  God is not my piggy bank.  For a few weeks, we attended a church whose congregants believed that if you have the faith of a mustard seed, God is going to do everything your way.  That if you are sick or poor or have some other challenge in your life, you are not praying the right prayer or your faith is in some way lacking.  Those people are crazy.  Ahem, I mean misled.  The Bible is full of stories of suffering and death.  The apostles were tortured and martyred and I think they probably had plenty of faith.  Thinking that through prayer you can control the will of God is whacked out theology at best and really dangerous at worst.  It puts people in need in a position of shame and that in and of itself is shameful.

What I do mean is, you can approach the throne of grace as a child and God will give you good gifts.  They may not be the gifts you thought you wanted or what you expected, but continue to have child-like faith and trust and you will see that they are good.  I prayed like crazy for Eddie to be restored to perfect health, for him to live a full, adult life.  That did not happen and it's not because I did not have enough faith.  It is because it was God's will that I be here, right now, sharing my experience with you.  That I would be able to stand up and say that, in this flawed and difficult world, we can have hope, peace, and joy, overflowing and abundant, no matter what.  So that maybe you don't have to suffer years of addiction and the sickness and death of a child to figure out how to have child-like faith yourself.  That maybe you could read these words and find it in you to humble yourself before God, let go of your own illusions of control, and just say, "Please God, can I have a quarter?"      

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Life, Death, and Jazz

Eddie loved the song "Midnight in Moscow" by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.  It's an awesome jazz tune and when I hear it I feel really happy and really sad, all rolled into one big ball.  It has a rhythm that is the pace of  life or what the pace should be if you do it right.  (If you are a jazz fan you will get this.  If you are not, look this song up on iTunes or YouTube and become one.)  Eddie would listen and open up his palms into perfect "jazz hands," waving them along to the music.    

As you might have guessed, I'm a bit of a music geek.  My taste is all over the place.  I own everything from The Flaming Lips to Flemish Romantic Music.  It runs in the family and the iPod I had borrowed from my sis when Ed was in PICU was a source of entertainment and great joy.  I remember discussing childhood heartthrobs with nurses much younger than me while introducing them to the wonder that is NKOTB and, in response to an older nurse's contribution, cranking up Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything."  It was like a party in our little cubicle, even when Ed was not doing well and even more so once he had miraculously rallied and could show everyone his jazz hands.  I wish that this was the end of the story, that we went home a few days later and lived happily ever after.  There was so much more drama to come.

Eddie had to be on TPN which is nutrition administered through the bloodstream.  Like I said before, he had short bowel syndrome which means he was basically gutless.  Prior to his birth, I really had not given any thought to how important one's small intestine is and did not even know about the existence of this little thing called the ileocecal valve but, trust me, they are both very, very important.  Eddie had to have a central venous line, or CVL, which is a little rubber tube that went from a major vein in his body to the outside of his body, kind of a semi-permanent IV, so we could hook him up to the TPN.  The whole system kept him going, but it also unfortunately made him really sick sometimes.  CVLs get infected and blocked and TPN has to be processed through the liver and eventually the liver just can't take it anymore.

So, during the time he was unconscious, his CVL had stopped working for some reason and had to be replaced.  For most "normal" families this would seem like a major, scary surgery but Eddie had gone through this procedure so many times it had become almost routine for us.  Sailing on the high of his miraculous recovery, the last thing Phillip and I were worried about was his CVL replacement.  He was in the hands of a surgeon who had known Eddie since birth and who we loved like family.  We sat in the waiting room, playing gin rummy and suffering a minimum of anxiety.  As the usual thirty minutes stretched on to an hour, though, our game slowed and our anxieties rose.  Finally, they came to get us and told us to come to the recovery room.

As we approached Eddie's gurney, we saw that the anesthesiologist was still using a hand-held breathing bag to help him breath.  They explained that, while Eddie's surgery had gone well, he still was not breathing on his own and should be by now.  Since Eddie was a hospice baby, they needed our permission to hook him back up to the respirator.  I looked Eddie in the eyes and his expression spoke volumes.  My baby had been fighting for so long and he was so tired.  

Let me explain something before I continue.  Eddie was only thirteen months and had already been through more surgeries and procedures than most people have in a lifetime.  He was a warrior and a survivor, but he was also a human being and my beloved child.  Even at one year old, he had an ability to communicate with those of us close to him that was way beyond his years.  His heart was speaking to my heart in that moment and I knew he wanted to quit.  So I tried to let him.

It was awful.  Phillip and I said it was okay to stop helping him breathe and they handed him to me.  I had thought that he would rally.  He always had before.  Within seconds, though, he was limp in my arms.  I freaked.  I wanted to respect him, to give him the dignity to die if that was what he wanted, but I had no peace.  I cried out to God.  I cried:  "Lord!  If this is Your will, I accept it, but PLEASE conform my will to Yours!"  I felt nothing.  The doctor on call, a man I had met only a few minutes before, put his hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes.  It was now or never.  I looked at Phillip and saw my agony reflected in my husband.  "I can't do this without him," I yelled.  I still don't know what exactly I meant, if I couldn't do life without Eddie or let Eddie's life end without God.  Anyway, I handed him to Phillip who shuffle-passed him to the doctor like a little football.

I don't really remember what happened next.  I know there was a "CODE BLUE" and a flurry of activity but I don't remember the details.  In my next clear memory, I'm in the arms of the hospital chaplain, facing away from where the doctors are working on Eddie and screaming "That's my baby!" at the top of my lungs.  The chaplain was shushing me in a soothing way and said, "Hup!  They've got a heartbeat."  In a little while, the excitement was over and I was standing next to my smiling baby again.

Eddie smiled a lot, but this time it was different.  This time, he was smiling while he was hooked to a respirator.  He had been intubated so many times in his life I've lost count and he had never been happy about it.  As glad as I was that he was still alive, I was also afraid he had suffered terrible brain damage.  Eddie was one smart cookie so that was going to be a real shame.

While Phillip and I were standing there, numb and a little brain damaged ourselves, the doctor approached us.  He put a hand on each of our shoulders and told us we had changed his life.  That he had never seen faith like ours.  That he had been an atheist his entire life, but that witnessing our faith had made him come to believe in the God of Jesus Christ.  I wish that I could tell you that I said "praise the Lord," sat him down and told him the good news of the gospel.  That we prayed together that Jesus would enter his heart and be Lord and Savior of his life.  But, give me a break, okay?  I'm only human.  I did manage a weak smile and an even weaker, "That's great."  My hope and prayer is that he went to church or the chaplain and they took care of the rest of it for him.  At that moment, I felt weak, shaky and out of control and Phillip was so out of it he excused himself to smoke a cigarette.

As time passes, though, this has become one of my greatest memories.  It proves what I have known all along; that Eddie came for an amazing purpose.  He was always going to come just as he was, flawed and fragile.  Through his fragility he taught incredible strength.  Through his flaws he exemplified God's perfection.  Through his life at least one person came to salvation.  He witnessed more to people in thirteen months of life than I had in nearly thirty years.  

Incidentally, Eddie's brain had not been damaged.  We went home a little over twenty-four hours later on Christmas Eve.  He still showed an uncanny intelligence and wisdom far beyond his years (or year, rather) until his death in August 2007.  He was a lot happier, though.  I think it is because, in those moments that his heart was stopped, he spent a little time with Jesus.  He knew what lie ahead of him and that he did not have to be afraid anymore.  Right now, listening to "Midnight in Moscow" and feeling more happy than sad, I know I don't have to be afraid either.  Life goes on at its wonderful, laid back pace (if you'll let it) and when it's over I get to be with my Savior.  And my wonderful, magical little Jazzman.