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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Birthday


Today marks the sixth anniversary of the day I became a mother.  On September 27, 2005 at 4:45 p.m., Eddie made his grand entrance into the world and my life was changed forever.  While I was looking through pictures today, thinking about him and deciding which ones to post, I realized that, when I remember Eddie, most of the memories I choose to reminisce about are after his three and a half months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  I like to think about our days at home or the fun outings we had together.  I tend to avoid thinking about NICU, about the roller coaster emotions, where a single hour could involve both exhilarating hope and devastating disappointment.  The days where our greatest wish was for him to be extubated (to be strong enough to breathe on his own and get off the respirator) so that we could finally hear his cry for the first time since the minutes after his birth.  The delight felt in the little things that parents of "normal" children take for granted:  seeing the back of my baby's head for the first time, holding him all on his own without tubes and wires attached, or giving him his first feeding of just a few milliliters of milk.

Today I've been thinking about those days.  Not the agony of them, though there were moments of it, but of the gratitude I felt for every single moment that he drew breath.  For every time I could weave my way through the hospital equipment to kiss his head or even just his knee.  For the hope I had every time I saw another critically ill baby go home.  Many of their prognoses were no better than Eddie's, but I knew the joy those parents must have been feeling, loading their tiny miracles into the car seat to take them home, for how ever many days, weeks, months or years they were going to get to share with them.  I remember thinking to myself:  "Someday that it going to be us."  And one day it was.

Eddie was strong.  Miraculously strong.  He never ceased to amaze every single member of his hospital team with his ability to beat the odds.  He was obstinate, ornery, and had an incredibly volatile temper.  God used that fiery personality to allow Eddie to conquer, time and time again.  Even at one month old, Eddie was an inspiration and a testimony, not only to the greatness of God, but also to the triumph of the human spirit.

So today I am going to honor the NICU days.  When circumstances were desperate, but God was ever- present.  When I learned what it was to lean hard on the Lord, to lose control, and to free-fall into grace.


October 4th:  Eddie was eight days old.  Later this night, the doctors would tell us he most likely had one more week of life to live.
After his head had been shaved into a patchwork due to IVs, Mommy and some nurses gave Eddie a mohawk.  One of his doctors said it was fitting for him to have a warrior's haircut, like the Screaming Eagles of WWII.


The first day we saw Eddie's whole face:  no tubes, no tape, no IVs.  Beautiful.

Eddie loved his mobile and would "talk" to the bears on it.  We called them his "peeps."

December 6th, 2005:  Eddie's first bottle.  2 ml of breast milk.  He was 2 months and 10 days old.
Happy Birthday Eddie!  With all the love in my heart, Mommy

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sponsorship

So those of you who are blog regulars may notice some new ads gracing the sidebars of my posts now.  Yes, I have monetized.  As I believe I've mentioned, we are having financially challenging time in our lives and I figured every little bit counts.  Blogger said they they automatically match your blog to sponsors that they believe will appeal to your readers.  Today is the first day I had the opportunity to check out my sponsors and I have to say that I like them.  In fact, if I were allowed to click on my own advertisements (I'm not), I would definitely want to check out the daily bible reading and stuff.  Let me know how it is if any of you do.

God has been talking to me about sponsorship this week too.  We have been working together on my financial anxieties for quite some time now.  I feel that the continued need for me to learn a lesson in this area is one of the major contributing factors to our financial hardships stretching on and on, seemingly ad infinitum.  He's just not going to give up on me until I get it.  Until I really, truly stop trying to take care of things in my own strength, trusting in my own and this world's provision, and learn to lean on Him.

We had a great weekend last weekend.  On Friday night and Saturday, we went to my hometown's homecoming festivities and had an awesome time with old friends.  We had such a good time, in fact, that it made my husband and me really want to move to my hometown.  Although I had had a couple great days, instead of gratitude I began to feel the rumblings of discontent.  We can't afford to move, even though we have a great opportunity for a house in the area.  It seems unfair.  As I began to feel my happiness from a great day ebbing away, I decided to go to God instead of losing my gratitude and my joy.

He made something really clear to me:  that He is my sponsor.  He was the sponsor of  that day and He was going to be the sponsor of tomorrow.  He provides for me each and every day, everything I need and beyond.  I had a great day.  I was able to afford to do the things I had done that day because He had provided the resources.  On top of that, He had provided the company of great friends.  I didn't need to worry about what was going to happen down the road.  He would provide what I needed, when I needed it.  I should really just enjoy the day.

I heard Him and I listened.  I had a great Saturday evening with friends from church, laughing and lifting each other up.  I had a great Sunday too.  We went to church, Life Group, a birthday party and a evening celebration complete with Baby Boy's esteemed "jumpy houses."  Another day filled with friends and fellowship and even some free food.  It was an awesome weekend.

I like God as my sponsor.  Just like the advertisers on my blog, He is tuned in to the content on my "page."  He knows my needs without me having to speak them.  He will never drop me; He will always be faithful.  It makes a huge difference to wake up in the morning and, instead of thinking of all the things I need to get done, the bills that need to be paid, the needs that have to be met, I can say to myself:  "This Day Has Been Brought To You By God."  I can go forward in joy, not having to know the big picture, just being satisfied with the gift of a fully sponsored present.

Monday, September 19, 2011

All You Need

When Eddie first came home, I realized very quickly that the changing table was going to be my new battleground.  Eddie had short bowel syndrome and therefore had to be changed dozens of times per day.  He would often make a mess in the midst of a diaper change and I would have to clean up and start all over again.  Thankfully, he was my first baby so I did not realize how unusual this circumstance was and had a good spirit and positive attitude about it all.  Still, it was challenging.

So I made my diaper "work station" a place of inspiration.  I hung a bulletin board above the table and filled it with favorite bible verses, quotations, snapshots, anything that would bring me encouragement and inspiration when I looked at it.  Right smack dab in the middle I had a sheet of paper with the following words from John Lennon written on it:  "There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.  It's easy."  For those of you unfamiliar with Beatles lyrics (gasp!), these words of wisdom are from the song "All You Need is Love" and they are some of the truest words ever spoken.

Don't get me wrong; we all have choices.  And some of the options are bad and will end with us in places that God never intended us to be.  When we are living in disobedience, out of line with God's plan for us, we can be in dark, ugly places and it is anything but easy.  But during those times, we are not living in love.  We are not in communication with the One who is by His very nature nothing but all powerful, all encompassing LOVE.

I'm talking about when we actually have our spiritual acts together.  When we are actively seeking God's will for our lives.  When we are in relationship with Him, trusting Him, loving Him, and praying.  Not that we have to be perfect in our walks or that we have to be spending every free moment doing some act of worship or charity.  God knows we aren't going to be perfect; He doesn't expect us to be.  But when we are doing our best.

In those days with Eddie, I was doing my best to love God with all my heart.  I was doing my best to hear His voice and to obey it.  That is, truly, all we need.  If we are in that space, God will take care of us.  Maybe not the way we expected, but we can trust that whether we are having the best day of our lives or exhaustedly trying to get through one of the most difficult situations we have ever faced, we are exactly where we need to be.  And we can relax and rest in Him, no matter what.

When our circumstances get difficult, we say things get hard.  That is actually not accurate.  Things get hard because we start scrambling like crazy to solve the problem in our own power.  We start trying to "fix" everything and the effort is impossible, tiring, and, sadly, fruitless.  This seems like a depressing truth, but, stick with me, it's not.  It's actually the best news in the world.

God can take care of everything.  Period.  Our job in this world is to love Him and love each other.  That doesn't take an exhausting effort; it takes a change of heart.  It means taking our focus off of what we can do and focusing it instead on the One who can do all things.  It means accepting that where we are right now, financially, physically, circumstantially, is where we are meant to be and trusting Him for whatever is next.  It means we can stop exerting all our efforts in pursuit of our "goals."  It means we can kick back, smile, and take it easy.

I'm not encouraging sloth.  God has given you jobs to do.  But if you suddenly lose your day job, you don't have to freak out and try to figure out where/when you are going to get another one.  You have the option of praying, listening to God's direction, and obeying.  If He isn't giving you a clear direction, you can wait until He does.  Really.  It's that easy.

So much of our day to day stress comes from making plans and then having to remake our plans when the original idea doesn't work out.  It comes from projecting into what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, or even next year.  According to God's word, all of that planning and stressing is completely counterproductive and fruitless.  He says in Luke 12:25  "Who of you, by worrying, can add one cubit to His stature?"  We can't make ourselves grow, in height or in years, and we also can't make our bank accounts, our crops, or anything else grow without His grace.

We have a choice.  We can expend countless hours and an unbelievable amount of energy spinning our wheels or we can trust in a God who loves us.  All we need is Him.  He doesn't need our brainstorming, our helpful suggestions, or any effort beyond those that He has guided us to make.  He's really got it all under control.  We could spend our day anxious, discouraged and busy, busy, busy.  Or we could spend our day happy, relaxed and thankful in the presence of a God who loves us and is faithful to provide for every single one of our needs.

At the risk of being redundant:  it really is easy.  God is love and The Beatles were right; love is all you need.  If we will fully devote our selves and our efforts to loving God more perfectly, He will take care of the rest.  We will get so filled up that we will love others by default.  We will hear His calling so clearly that we won't have to fret over any decision or situation.  If we know that where we are, even if it's not exactly where we envisioned ourselves, is exactly where God needs for us to be, we can carry on with a quiet confidence and joyous assurance, knowing that all things are going to work together for our good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This I Know

I have been discouraged lately.  There isn't any big reason for the discouragement.  Just a few things haven't gone quite the way I thought they would and, as the pace of my life is picking up a bit, I'm having a little trouble keeping up.  I kind of hoped that for once in my life I would embark on a new project (teaching preschool, facilitating a bible study, etc) really organized and on top of things.  Not happening.  I also find my finances discouraging.  Every time it seems that we are getting our heads above water, something happens that dunks us under again.  The truck needs a new battery; the washing machine overflows.  Yes, overflows.  On a small load of laundry.  It's kaput.

The problem is that for me a little discouragement can be a dangerous thing.  As a recovering perfectionist, I have a tendency, when things aren't exactly as I envisioned them, to throw the towel in and say to heck with it all.  I get all fired up about being on the path that God intends for me to travel, determined to do His will no matter what.  Then life doesn't really go at all the way I imagined it would and I want to jump back on the hamster wheel and earn both worldly approval and quite a bit more money.  I reason that staying home with my kids really isn't that important and probably I would not even be missed if I stopped with my ministry, preschool and volunteer work.  My thoughts can get out of control really, really quickly.

Luckily, I'm a recovering alcoholic.  As such, I seek through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God as I understand Him (namely Jesus Christ) praying only for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry it out.  And when it comes to the temptation to start seeking money, power, and a 401k, His answer is always the same:  NO.  I just can't seem to change His mind about that.

Yesterday I noticed discouragement was a trend among those closest to me in my church family.  We all have been given "big picture" ideas of what God wants us to do with our lives and are all trying to follow Him and be obedient.  And we all are facing trials that invite doubt, confusion, and frustration.  I am so grateful that my eyes were opened to this common thread because it allowed me to see our situations more clearly.

We are followers of Christ.  Following God is hard.  We are devoting our lives to Him completely, loving Him with all our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.  It is by nature sacrificial.  If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.  If the moment you signed on to be a Christian you were handed a check for a million dollars there would be very few atheists.  We will have those mountaintop moments when big "wow" things happen, when material blessings shower upon us, or when we feel absolutely at peace with where we are in life.  But life isn't that way all the time... for anyone.

So I started getting into the Word and praying.  God led me to several verses about not loving money (okay, already, I get it).  He led to reach out to others and to give and receive encouragement from them.  He led me to look to my blessings and to praise Him.  In very little time, I was feeling crazy in love with Him again, rededicated to taking it step by step, one day at a time and being content in every circumstance.  Ten minutes later, my washer overflowed.

That's what I love about the enemy; he always takes it just one step too far.  Whatever your specific beliefs are about the devil and evil forces in general, I think you would be hard pressed not to admit that there is some force of darkness that tries to steal our joy.  I personally believe in the devil, demons, and all that Biblical stuff.  I believe that evil hates it when we are charged up for good and will try to throw a monkey wrench.  But this time it was too late.  I was too excited, too aware of the Truth, to give in and be grumpy.  I grabbed some towels and laughed.  I rejoiced that I get to get a new washing machine, maybe a cool, eco-friendly front-loader this time.  Because I know God is going to provide for my needs and the needs of my family.  It doesn't really matter if I have a washing machine.  It matters that I have a God that loves me, delights in me, and wants me to rejoice!  He is my encouragement, my strength, and my sweet, sweet song.

I had a great day today.  I felt so blessed by every single one of the munchkins in my preschool class.  I felt privileged to spend my day with them, watching them grow and teaching them that Jesus loves them.  After our short time together, I got spend the rest of my day with my own little ones, building Play-Doh rainbows and singing silly songs.  I was holding Baby Girl in my lap tonight after her bath.  I gave her a big hug and said, "I love you."  She smiled and asked, "And Jesus loves you?"  Yes, he does.  And that is encouragement enough.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Graveside

On our way home from our Labor Day weekend vacation, we stopped by Eddie's graveside.  I don't always stop there, even when I'm in the neighborhood.  I know some people find this surprising, as if it shows a lack of concern or honor for my son to go months on end without a trip to the cemetery.  Personally, I think when it comes to loss it is best to maintain a "to each his own" attitude about these matters.  I know people who practically live at their child's gravesite for the first year or so after his or her death.  It helps bring them comfort.  It does not comfort me, though.  I know he is not there; he is at home with a loving Savior having a great time.  That graveyard houses his shell, nothing more and nothing less.  Going there just reminds me of the hardest day of my life and makes me feel his absence so sharply that it takes my breath away.

All that being said, I do occasionally stop by.  To make sure it's tidy and that his headstone, picture and vase are unbroken.  To bring fresh flowers or seasonal decorations just because I love him and I can't give him gifts any other way.  To let myself be brokenhearted, even if just for a few minutes, before picking up and moving on.  I remember the first time I visited after Baby Boy was born.  He was just a few months old, just beginning to sit up on his own.  I set him down on the grass in front of the headstone while I tended to the grave.  Finally, I just lay down on top of the ground where my oldest son is buried, feeling overwhelmed by grief and unable to do anything else but just lay there.  When I lifted my head, Baby Boy was eating grass by the handful and gave me a huge, toothless grin.  It made me laugh and broke my grief paralysis.  I stood up, brushed myself off, picked up my silly second son and kept going.

I visited on Valentine's Day this year and decorated with some red silk flowers, hearts, and a small glass rose mounted on a mirror that said "I will love you always."  Eddie would have hated the latter.  He was anything but sentimental.  He wanted to be treated like a little man and did not like Mommy getting all mushy any more than a teenager would have.  Still, it made me feel good to place it next to his name.  I was not surprised to find out from my sister-in-law a few months later that it was broken.  Eddie always seems to get his way, even after death.

So, this time I opted for something simple.  I grabbed a bouquet of bright yellow daisies that he would have liked.  Driving into the cemetery, Baby Boy asked me what we were doing.  I told him we were bringing flowers for Eddie.  Since he knows Eddie is in heaven, this was a little confusing.  So I explained that even though Eddie was in heaven with Jesus, his body was buried here.  His response:  "I bet he's dirty."  Again, I laughed.  We went to the grave, replaced the silk flowers with daisies, and showed the kids their brother's picture.  While Phillip chased the munchkins around and made sure they didn't "borrow" anyone else's flowers, I took a moment to shed a few tears and ache.  Then I pressed a kiss into his headstone, stood up, and moved on.

There are so many things to teach to my children that sometimes I feel overwhelmed.  I'm having to tackle the subject of death earlier than I would have chosen, but that is just the way it is.  I am teaching them about what happens when our bodies stop working.  I tell them that our bodies die, but that our souls, the part of us that is the real us, keeps on going and gets to be in heaven with Jesus.  I teach them that this is a happy day for them, even though it is sad for those of us who are still here on earth and miss those who have gone on to heaven.

Right now their responses to these lessons are mostly a simple "Oh, okay."  It's going to get more complicated, I know.  There are going to be more questions, some of which I won't be able to adequately answer.  I'm dreading those "why" questions more than anything, but I know God will give me the wisdom to answer them as best as I can.  I want them to learn early what I learned only through a long, hard and winding road:  that the point where our human understanding ends is the point where God begins.  If we trust in God, if we really, really trust in Him, then we don't have to know the why.  He is the why and He is enough.  The why keeps us  laying on the grave; He gets us to our feet and keeps us moving on.

And I want to keep on moving.  I want to laugh at the little class clown God gave me to get through the hardest moments.  To enjoy my prissy little princess as she picks up the faded silk flowers from Eddie's Valentine's Day decorations with a breathless "For me?" and uses them to decorate her hair.  Because I think that is the best lesson I can give them, to see their mother's joy even through her tears.  To see my love for their brother, but also my hope in my Savior.  To see me press on, joyfully, toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.