Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks-Giving

I sent a Thanksgiving Day e-mail to a group of friends this morning, but then I thought I would share it with you all:

This year, by God's grace, thanks-giving has been slowly becoming a way of life for me.  I am learning to see the gifts God has given in the every day, in the happy, in the sad.  Oh, it is easy to give thanks when all my children are behaving, when there is money in the bank account, when the van is running well, when the ministry God has given me is full of people, when people are kind and friendly, when I and those I love are healthy.  

However, the Bible says that thanks-giving is a sacrifice.  It is the sacrifice that I am slow to learn.  To give thanks while holding a precious baby girl who never took an earthly breath; to give thanks when friends cry and I have no answers to give; to give thanks when friends reject me; to give thanks in the midst of pain - physical or otherwise.

I could tell myself (and I have), "We've been hit with this sickness, but it could be much worse" or "While these one or two friends have walked away, look at the many who still love me," etc. - in essence, "focus on the positive rather than the negative."

While there is much truth to that, the giving of thanks in the hard times - for the hard times - is a sacrifice of particular sweetness.  Thanking Him for the grace we experience in loss, for the comfort only He can give in our hurt, for the realization of how truly precious the promise He makes that He will never leave or forsake me.  

At the same time, it is when I give thanks in the hard things - for the hard things - that my gaze comes around to the many, many truly lovely things He has placed in my life.  The health, the love, the provisions, the beauty, the grace, the forgiveness, the promises given and kept….OH! There's so 
much of the lovely!!!!!  It is in the sacrifice of praise that my mourning - whatever it may be - is 
turned into dancing. 

There is joy in thanks-giving.  May you all have a joyous Thanksgiving Day!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Growing Pains



Growing pains.  No matter what the growth, it often hurts.  But, growth proves life.

Physical growth - oh! how I remember a couple of my children actually crying as they told me their legs hurt…only to measure a couple of inches taller at their next doctor's appointment.  I remember knowing exactly when Michael was growing - except he grew crooked - as that is when his back pain would be at its worse.

Spiritual and emotional growth has its own pains, as well.  The pain is most often in the heart.  People hurt us, so we may grow in forgiveness.  Friends abandon us, so we may grow in dependence on God. Others fail us, so we may grow in thankfulness for God's faithfulness.

Growth comes in spurts.  The more growth done at one time, the more it hurts.  But, then we have a rest…before we start growing again.  The last two years for me has been a series of growth spurts…some much larger than others.  But, there have been times of rest in between.  Times when God allowed me to just enjoy Him and life and the growth that just occurred….while He prepared me for the next growth spurt just around the bend.

How much I feel I have grown this year.  I know because I have felt the pain.  I have yelled through it, cried through it, clamped my mouth tight through it.  I have sought to escape it in crowds and in solitude.  Yet, while I feel I have so much more growing to do (Lord, help me through the pain), I know I have grown.  My yelling has quieted.  I have accepted more, though, admittedly, not all.  I am slow to emerge back into the public, as that is where I am most vulnerable…but I am willing to do so holding on to the hand of my God.

I have learned that I need to follow what God wants me to do even if others don't understand and disagree.  I stay within the bounds of my husband and my God.  I have learned to not act without thinking, but to act with prayer and with the boldness God gives when He would have me act.  I am learning to deal with the repercussions with the grace only He can give.

I have lost a couple of friends this year. I am learning to let them go.  I am learning that, in truth, my life is more peaceful without them.  I hesitate to say it as it sounds so….spiteful; but, I have come to the place where I am content to move on without them. My life is peaceful without the tension, without the constant wondering if I did something to offend…again.  I know I have done what I could.  I have done all God has wanted me to do to restore - between them and me and between He and I.  I am at peace with that.  If there ever comes a time when they want my friendship again, I will freely give it, because I am learning to "forgive" (if they, indeed, need forgiveness) and I am very slowly learning to lay down my pride.

I continue to grow.  I continue to feel the pain, but the pain is subsiding. The benefits seem to be making themselves known.  I am more aware of God's goodness and grace than I ever have been.  I am more content being with my family and in my home.  I am more dependent on God than on people.  I am becoming more patient as I am not as quick to react.  I am learning to let go.

I am learning that growth is life….and I am so very grateful for the life I have.


Friday, August 15, 2014

My Mourning Turns to Dancing

Wretched.  That is what I am.  It took years for me to know the depth of my wretchedness.  But, it's what I am.

Truthfully, the entire human race is made up of wretches.  So, I ought not be shocked.  But, some days, I still am.  Shocked by the depth of my sinfulness.

In turn, I am amazed by God's grace.  By the grace of loved ones in my life as they follow God's example.  It is incomprehensible and it leaves me feeling humbled.

Humbled and, oft times, weighed down with grief.  Grief that I would stoop to Satan rather than reach higher ground.  Grief that I would hurt rather than edify.  Grief that I would be so selfish.  Memories often cause grief and grief is a burden I often bear.  I think we all do.

But, I must consciously remember to focus on the grace…not on what I did to cause the grace.  Only God can take my sin, forgive me, and turn it all into a priceless gift called grace.  Only He can use something to make me realize what I've always known superficially - I needed a Saviour.

Oh, I accepted Christ as my Saviour long ago.  But, it took years for me to see my absolute need for Him.  Like the one who falls overboard, reaches for the life preserver, gets safely back on board, then turns to see the Great White Shark that had been lurking nearby.

I  will be honest.  I wish my grief would go away.  I wish days like today, where the heart is so heavy my shoulders slump, would pass quickly never to return.  But, if the memories of my wickedness went away, so would the memories of His grace, His mercy, His love.  My praise would quiet.  My desire to serve Him would be quenched.  My pace in this Christian race would slow and my Bible would sit unopened for days.

I mourn because of my wretchedness.  I dance because of His grace.  Some days I only mourn.  Some days I only dance.  Often, I do both.  I dance through my tears.  Tears of sorrow, but tears of joy because He loves me in spite of my sin.

God loves this wretch and I am full of thanks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Daniel Richard & Lillian Judith Joy

Note: I have hesitated writing this story as I never will be able to accurately describe what I saw and experienced on June 10 - profound sorrow and profound grace.  Please excuse my pitiful attempt.  Just know I write this in honor of Bill and Tina.

This past Saturday, I looked through glass into an operating room and saw a newborn baby boy being cleaned up after a c-section with his proud daddy standing nearby.  I had been with his mom and dad for hours trying to bring him into this world.  C-section was the final outcome.  No…a healthy baby boy was the final outcome.  As he cried and as I watched his hands and feet fly through the air, the tears streamed uncontrollably down my face.  Tears of joy.  Tears of remembrance.

Thirty-nine days earlier, I entered another hospital room where a newborn baby girl had just been wrapped in a blanket and handed to her daddy.  Only, there were no baby cries.  When I unwrapped this precious baby hours later to take photographs of her feet and hands, she was still.  Lillian Judith Joy's soul was in heaven.

Tuesday, June 10 - 6:51 a.m.
I received a text from a friend who had been staying at Tina's house: "Mrs. R-- wanted me to let you know she's going in.  Baby's not moving.  She's crying and scared."

Tina was due the day before and I had spoken to her that Monday afternoon.  She said had not felt well during the weekend, but was feeling better.  She never mentioned she wasn't feeling the baby move.

I immediately called the house to see if that meant she was in labor.  Their 15-year old son answered the phone and he asked me where his mom had gone.  "Is she in labor?" he asked me.  I told him that's what I was trying to figure out.  I did not mention the fact the baby wasn't moving.  No need to worry him.

7:10 a.m.
Tina called me before she went up to triage to tell me she hadn't felt strong movement for a few days.  She had felt tightenings, but knew that at the end of pregnancy baby moves get slower and more squirmy as they run out of room.  But, she wasn't feeling the baby move at all.  Her husband was going to meet her at the hospital as he had already left for work.

During the next hour I prayed and texted back and forth with another friend.    Non-stress tests, ultrasounds…all of that takes time, so while we were concerned we were pretty confident all would be well.

8:10 a.m.
"Vicki, my baby's gone.  My baby's in heaven."  Tina began to cry.  I had no idea what to say and just cried.  She told me there was no heartbeat, that they would induce her so she could deliver.  Her husband wanted her to have a c-section so she wouldn't have to go through the agony of delivery, but the midwife knew that the recovery would be easier.  Decisions had to be made.  She asked if I would go to the house to be with the children as our friend needed to get to classes at the local college.  Of course, I would.  "Who should tell the children?" Tina asked.  She knew it should be their dad…in times of shock, things aren't always immediately apparent.  I prayed with my dear friend and I hear myself say in the course of that prayer, "God, this baby was created for You…"

Just imagine how many babies are created solely for God Himself.

Around 9:15 I got to the house.  The kids were smiling and happy.  We sat down and played a few games.  Every once in a while, they would mention the baby and "why don't they call?"  They were just waiting for that phone to ring so they could hear the good news of a new baby brother or sister.  I wondered when their dad would arrive to tell them.

10:30 a.m.
I was outside with the children.  I had made a couple of phone calls and was now conducting a race between the two older brothers when Bill walked out onto the back porch.  The kids were excited to see him.  "Come in…." His voice cracked.  The children followed their dad to the living room as they asked, "Did mom have the baby?!"  I stood in the hallway next to their oldest son, Josh, as a grieving father wept as he told his children that their baby was in heaven.  I watched Josh, a student of mine this past year, as his face turned very sober.  He looked at me and said, "I knew something had happened.  I just knew."  The oldest daughter, Autumn, the one who seemed to look forward to that phone call the most, left the house to find her best friend next door.  Josh soon followed.  Bill held their other daughter, Hannah, on his lap and told her, "I wanted a little girl so you could have a little sister."  He sobbed.  I hugged little ones.

A little later, Autumn came back with her friend.  They had made a card for Tina.  Two peonies had been picked…one for Tina and one for the baby.  Those would go back with Bill to the hospital.


My job was to get Tina's things together - the bag, the nightgowns, the chargers for the electronics, her brush….I wasn't going to need to send the carseat.  I enlisted the help of the girls for it seemed to help them to have something to do.

Josh just couldn't talk to anyone for a while.  Even when our beloved pastor came, he stayed in the neighbor's yard and played with their dog.  A while later, our pastor went to him and they talked. It helped.

After Bill and Pastor left to tell Tina's parents and to head back to the hospital where Tina was laboring, the children played games with their neighbors.  Josh helped get lunch together.  The girls made brownies.  I could see the evidence of the prayers of many in the smiles of the children.

2:50 p.m.
I got a call from one of my friends who was in the delivery room with Tina.  The baby would be coming soon.  The plan was for me to get up to the hospital as soon as possible after the baby was born to take photos so that the family would always have a keepsake of their precious little one.

3:10 p.m.
My friend who had left earlier for college classes returned to take care of the children.  I was filling her in on all of the happenings of the day and how the children were doing when my phone rang.  "It's a girl," said the voice on the other end.

A girl.  Just what Bill wanted.

I soon left the house and was on my way to the hospital.

I arrived at the hospital around 3:45.  The nurse had just handed Lillian Judith Joy to Bill…the father who wasn't sure he ever wanted to hold his baby knowing he would just have to give her up.  But, he held her.  He looked at her.  He loved her.  A few minutes later, Tina was holding her in her arms and she cried. She wailed.

Oh!  That wail!  It haunts me to this day.  The grief that tore through to my soul.  I turned and saw another sweet friend of mine sitting at the end of the room and quietly sobbing.  The tears streamed down her cheeks and her shoulder shook.  But the only noise was the wailing of a mother experiencing the deepest of grief.


Yet, at the same time, the grace and peace of God was in that room.  While Bill and Tina so wanted their baby with them, alive, they knew God loved them still.  They knew He was in control.  They rested in Him.  I don't know if I ever saw God so clearly as I did that day in that room.  I saw God as Tina wailed.  I saw God as Tina and Bill smiled and laughed at different times.  I saw God as friends and family poured into the room.  I saw God as I looked into the perfect and peaceful face of sweet Lillian.   Most of all, I saw God as I watched Josh go from not wanting to enter the room to standing at the end of his mother's bed, then stand next to her and reach over and touch his sister's forehead.  Then I saw God as I saw him hold his precious baby sister in his arms.


God is present in the hurt. 



Later that night, we unwrapped precious Lillian one more time so that I could take pictures of her little feet and hands.  Then, she needed to be swaddled again.  I took her from her mother's arms and laid her on the blankets on the hospital bed.  I had cried little that day and still would not cry much until the following days.  It was the memory of this moment that would break me later.  I knew even then it was God's grace that allowed me to gently wrap that baby girl as I had wrapped my babies so many times.  As I wrapped her, I talked to her.  She was precious.  I just held her after I had her swaddled.  I knew then, that I would never again be the same.  She changed my life.


This past Saturday night, I took a baby boy from his mother's arms, laid him on the blankets on a hospital bed.  I talked to him as I swaddled him.  He looked around with bright eyes.  I held him and he looked at me.  He was alert.  He was alive.  I rejoiced and I remembered.  In the birth of sweet Daniel Richard, I remembered my time with precious Lillian Judith Joy.

To view the slideshow shown at Lilly's memorial service, please click on the following link:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7XN2CJwoHL0WWphUWgwTlNlclE/edit?usp=sharing




Thursday, July 10, 2014

Before it Disappears

Watching little ones blow and chase bubbles on a sunny, summer day.  It has to be one of the Top 10 Most Precious Sights in the World.







We all say it because, deep down, we believe it.  But, sometimes something happens that makes us remember the truth:

Life goes by so very quickly.

In the last month, I have been face-to-face with that truth.  Today, it snuck up on me as I looked out the window and saw the bubbles and my youngest chasing the floating globes.  My youngest who just turned 7 one week ago.  By the time my oldest was seven, I was chasing 5 little ones.  But, those years came and went just as quickly as those bubbles my son was chasing.  

To look at my children play is like holding still the hands of time.  My kids play like their grandparents did in the 1950s…they ride bikes, catch frogs, swing on the swing set, and, they blow bubbles.  


(Ok, so I don't know if they actually blew bubbles in the '50s…)  

But, to stop and watch them, truly watch them, is also like holding those busy hands of Father Time.  Maybe not stopping them, but slowing them down, just a tad.  I don't do it often enough, but when I choose to leave the dinner half-made and walk out the door to watch my children play, I embed those images in my mind.    I remember when my 16, 15, 13 and 12 year old children blew and chased bubbles.  They don't now.  Soon, my youngest 3 will no longer find such joy in it.  I had to enjoy this moment…THIS moment…not knowing if there will be another like it.



At 7 years old, my son's biggest curiosity is trying to find the squirrel the dog chased up the tree.  He grabs a pair of binoculars and searches, points, and talks to his four-legged friend while I grab a camera to capture the moment so it is not forever lost, like the pesky squirrel.  

At 16, my son is trying desperately to hold on to the fun aspect of childhood while taking on the responsibility of a job and trying to catch a glimpse of what his future holds.  He's trying to make a plan, but the focus changes weekly.  I still want to direct, lead, keep him from falling and being hurt…but maybe it's time to let him fall, if need be.  It is I who am afraid of the fall for it is I who fears the hurt.  He has no fear.  Maybe that's how God meant it for a young man.  Maybe that's why He didn't create binoculars with which to see our future.



Precious lives are being brought into this world all around me.  Most of these tiny lives thrive, while one does not.  But, that's a story for another day.  The ones that do survive, do their mothers know how precious and fleeting the time is?  I knew the principle of that truth several years ago.  Today, I know the reality of it.


Today, I really look at each note, each flower, each bubble.  I try to savor each smile, each kiss, each hug, each "thank you," each misspelled word from my young ones.


Will I feel the same when my younger children are in their teen years?  When they are trying to fit in, testing their wings of independence, trying to spy-out their future?  Will I savor those moments?

Because, you know, I am not savoring them as my first teens are experiencing these moments.

THIS is the lesson I must learn NOW.  To savor these times with my oldest child before I try to hold on to them in my youngest.  The years are just as fleeting.  It's how I savor them that will make the moments sweeter and the regrets fewer.  I have rushed him through his life.  His years have floated away so very quickly.  Just as it is inevitable for that bubble to pop, his years with me will be gone and he will move on.

But sometimes, a bubble lasts longer than the rest.  We could just walk by it, be little interested, or  destroy it with one careless mis-step.   Or we can study it, be amazed by it's intricacies, and be grateful for each extra second we have to behold it.

Maybe, just maybe, I can gently capture these last months or years with my older ones and just cup them in my hands rather than allowing them to float by and disappear.  

Oh, they will surely disappear…but I must study, be amazed and be grateful in the moments before.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Glimmers of Light

All parents wonder, at times, if their children really GET it.  We teach our children things through our words and actions, we put standards and rules into place, but do they understand why?  Do they learn what we are trying to teach?

We were kids once.  We learned most of what our parents were trying to teach us.  We came to understand many of the rules they had for us.  Sure, some remain a mystery; such as, why MUST I eat my spinach????  But, for the most part, we ended up understanding.  In fact, much of what we teach our children and many of our rules for them are the same our parents had for us.  We pass them down because we have come to understand their importance.  Yet, our parents also wondered if we would ever GET it.

Recently, I have had glimpses of light that my children are getting it.  Things have been connecting with some of my children and it has renewed hope and given me joy.

Just a sliver of light:
I have recently begun discipleship lessons in the mornings with my children in order to help them to become stronger in what they believe and to teach them how to teach others the Bible.  My younger two children do a different set of lessons than my older five and a few weeks ago, we learned about obedience.  The lesson talked about the 10 commandments, one of which is honor thy father and thy mother.  We discussed the difference between obedience and honor.  This really was nothing new to them, but it was a good review of why it's important to obey and honor their parents.  About a week later, someone was preaching in church and we came across the passage in Matthew that quotes the fifth commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother."  The preacher read it and continued reading the next verse.  But, just as it was read, Zane looked up from his Bible at me with his big eyes and smile in recognition.  He remembered the verse and what we had talked about.  It stuck.  He GOT it.

A stream of light:
Recently, I had been talking with Gloria about how Satan attacks.  I told her that it's not always with the "big" things like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or stealing.  I said that he knows she realizes all of those things are wrong so he may try to attack her in a more subtle way.  I gave her the example of someone getting upset with me for something I did not do.  I could get bitter over the fact that I was unjustly accused of something or I could apologize for unintentionally hurting that person and forgive them for their accusations.  They, in turn, could forgive me or become bitter.  I told Gloria that bitterness and anger is one of Satan's subtle attacks and it destroys people and churches.  Sure enough, a few days later, our preacher was preaching about discouragement and how it is one of Satan's back-door ways of attacking people.  He mentioned how we Christians have strong walls built agains the "big" sins, but Satan will come in the back way that's unprotected and get us with discouragement.  Later, when Gloria was telling her dad about the message (he missed due to late-night farming), she mentioned how Satan will often attack us in a "sudden" way (that was her way of saying "subtle") rather than with something big.  She had remembered our conversation and it was reinforced by the preacher.  She GOT it.

Light at the end of the tunnel:
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were having a conversation with our 14 year old.  We were talking about the importance of schedules, bedtimes, not partying late (yes, Christians party…we call it "fellowshipping"), etc.  She said that sometimes she feels bad that she has to be the one who goes home early or can't attend an event at all, but she was grateful that she has parents who love and care for her enough to set rules.  She knows we are doing what is best.  She GETS it!!!!!!!

Each of these instances where I realized my children are getting it gave me such joy.  It's not going in one ear and out the other.  They don't look at my husband and I as mean ogres.  They are allowing the seeds of truth and godliness take root and it's growing.  The young ones are hiding the truths in their heart.  The teenagers are applying the truths…realizing why we do what we do.

I am thanking God for these glimmers of light and hope in the midst of our child raising years.  We have so many more to go, but He is good to give us little encouragements along the way.

And, you know what?  I just have to say, He has given us some great kids.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Still Strong in My Eyes

This past Friday evening, our church's youngest choir went to sing at a local Veteran's Home.  The choir is appropriately named "Churchbringers" as they, indeed, take church to those who may find it difficult to attend church outside their residence.

One of our pastors is currently the leader of this choir and the children love him.  He adores the children and is a people-person through and through.    He has a son in the military and so was more than willing to sit and listen to the various stories of some of our nations greatest heroes.  

For about 45 minutes, the children sang hymns, spiritual and patriotic songs.  Between songs, Pastor quoted various generals, presidents, and famous patriots in their defense of the Bible and God in our government.  It truly was powerful.  With every general and patriot's name, he had the undivided attention of the audience.  An audience consisting of men and women who served, in one way or another, under names such as MacArthur, Patton, Eisenhower, Kennedy, etc.

As the children sang "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies" and The National Anthem, I looked around the room.  Tears came to my eyes as these once strong men and women who gave so very much for us sang with all of their hearts.  I pictured these men and women as they must have been in their late teens and early twenties & thirties.  How good looking.  How confident.  Their entire lives before them.  Oh, they must have trembled with fear on the fighting lines, but they were brave.  How many friends and comrades did they see wounded?  How many tears did they shed for the ones who gave their very lives?  

Now…now they sit in wheelchairs. Their bodies are frail.  One woman is blind.  Some of their minds are more absent than present.  Most cannot sit or stand straight as they once did when they proudly wore the uniform of the country they boldly defended. They are told when to get up, when to go to bed, given food they may or may not like - much like the military, but treated more like children than brave soldiers.  Some are forgotten by their families;  most forgotten by their country.  

But they.  They haven't forgotten.  Even the ones who seem to have vacant minds.  They remember years gone by when they stood proud for their flag.  They remembered their childhoods as they each sang "Jesus Loves Me" along with the little ones…the little ones who made them smile and brought a light to their eyes.  Did they remember their own now-grown children when they were that small?  Did they have an ache to go back….back when they had purpose?  Back when their children and others thought they were the greatest, the smartest, the strongest?

A group of feeble, wrinkled bodies.  They don't look like much.  They no longer are able to do much. 

But they are truly the Greatest Generation
I am grateful to them.
They are still strong and good looking in my eyes.


Pastor listens to the stories of heroes

The greatest generation

LIves just beginning

Introductions

This man saluted our children as they sang patriotic songs

This couple has sons currently serving our country

Meeting a real-life hero



Who's having the most fun?

Ice cream sandwiches afterwards!

The big kid :)