Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dreaded Days, Dreaded Chores, Dreaded Appointments!!!

Oh Lord, thank you so much for pouring down your blessings on me.

This has been one crazy exhausting week - to say the least, the VERY least (and it's only Wednesday) but tonight as I started to post a simple status update on Facebook I thought - I really need to blog about that.  The thought just kept growing and there would be no way to explain it and share it in a status update - not one that would do it justice anyways.

So I've learned (sometime in my 31 years) that sometimes the things we dread the most can turn into the most incredible moments.  I've had some of those times over the past few weeks.  A couple of weeks, for example, I had an appointment.  It was about an hour drive away and I really went into it thinking it was kind of pointless.  I dreaded it.  I wasn't looking forward to it at all.  But when it was all over with I couldn't stop smiling.  I ENJOYED it, thoroughly.  I literally laughed the whole way home thinking about it.  My entire opinion of the situation has changed now and I'm actually excited about the experience.

I know that we choose our attitudes and I think for the most part I generally have a great attitude, but sometimes I pout and groan about HAVING to do certain things that I dread doing and in the end I realize that if I had spent half the energy I spent pouting and moping I would have finished the task earlier and saved myself some grief.  I know that I'm not alone in this right?

Wait, I got ahead of myself - do you ever feel like your brain is a pinball machine?  I mean first I think one thought then like a ball on the paddleboards the thought takes off in a different direction, gains momentum and then in a flash I'm thinking something else totally.  That's what happened tonight.

I was going to post a simple thought I had.  "If you ever want to feel God's love for you spend some quality time with a child." But then I though I had to clarify or quantify the statement.  First kids are honest and they're thought process is like that pinball game - ON CRACK.  Just the other day I was talking with a little girl looking for some sidewalk chalk and out of nowhere she says to me, "Do you think Owen's being good up in heaven?"  Her comment surprised me and blessed me all at once.  I know that this child LOVED Owen and her parents talked to her and her brother a lot about Owen.  They prayed for him all of the time.  And it blessed me to know that there are some children who will never forget him and will think of him out of the blue and remember they love him.  I wasn't planning on her asking me that question so I did what most adults do when they don't have an immediate answer - I answered her with a question.  I mean I've honestly never wondered if he was being good - I just think he's happy and safe - and I assume everyone would behave in heaven? So I asked her "What do you think?"  She said, "I think he's being good because he loves you and he wants to be good for you and God."  Wow.  She's four years old and she has the biggest heart.  I'm so thankful that God has called me into the education field.  It's my job to spend quality time with children. I get paid to love them and talk to them and listen to them and teach them.  But I get blessed when I take time to see things from their point of view and allow them to truly teach me.

So, I was thinking about how taking time with children can really bless you and I thought about Blue Springs today.  If you're not from here let me just tell you Blue Springs is burr-cold.  Imagine swimming in a wading pool of ice - well its about 15 degrees colder than that.  Plus, I haven't really pranced around in public in a bathing suit in years (didn't really think about that job requirement when I signed up).  And not to mention it's 800 degrees outside - there's little shade and you basically have no choice but to get into the water.  It's a weird mix of emotions for me - I really looked forward to Blue Springs Days because I knew the kids were going to LOVE it but I was really dreading them for myself.  Turns out Blue Spring Days have been an incredible blessing.

Last week, I found myself surrounded by familiar loving faces of students I've had the privilege of teaching.  Kids are funny (in case you didn't know).  I prefer being neck deep in the freezing water so I don't mind hanging out with them in the water and talking with them.  In fact, I've had several good conversations with kids out there the past few weeks.  But today at Blue Springs there was a child I recognized but didn't know and had never taught before.  I had only seen him from a distance at church and I knew his name but I know he didn't know me.  He had a minor meltdown because he fell off a float and was very upset and I was the closest adult so I helped him.  I was able to calm him down and he went on about playing but a few minutes later he came up to me with a big smile and threw open his arms and said I just want to give you a hug. 

I'm reminded of something a wise woman once told me.  She was sharing an experience she had and she explained to me that sometimes we dread something so much (or maybe even fear something so much) that we allow ourselves to get in God's way.  We let our fear, our doubt, our insecurities, even our own dread, get in the way of God using us to bless someone or maybe even get in the way of God blessing us.

I guess I just think it's funny that the things I've dreaded so much in the past few weeks have ended up bringing me such joy and real blessings.  I keep telling a friend who I think worries too much that worry is interest paid on a debt we may never owe, but I am beginning to think that worry and dread are partners in crime - they both keep us from going into experiences with our best attitudes. 

Part of me thinks maybe I should start dreading everything just so I can really see the good that comes from it but the rational part of me says maybe I should realize that there's no place for dread and worry in my life - God will see me through anything.

If you were able to muddle through this blog then you can probably manage out at Blue Springs.  Sorry it was a bit of a mess but the moral in case you missed it was A) love a child, spend quality time with them and be blessed and B) the dreading part is usually worse than whatever it is you're dreading - so don't waste that energy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Being Uncomfortable

*** I posted the following on June 15th and I didn't share it on  Facebook then because well, I'm not sure why - mostly I suppose because it was so different from what I've written about in the past and it wasn't really what I had intended to write when I sat down.  These words came to me and I couldn't help but feel the entire time that God had someone who he needed to get these words to.  I convinced myself it must be one of my regular followers so I didn't share it or publize it on FB because I knew my followers would get the message that I'd posted something and check it out.  Two days later an old friend from my elementary school years passed away.  She was 31 and perfectly fine as far as I know before the day she passed.  It was a harsh reminder that we never know when our time is coming and something inside of me felt compelled to go back and really share this blog because it's all about witnessing and that's our job as Christians.  What if the person God was so desperately trying to reach was within my grasp and my fears or insecurities kept that person from getting the message that He is a God of Love and Forgiveness and nothing we've done is too bad to keep Him from loving us.  I hope you'll take the time to read this post as maybe you're the one it was meant for.  God bless you all. ***

I've always known about God, but I haven't always KNOWN God like I know him now.  I was thinking just the other day at church how I can remember a time when I would think about whether or not I was going to raise my hands during the praise and worship.  I can remember calculating just the right time - when I wasn't the only one and then pulling my hands down quickly so it wasn't weird that I did that.  I was just telling someone that I used to hate that awkward time during service when the pastor would say step out and greet someone - it made me cringe inside and I have always been an outgoing person but I would want to shrivel up and disappear and I would sit down and hope no one spoke to me.  But that's all different for me now.  I don't think about raising my hands I just do - because I need to and want to not because I think I'm supposed to.  I jump at the chance to step out and welcome people and say hello - I want them to feel welcomed not invisible.  But of all the things that challenged me as a Christian the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was witnessing to others.  It was never something I wanted to do.  I wasn't comfortable with it. I had no interest in it.  I would think who am I to share the word of God with someone else, what do I know.  I didn't know the verses, I'm not real sure who Moses was - I'm pretty sure he was a baby in a basket , and I know he had something to do with the ten commandments and he walked in a desert for 40 years and something about a red sea but I don't know if that's even right.  I went to Sunday School and children's church when I was little, but I don't remember it all.  I memorized bible verses and I understand Christmas and Easter and what it all stands for.  I knew what it meant to be baptized and to be saved I knew sinning was a sin and judging others was wrong but I didn't know how anything that I had to say could impact or change anyone else.  I just didn't feel like I knew enough or was enough to witness to others. 

There were times that I felt God pushing me and saying you need to say something to him or tell her I love her. She needs to know about me but I didn't know what to say or maybe worse I was scared and I would allow my fear to stop someone from hearing what God knew they needed to hear in that moment.  I still don't know a lot about biblical things, I wouldn't dare debate anyone on Christianity or religion, but I do know that God loves us so much that he wants to make us uncomfortable for his sake.  When I chose to be a christian and really really live a christian life I chose a path that's going to make me uncomfortable.  We all know that the right thing is rarely the easy thing to do in life but God's plan for us is so much better than any plan we can have for ourselves.  Just as a mother wants only the best for her child God wants only the best for his - you and me. 

I sat down with the intention to write something so different tonight and instead God has given me these words.  There must be someone who will read them who needs to know that the distance from them to God is never as far as you think it might be.  No matter what you've done in your past God wants to forgive you and pour love on you like only he can.  All you have to do is ask him to forgive your sins and to guide you and protect you.  Talk to God he's listening.

Lately, I've heard so often people say that they've been so inspired by my strength and I can't take any credit for I know that God carries me through these days, he is my strength, let Him inspire you.  He loves us so much!  I've found that when we get uncomfortable for God is when we get the most from God. 

I remember one day, seeing a couple of ladies at Shands sitting across from me in a tiny waiting area outside of the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit).  They were tired and looked as though they had just received grim news - it's a look you learn to know when you spend a lot of time in hospitals.  I felt compelled, God tugging at me to encourage them.  Share my word, talk to them - I think it was God pushing.  I asked their names and found out that one of the ladies was there with her son, he was seventeen, had several medical issues, the latest prognosis wasn't a good one.  I told the ladies I would pray for them and it seemed that was it.  Later that day, the mother of the child approached me again, we talked and while I thought God wanted me to share Him with these people, as I did, it turns out the mother was a minister from Panama City, and she prayed with me that day and many others.  As she was praying for me she spoke a phrase that I've heard many times since but it had never struck me like it did that day - it was a phrase that I would cling to with all my hope and all my faith, a phrase I still pray for even now.  She prayed for me to have "peace that surpasses all understanding."  Pastor Lavon said it just the other day, but never had it struck me like it did that day.  And now everytime someone says what an encouragement or inspiration or what strength I have I remember that "peace that surpasses all understanding."  People say I don't know how you're so strong.  I can't believe your faith, it's inspiring.  That is not me, it is not of this world - that comes from God and God alone.  We are not meant to face any battle alone - God has armed us with his love and protection, with salvation - and with God who can stand against us?  Not the devil, not this world or things of it, not our enemies, and not the Vein of Galen.

People may say, how can you still believe after you lost the battle.  My battle is not over, my son may not have lived but he is healed and his legacy is in my hands.  God answered my prayers and the only way my son could be healed was to be with God. Oh I still believe in a God who can orchestrate miracles and who is the master physician, hear me again - I STILL BELIEVE THAT MY GOD IS A LOVING HEALING ALL-KNOWING GOD and I trust that His will is much more divine than my wants.  I had a choice when Owen died, to love God and live in peace and know I would see him again, or to turn from God and know greater suffering and have no peace.  My son is alive in Christ.  My heart breaks but my heart is at peace.

I will never forget MaKayla Coleman, who lived only 12 days but her life deeply impacted my own.  Her parents and grandparents had seen us in and out of the waiting rooms in the NICU at Shands.  Talking about God openly and praying publicly for Owen had become second nature to us.  Its funny how something that once was so awkward and dare I say perhaps even embarrassing to you can seem so incredibly normal later.

The news was getting more and more grim for MaKayla's family.  I remember walking in one night and hearing they were giving her only hours to live.  Two very profound things happened to me that night.  Number 1 MaKayla's grandmother asked me to witness to Makayla's parents saying to me, "I'm so scared that if MaKayla dies they will both turn against God."  My words still peirce me even now but I said to her, "I know with all my heart that even if my child died I could never turn against God, because God has blessed us every step of the way and he has given us such peace in the midst of all this turmoil."  I knew immediately, in that moment that God would test me and I even cried out right there in front of her, "God please don't test me on that. I know I won't turn against you."

I think about that moment a lot.  I wouldn't change anything about it, except maybe I would have tried harder to witness to Makayla's mom and dad.  They were spending their last moments with their baby though, and I couldn't, I wouldn't intrude on that.  How could anyone hear me when their baby was dying? 

But God was at work that night, in a big way.  I went back in and Ed and I were spending time with Owen.  There was a couple whose baby was right across from Owen who stayed at the Ronald McDonald House with us.  We had come to know them and spent time with them.  They were young and while the mom was very determined it was more than apparant that she had little support.  Her child was a month or so older than Owen and he was facing years, a lifetime maybe of medical treatment.  His mom was a good mom but in getting to know her one thing was very apparant to me - she was lost.  She didn't talk about God or praying as many in that situation do. The doctors were making progress with her son but he would often D-stat or drop his vitals.  In fact, he flatlined regularly, mostly for brief, very brief periods but it happened a lot. She was angry and confused and lost.  She would often complain about the nurses and was generally very frustrated.  She was very negative, so much so that at one point I told Ed I really didn't think I could be around her anymore because of all the negativity energy. Her boyfriend had been there most of the time we were but had just the day or so before decided it was all too much for him, he was back home and already had another girlfriend the mom found out that morning. She was so hurt and so confused and didn't know what to do so sometime during the day she signed a DNR - a do not resusitate order on her baby boy - there was this sense of urgency to get back to her old life as quickly as possible for her ex's sake it seemed.

That night, not long after MaKayla's grandmother asked me to witness to her kid, when Ed and I went back in to tuck Owen in and read him his bedtime story, just before we began to pray with Owen as we did every single night, her baby flatlined again.  Nurses rushed the her out of the NICU, she was so frustrated she just slung her hands in the air and walked away.  I prayed so hard aloud, louder than usual and I begged God to just be in the unit to just be with her baby, to protect him, to heal him, to just be with us in that room.  I prayed that God's presence would fill the room and touch that baby and Makayla and that his peace would surround both families and the beeping stopped and a few nurses stayed and some went away and I saw the screen and a peace filled the room and I finished praying for Owen and we kissed him goodnight and I knew that the person in the world that most needed to be witnessed to was the one in the hallway desperately trying to call her ex-boyfriend.

I knew that she was confused, and scared, she was no longer the confident, determined person I had first pegged her for.  When I first met her she seemed to have it all figured out - she was going to do whatever it took for her son and now in a moment of anger and frustration, while she certainly wasn't thinking clearly, she had signed a life-altering piece of paper.

When I found her she was crying, visibly upset, distraught, but her immediate concern was the fact that her ex wouldn't talk to her about it.  Fortunately, I was able to tell her that her son had come back.  That he was still with us.  I talked to her for a few minutes and for the first time in at least two months I had known her I asked her if I could pray with her.  I flat out told her that if she wasn't comfortable all she had to do was just stand still and let me hold her hand - she didn't have to say a word.  I've never in my life felt so strongly God's urgency for me to witness to someone - just because I knew her didn't make it easy - it was still uncomfortable and I knew it was even more-so for her.  The grandmother I had spoken to before said, "oh we have an evangelist with us do you mind if I get her" and the mom said she didn't care.  God told me that wasn't going to work.  I let the lady pray for my friend, a stranger to her, but someone I knew was so lost she wasn't going to understand a fancy beautifully worded prayer.  I could have walked away knowing that at least I tried but God wouldn't let me.  After the evangelist returned to the waiting room and only she and I remained in the hallway I boldly said to her, "I know that you don't know how to begin to pray.  But all you have to do is believe that there is a God and that he hears you and speak out to him, even if all you can mutter is 'help me' he will hear your cries and he will give you peace and strength to get through this.  He knows all your needs more than even you know them.  He is waiting for you to call out to him."

I went to bed with a very heavy heart that night for her and her son and for Makayla's mom and dad.  I woke up the next morning and ran into MaKayla's dad.  We briefly spoke and I tried to encourage him.  I also mentioned to him that I was so worried about my friend and that I thought her failing relationship was clouding her judgement and it broke my heart that she had signed the DNR under those circumstances - he told me that after we left the hospital the night before, she revoked the DNR - she ripped it up.   I can't begin to tell you how relieved I was to hear that, for her sake as much as for her son's.

Please know that I do not judge her for signing a DNR we signed a DNR in the end and it is a horrible thing to have to do but it can also be a very loving thing to do for your loved one.  I was so upset FOR her, not by her, but for her - only because of the circumstances.  I don't know where she is now and I can't say what ever happened to her son, but I do know that she knows how to pray if she needs to because I allowed God to use me despite how uncomfortable it may have made me.

Tonight I intended to write something so different, to share something else but this is where God led me.  I know this isn't really the typical blog for me and I appreciate you allowing me to share this part of Owen's story too.  Owen not only gave me the strength to witness to people but the ability to witness through his life story.  It all started because someone offered to do a fundraiser for him at Zaxby's.  I'm not the type to openly share medical history or private information about my family.  In fact, I never intended to ever post that there was a problem with Owen.  I can even remember cringing writing up the information for the Zaxby's fundraiser.  I didn't want people to know that there might be something wrong with my baby.  I didn't want to share that part of him with anyone.  I didn't want people to look at him, or maybe I didn't want them to look at me differently.  I remember telling my mom that Ed's work wanted to do a fundraiser to help us pay for the travel back and forth to Pensacola for doctors appointments.  I told her I didn't want to let them do it.  Praise God I did. 

I go back to that day, that first fundraiser, the unbelievable turnout, the amazing support, the smiling faces that said, "it's going to be okay, and if it's not we're here for you."  I even remember the first post on FB about him - even before the fundraiser.  Someone who knew me well heard that I was having to go to Pensacola just because there might be an issue - and she posted something like - are ya'll going to Sacred Heart and I remember thinking I didn't want anyone to know.  Isn't it amazing how God works.  When I told my mom I didn't want them to do the fundraiser and she said if they wanted to help I should let them.  Weeks later, after all the support, I told mom that I felt obligated to share him with everyone who wanted to know him because even before he was born they loved him so much, people really cared about him.  And that's how Owen's story began for most people, a fundraiser at Zaxby's. 

I could have never imagined what would follow.  Who knew that by posting Owen's life in daily Facebook statuses that I would witness to people all around the world.  I don't know why things happen the way they do.  I can't say why some live and others die, but I do know that it's all part of God's plan for us and who am I to ask why?  While I may not be able to hold him in my arms at night I know he's safe and I know he is okay and I know we will be okay too.  That is the power of the peace of God.  Tonight I pray that whoever this message is for that they hear it and know what He is calling you to do.  Jesus died on a cross naked wearing a crown of thorns with nails driven through his body - I can't imagine many things more uncomfortable than that. The next time that I feel God pushing me to do something that makes me uncomfortable I'm going to try to remember that.