Friday, August 31, 2012

Picture pages, picture pages...

It's unreal.  Like a "too-good-to-be-true" kind of unreal.  The way that God meets you in your darkest place...right in the middle of the pit...and draws you to Himself...sometimes in the most tangible and incredible ways.

I mentioned the despair in the waiting...the hopelessness that grips your heart and convinces you that this will never happen.  It stifles your ability to function in the mundane...and creates within your soul a longing for something far beyond your reach. I even told Chris last week that it didn't feel like we were still adopting the kids at all!

I recognize that our hope is in Christ.  I'm well aware that outward circumstances shouldn't destroy our joy.  I've read the verses...memorized them...put them into song...then taught it to others!

But let me tell you...if it doesn't saturate your heart to the point of a total mutiny of sorts, you'll soon find yourself on very shaky ground...in an unfamiliar land...with no weapon to defend yourself against the enemy.

That's the despair I'm putting before you.  Maybe you've never been there...wow...that's awesome.  So blessed to be in those shoes.  But I believe a far greater number among us know exactly the feeling I mean. We don't talk about it in the hallways at church...we rarely want to burden the others at our Bible studies...we even hold back in sharing these secrets with our spouses because that would expose too great a weakness.  So we then find ourselves in that foreign land where everyone speaks Chinese, (seemed like a good example) and we need to find a hospital.

But God.  I love when Scripture uses that phrase...but God.  It paints the gloom and doom picture like I did above, and then says "...but God..." did this or took care of that...in His great mercy.

And that's where I left you hanging a couple days ago.

(I feel as though I should address the hostility put out by some of you regarding the "to be continued" portion of this blog...yikes! Chill pills are available at the desk...take a few...or 20! You're the people that opened up all your presents secretly and rewrapped them before Christmas, aren't you?!  Admit it!! Okay...moving on.)

I received an incredible email from my friend Laura after reading her blog posting about meeting our little ones.  If you missed that the first time, read it here. http://www.alittlebitclosertoday.blogspot.com/

She said her contact at the orphanage had read our blog and, seeing that we had pre-approval for both kids, asked if I might like to have some pictures of the kids over their first couple years...uh...yes please.  Of course, Laura...in all her rule-breaker nature (haha)...said "ABSOLUTELY!"...and then she told me about it!  That's why we're friends.  Rebels with a cause.

You just wouldn't believe the FLOOD of pictures I've received over the past two days...as if you were sitting down with a momma who loves her children and wants to show off all the special moments as they've grown. I have the fun times...the sweet times...the times you want to get a cute picture, and the toddler is NOT HAPPY about sitting there (and those tend to be the pictures we think are so funny years later)...the cuddle times...and my favorites, the birthdays...with cakes and parties (you know how much I love parties)...and even a birthday crown that keeps falling over their eyes! :)

I've received a precious gift. I can't wait to compile these in a scrapbook (as if...haha) to show off our newest children to the world.

This just doesn't happen. Adoptive parents never have such a window into the life and times of their adopted children before they meet them. We have history...such an incredible blessing.

AND THEN...

I seriously thought about making you wait again, but I fear I'd have to get a restraining order on a couple of you...so I'll go ahead and finish.

In the midst of getting all the pictures, I asked a question that's been pressing on my heart for the past month..."Is there any way we could communicate with the kids?"

Our family is over here...eagerly anticipating their arrival...and they don't know us at all! We are so looking forward to making them part of our family forever...and they don't have anything to look forward to!

Drumroll please...while we'll still have to wait to get things lined up, we now have something else to look forward to...and it won't be 6-8 months away.

I'll just leave you with one word...skype.

GOD. IS. GOOD.





Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Adoption: Are we still in this thing?!?

The answer is a resounding yes...finally! You've probably noticed I haven't shared much concerning the adoption recently.  That's because there wasn't anything to share...not that there wasn't anything cool and exciting to share...just...nothing to share.

We had been cruising along and even got our home study done in record time, by the end of July.  It was then so devastating to hear that there had been an oversight, and we'd have to pause while we went back to two different states for background checks on Chris.  It wasn't a huge deal except for the time these checks tend to take, depending on the state.

Let's just say we won't be moving to Virginia any time soon. I bet that's where all Aucilla linebackers go to live. Wait...what...did I just say that out loud? Shame on me. Moving on.

I've heard people that have gone through the adoption process talk about the long delays, but you just don't realize how heartbreaking it truly is...especially when you know how much the children NEED to be placed. It doesn't make sense, and I don't have any profound conclusion that I've come to on this.

It feels like somebody stole your candy...or let the air out of your tires...or popped your balloon.  That might be the best analogy...the balloon.  Because you feel like you're climbing little by little...getting to the point where you begin to see a bigger picture...you can breathe fresher air...when all of a sudden somebody throws a dart at your smoking' awesome balloon, and it quickly begins to deflate.  It makes odd, sometimes terrible, sounds. It seems to be being carried from one random spot to another as it descends. And no matter how hard you pray...no matter how hard you will it to rise again...there's just no possibility it will do so without a massive patch job...if at all.

We've prayed every day for a month that God would continue to keep "C" and "J" safe and healthy until we can bring them home.  This wasn't a new prayer...just a more fervently offered one during a frustrating stalemate.

I'm again reminded of pride's ugly cousin, Self-Suffiency. I think on some level...though I'd never admit it or even truly believe this about my own heart...as long as there are tasks to be done, lists to check off, checks to be written, and hoops to jump through...there's a feeling of, "I got this."  When in reality, we've never "got this." God's got this. Always has. Always will.

Here's the gut check:  if I truly believed all along that God's got this...why the desperation when we could do nothing?

Sadly, I know full well why.  Once again, there I was trying to use the very limited knowledge, wisdom, and strength of Eva to get the job done...when the Sovereign One has unlimited knowledge, unfathomable wisdom, and unbeatable strength to accomplish this thing He started in the first place. Grateful beyond words for that truth.

And again, in spite of my shaky ground, God shows Himself faithful.

We received word Monday that the home study was finally completed and was ready to be sent on to the next step. So after checking to make sure all the i's were dotted/t's were crossed, we sent the whole package off to the Feds! (Sorry...was that disrespectful? Was just trying to be cool and clever...which I certainly now am not by having to explain my cleverness...and by using the word "certainly"...but again, moving on...)

We've been told to expect 6-8 months from this point.  I sure hope not.  I really expected the Lord to bring them home by Christmas...because that would make a wonderful present, I guess....I don't know! And He still could do that...if He chose to!  But He also may inject some more of this waiting game to thoroughly get my attention.  Whatever...and whenever...that happens, we will be thrilled.  10 years from now, 6 months won't seem like any big deal.

SO...even without a working balloon, I'm looking up...trusting that the Pilot is going to bring us along for the ride...at just the right time.

Just you wait and see what He did today...

Yea...just left you hanging again...


Monday, August 27, 2012

Injury Fallout...Part 3

I missed only 1 day of school after the collision...the following Monday.  Yes, I'd just left the hospital Saturday night.  Yes, I was on massive pain meds and was sporting sweet neck and rib braces.  But I had play tryouts to do!!!  And you'd better believe I did them...braces and all...spinning all over the place in my wheelie chair!  Mostly I tried to forget it happened at all. I didn't really know very many people yet to whom I'd tell my struggles, (I'd only been living in FL roughly 2 months and had only been in school for 2 weeks at that point) so I just went about my very busy schedule!

With the exception of frequent migraines, I soon got back to my old craziness of teaching, coaching, directing, singing, etc....oh and dating...since Chris seemed bent on "taking care of me", despite my insistence that I was fine. His favorite line to tell people is, "Our relationship started in the hospital, and it's remained there ever since." Hilarious.

People from Indiana may not have even realized the migraines had a starting point...and the Iowans didn't even know about them at all for the most part...so there's definitely a good conclusion to this story!  At no time, however, did any doctor connect the medical dots until all roads met one November morning in 2009.

I woke up with a terrible pain in my left shoulder blade...so intense that I knew I had to get to a doctor immediately.  After dropping the kids off at school, I drove straight to a chiropractor in the area who attended our church hoping to get immediate relief.  I never expected to endure such a long process of trial and error.

I went to the chiro office 3x/wk for 2 months...and tried every form of therapy there...electrical stem, PT, adjustment, and massage. I would feel brief moments of relief that unfortunately would fade as quickly as they came. In January of 2010, the intense pain found its way to my left arm, just past the elbow. The doctor determined we were definitely dealing with a nerve issue and ordered a MRI and a neuro consult.

This is where the fun began. The MRI revealed a herniated disk and bone spur located @ C5-C6 which were completely covering the nerve "hole." It was actually comical sitting with the surgeon as he described the problem, and then went on to say, "I have no idea what caused such trauma on your neck!" Chris leaned forward and replied, "Well I can tell you exactly what caused it!" While it seemed so unlikely to me that an accident 15 years prior would be the cause, the neuro doc said that's exactly what happened as it would take about that long for an injury of this magnitude to develop.

Stinkin Aucilla lineman.

I'll summarize to save the monotony of every detailed failure to deal with the issue. I had every injection known to man...every pain med that could be prescribed...PT of every kind, including the torturous traction where they literally attempted to pull my neck away from my shoulders, hoping to take the pressure off the nerves...even had outpatient surgical procedures to deaden the nerves themselves...anything the doctors could try to avoid full-blown surgery. 9 months...innumerable doctors, specialists, and surgeons.

Nothing worked.  Bummer.

SO...in September 2010, I had a cervical fusion. Incidently, I almost cancelled the surgery due to some browsing on the internet about this exact surgery where I learned about singers who'd lost their ability to sing a note after having my surgery. I really only went that morning to get injected with massive pain meds for the awful migraine I'd had for 2 days. (I was heavily dependent on Ibuprofen to deal with the nerve pain, but I'd had to stop, obviously, the preceding Thursday due to the surgery...without that medicine, the migraine was out of control.) I hadn't slept the night before at all and was desperately nauseous as well as in severe pain. After giving me loads of meds and letting me talk to the surgeon first, I headed into surgery. I truly don't remember even getting out of the pre-op room...I was out immediately.  The surgeon later told Chris it was much worse than he thought, and he had to spend a good deal of time trying to compensate. He removed the disk, replaced it with cadaver bone, and drilled down the bone spur.  He also had to insert a metal plate at the 5-6 location because the head was still so unstable.

The surgeon insisted this was "classic nerve damage," and that this surgery would eliminate the arm pain along with the neck and head pain. I had a good month...then it all went downhill quickly.

November 2010.

I could not swallow without much effort. I developed acid reflux from the pain. The migraines were so intense, I could barely hold my head up or see clearly. The arm/elbow pain came back with a vengeance. I was messed up...in a bad way.  We started the testing back up...the injections and procedures...a whole new set of doctors...all new meds and physical therapies.

Against my better judgment, I followed doctor's orders on meds...even verifying that I should be taking all these meds together. I was assured they all functioned independently of each other and were not going to adversely affect me. Three months went by with me basically in a coma state. I developed horrific intestinal issues and was extremely limited in my ability to function on any level.  A lady I barely knew insisted on setting up some meals and cleaning, which I fought for a good while.  After swallowing my pride, I agreed and was blessed beyond words by those that stepped in and took over the cooking and cleaning. I'm still overwhelmed when I think of it all...and that lady I barely knew is now one of my closest friends.

Every time I turned around, another surgeon or specialist would tell me I needed to have another surgery, but no one ever seemed to pinpoint the root of the problem.  I came to the point when I'd had enough. Enough meds...enough procedures...enough guessing.

I directed the final choir song of the season on Mother's Day and stopped taking every med the next day. They weren't working anyway so what was the point? I needed to be able to function...the kids needed their mother...Chris needed his wife.  2 days later, an intense pain developed in my abdomen...and it grew worse daily. I directed the kids' choir that weekend...sitting doubled over in pain in between services. I ended up back in the ER that day where they misdiagnosed me again. After going to a new specialist the following day, I was told that all the pain meds had worked together to cause all my stomach, dizziness, and nauseous issues. Super.

In short, I took myself to Cleveland Clinic soon after.  I just couldn't go to one more doctor visit and be told, "Let's try this..." one more time.  I had a myriad of tests and labs done to get to the bottom of things.  They found some intestinal issues and again attributed it all to the pain meds...I'd never had a stomach issue of any kind before that spring.  They also diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia and said it accounted for some of the pain, but there was more. Every other doctor tried to match every symptom I had to one problem...when, in fact, there were several things together making it that painful.

After being off the meds for several months, most of the symptoms disappeared, and I dealt with the pain, being careful to avoid taking pain meds whenever possible.

The arm pain never went away and caused a great deal of aggravation and discomfort on a daily basis.  Finally, in November 2011, I had 2 additional surgeries to release the nerves in my left forearm.  By this time, Chris was already working full time at Harmony and was commuting back and forth to Iowa on the weekends. Life was extremely stressful with the moving, the kids, and trying to say our goodbyes...and I had surgery...again.

I can happily tell you that, with the exception of a few days here and there, things have never been better!  I took it easy at first and have been on a steady, and mostly pain-free, road to recovery.

And there you have it.  Believe it or not, that was the short version!  I'm so thankful for the wonderful doctors that helped me get to the bottom of the problem...I'm so thankful for incredible friends and family who loved and cared for my family...mostly I'm so thankful for the God who heals. He watches over me.

And now you know why it was no big deal for me when I shredded my ankle in March playing basketball!!!  Compared to the last couple years, it's just not a big deal...and at least I had an awesome memory to go along with the pain this time!







Friday, August 24, 2012

Injury of the Century...Part 2

So early the next morning before I woke up, Tom and Chris headed out to get all my prescriptions and medical gear.  They came back with a rib brace, neck brace, muscle relaxer, and pain reliever. Awesome. Of course, after a painful night's sleep, I was grateful for anything that would provide relief.

First things first...shower.  Remember the night before? Swamp land...sweltering heat...collision...4-5 hours in an ER.  I needed a shower in the worst way...but this presented a whole host of problems with my dangling leg, bowling ball head perched on a paper thin set of tendons, and a cracked rib which made every move difficult.

I dosed up on pain meds to cope with moving around, and Nicolette helped get me set in the bathroom. Again, you have to understand how incredibly private I was at the time to appreciate the gravity of simple statements like that.  I grew up in a pastor's home with 4 older brothers...anything "girl" related never really made it into table talk. All I can say is that if you think I'm easily embarrassed now by words, topics, or situations...you should have seen me then, pre-marriage!

Task completed, I made my way out of the bathroom, took my muscle relaxer, and eased down onto the floor propping myself against the wall so I could start the long process of combing out my wet hair. (1995...my hair was long and big...mid-back...and almost as wide) Chris was sitting on the couch watching ESPN...shocker. Tom and Nicolette were in the kitchen making tacos for lunch. (Gotta set the stage for the next catastrophe!)

I started feeling very odd...like my arms were weighted down with bricks (I assumed this was what the muscle relaxer felt like)...and I started feeling super sick to my stomach. (This is the one and only time I've ever felt sick at the thought of tacos.) It felt like a 100 degrees in the house now, and I realized that I was having a hard time catching a breath (which of course I attributed to the cracked rib). I have a degree in "explain your symptoms away-ness"!

I needed to get to the bathroom before I puked all over their carpet, but when I went to stand up, I realized my legs weren't responding! I tried to call for Chris, but nothing would come out! The Phillips weren't noticing anything as they were busy cooking...and Chris? Did I mention ESPN?!? Weren't you listening?

I realized I was going to have to get myself to the bathroom in any way possible. I had fallen over to my side when trying to get up so I turned onto my stomach and began to do the army crawl to the bathroom. Go ahead. Picture it. Won't hurt my feelings. Live it up.  Read it out loud to your children. Free entertainment.

I barely got to the bathroom before collapsing with a thud...which must've caught Tom's attention because he came running in there screaming "Chris, get in here!" (It bares mentioning that he had to holler for my husband-to-be...just saying...)  Next thing I know, he and Chris are leaning over me...on the floor of the bathroom...freaking out. I feel the liberty to say so because of what happened next! Chris lifted up my arm and said, "Her fingers are turning blue!" (In case you're wondering, I hadn't taken a breath since beginning the now-famous crawl.) Upon which Tom shouts, "She can't breathe...get her some water!!!" Don't make me type it again...just read that back. The next thing I know, Tom is pouring water into my mouth, which I'm unable to swallow...so it's now pouring out of my mouth all over my face. Seriously. More yelling, more panic, more limb-coloring.

Finally the voice of calm and reason says from the kitchen, "I already called 911...they're here." (There had to be a hero...Nicolette.)

So here we go again...only this time in an ambulance...with no future spouse-slapping. You could definitely say the hospital anxiety amped up as I now experienced paramedic care, oxygen, and an explanation of an unknown allergy to muscle relaxers. More time in the same ER followed.

The only odd detail I remember that night was the hilarious question Nicolette asked to make me smile...

"How come none of these doctors look like Dr Green or George Clooney?!?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Aucilla linebacker vs. NFC cheerleading coach...oh yea...I'm going there

I realized this week that before I jump into the past couple years of insane health issues for myself, I should once again go back to the beginning of the story.  

For that, we must go back 17 years...no joke. Believe it or not, the last 2 years' struggles have a direct link to that autumn night at a high school football game in sweltering Florida.

September 15, 1995. 

It's odd how you remember every tiny detail of a traumatic experience...but you do...every one. I shouldn't seem so serious right off the bat because every time I've told this story over the past 12 years (after moving to Indiana), everyone in the room winds up doubled over in laughter...including myself!  It's easy to laugh about it now...so take the intensity of the story with a grain of salt.

Florida high school football.  It's a big deal...like Indiana basketball...huge. So even when you don't have any acreage for a football field, you fudge it anyway...like Aucilla...on swampland.  You need to picture a football field surrounded by 10 feet on the sidelines...a chain link fence then dividing the team from a single section of bleachers placed only a couple feet further...and immediately behind the bleachers, there's your swamp.

Due to the space constraints, the administrator and I decided that my cheerleaders would cheer on the field side of the fence but would stop cheering anytime play came to our side/end of the field for safety reasons. So that's what we did, and it seemed to work just fine. Picture in your mind an entire football team, the crew of coaches, the administrator, my cheerleading squad, myself, my asst. coach, Nicolette and her husband, and...in the sovereignty of God...my future hubby. Pretty full sideline.

I remember Nicolette and I had been teasing the girls about how much they were sweating during the 1st half...Florida, September, swamp...no kidding...it was unbelievably hot, and they were jumping all over the place! (I told you I remembered odd, tiny details.) Truthfully, this goofing around on the sideline is the last thing I remember before the collision. 

The next thing I knew, I found myself smack in the middle of a real-life Moses and the Red Sea. It was a late hit. No one was paying attention any longer. Suddenly the team parted, and there he was. I've not had this thought before, but I'm really glad I didn't see his face because I'm positive it would've haunted my dreams! 

At that moment, I was leaning back against that chain link fence. Considering that there was only 10 ft. from field to fence, a lineman running at top speed covered that ground in a heartbeat...in the blink of an eye...in one breath. And he was running straight at me. There was absolutely zero reaction time...well, almost zero. At the last second, I turned my head to the side...which the doctors said saved my life.

His helmet hit me on the back left of my head, causing all the tendons to "severely sprain." The force of the hit actually threw me on top of the chain link fence, cracking a rib. Unfortunately, though my upper body twisted to the side, my lower body did not. Another unfortunate issue was scar tissue in my right hip from an old cheerleading injury of my own when I cracked my pelvic bone in 8th grade doing the splits. (I know...save it.) So...when he hit me...and my lower half didn't give way, it tore all that scar tissue and tendons in my right hip...all of them.

Due to my fear of all things "hospital," (at that time...now, I just ask for a room!) and the fact that I was in shock, I insisted to everyone around that I was fine, and they finished out the half with a minute to go.  (Just for the record, those concerned did not include the dude from Aucilla. He just ran off like nothing ever happened. Again, no joke.) I remember the band members walking behind me getting set for halftime...as my legs finally gave out, and I realized everything out of my left eye was a blur. At that point, there was no more arguing. I no longer got a vote. It was determined that a cheerleader's parents would drive me to the hospital 45 minutes away...and since my asst. coach had to stay with my girls, "my friend Chris" was elected to ride behind me, smacking my head whenever I seemed to drift out of consciousness. (at least that's what I remember about his role)

What I failed to mention previously was a completely full bladder. Needless to say, my mother will not be happy I'm including this in the story, but it was so horrifying, it bears mentioning.  I'd needed to find a restroom since we first got to the field but was told we had to wait until halfway for someone to open the school. With the accident happening just before halftime, I was out of luck! SO...guess what couldn't wait any longer?!? At some point in our 45 minute trip, we made a pit stop. Of course, by this time, I could no longer hold my head up, my leg was basically dangling, and it hurt to breathe, and I couldn't see out of my left eye.  Chris and Mr. Buerke had to carry me into the gas station bathroom, Mrs. Buerke had to "assist," and the men had to come back in for the return trip to the car. I was bawling...over the humiliation more than the pain. 

My ER visit lasted from 9 pm until about 1 am or so. Awesome. Fear of hospitals...check. Fear of doctors...check. Fear of tiny tube you're inserted into to take X-ray...check and double-check. This also happened to be RUSH night at FSU. I'm not joking you when I tell you there was blood everywhere in the hallway. Some guys got in a fight insulting various frats. One guy got in a car and ran over another guy. Somebody else was shot. Seriously.

I was sent home to stay with Tom and Nicolette, with Chris sleeping on the couch.

...To Be Continued....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Since you asked...

I thought I'd use this lull in adoption process to answer one of the most frequent questions we are asked regarding our adoption..."So when/how did all this start for you?"

If you are one of the few people that know this answer...or maybe the greater number who don't really care...HAHA...wait...you all care, right?!?...you may choose to wait for another post full of quick witted banter and engaging stories.  Hmmm...better just stay put.

As always, I'll attempt to tell the short version...as always, there never is.

It really goes back to the birth of our 4th child, Ty. Post-delivery, our doctor said that due to all the trauma of 4 births in 5 years, multiple car accidents, and, the biggest culprit of all, large amounts of scar tissue from old injuries (specifically that stinkin collision between myself and that football player...if you don't know THAT story, it's definitely a story for another day!!!) it would seem that my body would not be bouncing back next time! She cautioned greatly about having anymore kids...and while we couldn't imagine it at the time (Landry was still 4 when Ty was born!), we definitely threw around adoption as a possibility should we ever feel like our family of 6 should grow.

SO...when Ty was 2, and I would typically have already had another baby, we discussed it. As each day was a true test of survival for this stay-at-home mom, we quickly moved on to the "divide-and-conquer" discussion as it was much more in demand.

When Ty was approximately 4-5, it was brought up again.  I can honestly tell you it was pure selfishness on my part that tabled that discussion.  We were finally out of diaper bags, sippy cups, and all the trappings that follow around parents of toddlers everywhere they go. All of our kids were in school, and I just wasn't ready to trade that in to start over again.

Another year or so went by, and my parents moved in with us.  We bought a new house with them and moved them from their home of 30 years to a different state, church, everything.  We had a whole new kind of chaos! :)

A few months after that, I woke up one morning with a severe pain in my left shoulder blade.  That pain began what I can only describe as the most horrific series of health and pain obstacles I could've imagined (also for another post)...that lasted until the month before moving to Iowa...approximately 2 years.

It seemed, though, that God had been patient enough with us on this issue because around almost every corner was another adoption story brought into our lives. He continued to put it on our doorstep time and time again until He had our attention. We began to talk about it with our kids, pray hard for guidance, and look and listen for opportunities to follow His call. All along, I think we both thought someone might present a need to us...or that we'd find out about a little one that needed a home...and we were ready and willing to provide. We weren't actively pursuing adoption...just waiting to see what God would do.

And there's where we found ourselves in March of this year when we saw that first picture of sweet "C" on Facebook! Actually most people don't realize that we each separately sent messages to the Kolanowski's asking what we could do to help....I sent one to Laura...Chris emailed Kenney...without ever discussing it.  We both just felt so strongly that God dropped that little girl right in our laps...right into our family...and we've been pursuing His calling ever since.

We all feel like both "C" and "J" are already part of our family.  That might sound crazy if you've never experienced the process of adoption, but from the moment we began pursuing them, they became our family members, and we can't wait to tell them what's been going on at home while they've been living abroad these past 2 years! :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

One year ago today...

It's sometimes hard to remember, or even imagine, what you were doing a year ago today.

Let's be honest...I'm shaky with yesterday's activities...let alone anything that happened last year! That's just crazy. That is...most days except today. I've actually been looking forward to this day for quite some time. I know it may sound a little cheesy, but this day marked such a significant moment in my life...in our family's lives...that I knew even then I'd never forget it.



SO...this is where I found myself one year ago today.  Well, I actually had just LEFT this place of incredible Christ-centered worship in Baltimore...and these wonderful friends with whom I had the profound privilege to serve alongside on our worship team in Indiana...and I walked toward this...

Terrifying? Absolutely. Of course, the most terrifying aspect of getting on this way-too-small aircraft was the unknown awaiting me on the other side. Truthfully, I wasn't all that concerned about the trip that lay before me because I really thought that we'd meet some nice people, share some ministry thoughts, and return home to go about our business as usual!  Wrong.

Most of you have already figured out that this was my first trip to visit what has now become our home...SE Iowa.

 I remember meeting some wonderful people that I now truly call my friends. I remember visiting a church for the first time that I've now had the privilege to serve in these last 7 months. I remember being so amazed that God could have created such parallel ministry-minded leaderships in spite of such great distance.

But the thing I remember the most?  That I immediately felt torn. Torn between two loves...torn between the old and new...torn between the comfortable and the unknown. I loved our church; I loved the opportunity I'd had for so long to direct the choir and lead in the worship ministry; I loved our friends; I loved being so close to our family. But as we sat through the "gestapo" (haha...sorry...couldn't help it) that weekend, I was overwhelmed with a sense of home and belonging.

Looking back now...having the advantage of time and experience...I can see, with eyes wide open, that God placed us here with purpose, with determination, and with loving care.  And I'm so grateful.

This feels like home....and that has to be a God-thing too...for the likes of this pampered city girl, now surrounded by fields of corn.

So as I reflect back to this exact time and day one year ago...as I sat in my hotel room in Burlington, Iowa...crying...because I knew God was going to move us here...yet unsure why it had to be this way...I'm so grateful He didn't leave me in my despair. I'm so grateful that He reached down to me and met me right where I was...heartbroken and needing the very strongest of shoulders to lean on...and He once again showed me that His grace really is enough.

I mentioned the conference above to share with you the closing song that still rings in my heart.  Maybe it wasn't actually the final song...but I truly can't remember any other song except this one...after 3 days at a conference full of worship leaders/songs with the most incredibly rich lyrics, this is the one God wanted me to walk away with...no doubt...as I boarded that prop plane one year ago today. May it bring you great peace and confidence in the Lord as well.


V1
Who has held the oceans in His hands? 
Who has numbered every grain of sand? 
Kings and nations tremble at His voice 
All creation rises to rejoice 
V2
Who has given counsel to the Lord? 
Who can question any of His words? 
Who can teach the One who knows all things? 
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds? 
chorus:
Behold our God seated on His throne 
Come, let us adore Him 
Behold our King—nothing can compare 
Come, let us adore Him 


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Called to be a widow"

Spoiler alert: if you are following this blog solely for adoption updates, go ahead and click away! We'll catch ya next time...it's fine...really. :)

I want to share with whoever cares to listen, something that the Lord plopped right in my lap a couple weeks ago at the Living Proof conference in Moline.  I've started to get bombarded with these "God-plopping moments"...those opportunities that God provides to remind me that He's keeping an eye on yours truly...I'm sure they've always been there, but I'm just now seeming to connect the dots!

I already know some of you "Beth-ites" might claim this as sacrilege, but I'm not referring to something Beth Moore said.

***insert gasp here***

Technically, I didn't initially even attend the conference because of Beth.

***double gasp***

(The following paragraph is what you consider BONUS material. If you could care less about why I went to the conference, proceed to the next paragraph.  Aren't you so touched to see how much I think of your needs?) While it's obvious to some of you, there may be a few who weren't aware that I've directed both school and church choirs for over 10 years, (It was actually quite a sad day this past October when I waved the arms that last time before moving to Iowa) and a good portion, if not all, of the choir music that I directed was either written or arranged by Travis Cottrell. I didn't start out as a groupie...we even TRIED to find some non-Travis material (just for fun :)...but I always came back time and again due to lyrical content and musical style. Well, guess who was leading worship with Ms. Moore?!? You got it.

So...I made my plans, got some wonderful roomies, and set off for Moline expecting good times and great worship. What I did not expect was to be moved so profoundly before the actual conference ever started. Some gals and I decided to attend the pre-conference put on by Lifeway called You Lead. We really felt it was an effective way to equip women to be prepared to lead other women...and so we went.

I won't go into all the thought-process that went into choosing breakout sessions...I realize there's a limit on what anyone can possibility endure...but suffice it to say, I found myself sitting on the front row of session one...alone...in a room full of other women...in an elective called Ministering to Women in Crisis with Karen Alexander Doyel.

"All of us know women who are hurting." That was the tagline for the seminar. It seemed to strike an unusually deep chord with me as my mind was flooded with the faces of sweet friends I've known just a short time...and still others I've known most of my adult life...all of whom were struggling with major trials...and all of whom who needed advice, prayer, encouragement, or simply a shoulder on which to lean.  I could fill up numerous posts with page after page of notes I took during this session on the grief process, providing support, things to do, things not to do, things to say, things not to say.

But what I want to share with you specifically is what was said when I stopped taking notes...when my pen could no longer find paper...when I couldn't fathom the words coming out of her mouth...when I felt like there was a siren going off in my heart that every woman in that room could hear.

To illustrate all of the wonderful points I mentioned above, the speaker used her own life experiences to talk about being in a time or season of crisis. (Please forgive my summary, for sake of time...and forgive my incorrect remembrance of each detail) A pastor's wife and mother of 3 boys, she loved her life and everything that it entailed. Her family was very active and full of life, and all the "boys" would often go on hiking trips and such, to bond and talk of their great Savior. One December, shortly after Christmas, they were gone on one such outing when her phone rang very late one evening. It was her youngest son, who was 17 yrs. old, saying, "MOM! Pray for dad! We think he fell...we aren't sure...I'm going for help!" Karen really wasn't that concerned because this kind of thing was always happening with her husband, but because she promised her son, she sat down to pray. As she began to pray for her husband, she felt an overwhelming urging to pray for her sons. Although she was sure they were just fine, she began to pray for them as well.

You see, as the day was ending, the 4 men were sitting around the fire talking. Their dad scooted back from the fire and walked to the pinnacle of the cliff. He stretched out his arms and said, "Look around boys! How could anyone see all this and not believe there's a God?!?" And with that, his footing gave way, and he fell 200 ft. to his death.  The boys had been staring into the fire and missed the fall but sensed something was wrong when he said nothing else. They jumped up after realizing he was gone and while yelling at the youngest brother to go for help, the older boys basically dove right off the edge after their dad. A tree branch caught the first...the first caught the second...and there they hung on, hovering over their sweet daddy, waiting for rescue...as their mother unknowingly prayed for their safety from her kitchen chair.

Now I know you want more detail...I know you want to hear the entire story...but I need you to hear her point for sharing this so I'll move on for now. Suffice it to say, you could hear a pin drop in that room...every woman dumbfounded by the example of grace and perseverance standing before them. I will tell you that both boys were rescued and and brought back to their mother, and they all...each one of them...continue to speak of God's faithfulness and compassion in the midst of all of life's circumstances.  Karen also spoke of the TWO stage 4 cancers that she is currently living with and receiving treatment for.  Her oldest son was also diagnosed with cancer.  C'mon now...can't a girl catch a break?!? If anyone had a right to say, "That's it! I'm done! Life's not fair! I can't take it anymore...how can I tell this story over and over...it's too painful", it would've been her. Instead she used these experiences to teach us how to minister to others in crisis.

Even as I type these words, I feel a vice grip on my heart because I remember what she said next.

"I was CALLED to be a widow...because without me losing my wonderful husband, I would never have known my loving God the way I know Him now.  I was CALLED to cancer...I didn't GET cancer...because without it, I wouldn't know my wonderful Jesus as intimately as I do now...and so I'm grateful...Knowing that, I wouldn't ask for my husband back even one day. It just isn't worth giving that up..."

Swallow. Breathe. Don't run out.  These were the things I had to tell myself in that moment to keep it together. Even as I told my own wonderful husband a few days later, convicting tears poured down my face. "I just don't think I could ever get to that point", I told Chris.  Truthfully, even as I've typed these words to share with you, I've had to stop multiple times to wipe the tears so I could see the keyboard.

To love Christ so deeply that I would ever stop begging Him to give me back my husband? I can't imagine...oh my faith is so weak, my loyalty so fleeting, my endurance so frail. And yet, this is the kind of passion that Christ desires in us...in me. To love Him...to desire Him...above all else.

In Phillippians 3, the apostle Paul wrote, "...I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection..." I think this is what Karen must have meant...it must be what she has grounded her life upon...that knowing Christ surpassed every other earthly pleasure we could imagine.

I want to know Christ. He said himself we were all "called to suffer" for His Name. I want to suffer well. "I believe. Lord help my unbelief!"

And her answer to how to minister to women in crisis?

"As you know God as you've never known Him before, you'll be able to minister to women in crisis like you've never done before." And she did.



Saturday, August 4, 2012

"If you thought that was cool, watch this!" -God

Beating a dead horse...preaching to the choir...however you describe it...that's what I've been doing. Rehashing the same, obvious issue over and over again.

This may shock you...you'd best be sitting down...but I tend toward stubbornness. I know...I know...shock and awe...but try to focus...because maybe you need to be reminded, too.

GOD IS IN CONTROL.

That's it. No rocket science here...but something that's immensely more difficult to understand. We sure try. We try very hard to wrap our minds around this truth of God's sovereignty. But try as we might to grasp it, it remains just out of reach.

I really believe this is largely because we want...and need...God to fit inside the pretty little God-box we've designed especially for Him. We need this because then we can predict just what God's next move will be. We want this because we desperately hate the feeling that things are out of our own control. If He would just operate inside the God-box I made for Him, we'd all be happier...right?!? Uh...no.

Tell the truth. Who wants to give their lives for and follow a God that operates in "Eva-land"?!? Trust me...you don't even want to visit that place...let alone, live there.

So why then, I ask you, do I wrestle against God being in control??? Simple. Stubborn...like "smack-you-over-the-head-with-a-2x4" kind of stubborn. Just keep beating my head against the wall here.

And yet my compassionate Savior sends another gentle reminder of His goodness and grace...and sovereignty.  He doesn't shove it in my face...he just shows up with a sweet aroma or kind word...or long-awaited email.

"Congratulations! You've been pre-approved for C!"

5 Months after seeing her sweet face, she has been matched with our family...along with her best friend. This is actually happening. Of course, the road is still long but we've rounded the bend. God has accomplished what couldn't be done by man's standards. Of course He did...because He doesn't fit in my box. Sometimes my box is too pretty...occasionally it's too ugly...often too shaky...always too small.

Miracle after miracle. Is it wrong to expect them? I don't think so. I'm done being surprised by my God. I am even more convinced that He's purposefully directing my path..lighting it up, as a matter of fact...so that others will see Him in the reflection.

...it's all completely and utterly under His control...

It's almost as if He's saying, "Watch out...I've got this."

"HEY, BLOCKHEAD!"

We're back...back to the same place I so often visit...the land of what-if's and shaky faith. I'm pretty sure I own a vacation condo here.

I mentioned setbacks in the last post, but I omitted the overwhelming doubt with which the enemy began to flood my heart.

"...maybe we are making a mistake...maybe it's not supposed to happen...are we really prepared to deal with everything this means for our family...what if they don't even like us..."

I could go on...I could add an unlimited supply of doubt-filled thoughts...but it all amounts to one reality.

Fear.

Fear of the unknown...fear of the responsibility...fear of the life-threatening conditions and procedures that lie ahead. Then the enemy steps in and seizes the opportunity that my doubt and fear provide, and he creates a crushing weight  that he dumps straight onto my shoulders.  It's hard to breathe...it's difficult to move...it's almost impossible to look up.

I say "almost impossible" because all along the Almighty One never left...He's right beside me, and without having to lift a finger, He lifts the burden...and then He lifts my gaze to His...and then He says, "Just hang on...to me..!"

This past Monday, we had some new friends come for dinner.  These friends have been living in China for several years and have been studying the language. Fluent...that's the word you're looking for. They were willing and excited to come share some of their knowledge with our family.

God did this...right in the midst of my despair.

We sat for quite a while, going through common words/phrases that our two kiddos are used to hearing and will likely be speaking themselves...all so we will be able to communicate immediately with these two precious children.

What a gift.

It was overwhelming...in an amazingly awesome way. Almost immediately, Chinese words were flying around our kitchen table. Things like..."momma, daddy, tired, hungry, banana, little sister, pain, noodles..."

I could barely keep the tears at bay as God said, "See? I'm right here! Don't forget! I started this...I compelled you to do this...I'm still in control...I will give you all you need to love these children as much as I do."

The breathing comes much easier...the sleep, much deeper...and the trust, well, much sweeter.

OH...forgot to mention my favorite new Chinese phrase that we were taught...
"I love you...Jesus loves you."

I plan on using that one the most of all.