Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Healing Doesn't Come

Last weekend I attended my first ever Beth Moore Conference (Living Proof Live) along with two young women from my church.  I could write a whole blog post about the awesome conference (as well as the moment I realized I'm old), but that's not my focus for today.

As we were driving 5+ hours to the conference, we chatted about all sorts of things.  I had the opportunity to share how God worked in our family when I was pregnant with Griffin.  Our doctor suspected that Griffin had a fatal genetic disorder, Trisomy 18, and it was a terribly dark time in my life.  Ultimately, Griffin was a healthy baby.  Whether God healed him of the disorder or simply veiled the truth from us until He could do some work in our hearts, we credit God with giving us the gift of Griffin.

Not every family gets to tell the same story.

A dear friend of mine found out several months ago that his daughter was going to have another baby.  I think she had three children already.  Everyone was overjoyed.  Then a sonogram revealed that the baby's organs were growing outside of his/her body.  Seeing specialists only brought even worse news, and the baby was given practically no chance of survival.  

My friend prayed fervently and believed with all of his heart that God was going to do a miracle and heal this precious baby.  As doctors told the family to be realistic, he clung to his faith that God would heal his grandbaby.

One Friday several weeks ago, he received a call from his daughter that her water broke and she was going into the hospital.  The baby passed away before delivery.

We have had some very tearful discussions through this process and especially after the baby's passing.  How do you respond when you have complete faith that God will bring healing, and healing doesn't come?  How do you wrestle with the "Why?" questions overwhelming your mind and the grief overwhelming your heart?  We trust that God chooses his responses to our prayers, and that His ways are higher than ours.  I assured my friend that I believe faith and hope can coexist with grief and heartache.

Not too long after this situation with my friend's grandbaby, I received a text from a very dear friend asking for prayer.  The brother of one of our friends from high school had collapsed in his home and was rushed to the hospital.  Many of you know that I am referring to Joal Stanfield, a beloved 3rd grade teacher, high school tennis coach, loving husband, and faithful father of three young babies.  As days passed, Joal never left my mind for a moment.  I had been asked to pray for miraculous healing after doctors' reports were quite bleak.  Jared and I felt spiritually bound to pray continually for Joal and his family.  We prayed for days, and there was no healing.  Joal passed away on a Wednesday night as we drove to church to praise the God to whom we had appealed for this healing that didn't come.

Joal's family has a strong foundation of faith.  Even as I know that they trust God and know that He has an ultimate plan, I cannot get over or around or under the giant weight of what that grief must feel like.  As I prayed for these precious people, I couldn't help but think, "This is my greatest fear playing out in someone else's life."  Joal's wife is a widow in her 30s.  She may learn a dependence on God that my soul might never know, but in my humanness, I can't help but wrestle with the ache of healing that didn't come.

Which leads us back to that conference I attended.  Actually, let's first discuss a bit of my life lately.  You may remember two years ago when I decided to try one last time to lose my extra weight.  After I started to see some success in my weight loss, my body went haywire.  I had severe stomach problems, hormone imbalances, weakness, fatigue, hair loss.  I went through bloodwork, sonograms, a brain MRI, and scopes of unspeakable places.  After cancer scares, specialists, and thousands of dollars in bills, I was left diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and lactose intolerance.

Over time I have just learned to live with how I feel.  I plan my daily errands around bathrooms.  I continually add to the list of things I can't eat.  I only do what I feel physically up to doing.  This is simply life as me, and it's fine.

But then when Jared and I went on our getaway, it became painfully obvious how much of my life is just managing how I feel.  As amazing as our trip and time together were, my stomach ruled that trip and dictated what we did and when.  Since then, I can't shake the feeling of being dissatisfied with how I feel on a daily basis.

I'm not the only one who has been struggling with feeling awful on a daily basis.  My oldest son Nolan has had a rough time with stomach pain and nausea for over a year now.  We started out seeing our pediatrician, whom we love, and doing as many tests as we could with her.  Then she referred us to a pediatric gastroenterologist, whom we do not love, and we've been doing more tests.  You may remember when Nolan had to be under anesthesia for one test (read here) and when he puked in the waiting room--twice--during the last test (read here).   

I'm so tired of doctor's appointments.  I'm tired of pulling Nolan out of school, making arrangements for Griffin and Nora, asking favors, driving to unknown places, navigating hospitals, reassuring Nolan, and paying endless bills.  More than anything, I am extremely tired and oh-so-over making Nolan go to school and church and go about life's activities when he doesn't feel well.  As a mom, I want to be the one who cuddles him and takes care of him and lets him rest until he is well.  Instead, I've had to say, "I'm sorry.  I know you don't feel well at all, but we have to go."  I absolutely hate feeling like I'm ignoring how he feels and forcing him to keep going.  I've had to do this myself for two years, but there's no reason a child should have to.

The day after Nolan puked during the test (that we have to repeat next week), I was at a church meeting.  When someone asked for prayer requests, I asked--yet again--for prayer for my Nolan.  I was a little surprised at the force of emotions I felt as I simply said, "I'm done."  I really want to be done with all of it.  I want my child to feel well and enjoy life as an eight-year-old.  I can't find words strong enough to express my desire for my boy to be well.

So NOW let's go back to discussing that Beth Moore conference.  There was a break in the afternoon, and during the break women who wanted prayer were invited to come down around the stage, where trained "encouragers" were waiting to pray.  I got that dreaded heart pounding, shaking, nervous feeling that usually means God wants me to do something I'm not comfortable doing.  I didn't need to use the restroom or get a snack during the break time.  I was just sitting in my seat awkwardly fighting His prompting.  Let me just remind you, sweet reader, that I have a little issue with directions and finding my way in unfamiliar places.  And let me just tell you that we were seated approximately 17,000 rows up from the stage.  And the sections didn't connect with one another.  And only certain stairways led down to the floor.  And women were blocking nearly every passageway.  I must have stared and mentally mapped my route a good 26 times before finally getting up out of my seat to walk down to where the women were praying.

Once I finally walked the labrynth and made it to floor, I had to navigate through more chairs and more women standing to stretch their legs and chat.  All while shaking and fighting back tears.  Then I had to wait in line.  Do you know how awkward it is to stand in line all by yourself, waiting for prayer, while women around you are just talking about everyday things?  When I neared the front of the line, I assessed the lineup of volunteers praying for the conference attendees.  There was a grandmotherly woman who seemed warm and nurturing.  There was an adorable 30-something woman who was crying because the woman she was praying for was crying.  

I'm not gonna lie...I started mentally choosing whom I would prefer to pray for me.  And when I was at the front of the line, and the next volunteer opened up, it wasn't who I was hoping for.  Of course, as soon as I tried to tell her why I wanted prayer, my voice came out all high and squeaky as the tears couldn't be held back any longer.  I told her I wanted healing for myself and especially healing for my son.  I have already prayed for wisdom for doctors and for medicines to work and for test to give answers.  I have already prayed for relief on certain days.  I'm done with all that.  I want all-out full-blown healing.  I wanted someone to pray with attitude and conviction, practically commanding God to release His healing on us.  That's not what happened.

The sweet volunteer held my hand and softly prayed.  "God, what we want more than physical healing is spiritual healing."  No, no, no! I thought.  We definitely want physical healing!  My spirit is good; my body is bad.  My son's spirit is excellent; his body sucks!  I wanted her to change her sweet little tone and pray boldly.  But instead she prayed tenderly and then released my hand.  I had to ask for a tissue to wipe the mess off my face (What can I say?  I'm an ugly cryer.).  Then I started the awkward walk through the sea of women, following my own mental trail of breadcrumbs back to my section.  The only miracle I got that day was that I found my way back to my seat.

I sat quietly in my seat until the break was over and the conference started back up with more praise and worship.  The praise and worship at this conference was A-MAZING.  I loved it so much.  I loved the freedom of worshipping in that giant conference center with so many other women who love my God as much as I do.  But my mood was quite different as the music started up after that prayer break.  My heart didn't really want to praise.  Because the healing didn't come.

Then I "heard" in my mind, "What if healing doesn't come?"  I felt like God was asking me if I'll praise him even if healing doesn't come.  Is He still worthy of praise if he doesn't heal my stomach?  Yes.  Is He still worthy of praise if he doesn't heal my son?  Oooh, I'm having a harder time with that one.  I'm just being honest, ya'll.  Beth Moore says "ya'll" and it's so cute, but I just can't pull it off.  Had to try.

When Jared and I were praying together for Joal Stanfield, something Jared prayed struck me so profoundly.  He prayed something like, "God, you have raised the dead.  So we know that this healing is not too difficult for you."  Wow.  That has stuck with me.  God can raise the dead, so there's really nothing He cannot do.  Yet sometimes He chooses not to use His power in the way we ask Him to.  Then my mind always asks, "Why?"  He doesn't owe me an explanation.  But you better believe my mama's heart demands one when my son lives in pain and discomfort every day of his life, and I have no explanation for him or other people, and it feels like there's no end in sight.  

When I prayed for my friend who lost the grandbaby, God reminded me of Griffin's verse from Psalm 139 that says, "I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."  God spoke those words to me nearly 7 years ago to tell me that the baby my doctor thought was malformed was actually wonderfully, and purposefully, made.  He made no mistake knitting my friend's grandbaby together.  He handmade each cell with a purpose, even if we don't understand it.

When I begged God to spare Joal's life, He responded over and over again by whispering into my spirit, "This is better for Joal."  My heart cried out, "But what about his wife and children?"  And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19)

I'm still waiting.  Waiting for my healing, and even more so for my son's healing.  I'm still waiting for the questions to be silenced in my heart.  Waiting for my faith to fill in the gap left by the ache of healing that hasn't come.  I think faith is deeper and maybe even more genuine when the healing doesn't come and we are forced to rest not on results but on hope.  No matter what happens to me or to the people I love, I want my faith to show that God is worthy of my praise and worthy of my trust.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Griffin's Day

I know today is a somber anniversary for our nation.  My kids have been discussing it at school all week, and it was our topic of conversation before school this morning.

But this day is also significant to our family as the day Griffin received his official diagnosis from Easter Seals.  I wrote about it on this day last year (read here).  I actually had to look up that blog post to figure out how many years have passed since the diagnosis day!

I guess it's hard to believe that today only marks two years since that day because SO much has happened since then.

This week we had a little regression with Griffin, and it was a painful reminder of how things used to be.  It was also a great reminder to be grateful for how much progress he has made.  

Griffin is difficult to describe to people.  He recently moved up to a new class at church and is now in "Kidzone," which is a branch of church specifically for 1st graders through 6th graders.  The teachers he had in his preschool class and kindergarten class at church were phenomenal and took the time to get to know him personally and figure out how to work with him individually.  His new teachers in the 1st and 2nd grade class are also amazing teachers, but they have a very large class and are also used to kids functioning better on their own without needing so much individual help.  

One of his teachers from church recently told me about an incident that had happened the Sunday before.  Griffin got very upset and wasn't really able to say exactly why.  After a little work, she figured out that he had messed up on his worksheet that they were doing, and his perfectionism just couldn't handle it.  {What?!  Where did he get that??}  Once she figured out the root of the problem, she gave him a new paper and he was good as new.  She was telling me how that simple solution solved the whole problem.  Then she said I need to tell her how to prepare for these moments and what to do.  The problem is:  we don't know how to help Griffin until each hurdle presents itself.  

Last week I met with Griffin's school teacher to check in and see how things are going so far.  She also asked for ways she can help Griffin.  I felt kind of tongue-tied as I searched my brain for pointers to give her.  I guess we have just become used to the little things we do to help Griffin through everyday life and don't really think about them anymore.  We also really do just take each struggle as it comes and figure out a way to overcome it.

Here's what I do know.  Griffin is doing amazingly well in school.  He follows rules, excels academically, and has friends.  He has adjusted pretty well to changes at church (moving up to Kidzone, moving up in our Wednesday night scouting program, etc.).  I have learned more and more that he's actually pretty sensitive, which is not what I expected from someone on the Autism Spectrum.  He still has trouble controlling his reactions to things not going his way or someone hurting his feelings.  (Don't most of us still struggle in these areas?)  He gives me hugs and kisses when I want them.  If you get him connected to the right book, he will read and read and read.  If he is not interested in the book, he will not read.  He loves Minecraft more than life itself, and I just have to make sure he spends more time in the real world than in his virtual world.  He likes "voting" for lunch at school (eating school lunch) a couple times per week.  I think it makes him feel independent.  He likes to be in control whenever possible.  He has his own way of eating any food, and he basically has his own way of going about any task.  I have to force myself to allow him to accomplish tasks in his own way rather than insisting he do it my way.

This kid has the softest skin ever created and one of the best smiles around.  His brown eyes melt my heart, and his bony frame is precious to me.

I feel as though we have lived about five years worth of life with Griffin in the last two years.  I'm very satisfied with where we are today, and I'm so proud of how far he has come.  If you're interested to read any more about our journey with Griffin, simply click on the label "Asperger's" to read other related posts.

I'm so thankful for how far God has brought us in the last two years, and I am beyond grateful for the blessing of Griffin in our life!


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

His Spirit in Me

There are so very many areas in life where my natural tendency still needs some tweaking.  That's why I'm so thankful that I have the Holy Spirit in me helping me to override, and reshape over time, my natural reactions to be more in line with who He wants me to be.

For example, when someone is cranky at me, my natural response is to think, "I don't deserve to be treated that way."  But then the Holy Spirit in me says, "Maybe she's in the midst of some hard circumstances and feeling pretty frustrated herself."  The goal is to shorten the time between my natural reaction and my God-given response until my instinctual reaction is God-honoring.

I feel like this has been the theme of my week already.  It has led me to a great deal of gratitude for God's Spirit working within me to help me.

Let me just give you a couple examples.

I had a plan for yesterday.  It involved quite a bit of planning, actually.  The plan started with an appointment for Nolan to have a 3.5 hour medical test.  It called for Nolan to follow a specific diet for 24 hours before the test, which he was extremely unhappy about.  It meant I had to contact his teacher on Friday to ask her to send home his make-up work for him to complete over the weekend before he would miss school on Monday.  It required me talking to a friend in advance to see if she could pick up Nora after preschool and feed her lunch and keep her until I could get her in the afternoon.  It involved me begging Jared to rearrange his work schedule so he could take Griffin to school and Nora to preschool so Nolan and I could leave on time for his appointment.  Don't let Nolan eat breakfast before the test.  Don't forget Nora's backpack.  Make sure to pack a lunch for Nolan to eat after the test.  Take entertainment for the 3.5 hours of sitting at the doctor's office.

None of it went according to plan.

All morning Nolan had been saying he didn't feel well.  I assured him it was just because he hadn't eaten, and I moved everyone along to get ready.  But my own stomach was rumbling and grumbling.  I ignored it because I didn't have time to be sick.

Just before we all needed to leave, Jared proudly announced that he arranged to work from home all day.  My reaction was something along the lines of "What good does that do me when I won't even be home?"  Not a proud moment for me.  Don't worry, I apologized later.

Nolan and I did indeed leave on time, and Jared did get the other two children to their schools.  I made it through road construction and morning traffic and hospital parking.  After checking in and having Nolan's vitals taken, Nolan kept laying on me and complaining about how he felt.  I comforted him and tried to pretend I wasn't also feeling quite questionable.  Then he shot up and told me puke was coming up.  I grabbed his shoulders, yelled to the ladies behind the desk to ask where the bathroom was, and then Nolan just started vomiting into his hands.  We each spotted garbage cans on opposite sides of the room, so as I tried to pull him to the right, he broke away and ran to the left.  He might be the loudest puker there ever was.  As he spent a solid 2-3 minutes heaving over that garbage can, other families in the waiting room and all of the staff were witnessing the scene.

After Nolan and the floor were cleaned up, a nurse gave him the option of going through with the test if he wanted.  Since he had already done the prep diet and taken off school and made up homework, he wanted to give it a try.  He had to blow into a bag to get a baseline (measuring hydrogen in his breath).  Then he had to drink a special solution, which he said tasted pretty good.  "I'm glad I puked because my stomach feels better now," he said.  So we went back out the waiting room, knowing he would have to blow into the bag every hour for three more hours.  We were not there for three more hours.  

I tried to read a book while Nolan did homework, but all I could do was pray every single moment that I wouldn't vomit in that waiting room.  When I didn't think I could take it any longer, I went to the bathroom just off the waiting room.  I sent Jared a text message saying I might need him to come switch places with me.  When I walked back out of the bathroom, I saw Nolan leaning over another garbage can.  I ran him to the bathroom before he started another round of about 2-3 minutes of the loudest heaving known to man.  I sent Jared a text saying, "Nevermind.  We're coming home."

We let the nurse know what happened, gathered our belongings, and started the trek home.  It felt like a very long journey.  We even got stuck waiting for a train to pass.  Every minute I prayed a fresh prayer Lord, please don't let me puke right now.

When we got home, I immediately apologized to Jared for my earlier reaction to him working from home.  He had to spend most of the day closed up downstairs in my craft room so he could be on conference calls and do actual work, but he was able to get groceries and pick up Griffin from school and make the kids dinner.  My friend who had picked up Nora from preschool kept her most of the afternoon and then dropped her off at my house so I didn't have to go out and pick her up (or interrupt Jared's work to send him).

Folks, let me just tell you honestly that my natural reaction to a day like this would have been, "Why?!"  Why couldn't this day have gone according to plan?  Why couldn't we have just completed the test to try to get answers for Nolan?  Why did I have to go through so much work and planning for nothing?  Why would You let us get sick, God?

But yesterday the Spirit at work within me whispered thankfulness into my mind and heart.  I found myself being so grateful.  Thank you that I didn't throw up in the waiting room.  Thank you that those nurses were so compassionate to Nolan and didn't make him feel bad about what happened.  Thank you for getting us home safely.  Thank you that I didn't have to pull over on the side of the road for one of us to get sick.  Thank you for allowing Jared to be home today to fill in where I was too weak.  Thank you for a friend to help Nora have a much better day than she would have had with me.  Thank you for my children being so sweet and understanding of how I'm feeling.  Thank you that my friend was so understanding when I had to cancel our evening plans.  Thank you that I was able to lay on the couch in jammies when I just didn't have the strength to do anything else.  Thank you.

The most astounding part to me was when I felt my heart pray, "God, this day didn't go at all how I had planned or how I had hoped.  But I trust you."

That's not me.  At all.  That is only by the work of the Holy Spirit in me.

Tonight I had a meeting at my kids' school at 5:15.  I had to leave that meeting early in order to make it (slightly late) to a meeting at church at 6:00.  My meeting at church went until 7:00, and Jared had a meeting at church starting at 7:00.  It was a crazy evening, and I still don't feel wonderful, although I feel better than yesterday, so I just didn't have much energy as I was getting the kids showered, teeth brushed, and doing devotions before bed.

For the sake of time, let me just skip to the part where I was trying to pray before bed and two of my three children were crying hysterically.  I had to say a quick prayer, separate kids, and try not to say unsanctified things.  It turned into a full-blown, volume 50, ugly incident.  It reminded me of older days with Griffin.  It was not a good reminder.

Now I suppose this is the part where you might need to know that I have a tendency to be a bit of a yeller with my kids.  Another not-so-proud moment for me to admit that.  I've worked and worked at it, but I still hit this moment of wanting everyone to close their mouths and fall in line.  It doesn't really help the situation, but it's my natural reaction.

Tonight God helped me to override that natural reaction.  There may have been some, ahem, stern talking, and I for sure discussed with the two children in question exactly what poor choices they had made and what needed to be changed.  But instead of ending with me being completely exasperated, it ended with me tucking in each child and having a tender moment with them.  Griffin and I had a meaningful conversation about everything that had happened, as well as his tendency to get very upset whenever he makes a mistake of any kind.  With Griffin, I have to work so hard to get to the heart of what's upsetting him, but it's worth the work.  Tonight my payoff for that work was snuggling his unbelievably soft cheeks until he fell asleep.

I'm so very thankful that God hasn't given up on me and that He keeps showing me that His ways are better than mine.  These may just be two examples of victory, but I'm taking my two little victories and carrying them into whatever tomorrow has in store for me.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

"I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:  forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."  Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)


Monday, September 1, 2014

Baby Colors Trend

I may be done having babies, but I still get to keep up with baby trends through all the people around me who are in need of baby showers, baby products, decorations, etc.

I noticed that the three baby projects I worked on most recently had some common threads.

First, I very happily just completed a project I've been working on for 2-3 months.  I made crib bumpers and a crib skirt for my college roommate Angela.  I love that we're still friends after all these years, and I love that I still get to be part of her growing family even though we are miles apart.

I'll just give you  a little peek of the finished crib bedding since I plan to write a blog post about it later.

The alligator fabric and green circle fabric with orange piping are the crib bumper pads.  The navy and white striped fabric with orange chevron fabric make up the crib skirt.

Angela chose the colors--navy, green, and orange.  She painted the baby's room aqua.

Angela is a perfectionist and extremely detail-oriented.  I actually love working with her on projects.  You may remember that I made her valance for her first son's room.

My two favorite types of "clients" to work with are (1) people who know exactly what they want and can clearly articulate it and (2) people who give general guidelines and then truly give me creative freedom.  Angela is the first type of client.  I can text her pictures or questions, and she can quickly choose between 5 orange ribbons or tell me how many stripes she wants in her fabric.  She doesn't have to be afraid to ask for exactly what she wants, and I don't have to agonize over decisions.

This was a very time-consuming project, and I can't wait to tell you and show you more!

The second baby project I've recently completed was making 72 cupcakes for the first birthday party of a little baby boy at church.  His mom contacted me a month or so before his birthday and gave me an inspiration photo for his party:

She wanted aqua, orange, green, and dark blue (as seen in the cupcake photo).  She requested two batches of chocolate cupcakes and one batch of vanilla (with matching frostings).  She asked me to make bowties and ones for the cupcake toppers.

I made my go-to marshmallow fondant and colored it with food coloring gel.  I made the cupcake toppers a couple days before the party so they could dry out to hold their shape.

The green had a few texture issues, and the dark blue was horrendous!  I don't know if I overworked them trying to get the colors right or what.  The aqua was smooth as a baby's bottom and also my favorite color in general.

To make the bowties, I read this tutorial on Make Fabulous Cakes.  Only I didn't add any polka dots and I made my ties with a single layer and I changed the dimensions.  So I suppose mine are loosely based on the aforementioned tutorial.

I hadn't been given any direction on what the mom wanted for the "1" cupcake toppers, so I decided to layer big circles, medium circles, and ones.  I cut out all the circles and ones of each color and let them dry on wax paper for 24 hours or so.  Then I layered them, using water to "glue" them together.

I baked the cupcakes the day before the party and kept them in my handy dandy cupcake containers that I got by begging the lady behind the bakery counter at Sam's Club when I made the graduation cupcakes.

On the morning of the party, I made the frostings, frosted the cupcakes, and added the decorative toppers.

The third baby project I've done lately is making decorations for a baby shower that a woman at church is hosting.  The theme is "Oh Baby!" since the couple doesn't know if they are having a boy or girl.  The woman hosting the shower chose orange and a darker aqua for the colors.  I didn't mention that these seem very much like boy colors to me.  She asked me to cut out letters for her to attach to a fabric bunting banner.  She chose the font and gave me the paper.

The letters above will each be adhered to a section of the banner, and the banner will be hung on the front of a table at the shower.

She sent me this inspiration picture:

From Love of Family and Home

She gave me a couple different papers and asked me to make something similar to the tags in the picture so she could put them on Mason jars for drinks at the baby shower.  Here's what I came up with:

Did you notice how similar all of the colors are for all of these baby projects?  Aqua and orange...aqua, orange, navy, and, navy, and green.  I think we have a new trend in baby colors!