Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When Children Become Angels

Sorry in advance.  You probably don't want to read this, but I can barely breathe tonight, so I have to journal it out and whomever reads...well...I don't know.

I know too many people who have lost their precious little ones.  It's one of the really wrong parts of our broken world, and it's just not something any mommy should ever have to go through.  

I was introduced to Sicily Zeka about 5 months ago by blog when a friend said I should read.  See, she's had an 18 month battle with cancer, and about 5 months ago her older sister was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  I know what a huge deal that is, but when you have another daughter who's battling for her life in the short-term, I guess it barely becomes a blip on the radar.  And so, my heart just went out to them. The reason they found out about the diabetes was because they had just been re-admitted to the hospital to find Sicily's cancer, that had been in remission, was back.  When the grandma was staying at the house with the other children, she noticed the older daughter getting up at night peeing often and was concerned: thus diabetes diagnosis.  Diabetes is this massive life-changing event for a family, but somehow God seriously carried them through to where it has been barely noticeable.  

Anyway, I don't read a lot of blogs, and really didn't want to read this one due to the sad nature, but my heart just went out to them with the combined struggles with their daughters.  The girls and I prayed daily.  Sophie could of course identify with the diabetes stress and we had another friend who has lived through this same cancer that Sicily had, and so we found it easy and sweet to pray as a family for this family.  Joe and I pleaded with God for a miracle, because we know He's good.  

A few weeks ago, they were in the hospital for more chemo and found the cancer had spread everywhere and there was nothing to be done.  The family brought her home, accepted reality...believing for a miracle at the same time, and enjoyed the time they had left with her.  She was very tired and slept a lot in the last week or two, but still had much personality, like helping herself to her own drinks and saying, "I don't need any help."  Or just 2 days ago, her brother was sitting on the bed just watching her and feeling sad, and she opened her eyes and said, "stop staring, it's rude!"  And then last night as her mom was going to bed, she laid down beside her and noticed her breathing had suddenly changed and the end was near.  She picked her up and rocked her gently in the rocking chair, while her daddy told her peacefully that it was ok to go to Jesus now.  

And so she did....

And so I weep.

My girls caught me just as I had read the news.  They laughed, because kids don't know what to do with weeping mothers.  Norah kept asking "why'd she go die?"  I told her that we all die, and this sweetie was ready to be held by Jesus.  She said, "Oh.  Baby Jesus is cute."  

Sicily's mom has grown so much in the few months that I have read her blog.  She's gone from a woman with a background of faith from a liturgical side and who had a belief in God, to a woman who absolutely has felt carried by God and has a deep peace knowing Jesus is her strength and that Sicily's life has served a purpose in this short time by showing others that Jesus is the strength.

Sometimes I question why I read these things, and allow my heart to become so deeply attached to the outcome...someone I'd never met.  And though I think we could have an easier life not thinking about the deep pain others experience, I think we do the world a disservice by just being cozy and unaware or uncaring.  I have wept so much over the loss of this little one in the last 2 days and have even been a little depressed and distant.  She's only 6 weeks older than Jossie.  So, it's hard not to truly relate to the depth of their loss.

After she died and they had all taken turns holding her little body one last time, her mom laid her on the bed while waiting for the funeral home, and painted her finger and toenails.  Then her dad didn't want her taken out on a gurney and so he wrapped her in a Hello Kitty blanket and carried her little body out to the car. can I not cry?

And so I find myself really holding my babies close these last 2 days.  I find that I'm not as angry with their antics these last 2 days.  And I find I want to make my moments count with them. I want my words to be loving.  I want my tone to be gentle.  I want to express respect for them.  I want to bless them, and pray for them.  And I find myself staring at them when they're sleeping, praying for their protection and thanking God that they are in my life.

If you click on Sicily's name at the beginning of this post, it will link you to her mom's beautiful blog.  It's sad, but precious to see the transformation in a woman and a family.

Here are links to some others as well.

The first one is Joe's sister Christy's blog about the loss of her baby Phoenix.
The next one is a friend of Joe's.  They worked together at Hillcrest and they had a sweet boy with a very rare form of dwarfism.  His name was Mitchell Cupps
This one is a new friend that we go to Classical Conversations with on Fridays.  She has lost 2 of her 5 sons to a rare heart disorder, and her faith and real strength in the struggle is amazing.  Please read her journey here.

I wish those were the only ones we had to share, but like I said, we know too many angels.  I'll leave it at those, however.

Now, I don't include these links to depress anyone.  I think their stories are beautiful.  And I support their mommies and daddies desires to have their child's name not be forgotten.  To make the name of their child, the life of their child, to be significant to someone.  That their child will make a difference, inspire, encourage and bless you, even as their spirits reside with our precious Jesus.

The common theme with these blogs is one of inspiration.  The parents have been through the trenches with their faith and have come out on the other side with incredible trust in God.  They grieve.  As they should.  But, they know they are held by the Savior.  They know that good can come from their losses.

And for me they put life in perspective.

May we always feel ourselves held by the Savior in our circumstances.  May we always know He hurts with us.  May we know we are so deeply loved by Him and not forgotten or forsaken.

No matter what we face.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Journey of the Heart

I go to church every week.


You shouldn't be.  It doesn't make me a Christian.  It doesn't make any of us Christians, or "saved."  In this journey of life we get so many opportunities to examine our hearts and motivations.  I've recently been doing that.  

We all have different motivations for what we do regarding God, church, family, etc.  I've met several people who say things like, "I should go to church, because I want my kids to have morals."  Or people who go to church out of duty, habit, obligation, etc.  It's sad really.  Church won't make your kids good.  In fact, sometimes forcing "church" will actually turn them away from God.  They need more than a building and a few good Christian influences to have it be something that matters to them.  A parent's guidance, love, prayers, example, honesty, and immense grace is a huge key to your child's outcome in life and the way their heart turns.  But, for it to be real, the parent themselves can't be at church out of duty, habit, or obligation.  

In other words, it's not about church.  

I love my church, don't get me wrong.  I have friends there, my kids have friends, and I look forward to it every week.  The worship and the teaching are some of the most real, challenging, encouraging, and love-filled moments of my week.  Sundays motivate me.  They help me to want to keep God close and to want to feel and express true Love as it has been given to me by my intimate friend: Jesus.  I find church so helpful in my walk.  I find the friendship, testimonies, similar experiences, all help me to not stray away into my own selfishness.

But, I could skip church for an entire year and still have a beautiful relationship with my Jesus.  


To some, that is such a foreign concept.  To many God is whomever the preacher says he is.  To some, He's "the man upstairs."  To some, He's the one who's rules we must follow to a T or else we might just fall off the fence and land our little selves in Hell.  What a sad tightrope to be expected to maintain that balance!  Or to some, they've taken Old Testament stories out of context and turned our Lord into an angry, malicious being who is unapproachable and couldn't possibly have anything to do with the world we live in today.  I am not a theologian and cannot take time in this post to explain away all of those misconceptions.  But, in my short lifetime I have felt all of those things at times.  It is truly a journey of the heart to challenge those thoughts and learn to trust a creator, The Creator, who's only desire is to love you and have an intimate, trusting relationship with you.  More intimate and trusting than the best marital relationship, or even more loving than that which you feel for your own children.  

Is that the Jesus that you've known?

It hasn't always been for me.  Several things in the last couple of years have truly changed my understanding. Now, I was technically "saved" as they say, in high school.  Then not much changed, and I went to college.  Had a few wild years, and then something drew me to desire an actual relationship with the Jesus whom I had once trusted enough to say "Yes, yes, you are the One I want in my heart and the One whom I want to trust forever."  And I had a few good "spiritual" years there.  Then life happened, and life was good, and I got really stagnant in my walk.  By that, I mean I had a healthy respect for God.  He was a definite force in my life, but not a passion.

I hope this isn't getting too long to read, but I've just really had some thoughts on my heart.  I'm not one to hide who I am, and I don't enjoy a false sense of being, so I feel compelled to share a little of my journey....I hope that's O.K.

So, here's my few things in the last couple of years that have helped mold my heart:

1) Finances.  We had a struggle a couple of years ago with the business.  I won't go into all of the details, but we were personally barely afloat.  And looking at our nation now, many people are experiencing what we went through and worse.  During that time, we had to come face to face with whether we could trust God to see us through.  We learned to appreciate the simplest things in life.  We found joy in our children and each other like we had never found before.  We even found joy in realizing that we couldn't control our futures, but could confidently trust that God had a plan for us.  He clothes the lily's of the field, and feeds the birds of the air...He wouldn't let us die in this circumstance.  We had to be OK with failure.  We had to be OK with Him changing our course.  Now, our business is doing great today, but we fully recognize that life can change on a dime and we have no choice but to trust the One who provides and has our back.  My phrase during that time: I am at the foot of the cross, and that's not a bad place to be.

2) Sophia's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes.  This is probably no surprise, as it is a big focus for me.  When we first found out, it was shocking.  After the finance thing, we realized life is hard for everyone, but foolishly we felt we had had our "hard trial" and had learned to trust and we were sort of exempt from more of those moments.  So, this diagnosis was a real punch in the gut.  I hated it.  I hated seeing her suffer.  I hated seeing her have to overcome so much at 5 years old.  I was proud of her, but I really wanted to make it go away.  So much has been learned...too much to share in a paragraph.  But, one of the main things I continue to learn is that I can't control life.  I can't.  We are in a fallen world, and until Jesus returns, there will be pain and suffering.  It's not a punishment, or a cruel trick by God.  It's something He desperately desires to heal: all of our brokenness and suffering.  And it will happen, but it won't all happen in our timing.  And so we can be bitter, or we can let Him teach us, and hold us, and get us to a point of Peace.  (Disclaimer: This is oversimplifying the process for the sake of brevity, but I do acknowledge that pain is real, and suffering is a process, not just a quick-fix).  I had to tell Him recently (as though He didn't know): I hate pain.  I'm scared of more suffering.   Do you know what I felt His response was?  I've carried you in your pain.  You've never been alone.  And though you may not have felt much came from it, others have seen Jesus through My carrying you.  It wasn't a promise for more pain, but an assurance that He does make it better.  He feels my pain.  He cries with me.  I love that.

3) Loving people.  I used to be around people who just oozed love and think, Wow, I could never be that way.  I want to, but they are so much better at that than I can be.  And now I am just motivated, rather than condemned.  In this last year, I had a great opportunity to listen to a lady who is currently a missionary in Romania.  Her name is Jackie Quarles.  I listened for several hours as she told her struggles to be happy, and to trust God, and to love.  And yet, she oozed love.  She had a son wander away from her group on a mountain in Kazakhstan, and he was later found, but in the hours that they searched she wept, and came to a place of knowing that God was going to carry her through, even if she never found her son.  I couldn't imagine that place of trust.  I still struggle with that.  But, she talked and talked about how in the last few years she has truly fallen in love with Jesus.  And, everything in her life is better because of it.  Her marriage is great, her ability to handle her children is filled with grace and peace, and she's loving being a missionary in Romania.  I wept that night listening to her story and feeling so motivated to know that level of loving God.  That point where your love for Him is so tangible that it becomes a natural force in your life: to love others.  Oh, and yet by grace...we can only know that love with His help.

4) The Jesus Storybook Bible.  It's a wonderful children's bible.  I think it's ministered to me as much or more than my kids.  I fight tears with some of the stories, because it reminds you of God's true nature: love.  It tells the stories of the Bible as a true adventure story-book.  A book where the Prince wins back His love. Here's an excerpt from the story of Adam and Eve sinning and leaving the garden:

Before they left the garden, God whispered a promise to Adam and Eve: "It will not always be so!  I will come to rescue you!  And when I do, I'm going to do battle against the snake.  I'll get rid of the sin and the dark and the sadness you let in here.  I'm coming back for you!"  And he would  One day, God himself would come.

5)  Utter appreciation for Grace.  This one's hard to put in words some days.  I realized recently in my feeling stagnant that I hadn't truly grasped or appreciated the grace I had been given by God.  I think I looked at this broken world where the issues people struggle with are so intense: drugs, affairs, abuse, even murderers, molesters, etc.  And, I had almost decided unconsciously that my soul wasn't as corrupt.  That I wasn't that bad.  And, I suddenly realized that the same Grace that is available to anyone who struggles the way I just described, was what had freed me.  And I am renewed by that same Grace every day when I realize how down I am for not being a perfect mom, or not keeping a great attitude all of the time, or when I show anger, or I don't know how to love strangers effectively.  I don't have to get further and further from God during those times.  I only  have to be reminded how desperately He wants to be near me, and I can accept that grace and forgiveness and feel whole again, no matter where I am or what I've done.

In the book Celebration of Discipline: The path to Spiritual Growth,  the author quotes Bonhoeffer as saying, "Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him.  Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother."

So, I think that makes us all equal.  There are no "spiritually mature," as I've often heard people in the church call themselves.  If you think yourself as such, I hope you'll search your heart.  I don't find it Biblical.  I think we have to all know we are so capable of terrible things, and we are so utterly dependent on Grace to make even the slightest good decisions.

I've also heard many people say things like, "I can't believe he did that!  He's supposed to be a CHRISTIAN!!"  Or, "Christians, they're all hypocrites!"  Yeah, we are.  The bottom line is, being a believer does not make you perfect.  I will continue to fail this side of Heaven, but I will always know where my forgiveness comes from.

I guess what has really driven me in the appreciation for Grace, is the realization that I need intimacy with God.  I need to know Him better than I know my husband.  And I need to remember that as a believer, He resides in me.  I can't actually get any closer to him.  He is not in the temple behind the veil.  He is not some far-off man-spirit-thing that I can't really feel comfortable talking to, because what if He knows what a hypocrite I am??!!  Or feel afraid that honesty with Him is going to cause me to be stricken down.  And the more I pursue that intimacy and love, the more I feel freedom in my life.  The more I feel peace, and the more I feel true joy.  I have far to go on this journey, but I like feeling like it's not about a bunch of rules I can't follow on my own.  It's about learning to trust Him, learning to talk to Him, and often learning to just listen and know that I am loved.  He loves me more than I love my kids, and that is hard to imagine.

Well, this has been a long post.  I hope this doesn't read "agenda" to anyone, as it's just been my heart lately. I feel more peace than I have in a long time, so I's what I do.  Anyway, don't leave me in the dark here.  Let me know if you read this.  If you totally disagree, I'd love to hear that too...I can handle it.

May the Grace and Peace of Jesus be yours today!