Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Nine Years...

Today marks an incredibly special day in the life of of our family.  It started off as a typical day, but it ended in what, at the same time, seemed like devastation.

DH and I had just finished up a very busy Christmas season as youth pastors. We had enjoyed the Christmas holiday with his family, but I remember he and I talking that evening about being worried about a lump he had found. I remember when he told me it didn't really hurt that a red flag went off in my head, except he was only in his 20's, so it seemed kind of ridiculous to be worried about it being something serious, so I tried to dismiss the idea. And then we both went straight from Christmas festivities to the annual state youth evangelism conference. DH took our youth group, and I was in charge of backstage stuff for the event, so I had to stay in Springfield, IL at his parents' while DH went back and forth with the youth group.  I remember discussing things again with him over the phone one evening, and we decided he should probably go see the doctor on Friday, just to be safe, since it was going to be a long holiday weekend. I had to work that day, and we had plans to go on a "Christmas date" with friends to dinner after I got off, so to save gas money (we lived 45 minutes away from my job), DH decided to just drop me off at work and then go to the doctor, and then just hang out in Springfield until I got off. Our plans were quickly derailed though...

He went from the doctor, to the hospital, into an operating room, in a matter of just hours. I remember calling him on my morning break to check in on what the doctor had to say, and that's when I learned they were sending him to the hospital for a scan or something. I felt my heart skip a beat, but I remember he assured me they were just trying to be cautious. Next thing I know, I'm finding out he's got to have surgery...and I have no car to get to him, and my job is refusing to let me leave because there was no "undertime" available right before another holiday. I got in touch with DH's mom to come pick me up, and I just took the point for leaving work (if you got so many points, you got fired.) but I didn't get to the hospital until they had just wheeled DH off into surgery. I was a MESS!  I felt like I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I remember my sweet mentor-friend praying for me that God would prepare my heart to rejoice or to grieve.  I remembered the tears I had cried just days before when I discovered that, yet again, we were not pregnant, and now wondering if we would ever be able to have a child...and yet at that point, all I wanted was for my husband to be okay.

But, in the midst of the tears, the worry, and the confusion, Jesus was there. He was present in so very many ways, reminding me of the control He had of what seemed like a very OUT of control situation. You see, since all of this happened on a holiday weekend, there weren't really any surgeries scheduled, so the schedule was very open. And, the doctor who "happened" to be on call at the hospital that day also just "happened" to be the very best. If things hadn't all played out when they did, we would have been looking at a wait time to get in just to see a doctor about the issue, and then waiting to schedule surgery. But instead, it all happened that day, and it was truly a huge deal that it did, because they literally removed the tumor RIGHT before it had spread anywhere else as far as the surgeon could tell. The news was not one we wanted to hear: it was almost certainly cancer. But the outlook was as positive as it could be at that moment: it looked like they were able to get it all.

If I close my eyes, I can immediately transport myself back to those hospital halls and that waiting room where I received the news from the surgeon. I can remember walking in to see my husband for the first time after surgery. I can remember the grief in my heart, the worry in my soul, and the overwhelming love I had for this amazing man. At that moment, nothing else mattered--none of the disappointment of our fertility struggle even--but that he was there with me.

The next several weeks were quite stressful. I can remember laying on the floor, crying harder than I ever had before, banging my fists to the ground and up in the air, questioning why God had allowed this to happen, questioning what this meant for us, and being so angry. I remember going to church and them singing, "Victory in Jesus," and being unable to participate, because I truly felt no victory in my life at that moment. But you know what? God didn't punish me for my questions, or chastise me for my attitude. Instead, He just kept showing up and loving me and assuring me that He indeed was not caught off guard by all of this, He already had a plan for it all, and since I couldn't walk the path on my own, He reminded me that He would just carry me through it instead. You see, my Jesus' faithfulness to me has no bearing on my faithfulness to Him; His works have nothing to do with what I bring to the table; His plans are not thwarted when my flesh gets in the way because He is God, He is able, and He is bigger than my doubts, confusion, and mistrust. He didn't have to prove that to me, but He did, and I was forever changed because of that. During that season in our lives, DH and I learned we had to just cling to one another, being held together by the One who had brought us together: our Lord. It was the darkest road we had traveled together, but it brought about such a blessing, because we grew closer to one another and to Jesus in the whole process, so we wouldn't trade it all for anything. God doesn't always answer our prayers how we personally would hope for Him to, but He always answers them in the best way, and we praise Him that in this case, He allowed DH to be okay...

So how do we choose to celebrate this particular anniversary?  Well, in a few days, we're having a bit of a party to commemorate it all, but today, DH is taking his oldest on a daddy-daughter date. It wasn't purposely planned for this day. In fact, it's been delayed a week because Lucy was sick last week when they were supposed to go. But I can't think of a better day for DH to spend with our Lucy. You see, after all was said and done with DH's surgery and diagnosis, we were told it would be very difficult if not impossible for us to have children on our own, but just a few months after DH's surgery, we would find out that we were expecting our first miracle: Lucy Shea. And now, here we are, nine years later, with this amazing family that God has so lovingly and graciously blessed us with.

I'm not sure where you are at personally as you enter into this new year. Maybe you've received news that has left you in shock and confusion; maybe the desires of your heart have yet to be fulfilled and you find yourself feeling hopeless and doubting God's promises; or maybe you're eagerly anticipating all God has planned for you in 2016...whatever the case, let me encourage you keep praising Him through the storm, keep clinging to Him through the confusion, and when you just can't put another foot in front of the other, let Him CARRY you! We were never promised an easy road, but we were promised a Guide, a Comforter, and a victorious ending! God truly is SO good, even when life is not, so please join me in praising Him today, for the storms, for the sun, and for all of the moments in-between.

Happy New Year, my friends!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

All is Well...

I have so much that I am thankful for and looking forward to this holiday season. I am so humbled by this incredible family God has created in His own special way and in His own perfect timing. I love seeing the wonder and excitement in my children's eyes as we pass by Christmas lights in the car, the joy they express at giving to others, and the excitement they feel as they gaze at presents under the tree. And I'm so thankful for the amazing church we are getting to serve in right now who has loved us and affirmed us in such an incredible way. As we have been preparing for this amazing season where we celebrate the coming of our Saviour, there is so much joy in my heart. But if I'm being honest, I have to tell you that more than a lot of years, this holiday season has been one filled with a lot of tears...

While I never want anything to overshadow the true meaning of Christmas, I fully acknowledge that the Christmas season is also one where we take time to really spend with family and people near and dear to us. In a society that thrives on busy-ness and full schedules, the Christmas season is one where we usually try to take a step back and focus on the things that are really important to us. So, it's little wonder that if you've experienced a huge loss in your family (whether it's a job or even more, a loved one), it can often hit you harder this time of year than any other...and boy, has it done just that with me this season. Maybe it's the extra pregnancy hormones compounded by the health issues I've been experiencing lately, or maybe it's just one of those years that's going to be more difficult for me, but whatever the case, the Lord has certainly been filling up that bottle of tears that He collects for each of us.

A friend once told me that for children, grief is like a toy. They play with it for awhile, and then they put it away. In other words, it's perfectly normal for a child to not deal with grief right away, so we just have to be patient with them and available to them. I realized this past week, though, that grief can be that way for adults, too. I shared with a friend how sometimes we, too, can kind of place it up on a shelf. It's not that we forget about it necessarily, but maybe we just don't think about exactly where we've placed it. Whatever the case, just like something you place up on a shelf, it will often present itself in the most unexpected ways--blind-siding us as we are actually searching for something else, only to find it coming crashing down and hitting us hard on the top of our head. It's not a new type of grief--it's the same thing we placed up on the shelf before--but when it hits us unexpectedly, it hurts. Bad.

As I go into this Christmas season, I feel like there are a lot of losses I'm mourning: the loss of a ministry and many relationships, the loss of my Daddy and also my PaPa...there are a lot of people I expected to be spending this holiday season with that I will not get to. Does that mean I'm ungrateful or have lost sight m of all of the many people that I DO have in my life? I don't think so. But I do have to take my grief to the Father and ask Him how He can use it and mold it and make beauty from the ashes, so that's exactly what I've sought to do the past several weeks. I don't know why I ever get surprised when He reveals Himself to me, but I found it so sweet how He gently nudged my heart this Sunday at church with a glimpse at how He's listening to me and working...

Our pastor preached out of Colossians 1 this week. Verses 16-20 tell us this:

"For by him all things were created:things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 

20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

You see, as Pastor Charlie pointed out, "The purpose of God being broken was to piece back together our brokenness." As I deal with hurt and loss and confusion on how so many prayers seemed unanswered, I have to take a step back and ask myself, Do I trust my Jesus with great expectation that these requests I have made are already done? Do I trust that He's working even when it appears that nothing is working out? As I struggle through grief and hurt and disappointment, my God wants to remind me that His perfect work has already been accomplished, so I can trust Him to make beauty out of the sin in this world--that's the whole reason He came! He came to make right all that was and would be wrong. Do I really trust that He's not only able to do that, but that He's already done it? I think sometimes I am so overcome by the hurt, the loss, and the grief, that I lose sight of the healing and the Work of my Father. I don't believe this means I can't still pour my heart out to Him through my tears and my grief, but it means that I can TRUST Him with that grief, that as He stores each of my tears in a bottle, He is willing and able to pour them back out upon me as refreshment.

So why the title of "All is Well" for tonight's blogpost? Well, I wanted to share a Christmas arrangement on my studio Facebook page during this Christmas week, and that title is what popped up in the forefront of my mind. As I looked over the lyrics of this Christmas hymn, I smiled at how God was continuing to speak to my heart. Yes, through the darkness, through the wrongdoing, through the grief and the sorrow, Jesus came humbly as a baby, and because of that, we are truly able to say that ALL is well--all of the hurt, all of the pain, and all of the loss. It truly is well because of Jesus.

So if you, too, are struggling this Christmas season, join me in clinging to the Truth that Jesus came to this earth to make it well for YOU! He is not only the reason for THIS season, but He is the reason that we can have victory through ALL of the seasons we endure in this life on earth. My prayer is you will be overcome by the joy and the peace that only He can give.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

"All is Well"
Words: Wayne Kirkpatrick
Music: Michael W. Smith

All is well all is well
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell
Into the dawn of love's light
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia
All is well all is well
Let there be peace on earth
Christ is come go and tell
That He is in the manger
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well
Lift up your voice and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

Friday, December 11, 2015

The TRUE Story of Adoption...

You won't recognizes most of the faces in the photos I'm sharing today. In fact, I don't recognize them either, and that's because they are from a post I saw on Facebook that struck me so deeply. The images you see are things actually said to adopted children and families all of the time--I've heard many of them myself. I know that people do not tend to be hurtful in their questions, but adoption is just so often misunderstood. Seeing the photos shared below spurred on these words from me. I hope you'll read and gain a little insight into where my heart is when I think of adoption, and especially of how I view my own son...

As Gabriel gets older, comments like this will become more and more confusing for him. I know a lot of them are out of ignorance from what adoption really is, which I can clear up for everyone in one single word: 


Adoption isn't a burden, or a saintly
action, or a plan B because you couldn't have your "own" kids. Adoption is LOVE. It's not only the love I have for my son, or the love he shows me daily; it is also the incredible love his birthmom has for him. Love is a verb, and that means it is shown through many different actions.
I'm so thankful that my calling is to love Gabriel as his momma, that his calling is to love me as my son, and that his birthmom's calling was to love him by giving him life-a different life-and by giving our family a different life, too. 

Is there sadness involved in adoption? Yes. There sure is. But when you think of it at first thought, please think of love!

It's not a question of, "Why didn't his real mom want him?" It's a statement of "Wow! His birthmom must have really LOVED him to be able to do that!" And it's not a question of, "How can you love him like you love your OWN kids?" It's a statement of, "Isn't it beautiful how God can grow a family in a way no person ever could dream up?!" Because here's the deal: No, Gabriel didn't get his gorgeous complexion from me. Those dark brown eyes and long, beautiful eyelashes are nothing like mine. His precious face doesn't carry any of my family's or my husband's family's traits. But do you know what I see when I look him in the eye? I see the beauty in front of me and think, "Wow. DH and I could never have made that, and yet we get to call this precious boy OURS!"

You see, when you let God write your story, it's always going to look different from if you would have written it yourself. And while the journey of having absolutely no control of the outcome is often filled with grief and fear, it all becomes worth it in the end. Will there be more hurt and difficulties in future chapters? Yes? But I am able to hold to the truth that my Jesus knows how to make beauty from the ashes.

So I choose to trust Him.

I trust Him to give me the words when my son asks the tough questions. I choose to trust Him when well-meaning people say hurtful things. I choose to trust Him when I don't feel like I'm enough. And that's where I gain confidence and a sneak peak at the very end of this ongoing chapter called life--I know how the book ends!  

So, if you're thinking about adopting, or you have already adopted, or you know someone who has adopted, I'm going to let you in on the end of the story. It may not look like the conventional fairy tale, but when God writes your story, we are promised that we are "more than conquerors through Him", so we can rest assured that the last page is going to looks something like this: 
"And they all lived happily ever after..."

The End

(All images except the last came from Kim Kelley-Wagner images.)